What Holistic Medicine Can Do for Athletes (and the Rest of Us)

What Holistic Medicine Can Do for Athletes (and the Rest of Us)

I recently interviewed  Dr. Diana White of Chicago Family Wellness. Right now many Chicago athletes are in training mode. That means they are more than likely experiencing fatigue, injuries and deficiencies. Some may even seek alternative medicine to improve performance. Dr. White is a board certified naturopathic physician. You are probably wondering what that is. Naturopathic medicine is based on the belief that the human body has an innate healing ability. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) teach their patients to use diet, exercise, lifestyle changes and cutting edge natural therapies to enhance their bodies’ ability to ward off and combat disease. NDs view the patient as a complex, interrelated system. Naturopathic physiciants craft comprehensive treatment plans which blend modern medical science with traditional natural medicine to treat "dis-ease" and restore health. Naturopathic physicians base their practice on five timeless principles founded on medical tradition and scientific evidence. First do no harm. Let nature heal. Treat the Whole Person. Educate patients.  Prevent illness.

Dr. White sees not only a wide variety of patients including athletes of all kinds: basketball players, runners, bikers, yoga enthusiasts and personal trainers.  Oftentimes, athletes seek alternative medicine to improve performance, decrease injury potential and/or address chronic pain. Optimal supplementation is essential for these dedicated athletes. Assessing chronic pain and determining the fascial/muscle tension patterns are necessary in achieving improvement with repetitive movement injuries.  Dr. White and Dr. Lisa Holk, naturopathic physician and massage therapist at ND Wellness, work with fascial planes and neuromuscular release to achieve pain-free function and performance. Their approach includes analysis of cellular nutritional information to assess  optimal strategies for decreasing inflammation and increasing nourishment to injured areas.

Additionally, ND Wellness provides sophisticated testing that can show individual optimal health markers. Dr. White supports testing cellularly and genomically because of the unique individual information it can reveal. Cellular nutritional testing can provide a combination of analysis that measures levels of organic acids, fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Genomic testing can ascertain whether your genes play a role in your ability to detoxify, control inflammation, and optimize immune function. Individualized testing with genomic and nutritional cellular information is the wave of the future. It allows individuals to assess if their diet and lifestyle choices translate into optimal cellular and genetic health. Knowing this information allows each of us to be proactive in making dietary and lifestyle choices that help stave off early aging, injury, adrenal fatigue, allergies, gastrointestinal imbalances like heartburn, gas, bloating, gastritis, constipation, and diarrhea. Dr. White also tests for food allergies and food intolerances-believe it or not, avoiding food allergens can benefit athletic performance. Dr. White comments that athletes in their late 30s and early 40s begin to get more injuries and become more fatigued. Testing can show exactly what nutrients in the diet and/or supplementation is needed to re-balance athletes so they continue an exercise regimen well into their 70's and 80's.

Dr. White reminds us to choose wisely and think of long-term consequences to our daily athletic activities:

