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Functional Medicine: New Health Solutions to Old Health Problems [E065]

white pillsA chance to learn more about functional medicine. Dr. Josh Shields of Integrative Wellness Center in Michigan, a longtime friend joins host, Dr. Bryan Joseph. Dr. Shields is recognized as an industry leader for pioneering and developing natural programs geared toward helping people reverse chronic diseases and helping people get healthy – the natural way!

Table Of Contents

Introduction To Functional Medicine

Dr. Bryan Joseph: Welcome back to The Wellness Connection show. This is your host, Dr. Bryan Joseph. And we are on episode 65 today. It’s going to be a fun conversation because joining me today is a really, really good friend of mine, Dr. Josh Shields, Founder of Integrative Wellness Centers who has really been on the side of a lot of really cool conversations over the last probably 15, maybe 20 years.

Dr. Josh Shields: 2004. We’re 16 years now into this… 17 years, actually. We started in 2003 when we first met. So yeah.

Dr. Bryan Joseph: As a matter of fact, our wives became really good friends in school. And by default, Dr. Josh and I became friends through the association of our wives. But it ultimately turned into a great friendship in which we pushed each other to learn, and grow, and expand. And it’s really cool to see what he’s been doing in his spectrum of healthcare. And I’m excited to bring him on as a guest today so we can share some of the things he’s doing.

Dr. Josh’s Backstory

Dr. Bryan Joseph: Welcome. We appreciate having you here today. And why don’t we just jump right into this and give everybody a little bit of a background of how you got into healthcare in general? What’s your backstory?

Dr. Josh Shields: I actually went to chiropractic college when I was five. My mom and my dad were both going through chiropractic college in Marietta, Georgia. And I remember sometimes they couldn’t get a babysitter for me, so they brought me to classes with them. And so I always tease I was a chiropractor before I ever entered first grade. So I was always exposed to the natural healthcare field and ideas.

And, of course, because I was raised in natural health care, it’s the last thing I ever wanted to do for a living, actually. It’s ironic, but I sometimes had been ridiculed by… I remember a teacher in particular, my PE teacher, one time said that, “Your parents had them Cairo crackers, right?”

And after he said that, I thought to myself, “You know what? I never want to do that. I want to do something that’s accepted, that people look to and appreciate. And I don’t want to have to explain myself and justify what I do for the rest of my life.” Because I found that a lot of times there was a lot of controversy with chiropractic. And so I was going to become a nurse anesthetist. I was going to put people to sleep for a living.

Natural treatments without the side effects

Dr. Josh Shields: And so I was in microbiology and the teacher had us write a paper on health, and I ended up writing a paper on the natural treatments versus drug treatments of ADHD. And this was right when the internet came out. I remember listening to the dial-up five-page modem. It was only supposed to be a four or five-page paper. I was just so fascinated and enthralled with the idea. And I was also very frustrated with the idea that there’s this whole group of categories.

Because at that time too, and it is still this time, we’re seeing more and more people diagnosed with psychiatric disorders. And ADHD is just on the rise. And there are more and more kids who are taking these medications. My half-brother was taking this medication. And they even said to me at one point in time that maybe I had ADHD. So obviously it was something that was dear to me and I wanted to look into it.

And so as I started doing my research, I realized that people are given, I think it was, a class two pharmaceutical drug that’s on the same level as cocaine to people to help with this disorder. But still, I looked into it and the natural treatments were in many cases just as effective without the side effects. And I’m thinking to myself, “Why is everybody taking these medications without first trying the natural, safe alternatives?”

I was so stirred and so upset that I decided I wanted to right the wrong. And I called my mom. I remember the conversation. Said, “Mom, I’m going to school to be a chiropractor.” Because that’s the only thing I knew about natural health care. Not functional medicine yet.

Something felt missing

Dr. Bryan Joseph: I didn’t know that that was the path that took you in. I knew your parents were both chiropractors and that, I would imagine, laid a foundation for you for just understanding your philosophy on how you approach health. You did some high-level training and performance. I don’t remember, half Iron Man or full Iron Man? Or what’d you end up doing?

Dr. Josh Shields: I did the full Iron Man. I was going to try to qualify for Kona. And that was in itself a terrible day because I had the flu the day of the race. But as my wife said, “You’re going to get out there and do it.” So I did it. But it was that path that… Here I am. I’m in chiropractic practice and I’m helping people with chiropractic.

