Actively create health, don’t just treat disease
Dr. Bradley Dyer, Physician and Founder of Premier Integrative Health works to create health in his patients rather than to treat disease. He says this contrasts with the currently accepted model of disease-focused health care, where doctors address a set of symptoms, label them with an ICD 10 code, then prescribe corresponding drugs, procedures, and surgeries.
Dr. Dyer said, “Working as a hospitalist opened my eyes to the acute care model of medicine. I saw the ramifications of what chronic health issues can do if you don’t get to the root cause. People taking medicines as prescribed and following the pre-diabetes protocols can still go blind, get an infection, or suffer a heart attack. This has driven my passion to help people get to the root cause of their health concerns.”
He said, “We like to look at what is missing in your body that needs to be added, or what is there that should be taken away. We look at the role of diet, mindset, sleep, how you manage stress, your gut microbiome… The health creation approach is amazing. When people come to see us for diabetes, not only does their diabetes get better, but they lower their risk of stroke and cancer, their relationships get better, their cognition gets better. That’s what we mean by creating health.”
As a first exposure to holistic medicine and the importance of the body as a whole, Dr. Dyer participated in a Fellowship in Integrative Medicine with Dr. Andrew Weil, a pioneer in the field. Dr. Dyer said, “I learned so much about myself at that time.” Contrasting the very scientific and research-based background he gained throughout medical school and functional medicine training, where he learned functional testing and biochemistry, in Arizona, he said, “It was about self discovery. How the mind, body, and spirit are all connected and how to be able to ask the right questions of patients to connect the dots in a meaningful, fun way.”
He said he spent time there learning traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic approaches and other modalities. He said integrative medicine never discredits traditional or accepted alternatives. It’s about keeping an open mind to help the patient achieve optimal health.
Now, after practicing integrative medicine at Premier Integrative Health for 5 years, he said, “I’ve had more amazing breakthroughs and tears and hugs in 6 months of this practice than 6 years at the hospital. It’s been gratifying and rewarding.”
He said he loves seeing the transformations of people who at first come to him in desperation, who’ve been told they are crazy, or not sick enough to have a specific diagnosis, or that they are just getting older and need to adjust to a new normal. After working with them, he sees them achieve things like taking a hiking trip with kids that they haven’t done in 20 years or getting job promotion because their brain begins working better, or no longer needing specific medications. “These are conversations we have every day,” he said.
Adopt an inspirational mindset
Dr. Dyer said that while it may sound “off the wall,” something that really helps him and his patients is learning to reframe a mindset. He said, "I’m a big believer in ‘your thoughts create your reality’ and ‘What you focus on most expands.’ If you are going in thinking, ‘It won’t work,’ or ‘I’m never good at sticking to it...’ if you’ve already got that self- talk, you are setting yourself up for failure."
He suggested listening to motivational youtube channels, podcasts, and audiobooks for inspiration. He said, "When I’m in my car, I’ll listen to something like that. Even ‘I am…’ affirmations. When I convince my patients to do the same, they are by far the ones with greater success."
He added, " It’s a mental game. When you have your thoughts in the right place, and confidence, beautiful things happen in your life."
Empower yourself to thrive
Dr. Dyer said that patients who take health into their own hands learn to thrive. “We like to focus on empowering people,” he said, "There are so many things they can do on their own. Almost none of them are ‘Go to the doctor.’ ”
He noted that a lot of messaging around Covid-19 is fear-based and disempowerment. Yes, you should do basic things like take care of hand hygiene, and maintain social distancing. He adds to that list finding additional foundational habits, such as making sure to get 7-8 hours sleep, spending time in nature and coming up with creative ways to deal with stress. He has a toolbox of favorite techniques that help people get out of the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight” response and into the parasympathetic “rest and digest” mode. One technique is breathwork. He advocates the 4-7-8 breath.
Eat to nourish yourself
To modulate your immunity, carefully consider what you are eating. “Diet is the single biggest thing you can do to improve your health and immunity,” he said.
Dr. Dyer suggests you add as many colorful fruits and veg as you can consume in a day. Seek out whole, plant-based food and if you do eat animal products, ensure you’re getting grass fed beef, free range poultry, and wild caught fish. (Sounds like the Almeda lifestyle, yes?)
