Stubborn weight gain, poor sleep, chronic fatigue, brain fog, or irregular menstrual cycles — these are all health issues that can plague us from day to day, and are not necessarily ‘fixable’ with a simple trip to the doctor’s office or with medication. Here’s where an approach from the functional medicine point of view can help — focusing on addressing the underlying causes of disease such as genetics, environment and lifestyle choices, rather than just curbing symptoms as they are observed.
LifeHub, a holistic health centre launching earlier this year, is a three-story integrative health clinic that not only offers medical care and psychiatric help, but also offers myriad solutions using functional medicine to improve overall quality of life and wellness — paramount in a city such as Hong Kong. “Many patients take steps to improve their health only after they get very sick,” says LifeHub’s group chairman and trained medical doctor Jonathan Seah. “LifeHub is designed to make it easy for everyone to optimise their health with doctor-designed products and treatments, before serious illnesses develop.”
Located right at The Loop in Hong Kong’s central business district, or what LifeHub calls “Hong Kong’s most stressful square mile,” it’s essentially a convenient one-stop-shop for optimising your health.
Its first floor is dedicated to improving your lifestyle, with a boutique selling supplements, take-home health lab tests and wellness paraphernalia. Here, clients also get their health consultations and get to do a quick body scan, live blood analysis, IV Drip, or beauty treatment addressing skin, hair and scalp all at the cellular level.
I had always been curious about my irregular cycles and ensuing weight gain after going on and off the pill, so I recently stepped into LifeHub to do a trial of their suite of assessments and tests. First, in order to determine the right test for me, I had a chance to do a quick body scan and live blood analysis (HK$380 each or complimentary with another purchase), both of which are designed to give a rapid overview of your health.
The quick body scan
For the quick body scan, all I needed to do was to place my hand on a metallic panel. Similar to bioresonance therapy, the scan sends frequencies throughout the body and sees how your cells respond, evaluating the health of your four core systems: immune, detoxification, gastrointestinal, and hormonal. It also helps to draw connections between areas of your lifestyle that require improvement, whether it’s stress levels, sleep, diet, hydration or inflammation. After a brief moment, the computer rang up all this information in easy-to-read bar graphs.
I had guessed right that my diet would be to blame for my general fatigue, but I was surprised to find that it looked like my immune system was compromised, too. I rarely get ill, yet my tonsils, my hydration levels, the herbicides detected in my system all showed up as angry red bars that shot far beyond their respective optimum levels. My lymphatic system in particular looked like it needed some help as I wasn’t passing out toxins efficiently enough.
The live blood analysis
As for the Live Blood Analysis, my LifeHub health assistant helped prick my finger (it felt like a flick of a rubber band) to obtain a small drop of blood. Under the microscope, my red blood cells were stacked together like caterpillars in a ‘Rouleau’ formation, suggesting a high fat and protein-rich diet. Guilty! With less surface area of each cell exposed to oxygen, it was more likely that I would constantly feel tired. The assistant recommended that I take a detox- or metabolism-boosting IV drip to counteract the effects (or, just drink more water).
Some tips to help me curb those effects were to take specific supplements, a probiotic pill to aid digestion, and to do either a gut biome test or a hormone test to understand my symptoms in more detail.
The weight management and thyroid test
I chose the Weight Management and Thyroid test, which includes a comprehensive hormone panel. I had hoped that it could get to the bottom of why I had irregular periods, and why I found it hard to lose extra weight despite eating healthily and gymming hard two to four times a week.
The test kit itself included three test tubes for collecting saliva samples in the morning, midday and before bed. There was also a blood sample patch and several finger pricks for me to do it at home. It took some courage to get my own blood sample, but the process was simple and relatively pain-free.
After bringing back the kit to LifeHub one morning, I waited only about 10 days before my results were ready. I was assigned to meet with Dr. Ken Chu, a trained naturopathic doctor whom I had crossed paths with before, and who has been treating patients for almost a decade with his experience in clinical nutrition, sports medicine and homeopathy.
I had an hour-long chat with Dr. Chu to go through my results, which covered everything from my low female hormones to low vitamin D count; my thyroid function to my cortisol levels, to even my risk of insulin deficiency. It turned out that my cortisol levels — or stress — were managed decently throughout the day.
However, Dr. Chu patiently explained several biological functions that were concerning from my results. My low vitamin D count, for instance, contributed to how I wasn’t processing metabolites out of my system. More than just a supplementary nutrient for healthy bones, vitamin D also helps with metabolism, liver and thyroid functions. In other words, it’s crucial for detoxification.
My insulin levels were within the optimum range, but my Hemoglobin A1c, an indicator that takes the average of my three months’ worth of blood sugar, showed that it was reaching the high side of the borderline. Dr. Chu suggested for me to manage my meal frequency to manage my blood sugar. According to insulin theory, insulin and cortisol are related — with increased cortisol, you get an increased demand for energy, which increases insulin in order to bring more sugar (fuel) into the cell. Insulin also works on a circadian rhythm, so it fluctuates throughout the day, following fluctuating cortisol levels. Hence, I was urged to eat at every natural insulin spike to regulate it.
The last page of my report showed the calculated risk for future health disorders depending on my reported symptoms and results, which helps Dr. Chu recommend targeted action. It showed that I was on the way of having oestrogen dominance, which is when a low oestrogen production persuades the body it is deficient in the hormone, in effect recycling and hoarding it. A build-up of excess oestrogen can result in extra hip and belly fat.
Women in particular are often in danger of hormonal havoc — when the ovaries aren’t producing enough oestrogen, often it’s the adrenal glands that end up overcompensating to produce it. When they too become stressed out, a whole slew of symptoms can occur — from caffeine and salt cravings to weight gain around the middle, to chronic low energy levels and difficulty handling stress.
At the same time, the liver also needs to be able to successfully detoxify excess hormones, not to mention regulate oestrogen levels to make sure cancer-causing oestrogens don’t stay in the body. When liver function is compromised due to lifestyle choices (high fat diet, alcohol, artificial sweeteners and so on), so does the ability to cleanse the system of excess oestrogen.
Similarly, high cortisol when left unchecked, can cause metabolic syndrome, which can lead to diabetes. I was similarly at risk for hypometabolism, which is a mix of weight gain and thyroid problems if I continued to eat irregularly.
The takeaway? Thankfully, I was able to catch these underlying issues at a relatively young age. A few lifestyle changes that I learned I could easily make were that I needed to eat every two or so hours, following along with my natural insulin fluctuations. I was also recommended to take a combined zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6 supplement, as well as vitamin D3 drops (available to purchase at LifeHub) in order to help my detoxification function.
In the millennial age where most individuals have a morbid curiosity about their health and everything they put in their bodies, a trip to LifeHub can satisfy any health concern. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to learn everything going on under my skin, and in an ongoing quest for optimum health, there’s always room for improvement — meaning you’ll most certainly see me back for more.