What would make a doctor like DR MENKA GUPTA transform herself into a functional medicine practitioner and nutritionist in Singapore? Her lifelong passion for healing is the answer – and she hasn’t looked back. Born and raised in Lucknow, India, she knew from the age of three that she wanted to be a doctor. After years of working as a specialist in the fields of gastroenterology, general medicine and gynaecology in leading hospitals in the UK, India and Singapore, she joined the Institute for Functional Medicine in 2012, and established Nutra Nourish here five years ago. Dr Menka is the the only IFM certified practitioner (IFMCP) in South Asia (there are less than 1,000 globally).
She is also helping to bring cutting-edge functional medicine to India. In partnership with the Internal Medicine department of Sharda Hospital, a School of Medical Sciences and Research, she visits the subcontinent every three months.
What is functional medicine?
Functional medicine (FM) addresses the underlying causes of disease by means of a systems-based approach that engages both you and your practitioner in a therapeutic partnership (drhyman.com).
Individualised and patient-oriented, it is a move away from the disease-centric model to one that addresses the person as an integrated whole – and not as an isolated set of symptoms in a collection of independent organs.
FM practitioners will take the necessary time to find the root cause or causes of your symptoms, which generally arise from your personal biochemical imbalances. Through detailed interviews, questionnaires and testing, they’ll factor in your genetic predispositions together with nutrition, lifestyle and other environmental factors in order to assess how any or all of these may be contributing to your symptoms of ill health.
From there, they will make a plan to address whatever the biochemical imbalance is, via the particular root causes that have triggered it.
Change is coming
After so many years of training and working in the field, it can’t have been an easy decision to move away from the practice of conventional allopathic Western medicine. What made her do it?
“I felt that I wasn’t getting all the answers through conventional medicine, and I started exploring other paradigms,” explains Dr Menka. She found herself drawn to the cutting-edge ideas of people like Dr Jeffrey Bland and Dr Mark Hyman, the pioneers of functional medicine including nutritionists. Especially appealing was FM’s emphasis on nutrition, along with other lifestyle factors. Inspired to begin a Master’s Degree in Nutritional Medicine in the UK, she also began studying towards membership of the Institute for Functional Medicine in the US in 2012.
Soon, she was using her new-found knowledge to help herself and her family members with various health issues, from fatigue, stress and bloating to diabetes and dyslipidaemia (blood lipid levels that are too high or too low).
“Getting great results was hugely motivating,” she recalls, and encouraged her to become an expert in the field. Dr Menka recognises, however, that conventional medicine gives us myriad essential and life-saving tools and treatments. “That said, when it comes to chronic diseases – hormonal, cardiometabolic, gut and auto-immune disease in particular – functional medicine can be extremely useful.”
Functional medicine avoids a one-size-fits-all approach. There is no single cause of fatigue, for example. “It may be hormonal – thyroid insufficiency, or adrenal stress. Or it may be linked to a gut health problem, or a deficiency of important vitamins or minerals such as B complex or magnesium.”
In the same way, an obviously gut-based health issue like IB (irritable bowel) is often related to a biochemical imbalance that may have any number of root causes in the gut microbiome, digestion or even stress hormones.
“Again, we may test for micronutrient or other deficiencies. You could be sensitive to one or more of the foods you’re eating; you may have a gut parasite, a bacterial infection such as h. pylori, or a bacterial or fungal overgrowth in the small intestine.”
“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food,” said Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine. Today, food as medicine is fundamental to the FM approach.
“For each client, we will take an in-depth case history and often run functional laboratory tests to give us a detailed understanding of his or her genetic, biochemical, nutritional and lifestyle factors,” says Dr Menka. (“Test, don’t guess,” is the common refrain in the world of functional medicine.) Some of the tests she finds most useful are:
- comprehensive stool analysis to test the gut microbiome, nutrient digestion and assimilation;
- nutritional tests for vitamin and mineral deficiencies;
- hormonal tests, including stress hormones; and
- nutrigenomics, based on the science of how what we eat influences our gene expression.
Nutrigenomics contributes to devising personalised nutritional programmes to help prevent diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, breast cancer and more.
Over the past five years, she says, Nutra Nourish has helped many clients with gut issues, auto-immune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis, hormonal issues such as type 2 diabetes and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. They have also had success with cholesterol levels, with blood pressure, with stress, anxiety and insomnia, and with ADHD, autism, eczema, reflux, constipation, bloating, colitis and more.
Practitioner-only, pharmaceutical-grade supplements from trusted companies such as Designs for Health and probiotics from Klaire Labs are an important part of a Nutra Nourish nutrition programme. What’s more, they’re available on a convenient subscription plan with very competitive pricing, and delivered to your doorstep on a regular basis.
Ideally, we want to be proactive. We don’t want to wait for signs and symptoms of chronic disease before taking vital steps towards optimising our health. Nutrition, sleep, movement, stress management and community are the five pillars of health – and they’re all crucially important in FM.
Nutra Nourish’s health coach and mindfulness practitioner Dr Deepika Rawlley Gopalan will help you make step-by-step, personalised lifestyle changes to achieve your health goals. As well as being a Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach, Dr Deepika holds a PhD in Genetics and is qualified in genetic testing and nutrigenomics – skills that she integrates to support Dr Menka in helping clients achieve their health goals.
Apart from a range of weight-loss, detox and other health programmes, the team offers corporate programmes too. For instance, Dr Menka has thoroughly enjoyed running a clinic and wellness programmes at the Google Asia office for the past two years.
Nutra Nourish is based at 27A Loewen Road. For more information, call 9125 7500 or visit nutranourish.com.
This article first appeared in the January 2020 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!