And I can tell you right out of the gate, I always felt like something was a little bit missing for me. I didn’t feel that people were coming to really transform their lives. And I really thought that that’s what I was getting into, is to help people be healthier and live better lives. A lot of times people would come to me because their back hurt. And they knew they had 12 visits on their chiropractic care and they wanted to see if we could fix their back pain.

But I was all about lifestyle. And that was all about nutrition, and dietary changes, and supplements. And I was all about these things that people could do to be well, and nobody really wanted to hear the message. But for me, what started happening was with the training and the workload I was under, I started to break down.

Recommitting life to functional medicine

And after about two years of struggling, and after Googling my symptoms, and Googling what I should be taking, and Dr. Google told me I had an adrenal problem. And they told me that I needed kava kava, and 5-HTP, and melatonin. So I was trying all these different supplements and I’m certain I have an adrenal fatigue problem. 100% certain based on everything that Google told me I had and what I’d read in research. And here I was, I thought I was a bright guy. I was like, “I got this figured out.”

Then I met this doctor and he said, “Dr. Shields, what you’re doing is you’re taking a pill for an ill. There’s an underlying root cause to your sleep issues. And what we can do is we can do some testing to find out where your body needs help or where it needs support.”

And I ended up doing the testing. When the results came back, I actually thought it was wrong. He says, “No, You’ve got an issue clearing out toxins. And those toxins can get to your brain and can cause insomnia.” He showed me some articles and some research on it. And I was like, “Holy cow.” After two and a half months of undergoing his care, I’d finally gotten eight hours of solid sleep. I remember that day when I woke up, it was like that huge epiphany of like, “I knew what I’m recommitting my life to.”

So I became trained and I’m certified in functional medicine. I decided to sell my practice in Georgia. This is how all in I was. And I was going to go to move to Michigan to start a new clinic that was functional medicine only.

What Is Functional Medicine?

Dr. Bryan Joseph: Let me ask you this, because just like when I walk the streets or talk to different people and I ask them, “What do you think chiropractic is,” the definition is pretty interesting. And the same thing now is happening for when you ask, “Have you ever heard of functional medicine? Or what is functional medicine?” So clearly that’s now your lane. What would you define functional medicine?

Dr. Josh Shields: Functional medicine for our clinic might be different than other clinics. And really, I believe that with functional medicine what we’re doing is we’re trying to find out the root causes of people’s health issues. But not only finding the cause because that’s that in itself isn’t going to get… I’ve never seen a test result get somebody well.

We’re going to help find out what the cause is or the causes, multiple causes typically. And then we’re going to teach them and show them what they actually need to do in to improve those underlying causes. I feel like there’s a lot of times people miss out on that education component, that care component.

Because without the care, people aren’t going to get well. Just telling somebody, “You’ve got leaky gut,” that’s not enough. It’s like, “Well, this is what you need to do. And this is the lifestyle they need to have.” And then they need the support and the guidance to actually do and set out what is it they want to accomplish. And so that’s, for us, what functional medicine is.

Solutions in Functional Medicine

Dr. Bryan Joseph: Many people are conditioned to go into a doctor and say, “What are you going to give me as a solution?And what are you going to give me as a solution?” What would a patient get from you when you’re getting lab results back? And what are your solutions? What are you going to be able to provide to somebody when you’re looking for root cause?

Dr. Josh Shields: It’s interesting because I guess the first thing is… Like I had a patient yesterday came in. We’re talking and I remember telling the gentleman… He’s complaining of fatigue – saying he’s not sleeping that well. He’s got achy joints, has swelling in his hands and his feet. And he just doesn’t feel well. He’s like, “I’ve worked my whole life to get to this position in my life. And I have the opportunity to potentially take over this multimillion-dollar company. But yet, I’d feel like my life is slipping away from me.”

And he’s been going to doctors, trying to find out the one thing that’s wrong with him. They’re doing endoscopies, they’re doing scans, MRIs. And they’re all telling him, “You’re not dying of anything. You’re okay.” But what I’m seeing from him is that he’s slowly deteriorating. His body is withering. It is becoming slowly diseased. And I think he innately knows that. If your hands are swelling, your feet are swelling, that’s telling us that right there something’s going on with your vascular system.

And you don’t want to have something wrong with your vascular system. You want to make sure that the blood is flowing fluidly through your body and it’s returning properly to your body. Or else, that’s a demon. That’s fluid buildup. That’s a problem.

Looking for imbalance

And so I told him, I said, ” I’m not a hundred percent sure what’s wrong. But I do know that if we do enough testing we’re going to find lots of little pieces to put all this puzzle together, and we’re going to absolutely be able to help you.”

