By Dr. Mercola
This is my second interview with Dr. Daniel Kalish, who is an expert on hormone balance as a foundation for optimal health. In this interview, he shares some fascinating information about how you can balance the chemicals in your brain using functional medicine laboratory testing.
Dr. Kalish is successfully using this method, which he calls the “Kalish Method,” to treat five common health problems:
- Female hormone imbalance
- Gastrointestinal problems
I first met Dr. Kalish in California in the mid-1990s while attending a Functional Medicine seminar. It was immediately clear to me that he was one of the brightest individuals at the meeting.
The area of hormone testing can be a bit confusing. The information presented here helps to clarify how hormone testing can be used to detect and correct imbalances in your brain’s chemistry that underlie many of the symptoms commonly experienced today. For a more comprehensive review of his work, you may want to check out his new book, entitled The Kalish Method: Healing the Body, Mapping the Mind.
Functional Medicine: The Kalish Method
Functional medicine is a relatively new approach to health that looks at the underlying causes of disease and attempts to correct them before disease sets in. It focuses on determining the root causes by looking at your entire body and environment. Dr. Kalish’s particular approach zeroes in on three systems of your body:
- Brain/endocrine system, which govern your body’s processes through hormones, neurotransmitters, and other biochemical messengers (control center)
- Digestive system and nutrition (intake)
- Detoxification system (elimination)
He addresses each of these systems with specific laboratory tests, including saliva and urine. It’s a kind of “mind mapping” — essentially, taking a snapshot of the mind by measuring things such as the quantity of serotonin and dopamine going in and out of your neurons. This is just one of the many the tests that can be performed, and this particular urine test is cutting edge technology offered by only one lab in the United States.
The Kalish approach to health offers enormous advantages, one of which is a very rapid cessation of symptoms. Patients report improvement in how they feel usually within the first month — like a “switch has been flipped.” Even for those who have struggled with lifelong depression, dramatic results are usually seen within the first couple of months. This is largely because the precise cause of the problem has been nailed down through laboratory testing.
Another major advantage is that children can be helped very easily and quickly with functional medicine, which eliminates the need for medications about 95 percent of the time.
Picking Up Ball That Conventional Medicine Has Dropped
There are profound differences between functional medicine and conventional medicine. Conventional medicine aims at identifying life-threatening diseases, but ignores the realm of more subtle issues. For example, endocrinologists look for rare and unusual disorders like Addison’s disease — things that could kill you in a week or two if left untreated. If you don’t have one of the major diseases, their interest and expertise generally wanes.
By contrast, functional medicine looks at identifying and correcting imbalances and lifestyle issues that are eroding your health over time, reducing your quality of life, and predisposing you to the development of serious health problems down the road. In other words, functional medicine aims at preventing you from ever developing those major diseases in the first place.
According to Dr. Kalish:
“There is a predictable way that the body breaks down. It doesn’t happen in different ways in different people. We have hormone and brain problems, digestive problems, and toxicity problems. There’s a methodical way you can test and correct all these issues, if you get hooked up with the right group of doctors that know how to do all this. This technology is available. It’s not a question of whether it works or not. It’s just a matter of accessing it.”
Through various carefully selected laboratory tests, your body’s chemical and hormonal imbalances are identified. Problems with your gastrointestinal function may be detected, or with how your body cleanses and rids itself of toxins. With this information, then, specific strategies can be prescribed, such as diet and lifestyle modifications, supplements, or perhaps a different approach to managing your stress. Supplements are designed to be used short-term, therapeutically, in order to accomplish a specific goal.
Interventions Used in the Kalish Method
Based on what imbalances are identified by the laboratory analyses, Dr. Kalish may prescribe a variety of natural supplements, short-term. For example, low doses of the hormones cortisol, DHEA, and pregnenolone may be prescribed to replace what’s missing in your body — just enough to balance out your system. Sometimes, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, and herbs may be used — everything from B vitamins to magnesium, to tryptophan or 5-HTP.
These agents are used to temporarily assist your body’s natural hormone producing capacity and can be discontinued when your normal endocrine function has returned. It’s typical for adrenal function to be restored within six months to a year — and sometimes in just a few months. Dr. Kalish cautions against self-prescribing these supplement because you can easily make imbalances worse, if you don’t have all of the necessary information.
A key part of Dr. Kalish’s approach is helping his patients return to a more biologically appropriate diet rich in organic, biodynamically grown foods, similar to how your ancestors ate. He also recommends occasionally exposing yourself to cold, because it produces an environmental “shock” to stress the body (in a good way), similar to exercise, which stresses your body to make it stronger.
Poor Adrenal Function May Be the Cause of Chronic Fatigue
Your adrenal glands are each no bigger than a walnut and weigh less than a grape, yet are responsible for one of the most important functions in your body: managing your stress. When your adrenal glands are overtaxed, a condition known as adrenal fatigue or adrenal exhaustion sets in, which in turn can set a cascade of disease processes into motion. One tell-tale sign of adrenal burnout is feeling chronically fatigued.
Conventionally, you’d see an endocrinologist who would evaluate your adrenal glands, or perhaps a doctor of internal medicine. Unfortunately, they tend to primarily test for specific diseases like Addison’s disease or Cushing’s disease, both of which are relatively rare.
