All posts by Gregory Symko

Dr. Symko, Concord-area Functional Neurologist, writes about his journey to health.


In the summer of 2010, I faced a family crisis.

My wife and children went away for a short vacation at the beach. Sometime during the night, my son awoke in the midst of a seizure. Panicked, I dashed up to Maine only to see him being released from the local hospital. Even after CAT Scans and extensive blood work, the doctors had no explanation as to what brought on the seizure.

A few weeks later he had a second seizure.  After the second episode, we were further troubled and immediately scheduled an appointment with a pediatric neurologist at Boston Children’s Hospital.  Among other tests, a sleep-deprived EEG was performed in addition to extra CAT Scans. The results showed that my son had Benign Rolandic Epilepsy.  The disorder ensues when he is in a state of falling asleep or waking up.

My son’s was located in the left brain and it affected his speech, and his right arm and leg.  Once the seizure passed he would suffer from nausea in addition to an intense headache and extreme fatigue.

The neurologist recommended a prescribed medication to control the seizures, even though she thought that they were not dangerous so long as they did not get worse.  I was reluctant to start him on the medication, but was also frightened for him, so my wife and I agreed and put him on the captopril.

After week of taking the medication, my wife and I observed noticeable changes in his personality.  He became increasingly fearful and paranoid.  Typically a social boy, he suddenly didn’t want to attend school or play with his friends.

I worked in the pharmaceutical community as a drug safety analyst while recovering from my stroke, so I instantly did some extensive research on captopril.  In the safety analysis of the drug, during its clinical trial, one of the noted side effects was paranoid schizophrenia.

I contacted the prescribing neurologist since these symptoms were manifesting in my son and we needed to take him off the prescribed medication. The neurologist wasn’t certain that the drug would do this, but when I shared the research with her and she agreed that he should come off the drug.

There is more to the story, so till next time, be well.


Dr. Symko, Boston Area Functional Neurologist, writes about his journey to health.

Night Driving

Recently, I had a patient tell me that he remembers seeing me hobble into his pharmacy after my stroke.  He shared with me just how I inspired him to recover from his own heart surgery.

That comment got me thinking about my extensive journey to health.  We all need inspiration, myself included, so I decided to take a break from the usual functional medicine updates and start sharing with you my voyage into recovery.

As many of you know, I suffered a stroke about 16 years ago, and my journey back to health has taken about that much time.  As a functional neurologist, when a patient comes to me for help with migraines, lower back or neck pain, crones disease or any other ailment, my immediate goal is to help that person get relief from their acute pain.  This can take anywhere from one month to twelve weeks.  The key thing for the patient to realize is that relief from pain is not the end of their journey but the beginning.  Attaining maximum health takes dedication, time and understanding.

December of 2009 was the first out-of-state trip that I took after my stroke.  I went to Dallas, TX to learn about brain injury and how it can be helped.  I arrived on a Friday evening and had to drive to the hotel on an unfamiliar highway.

It was not until this episode that I realized how bad I was.  The headlights, the speed and the sheer amount of cars made it very difficult for me to keep my eyes steady and my head clear of spinning.  In order to make it to the hotel safely, I had to pull over every 10 minutes.

I was very grateful to be safe at the hotel and extremely thankful that I didn’t have to drive at night again.  What I learned at this particular seminar commenced the next phase of my journey to health.  In a nutshell, I learned that gluten can cause the brain to be inflamed and that my symptoms were a sign of an inflamed brain.

That very weekend I decided to stop eating gluten.  Amazingly, in one month I noticed a significant improvement in my eyes and head, and I could safely drive at night.

That was the beginning of my studying of and understanding how food affects our overall health.

Dr. Greg Symko, Boston Area Functional Neurologist, weighs in on the vaccination debate.

There has been a fire storm over vaccinations. The majority of parents vaccinate their children.

The parents that feel vaccinations can be harmful want the right to not vaccinate their children, this is the minority point-of-view. This dissension has made it a very emotional topic.

Let’s delve into the history of vaccinations in this country. What are they made of and how they have impacted our lives.

As the subject is vast, this topic of vaccinations will be spread out over a few blogs.

When I was born in 1958, there were only three vaccinations. They were for polio, measles and mumps and rubella. The actual vaccinations were called tetanus diphtheria, and pertussis (DTP vaccine).

In the 1980’s the number of vaccinations increased three fold. In addition, the number of booster shots have also increased.

Before the 1980’s the incidence of Autism was about 1 in 10,000, now it is about 1 in 100.  A study was done to determine if this increase had to do with increased awareness or something else.  The study showed that indeed there was an increase of 25%. That does not account for the total increase.

Many parents of Autistic children state that their child changes after the vaccines given when they turned 3.

A child’s immune system is immature, the barriers that protect their brain, lungs and gut are also immature.

Did the increase in vaccinations at an early age have something to do with the increase in the incidence of Autism? Does the old adage apply “Too much of a good thing?”


Dr. Greg Symko, Boston Area Functional Neurologist, writes about why gluten is troublesome for so many of us. Part 1.

You would have to be living under a rock not to have noticed the fire-storm surrounding gluten and its adverse effects on a person’s well-being.

Gluten is actually gliadin, a protein found in wheat and wheat products. 

Gluten is not an essential nutrient for humans. In fact, we do not have the proper enzymes to break down gluten to the individual amino acids so that the human body can use them. When our digestive tracks try to break gluten down and that results in our bodies breaking it down to something called gluteal morphine. Yes, that is morphine and it does affect the same brain centers that the medication morphine does.

Because our bodies don’t have the proper enzymes to break down gluten, our brains need to accommodate it. Ever since humans have been eating gluten, our brains have done a pretty good job of doing that so that the effects of gluteal morphine is not dramatic and we can get some sort of benefit from eating wheat grains.

