Symptoms: Common But Not Normal

Symptoms are the manifestation of a deeper problem. The brain and body are in constant communication with each other through neurotransmitters, hormones, nerves, gut microbes, and immune molecules to maintain proper function of the whole organism—that’s you! When there is proper function, the body is in a state of ease, that is to say, symptom-free. If someone is experiencing symptoms, it means that mal-function is occurring which creates a state of dis-ease. Although it sometimes seems like it, symptoms don’t come out of nowhere. They result from the accumulation of stressors.


It is not our normal state of being to be burdened by a growing collection of symptoms. It might seem otherwise when you consider that 59% of US adults reported using prescription drugs in 2011-2012, an 8% increase from 1999-2000. These statistics were published in JAMA (2015) along with data on polypharmacy use (taking five or more drugs at a time) which increased from 8.2% to 15% of US adults. Symptoms are common but they are not normal. Common does not equal normal.

Conventional medicine operates from the perspective of alleviating symptoms with pills or surgery. This approach focuses on the end result of the disease process—the symptoms. It does not take into account why the symptoms emerged in the first place. If you just cover up symptoms with a drug or other substance (popular examples are caffeine for fatigue or alcohol for depression/anxiety) without correcting the underlying malfunction, the problem is still there. In this case, symptoms will be an ongoing battle and the underlying problem will eventually get worse since nothing was done to return the body to proper function.

If one word sums up all the triggers for malfunction it would be stress. We tend to associate stress with mental or emotional influences. In reality, stress can be defined as any influence, internal or external, that disrupts the body’s natural balance. Ideally, we want to identify what those influences are.

In, “A Revolution in Health Through Nutritional Biochemistry,” authors John Neustadt and Steve Pieczenik referred to the diagnosis of stress as, “the garbage can diagnosis,” not because it isn’t important, but because it's too often where the investigation ends. Too often, when you don’t feel well but your routine lab work comes back normal, you may be told, “It’s all in your head. Just relax.” Or, "It's just stress," as if that is an insignificant finding. You may be sent on your way without much to show for it except maybe an antidepressant or pain killer. Wouldn’t it be nice to know if there were underlying physiological reasons contributing to your stress load? That’s where functional lab testing comes in.

There are three broad categories of stress:

  • Mental or emotional: Things like work stress, relationship issues, family issues, abuse, negative self-talk, too much on the to-do list, etc.

  • Biomechanical: Things like injuries and trauma such as a broken arm, whiplash, car accident, repetitive motions, poor posture, sprained ankle, etc.

  • Biochemical: Things pertaining to your physiology such as dysfunction within the hormone, immune, digestive, detoxification, energy production, and nervous systems. This is the area in which FDN specializes.

Ultimately, symptoms occur when one or all of these general areas—mental/emotional, biomechanical, and biochemical—are over-stressed or compromised.

Symptoms are just the tip of the iceberg. They are the manifestation of underlying imbalances. Sometimes you can take a good guess at what the underlying issues are, based on the symptoms, but often the underlying cause(s) can seem far removed from the symptoms, resulting in a lot of guessing and trial-and-error. For example, gut dysbiosis may cause anxiety/depression and a parasitic infection may cause trouble sleeping.

Diseases, for the most part, are just labels. We apply these labels to collections of symptoms, which are caused by an underlying set of conditions. If we can correct the underlying conditions, the disease has more chance of going away. Type II diabetes, heart disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and irritable bowel syndrome don’t just happen out of nowhere. They develop over time in response to certain inputs.

Here are some examples:

Mental/Emotional: You’re under a lot of pressure at work and can’t stop thinking about your endless to-do list, even when the work day is over. It’s impacting your family life and you feel guilty that you’re not more present around your loved ones. This scenario causes stress.

Biomechanical: You have a desk job that has you sitting slouched over your computer most of the day, which over time has created a curve in your spine and uncentered your head from your shoulders. This causes stress, as do the long periods of being sedentary.

Biochemical: Both mental/emotional and biomechanical stress can also cause biochemical stress. Our biochemistry responds to the inputs from our internal and external environment all day long (even while we sleep). Too much stress of any kind can throw hormones out of balance, suppress the immune system, impair digestion and detoxification, lower your energy, and affect your brain. Biochemical stressors may include estrogen dominance, low testosterone, inflammation, bacterial overgrowth, parasitic infections, yeast overgrowth, leaky gut, food allergies/sensitivities, exposure to environmental and chemical toxins, etc. Anything that alters our physiology fits into this category. They all cause stress.

Take home message: Symptoms are common, but not normal and always have an underlying cause. Covering up symptoms without correcting the cause makes the problem worse in the long run. Symptoms are our body’s way of letting us know there is a problem and it needs help and care to get back into a state of ease.