Dr. Will Cole is a functional medicine practitioner who consults worldwide in autoimmune, brain, gut, hormone and thyroid health. He's the author of “Ketotarian” and the upcoming book, “The Inflammation Spectrum,” set to be released in October 2019.
What does functional medicine mean to you?
Functional medicine is this beautiful marrying between the best of Western medicine and the best of Alternative Medicine. In the sense that we are evidenced based, we just run more comprehensive labs. We are looking at a bigger, deeper picture of human physiology beyond just the basics.
Typically speaking, for chronic health problems, the training is to diagnose a disease and then match it with a medication. It’s this medicinal matching game, but we have to say, okay, what is actually the root cause? It’s not a medication deficiency. So let’s run more comprehensive labs and really get to why this person is feeling the way they do, and why are they experiencing the symptoms they are experiencing—instead of just saying, “You’re just getting older” or “You need to lose weight” and all of these easy answers that many many people are told. There’s a rising problem that we cannot deny...a rising problem of auto-immunity and a rising problem of inflammatory problems in general that don’t necessarily have a name, but they are real physiological manifestations that are going on in our world and we need ways to deal with them. We need ways to help people and support them and give them the tools to start reclaiming their health and their quality of life.
The second thing we do in functional medicine is interpret the conventional labs in more detail. We’re interested in where optimal vitality resides. It’s this functional range where the persons body is functioning the best—that’s where we get our name, functional medicine.
And then we realize we’re all created differently and there’s not this cookie-cutter “one size fits all” approach to eating well; what works for one person may not be right for the next person. So you have to customize and tailor health-care to the individual. And that’s really why we use food as medicine, we use herbal botanical medicines, we use things like CBD, we use medications when needed, as well as any pertinent lifestyle changes so that we can really be personalized to the individual.
What is your philosophy around the mind-body connection?
You can’t separate the two. Oftentimes in Western culture — not just in Western medicine, but in western thought — we like to separate mental health from physical health...but mental health is physical health. Our mind, our thoughts, our emotions, the things that you cannot measure impact what you can measure. So someone can be eating super clean, they can be working out in the gym, but if they have a toxic home life, or they are stressed out at work, you can measure that in labs. You can see that person’s inflammation levels spiking up. You’re going to see their hormones being imbalanced and you have to deal with these things.
This is an in-depth conversation about a person’s life. This is the personalization that I’m talking about. That is why this is needed. You’re not going to solve these complex issues in a 10-minute appointment and a pill. You have to be really thorough.
Do you have a hypothesis around the root causes of rising conditions like inflammation and auto-immune conditions?
What was once a rarity is now ubiquitous; these conditions are growing by leaps and bounds. An estimated 50 million Americans have an autoimmune condition, and millions more are somewhere on this “auto-immune inflammation spectrum,” why is why my second book is called “The Inflammation Spectrum” because it’s something I see so much in my clinic. It’s ten years prior to a diagnosis when things are actually beginning — so it’s a decade of feeling kind of fatigued, feeling aches and pains, or having sleep problems, or slightly higher blood sugar, slightly higher blood pressure, slightly higher cholesterol. These things don’t happen overnight. It’s a slow continuum of degradation until it’s actually bad enough to where conventional medicine says, okay, this is a problem.
Genetics haven’t changed in 10,000 years, but yet the stress that genetics have been put under has changed dramatically in a very short period of time.
Stress is the main variable here. Examples include exposure to toxins, chronic stress, food supply stress, soil, water, the air...it’s the viral issues, it’s gut problems, it’s all of these things. These are all awakening genetic predispositions to stress like never before. It’s really the triggering of genetics under stress that’s been the main change.
What are some triggers that can negatively impact our health?
The main driver is inflammation. The most important thing to know is that inflammation isn’t necessarily bad — we do need it to fight viruses and bacteria. The problem is when inflammation is out of balance and it’s just too much for too long. It’s the food that we eat but it’s the foods that we aren’t eating, too. We’re not giving the body the proper micro-nutrients, so it can’t function well, and it’s also getting all the wrong things that are out of line with our genetics.
The second main driver is stress. This includes sleep and poor sleeping habits, electronics throwing off the circadian rhythm, not enough movement ...unhealthy balance with our bodies.
And, exposure to toxins in products that people are using in their homes and on their skin, and the things we are breathing in. The skin is our largest organ. We are completely divorced from the fact that what we put on our skin goes into our bloodstream.
How did you get involved and interested in this work?
I grew up in a household that was into wellness before it was cool; in the 80s and 90s, I was the kid drinking the weird Adaptogenic tonics and the raw goat milk.
My parents were interested in alternative health which wasn’t new, it just wasn’t quite mainstream. It was crunchy, local health food stores — there was no internet, so it wasn’t like this social movement of today. It was just these pockets of people interested in indigenous and traditional medicine.
Then I got into functional medicine, went to Southern California University of Health and became formally trained, so this is all normal for me.
Why are people so excited about CBD right now?
CBD can be very effective. It fits the criteria for so many people because it has little to no side effects. And that’s the criteria in functional medicine — what people should be doing — what is your most effective option that causes you the least amount of side effects. CBD can be a great tool.
When people see the state of health-care and conventional medicine, they see the options their family and friends are given, like “take this medication.” And then they see their family members doing everything the doctors are telling them to do and still struggling with potential and actual side effects of these medications, and they realize that they have to do something different to see something different. It’s the perfect solution for the problem that we have.
Do you use CBD?
Earth as medicine is very normal to me. It’s always been a part of my life — the way that I eat and the way that I treat my body. I try to do the best that I can to be as healthy as I can and to take care of the gifts that I’ve been given, my health and my body, and be a good steward of that. CBD is a part of that.
What do you personally consume to stay healthy?
I use CBD and other herbs to help support healthy balance...and, as a natural way to support a calm mind as well.* I love adaptogens, Holy Basil and collagen, spirulina, superfoods and other adaptogens like Lion’s Mane. I eat a mostly plant-based, Ketogenic diet, which is what my first book is about.
When I wake up, I drink water and Earl Grey tea, containing Bergamot, which helps to improve health and lower inflammation. For lunch, I’ll eat a plant-based meal. For dinner: albacore tuna salad with avocados and grapefruit salsa.
In your words, what is balance? What is equilibrium?
Balance, on a subjective level and an experiential level, means feeling great energy during the day, and being able to sleep at night.
It’s the Yin and Yang of the day. It’s when you have energy to do the things you want to do, with vitality. You’re not just pushing through to get through the day, you’re actually enjoying the moment; you’re functioning at optimal capacity. And then at night, you’re sleeping through the night. That is balance on just a basic human function level. On a micro level, we have to look at people’s labs and inflammation levels to see if they are in balance, and it’s measurable.
Most people don’t know they have options. Living their life, they’re doing their 9 to 5, grinding every day and not realizing that they don’t have to settle for feeling lousy. We don’t have to settle for what everyone else is doing. We can live our lives on a different level.