What Is Root Cause Medicine?

Wendy PurvianceGritwell
Wendy Purviance
Gritwell Functional Health Coach

Six out of ten Americans suffer from chronic diseases, according to the CDC, and treating them is a trillion dollar industry. The problem is, while conventional medicine has been instrumental in raising the health standards in our country and around the world, it hasn’t always succeeded at making people well. That’s because conventional western medicine primarily treats symptoms — like placing a Bandaid on what can be a whole host of issues — rather than getting to the root cause of what is making a person sick.

Root cause medicine — often referred to as “functional medicine” — takes a different approach. It treats the whole person, rather than focusing on a particular organ or symptom. Conventional medicine will prescribe a pill to mask or alleviate your symptoms, but root cause medicine will aim to find out what exactly is making you sick, digging into the “why”. Once we know the why, we can create a personalized, targeted/or/effective plan to address your needs.

A functional medicine approach starts with a mindset shift — one that puts the client first. When you work with a functional medicine practitioner your health will be viewed holistically, with the whole body and symptoms. Many who seek care feel truly listened to— and that their symptoms are finally taken seriously and examined.

In root cause medicine, the “why” behind symptoms is the focus. This may look like considering how your lifestyle — sleep patterns, stress levels, nutrition, and movement routines — may be affecting your overall health. Your care team will help you understand the connection between inflammation, toxins, food sensitivities, genetics, the gut microbiome, disease progression, and chronic illness.

As you move through your health journey, your care team will take your whole health assessment into consideration as they come up with a care plan unique for your conditions and symptoms. Everyone has their own story, but at GritWell, clients notice significant improvements within a few months of beginning the work. Addressing the root cause of what is making you sick often eliminates symptoms for good.

Common "Root Causes" Of Chronic Ailments

Clients come to root cause medicine for many reasons — to help manage chronic ailments like irritable bowel syndrome, chronic pain, neurological disorders, or even allergies. Others come to treat conditions like depression, anxiety, fatigue, and hormone imbalances. Often, clients have been misdiagnosed — sometimes multiple times — and their conditions have never been properly treated. After the root cause of medical distress is addressed symptoms typically lessen considerably.

Let’s take a look at the root causes of some of the most common illnesses and conditions. Knowledge is power, and understanding the root cause of disease and symptoms is often the first step toward healing.

Antibiotics Overuse

Antibiotics have been vital in combating once serious, often catastrophic disease — they have certainly served their purpose, invaluable when you have strep throat, or when you are healing from a serious condition like a ruptured appendix. But the hard truth is that antibiotics are chronically over prescribed. Many low grade infections, like ear infections, heal without the use of antibiotics. Furthermore, antibiotics are often prescribed to treat the symptoms of viruses, like the common cold, when their purpose is to specifically address serious bacterial infections.

A 2019 study found that 23% of American patients are prescribed antibiotics inappropriately. The overuse of antibiotics can contribute to large scale issues, such antibiotic resistance, which is when bacteria begin to “outsmart” antibiotics — essentially evolving into super bacteria — rendering them useless, and making it much more difficult to treat diseases caused by bacteria with today’s regimens of antibiotics.

The other issue is that the overuse of antibiotics can directly contribute to disease and poor health conditions. This is because antibiotics can cause significant depletion of “good” bacteria that make up your gut microbiome, which can lead to digestive issues, such as diarrhea, nausea, and stomachaches. Antibiotic overuse can also contribute to chronic health issues such as allergies, immune system disorders, metabolic deficiencies, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Read more about antibiotic overuse…

Stress and Trauma

Stress is more than simply an emotional experience. If you’ve been in a stressful or anxiety-producing situation, you know the immediate effects it can have on your body: racing heartbeat, nausea, sweating, headache. This is because of the “stress response,” which releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream, triggering these uncomfortable symptoms. This is a normal natural response for the body that protects us from harm, but when it occurs too frequently, it can cause chronic issues.

But what you may not realize is that when stress becomes chronic, the symptoms you experience may last far beyond the initial triggering event or experience. Chronic stress means that your body is exposed to high levels of cortisol, which can result in conditions like anxiety disorders, cognitive impairments, hormonal imbalances, heart disease, sleep issues, weight gain, and gut health problems.