The Kalish Method calls for testing your adrenal function by taking four saliva (or urine) samples over the course of a day. This maps out your circadian rhythm, showing how your cortisol levels rise and fall throughout your day. Saliva is collected at approximately four-hour intervals: first thing in the morning upon waking, then at noon, late afternoon, and again at night before going to bed. The Kalish Method is aimed at normalizing dysfunctional adrenals and restoring normal adrenal function. It’s a clinically validated method that’s been used for a long time, yet most physicians are still not aware of it.
“What we find is that if we just restore what’s missing in the person for a period of six months or maybe at the most 12 months, the adrenal glands and the internal production of these hormones comes back,” Dr. Kalish explains. “So, we’re actually restoring the normal production of these hormones in the body. The treatments, therefore, are relatively short-term; six months to a year. The only way we’ve found to do this real repair process is to use these really low dosages of DHEA and pregnenolone over a period of time.”
Another common hormonal cause of adrenal fatigue is hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid. Thyroid function is diagnosed by a blood test, but there’s some controversy over what is normal and what’s not. Many alternative doctors feel the conventional reference ranges are far too broad, and opt to treat people exhibiting sub-clinical thyroid symptoms.
“What’s interesting about the thyroid and the adrenals is that as the cortisol levels go up, one of the normal body mechanisms is to downregulate thyroid,” Dr. Kalish says. “So, most everybody with high cortisol is going to have lower than ideal thyroid hormone levels. At that point, it becomes a decision as to if you want to work on the adrenals, work on thyroid, or work on both together...
More than 90 percent of the time, the adrenal program is enough to restore thyroid function. The biggest reason [for doing] the adrenals first is that when you start taking thyroid hormones your internal production of thyroid hormones drop. With the adrenal glands, it’s the opposite. When you start to take these adrenal-support products, your internal production of adrenal hormones comes back. If you can restore adrenal function, you can save the person from having to be on thyroid medications potentially for the rest of their life.”
For more specifics on Dr. Kalish’s treatment protocol for adrenal fatigue, please see my previous interview with Dr. Kalish on this topic.
How Functional Medicine Can Help You Lose Weight
Besides fatigue, weight gain and depression are the most common issues Dr. Kalish sees, and all three respond very well to his approach. For example, one of the interesting things in terms of diet and weight loss is that, as soon as he gets people’s adrenal hormones and brain chemicals back in check, he notices them gravitating toward more healthful diets.
Why is this?
Many food cravings stem from inappropriate blood sugar responses and imbalanced serotonin and dopamine levels — which control how your neurons fire. Once these are corrected, cravings go away — usually within the first month or two. Your cravings come from brain chemicals. When those chemicals are shifted, the cravings just disappear — like hitting the Reset button. Then people begin making better food choices, start to lose weight, and have more energy because insulin sensitivity and normal leptin signaling are being restored.
The key lies in reversing the distortion in your appetite center and reestablishing your normal fat burning metabolism. Of course, the mechanism for reestablishing normal fat burning is diet and exercise, but if your brain chemistry perpetually prompts you toward making bad decisions, it will be a frustrating uphill battle. Functional medicine doesn’t take the place of diet and exercise — it augments it, making it easier for you to implement the changes needed without as much emotional stress.
Are Toxins Making You Depressed?
There is very little scientific evidence for the widespread notion that depression is caused by an imbalance of your neurotransmitters. In fact, there is no correlation between serotonin level and depression. Many people with low serotonin are not depressed, and many depressed people have normal levels of serotonin. The same is true of dopamine.
However, there is good scientific evidence for a relationship between depression and environmental toxins. Toxins make their way to your brain, where they damage cells and change how your neurons fire. Being that toxins are commonplace in today’s world, part of functional medicine involves identifying environmental toxins that could be damaging your brain and contributing to mood problems, Parkinson’s, dementia, and a multitude of other diseases. We’re all exposed to these chemicals to some degree because they’re pervasive in our environment — in your air, food and water.
According to Dr. Kalish, some of the most significant environmental toxins are heavy metals, such as mercury, arsenic and aluminum. Also problematic are chemicals like benzene and toluene.
It is estimated that the average American now has between 300 and 400 different neurotoxins circulating in his or her body at any one time. Even newborn babies are now born with some level of neurotoxic chemicals on board. Your body isn’t equipped to break these down, so they tend to accumulate over time and dysregulate your biochemistry. Making matters worse, many if not most people have dysbiosis, or imbalanced gut flora, and some of these microorganisms are responsible for breaking down the toxins in your GI tract, so you can eliminate them. All of these problems contribute to today’s toxic overload.
Functional Medicine — A Valuable Tool to Help Restore Your Health
The Kalish Method is a proven method of treating problems such as overweight, fatigue, depression, hormonal imbalance and gastrointestinal dysfunction using the principles of functional medicine. A treatment is most effective when the root cause of your problem is directly addressed.
Dr. Kalish starts with specific laboratory tests that pin down the underlying cause. These tests help to determine whether your problem stems from your brain, adrenal glands or your gut, or if it’s a malfunction in your body’s detoxification process. Whatever the cause, the problem can be effectively addressed using targeted dietary changes, supplements, sleep hygiene, stress management tools and other natural interventions.
Functional medicine can be a valuable tool to help you restore your natural physiological balance. Dr. Kalish has worked with more than 8,000 patients, and every day, he sees “magical” health improvements by applying the same fundamental principles. For more information, you can visit his website, KalishInstitute.com, which details his innovative approach to functional medicine.