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The Functional Medicine Approach to Recovering from Burnout

While few people would consider burnout to be a medical condition, we at BioDesign Wellness Center know it to be a root cause of far too many doctor visits. Unfortunately, when visiting a traditional medical practice and general practitioner (GP), these visits rarely provide patients with the relief they seek. 

Functional Medicine Tampa FLAccording to the American Psychological Association, burnout is “physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion accompanied by decreased motivation, lower performance, and negative attitudes towards oneself and others.”

If these symptoms describe how you’re feeling, you’re not alone. More and more people are suffering from burnout than ever before, and it is no surprise.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing political and social unrest, intensifying international conflicts, concerns over climate change, and rising inflation, along with personal and work-related challenges, people have far more stress to deal with than in even the recent past. 

Unfortunately, conventional medicine does not consider burnout to be a medical condition. To conventional doctors, burnout is more psychological and emotional than physical and therefore, falls outside their immediate purview. It is a problem to be solved by psychologists, therapists, and perhaps ministers, not medical doctors. 

As a result, conventional medicine has little more to offer patients than a recommendation to get more rest, take a multivitamin, and learn how to manage their stress. That’s a start, but it is rarely enough to get patients back to feeling like themselves again, let alone functioning at the top of their game.

Fortunately, functional medicine offers a solution.

Emptying the Bucket

Burnout doesn’t happen overnight. It develops over a period of time through an accumulation of stress from multiple sources. Imagine placing a bucket under a slow leaky pipe. The drip, drip, drip of everyday stressors gradually fill the bucket to the point of overflowing. Sources of stress include the following:

  • Work
  • Family/relationships
  • Daily frustrations, which often lead to anger and other negative emotions
  • A sense of uncertainty and dread
  • Fear (rational or irrational)
  • Infections (active or dormant)
  • Chronic illnesses
  • Improper or ineffective medical treatment (including medication)
  • Emotional trauma, which might rise to the level of causing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • The 24/7 frequently negative news cycle
  • Overeating
  • Excess alcohol consumption or drug use
  • Sedentary lifestyle 
  • Overtraining (exercising too much or excessive cardio with little to no weight or resistance training)
  • Previous surgery 
  • Chronic exposure to environmental toxins, especially mold
  • Hormone fluctuations, as in the case of perimenopause and menopause
  • Feelings of loneliness or isolation

Here at BioDesign Wellness Center, we take a two-step functional medicine approach to treating burnout:

  • Stop filling the bucket. First, we help you develop a detailed inventory of the stressors in your life — physical, emotional, and psychological. (You may have more control over some than others.)

  • Start emptying the bucket. We work closely with you to develop an action plan for eliminating or reducing the health impact of each stressor. For example, if you are suffering the consequences of overtraining, we help you develop new workout routines and ensure that your body has the nourishment it needs to support your exercise program.

    If your digestion has been compromised, leading to inflammation of your gastrointestinal tract, we will recommend treatments to restore balance to your gut microbiome (the community of beneficial microorganisms that inhabit your intestines), repair the gut lining (if testing shows evidence of damage), and reduce inflammation (if you test positive for inflammation).

If you are suffering from moodiness, anxiety, or feelings of being overwhelmed, calming the nervous system will be a priority in building resilience and emptying the bucket.

Creating a Personalized Treatment Plan

The ultimate treatment goal is to empty the bucket or at least remove enough from it so that your body is no longer overwhelmed.

How you choose to empty the bucket is up to you. Each person has different priorities. For some, reducing overwhelming burdens and improving sleep may make the most sense. Another person may have a greater need to increase energy to get through the day or power through intensive fitness routines.

Generally, treatment plans for burnout include the following steps, which can be rearranged and adjusted based on each patient’s needs and preferences: 

Step 1: Address nutrition and lifestyle factors.

Although our treatment protocols are personalized, every plan includes a component focused on nutrition and lifestyle factors, both of which play crucial roles in eliminating burnout. You will be counseled on what the best diet is for you based on your medical history, current symptom presentation and lab findings.