Chronic stress isn’t the only mental health condition that can affect the body in significant ways. PTSD, a history of childhood trauma, and intergenerational trauma can have profound and lasting effects on the body and can lead to health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and depression.

Read more about stress and trauma…

Toxins (Mold, Pesticides, Heavy Metals)

We are frequently exposed to toxins in life, organic material as common as molds, chemicals like pesticides, and even occasionally heavy metals. Many of us are exposed to high levels of these substances, often without knowing it, which can cause significant health problems. For those who feel unwell or have unexplained symptoms, it’s important to consider whether you’re suffering in part from unhealthy exposure to toxins in your environment.


It’s common to find mold in homes and offices, but high levels of mold sometimes can’t be seen by the naked eye. Mold can hide in insulation, in pipes, and in places with water damage. Without a thorough investigation, it can be difficult to know if you are being exposed to toxic levels of mold and symptoms can also be difficult to recognize, since they often resemble common health complaints such as runny nose, coughing, itchy throat, watery eyes, fatigue, and fever.


Pesticides are found virtually everywhere: in the foods we eat, in our gardens and lawns, and in agriculture. Experts are still trying to understand how pesticides affect health and who is most vulnerable to their effects, but many common health symptoms may be caused by pesticide exposure, including nausea, dizziness, rashes, blisters, and nasal irritation.

Heavy Metals

Most of us are unfamiliar with the effects that exposure to heavy metals can have on our bodies. But heavy metals — such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury — are all around us, in our foods, our environment, our water supply, in paint, and in common household supplies like batteries. Exposure to toxic amounts of heavy metals can result in health problems like nausea, headache, shortness of breath, tingling in extremities, cognitive issues, and behavioral challenges.

Read more about Toxins (Mold, Pesticides, Heavy Metals)...

Infections (EBV, Lyme, COVID-19)

Most of us think of getting sick as something that lasts a week or two and resolves. But some infections can have more lasting effects on our health and can create longer-term symptoms later in life. Often, we may not even realize that a past infection is the root cause of a current health condition we are dealing with.

Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV)

For example, Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), which causes acute symptoms of mononucleosis, is an infection that usually lasts 2-4 weeks. But sometimes initial symptoms of the infection become chronic. In other cases, EBV can lead to the development of new serious conditions years later, such as cancer, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.

Lyme disease

Lyme disease is another infection that can contribute to chronic disease. In most cases, if Lyme disease is treated right away with antibiotics, symptoms resolve. But in some cases, symptoms can linger for months or years and lead to a condition called Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS).


Finally, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) can lead to many long-term health concerns that experts are just beginning to scratch the surface of. Acute infections of COVID-19 can lead to “long COVID,” which includes symptoms like chronic fatigue, brain fog, rapid heartbeat, and trouble breathing. COVID-19 can also cause or exacerbate serious health conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, and neurological disorders.

Read more about Infections (EBV, Lyme, COVID-19)...

Inflammatory Foods

They say that you are what you eat. Unfortunately, many of the foods we consume can cause chronic inflammation in our bodies, leading to various unfavorable health conditions and troubling health symptoms. Understanding how diet affects our overall health and can lead to inflammation is an important step in treating the root causes of many chronic illnesses.

You can blame the standard American diet (SAD) for much of this. High-calorie foods packed with added fat, salt, and sugar, can cause inflammation in the body, especially when eaten on a regular basis. Additionally, foods high in refined sugars, refined carbs, saturated fat, and trans fat, can cause inflammation.

Inflammation linked to diet can lead to many poor health outcomes and serious health conditions including asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, Crohn’s disease, heart disease, diabetes, and depression. Certain symptoms can also be linked back to inflammatory foods such as insomnia, constipation, fatigue, acid reflux, muscle and joint pain, weight issues, and anxiety.Antibiotics Overuse

Read more about inflammatory foods…

Commonly misdiagnosed symptoms

Many of us live with uncomfortable and troubling symptoms that we just don’t understand and just can’t seem to shake. Our concerns may have been dismissed by conventional medicine providers, or we may have been given medication that provides temporary relief, but doesn’t address the root cause of our symptoms. Working with a root cause medicine care team can help shed light on some of the symptoms that may have been bothering you for years, and help you find effective remedies for their treatment.

