It seems that if you say that you are an acupuncturist, then you are underselling what your service actually is. I’ve been looking at your bio, and you do a lot of other things.

I do acupuncture, Chinese Medicine, and use Chinese herbs with my patients, but I also practice functional medicine. This is basically using the body’s natural systems to heal itself or correct itself from various conditions and imbalances. This is done through nutritional supplementation, but also through diet and lifestyle changes.

If it’s possible to do so, can you describe your average patient?

Well, everyone is different, so it’s hard to say “average,” but many patients come to me when established Western medical therapy isn’t working or doesn’t have the answers. For example, this could mean things like chronic gastrointestinal problems, but also defined conditions like Inflammatory Bowel Disease. From a medical standpoint, doctors can give anti-inflammatories or steroids, but many people don’t want to take that option, because they don’t address the underlying condition.

It’s treating the symptoms instead of the problem.

Generally, yes. Adrenal imbalance is another example. People have come to me who are experiencing a high level of job-related stress, and they’re exhausted, burned out and tired, even after a full night’s sleep. There isn’t much that the medical establishment can do, but there’s a lot we can do if we take a more holistic approach.

What does the holistic approach involve?

In some ways it’s similar to Western techniques. It involves taking a full case history, and going over dietary and supplementation with them. And I also offer lab testing, and that can really help me determine a course of action.

What sort of lab testing do you find most helpful to your patients?

Adrenal panels to test the adrenal hormones. Gut profiles are helpful, because it looks at the whole GI system to see if it has the proper bacteria, or if there’s inflammation, and how the immune function of the gut is working. That’s helpful for people with chronic indigestion, IBS, IBD who are looking for some answers. It also helps if I’m able to review lab work that has already been done by a patient’s medical doctor. That can provide me with a lot of valuable information, as well. Lab testing can also tell me a lot about the patient’s diet. For instance, the micro-nutrient panel can tell me if the patient is absorbing B Complex, C, anti-oxidants, and so on, and all of that is valuable information. One test that’s particularly popular is the Fit By Design DNA testing. It’s done through a swab in the cheek, and it centers around 8 specific spots in the genetic code that have to do with weight gain, so that test is great for people who are trying to lose weight. The test can determine what the best diet, exercise regimen and supplementation would be the best for that individual when trying to lose weight.

 Is weight gain something that’s inherent in your genetic makeup?

Absolutely, metabolism often has a genetic component to it and many times the reason why people may gain weight or have trouble losing weight is due to genetics. People may not be eating the right foods, may not be working out in the right way for them to actually lose weight. The DNA test is fantastic because you get all sorts of information to work with.

Is lab testing generally how you make a diagnosis?

Generally speaking, most patients already have a diagnosis when they come to me, but they are looking for other options. Lab testing can help me to determine a way to set up a protocol that doesn’t involve a massive intake of pharmaceuticals, which is what most of my patients want. They also want a plan on how to simply feel better. For instance, a medical doctor will tell a patient that he has Type-2 diabetes, and they give them medication, but they don’t tell them much else. They don’t explain the changes that they need to make to their lifestyle or nutrition, because that isn’t what they are usually trained in. They are trained to make a diagnosis and give a prescription.

So they’ll say “Here’s the insulin,” but they won’t say “Stop eating McDonald’s three times a week.”

Well, they may say that, but that’s all they’ll say. They might not give their patients specific instructions on what they should be doing, and that’s the functional medicine approach.

I’ve noticed that on your online store you have quite a few detox packages and supplements available. Can you help me understand the word “detox” a little better? It seems that a lot of products are claiming to help with detox. When does it stop being a buzzword and start being something that actually helps?

