Kicking chronic illness and detoxing your body to recover total body health

Interview with Christine Schaffner, ND

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Hello everyone and welcome to Field Notes, An Exploration of Functional Medicine. I’m Rob Downey, a family practice M.D., and Institute for Functional Medicine certified practitioner. I’m coming to you from Seaworthy Functional Medicine in Homer, Alaska.

Today we’re fortunate enough to have Dr. Christine Schaffner, a naturopathic doctor from Seattle, Washington. Welcome, Dr. Schaffner!

Thank you so much for having me!

Delighted, absolutely delighted!  I’ve been so looking forward to this! I’ll share a little bit about your bio, but please make sure to add anything that our listeners would need to know as we segue in.  I also want to thank our listeners for joining us, and for listening, learning, and participating in this functional medicine journey.

You’re a board certified naturopathic doctor, and graduated from Bastyr University. Is that also in Seattle proper?

Yes, Bastyr is in a suburb of Seattle called Kenmore, Washington. Right on Lake Washington.


Some would argue that it’s the preeminent naturopathic medical school in the country, and always top-most in that upper tier. You’re the clinical director of Sophia Health Institute, and you actually have a number of clinic sites. You do a lot of work in detox, and also a lot of work around the lymphatics, toxicity, and so on. Please add anything else that our folks should know as we get started.

Absolutely, and you’ve covered it well! I love the work that I do! Like you, when we do this work we see so many people who need this framework and understanding to recover their health. Their needs have created a lot of passion in me to create more access. That’s why we work with a team of doctors, and we have a vision to have more clinics in the country to support more patients.


Wonderful, wonderful! With your blessing, our listeners might be interested to know that we have common roots, in terms of where some of our training and background came from. Bastyr is where my mentor, in natural and functional medicine, Hillery Daily ND LAC, was trained and certified over 25 years ago. 

While I was working in Montana in 2005, I saw one of her patients improve spectacularly. I asked her, “If I get training for the Institute for Functional Medicine, will I be able to speak the language to understand how you help these folks?” She turned it on me and said, “If you take this training, then you’ll be able to help the way that I help.”

We saw patients together every Wednesday in Montana for seven years. I remember in the early going she would say, “This person is a pretty classic adrenal fatigue picture.”  I would say, “Yeah, I get it, but I don’t get it at the same time. What is it that jumps out about the case?”  I’ve noticed during this progression now through practicing functional medicine for 14 years that these things come into focus.

Given that you’re an expert on detoxification pathways in the body, toxicity, and the lymphatics, I’d love us to take a journey on that today. Please include where the impetus or genesis came to you for wanting to innovate a product that can help patients. It was important to you that you knew what’s in it, how it’s made, and can be applied as a topical. Tell us the story then about some of those things.

No worries, it’s all good! I’m so glad that you found your mentor, and that you crossed over into the land of functional medicine and naturopathic medicine. We’re happy you’re with us!

My specialty is really looking at chronic illness. I have been practicing medicine for about 10 years. I graduated in 2010, and I started seeing patients right away with my mentor Dr. Dietrech Klinghardt. He’s a German medical doctor and PhD, and he attracted patients from all over the country that had often seen 20-30 doctors. These are people who had tried a lot of things and didn’t get anywhere.

So I started my career really seeing really challenging patients, not that they were themselves challenging. I often reflect on this, and think their illnesses were ahead of our understanding. Even during my ten years I’ve seen our awareness grow on what we’re treating, why we’re treating, and why patients are so sick. What is really encouraging to me, even though right now we’re in this very tumultuous time for so many reasons, is that education has grown, and people have stronger voices. People understand that chronic illness is complex. More people understand that chronic illness is a combination of factors, such as pathogens that stress our immune system, but also stressors that can impact the immune system to make us more prone to opportunistic infections.

Chronic illness is a combination of factors, such as pathogens that stress our immune system, but also stressors that make us more prone to opportunistic infections.

In 2010 we weren’t even talking about Lyme disease. We didn’t want to put it on our website. It was still something that we wanted to go under the radar. Pathogens can contribute to chronic illness. We’re always looking at Lyme and colon infections, viruses and retro-viral infections, parasitic infections, fungal and mold infections. All of these pathogens can stress our immune system.

The other way I look at it is that other stressors can impact the immune system to make us more prone to these opportunistic infections. Those stressors can include environmental toxicants, so we can see our increasing exposure. Joe Pizzorno, a naturopathic doctor who was also one of the founding members of Bastyr, often talks about “one plus one doesn’t equal two.” We are in this synergistic soup of unknown effects. We do study these things, but it’s not just glyphosate, it’s not just aluminum, it’s not just mercury, it’s not just electro-smog, it’s not just root canals. It’s this combination of factors that really tips people over the edge eventually.

