3X4’s new State of Functional Medicine series features interviews with a diverse range of active practitioners and established thought leaders to learn more about why they chose the field of functional medicine, what excites them most about their work, the most common misconceptions they hear from patients, and most importantly — how they see the field evolving in the years ahead as healthcare shifts to be more personalized, proactive, and preventative.
Functional medicine practitioners play a key role in helping patients understand who they are so they can improve their quality of life which is what we’re all about here at 3X4. Our goal with this new series is to celebrate the work these practitioners are doing and inspire others to explore the exciting field of functional medicine.
The following is an interview we have recently had with Brandy Zachary DC, IFMCP, Body Love Cafe.
Why did you decide to make functional medicine your focus?
BZ: It was unexpected and not on my radar. I had earned my Doctorate of Chiropractic 20 years ago but a car accident has me close my practice and start a new career. I was working as an executive business consultant, professional speaker and created the world’s first personality profiling system which was published by McGraw-Hill out of NY. I thought I’d be in that field for the rest of my working life.
To my horror, I got a “mystery illness” that put an end to that high-profile career. I was incredibly sick and for a period of time in bed 22 hours a day and spending every 3 weeks at the John Muir infusion center getting IVIG treatments. I was declared permanently disabled by Social Security and told I’d never work again. I was a single mom and had to leave my big house on the hill in Lafayette and move home my daughter and I into grandma’s home. My medical care was over $700k a year, I was on 8 prescriptions, had 7 specialists, no answers and never felt better.
One of the symptoms of my illness was a debilitating depression so it was very difficult to preserve in the face of such odds including the loss of identity and financial ruin. Thankfully, I did fight back and began to investigate my own illness and read every medical research article that could help piece together the clues. I went back to school to study Functional Medicine and I was able to piece my health and life back together. I stopped the infusions, got off the prescriptions, lost weight, resolved many of the health issues and managed the others. I got my life back.
Although it was an isolating time, when people saw how I had healed they started showing up at my house wanting care. It was then I decided to rent space and open the first Body Love Cafe clinic. I had two moves within the first year due to the rapid growth and expanded from 100 sf and 4 walls to 1400 sf and 22 walls in a little over a year.
Who have been your greatest mentors in your functional medicine journey?
BZ: My training through the Institute of Functional medicine definitely had the biggest impact. I had already been practicing for years before I became an IFMCP so prior to that I took one-off courses here and there. Learning functional blood chemistry was key for kicking off my practice. The amount of research and studying I have put into this profession is vast so I think most practitioners have to really love learning and be willing to put in the extra time to make it work. It’s daunting but very rewarding.
What excites you most about your day to day work?
BZ: I’m a teacher at heart and I love helping others. I regularly teach free classes to the public and I also train other doctors worldwide. I enjoy taking complex subjects and making them simple.
We have a variety of practitioners at Body Love Cafe including other functional medicine doctors, registered dietitians, nutritionists and health coaches. I enjoy providing ongoing training to our team and working on patient cases together.
I love that “aha” moment when a patient makes a connection between something that seemed unexplained and now they have a new understanding. I also love teaching complex lab analysis and case management to other physicians.
My biggest inspiration in all of this is the hope to alleviate suffering or that sense of “aloneness” in even one individual. I went through it personally as a patient and I would like to help others from having that experience.
My most exciting work now are some new projects I’m wrapping up. I developed a Lab Analysis software app for physicians that will be released soon and that’s been a big endeavor. I’m also working on a second book about the metabolic condition I recognized in early 2020. My hope is to forever change how the world sees women, their bodies and mental health.
What’s the most challenging part of your day to day work?
BZ: Wearing all the hats of business owner, clinic director, marketing, and deliverables as the doctor. 2020 was a challenging year and I took my personal practice virtual which meant a lot of system changes. I also kept our entire staff employed and hired new team members. So, I’m tired!
Every challenge forces you to reinvent and so I’m looking forward to the changes I’ve set up for 2021 that will allow me time to work more on my passion projects and turn over some of the business and clinical reins to our growing team.
What do patients most commonly get wrong about functional medicine?
BZ: Interesting question – I’d say probably thinking it is like conventional medicine where you just take a “pill for every ill” and treat symptoms.
What’s holding the field of functional medicine back?
BZ: More research will be helpful and the field is growing. The biggest barriers to care I see are cost and the effort required on the part of the patient to make lifestyle changes.
Otherwise, I think nothing is holding functional medicine back as I see incredibly intelligent practitioners getting involved daily and this style of healthcare just makes sense – both to the patients and to other doctors.
What has your experience been with genetic testing?
BZ: It’s valuable and essential to personalized/individualized healthcare which is what functional medicine is all about. We still have much to learn, but there are so many SNPs that we know of now that provide helpful clinical information. I’ve used genetic testing to provide insight into methylation issues, broken detox pathways, increased cardiovascular risk and tendency to anxiety. The testing has allowed me to really customize protocols and fine tune my supplementation recommendations. I love it!
How do you see the practice of functional medicine evolving in the years ahead?
BZ: I think the patients will demand more personalized medicine from their practitioners and are looking for elevated healthcare instead of the “one size fits all” model and that will drive functional medicine. They are also
looking for more affordable options and that’s where it can get tricky as insurance often doesn’t cover care or only portions of it.
We need more functional medicine practitioners and there is a huge interest, but the challenge lies in the time involved to really be a competent provider and finding appropriate courses. In practice, I see the biggest challenge as how do you provide healthcare that encompasses the “entire individual” but also run a clinic that is efficient and profitable? For me, the rubber hit the road with all of the lab software analysis which is why I built the app so I could be more efficient. Finding good MHR software and other communications and patient customer service is also something that will need to continue to evolve so as to meet the demand, be personalized and efficient – that’s a tall order!
About Brandy Zachary
Dr. Brandy Zachary is a Board-certified Chiropractic Physician with AFMCP/IFMCP training and certification through the Institute for Functional Medicine. She is the founder of Body Love Cafe, a Functional Medicine and Nutrition centre for patients in California.