Experts Answer Your Questions About Functional Medicine and Mental Health

by health and nutrition advice journalist

Functional medicine specialists Dr. Kabran Chapek, Dr. Eboni Cornish, and Dr. Mark Filidei from Amen Clinics recently hosted a webinar to answer questions about this unique field of medicine and how it relates to mental health. Here are some of the questions they answered during this popular online event.

“What is
functional medicine and how can it benefit a mental health workup?”

Dr. Chapek: Functional medicine, also known as integrative medicine, involves looking at treating the root cause of psychiatric symptoms and looking at the whole person. For instance, inflammation can cause . In addition, brain injuries, specifically mild traumatic brain injuries, are a major cause of mental illness, but no one’s talking about it because you can’t see the injury.

For example, I had a patient who was a pastor. He was in a car accident and at the ER, he was told he was fine. But two weeks later, he couldn’t write a sermon because he was having difficulties with memory problems and couldn’t focus. That’s a classic example of how physical injury causes a mental health issue and a brain issue.

“How does functional medicine
tie in with brain imaging in regard to mental health?”

Dr. Filidei: Brain SPECT scans are really helpful for us to determine if there is an underlying brain problem. If you come in for a mental health condition and your brain doesn’t look healthy, it means you have a brain problem that could be causing all of your psychological issues, or making your symptoms worse. Then as functional doctors, we try to figure out what’s causing your brain to look abnormal. There can be a lot of reasons.

For example, a 24-year-old patient who saw one of our New York psychiatrists was referred to me because their brain scan didn’t look good. It turned out the young man was a normal kid until he came home from college, then all of a sudden, he was having brain fog and . People thought it was simply because he was out of college and couldn’t find a job. In fact, he had jobs lined up, but he couldn’t do them. One of the questions I always ask patients is, “Have you ever been exposed to mold?” It turned out he was living in his family’s basement where they created a room, and guess what? That basement flooded every year, and there was mold they hadn’t seen. This was 100% mold-caused “mental illness.”

“What do chronic infections
have to do with mental health?”

Dr. Cornish: I specialize in the treatment of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, chronic tick-borne diseases (such as Lyme disease), and other underlying infections, including pediatric autoimmune infections. Several years ago, a colleague’s daughter had severe neuropsychiatric symptoms but none of the psychiatrists she saw could figure out what was wrong. They gave her medications, but they didn’t help. Eventually, she was tested and screened, and it turned out she had a tick-borne illness. When the underlying infection was treated, her neuropsychiatric symptoms got remarkably better. At Amen Clinics, we’ve diagnosed hundreds of cases where infections were causing mental health symptoms.

“How can hormones affect
mental well-being?”

Dr. Filidei: I
keep telling a lot of my psychiatrist colleagues, “If you do one thing, try to
optimize hormones because you could probably toss out half the medications your
patients ‘need’ if their hormones are optimized.” You might go into your mental
health practitioner saying, “I just have no energy. I have no motivation,” and
they give you Prozac. In reality, you need your hormones optimized. So, that’s
why we look at all those things and try not to miss it because the tragedy is
misdiagnosing a hormone imbalance—or Lyme Disease or any of these things that
we look for—and then getting drugged for it and labeled for it.

“How can low cortisol affect
someone’s anxiety and depression?”

Dr. Chapek: Certainly, if cortisol— a hormone released by the adrenal glands—is too low, it can indicate adrenal hypofunction from chronic stress. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cause high cortisol putting you in a fight-or-flight state for months and years, but then eventually, the adrenals stop producing as much cortisol and become depleted. And this can certainly cause depression.

Dr. Filidei: As
Dr. Chapek said, high or low cortisol is not good. Too much cortisol over too
long a period is very damaging to your entire body. You’ll age faster. You’ll
get sick more often. You’ll have direct atrophy of tissues and damage to your
brain. After a while, you end up with low cortisol, which can worsen
depression, worsen fatigue, and worsen energy.

“How do head injuries impact
hormone function and mental health?”

Dr. Chapek: I recently wrote a book called Concussion Rescue, which is a handbook of the method we use at Amen Clinics to help patients heal from head injuries. In it, I reveal that 25% to 50% of people with brain injuries have damage to the pituitary gland, which is your master hormone gland in the brain. This can cause low thyroid, low adrenal, and low testosterone, among other hormonal issues. And these can lead to a wide range of psychiatric symptoms. In fact, many of the football players we have treated at Amen Clinics and many other people with a history of brain injury have low testosterone or low growth hormone. It’s staggering.

“Can environmental toxins impact
your immune system and psychological health?”

Dr. Cornish: Our environment is so toxic—from our foods to our air, to our water, to chemicals and mold. You name it. We’re all toxic. How does someone look with toxins in the brain? It’s across the board. They can look normal, or they can have invisible symptoms, or they can look like they have dementia. It’s all different extremes. In children, it can appear as pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric syndrome, diseases, and associative disorders, which are known as PANS or PANDAS.

“When bloodwork is recommended,
what do you test for?”

Dr. Chapek:
We perform a functional medicine panel, which looks for inflammatory markers,
deficiencies, and metabolic measurements. That covers a lot, but we can also do
additional labs, such as hormone testing, toxicity testing looking for mold, and
testing looking for Lyme and other infections. This information, in combination
with brain imaging and a complete personal history, can be so helpful in
finding the root causes of symptoms so we can find the best solutions.

Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever, and waiting to get treatment until the pandemic is over is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples, as well as in-clinic brain scanning to help our patients. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.

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