We have nutritional protocols for a variety of conditions tailored to your needs. As our practitioners get to know you, they will provide tips on sleep habits, stress management, and appropriate exercise for you.

Step 2: Address hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysregulation.

The HPA axis is part of a chemical messaging system that plays a key role in the body’s stress response. Restoring HPA axis health and function calms the nervous system thereby reducing anxiety, irritability, and brain fog.

Using natural supplements, we restore healthy levels of various chemical messengers, including:

  • Serotonin: A neurotransmitter that plays an important role in mood regulation, cognition, reward, learning, memory, and numerous physiological processes.

  • Gamma (γ)-aminobutyric acid (GABA): An amino acid that helps regulate mood by stopping certain messages from being transmitted. It affects how the body reacts to feelings of anxiety, fear, and stress and enhances the ability of the nervous system to process information.

    Your body already makes and uses GABA throughout the day. Xanax, a popular medication for anxiety, impacts GABA. However, there are natural forms that are non-addictive and come without side effects. Clinically, for many people, this is just as effective and safer than taking a prescription.

    At night, GABA will help you to sleep. During the day, it can be taken to keep your mind calm and take the edge off. 

  • Adrenaline: This hormone, released by the adrenal gland as part of the fight-or-flight response, increases heart rate, pulse rate, blood pressure, and respiration and increases levels of glucose and lipids in the bloodstream. This is often the cause of night sweats or waking at 3 AM. 

  • Cortisol: The body’s main stress hormone, cortisol, helps to manage blood sugar (glucose) levels, reduce inflammation, manage blood pressure, control metabolism, and assist with the formation of memories. 

  • Dopamine: A neurotransmitter primarily associated with movement, focus, learning, and the brain’s pleasure and reward system.

Restoring balance to these key chemical messengers results in better sleep and a general feeling of well-being as “the edge is taken off” without the need for prescription medications.

You may also experience a boost in energy as the body and mind are in a more settled, focused state, enabling you to use any remaining “nervous energy” to accomplish daily goals. 

Some patients who are already taking prescription medications to help regulate any of these chemical messengers experience better results with this approach.

We can recommend supplements that can be taken with current medications and possibly clear a path to reducing or eliminating the need for prescription anxiety or depression medications.

Learn More Here: Why Functional Medicine Approach is Best for Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

We may also recommend supplements to support adrenal health and function, including the following:

  • Adrenal glandulars — supplements derived from the adrenal glands of animals
  • Cortisol balancing nutrients such as phosphatidylserine, which is a fatty substance that protects brain cells and facilitates communication between them
  • B vitamins, especially B5 (pantothenic acid), help to boost adrenal function, reduce adrenal fatigue, and promote hormone balance

Step 3: Address digestive issues.

Digestive issues cover a wide array of symptoms and diagnoses, including the following:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Gastritis
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or small intestinal fungal overgrowth (SIFO, also known as candida yeast overgrowth)
  • Helicobacter pylori overgrowth (H-pylori is a bacteria often associated with stomach ulcers)
  • Bloating
  • Bowel irregularities
  • Abdominal pain
  • Leaky gut — damage to the semi-permeable intestinal lining (when this barrier is compromised, larger chemical molecules can pass through it into the bloodstream triggering an immune response resulting in inflammation)

The bottom line is that the digestive tract is widely impacted by burnout and needs to be working as well as it can in order to reduce the impact of burnout. Confirmation of the digestive problem is done through a combination of testing and history taking. Tests may include one or more of the following:

  • Intestinal permeability assessment (a urine test)
  • Array 2 — intestinal antigenic permeability screen (a blood test)
  • GI-Map (a stool test)
  • SIBO breath test
  • Candida blood test
  • Urine test for yeast overgrowth

Your practitioner will work with you to ensure that your digestion is improving as you progress through your burnout treatment protocol.

Treatment may include peptides such as BPC 157; digestive support supplements, including glutamine, enzymes, probiotics, prebiotics, aloe, bile salts, natural anti-inflammatories agents (such as turmeric and omega 3); and natural antibiotics (such as oregano, allicin, caprylic acid, and berberine).

