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On the third episode of The Power Is Within Us, Sunna speaks with Melissa Cohen, where they discuss functional medicine and the importance of diet with regards to all bodily processes. Functional medicine is a biology and chemistry–based approach to healthcare that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of illness, which is often linked to the foods we consume. Sunna and Melissa discuss the science behind functional medicine and some helpful health hacks you may want to incorporate into your daily life.
Sunna: Hi, Melissa, good to have you on the show today. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to join us and talk about nutrition and functional medicine.
Melissa: Great to be here. Thank you for asking.
Sunna: My pleasure. So for our listeners, tell us a little bit about what got you into nutrition and functional medicine. How did you get started in all of this?
Melissa: Anything with health? It was through life. And I had first of all, I was working in quite a demanding industry where I was traveling a lot. And at the weekends, I used to have headaches. I was tired, what we call Foggy Head now, and I just lived like that for years. And then my relative of mine was diagnosed with Crohn's disease and he went to see a nutritional therapist. And his nutritional therapist to me was like an ace card with somebody that was looking at him as a person rather than the disease itself. And he cut out certain foods. He got a stool test and he began to get off the immunosuppressants and get himself better. And I was just blown away by that. And this was, gosh, 20 years ago, maybe a bit less. So this is a long, long time ago. And I was just blown away by the whole process and decided to study it.
Sunna: Amazing. I mean, the power of the natural body, right. To be able to heal itself is something and that's quite spooky. You bring up crimes because one of the reasons that got me into health was a family member as well had ulcerative colitis and the response was, sorry, no cure. And we just kind of didn't accept that as an answer and went into diet and nutrition and that made a full recovery now. So, yeah, the power of the human body is fascinating and incredible to me. So you started by training in nutrition and then you moved into functional medicine? Yep. What got you into functional medicine? And maybe explain a little bit what it is, is a concept
Melissa: Like I did a degree in nutrition, so I did a degree in nutrition. And I to be honest, I didn't know it was going to be so complicated by chemistry. And I did that. And then I wanted to work with the medical sector as well. And I and the functional medicine came from America where some doctors got together and started to treat their patients and look at what's driving that disease rather than treating the symptom. What's the root of that disease, which I can elaborate on, if you'd like me to. And so I went on lots of courses and I started working with a doctor in Wimpole Street in central London. Still do. And we saw patients together and we looked after that, looked after them. And rather than treating the symptom, we were getting them better holistically. So we need to sort of elaborate on that. We talked about Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, which is an autoimmune condition where your body's really inflamed most of your immune system, 75 cents in the gut. So it's looking at looking at what you're eating. So basically stripping out inflammatory foods, eating more of the wholesome foods and also looking at certain levels. So we'll talk about vitamin D later on, but looking at vitamin D markers, looking at iron levels, looking at the floor, looking at vitamin A deficiencies and just working holistically with the patients to get their vitamin markers and that, in fact, inflammatory markers down. And it's just quite incredible and quite exciting when you do testing with patients and they feel better and you've got the data as well to say, well, inflammation decreased and then nutrition's increased as well and hormone levels have come back up. Previously they were flat. So it's evidence.
Sunna: It's incredibly powerful. And I mean, I came across functional medicine through Chris Caressa, who I'm sure you know, in the US is a big advocate of functional medicine. And I have no idea what it was originally. And I've got, as I said, no medical training as such, but that the simplicity and the logic behind it just resonated with me so much, which was, well, let's figure out what's wrong and let's address that and the cause. Rather than going here's a pill for this symptom, because that's just going to temporarily make it better rather than actually address the issues and I could never understand whenever I got sick, why would you take a painkiller or something if the pain wasn't that bad? Because I know it's not really going to help me fix it. I want to understand what the causes I think is is phenomenal. You've done that and actually seen that the power of how you can help your patients.
Sunna: Yeah. And I think I think interestingly as well, these so I think we're all susceptible. This is genetics, which is also what I test as well. But everybody is susceptible to something. But if you know what you're predisposed to, you can manage your health much better. So some people are susceptible to inflammation, some people susceptible to addiction, some people depression, some people diabetes. So it's if you know, so all I see is the loaded gun. So you just don't want to pull the trigger. So if you can prevent that from happening through diet and nutrition, functional medicine,
Sunna: What you saw on your website, you mentioned nutri genetics. Could you explain to people what that is and kind of what the relationship between nutrition and genetics is?
