Dr. Will Cole: Functional Medicine for Cancer
The Stern Method Podcast Episode 40: Dr. Will Cole
Dr. Will Cole: Functional Medicine for Cancer, Core Health Problems, Labs for Gut Function, Toxicity, Methylation, Tests for Intestinal Permeability, Dysbiosis, Sibo, Clinical Ketogenic Diet, Infrared Saunas for Detox and Mitochondrial Function
Dr. Will Cole Discusses In This Episode:
- What functional medicine is and what functional medicine practitioners look at
- Why someone going through cancer would want to work with a functional medicine practitioner
- Identify underlying problems long before they become serious OR get to the core issue of serious problems to truly heal
- Labs for gut function, toxic burden, methylation and blood tests
- Clinical application of ketogenic diet as one tool of many
- Infrared saunas for detoxification and mitochondrial function
Functional Medicine for Cancer
This interview with Dr. Will Cole and for those of us going through cancer explaining this is what functional medicine is, this is what is looked at and this is how it can help in contrast or in addition to your conventional allopathic care team and even your naturopathic doctor in a lot of cases.
In essence, Dr. Cole explains that functional medicine is about digging down deep to find the true core issues behind health problems. This can mean both identifying problems before they become serious diseases and identifying the problem driving a serious disease so it can be removed and the body healed.
In the case of cancer, obviously we want to identify something that could become cancer before it gets there. For more on advanced cancer screening methods see The Stern Method Podcast Episode 7 with Jenny Hrbacek.
If we are at a stage of cancer that needs serious reversing however, the first step is understanding that the cancer did come from somewhere. Likely a mixture of environmental and dietary factors combined with epigenetic predispositions. We didn’t just catch it.
Digging down to the core issues with our health that have gone awry and led to a cancer diagnosis therefore are essential in truly healing and reversing it.
How Functional Medicine Testing Is Different
Will notes that functional medicine is centered around comprehensive lab work.
Functional medicine practitioners use a much tighter reference range in identifying areas of concern than most other labs and doctors.
Dr. Cole notes that with any lab work you get done, that laboratory will have a set of parameters for what is “normal” or the “reference range” and will let you know whether your result fall within that range.
This range is established by the laboratory as sort of an average of everyone who gets these labs done.
However, most people getting lab work done have health issues. So that range by default will be wider than what the optimal health should truly be.
When we take out the outer edges of typical range to reflect an average of only healthy people we get the functional range.
Functional medicine practitioners use a more comprehensive set of labs and evaluate those labs based on a much tighter range as a critical component in the detective work necessary to identify underlying health issues.
What Functional Medicine Tests For
While Dr. Will Cole emphasized functional medicine practitioners won’t know all of the labs they are going to run on an individual patient until after a good conversation hearing about their lifestyle and environmental factors combined with present symptoms, some of the more common lab work and why each is important includes:
The gut is the second brain, literally formed of the same fetal tissue inside the womb. The gut brain axis has been identified linking what happens in one to the other.
Most of our immune system cells and serotonin are produced in the gut.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine stated that all disease begins in the gut.
While Dr. Cole notes that, functional medicine practitioners will occasionally get criticized for focusing too much on the gut but given its importance we would do well to rule any gut problems out.
Specific issues within the gut tested for are: histamine intolerance, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) intestinal permeability (leaky gut), bacteria dysbiosis, yeast / candida overgrowth.
The specific tests Dr. Cole uses to identify these issues come from Doctor’s Data and Cyrex Labs.
While Dr. Cole notes that the term “toxins” is likely the most overused of all in the health and wellness space, that doesn’t make it any less real.
The question isn’t whether we’re exposed to toxins, we all are on a massive scale. The question is what is our genetic tolerance to them before we cross over into a disease state be it cancer or something else.
Dr. Cole uses hair and urine tests to measure toxic accumulation and also blood that look at common antibodies against environmental toxins. A high level of antibodies will indicate a chronic inflammatory response which is often the start of at the very least strong driver of cancer.
We really need an episode just dedicated to methylation but for now, Dr. Cole explains methylation is a biochemical superhighway inside our body that happens a billion times per second.
It does things ranging from protecting from cancer to supporting detoxification to assisting in brain function.
We can examine certain genes that perform critical tasks within methylation and look for any abnormalities or mutations that need support,
Dr. Cole notes that functional medicine practitioners will often use a lot of the same blood tests that a conventional doctor will run such as homocysteine or C reactive protein.
Again however they are using much tighter ranges and really asking what it means should a number come back outside of those ranges.
Infrared Saunas for Detoxification and Mitochondrial Function
Dr. Cole notes that even though he’s big on customization for individual patients, one thing he does tend to recommend to just about everyone are infrared saunas.
Given our modern lifestyle we hardly ever sweat.
This is a big problem given the fact that sweating is one of our primary detoxification pathways.
Especially for those with methylation issues pertaining to detoxification, saunas are an easy and relaxing (which is therapeutic in itself) way to support our detoxification pathways.
The heat from saunas also will increase our metabolic activity, thus improving mitochondrial function.
How Functional Medicine Applies to Childhood Cancer
I’ll say it again. The cancer came from somewhere.
Nowhere is this more obvious than with childhood cancer. If childhood cancer was truly “bad luck,” then the rates would be staying the same, not continuing to go up.
One hundred years ago childhood cancer was practically unheard of. Now it’s touching most of our lives in some way.
If it was just “bad genes” then rates would actually be going down. The children with the cancer genes would be less likely to go on to reproduce and pass those genes on.
Knowing that childhood cancer came from somewhere makes finding out where essential.
When we hear about how the accumulation of all sorts of environmental toxins can lead to cancer over time in adults, is it really that surprising the process can be massively accelerated in the womb during our children’s very formation?
Often I’ll hear even naturally inclined cancer parents make the statement that it they’re not going to beat themselves up over where the cancer came from in their child. They’re just going to move forward with figuring out how to beat it.
While I whole heartedly agree with not beating yourself up and moving forward with helping our child, we still need to be asking the question of where it came from in the first place to be absolutely certain those elements are removed from our children’s bodies and lives to insure a complete and lasting recovery.
This I feel was a very important episode for the show and for those of you going through cancer to understand as we’ve had reference to functional medicine and guests on who practice it in the past but no straight up interviews on this is what it is, this is what we look at and this is how it can help in contrast or maybe better yet in addition to your conventional care team and even your naturopathic doctor in a lot of cases.
Wide ranging interview but a very good overall theme of identifying and addressing core issues to problems that others may miss that I think is going to give you a lot more firepower when it comes to questions to ask health practitioners you’re either currently working with or those that you may be evaluating to be sure you’re really getting the best health bang for your buck possible.
Dr. Will Cole who graduated from Southern California University of Health Sciences in Los Angeles, California. He has his post doctorate education and training in Functional Medicine and Clinical Nutrition through The Institute for Functional Medicine and Functional Medicine University. Dr. Cole consults in the Pittsburgh area and phone or webcam consultations for people around the world. He specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors and customizing health programs for chronic conditions.