Stressors such as environmental toxicants can impact the immune system to make us more prone to opportunistic infections.  A combination of factors often tips people over the edge.

One other big piece that I don’t want to under-address is trauma, and how trauma can affect the body. We know that our emotional, mental and spiritual health has a huge impact on our physical health. That is something that I’ve seen with the team of practitioners that I work with, and it’s a huge part of recovering someone’s health when someone’s been sick for so long. It’s not only the traumas that might make them epigenetically more susceptible to being sick, but it’s also the trauma of being sick.

Trauma can have a huge impact on our emotional, physical, and spiritual health, and may make individuals epigenetically more susceptible to being sick.

If you go to 20-30 doctors, and they don’t acknowledge why you’re sick, or think that this is in your head, that’s a very traumatic experience as well. It’s this combination of pathogens, environmental toxicity, and trauma. This is basically the web of what we’re trying to address and unfold, and how people recover their health. I try to say that if it was only one thing, people wouldn’t be so sick. If this was a linear process, it would be way easier. But this is a very dynamic, fluid process that we really individualize.

Dr. Klinghardt’s developed a screening system called Autonomic Response Testing (ART). He used his own inspiration plus a combination of different techniques to create this type of biofeedback exam. It helps us to really communicate with the body and prioritize treatment. While it’s not 100% perfect, it’s a great tool with all of our clinical information that we gain from the patient. We use ART then to guide us and prioritize treatment.

There are some things I like to highlight when I do these talks. When people come to see us, there are some things that are often overlooked that we call interference fields. ART helps us to look and identify these things, and interference fields can be things that are interfering with a patient’s ability to self regulate and heal. When I explain this to patients, I tell them it’s kind of like the boulder in the middle of the road. We’ve got to get that boulder out of the way so things can flow, and so the nervous system can communicate.

Interference fields are obstacles to healing. Autonomic Response Testing (ART) allows us to identify what is interfering with healing so that we can prioritize treatment.

Interference fields can be simple to identify, like scars. Scars can hold not only emotional trauma, depending on how they came to be, but they also can have a huge impact on the surrounding fascia, lymph and circulatory flow in the surrounding area. That can affect not only the local tissue, but distant tissues as well. We can see this fascial network in the body, that I’m sure we’ll talk more about. This network is a highly interconnected highway in the body. If you have an area of stress or a scar in one area, it can affect a distant body system.

I always remember this one case where I injected someone’s mole removal on the back of their shoulder blade area, and their heart palpitations went away literally the next day. I don’t pretend I have all the reasons why that happened, or how that happened, but I’m just sharing that as the work that we see when we identify these stresses. We use neuro-therapy to treat scars, but there’s all kinds of other ways that can bring a huge stress relief to the body so that the body can communicate and regulate better.

The other big, often overlooked piece in chronic illness is still the dental work. I think a lot of people have more awareness around the dental aspects of health, but our teeth and our mouth are intimately related to the rest of our body, and especially our brain and our nervous system. Each tooth sits on an acupuncture meridian in the Chinese medicine view of the body. If you have amalgam filling or a root canal tooth on a certain meridian, that can affect that body system. I see that all the time. We guide people to address any silver fillings they may have, because some people still have those. We also look at root canal teeth. Root canals are essentially dead teeth that can become a focal infection, and can be a source of bacteria in the mouth that can go systemic. This can really be problematic for people’s immune systems.

A big piece in chronic illness is dental work. Our teeth and mouth are intimately related to the rest of our body, and especially our brain and our nervous system. 

We also see wisdom teeth cavitations. When you get your wisdom teeth taken out, sometimes they don’t heal properly. If you already either have poor healing, chronic infection, or for whatever reason that doesn’t heal, that can be an area of necrotic tissue. This tissue can harbor and be a reservoir for infections that can stress the body over time, especially the lymphatic system. 

That’s the framework of patients and issues that I see, and it’s very rewarding work. I always say that we’re always in search of the most elegant path to healing. Because even still, I feel like it takes too long. I’m impatient! I’m East coast! I mean, I live on the West coast now, but there’s a part of me that wants to be able to help accelerate patient’s healing even more. We do great work, but it can take a couple years, especially if people have been sick for so long. It’s very powerful, rewarding work, and our patients seem to be very open. They might not start out open minded, but as they get results in these unconventional medical settings, they become way more open. They have these experiences in their own body that they probably wouldn’t have realized that they would be open to when they started the journey.


