Imagine that your body is a bucket. Everyday, there is a constant adding and subtracting from your bucket. Life puts things in and your immune system, detoxification pathways, and cellular recycling mechanisms work tirelessly to take things out. If what goes in is less than or equal to what goes out you stay healthy, age gracefully, and perform at the top of your game. If more goes into your bucket than your body can eliminate, overtime it fills up until eventually it overflows and symptoms, disease, and poor health outcomes occur.
One of the main tenets of functional medicine is to look for the root causes of symptoms and disease. In other words, we aim to identify what is in your bucket so that we can create a strategy to empty it. There are four big categories of bucket fillers – foods, infections, toxins, and stress.
Each person’s bucket and its contents are unique. The size of your bucket and how efficiently you can empty it depends on factors like lifestyle and genetics. What goes into your buckets depends on your life experiences, circumstances, and exposures. Sometimes one thing in the bucket leads to many symptoms. In other cases, many things in the bucket all contribute to just one pesky symptom. Functional medicine dives into your health history, life story, and lifestyle habits and utilizes advanced laboratory testing to paint a detailed picture of your bucket and everything that is filling it up.
Let’s look at an example where food is the primary factor. Jill is a 58 year-old woman with Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, eczema, and an occasional upset stomach. When we look in Jill’s bucket we find that she is sensitive to gluten. The bread and other gluten-filled foods in her diet are triggering her immune system to create inflammation locally in her gut and systemically throughout the rest of her body. This in turn led to leaky gut and her body is now mistakenly attacking both the gluten proteins, her thyroid tissue, and her skin. Starting Jill on a gluten-free diet full of vegetables and whole foods helped empty her bucket so that her body could heal.
For other people, all four categories are present in their bucket. Beth is a 68 year-old woman who is struggling to lose weight and has osteoporosis. When Beth moved to the mountains twenty years ago she didn’t realize that the crystal clear water coming out of her tap was full of lead. Ten years ago she took a trip to Thailand and got a stomach bug while traveling but doesn’t have any lingering digestive issues that she knows of. Now, her adult daughter is going through a painful divorce and Beth frequently turns to her comfort food, mac and cheese, to help manage her stress. When we look in Beth’s bucket we find lead (a toxin), a lingering parasite in her gut (an infection), sensitivities to gluten and dairy (foods), and worry for her daughter (stress). All of these factors are contributing to inflammation, preventing weight loss, and leading to osteoporosis. By adopting a paleo diet free of gluten and dairy, using botanical medicine to treat the parasite, chelating heavy metals, and adopting a daily meditation practice, Beth’s bucket drained, weight loss happened effortlessly, and she started rebuilding healthy bones.
We invite you to get curious about what is in your bucket. How full is it? What’s filling it up? What can we do to help it empty?