As soon as Lora walks into the coffee shop, the girls behind the counter ooh and aww over her outfit, her shoes, her hair. She looks like someone who has it all together. And she is the definition of an accomplished woman, having spent 30 years in healthcare with experience in internal medicine, psychiatry, cardiac intensive care, emergency medicine, and bioidentical hormone replacement. In 2018, she obtained additional certification through the Institute of Functional Medicine and now offers consultation and treatment in her practice, Beautiful Brain Health. The surprising part was that once I sat down with Lora, a beautifully messy story unfolded. Lora’s true beauty was revealed in the way her experiences had shaped her and the way love had freed her. She practices what she preaches and isn’t afraid to share her own experiences and mistakes with you.
Hi Lora. Could you start by telling us more about what functional medicine is and why you got into that?
Functional medicine focuses on identifying root causes rather than simply treating downstream symptoms. There are two main beliefs that I have adopted in my functional medicine training and practice. If there is something that shouldn’t be there, get rid of it. Whether it is a virus, bacteria, toxin, unhealthy belief, or unresolved trauma, you have to remove the burden from the body and mind. Then if there is something missing, like a nutrient, a life-giving relationship, or a gratitude practice, create a space for the missing ingredient to be included.
One of the most important things in the practice of functional medicine is doing things in the right order. There are many expensive tests that can be done, but doing them in the wrong order simply creates expense and confusion. I have found that getting the foundational pieces in order, like sleep and gut health are usually the best way to start. For example, you could have a system imbalance, like in the microbiome, and downstream it shows up as a variety of seemingly unrelated symptoms like anxiety and a rash and chronic knee pain! So then you are going to the psychiatrist, the dermatologist, and a rheumatologist and none of them are talking to each other or seeing the body as a whole. It may seems like it is different diseases but the root cause could potentially all be the same thing- your gut health. So if you correct the gut issues, then surprisingly many symptoms improve and no further testing is needed. The body has the amazing ability to self-heal.
I chose to get certified in functional medicine because for too long, I had experienced the ineffectiveness, expense, side effects, and frustration of the standard Western approach to medicine. It was frustrating to not have enough time to treat patients holistically. How can a provider treat you as a whole person when they only have 8 minutes to spend with you, and if they don’t code the paperwork correctly, they do not get paid by the insurance company? There are so many smart providers stuck in a stupid system. This approach just doesn’t work with chronic conditions. It also does not allow for the truth that we are spiritual beings with a human body. Our spiritual and energetic selves are always part of the root cause of our symptoms. Pharmaceuticals work great for acute situations, like a traumatic accident, a heart attack or an infection, but not so well for chronic situations, because it doesn’t allow for getting to the root cause.
But it was really my own emotional pain progressing into chronic physical pain that finally led me to explore a more holistic avenue. I have had my own challenges in coping with anxiety, depression, and PTSD that stemmed from my father’s violence and depression in my childhood. Through functional medicine, I found lasting relief and I have been determined to share that with my patients.
I noticed that you talk a lot about the gut-brain connection on your social media platforms. What is the gut-brain connection and how is it connected to mental health?
90% of your serotonin (which is what most anxiety medicines target) is in your gut. So if something is going on with the gut, it can lead to brain fog, insomnia, anxiety and depression. So getting the gut healthy is key to maintaining a well-functioning brain. For example, there is a fairly common phenomenon called “leaky gut”. If you have a leaky gut, lipopolysaccharide leaks into the bloodstream and signals the body that there is an enemy invasion. This understandably creates anxiety. And then the anxiety itself can create more chronic digestive imbalance. It becomes a cycle between the gut and brain. When you are stuck in the stress response, your prefrontal cortex, which is used for problem-solving and focusing, is turned off and you are focused on survival.