Well that’s wonderful, thank you! I think it sets the stage very nicely. There are a couple of things that you just shared that I was intrigued by that people may want to learn about. One would be when I heard you mention scars, or other areas of the body. I’ve used this phrase over the years talking with patients about functional medicine,“All of us is talking to all of the rest of us all of the time.”

It’s trying to acknowledge that my training in conventional medicine felt mechanistic. The nerves were treated like wires, the heart was treated like a pump. It felt a little more like working on a car. My feeling now via functional medicine is that the body’s more similar to an ecosystem in nature, and so a systems biology focus makes a lot of sense.

I was really struck by a book about trauma, The Body Keeps the Score. Can you illuminate for our listeners what the mechanics are of how a scar will function as an interference field? Is it an inflammatory effect? Is it a form of memory of trauma, with little signaling molecules that leak out and get attracted to that site, and so becomes part of accumulated toxicity because it’s an undue heat?

I love that, and yes, I think we’re continuing to evolve all the ways to look at that, and I love how you mention the Body Keeps the Score, I usually say that the book title alone gives people the idea that we might not have these conscious memories, but our cellular memory still might not have resolved an issue. So I always use that as an analogy.

The cells in a scar have been traumatized, and scar cells tend to have a lower resting membrane potential than healthy cells. 

Let’s get back to what’s happening in the scar. Neuro-therapy is an injection technique first developed in the 1920’s in Germany. It uses injections to treat scars and ganglia, and we also do segmental therapy, and I can go into that. The cells in a scar have been traumatized. When you think about scar tissue, it’s very different from connective tissue and the original healthy tissue, or the tissue that hasn’t been traumatized. Scar tissue is denser tissue, and the actual cells in scar tissue tend to have a lower resting membrane potential than a healthy cell.

We know healthy human nerve cells usually have a resting membrane potential of around -70 millivolts (mV). In other words, the inside of our cells are approximately -70 mV more negative than the environment outside of the cell. This difference in electrical charge is called a ‘resting membrane potential’ because it is the negative charge that is maintained across the membrane when the cell is at rest. 

Our bodies communicate with biochemistry of course, that’s what we all learn in medical school, but then there’s this whole other aspect in which our cells communicate with biophysics. When we’re talking about cell voltage, it’s an electrical charge. It’s even debatable as to why that is, but cell voltage is very important for our cells to maintain so that they can communicate and signal to each other. 

The lower membrane potential of scar cells creates a continuous, low-grade stress signal that is picked up by the autonomic nervous system.

A cell in a scar usually has a lower resting membrane potential. A lower ‘potential’ means that the cell will react to stimuli at a much lower threshold. Think of a person who is ‘easy going’ versus a person who is ‘on edge.’ These cells that form scar tissue are on edge and easily stimulated. That sets up stress in the autonomic nervous system. These are identified by the body as unhealthy or stressed cells, so there’s this low-grade stress signal going on continuously in this tissue. That’s creating a systemic stress because our body is so interconnected.

You look at these beautiful pictures of fascia and extra-cellular matrix. German scientists such as Pischinger and his successors (Heine, Bergsmann, & Perger) have written books about the extra-cellular matrix.  This matrix is this intersection where our blood supply, our nervous system, and our lymphatics all combine to communicate. They all take note of the environment to communicate that to our nervous system and the rest of the body.

So when we have this lower resting cell membrane potential in these cells, it creates this low-grade stress. When injecting scar tissue we inject scars, we use procaine. Procaine is a local anesthetic, it’s 1% preservative free, and we use it compounded so it’s very clean. Neuro-therapists have used this for a hundred years now. Procaine has the ability to break down scar tissue, among other things. The cool thing about neuro-therapy is that the injection is softening the scar tissue so that the lymphatics, fascia, and everything else can communicate more clearly. It also brings added circulation to the tissue, and even has an effect on the actual cell to help with ion exchange in the cell. Improved ion exchange helps to raise that cell’s membrane potential back towards normal, to help reboot or reset. 

Neuro-therapy using procaine injections breaks down and softens scar tissue so that the lymphatics, fascia, and other tissues can communicate more clearly.

It’s not going to automatically go to -70 millivolts every time with one injection, but it restores a healthier cellular voltage so that those cells are identified as less stressed by the autonomic nervous system. That’s one mechanism that I’ve learned, and I’ve seen that be very clinically relevant in practice.

