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Dr. Cindy West Thinks Outside the Box | A Functional Medicine Podcast

In this episode of Turnpaugh Talks, Dr. Turnpaugh sits down with Dr. West to discuss her background in allopathic medicine and how it led her to Turnpaugh Health and Wellness Center. Dr. West went to medical school at Jefferson College in Philadelphia, PA, but did all of her training and started her career in Pittsburgh, PA. She is board certified in internal medicine, nephrology, and hypertension. She was a nephrologist for over 25 years, specializing in kidney disease, hypertension, and dialysis. One of the things that drew Dr. West to kidney disease is that in order to master it, she had to have a full understanding of internal medicine. She wanted her focus to require knowledge about other organ systems and how they impact the kidneys. Dr. West took a wholistic view right from the get-go. She wanted to be able to help her patients with any of their concerns, even if these concerns were not directly related to their kidneys or dialysis. The patients she saw were typically older and significantly ill. This left very little room for error in their medical care.

Gradually over the decades, Dr. West started to realize that her patients were already taking a long list of medications and she had to add to it. She thought “how do they take all of these and how can they afford all of these?”. She knew that by the time they got to her they had been sick for a long time and there was not much she could do to make them better, but rather just delay the progression of their illness. Dr. West knew there had to be something that could help patients change this trajectory, she just didn’t know what that something was. She remembers one day, she was about to walk into an exam room and say the same thing that she had already said 8 times that day. She said the same things over and over again. She saw different faces with the same list of problems, over and over again. She decided there had to be a better way.

Dr. West started doing experiments on her patients. Because many diabetics end up having kidney issues, she would look at their sugar levels and ask them “what are you eating? Did you go to a diabetes education class? What did they teach you in diabetes education class?”. She wanted to know where the system broke down in order to get them to the point where their symptoms could not be reversed. Most of her patients didn’t even know how to manage their diabetes. Even worse, she would see patients getting fed foods that promoted their disease or illness in the hospital. Patients thought that if they had this food in the hospital it must be okay to eat. Dr. West and her dietician at the time worked together to write an eating guide about how to eat out on dialysis called “Dialysis Dining On the Go”. There is a huge knowledge gap from doctors to patients in what patients need to do to manage their illnesses.

In her quest to close this knowledge gap, Dr. West did some research and found lifestyle medicine. Lifestyle is the basis of 85% of chronic disease. Yet, most doctors don’t take the time to educate their patients on lifestyle. Lifestyle is perceived in mainstream medicine as the bottom rung of the ladder. Nobody needs to step on the bottom, we skip to the second. When Dr. West found the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, she was happy to be surrounded by people who recognized that lifestyle has to be the primary focus in order to decrease and reverse chronic disease.

While researching lifestyle medicine, Dr. West noticed that functional medicine kept popping up. Eventually, she clicked on the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) site and thought “that makes a lot of sense”. She decided to go to a functional medicine conference which led her to become board qualified through the IFM. After this, she began to work at Turnpaugh Health and Wellness Center. She uses her long history and knowledge of allopathic medicine with her functional medicine practice to support patients with all kinds of conditions and health concerns. Dr. West will prescribe medications as she sees necessary, but she uses lifestyle as the first step.

At the THWC Spring Summit, Dr. West will be giving an overview on Gastrointestinal health. Many times, patients with GI health issues are told it doesn’t matter what they eat. This is simply not true. Many chronic diseases are caused by inflammation. Inflammation facilitates low body protein which drives the breakdown of your infrastructure. Certain foods, such as gluten, dairy, and high sugar foods, can drive inflammation. Even if a patient’s diet is not going to kill them, reducing inflammation can greatly increase their quality of life.