Our providers follow functional medicine’s 5R approach to healing the gut:

  • Remove anything that is irritating the gut
  • Replace anything missing in the digestive system
  • Re-inoculate the gut with beneficial bacteria
  • Repair the intestinal lining
  • Rebalance nutrition and lifestyle factors

Step 4: Detox.

The body has several pathways for removing toxins from the body through urine, stool, sweat, tears, and exhalation, but we live in a very toxic environment in which the body’s detox pathways can become overwhelmed.

We offer a gentle, medically supervised detox protocol that supports and enhances the body’s own detox mechanisms through the use of the following:

  • Glutathione — a powerful antioxidant
  • B vitamins
  • Toxin binders — medications, such as Cholestyramine (CSM) or Welchol, and natural substances that bind to toxins to chemically improve the body’s ability to eliminate them
  • Liver support herbs, including milk thistle, lemon balm, dandelion, and diindolylmethane (DIM)
  • Phosphatidylcholine to support gentle detoxification and improve cellular health
  • Magnesium salt baths
  • Sauna therapy
  • Sleep enhancement

Although we recommend a medically supervised detox protocol to anyone suffering from toxic overload, people who are overweight or who experienced significant weight gain in the past may be at a greater risk.

When people gain weight unexpectedly, it is often the result of a change to their metabolism, which can be caused by certain medications, exposure to toxic mold that affects hormone levels, increased stress, which can trigger an increase in cortisol, and so on.

Of course, weight gain can also be expected with pregnancy, overeating, binging, or a sedentary lifestyle. 

Regardless of what triggered the weight gain, the liver is the main organ that becomes “burned out” or suffers a reduction of its metabolic capabilities. The result is inflammation, which can contribute to many diverse chronic conditions, including fatigue.

The liver is responsible for the metabolism of food, waste, hormones, and toxins. Think of it as the oil filter in your car. As the liver filters out impurities, it becomes more and more compromised.”

Unfortunately, you can’t simply schedule a liver change with your local mechanic or surgeon. It needs to be flushed out via detox. Our medically supervised detox rests the liver and allows for metabolism to improve and inflammation to subside.

Step 5: Restore hormone balance.

To treat burnout, hormones need to be balanced. This includes thyroid hormones, female/male sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone), and adrenal hormones, including cortisol. Often, burnout leads to low libido, weight gain, mood changes, hair loss, and loss of resilience to stressful situations. 

We usually start with detoxification to strengthen the liver since the liver metabolizes hormones. This leads to better and sustained outcomes when used in conjunction with bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). BHRT may include estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone (for women) or testosterone (for men).

Hormones can be delivered to the body through creams, pellets (about the size of a grain of rice surgically inserted just beneath the skin), injections, or pills and are based on history, lab findings, individual preference, safety, and achieving the best results. 

Step 6: Optimize metabolism.

At this point, burnout has been improved greatly, patients are sleeping better and waking up more refreshed and energized, and digestion and body composition are improved. Now we can work on optimizing the patient’s long-term health.

At this stage in treatment, we can use peptides to improve metabolism, weight or resistance training to support muscle development (which helps to maintain a healthy weight), and a combination of two peptides called Ipamorelin CJC to reduce the effects of aging.

Some people will need only one or two steps of our treatment protocol, while others will need or desire all the steps to restore optimal health and fitness. The six steps presented here are just a sample of what can be done to correct years of burnout.

If you are feeling burned out, and nothing that you or your doctors have tried has been successful in giving you your life back, we strongly encourage a consultation with a functional medicine practice that has successfully treated patients for this condition. If you’re in the Tampa, Florida area, contact us to schedule an initial consultation.


Disclaimer: The information in this blog post about battling burnout, is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect current medical thinking or practices. No information contained in this post should be construed as medical advice from the medical staff at BioDesign Wellness Center, Inc., nor is this post intended to be a substitute for medical counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate medical advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a licensed medical professional in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.