Scar tissue is a really dense network. When toxicity gets in the matrix, it can get stuck in that tissue. A lot of wonderful people have done work with the cell danger response, and looking at what these triggers are in the matrix. Glyphosate can hang out and disrupt the collagen structure in the matrix, heavy metals because of their charge can hang out and affect proteoglycans and collagen, and also affect communication within that tissue. Because of the denser quality of scar tissue, those toxins can become more trapped in that area, so that also leads to a dysfunctional or diseased tissue which creates stress in the rest of the body.

To over-simplify a lot of what we do, I think much of what we do centers around helping the nervous system self-regulate and heal, and also creating more flow in the body. More movement and more flow, so that our tissues can receive oxygen and nutrients, and get rid of waste and all that. A lot of what we do with our scar therapy is to create more flow in that tissue for all of those reasons. I hope I answered your question.


Yes, I think it’s a great example! With all of the neat things that you’re sharing, I’m realizing we could riff for days. A fun new aspect of my job is getting to talk to experts and finding that I’m meeting my tribe. It’s really a blast! One of the pain points, though, is like, “Oh my gosh, I want to hear about that for six hours, because I’ve got a hundred questions about that.”

What I often see in my practice with especially newer patients coming, they’ll be excited about something they’ve heard about that I do. Then they hear from me that the stage needs to be set for the therapy to work. So for example, the Institute for Functional Medicine Detox Whole Food Plan, hydration, getting all that circulation flowing via exercise and sauna. Having a positive attitude, which affects those peptide, intra-cellular and cell-to-cell signaling pathways. 

Please disabuse me of this assumption if I’m wrong, but if you’re treating a patient who’s taking care of themselves, there’s a much greater chance for the desired outcome. By the time you put the procaine in, they have set the stage for success. If they haven’t created an environment for success, and that avalanche of toxicity, stuckness, and unhappy island of tissue is going on, I suspect the local effect is not as helpful from that injection. Is that accurate?

Yes, I think that that is absolutely accurate. I see this in a couple of ways. When you do these foundational pieces, your body’s primed and ready for whatever intervention we’re going to do to have an ideal or optimal response. I see that a lot. I love it when I work with patients who have done so much work and they’re ready. We do a couple scar injections, we do some dental work, we do some other things, and they’re better! Or, they come to me for their first appointment and they’ve done all this work, and their body’s just ready to release. We’ll do a scar injection and they have an emotional release, which can happen.

Patients who have taken care of themselves prior to coming in are ahead of the game and often set the stage for an optimal or more rapid treatment outcome. 

It’s a very somatic experience, where I’ve seen it time and time again. It’s not conscious, it’s a somatic or body sensation where they’re releasing stored emotion in their body. That  creates flow and release and healing in the system. Doing all of those foundational things to prepare people, absolutely! On the other side I also like to support patients when I perform neuro-therapy by giving them Chlorella or ZeoBind or binders. That helps their bodies be ready to absorb any toxicity that’s getting released from that tissue. I never under-estimate the foundations of health. I think they’re so important to set the stage for all the work that we do.


I should acknowledge some other scenarios, so that I’m not misrepresenting it to our listeners. I’ve also found I might meet somebody who’s so tired, wiped out, anxious, and depressed that the first intervention is getting some magnesium and B vitamins rolling. That will at least get the mitochondria booted up a little, so they’ll see a 10% improvement and get rid of that fatalistic sense that they’re trapped or pinned. 

I would be misrepresenting the way I work to say that each person needs to be on their lifestyle journey. I was just intrigued as you were talking, and thinking about how people would be able to set the stage for success. Let’s make sure and tie in the lymphatics. What should people know about lymphatic function in terms of lymph nodes, the spleen, and the little itty bitty lymphatic muscles that are involved?

I find in my patient population the lymphatic system is one of the most overlooked systems in the body, and one of the most rewarding to treat. So many of my patients have an overwhelmed and congested lymphatic system, and this is a wonderful way to get the body moving. It sets the stage not only for them to feel better, but also for them to be able to tolerate treatment. The lymphatic system is a body-wide system. We have lymph glands and organs, lymph nodes, and the recently discovered glymphatic system in the brain. 

But just to over-simplify, the lymphatic system is a waste clearance system. It’s definitely a way that our body removes toxicity from our matrix and from our blood. It’s also an immune surveillance system. This is where our body not only can identify and recognize pathogens to mount an immune response, but this is also where pathogens can overwhelm the lymphatic system, too. When you see a chronic viral patient, or a Lyme patient, they typically can have congested lymph nodes. We know even in conventional medicine, Epstein-Barr can create splenomegaly. That’s basically swelling in the spleen because of the over-activity of the virus in the spleen, and what it’s doing to the blood and all of that.

