There's no question that Western medicine has a very important role in modern health care. But when it comes to disease prevention and treatment, the line gets a little blurry. Dr. Frank Lipman is one of the leading physicians blending therapies to help people feel their best. And it's working. Founder of the Eleven-Eleven Wellness Center in New York City and author of two books (Total Renewal; 7 Key Steps to Resilience, Vitality and Long Term Health & Revive: Stop Feeling Spent and Start Living Again), Dr. Lipman is helping people feel better than ever.
Organic Authority caught up with Dr. Lipman last month for a lively conversation about health and wellness in America, "food apartheid" and how Functional Medicine can help us all.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
Jill Ettinger: As a doctor, you surely see a lot of health issues. What is America's biggest health crisis right now?
Dr. Frank Lipman: We've got multiple health crises going on mainly because of the food we're eating. But everyone is presenting the symptoms differently: Some have thyroid conditions, or lupus, or another type of autoimmune problem. But it is a growing crisis, and many are related to digestive problems.
JE:Why so many digestion related issues?
FL: We have more bacteria in our gut than cells in our body—it's called the microbiome. When these bacteria are imbalanced, that creates imbalance in the body...typically too many bad bacteria. And it triggers all sorts of problems.
GMOs [genetically modified organisms], the amounts of sugar people are eating, gluten, antibiotics in meat and chicken are all contributing to an imbalance of the microbiome. We have a huge problem. Yet many doctors are still just treating symptoms, not changing diets, not caring for the digestive system, and not getting to the root of the disease.
JE:Why do you think we have such blind faith in our medical system?
FL: People believe America has the best medicine in the world. Unfortunately, it's not treating the underlying issues, just the symptoms. You don't put a Band-Aid over the oil light on a car—but that's what we're doing here in so many cases. We're causing a lot of chronic problems. Lots of big corporations make money by keeping us sick. I think it's changing on some levels. I'm seeing more and more younger women in particular getting clued in to what's going on, eating healthy. I actually see a lot of positive change in younger people.
JE: You talk about "Good Medicine" as your practice of blending Eastern and Western medicine. Can you explain that approach?
FL: I finished my medical training in South Africa in 1979 and did a residency in America. During my residency I realized that I didn't want to be a doctor in this country. The medicine was very different. In South Africa you [doctors] relied on taking good medical history and talking to people—it's a much different way of training doctors. In the U.S., it's more about numbers and blood tests rather than real relationships and a good patient history.
Then, I fell in with an acupuncture clinic in south Bronx at Lincoln Hospital. It was during the '80s when there was a crack and heroin epidemic. And there were the same hardcore junkies—difficult patients for us in the hospital—sitting quietly for their acupuncture treatment. I was so intrigued, and eventually fell in love with acupuncture and Eastern medicine.
JE:So, you were able to incorporate it into your practice?
FL: Eventually. But first I met Jeffrey Bland. It was like a religious experience. At the time, it was very difficult to mix the two models of Eastern and Western medicine because they were completely different languages and ways of looking at the body. Bland was the first person I found who could put the whole thing together. He took the knowledge of Western medicine and applied the balancing aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine. From him, I learned the practice of Functional Medicine. Now, there's a Functional Medicine Institute.
JE:That's so fascinating. I've met Dr. Bland and can attest to his integrity and commitment to bring Western medicine into a truly new age. He really is a pioneer.
FL: He really is! I truly believe he is the most significant person changing the modern Western medicine system. His approach is now being taught to thousands of physicians each year. He has changed countless lives.
JE:Well, Dr. Lipman, so have you! From your first book "Total Renewal," you say that, to varying degrees, we all suffer from digestive disorders, low-grade toxicity, or fluctuating blood sugar levels. Why is that?
FL: Part of it is because so many people are suffering from the same issues as their friends, family, co-workers. Because everyone else has it, they think its normal. These are early signs of dysfunction. These are the wearing down of our brake pads.
It's so common because blood tests are coming back normal, so people think it's fine to be constantly tired, constipated, feeling off. The doc says its stress-related, but you're fine within the context of the rest of the walking wounded or worried well. So most people just accept it as part of their lives, as part of aging.
JE:That's such a new way to look at it. We've normalized so much suffering that we're kind of tuning out how miserable we feel. Even the doctors can't see the problems!
FL: And keep in mind that medical training is done only in hospitals—we're only trained to take care of emergency situations, acute heart attacks, etc. We don't focus too much on chronic low-grade symptoms.
JE:So, do you think we're moving towards a healthier or unhealthier America?
FL: Right now, many people seem to be getting unhealthier. We're only picking up these imbalances when it's late in the game. Chronic conditions go untreated for too long and the changes needed to fix it are more difficult. We have a major health crisis, but doctors still are not addressing the underlying conditions. It's really a sad state of affairs. People like me are so-called quacks. But I don't even see myself as alternative. If a patient has pneumonia, of course, they get antibiotics. But we have to take integrative approaches towards treating diet-related illnesses, which are still the main cause of our problems.
I have no doubt it can be reversed. There's no question. It's harder in this day and age—you've got to really be aware. GMOs, gluten, sugar—the default choices people have with food are generally unhealthy. If you're motivated to change, you can reverse conditions and lead healthy lives, but it's more work than jut taking a pill.
JE:You talk about diet a lot. Coming from South Africa, and having lived through apartheid, what do you think about people referring to the nation's food deserts as being more like conditions of a "food apartheid?" Would you say that's accurate? Are we intentionally depriving communities of access to fresh and healthy food?
FL: Well, that's quite a powerful word. It definitely gets your attention, doesn't it? Apatheid has a connotation. It was a vicious, disgusting system. But in South Africa during apartheid, you knew where you stood in the system. There's much more of a façade of democracy here that everyone has equal rights and opportunity. And while economics aren't based on color, it often ends up that way.
Part of the problem is we are subsidizing all this unhealthy food. The giant food industry and lobbyists – the wrong people are actually being supported by the government. But even wealthy people who can afford it aren't buying the healthier food. It's affecting everyone.
JE:Is there a magic bullet diet change that can greatly improve someone's health?
FL: There's no magic bullet, but there are some rather easy steps people can take. My team can get people feeling better quickly by eliminating trigger foods (GMOs, gluten, dairy, sugar) and beginning to detox. Not in the scary wheatgrass-all-day way. But a guided two-week cleanse that cleans out the gut, gives you energy and can help you feel better pretty quickly. It's three shakes and two meals a day. Most of our clients who do this for two weeks say they've never felt better.
JE:Wow, I bet. Once this baby is out of my belly, I'm going to try it, too! Thank you so much, Dr. Lipman!
FL: Thank you.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
Image courtesy of Dr. Frank Lipman