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Dare I say that summer is finally here? Despite the unpredictability of Minnesota weather — including snow well into the spring — I think it is finally safe to say that summer and its warm days have arrived. One side effect of summer weather is that more and more people are outside walking, biking, and running. Patients at our office seem happier, more relaxed, and more energetic. There is definitely something about fresh air and sunshine that lifts the spirits and raises energy. A lot of people are in their gardens planting flowers and veggies, and soon they will be back in the garden pulling weeds — hopefully all the way to the root. This got me thinking of what a wonderful analogy weeds are for the common diseases that affect so many of our functional medicine patients.

The most common condition we see in patients in the functional medicine portion of our practice is low energy. It may have been diagnosed as many other things like low thyroid, adrenal fatigue, leaky gut, hormonal issues, or brain fog, but at the bottom of all of these is one common finding: low energy. So, what are the “roots” of low energy? There could be several.

Think about it: low thyroid levels mean weight gain and low energy. High stress causes adrenal burnout and low energy. Hormonal imbalances come with low energy. Leaky gut means poor nutrient absorption and low energy. Brain fog, bad digestion, and poor sleep are all evidence of energy depletion. Do you see the trend?

The way you tend to your vegetable garden is the way you should be attacking low energy symptoms. No one would just cut the top of weeds off. Sure, you may no longer see them, but you would know the roots are still there, robbing your plants of vital nutrients and energy. You shouldn’t be doing that with your health, either. Fortunately, the right doctor can identify the cause of your energy crash and correct it.

Now that you know to dig to the roots of your low energy, make sure to address them the right way. Think about it this way: imagine you went to a mechanic and said your car was running poorly — sluggish, hard to start, running rough. If your mechanic just gave you a bottle of fuel additive and said, “This will stop your car from running rough,” you would (hopefully) question them. “But why is my car running poorly? Is this going to fix the issue or cover it up?” After all, the cause of your car running poorly is obviously not a lack of fuel additive.

So how is this different from going to a doctor who just gives you a pill to cover your symptoms? It’s not!

This is why functional medicine is such a huge upgrade from traditional medical approaches. Before even starting any treatment, functional medicine asks, “Why is this happening?” For example, we ask why is your thyroid functioning poorly. Too much cortisol? Leaky gut? Inflammation? The answer often surprises the patient who had been receiving the wrong kind of treatment for years.

A good real-life example is a patient of mine who came in with a diagnosed hypothyroid issue. Her doctor had lowered her dose of medication (Synthroid in this case), and as a result she felt worse, gained weight, and felt depressed within a month. When she questioned the doctor on this, they said her numbers were good, so they didn’t return medication to the levels she used to have. Not looking more into her case when she was feeling much worse, just because her numbers looked good? That’s troublesome.

Instead, when she came to us, we ran her through a variety of tests including a complete thyroid panel and discovered that her medical condition was not just hypothyroidism, but a particular kind called Hashimoto’s hypothyroiditis. This is a situation in which her thyroid runs low because of an autoimmune disease.

If you have been paying attention so far, you will call me on this and say, “Wait a minute, Dr. Burtis, why does she have Hashimoto’s?” For that, I would give you a gold star. It is not enough to just give her condition a better label. An autoimmune condition results in your immune system overreacting and attacking some of your own body tissue. (For you health nerds like me, this is typically an overreaction of the adaptive portion of the immune system where Th17 cells mistake your own body tissue for a foreign invader.) So, we go back to one of functional medicine’s favorite words: “why.” Where is the root?

In this patient’s case, the root cause was a leaky gut caused by a combination of stress and a high carb and sugar diet. We addressed this with supplements, a change in her diet, and some chiropractic for stress management, and she responded wonderfully. She lost weight, her depression left, and she now has plenty of energy! We had pulled her roots instead of just chopping the top symptoms off.

Here’s another case of autoimmune disease manifesting as something completely different. About 10 years ago, a hog farm worker came in telling me he’d have to quit his work soon because of his sore and weak back. When we dug into his history, we found out he had been diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis. Interestingly this is another autoimmune disease, but it attacks the spine especially, causing vertebrae to fuse into one big lump. He was told there was nothing he could do and that he would be disabled within five years. The thing is, if you find the root cause you should be able to help just about any autoimmune disease. We dug deeper and discovered a few things that were affecting his condition: a genetic defect in his vitamin D receptor, a bad diet, lots of stress, and toxicity from a lot of farm chemicals. By the way, a high dose of vitamin D3 is often part of the treatment for autoimmune disease. We addressed these issues and he got a lot better. And today, he still works on that same hog farm — five years after he was “supposed to” be disabled, according to his doctor — and his energy is back to that of a young 40 year old!

So if your energy is going down, don’t mask the issue. Dig deep and find the root cause. Your best health lies waiting there below the surface.


Dr. Burtis, D.C., M.S., CFMP, has been providing natural healthcare to the Fairmont area at Burtis Chiropractic Center for over 30 years. He uses a combination of chiropractic, nutrition, and functional medicine to help individuals restore and maintain health and healing through individualized care plans. The mission of Burtis Chiropractic Center is to provide transformational healthcare that takes an individual’s life to the next level. We strive to be a solution for families to experience transformational healthcare and help create vibrant and resilient lifestyles that can be passed to future generations.

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