And so with him, for example, I’m imagining we’re going to see where his insulin levels are going to be high. I’m imagining that we might see some… Or we already saw. He brought some testing in and they had some nutritional deficiencies that is already present. Probably going to find that on a stool test, that he’s got some type of candida or a hidden infection. And so with nutritional deficiencies, these hidden infections, we can also see that there is going to lead to inflammation.

And so we’re looking to look at is one of the markers that we always look in our office is called the CRP, C-reactive protein. That, for me, is a marker of health and vitality. And the more disease prone you are, the higher that level is going to be. So that’s something that your listeners should go out right now. And everybody should know that, or that’s listening to this podcast should know. Get your CRP levels checked. You should know what those are. That just tells you how much damage or inflammation you have in your body. So that’s why I was telling him, “Ultimately, we’re going to get all that back and we’ll figure out what to go from there.”

Common Functional Tests

Dr. Bryan Joseph: What are some of the more common functional tests that you like to run on your patients when they come in?

Dr. Josh Shields: We always like to do a comprehensive blood panel. Our panel looks at over 75 markers. And so we’re going to look at autoimmune conditions. We’re going to look for inflammation, nutritional deficiencies, and at the immune system. And that’s our first standard panel.

Then we can branch out from that. Sometimes we’ll do in the first visit. So sometimes we won’t. But we love to do a DNA stool analysis that can look at infections, overgrowth. Look to see if there’s any parasites or worms. It’s a pretty cool test. It can also tell if you have enough enzymes in your digestive system, if you’ve got inflammation in your colon. We love to do a food sensitivity test in our clinic. We do that on just about every patient to find out if they’re eating any foods that are causing inflammation or their immune responses. So we do an IgG immune test.

We can also do some advanced nutritional testing if we need to, and some toxicity testing. And then we also have a urine hormone test that we like to run. But we always like to say, “If we don’t get the gut balanced, and get the liver healthier. And to get the body clean of toxins, then the hormones are always going to be out of balance. So we have to start at the core first.”

Not all blood tests are equal

Dr. Bryan Joseph: So one thing that I didn’t know when I was earlier in my career is, and I know a lot of patients that we meet with also don’t know this is, that not all blood tests are created equal. We have a lot of patients that come in. And similar to what you just said, when you say you run a full blood panel, I often hear, “Well, I’ve already had blood run a hundred times. I’ve a million blood tests.” How would you share it what differentiates your functional blood work from traditional blood work? Or standard CBC?

Dr. Josh Shields: Typically, they’re doing what they call a CBC, which is just an immune count. And they’re doing a comprehensive metabolic profile that looks at your cholesterol, and your A1C, and your blood sugar. So for example, that gentleman yesterday, he was about 250 pounds and he was almost six foot tall. And it’s interesting. Looking at his blood work, his A1C was 5.3. So it was normal. His blood sugar was normal at 102, fasting blood sugar. But I promise you this, when we get his insulin back, which is the hormone that regulates blood sugars, the insulin is going to be through the roof.

It’s funny is I can tell him, “Based on that test, your insulin levels are high. And that’s going to cause you to have lower testosterone and more estrogen.” And then I started talking about some of the symptoms of low testosterone or higher estrogen. He goes, “I’ve got every one of those.” And I said, “Well, what’s causing that could be the insulin.” But we don’t a hundred percent know that until we test it.

The analogy of functional ranges

Dr. Bryan Joseph: So I find myself using this analogy a lot, Dr. Shields, is when it comes to optimal ranges or functional ranges, it’s like boiling a pot of water. And what I mean by that is when you boil a pot of water, we know that the water really truly doesn’t boil until you’re at 212 degrees.

In medicine, most lab tests don’t look for anything wrong until they hit 212 degrees, which is basically the boiling point. And now we have pathology or disease that we can treat. The reality is, you and I both know this, is when we are at 200 degrees or 195 degrees, it’s really, really hot.

Dr. Josh Shields: I was just talking to my friend, a medical doctor. We were just hanging out on his back porch the other night. We’re social distancing, and we had our six feet spaces. But we were talking to one of our other friends that was really struggling with their health. And we started talking to her about her lab work that she had done at her doctor’s office. She’d already sent it to me and I just looked over it as a friend. And it was so basic. Her husband’s sitting there and he’s like, “Well, why don’t the doctors do more testing?”

