If you’ve done the clinical work of changing your diet and improving your lifestyle, but still aren’t seeing any progress with your health, it’s time to dig deeper using the functional medicine timeline.
The functional medicine timeline is a foundational tool I use with clients to help them connect the dots between their personal health history, and the development of disease. By uncovering these clues in your own timeline, you can discover valuable insights into why you’re experiencing certain symptoms, and where to go next on your healing journey.
What is the functional medicine timeline?
Think of your functional medicine timeline as a personalized record of all the experiences, events, and factors that have impacted your health throughout your life. When studied from a bird’s eye view, this timeline can reveal common themes or standalone experiences that have played a significant role in your health journey.
In order to paint this bigger picture, the timeline is broken into three sections: antecedents, triggers, and mediators.
Understanding your health history
Antecedents are the starting point of your health timeline, and are categorized as anything that predisposes you to developing a particular symptom or disease. These factors could already be in motion before you were born, or come into play later in life.
For example, if you were put on a lot of antibiotics as a kid, that experience could have predisposed you to developing an autoimmune condition down the road. Similarly, if you were born via c-section, you’re more likely to have increased intestinal permeability and gut issues.
Antecedents include things like:
- Your genetic disposition
- Your intrauterine experience (inside your mother’s womb)
- Trauma or abuse
- Prolonged medication use
- Overexposure to toxins
- Nutrient deficiencies
Think of antecedents as the seeds that allow chronic disease to take root. By uncovering potential antecedents in your timeline, you can better understand the underlying causes of your health issues.
If antecedents are set the scene, think of triggers as the inciting incident of your health history. Triggers are the person, place, or thing that influenced the cascade of events that led to your health condition.
For example, there’s a woman in my Chronic Urticaria Facebook Group who’s had hives since she was seven years old. We dove deeper into her timeline and it turned out this was a significantly emotional period in her life.
During that time her mother had started a new relationship, and she was forced to move away from her grandmother, who was her biggest support system. On top of that, she felt uncomfortable and afraid of her mother’s new partner.
This triggering life event was the catalyst that set the wheels of her chronic hives in motion.
Other examples of triggering events include:
- Starting or ending a new job or relationship
- Moving to a new place
- A major illness or injury
To uncover your triggers, try to think of when your health condition first started. Was there something going on in your life that could have influenced this result?
Mediators are classified as anything that’s driving the process of disease forward.
For example, if you’re living in a house with mold, that continued mold exposure can perpetuate your condition over time. Likewise, harmful substances such as pollution, pesticides, and even plastics have the potential to advance the progression of your disease.
Even something as simple as daily stress can impact your ability to get well.
Other examples of mediators include:
- Food sensitivities and poor diet
- Bacterial overgrowth
- Chronic stress
- Chronic infection
- Consistent lack of sleep
Identifying your specific mediators is so important, so you can remove what’s driving your body away from health, and get yourself back on track.
Now that you understand the difference between antecedents, triggers, and mediators, let’s dive deeper into some of the most common factors in your timeline to watch for.
Key factors influencing your functional medicine timeline
A Significant Medical Event
Illnesses, injuries, and surgeries all have the potential to deeply impact your nervous system long after the event is over. They’re also commonly tied to prolonged medication use, such as antibiotics, and pain killers.
Think of the last time you were in the hospital. Maybe you broke your arm, had a chronic infection, or were in a car accident. Consider how this experience has shaped your timeline and is still impacting you today.
Whenever I work with a client, I always ask about their dental history, because a lot of people my age have a mouth full of amalgam fillings. According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, the mercury found in amalgam fillings is associated with neurological damage, kidney issues, and immune dysfunction.
Other dental work to consider are root canals and wisdom teeth extraction, as both can leave behind traces of infection that further exacerbate your health issues.
Prolonged Medication Use
Long-term use of medications like pain killers, birth control pills, benzodiazepines, and antibiotics all increase intestinal permeability (or leaky gut).
Think of the gut as a barrier between your immune system and the rest of your body. When that barrier becomes compromised, it creates an environment where more and more things like toxins, pathogens, and undigested food particles can pass through. Because your immune system isn’t used to seeing these things, it labels these particles as foreign invaders, triggering an immune response.
If you’re struggling with a chronic health or autoimmune disease, consider whether or not these medications have increased your intestinal permeability and impacted your body’s ability to heal.
As mentioned earlier, toxins like BPA found in plastics, pesticides, food additives, phthalates, heavy metals, and mold exposure can all contribute to your functional medicine timeline.
A friend of mine was living in Dubai for a couple of years, and during that time she was only able to drink bottled water. When she returned home, she started to have some health issues, and was struggling to get pregnant. After being tested for toxic burden, she discovered she had a very high level of BPA content in her body. The plastic water bottles were mediating her infertility issues, and it was only until she detoxed from the BPA, that her body came back online.
Consider where in your life you could be exposed to toxins. Have you had botox injections or breast implants? Do you eat organic? Have you had your home tested for mold? Taking proactive measures is the best way to reduce your toxic burden.
Sometimes significant changes to your diet can result in nutrient deficiencies or changes to your gut microbiome.
I know a colleague who decided to go raw vegan because she thought it was best for her health. Shortly after, she began developing a wide range of symptoms, and only when she started eating animal protein again, she was able to reverse these symptoms. Although veganism is a healthy option for our bodies and the planet, it isn’t the best choice for everyone.
Have you made any dietary changes recently that could unknowingly be impacting your health?
Life Changing Events
Life changing events are one of the most powerful, yet underrated triggers that affect our timeline because they create a lot of chronic stress and repressed emotions.
One of my colleagues started to experience hives after her brother passed. Consumed by anger, she buried her emotions in the post-mortem process and never allowed herself to grieve. It was only until she started seeking help for her physical health issues, that she made the connection between her suppressed grief and chronic hives.
Life changing events like loss of a loved one, starting a new job, retirement, a break up, or a move can all lead to suppressed emotions that show up as health issues. Think of a time when you went through a significant change, and try to connect it to your experience today.
Whether you’re new to functional medicine, or have been on this journey a while, diving into your timeline is a great way to learn more about yourself and the work that lies ahead.
If you’re new to functional medicine, and are ready to start your healing journey today, I invite you to my FREE 7 Day Clean Eating Challenge.
This challenge is your very first step to becoming HIVE-FREE, or getting ahead of other chronic health issues. It costs you nothing but some belief and commitment to yourself and your health.
What are you waiting for?
Start the 7 Day Clean Eating Challenge now!