The lymphatic system is not just a waste removal system but it’s also an immune surveillance system. It aids our body in identifying pathogens and toxins to mount an immune response

We know that toxicity and infections can overwhelm the lymphatic system. A big part of our work is to try to create more flow and drainage in the lymphatic system, while also addressing the toxicity and the infections. We look at why it’s congested in the first place. I’m happy to dive into all of this. I find that the more we learn about the lymphatic system, that maybe some of the assumptions that the medical community has still need to be ironed out. There is this constant learning and evolution, as I mentioned.

The glymphatic system, the lymph system that drains waste in the brain, was only discovered in 2012. The interstitium, a system of interconnected spaces filled with lymph in connective tissue, was also only recently described as a new body organ in 2018. I say that because I feel like sometimes, here in 2020, we think we have everything figured out, but it’s an evolving process. I would love to see more research go into the lymphatic system, so that we can really see what’s going on and understand how we can help patients fully recover faster by focusing on that system.


Thank you. Could you give us an example or two of something anyone can do who lives anywhere that’s good for their lymphatics? And can you also give us an example or two of what patients do specifically there with you that requires a team to get?

Sure, absolutely! For the lymphatic system, there’s a lot of home tools and protocols that we have people do. We know the lymphatic system doesn’t have its own pump, so it relies on our circulatory system and body to create movement within the system. Walking and movement can be very helpful for your lymphatic system. Some patients have a home trampoline called a rebounder, where you’re actually jumping up and down to create movement and to create flow in the body. We also have patients do dry skin brushing, which is an old naturopathic treatment to help move the lymph.

There are also different herbs, supplements and drainage protocols that can help get the lymphatic system moving. One unique understanding that we have at the Sophia Health Institute has to do with a drainage protocol developed by one of Dr. Klinghardt’s students, Ariane Zappe. It involves using a type of lymph drainage that we call SophiaMatrix, and focuses on draining lymph fluid that can build up in the abdomen first, called radix edema. ‘Radix’ means root, so this is lymph fluid that accumulates between the root of the mesentery and the intestine. The mesentery is a folded, sheet-like organ that covers and surrounds the intestines, and then attaches them to the posterior wall of the abdominal cavity. So this lymph fluid or radix edema can pool behind the intestines in front of the posterior abdominal wall.  You don’t have to have a large belly for this to happen, because this can occur even in thin individuals. I see it as a result of chronic dysbiosis, an inflammation in the gut that can be a result of all of that stress in the immune system and the lymphatics. In the digestive tract it creates this pooling effect in the gut.

Abdominal swelling or ‘radix edema’ can occur in all body types, and can result from chronic dysbiosis, an inflammation in the gut.

Through her work and her teaching, Ariane tells us to really focus on the abdomen first, and get that fluid draining. We have massage practitioners who are specifically trained. It’s a deeper movement than normal lymphatic drainage, so it involves really getting in there to move that lymph and drain it into the abdomen. That then sets the stage for the head, neck, and extremities to drain. You can think of it as a hydraulic system, so if there’s pooling or pressure in one part of the body, that’s going to affect flow in the other parts of the body.

That’s something to think about when we’re looking at the lymphatic system. When our patients come to see us, they typically need support. In the beginning I usually have many patients work with a practitioner who’s skilled in the lymph drainage technique that I shared, or any lymphatic drainage technique. Working with a practitioner is excellent if they have the resources or they have access. There’s also different equipment, from compression pants to the Lymphstar, which is electro-lymphatic drainage which helps to dissolve and decongest some of the people who do lymph drainage all day long. They find that there’s a hardening that happens in congested lymph fluid that needs to be broken up and dissolved. So there’s different devices that can help expedite that process. Some of my patients do really well with that.

And when you get the lymph system moving, especially in patients like we see, people can sometimes feel more flu-like, or worse as their system gets moving. It doesn’t happen often, and I don’t feel like people always need to get worse before they get better, but that typically is a sign that they really need this work. Then we try to just amp up all the other support so they tolerate it better.

One of the things I also want to mention is that when you get the lymph moving, you also want to pair that with moving it out through the bowel. We do a lot of colon hydrotherapy with coffee enemas, because when you get all that lymph moving in the gut in the abdomen, you also want to help with the excretion of the lymph that is able to be excreted through the bowel. So that can really help people with symptoms. Of course the colonics and coffee enemas also help with bile flow. Bile is essential. It’s an essential elimination pathway, and that’s another area we could go into, how congested bile gets in the body.