And the doctor that was sitting next to me, he goes, “Honestly, Jeff, the only time that we want to do in depth… First off, we just want to make sure somebody’s not going to die.” And that’s really what the test is looking for, “Is somebody right now at risk of dying? If they’re not at risk of dying, then there’s really nothing we can do to help people feel better.”

Functional medicine vs Traditional healthcare

Dr. Bryan Joseph: That’s a huge differentiator though. Medicine is not bad. Traditional healthcare. It’s there to keep you alive, but there’s a big, big, big space between being alive and being dead, called life and function. And that’s where a lot of times we don’t want to just wait until we’re on the cusp of death to we’ll work with improving our health. We might as well do some things to optimize our health, right?

Dr. Josh Shields: I was just watching the commercial the other day. I saw that they now you can get your prescriptions all filled and get this little pack of prescriptions. And it was like a high blood pressure medication, a cholesterol medication, and a diabetes medication all in one little pack. And it’s like, “Now we’ll pack it for you. No cost every day.” And I’m thinking, “It is unfortunate, though. Medicine saves people’s lives, no doubt, acutely from crises.”

And that’s what this doctor did. He was a brain surgeon that often operated on tumors on the brainstem or on the spinal cord. And so, yeah, he’s saving people’s lives every day. But then you’ve got the other range where the medications are in the play. And I think everybody can agree with me, and I think that we’ve seen, is that medications are overused to push numbers down, to make them look better on paper. But they’re not really helping people function better in many cases. And that’s really where I feel like that’s where we’re filling that void now, is people saying, “I want to feel better too. I just don’t want my lab work to look better. I want to function better, and feel better, and have a better life.”

Conditions Commonly Treated by Functional Medicine

Dr. Bryan Joseph: What are some of the more common conditions? I know we don’t necessarily treat conditions in what we do, but what are some of the c onditions that are drawn towards your practice right now most commonly? What are you working with the most?

Dr. Josh Shields: I think that’s wonderful that you said that. But I will give you one condition. It’s called “chronic I don’t feel good-itis”. Honestly, that’s what we see a lot of, is people just don’t feel well anymore. They’re not sleeping well, they don’t have the energy they supposed to have, and they’re just not thriving. And a lot of times I hear… Just on yesterday’s consult, the lady said to me she just feels like she’s just barely getting by every day. She puts everything she’s got for work, but when she comes home to those two kids, she’s a single mother, she goes, “I don’t have enough to give them.”

Closing Thoughts

Dr. Bryan Joseph: As we come to a conclusion on this podcast episode, can you just let our listeners know how to find you?

Dr. Josh Shields: We’re just west of Detroit, about 30 miles. And I always do recommend that people look for somebody that they can sit down knee to knee if they can. But we do some distant coaching. As to say, we can’t say that we practice medicine or we can’t ever say that we practice functional medicine. We’re simply health consultants for people that aren’t near our clinic.

And as health consultants, we can be found at That’s our website. So it’s IW Centers. And people are welcome to schedule a consultation with me, or one of our doctors will sit down and talk to them and just see if it sounds like a good fit, if there’s something we can help them with. And if it is, we’ll talk about the next steps moving forward. But that consultation in our clinic’s always free.

Dr. Bryan Joseph: Awesome. Thanks for sharing that. We find you find this too, but a lot of times people have relatives, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends that live in different areas. We’re often getting asked, “Who would you refer to in this particular area?” Dr. Shields and his other doctors or somebody that we feel extremely comfortable sending any referral to. And so if you know somebody in those particular areas, please look them up. I think you’ll be happy with the way that you’re treated and also the results that you’ll be able to achieve.

Continue the mission

Dr. Bryan Joseph: So Dr. Shields, you have any closing statements as we wrap up? Anything else that you want to share?

Dr. Josh Shields: I want to thank you though for the last 17 years of your friendship, and everything you’ve done, and just always being there for me, and always being a good sounding board, and a good mentor, and a good guide and a good leader. And I just can’t thank you enough for everything that you’ve done for me and my family, and thanks.

Dr. Bryan Joseph: You’re ultimately welcome. And you’re like another brother to me at this point. So I’m very, very blessed to have you in my life. And I’m really, really excited that we’re able to share this conversation and share some of the wisdom and knowledge that you’ve acquired and your life experience.

And hopefully, it lands on somebody and blesses somebody else. So if you heard this message, resonated with it, liked it, then share it with somebody that you think may benefit from it that’s trying to discover their own personal path of how to improve their health and their wellness.

As always, we will continue the mission to do whatever we can to help you get well and stay well. Thank you so much for all your support. And thank you again, Dr. Shields for joining us today.

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