Melissa: Yeah, interesting. So, OK, so we have genetic testing. The human genome was discovered good 10, 15 years ago now 20 years ago. And so it enables scientists then to look at variants, mutations in genes. So what makes your gene, your DNA different than my DNA? And it's very, very literal. And basically DNA codes for proteins that codes for enzymes. So if you think DNA codes for protein codes, for enzymes and in this coding, sometimes the coding is incorrect and the enzymes are produced, which means, for example, and some people can't absorb calcium as effectively because calcitriol, which is the active vitamin D combined onto the vitamin D receptor. So some people say, well, gosh, my vitamin D always low so they can get tested regularly. And if they feel that they're having therapeutic amounts just to get their levels within range, this is something that they might want to look at, will maybe have a look at doing some neutral genetics, looking at how nutrition can change the way your genes are expressed. So that's new to genetics and it's a whole host of looking at what you're predisposed to. We talked about inflammation and really predict if you are on a diet that's processed and smoking lots of alcohol, you might not get diabetes type two, but there's a strong chance that you'll get some auto immune disorder.
Melissa: And that's fascinating to me because I think the perceived wisdom for so long was, well, it's our genes. We're predisposed to have this outcome. Right. So we kind of, you know, give away our control. But what you're actually saying is, no, it's a combination of the genome plus your nutrition and your environment and everything you do. And the compound effect of both actually result in the outcome. So we do have control over our genes to some extent.
Melissa: I mean, I'll be an example. I'll be a guinea pig. So when I had my genes tested, it was almost like looking at looking at myself in the mirror. So I was asthmatic as a child. I'm so sensitive to so much eczema and eczema and. Yes, which is quite inflammatory. So all my inflammatory markers were increased, my liver was sluggish, my sort of enzymes coating for the liver was quite slow. And so and and I didn't have the enzyme to digest dairy. So it so it was it opened my eyes. And also I'm very sensitive to sugar, which means I'm susceptible to diabetes type two. So I could look at that and be very unhappy about that. But I looked at that and felt fantastic. This is information that I can utilize now
Sunna: And you can adapt to your environment so that your genes then don't express themselves in that way. They don't cause yourself those problems.
Melissa: Exactly. It's a blueprint for life, I think.
Sunna: Yeah, amazing. And that's fascinating to me. I'm sure you have Dr. Bruce Lipton, who you've kind of studied epigenetics and how it really is the environment that affects that gene expression. And I just thought it was mind blowing listening to his work where, you know, it's like, wow, we actually have the control. We can take control of our health and affect how these genes operate and express. So you offer a functional testing service for your patients. Where would you begin with someone who is new to all of this testing and how do you get into it? What are the most important things to look at first?
Melissa: So the question is, if a patient came to see me, how would I know what tests to offer them?
Sunna: I mean, if you if you take me, for example, never done loads of testing myself, I don't necessarily have an immediate issue. But what would you recommend as an overall benchmark of health and how to get into this field if you want to improve your health?
Melissa: So if you wanted to get into testing and look at your own health, you want to get a functional medicine, nutrition or a nutritional therapist that does functional testing, and you would then rather than look at the testing singularly and look at the person and say, look at energy, look at digestion, look at elimination, look at diets and lifestyle and then well-being and talk about cognition. And based on the information that I get from my patients, then I say, well, these are the tests that will hopefully enable you to increase energy or improve endurance or increase recovery time depending on whether it's athletic or cognition, work, focus, whatever. Your aims on IBS is just I think 70 percent, 80 percent of the people I say have irritable bowel issues of some kind. So it's a big focus on that.
Sunna: So this, in a way, the symptoms and how people are experiencing their health in their body is actually the clues for you to go and understand, you know, where to start and what's going on.
Melissa: We call that clinical evidence, clinical symptoms. So I don't just look at the data and I look at the person. I speak to the person. And you can even learn a lot about somebody when they're not talking, how they're sitting, how they're moving, how they're responding, the speed of their voice. And there's all of this processing that continues. And then you enable a functional medicine protocol, which includes certain foods and certain foods to avoid certain foods to increase, but to eliminate what tests to do. And based on that, then you can then provide not only food, but therapeutic supplementation,
Sunna: American, not us. That's phenomenal. And, you know, so, so, so interesting because I don't know if anyone's even really heard of Big in America, because the health care system is a bit different. But here in the U.K., which is the NHS to most people. But, you know, there's such a different level that we can get to in terms of understanding our bodies and our health. And part of that is also being in tune with it. Right. You know, if you have a symptom of some common low energy or you groggy brain fog, like you mentioned, it's a sign something's wrong. And I think too often these days where we just accept it and feel very good, I'll drink more coffee.