Lymph and bile drainage is so important. We focus on draining abdominal lymph first because it sets the stage for the head, neck, and extremities to drain. Pooling or pressure in one part of the body will affect flow in the other parts of the body.

I feel like I talk about lymph and bile all day long with patients. Those are really key areas where most of my patients have a lot of stagnation, so we just have to get that moving to set the stage for them to be healthier.

So those things are paired, and then we also use binders. I think I mentioned binders already, but binders help to bind toxicity in the gut that gets excreted in the bile, and that helps prevent recirculation. It gets things like mycotoxins, metals, biotoxins, and pesticides out of the body. If someone’s having these flu-like or immune reactions as the lymph system starts to get moving, we of course want to think about what the primary infections hanging out in the lymph are. Do they have a high viral load, do they have Bartonella, do they have a Lyme or Lyme co-infection? We use a lot of herbal therapy to help support the body in recovering from one of those infections.


What a blast, it’s a whole world, and it’s wonderful to hear about it! I was thinking as you spoke, one of the things that I love that you said is that we’re always growing in our understanding. I’m 52 years old now, but when I was in high school I tried to get my black belt in martial arts. When I was part way through my teacher left town. I had to go out of town to get my training and all that stuff. I remember the first week of class, during the first year of this four year process, the teacher said, “There’s two kinds of black belts. There’s black belts who get more and more puffed up the farther they go in their training, and then the other kind just get more and more humble, the more they know.” And he said, “Any of you that are here, I want you to know in this studio, the kind of black belts we produce are the second kind of black belts. Because the more you know, the more humbling it is how complex the world is.”

I found this whole world of all the different dimensions of adrenal overdrive and adrenal fatigue, and it’s a whole world. I’m dealing with it all day every day. There’s a million variations on a theme, I’ll never fully understand it, and it’s so different from how it was presented as Addison’s disease, Cushing’s disease and normal adrenal function. There’s 10 careers worth of work to do just in adrenal tone, or lack thereof, and how it syncs up with the rest of the body.

There is a vast world of all the different dimensions of adrenal overdrive and adrenal fatigue. I deal with it every day. There are a million variations on that theme, and there’s at least 10 careers’ worth of work to even begin to understand all of it.

So I love getting to hear about this whole world that you’re talking about, and I also feel this sense of relief any time I get to talk with practitioners like you. You mentioned that a lot of these folks that come to see you are really worried that they’re not going to get well, because they’ve been seen by a lot of people. They’ve been seen at sophisticated settings, they’ve been seen by good natural providers. Knowing that you’re offering a place that looks at these extra dimensions, that solves these riddles and gets them unstuck, that must make the gratification and the thirst to keep doing this work really, really big.

Absolutely, I love everything you said! I have the same viewpoint in the more you learn, the more you realize there’s so many more questions, and there’s so much more to be discovered. I feel like we’re just in the middle of this big paradigm shift in medicine. I think that of course it’s patient-driven, because our patients have been so underserved for way too long. We really owe it to them to come up with a different form of medicine to treat this. It of course creates all these other dilemmas of access, and all of these things that we’re always contemplating.

I feel that we really have an opportunity to create this. Functional medicine’s doing it wonderfully, and naturopathic medicine’s doing it amazingly as well. I think there’s still this opportunity to look at modern day chronic illness and really study this in a whole new way, and create this comprehensive team. My patients need a team. I see my job as the quarterback. When patients come in I try to connect the dots and put the plan together, but the hard work really starts when they leave my office. Between all that I’m asking them to do and also the team of providers that I would be lost without.

Functional Medicine and Naturopathic Medicine are part of a paradigm shift in medicine. It  speaks to this multifaceted nature of who we are and acknowledging that we’re not just our physical bodies with biochemical reactions. We’re way more than any of that.

In a perfect world, if we’re going to dream up medicine today, from what I know today I would love every chronic illness patient to have a wonderful lymphatic drainage practitioner, a colon hydrotherapist, an IV therapist, someone who can do emotional trauma work with them, and all of these things. I think it just speaks to this multifaceted nature of who we are and acknowledging that we’re not just our physical bodies with biochemical reactions. We’re way more than any of that. We’ll get there, but I feel like we’re still in the midst of educating ourselves, our patients, and society to keep forging ahead.


Thank you again! When I got ready to start offering functional medicine all over the state of Alaska, the preparation was working with Dan Kalish at the Kalish Institute last year. And Dan Kalish said that he talks to experts around the country who are aware of how mature particular happenings in society are, and he said to one of these experts, “Well, functional medicine’s in the early adoption phase.” This expert replied, “Well Dan, it’s actually in the pre-early adoption phase.”

