Functional Medicine and Obesity


Nothing beats the Western medical establishment when it comes to acute care. If you have a compound fracture, you want to be in a major American city. But once the bleeding is staunched and the leg is placed in a splint, subjectivity comes into play. Is this patient allergic to penicillin? How much anesthesia does he get, based on weight and other factors?

In a major outbreak of contagion, epidemiology has automatic, first-response answers, providing maybe the most fitting and practical example of the one-size-fits-all treatment paradigm. Later, the fact that a person survived a plague becomes just another piece of their individual health history.

Trauma and epidemics are different from chronic illness because nothing is more subjective than chronic illness, and every case is rife with individual factors. Take the autoimmune condition known as SLE, systemic lupus erythematosus, or simply lupus. Depending on the individual, it can manifest in a dozen ways.

The thing about functional medicine is, the individual angle is the important part. It stretches to take into account the most seemingly unrelated detail of a patient’s history and circumstances. It’s tailored, customized like a fine bespoke suit, and one size definitely does not fit all.

A strong proponent of functional medicine

Some members of the medical establishment consider “integrative” a naughty word, but the concept is an important one that fits comfortably with “science-based.” Childhood Obesity News has more than once quoted Dr. Mark Hyman, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, who says the following of his specialty:

It treats the whole system, not just the symptoms… It seeks to identify and address the root causes of disease, and views the body as one integrated system, not a collection of independent organs divided up by medical specialties…

Functional medicine practitioners look “upstream” to consider the complex web of interactions in the patient’s history, physiology and lifestyle that can lead to illness. The unique genetic makeup of each patient is considered, along with both internal (mind, body, and spirit) and external (physical and social environment) factors that affect total functioning.

Dr. Hyman feels that most physicians have not received training adequate to fully understand complex, chronic disease. He sees in this particular area of medicine a “huge gap,” where practice may be as much as 50 years behind what research is revealing every day.

Practitioners of functional medicine often trace the root of a patient’s problem to nutrition, especially as it impacts the gut microbiome. Dr. Kara Fitzgerald published the inspiring story of Frieda, a 46-year-old with fatigue, anxiety, depression, sleep disorder, bronchitis, sinusitis, thyroid imbalance, multiple skin problems, PMS, and morbid obesity.

Over the years Frieda had tried various medications for the physical and emotional problems, as well as psychotherapy, but nothing led to significant or sustainable change. She had started bingeing in her 20s, especially on sweets, dairy products and bread.

Dr. Fitzgerald writes:

My strong suspicion was that in part, Frieda’s GI bugs were “running the show,” stimulating potent sugar cravings and contributing to depression, anxiety and metabolic syndrome… Giving into the cravings was, in turn, contributing to the metabolic syndrome, weight gain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, hyperlipidemia and estrogen dominance…

I was confident that as long as she was willing to endure the potentially difficult but very short-term journey of “sugar detoxing,” she’d get to the other side — her cravings would subside and her health would rebound.

And that is what happened. Dr. Fitzgerald relates in detail the other parts of the plan and includes Frieda’s “Baseline Medical Symptom Questionnaire” from both before and after treatment. According to the scoring system, less than 10 is optimal; 10-50 indicates mild toxicity; 50-100 is moderate toxicity; and over 100 is severe. Frieda went from 96 (right on the edge of severe) all the way down to 8. (Oh, and lost 79 pounds in half a year.)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “About Functional Medicine,”, undated
Source: “Recovering from Morbid Obesity, Depression and Metabolic Syndrome Using Functional Medicine: One Woman’s Inspiring Journey to Wellness,”, 12/27/16
Photo credit: maxsheb/123RF Stock Photo

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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