So why now are grains (wheat grain, in particular) becoming such an issue for us? The story actually begins with hope. Back in the 1930’s, hybridization of wheat was pursued in order to increase the hardiness, yield and variety of places that wheat can be grown, and it was done to fight hunger.

Dr. Greg Symko, Concord-area Functional Neurologist, writes about how long it can take to get well. Part 4.

In this blog I am going to group together two topics that I touched upon last week. They are How committed is the patient to getting well? and Does the patient think it is possible to get well?


In order to explain this clearly, first I need to review how our brains develop from the time we are newborns.

As infants, our brain has a great deal of nerve cells, however, we cannot yet control our bowels, our blood pressure is high, our heart rate is elevated and we are not coordinated.

The reason for this is that our nervous system is designed to stop activity as opposed to start activity. A newborn’s brain is not developed enough to stop activity, so the parts of the brain that run our heart, digestion and posture are uncontrollable at that age.

As a newborn’s brain matures, the brain starts to control these functions. An interesting side note: as we get older, unexplained high blood pressure, heart rate and incontinence could be a lack of brain control.


The brain stem is an area in the brain that regulates functions that happen automatically even though we don’t consciously think them. The brain sends 100% of its output to the body from the brain stem.


Therefore, if someone does not believe their health will improve, or they are not motivated to get better, it will have a direct impact on the brain stem and all troubled areas in our body including chronic pain.  Pain is regulated in the brain stem.

This can be helped if you understand this and what parts of the brain are not functioning properly.  That is what a functional neurologist like me can do.

Dr. Greg Symko, Concord-area Functional Neurologist, writes about how long it can take to get well. Part 3.

The 3rd factor that can greatly impact an individual’s recovery process is the state of their health prior to getting sick or injured.


This is important and could point to the reason someone got sick or injured in the first place. It is important to keep our bodies as healthy as possible because you never know when you might need that body to help you overcome an illness.

Think of this as the story about the grasshopper and the ant. The ant lived as though he didn’t have a care in the world. Live for today don’t worry about tomorrow. The Grasshopper worked hard to be prepared for what may come in the future. He enjoyed life, but he made sure he was prepared.

It is important to keep our bodies as healthy as possible because you never know when you might need strength to overcome an illness. Think of the story about the

Ant and the Grasshopper by Aesop. The Ant lived haphazardly, as though he didn’t have a care in the world. He lived for the day with no worries of tomorrow. Now the Grasshopper worked hard to be ready for what may come in the future, he was prepared.

The same can be said about our bodies. You could eat whatever you want, no need to exercise consistently and drink whatever taste good. Or you can exercise regularly, eat good real food, be careful what you drink.

The same could be said about how we regard our health and bodies. Do you eat fatty or sugary foods, lay around on your day off or perhaps drink whatever you fancy? On the other hand, you could exercise regularly, eat nutritious food and monitor the drinks.

Because of the “Ant’s” lifestyle his body has very little reserve to combat an illness, but the “Grasshopper” has a reserve so perhaps he is better prepared for an illness.

The Ant’s lifestyle gave his body very little reserve to combat an illness or injury, but the Grasshopper had a reserve and was prepared for illness.

I have firsthand experience with this. Before my strong I was reasonably healthy, except for a few addictions namely sugar. When I had my strong I was able to do more of the exercises because of the strength I built up in my legs and arms so that I could muscle through the difficult parts.

Before my stroke, I was reasonably healthy except for a few addictions, namely sugar. After my stroke, I was able to do more of the exercises because of the strength I had built up in my arms and legs prior to the stroke. I was better prepared to muscle through the difficult parts because my body had reserve strength.

Many times patients come in expecting a silver bullet. When I tell them the work they are going to have to do many are sad because they never experienced hard work before in regards to their health. If you worked on your health before seeing me it is easier to do the work needed.

Often times, patients come in expecting a magical, instantaneous cure. When I tell them the work involved, many are discouraged as they have never had to work hard to achieve health before. If you worked on your health prior to seeing me, it is much easier to start the work needed.

Dr. Greg Symko, Concord-area Functional Neurologist, writes about how long it could take to get well. Part 2

In last week,s blog, I addressed how the length of time that someone is ailing before they seek treatment will directly affect how quickly they recover.  This week, I would like to discuss how age can affect the healing process.


Age is one aspect of getting well that no one has control over.Everyone ages and grows older.  the reason it is harder to recuperate as we get older has to do with ATP, otherwise known as adenosine triphosphate.  ATP is the fuel that our bodies need to sustain life.

Our bodies use this fuel to perform ll our bodily functions.  Everything from thinking about running to actually running is fueled by ATP.  It is also crucial in the healing of our bodies

As we age, the amount of ATP we make decreases, we have less fuel to do the functions that our bodies need to run optimally.If you injure your knee of back, it can be harder for your body to heal that injury.  These injuries can be even more difficult to heal when there are other contributing factors such as diabetes, obesity, lung disease caused by smoking or any other chronic condition.

Does this mean we are doomed as we get older to be continuously sick or injured?

I say absolutely not.  Your body might be producing less fuel, but your body is smart because although it is less fuel, it is enough.  Our younger bodies produced enough fuel so that we had a surplus.  As children, we tend to get in more trouble physically ans mentally, so the body makes sure there is plenty of energy available to help correct the damage we did our bodies.  (Too much alcohol, not enough sleep, too much work,etc.)

How do we make as much fuel as possible for our aging bodies?  It is simple, get plenty of exercise and eat non-processed foods.  Appropriate exercise and healthy foods allows your body to produce as much fuel as it can.  Not exercising or eating processed foods rob the body of what it needs to make fuel, therefore negatively affecting our overall health.