So when he was teaching the class he said that there’s probably about 100-1,000 patients that want to access the kind of work that you and I do in ratio to each medical provider available that has the requisite experience, training and credentials. I feel part of my mission with getting the word out and talking with thought leaders and experts is that it’s a way to propagate solid informtion in this new digital ether. You and I meet so many people that are hungry for this. People are trying to sort out probiotics and gut health, and gut-brain connection, and all that stuff.

Well let’s make sure and talk dental for a sec. So do people need a biologic dentist if they’re concerned about those things? During the Institute for Functional Medicine’s certification process, an IFM certified dentist states that when you open up that root canal, you’ve got two compartments that normally don’t communicate very much suddenly communicating a lot. There’s a lot of information and a lot of organisms running around willy-nilly now. Maybe talk about whether people need to think about a biologic dentist, and you also alluded to work you all do right there at the Sophia Health Institute, is that right?

Yes, with a team. We always work with biological dentists. The best scenario when you have to do amalgam filling removal, root canal extractions, or cavitation surgery is to have a team of support. This is really big work, and it can absolutely propel people forward. When it’s not done with enough support, people can flare and you’ve got to put people back together after that. The perfect combination then is a biological dentist working with a functional medicine doctor or naturopath in really close proximity. In a perfect world.

I’ve seen the best outcomes when people go to the biological dentist, and then they come to our office right after. We do the IV work, the lymph work, and we do ART analysis.  We verify whether they need antibiotics, and if so we make sure we provide them, or the necessary herbal and supplement support.

There’s also obviously a lot of prep work and detoxification work along the way to get them to that point. We use a lot of ozone, vitamin C, and all these things to support the immune system. When you have these root canal teeth, they are dead teeth. Every now and then the patient will send the tooth to the DNA lab, and it comes back full of pathogenic bacteria that are known to be disease-producing in certain people. We’ve seen different strep strains, HPV, Entamoeba, so amoebas can be in these teeth, Fungal or Candida issues have also been found. It’s usually a combination, it’s not just one thing, and it’s not “normal flora” in the microbiome, it’s definitely more pathogenic bacteria, viruses, or parasitic or fungal infections that are in these teeth.


When seeing a biological dentist it is important to have the support of a functional medicine or naturopathic doctor. A tooth issue is a whole body system issue, and we just want to make sure you’re well supported.

I emphasize this because you definitely do not want to do this if you do not have the right support, because we don’t want this to make you worse. We want this to be one of the best things that you do for your health and your body, and to recover your immune system. I’m glad that you are advocating for this. We want to work with dentists who have been vetted by organizations such as the International Association of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT), and there’s a couple of other organizations that vet biological dentists. Some biological dentists will be awesome at mercury removal, and others do root canal extractions or cavitation surgeries all day long. You just want to find the right fit and the right expertise for what you need.

Again, always do that in the context of really good functional, naturopathic care, because it’s not just a dental issue, it’s a whole body system issue, and we just want to make sure you’re well supported.


Thank you! I want to make sure we have time to hear from you what it’s like to design a product. I’d like to learn a little bit about one I was intrigued by called Flow. Did you develop it? If there’s already similar agents out there, how does one decide whether to take the time and energy to make an agent? Is it because you’re in a multi-disciplinary setting where it feels like the products that we have are not exactly what we want? Or does it feel like there are some break-through protocols or ingredients or methods that we know about, that we really need to put into a topical agent for our patients?

At the same time, describe how does a topical agent work systemically, how does it work locally, and how does it work downstream? How does that work?

Yes, absolutely! One of the most fun parts of our work is that we get to talk, just like you do, to experts in our field. We really try to collaborate and to figure out how to help people better, which is how we developed our SophiaFlow cream. It’s a proprietary blend of probiotics, so it’s using probiotic bacteria that produce a specific peptide, macrophage activating factor, which is one of the ways that our bodies communicate to macrophages, to clear viruses and bacterial infections. 

Because these pathogens are tricky and intelligent, one of the ways they evade our immune system is by creating an enzyme called nagalase that basically disrupts that macrophage activating factor production. The SophiaFlow cream has the ability to be a transdermal delivery of macrophage activating factor, and then it also has some other things that are really supportive like vitamin D3, oleic acid, chondroitin sulfate, and so it’s this wonderful combination to really increase lymph drainage, as well as to support the immune system.