[00:13:07] Yeah. And, you know, I, I see a lot of people with prediabetes as well. And, you know, they'll go to their GP and the GP will say, well, you know, blood sugar is a little bit high, but there's no advice there that that the sort of red zone yet. So they think they're eating healthy. And maybe for somebody with different and different composition, it could be genetics. They might be healthy, it might not be raising their blood sugar. But clearly, the food is not agreeing with them. And I think if anybody's is listening and has these symptoms, all these markers, they should definitely seek a nutritional therapies, functional or functional medicine practitioner to work with them.
[00:13:51] Absolutely. And I think this is where I see your point. People just actually, unfortunately, unaware. And I think part of the reason why they're unaware is because food companies do such a good, in inverted commas, job of promoting themselves as good quality, healthy food. But in truth, if you turn over the label, it's full of hidden sugars or things. One of the examples I keep telling my friends is, you know, the whole plant based movement is phenomenal. You know, great that we eat more plants, but look at the ingredients of some of those alternative meats full of processed ingredients or even take out milk as an example. Yeah, Scott, between four to five grams of sugar, one hundred miles. So if you're drinking three, four or five hundred middle of that day, you know, it's 20 grams of sugar right there just in your milk that you think it's great for the planet. But what about your health?
Melissa: Well, I think you I think you've got to be I think the food industry a long time ago was quite ethical. But like anything where there's money to be made, you're getting the big food manufacturers jumping in there. And, you know, I you know, you hear my my my clients thing at pasta and I'll have lentils is processed. It's that. But even if there's no sugar. But there's fillers in there and preservatives and you're still not feeding the body the nutrients it requires. And I do think it's not just, as you say, what you're eliminating and protecting the planet, but it's also not only what you're eating, but it is you're absorbing the nutrients that you're eating as well. So you're only as good as what you're absorbing. Yeah, what we also haven't touched on is lifestyle. So you could be on the best diets in the world. But if your lifestyle is not healthy, which there's lots of variables, and that's why they say you can't outrun a bad diet right now.
Sunna: I haven't heard of that. I like that. And it's been related to Boris a lot because he keeps saying he's cycling around and trying to do his best to get healthier. But whatever he's putting in his body isn't working for you.
[00:16:01] Coming female sought him out.
[00:16:03] Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So I guess just moving on from the functional side of medicine a little bit, you also look at neurolinguistic programming and L.P and this this really piqued my interest in your profile, because actually a lot of this is we know we're not maybe as healthy as we should. Yeah. How do we break those habits?
[00:16:28] You know, I came across OP eight years ago, so when I did my degree, I had to study and help as a way to see it as a tool box to to talk to clients. And I thought I might as well qualified this so and so. Neurolinguistic programming for programming is how you think, how you speak. And will change your behavior and there's so much research on this neuropsychology, there's just so much how you see things, you know what your perception is. And so somebody can come to me and say, I've always been big. I've always and, you know, somebody will come to me, let's say, for the basics of losing weight, for example. And my help with them would certainly step up if somebody said, but I've always been big and I'm thinking, well, that's why know it all starts from how we perceive ourselves or our identity. So which stops me from reaching my goals. So I very much work with my clients on what their goals are. So I know what my goal would be for them. But I don't like that. To get in the way. I have to ask what they and they might visualize what they're wearing. They might visualize growing older with their grandchildren. It might be what they're hearing people saying to them, and it just might be breathing a much more freely, not being self conscious, more confident or public speaking, whatever it may be. And then neurolinguistic programming it then for me is using that hook and linking it back into their food. And it's very, very subtle. And I'll just sort of reinforce that with them. And then there's very much neurolinguistic programming exercises. You can do this tapping this visualization exercises, affirmation exercises. It's it's very, very powerful. So it's changing. It's replacing bad habits into habits that are going to serve them to where they want to go.
[00:18:29] I mean, it's just incredible. I think it's so, so important. I mean, if I have a bag of crisps in the house, I know it's in my belly within an hour, it's just inside. So I just don't buy them. But, you know, your environment, if it's there, I can't stop myself, but
[00:18:46] I hate it there is it. OK, so with the bag of tricks, you've got to see if you when you after this take some time off and think of what's the trigger point. Just imagine where you are because the brain plays tricks on you as well. So the brain tells you you need those crispier because you in a fight or flight situation, maybe because you're in a stressful situation, you need some comfort and you hope that the press never forgets. But some point just visualize where those risks are. And when's that? When's the reward? Is it touching? The is the opening the crest? Is that when you put it in your mouth?
[00:19:26] When I said good question, I'm not sure. I know it's definitely a stress thing for me because I work a lot. And sometimes when it's just been a crazy week on a Friday night, I'm like, you know what? I'd love some chips and guacamole and I'll just I'll go do it. So it's almost like a release in a way, like just a gift almost to myself, even though I know it's not good.
