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Natural Awakenings Greater Boston - Rhode Island

Personalization is Key: Achieving Optimal Health by Evaluating Root Causes

Nov 01, 2018 12:10AM ● By Bridgitte Carroll

Each one of the 8 billion people inhabiting our planet is uniquely different—our genetics, ancestry, biochemistry, lifestyle, environment, likes and dislikes—down to our every thought, feeling and behavior. All of these individual factors play a role in the creation of health yet, generally speaking, our current conventional medical system uses a one-size-fits-all approach to diagnosis and treatment.

         While this system of medicine and its accompanying tools may have been appropriate for acute conditions prevalent in the early part of the 20th century, it does not address the multitude of causes for our chronic disease epidemic. In the emerging medical model called integrative and functional medicine, the guiding principle is personalization of care in order to uncover the root cause of an individual’s condition. Functional medicine practitioners are trained to evaluate diet, lifestyle, genetic and the many environmental factors to get to the root cause of dysfunction and work with individuals to co-create optimal health.

         Humans and all beings need stress to survive and its presence is crucial to health. It stimulates life-saving hormones like adrenaline but over time, an overload of stress can cause great health dysfunction such as chronic disease. Stress can have chemical, nutritional, environmental, emotional or psychospiritual origins. When our body systems are overstressed, we may notice symptoms, which are different for everyone—migraines, weight gain, skin issues, fatigue, chronic pain, high cholesterol and more. These symptoms are the body’s way of telling us that it can’t handle the amount of stress that it’s receiving. Simply put, our “stress cup” is overflowing.

         Similarly, diseases are merely a set of symptoms that are given a name. The factors that contribute to dis-ease of the body can be thought of with the acronym S.T.A.I.N., which stands for stress, toxins, adverse food reactions, infections and nutrient deficiencies. It is a tool developed by Kathie Swift, MS, RDN, LDN, FAND, and Sheila Dean, DSc, RDN, LDN, CCN, IFMCP, functional dietitians and co-founders of the Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy. It’s useful for evaluating root causes of dysfunction to achieve optimal health.

         The S in the acronym, S.T.A.I.N. brings our most common form of stress to the forefront: mental stress. In our go-go-go society, this form of stress is ever present and a significant cause of many dysfunctions and diseases. The T is for toxins and is one of the lesser discussed forms of stress. These can include pesticides in our food, PCBs in household cleaners, carcinogens in our skincare and the list goes on. The Environmental Working Group is an excellent resource in evaluating toxins in our everyday life, diet and home.

         Adverse food reactions can account for many immune and digestive disruptions. The most common are gluten, dairy, soy, eggs and nuts but, again, this must be individualized. The gold standard of evaluating adverse food reactions continues to be an elimination diet of one month followed by a trial of the food every three days.

         Infections are another root cause and can linger in the body for years or can be acute. Either way, the whole body and immune system are taking a hit. Evaluate life from birth to the present when thinking of this stressor. Additionally, infections, such as bacterial overgrowth can lead to malabsorption of nutrients from otherwise healthy foods. Nutritional deficiencies are extremely common and can be evaluated by looking at daily intake as well as absorption of nutrients.

         If we want to have successful health outcomes in this country, we must treat the individual and their specific root causes, not the disease. A diagnosis should not inhibit practitioners from delving deeper into a patient’s specific root cause. Yet, health is not only the absence of disease. Those that feel “good” can feel great, and prevent any dis-ease in the future. With more data from genetic testing and functional lab tests, personalization and optimal health can be achieved and enjoyed for a lifetime.

Bridgitte Carroll, MS, RDN, LDN, is an integrative and functional dietitian, in Waltham, MA. She works one-on-one with clients utilizing a systems approach to get to the root cause of bodily imbalances. She is currently accepting new clients at Johnson Compounding and Wellness and accepts insurance. To schedule a consult, visit or contact her at [email protected].