Transdermal products such as Flow cream can promote lymph drainage and deliver active ingredients such as macrophage activating factor by simply applying it directly to your skin.

We performed before and after ultrasounds on patients in the areas where the cream was applied. We were able to demonstrate increased perfusion of tissues. We put it over one patient’s spleen and we saw increased blood flow to the spleen. We also did the cervical lymph nodes, and saw increased drainage and flow in those tissues. So we know it works! Of course like anything, it has to be right for the person at the right time, all of these things.

One of the key areas that we have people apply it on is their neck. There is some research suggesting that increased pooling of glymphatic fluid may be associated with autism. That was also related to the glymphatic system’s need to drain via the deep cervical lymph nodes. So if you have congestion in the neck, a chronic viral infection, Lyme or Bartonella or coinfection, the infection can increase swelling in those deep cervical lymph nodes. That can create a pooling and improper drainage in the brain.

People who have sustained traumatic brain injuries tend to be more prone to dementia or neuro-cognitive, neurological illnesses due to impairment of the glymphatic system. 

Just another aside, the glymphatic system is our lymph drainage system in the brain, and it only really works when we’re asleep. It’s a really important part of how our brain stays healthy because it’s a waste removal system. We’ve shown that there’s loss of amyloid-β in the brain when you have healthier sleep and the glymphatic system works properly. We also know why people who have had traumatic brain injuries tend to be more prone to dementia or neuro-cognitive, neurological illnesses. It’s because of the impairment in the actual anatomy of the glymphatic system. It doesn’t work as well and they get this build-up of debris. With certain injuries the glymphatic system not only fails to clear toxicity, but it’s also not clearing pathogens. There could therefore be more viruses, Lyme, and co-infections in the brain.

We need this glymphatic system to be working optimally to have a healthy brain, and to really recover anyone from a chronic illness or a chronic neurological disease. To answer your question about a transdermal product, I always set the stage by reminding people that we know that hormone patches and nicotine patches work, and we know that our skin is a delivery system in the body. I explain that we have our skin (the epidermis) and underneath that we have the dermis. Then underneath the dermis is again a newly found system called the interstitium, which is this fluid-filled network that transports information to the rest of our bodies.

I believe that the interstitium is really the way that the macrophage activating factor is getting delivered locally and systemically, and that’s why topical products that contain something like a macrophage activating factor work. It can actually get into the lymph and get close to those lymph nodes that are harboring the infection. We see a lot of wonderful things with transdermal products, and the Flow cream has become a staple in a lot of our patient’s protocols.

Wonderful. Again, what a blast. What a whole world! One thing I thought I should mention for our listeners is that both your and my hearts in this has to do with something you flagged in the beginning. Chronic toxicity is a cumulative, multi-factorial, diffuse team of things that bog our system down, and that is very different from classic toxicity in a lab full of rats with a lethal dose of one thing that kills 50 rats. So much of what you and I see and treat all day every day are those 100-1000 things out there in the world in 2020, and the way we live that’s bogging us down. The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said the pain inflicted by his critics was like dying a “slow death, being trampled to death by a flock of geese.” Chronic toxicity is a little like dying by being trampled by 1,000 geese feet, I think.

I was also struck by something I read about in a lay book by Candace Pert called the Molecules of Emotion, where she described these four and five amino acid signaling peptides. She didn’t really discover them, but really illuminated as she found the opiate receptor around the same time. She was seeing these cell-to-cell signaling pathways that, just as you’re describing today, are playing this pivotal role. But because they hadn’t been illuminated, the pathways weren’t well understood, so they were neglected. Understanding the pathways at that time was neglected, and those were not well understood. So it’s a new day!

I love that you mentioned that book! I read that book when I was in high school or who knows when, but it was definitely a pivotal book in my understanding, and just my foreshadowing of loving this work. She was really the mother of psycho-neural immunology, right? I’m so glad that you mentioned her.


So inspiring! Do you still accept new patients?

Yes, I do still accept new patients, and I work with a wonderful team of doctors. We work together to help people, so if I’m not available quickly, we have other providers who do all the same things I do.


Wonderful. Well, anything that you’d love for people to know based on your expertise that we didn’t talk about?

I think we covered a lot, and I really appreciate your time. It’s really fun connecting with you, and I hope people find this helpful! If you’re out there trying to put the pieces together and wondering why you’re not feeling well, I hope some of this resonates for you to explore further.


Thank you so much, you’ve been really great today!

Oh, thank you so much. It was really fun to connect!



Rob Downey, MD

Founder of Seaworthy Functional Medicine