[00:19:50] Yeah. So you've changed. So it's a gift. And so that you could then my question would be my question would be am. What is your ultimate goal, you know, your ultimate goal, whatever it may be, would the in the guacamole once a week be serving you now? If it's a treat, then there's nothing wrong with those one pack of crisps and a guacamole. It's what comes after that or what comes around that. But if it's just a one off, then it's seven. You okay?
Sunna: Yeah. Well, and as you mentioned, where it comes from, right. In your environment and your parents as well. My dad always says, well, you need food for the soul as well sometimes. So, you know, it's not all just about health and sometimes you occasionally need those moments. But yeah, I try and obviously swap them out for healthier alternatives that still give me that same moment, because you can get much healthier crisps on potatoes and they are fried and
Melissa: We could chop up some sweet potato and cook it with some olive oil and some paprika and cayenne pepper and pink. So it would be nice to experience.
Sunna: Yeah, exactly. You're absolutely right. And so. Well, thank you for that. It's a good tip. I'm going to I'm going to try and take that on board. I just wanted to also quickly then bring it back to immune health, because immunity is such a big topic these days with everything that's been going on. How often do you see kind of immune health issues in your patients and how do you work with the immune system? Because it's such a complex kind of collection of organisms within our body that I don't think everyone fully understands
[00:21:36] Yeah, so immunity is. And what is immunity? Immunity is the ability to fight off infection. So we have we have white blood cells to enable us to do that. We don't want an overactive immune system that will that's that's autoimmune, which we've discussed already, that your immune system attacking your own cells. So we don't particularly want that. And we don't want to suppress the immune system. And because that's when you're susceptible to the flu, is susceptible to colds, you start to both different strains of bacteria. So the immune system requires certain vitamins to an ape and vitamins and protein to produce these white blood cells and to enable your immune function to work optimally. That's essential. And the immune system, but that getting to scientific produce these chemicals and they also need nutrients and to help kill off pathogens. And it should really start with nutrition, because if you think about it, everything is quite sterile from when you eat, so from your throat, your esophagus, and then goes into your intestines. So everything kind of goes from your throat down your esophagus, hits the liver, goes into the stomach, goes into the intestines and it's in through the intestines. It's when it takes the nutrients and that's when it goes systemically. So your first line of defense is really in your intestines. It's your beneficial bacteria. And so you're born with some beneficial bacteria again, you're genetically predisposed to not producing sets and the vet varieties, ideally we want a good, robust variety of beneficial bacteria.
Melissa: So can you imagine if you've got low beneficial bacteria? That means that pathogens so anything unwanted in the body has a chance to get into the bloodstream. And that's when your systemic your bodily immune system, your white blood cells start reacting. Now, sometimes they can overreact and they can react to food. They say you can have food sensitivities, they can react to bacteria, they can react to toxins. And even if it doesn't trigger into an autoimmune condition, we can compare it to, let's say, the pandemic that's that's happening at the moment. Your immune system becomes suppressed because it's busy fighting things off that you're beneficial. Bacteria should be fighting or it's busy fighting off bacteria that should have never kind of got into the systemic system of a virus that should never have proliferated in the first place. So your immune system is is is your first line of defense and especially in the gut and your beneficial bacteria. You are what you absorb. You are what you eat. And then we need the classic vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin A to help the poor, your immune system and the protein. And also that the immune system also has its armoury, its chemicals to fight off infection.
[00:24:54] Yeah, I mean, the nutrients are the fuel. And, you know, as you say, one interesting perspective I always get told about is how actually your throat and your digestive tract are actually external to they on us. They are where we put things from the external environment into our body. And then there is that process of, OK, is this good for us? It is bad for us doing all this, don't we? Do we fight it? And that's where the immune system come in.
Melissa: If you think if you talk about that, you can think of your ears. So these are external. So these called mucosal areas, your ears, your nose, your eyes, your mouth. It's you know, and that's where infection can get in and what's lying in there is about beneficial bacteria so that we really need to support that.
Sunna: Yeah, well, that's, you know, a microbiome in your mouth, right?
[00:25:48] There's more microbiome than human cells. You know, this
[00:25:53] Is exactly that. I mean, it's so fascinating to me that we just don't understand really this microscopic world yet. You know, in the room where you are today, there will be over a billion viruses. Some of them will be good, some bad. And it's our immune system that helps us decide what's good and what's bad.