Right now, there are certainly a lot of marketing people who are fans of the word “detox.” The truth of the matter is, we all have functioning livers, so our bodies detoxify naturally. But the products and supplements that I recommend are beneficial, because many people have less than ideal eating habits. So the ‘detox’ products that I can offer act as sort of a reset button. It helps your body get rid of and recover from all the crap that we put into it. It’s usually about two weeks’ worth of really healthy eating, and the supplements help your digestive system work more efficiently. There’s a protein powder that makes sure you’re getting adequate protein, and there are some liver cleansing supplements in there as well. But the main function of the detox is to just get people to eat and drink better. And so many of my clients find that they simply feel a lot better after two weeks or three weeks of the detox program. They aren’t eating bad food, and when you aren’t eating bad food you feel better and you have more energy. A lot of them continue on with making better food choices after the detox program is officially over, because they start really feeling the benefits. So to me, “detox” just means giving your liver a break, and changing your eating habits to get rid of all the preservatives and chemicals from your diet. Our livers are sophisticated organs, but we constantly bombard them with garbage. Not to mention all of the environmental toxins that we’re exposed to on a daily basis.

How did you get started with functional medicine and acupuncture?

I had a lot of illness in my family when I was growing up. My father died of cancer when I was 8 years old, and several years after that my uncle died of the same type of cancer, and I had a lot of serious illness in my family. After I graduated from college, I moved to San Francisco, and I got a job managing an acupuncture clinic and was exposed to many of the benefits of acupuncture treatment. And while I was there, I got into a car accident that led to an incredibly painful injury to my ribcage. They gave me painkillers, and those made me sick, so they didn’t work for me. I ended up turning to acupuncture for pain relief, and it was amazing. It really helped. So that helped me move towards studying acupuncture and Chinese medicine myself.

What can you tell me about your acupuncture training? Was it a difficult experience?

The school that I went to was really rigorous, because in California acupuncturists are considered primary care providers, so the students are held to really high standards. We had to learn an extensive amount about nutrition and diet. I was, also, mentored by practitioners who were combining functional medicine with acupuncture and Chinese herbs. So my training was extremely comprehensive. I know quite a few practitioners who are great at acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, and you can do quite a bit with just those two things, but by opening the door to functional medicine, it gave me a whole new way to help people. It’s adding a bit of Western science to Eastern medicine.

Do you take this approach with many of your clients?

It varies. Sometimes the situation calls for just the use of Chinese herbs, or the situation calls for acupuncture treatment alone. But other times, I’m pulled more towards the functional medicine approach, because some patients have a situation that calls for it. I would say that for the most part, the acupuncture and the Chinese herbs can help with relief, and functional medicine helps with repair.

How did you end up practicing acupuncture and functional medicine in DC?

I was practicing in California for about three years after I graduated, however California is saturated with acupuncturists and functional medicine practitioners. A lot of people there have to specialize in certain conditions just to separate themselves from all of the other practices. When the recession hit in 2009, this really affected everybody’s business, and I was no different. My sister lived in DC, and I always liked it here, and I thought that this might be a good place to be. It turned out to be a great choice, because there aren’t as many acupuncturists or functional medicine practitioners for a city the size of DC. There’s a strong desire for what I do. People in DC tend to be very well educated and well-traveled, and those are the type of people who have been exposed to acupuncture and Chinese medicine.

They are also more likely to follow your advice.

Right! People in DC are generally very disciplined and they are more likely to take your recommendations seriously. But the difficult thing about functional medicine is that we live within the Western medical paradigm, which is where you go to a doctor, and he prescribes you pills, and everything supposedly goes away quickly without the patient having to do much. The quick-fix prescription concept, so to speak. People like that ease of just having to take a pill and not make any other changes. With functional medicine we are asking for a lot more from the patient. We’re asking them to change their lifestyle and their diet, and it takes longer to see results. It’s a more gradual process. I tell people that it can be a 3 month commitment, or even a 6 month commitment, or even the rest of your life. It takes a lot more effort. If you had an illness or condition that has lasted years, it’s going to take some time for your body to repair itself. Sometimes people don’t want to make the choices that they need to make, so I try to meet people halfway, but sometimes I have to tell people that if you aren’t willing to make certain changes, then you are never going to get better. This isn’t a quick fix. But for those patients who are willing to stick it out and follow the protocols, it’s really amazing how often they get better and start feeling healthy.