The following are some common symptoms that can be better understood by addressing the underlying conditions and contributors that may be causing them.

Itchy Throat

Many people experience an itchy throat from time to time. It can feel like a soreness in the throat, a scratchy feeling, or a dry, uncomfortable sensation. Often, an itchy throat can be traced to a viral infection, allergies, or environmental causes such as smoke or pesticides. But when a cause can’t be found for your itchy throat, it can be useful to consider mold toxicity.

Mold can cause all sorts of uncomfortable respiratory symptoms like a runny nose, coughing, worsening of asthma symptoms, along with an itchy throat. But mold toxicity is often missed as a diagnosis for these symptoms, partly because it can be difficult to diagnose or to trace its source, mold proliferation can be hidden in hard-to-see places in our homes, such as in a heating or cooling system, or beneath ceiling tiles.

Removing mold from your home can be challenging, but most find that many of their symptoms, including itchy throat, are eliminated or significantly reduced once the mold problem is remediated and properly addressed.


Feeling anxious is a common but unpleasant experience. Anxiousness can happen when you are about to give a speech or when you are meeting someone for the first time. But anxiety can also become a chronic condition leading to the diagnosis of a panic disorder. 

What might surprise you is that anxiety, and even panic disorders, can sometimes be traced back to hormonal imbalances. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle: feeling anxious can release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline; when these hormones flood your body, your adrenal and thyroid systems can become out of balance, leading to chronic symptoms of anxiety. 

In addition to imbalances like these, other health conditions can contribute to symptoms of anxiety, such as Cushing syndrome, gut imbalances, hyperthyroid disease, and adult growth hormone deficiency. Environmental factors, like mold and endocrine-disrupting toxins, can also contribute to these symptoms. Whatever the cause, anxiety isn’t something you should just “live with.” Your care team can help you understand what is causing this symptom, and how to feel more like yourself again.

Tingling In Hands

Experiencing unexplained tingling in your hands can be both worrying and stressful. Those who experience this uncomfortable sensation may be concerned that their symptoms are a sign of a more dangerous medical condition. But often, after other common causes — such as diabetes, carpal tunnel syndrome, vitamin deficiencies, autoimmune issues, and neurological diseases — are ruled out, people are left feeling unsure of the cause of their symptoms.

If other causes are ruled out, your care team might suggest you explore the possibility of testing for heavy metal toxicity. When people are exposed to toxic levels of heavy metals — such as in their drinking water, homes, food, or environment — they can begin to experience mysterious and troubling symptoms, including tingling in the hands. Other symptoms of heavy metal toxicity include behavioral issues, nausea, diarrhea, shortness of breath, fatigue, and neurological issues. 

Treatments involve removing these metals from your environment and then utilizing therapies that can detoxify your body from the effects of exposure. Understanding whether heavy metal toxicity is the root cause of symptoms like tingling in your hands can help move you closer to recovery and healing. 

Blurry Vision

Experiencing sudden or chronic blurry vision can be a scary problem. Sometimes blurry vision is caused by easily solvable problems, such as the need for a stronger eyeglass prescription, but often, there are other causes that need to be explored. In these cases, it can be helpful to visit a functional medicine provider who can help you understand the root cause of your blurry vision.

Whenever you are experiencing blurry vision, you should seek care from trained professionals, so that any serious medical issues can be ruled out. Blurry vision can be caused by diabetes, concussions, and migraines, as well as various eye conditions like cornea damage and eye infections. Sometimes blurry vision is a symptom of a stroke, a brain tumor, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or as a side effect of medication.

Root cause medicine can not only help you identify which condition may be causing your blurry vision, but can also offer you holistic options for treating these conditions so that symptoms finally resolve.