Melissa: And then it could just start off with oral, oral hygiene, cleaning your teeth. You know, we just don't want that bacteria to migrate.
Sunna: Of course. Yeah, of course. It is incredible, incredible topic that we could talk about for hours. But I wanted to bring it back a little the conversation to our eight week challenge where we're trying to get people to take control of their health and really just make very small changes in the way they operate in a day to day basis that will improve their health and help them have better overall energy, feeling, mood and obviously immune health to in our eight week plan, we have a kind of nutrition challenges. We have reduced sugar, eat more plants, eat more vitamin D, drink more water, eat less processed food, as we've already talked about having kind of nutrient dense smoothies and foods for your breakfast rather than toast and cereal seasonally and increase your fiber intake. Is there anything we've missed? Is that any amazing tips you have that you would add to that to help people?
Melissa: I would agree. More lifestyle. So sleeping and you know, your circadian rhythm get to bed before 11 o'clock because that's when your immune system, that's when all your cells repair. And that will give your vitamin D a chance to replenish as well. So sleeping. And also there's something and even deep breathing meditation that will really help. And there's a saying called rest and restore or rest and digest. So the calmer you are, say, the more relaxed state you are, which, let's be honest, it's very difficult to be an all the time. But deep breathing almost tricks your body. So breathe in four, five, hold four, five out for ten. Ten minutes of meditation will really help or trick the body. So we have in the brain the hypothalamus, which is like an antenna and how we feel will tell the body how to react. So if we're constantly in a stressed state, the body will be constantly producing stress hormones that suppress the immune system.
Sunna: I have to ask on behalf of my wife because she constantly tells me to meditate and I just am terrible at doing it. And I know all the physiological benefits and how good it is, but I still don't do it. If you go and get help, if you go out to meditate, what
[00:28:53] Have I got any oh
[00:28:55] God help to help
Melissa Me to help you meditate. So might help for you would be very quickly. And so you said you've been working really hard this last year. Well, so how do you think you're going to sustain if your goals are to become even more successful, how are you going to sustain the way you're living at the moment? How are you going to sustain that?
Sunna I think the one way I do sustain it is I protect the quality of my sleep, like religiously. I make sure I get to bed by 10:00 and, you know, I need to have that sleep because as soon as I miss that, then it all falls apart. But I know meditation can add so much more,
Melissa But I think I think the thing is meditation. It's not having to sleep in the middle of the day. It just refocuses your mind and switches off that antenna in the brain. And I think a functional way to think about this is if you're very passionate about protecting your immune system, you want to shut down your stress response, which is I must make a phone call, I must do more podcasts. And you just take that ten minutes out in the day, which overrides that and tells the body to relax, switches off that alarm state and give us a chance to bring your cortisol stress levels down, which will protect your immune system, keep your vitamin D replenished as well, and your vitamin C, which is essential for the immune system. Vitamin C is very much required for the adrenals, which Halstrom. So my help for you would be you're passionate about the immune system, just 10 minutes a day will help you boost support that the new nutrition store that you're so passionate about
Melissa Is very clever. You're relating it back to my goals and what I want to achieve. And actually, I should be doing it for my immune system, whereas when I think I should be doing it just because it doesn't quite resonate and I don't. So that's very helpful, Melissa. But before we go, just one last question. If there's one thing you would want our listeners to do to maximize their health, what would it be?
Sunna Let me just get rid of this and this one thing your listeners can do to maximize their health make. OK, there's one thing. Make sure every bite of food is functional in the body.
Melissa Amazing. That is such a such a good nugget, because I think one of the things people forget is food isn't really entertainment, which is how we most often treated. You know, we get bored, we go to the fridge and we want something that taste great is actually the fuel that helps us move around, do what we need to do and keep going throughout the day. So I love that tip.
Sunna Yeah, it's everything has as everything be accountable in every food has it. And we've got a busy day. I do. I need some more protein. Do I want to protect my immune system. Say I'm looking around for vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin rich foods and really think about foods a lot more functionally and that would stop the cravings as well.
Sunna Amazing. That is so, so brilliant. And so lastly, Melissa, tell our audience where they can find you if they want to potentially book consultation or learn more about what you do.
Melissa Yeah, if you want to drop me an email, it's Melissa at Melissa Hyson co and dot com or just Google Melissa Nutrition and you can find me and Lukwiya also.
Sunna: Well, thanks for joining us today, Melissa. That was fascinating. I learned a lot and I've got some help I need to be working on for my meditation and my crisp habit.
Melissa: My pleasure. My pleasure. Thank you.
Sunna: Thank you, Melissa.
Many of us probably have an instinctive sense of what we think the immune system...