In her new book, a local practitioner asks the medical profession and patients to take a broader view of health
Dr. Andrea Seiffertt is a doctor at the Forestville Wellness Center, one of the few public health clinics in America that specializes in integrative medicine — a type of medical practice that combines methods and treatments from alternative medicine with conventional medicine.
Trained as a doctor of osteopathy, Seiffertt hadn’t planned to write a book, but then she went to a job interview that made her so angry, that’s what’s happened.
Before landing in Forestville two years ago, she was interviewed for a job as professor of Internal Medicine at her alma mater in Kansas. When she mentioned that she was interested in teaching integrative medicine, her interviewer shut her down.
“He said, ‘We don’t have time. We have to have everybody pass their boards so it’s science, science, science.’ Which is great, but for 80% of the chronic diseases that internal medicine treats — heart disease, diabetes — lifestyle, diet and other things work better for prevention and reversal than medications.”
“I was so annoyed by the system that I started writing essays,” she said. “So I wrote 10 essays about things I thought were important to be taught in medical school. After spending a couple of months writing, I thought ‘Oh, this is actually enough for a book.’”
That book, “10 Things I Wish I Learned in Medical School: A Practical Guide to Sustainable Health,” published by Balboa Press, is an introduction to the practice of sustainable medicine and an exploration of several topics she feels are ignored by conventional medicine, including nutrition, exercise, sleep, the gut biome, meditation and death, as well as nature therapy and sustainable farming.
It’s not that doctors don’t mention some of these things, she said. After all, what doctor’s visit is complete without an admonition to eat better, exercise and get more sleep. The problem, according to Seiffertt, is that that should be the beginning of the discussion, not the end.
“That’s the problem with the medical school education for lifestyle change because what we tell patients is eat better, get exercise, and that’s it, you’re done.”
“What I have time for, because of the structure of the Wellness Center, is I can sit with patients for an hour and go through their diet and their existing reasons for exercising or not exercising. I can look at their medications and side effects, the patient’s history, the psychological or social stuff that’s going on their life and make a plan, and then the wellness center has services to support those changes.”
Seiffertt has worked with both wealthier patients, like those in her practice in Santa Barbara, and poorer patients in Appalachia, Texas and west county. Both groups she said are “eager to implement lifestyle changes that are practical and low cost, but that require commitment.”
She feels that if conventional medicine would put supporting those changes at the center of its practice, it would have a huge impact on patient health.
Individual choices and changes are important, but the book also examines larger political changes that she feels are needed to create better health outcomes.
Ecologically minded readers will be particularly interested in Seiffertt’s analysis of the connections between human health and the environment.
Seiffertt said that one of her favorite parts of doing the book was being able “to go down the rabbit hole,” researching these connections. She’s particularly fond of the microbiome chapter.
“The microbiome has really gotten a lot of attention lately, and I think a lot of people don’t know how to think about it because for a long time, everyone was obsessed with cleanliness and eliminating ‘bugs,’” she said.
“I really liked researching and finding out more about how our environment affects our microbiome, and how it’s so similar to soil health. The health of our soil has been declining, and so there’s a lot of environmental research on the biome of the soil and how important that is,” Seiffertt said. “It’s so similar in humans in that our microbiome is so important in our overall health. Yet we hardly know anything about it.”
“I’m hoping that in the future we will have really good targeted probiotics and food prescriptions and exercise prescriptions that are based on people's microbiome and genetics.”
“The other piece is that we don’t know what things like plastics and the pseudo hormones in plastics are doing to us, or what the effects of pesticides and herbicides on our food do to our own internal microbiome. We have no idea what those things do.”
“With all of the things happening now, it’s even more important to, in every aspect of our lives, really think about the choices that we’re making,” Seiffertt said. “A lot of the things that affect the planet negatively affect our health negatively … If you make good choices for your health then the planet also benefits.”
Despite her criticism of the medical system, Seiffertt said it’s an exciting time to be working in medicine.
“We’re learning about so many things we never knew about before,” she said. “We’re just at the beginning of this universe.”
The Forestville Wellness Center is hosting an open house and book signing for “10 Things I Wish I Learned in Medical School: A Practical Guide to Sustainable Health,” on Sept. 20 from 5 to 7 p.m. The Wellness Center is located at 6550 Front St., Forestville.