At the beginning of my training as a psychiatric resident, I attended the the integrative nutrition conference. I walked away from the conference feeling inspired and ready to spread what I had learned to everyone who would listen. One of the key points from the conference was the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids and about how normalizing vitamin D levels could lead to helping their depression. When I began to discuss this with patients, I found that many of the patients I was trying to explain this to did not want to hear this. They wanted me to give them a pill and tell them that they would be better with that pill. While this is sometimes the case, more often the medication is only a piece of the puzzle.
I tried explaining that medication will help them, but only to a certain extent. They didn’t wants to accept that healing is a lifestyle change. For those suffering from diabetes, I tried explaining how the dramatic changes in their blood sugars that would spike throughout the day were certainly affecting their moods. So many did not want to listen. I offered to go over food diaries to countless patients at the VA and at UCLA’s county hospital…very few took me up on that offer. I printed Dr Weil’s anti-inflammatory food pyramid several times per week for patients. While substantial changes were rare at first, many patients were able to make incremental changes in the right direction. So if that meant that a patient reduced his or her soda from 24oz per day to 8oz, I would be satisfied that they had tried to make a change.
When I graduated from residency, I knew that I wanted to incorporate these ideas into my practice. I started a private practice in Playa Vista, CA (aka the new ‘silicon valley’ just south of Santa Monica) and with an approach that encourages integrative medicine. Many of my patients come seeking a psychiatrist who is willing to take this comprehensive approach. I am so excited that I now have patients who are changing their lifestyles in significant ways to combat their depression and anxiety.
While I am now very excited that my patients are making big changes, I know that for many patients using the county and VA systems for healthcare, they can make changes too, and should be encouraged to do what they can, even if that means lowering their soda consumption. I teach this to my medical students at UCLA and hope that they will make a big impact when they begin their third year rotations in the hospital.