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The Canadian Centre for Functional Medicine

Setting children free

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"The biggest surprise of my research, said Dr. Michael Lyon, Director of the Canadian Center for Functional Medicine, leaning forward in his chair, "was the tremendously positive effect a simple change in nutrition had on children with ADHD..

“The biggest surprise of my research,” said Dr. Michael Lyon, Director of the Canadian Center for Functional Medicine, leaning forward in his chair, “was the tremendously positive effect a simple change in nutrition had on children with ADHD.” His own son is a testament to this approach. Written off as an underachiever when he was very young, at the age of fourteen, he’s skipping a grade, is self-taught on three musical instruments, and has a whole new outlook on life.

Dr. Lyon insists that “Young children can’t tell you what’s wrong. They act out instead. When they don’t get help, the acting out moves to delinquency, then drugs, and a life of hopelessness. When you help children deal with ADHD nutritionally, you help them come out of an oppressive physiology. They are literally in a cage of sickness. It’s like releasing a child from prison. Drugs do not change the long-term outcome.”

These may seem like strange words coming from a medical doctor, but although Dr. Lyon followed the traditional path to his MD, obtaining degrees in biology and medicine, followed by three years of internships, he has always had a special interest in natural medicine. After years of working in research, sport medicine, family practice, and lecturing, Dr. Lyon now explores new, evidence-based discoveries in natural health as Director of the Canadian Centre for Functional Medicine. The Centre is an independent research institute. Funded through foundations and research grants, its goal is to use scientific methods to investigate natural healing.

Researching Causes, Not Drugging Symptoms

Dr. Lyon’s research repeatedly demonstrates the importance of the brain-immune-gut connection. The food we eat not only nourishes (or alternatively, poisons) the brain, but through the immune system, sends messages which can aid or hamper the brain. For example, when you have the flu, the brain gets foggy. That’s the result of an immune system action. If the immune system is triggered through allergic reactions, which are inappropriate immune system responses, the brain is also affected. Food sensitivities, as well as the result of poorly digested “junk” food, can cause the brain to function at less than optimal levels.

Brain cells, which must last a lifetime, are the most sophisticated and demanding cells in the body. Because of the brain’s importance, the body is structured to keep the brain nourished even when other systems are failing. As the brain is primarily composed of fat, toxic dietary fats readily accumulate in the brain, altering or diminishing brain function. Other toxins, such as organochlorines from pesticide residue, also collect in the brain. Even though the brain survives these adversities, optimal brain function requires optimal nutrition. As the body goes, so goes the brain. Dr. Lyon’s work suggests that, based on their diets, the majority of Canadians are operating on a mentally deficient level.

Getting the body and the brain back to optimal health is a major undertaking. “Most people don’t notice the bad shape they’re in, says Dr. Lyon. “Suddenly, though, a triggering event, something as simple as an automobile crash, causes them to go into a tailspin. Often the conventional medicine approach is simply to treat the symptoms. But this Dr. Lyon likens to a rebuilding project after a nuclear holocaust. “If patients present a yeast infection, and it’s treated without looking into the cause, patients may feel better for a few days, but later they’ll feel worse. You can’t just replant in an area where the ground is still toxic. First you have to detoxify.” The detoxification process is heavily nutrient dependent. For instance, he says, “We have metallothionein. It is the cell’s janitor. It keeps the zinc/copper levels in balance. It is also the one tool the cell can use to purge heavy metals. But the body only makes enough of it with adequate nutrition.” However, Dr. Lyon cautions, “It is important to exercise.”

More Than “Medicine”

Dr. Lyon was into natural health before he started his medical career. At the age of fifteen, he completed a 21-day water fast, and at sixteen, he knew enough about acupuncture to perform his own anesthesiology when he had his braces out. During medical school, Dr. Lyon’s passion for alternative medicine went into a state of dormancy. “Medical school caused a personality change in me. It’s like a cult,” he remembers. “They wear you down physically with the work load, indoctrinate you with their version of the truth, and leave no room for dissent. You learn to accept it.” The “ah-ha” moment came several years into private practice. Writing out a prescription for a patient, he thought to himself, “What am I doing? I would never take this myself. I don’t believe in this stuff.” At this point, Dr. Lyon sold his practice and started down the road to natural health.

“Natural healing is still marginalized,” confesses Dr. Lyon. “The drug companies have a stranglehold on health care,” he says. “ But research and money for research is what can break that stranglehold. If we want people to seek and use natural alternatives as their first choice of treatment, we must invest in research.” he insists.

The Canadian Centre for Functional Medicine

Research at the Centre includes childhood learning and behavioural disorders, as well as attention deficit disorders, diabetes, and obesity. This will be undertaken in conjunction with Dr. Vladimir Vuksan from the University of Toronto. Dearest to Dr. Lyon’s heart is the proposed program for autistic children. “There is so little help for them and such a big need. My heart is with the children.” Parents and learning-challenged adults have responded with enthusiasm to Dr. Lyon’s books on brain health and nutrition, Healing the Hyperactive Brain and Is your child’s brain starving? Food, not Drugs for Life and Learning. Will there be more? Watch for news of Dr. Lyon’s research, lecture tours, and books in upcoming pages of alive.

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