Very often people go to a psychiatrist or their primary care provider complaining of mood symptoms and are prescribed a psychotropic medication. Statistically if you use one psychotropic medication, there is a 50% increase that you will eventually need a second or a third. A pill to help focus, another for anxiety and yet another for sleep. Most of the medications that are used to treat brain symptoms have a negative impact on the gut. So then you further disrupt the gut creating more brain symptoms.
Bottom line. . . You can’t have a healthy brain without having a healthy gut. I worked in a psychiatrist’s office for years, sadly writing hundreds of prescriptions for psychotropic medications and took them myself for several years. I remember writing prescriptions for Adderall and Zoloft for children as young as four! I’m not proud of it, but I didn’t know any better. Until I began my training in functional medicine, I had never been taught to treat the gut.
That makes me wonder: why is the gut called the second brain?
The autonomic nervous system is always sending messages to the gut: to rest and digest or for the flight or fight response. If an active shooter walked in here right now, you wouldn’t be thinking about what you want for lunch. All of your focus goes into fight or flight– which is great in an acute situation. But when there is chronic stress, then the bloodflow, which is supposed to be going into the gut, gets shunted away. It becomes a chronic feedback of stress and response. If you have chronic digestive issues, it is just a matter of time before you have a mental disturbance of some type. Energy and healing go where the blood flows.
How do you take care of the gut?
Everyone is unique, and I rely on my own intuition and spiritual guidance when working with patients, but I usually start with an elimination diet- taking out gluten, dairy, sugar, corn, alcohol, and caffeine. At the same time, I provide nutrients that are healing for at least 3 weeks. The goal is to let the gut rest and recover. Then, I slowly reintroduce foods while providing support and education for identifying adverse reactions and intolerances. It typically takes about 2 months to identify a nutrition plan that works well. Once the gut is repaired, we get to work on advanced testing, balancing hormones, and dealing with energy blocks or unresolved trauma.
That leads to my next question. Functional medicine talks about dealing with the whole person and getting to the root causes. How do you tie in spiritual health and mindset with your clients?
Yes, you could be eating the most pristine, clean, organic diet and taking the best supplements, but if your energy is stuck, you still won’t heal. It takes power and energy to heal. You simply cannot hang onto all of your resentments and expect to recover. I find that most of our resentments are towards ourselves. So this is, above all else, a path of self-forgiveness, self-acceptance, and self-love. It is the journey of a lifetime.
I have clients right away doing a gratitude practice and some type of meditation. Even that little bit can start to bring people’s energy and power into the present. Some patients need energy work to help with energy that is stuck in the body. I needed to do quite a bit of energy work myself when I started on my path and still have a regular meditation/energy practice. I also recommend plant medicines when necessary. Psylocibin and ayahuasca when used in a safe (and legal) way can be extremely beneficial
My goal is to empower my patients and support them while they heal, using whatever tools feel intuitively right for them. I don’t want my patients to become dependent on me. I am giving them the support they need to find their own healing. My full time job is to do my own healing.
In case you think I am perfect, I did everything wrong last night. I am always preaching about good sleep habits, but last night I broke all of them. I ate cheesecake, had wine and stayed on my phone until 11PM watching videos. And then today I drank too much caffeine because I was so tired which made me anxious. So I posted a video on my facebook page about how I slipped up but then had compassion on myself. I think it is important to be real because no one needs any more shame. What I am doing is just sharing my tools and experience, and connecting people to other modalities.
The body is intelligent and has the power to heal. It is smarter than any doctor or specialist that you could go to. So it is all about learning what the body needs. How will you get your power back so you can heal? It is a fully embodied spiritual journey that we are on. Everything is connected, so we cannot separate pieces of us out.
Check out Lora’s Sacred Rebellion podcast : Listen here
“In this podcast we defy convention and shatter the stereotypes of what it means to be spiritual. Sharing our journeys while interviewing experts on topics such as plant medicines, sacred ceremony, healing touch, alchemy, and the power of femininity. Reclaiming our power, and defining for ourselves what it means to be holy.”