Modern times come with many perks; it’s hard to imagine a life without the conveniences of wireless connectivity, ready-made meals and corporate jobs that reliably deliver biweekly paychecks. Yet at the same time, this system of continuity also works against our wellbeing. Now more than ever, people struggle with overwhelming stress and anxiety, depression, burnout, and even chronic physical pain as a result of their day-to-day realities. It’s a problem that has worsened significantly over time, prompting medical experts like Dr. Will Cole to dedicate themselves to the study of functional medicine.
Listen to the Podcast
The top practitioner, New York Times bestselling author and health advisor to the stars, is a leading expert in his field with decades of experience studying the connection between underlying risk factors for chronic disease and what causes them to become serious problems. He specializes in an alternative approach to the type of health care most of us are used to; rather than treat patients on a turnstile, walk-in clinic-like basis, Dr. Cole works with patients to fully assess their bio-individuality and come up with long-term treatment options.
Functional medicine is an increasingly popular option for individuals with thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and more. Will tells me that he sees people from all walks of life – but particularly those in high-stress entrepreneurial and corporate professions.
He recently sat down with me to discuss his work in functional medicine, professional insights, and new book ‘Gut Feelings’.
Mental Health Is Physical Health
The first issue that Dr. Cole discussed with me is very simple and painstakingly obvious: Mental health and physical health are interrelated. They’re the same thing!
The brain is just as much a part of our body just as anything else is. It’s one of our most important organs and is the most complex by far. It’s responsible for organizing and interpreting information, making decisions, processing emotions, and more. When the brain is functioning optimally, so are we. But, when we are stressed, overwhelmed and feeling out of balance, it can have a domino effect on our wellbeing.
Experts like Will have spent decades illustrating the stark links between human neurology and overall physical vitality, citing that they go hand-in-hand. He’s seen things like anxiety, depression, brain fog, and fatigue have massive influences on the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, process vitamins and minerals, and bolster its immune system.
But what’s probably the most damaging aggressor, he tells me, is stress. Stress isn’t just an emotionally difficult state to be in – it puts biological systems under pressure as well. Countless studies have established that chronic cases can directly cause physical inflammation, affecting our nervous system, cardiovascular system and gut microbiome. Over time, this dysregulation can worsen to the point where it becomes a contributory or full-blown cause of disease.
You Are What You Eat
While Will makes it clear that health profiles are best addressed on an individual basis, he also says that everyone, regardless of age, background or circumstance, shares vulnerability to two main risk factors in life.
The first, which we’ve already established, is stress. Today’s fast-paced world is extremely demanding on both a mental and physical level, with very few outlets to escape or recover. The human body has spent thousands of years adapting itself to meet the needs of survival – it’s only these past hundred or so that we’ve begun using it for more thought-intensive and laborious tasks.
The second risk factor, he tells me, is nutrition. What we eat has a profound effect on our physical and mental health, and it’s something that’s oftentimes overlooked in the western world. Years of research have established strong links between our dietary habits and how healthy or unhealthy we are.
Will explains an alarming trend that’s been happening in recent decades: an increase in high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. Things like sugar, processed grains, and industrial seed oils have become staples in the standard western diet – but this hasn’t been without consequences.
This type of diet has been associated with a myriad of health issues, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. What’s more alarming is the fact that these trends are awakening genetic predispositions that have been lying dormant for 10,000 years. Epigenetic mismatches (involving our genetics, microbiomes and the environment) are triggering parts of our bodies in ways that can be very harmful.
The Antithesis of Stress
So, what’s the treatment for this modernity-induced lifestyle of stress? According to Will, it may be as simple as going outside. He points to nature as a surprisingly effective way of regulating both the mind and body, citing the positive effects of sunlight exposure, fresh air, increased physical activity, and natural environments.
Living a better life also requires a shift in mindset; products of hustle culture like toxic productivity enable chronic stress and make it easier for its effects to manifest. He encourages those struggling with ongoing challenges like these to address the root cause of their problem rather than just treating the symptoms.
Will emphasizes the value of taking preventive measures such as diet and lifestyle changes , and engaging in activities like yoga or meditation, can have on overall health. He also recommends seeking the help of a qualified mental health professional if necessary.
At the end of my conversation with Dr. Will Cole, I’m left with a newfound appreciation for not just the biological processes that underpin health and wellbeing, but also the life choices we make to keep them in balance. More of his insights and expertise can be found in his new book, ‘Gut Feelings‘, set for release March 21st, 2023.