Rectal Pain

Experiencing pain in your rectal area can be uncomfortable and embarrassing and as such, it can be difficult to reach out for help to find the root cause of your discomfort. Another challenge in diagnosing the cause of rectal pain is that there are several potential causes, from anal fissures, to hemorrhoids, to lesser known syndromes such as proctalgia fugax.

What many people may not realize is that one of the most common causes of rectal pain is ulcerative colitis, which is a condition characterized by inflammation of the rectum and large intestine. Besides rectal pain, ulcerative colitis symptoms may include blood in the stool, diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea, and fever. It’s important to find a care team that will investigate all potential causes of rectal pain, including ulcerative colitis. 

If ulcerative colitis is ultimately your diagnosis, there are many promising treatments out there for the associated symptoms, including conventional medication, dietary and lifestyle changes, herbs and supplements, and management of stress and anxiety. Once you get a proper diagnosis and the root cause of your rectal pain is discovered, the road to healing can begin.

How GritWell can help?

GritWell’s approach to managing chronic symptoms and conditions is to put you in the driver’s seat when it comes to your health and healing. Clients are matched with a care team consisting of a care manager, a functional medicine health coach, and a board certified MD. Together, you and your care team work together to understand the root cause of your symptoms and empower you with tools to feel your best. GritWell’s goal is to help you get your life back, so that you can do all the things you love again.

GritWell Benefits

Simply put, working with GritWell means finally getting answers. Many people come to GritWell after receiving multiple misdiagnoses, or after having been given solutions that only mask symptoms, but don’t address the root causes of your illness.

The GritWell care team takes the time to get to know you, thoroughly investigating all factors that may be contributing to your health challenges. You and your team will discuss your complete health history, current stress, and past trauma that may be playing a role in your discomfort, and any environmental and lifestyle factors that could be impacting your health. You will feel truly listened to — maybe for the first time.  

GritWell digs deep to take a personalized approach to health without assuming any two people are the same. The diagnostic tests we perform are unique to your health journey and your treatment plan — including recommended supplements and nutritional and lifestyle changes — is tailored to your specific needs.

Results speak for themselves. Every client has their own journey and story to tell, but of the clients we’ve worked with:

  • 75% have seen improvements within the first few months
  • 80% had improved digestion
  • 75% noticed improvement in migraine symptoms
  • 65% experienced decreased anxiety
  • 80% had improvement in sleep and energy

What GritWell users are saying?

Our clients come to us with myriad health concerns, symptoms, and conditions. They range from young adults to older adults, but one experience unites them all. They’ve spent years weighed down by health issues, have visited doctor after doctor, have been left with few answers, and experienced little improvement.  

Once partnered with GritWell, the weight of uncertainty and confusion lifted. Their stories are a testament to the life-changing symptom relief and happiness available when the root cause of health conditions are finally addressed.

How to get started?

GritWell is a subscription-based telehealth service. Once you pick you subscription plan and sign up, you will be matched with a care team consisting of:

  • A health coach (dual certified in functional and integrative nutrition)
  • An MD with 20+ years of experience and training in both conventional and functional medicine
  • A care manager to help guide you through the program

All visits with your care team are virtual, which means that you can receive care wherever you are and a time that is convenient for your lifestyle. Your subscription includes two visits each month with your health coach; unlimited email, video, and text support with your care manager; and a health plan created just for you by your care team.

After meeting and exploring your symptoms, taking a thorough health inventory — including toxin exposure, diet and lifestyle factors, current life stressors, childhood traumas, and a family history of disease — your care team will recommend comprehensive testing to get to the bottom of what is distressing you.

Our advanced testing protocols include GI testing, food sensitivity testing, hormone testing, organic acid testing, and mycotoxin testing. Our testing is thorough, and involves diagnostics most conventional practitioners don’t explore.

With this complete picture of your health, we develop a care plan with you — based on supplements that we recommend, nutrition changes, and lifestyle tweaks —  all specific to your needs.

Most critically, we stand beside you as you move through your journey of healing, available to answer all questions, big and small, and to provide the tools for you to take control of your health.

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You’ll be matched with a team of three - a health coach with specialized training in functional medicine and integrative nutrition, paired with an MD and care manager, working together to help you heal.


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