  • Drinking water from toxic plastic bottles. Given the research around bisphenyl A, DEHP and PCB's and their potential endocrine disruption, men and women athletes should get the plastic out of their daily drinking water. Try glass or stainless steel water bottles or select plastic bottles that are DEHP and biphenyl A free.
  • Over-working. Are you overworked? Stressed? Eat a suboptimal diet? Exercising daily without ever taking a break? Do you turn to "stimulants" (coffee and sugar) to keep up the pace. If you cannot get up in the morning without a cup or 2 of coffee, and/or you are having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep, and you need sugar in the afternoon to keep going, welcome to adrenal fatigue. Get advise on how to treat this NOW or you will pay the price later.
  • Not getting the right supplementation. Dr. White provides a pre and post-event supplementation plan. As she says, "Sometimes extra B vitamins can really benefit athletes during certain events. B6 and B3 help to drive pathways as B vitamins are depleted especially because of stress and alcohol consumption. Vitamin C and fish oils also help to feed the adrenals. Some of Dr. White's clients in their 40's, who have taken her advice, have reported back, 'This was the best marathon I have ever run.'" Magnesium and CoQu10 are also important for athletes.
  • Chicago is the city that works and therefore doesn't sleep. Many patients with sleep disturbances also have depression. There are many natural remedies for these conditions instead of sleeping pills with side effects.
  • Eat well. Many talented athletes don't eat well or consume enough calories. Athletes need to compensate for their caloric needs especially runners.
  • Relying on caffeine and sugar for energy. Caffeine and sugar only deplete minerals more which further breaks down the body especially the bones.
  • Following the low fat craze. Many athletes are under-fatted. Undereating fats with an aggressively aerobic training routine is a formula for disaster. Most strenuous workouts lean people out over time. Many young women athletes will become so lean that they begin to miss periods. Low fat diets are particularly dangerous for hypoglycemic women. When the body is low in fat we crave carbs, which becomes a viscous cycle. Athletes are best advised to eat fats recommended by the blood type diet (for their individual blood type).
  • Carb loading but not getting in enough fat and protein. Fat and protein actually stores energy in the body that can be tapped from when carbs are too low. When fat is low it can affect menstruation, fertility and brain function. The brain has to have fat to feel "right with the world". Healthy sources of fat depend on blood type.
  • Not knowing your type. Dr. White informs me that the blood type diet is getting more respect from researchers. For those with A, or AB blood will do best with fats from clean fish, coconut, avocado, and a little bit of everything. Most of the time omega 3 is too low. Omega 3s are anti-inflammatory, which helps in recovery and healing. O blood types function best with fats from organic grass fed animals. B blood types do well with fats from sea foods and olive oil. It's difficult to describe all the benefits of the blood type diet into a few sentences so it is recommended that you read one of Dr. Peter D'Adamo's books on the topic
  • Not taking a high quality probiotic. Probiotics are essential for digestion and keeping Candida overgrowth in check. Klaire probiotics are Dr. White's recommended probiotic.
  • Eating the wrong diet. Not everyone can be a vegetarian. Dr. White, confesses that some patients who are vegan or vegetarian do not want to hear that their diet is ruining their health. Those with O blood types will have an especially difficult time with vegetarian diets.
  • Not cross-training. Sometimes patients are encouraged to change their fitness routine to lower cortisol response. Sometimes runners can benefit from weight training and probably every athlete could benefit from some type of yoga. Lifting weights may not be as taxing on the adrenals as much as biking and running are.
  • We don't (typically) grow our own food. We are not a culture that teaches good diet and the importance of gardening in childhood. In this time of "Frankenfoods", people would really benefit by growing their own food.

Many patients that first come to Dr. White's office are sometimes resistant to holistic healthcare but when they have gone everywhere else and not found help they turn to ND Wellness. Dr. White feels she provides clarity in a world of data-overload. It takes a skillful practitioner to sort through all the generalized info out there and provide a specific protocol necessary to facilitate one's unique healing process. Dr. White says, "It's rare that we can't improve someone's situation but the issues are usually: How long? and What does it cost?" ND Wellness is the only model in town that has many insurance companies paying for its services. Chicago Family Wellness (ND Wellness works under their umbrella) is located at 4753 N. Broadway, 910 ste. 60640 773-587-9000.

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    "Naturopathic physicians base their practice on five timeless principles founded on medical tradition and scientific evidence. First do no harm. Let nature heal. Treat the Whole Person. Educate patients. Prevent illness."
    What a wonderful philosophy to base healing on. I have long been a proponent for holistic medicine as I believe that treating a patient as a whole, and not just focusing on one symptom or disease ultimately brings about better results. I know not everyone is familiar with this approach. If you are looking to learn more I recommend reading Focus on Healing by Jennifer Barraclough (http://www.jenni.co.nz/) - it is a great guide to the fundamental principles of holistic healing.

  • Tiffany, thanks for mentioning Focus on Healing. I will look into that.

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