How did you get your start in functional medicine?
I graduated high school early and moved in with my godmother, Dr. Elizabeth Lipski, when I was 17. Liz is one of the original nutritionists in the movement of functional medicine. I worked for room and board in Hawaii as she saw countless patients requiring more holistic nutritional intervention and wellness. This early exposure changed the trajectory of my life and streamlined my education. At the early age of 17, I knew that finding root-cause solutions for individuals’ wellness was my passion. I went to the University of Illinois, where I studied human nutrition and vitamin and mineral metabolism under Dr. Donald Layman, one of the world’s leading protein experts. It was at U of I that I realized I wanted to make an impact on patients’ lives that involved more than nutrition, which led me to medical school. After medical school, I did two years of psychiatry and three years of family medicine, followed by a two-year fellowship at Washington University in nutritional science, obesity medicine, and geriatrics. Throughout my medical training, I kept my involvement and learning steeped in functional medicine and have been mentored by Dr. Mark Hyman.
Tell us one true success story of a client who came to you and subsequently changed their life.
I have many success stories, and all have a special place in my heart. One in particular is that of a high-powered attorney who had struggled with her weight for her entire adult life. When she came to my office, she had already tried 20 different diets and read two stacks of nutrition books. She was frustrated, hopeless, and at her wits’ end. She was incredibly successful in all domains of her life, but despite her best efforts, she remained on a human hamster wheel of training hard and eating well, as many individuals do—with no results. When she came to see me, the first thing we did was address her mind-set, shifting hers from one of discouragement to one of possibility.
During her visit, we did a very comprehensive workup: blood markers, including thyroid and inflammatory markers; nutrient testing; heavy metal testing; parasite testing. No stone was left unturned. We also determined her baseline metabolism.
She was found to have subclinical hypothyroidism, two parasites, and elevated levels of mercury. I refined her nutrition plan, addressed her hypothyroidism, parasites, and heavy metals, and within six months she had lost 50 pounds and gained newfound energy.
Can you explain the concept of muscle-centric medicine?
It’s the concept that muscle is the largest organ in the body and that the health and quality of one’s muscle determines the trajectory of one’s life as it relates to health. In our society, we focus on obesity and the concept of being overfat, rather than the solution, which is to deal with being under-muscled.
What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in wellness at the moment?
The concept of personalized medicine. Our testing is getting more advanced, and we now have the capacity to utilize genetic information in combination with blood work to determine specific strategies and interventions. While it’s still in its infancy, it allows us to dial in individual variability; for example, some supplements and medications work well for some and not for others. This has the potential to eliminate much trial and error.
OK, diet: What are your thoughts? Should everyone be eating the same, or does it depend on your DNA?
Through my seven years of nutritional science and the thousands of patient interactions I have had, there is one thing that I’ve seen work well for all individuals, and that is an optimal protein diet. We live in an age in which access to information is abundant; more importantly, access to misinformation is even more abundant. My initial recommendation is that individuals’ initial protein intake be one gram per pound of ideal body weight. This is backed by a large body of evidence as to the importance of protein for maintaining optimal body composition.