We had the joy of sitting down with registered nurse, yoga teacher and functional medicine practitioner Ashley Shrader to discuss how one might explore the basic principles of functional medicine to root out the causes of mysterious and/or chronic illness.

Read on to find out why Ashley looks into possible environmental toxins first when working with many of her new patients:

“In the realm of healthcare, the focus has traditionally been on treating symptoms rather than investigating root causes. However, the emerging field of functional medicine takes a different approach, emphasizing the interconnectedness of various bodily systems, emotional health, and the impact of environmental factors on health. 

Low dose or chronic toxin exposures in the environment can manifest in various symptoms that often overlap and can be challenging to diagnose. Furthermore, genetically susceptible individuals may experience symptoms like:

  • Persistent fatigue, making even simple tasks feel exhausting. 
  • Fibromyalgia-like symptoms such as widespread pain and tenderness in muscles and joints.
  • Chemical sensitivity, leading to adverse reactions to common substances present in everyday environments. 
  • Anxiety, contributing to a sense of unease and apprehension. 
  • Cognitive function may suffer, characterized by brain fog, difficulty concentrating, and memory issues

These symptoms collectively can significantly impair daily functioning and quality of life, highlighting the importance of identifying and mitigating sources of environmental toxins in the indoor spaces where you spend the majority of your time.

Central to this perspective is the recognition that toxic exposures in residential and workplace environments can significantly influence health outcomes. From mold and water damage to carpets, perfumes, pesticides, and water contaminants, understanding these potential hazards is critical to understanding how a patient’s toxic load may be contributing to their symptoms. 

In my tele-health practice, understanding someone's toxic burden is critical to a proper assessment of potential root causes of their symptoms. Every patient is screened for the following possible exposures as part of their intake paperwork. 

Silent Menace: Mold + Water Damage

Mold, often lurking unseen in damp and poorly ventilated spaces, can wreak havoc on health. Exposure to mold spores can trigger respiratory issues, allergic reactions, and exacerbate conditions like asthma and sinusitis. Moreover, water damage, whether from leaks, flooding, or humidity, creates an ideal breeding ground for mold and other harmful microorganisms. The insidious nature of mold underscores the importance of thorough inspections and remediation efforts to safeguard indoor air quality and promote well-being. 


Chemical Dangers Underfoot: Carpeting

While carpeting may seem innocuous, it harbors a host of potential health hazards. Carpets can trap dust, allergens, and toxic chemicals from cleaning products, contributing to indoor air pollution. Additionally, older carpets may contain harmful substances such as flame retardants and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can off-gas and compromise indoor air quality. Functional medicine practitioners recognize the impact of these exposures on respiratory health, allergies, and overall wellness, prompting thorough evaluation and mitigation strategies. You may want to consider working with a wellness-focused interior designer to select non-toxic, carpet-alternatives.


Scented Risks: Perfumes + Fragrances

The allure of fragrances in perfumes, air fresheners, and personal care products belies their potential health risks. Many fragrances contain synthetic chemicals known as phthalates, which disrupt hormonal balance and may contribute to reproductive issues, allergies, and respiratory problems. Moreover, fragrances can trigger migraines, exacerbate asthma symptoms, and even impact neurological function. Functional medicine practitioners advocate for fragrance-free environments and encourage patients to choose natural, non-toxic alternatives to safeguard health.


Pesticide Peril in the Pantry

Pesticides, commonly used to control pests in residential and agricultural settings, pose significant health risks. Exposure to pesticide residues on food, in indoor spaces, or through contaminated water sources can lead to a myriad of health issues, including neurological disorders, hormone disruption, and cancer. Functional medicine practitioners emphasize the importance of minimizing pesticide exposure by choosing organic produce, implementing integrated pest management strategies, and advocating for pesticide-free environments to promote health and well-being.


Well Water Conundrum

While well water may seem pure and pristine, it can harbor hidden dangers. Contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides, bacteria, and nitrates can infiltrate groundwater sources, posing serious health risks to those who rely on well water for drinking and household use. Functional medicine practitioners prioritize comprehensive testing of well water quality and recommend appropriate filtration systems to ensure safe and clean drinking water for patients and their families.


Integrating Environmental Health into Medicine

In the realm of functional medicine, understanding and addressing environmental health risks are paramount to achieving optimal outcomes for patients. Functional medicine practitioners recognize the interconnectedness of environmental exposures and health outcomes, incorporating assessments of residential and workplace environments into intake paperwork and patient evaluations. By identifying and mitigating potential toxic exposures, functional medicine practitioners empower patients to take control of their health and create environments conducive to healing and vitality.

In the pursuit of holistic health and wellness, functional medicine shines a spotlight on the critical role of environmental factors in shaping health outcomes. From mold and water damage to carpeting, perfumes, pesticides, and well water, understanding and addressing potential toxic exposures are essential steps toward unlocking optimal health. By integrating environmental health assessments into patient evaluations and advocating for safer living and working environments, functional medicine practitioners empower individuals to thrive in environments conducive to well-being and vitality.”

If you’d like to learn more about Ashley and her tele-health functional medicine practice, you can find her website here. Review this related article to learn more healthy nuggets from Ashley, specifically actionable steps to screen your home or work space for unwanted and potentially harmful environmental toxins

March 30, 2024 — Team Mache

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