A heavily plant based diet, full of leafy greens and citrus, ensures you are getting a lot of phytonutrients, plus vitamins D, A, E, and C. He also suggests zinc, Reishi mushrooms, Chaga, astragalus, echinacea, and elderberry as ways to modulate immunity.
Medicinal mushrooms have antiinflammatory and immune-enhancing effects, and Dr. Dyer said, “Medicinal mushrooms are great adrenal adaptogens. They help cortisol go up or down, depending on what we need. They balance TH 1 vs. TH 2 responses.”
And of course, he suggests avoiding highly processed food. Specifically, he advises his patients to avoid anything full of added sugar, prepackaged, or called “fast food,” as all of these contribute to chronic inflammation and deplete the immune system. He said there is new data showing that industrial seed oils (often made from soybeans, corn, and rapeseed) and vegetable oils are even worse for us than we thought, so especially if you are following a Paleo or Keto diet, you need to be very selective with types of fat you eat.
Eliminate highly palatable and processed foods
Avoiding processed food poses a challenge at times, given the overall food environment today. But Dr. Dyer has a saying that helps us stay on the path to creating health: "What we eat controls what we eat.“
By that, he means that the foods we eat drive our cravings. He said we crave highly palatable foods in part because of the way those foods were designed by food scientists. They interact with our gut microbiome, altering it in a negative way.
He said, “When someone eats highly refined grains and starches and sugars, those foods feed bacteria in the gut that crave those kinds of foods--it tells your brain to eat more. You gotta have that dopamine hit.”
Marketing also contributes to the desire, he said. So much money goes into that bag of chips to ensure that it instantly hits the neurotransmitters in the brain -- when you take the first bite, in the time it takes to dissolve or crunch, the ratio of savory to crunchy. So basically, highly processed foods will drive what you eat. Avoid them altogether and your cravings will improve, he suggests.
Choose supplements as needed, as part of a healthy lifestyle
As one of many ways to create change for those seeking a healthy, holistic lifestyle, Dr. Dyer offers Encarna at his practice. He said, “It was quite surprising. For a handful of patients it was the one addition that seemed to really break through to them. Maybe they were seeing improvements before, but not where they most needed it. It really flipped the switch for them.”
He said he likes offering his patients a liquid multivitamin. “We also have a lot of patients who don’t tolerate pills well, so it was nice to be able to offer them such a potent multivitamin of superfoods — it has been a game changer for us.”
Move with purpose and pleasure
Dr. Dyer advocates moving frequently. He says, “Exercise affects 300 different genes in our body in a favorable way. It turns on switches to improve insulin resistance.”
He describes insulin resistance as his “new favorite topic.” Managing it can prevent, manage and even reverse some illnesses, he said. How we manage inflammation, blood sugar, and insulin resistance can have a significant effect on the body’s ability to kill off viruses or any other bacterial infections. Dr. Dyer said that recent research shows that metabolic disease closely correlates with deaths of COVID-19, for example.
So, how does he fit in time to work out? He said, “I’m the first to admit that some days, weeks, and months are better than others, but I incorporate my family and patients into my routines whenever possible.”
Since he’s going to go hiking and biking anyway, he likes using the time for exercise, but also family bonding with his wife and two boys.
This ethos also carries over to his practice, where he has offered walking visits as an appointment and also offers to hike and bike with patients. He opens his schedule for anyone to join and talk about holistic health, nature, exercise, and answer any questions about his practice.
Rally your health team for support
In addition to being empowered to create health, he said, it helps to have accountability.
He has seen good results when patients have resources like a health coach and peer groups to hold them accountable. He said, “It’s not just seeing me a couple times per year. They can meet with our team of practitioners every 4-6 weeks or 1 time, 2 times per week in the beginning, or join our facebook groups. Those who ask for help and offer help in peer groups have more success.”
Dr. Dyer’s recommends aligning with an team, like this:
- Health coach — helps patients stay accountable, and sort through the reasons why they think they can’t do things.
- Functional nutritionist — offers individual personalized nutrition based on training in integrative and functional medicine.
- Naturopathic doctor — helps the team to grow as they see more patients in the community.
He said, “Our amazing team of practitioners is blowing my mind recently, as group visits and community health practices are reversing diabetes and obesity. It’s great to see patients support each other.” He said, “It’s more meaningful than me being a talking head on pedestal.”