What is Functional Medicine? CEO + Founder of Parsley Health Dr. Robin Berzin ExplainsJune 29th, 2020
Welcome to What I Eat in a Day, a blog series that showcases the daily lives and meals of Thrive Market members like you. Today, we’re talking with Dr. Robin Berzin, the founder and CEO of Parsley Health. Berzin shares how Parsley Health got its start, the importance of functional medicine in today’s world, and how she’s managing life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How would you describe your eating philosophy or habits?
Food is medicine. In my experience as a physician, 80 percent of our health is eating real whole foods. When you eat a real food, majority-unprocessed, highly plant-based diet, with high-quality animal protein sources and healthy fats—the body may be protected from many of the diseases of our time. It’s never been more important than now to pay attention to your body and take care of yourself.
Tell us about Parsley Health and how it differs from a typical primary care practice.
We are unique in that we bring nutrition and lifestyle changes onto the prescription pad next to medications. We also use a more in-depth medical evaluation, including a deep dive into your personal history and advanced diagnostic tests to get the full picture. As a result, we help people find relief from many common chronic health concerns—from digestive issues and allergies, to autoimmune conditions, and metabolism imbalances and hormone problems. By getting to the root of the problem, instead of just managing the symptoms, we bridge that gap between medicine and wellness.
People are really blown away by our care because we go so much further than a regular doctor—we help optimize sleep, stress, nutrition, supplements and fitness along with prescribing drugs.
It’s how medicine should be. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 60 percent of American adults have at least 1one chronic disease, which drives approximately 90 percent of annual healthcare costs nationwide. Yet the average American only interacts with a primary care doctor once a year for about 20 minutes. This fails to address the root cause of health problems and bounces patients between acute care and specialists.
What inspired you to develop Parsley Health?
Our healthcare system is broken. I saw it and felt the frustrations first hand throughout my time in medical school at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and while I was training in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. There were times when I had only 15 minutes with a patient facing four or five health concerns. I just kept thinking, “We can do better than this, medicine can do better.”
Unfortunately, the health system has been designed to be very reactive—too many people in the U.S. only seek care when they have an acute illness or an emergency. With Parsley’s membership-based model we’re able to flip this on its head because we’re here for you 365 days a year. The membership helps all of us—doctors and patients—finally be proactive about health.
What’s the biggest misconception about functional medicine?
Functional medicine is relatively new. And like most “new” things it is often misunderstood. Perhaps what is most helpful is to explain the way we see functional medicine at Parsley.
By our definition, the best medical care is based on science, and gets to the root of the problem. This means getting really clear on what is going on in the body using advanced diagnostic tools (think hormones, genetics, the microbiome, etc.) so we can see the “why” of an illness. From there, our toolbox includes prescription drugs, but it also includes nutrition, sleep, fitness, supplements, lifestyle, mental health and all of the social determinants of health. Illness isn’t usually a medication deficiency—you’re not lying awake at night because you have an Ambien deficiency—so to get healthy people need to look beyond pills and really understand what daily habits are adding to or derailing their health.
Describe how your professional life has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like everyone, we shifted to a work-from-home model, which means lots of back-to-back Zoom calls and team meetings. There was (and still is) an adjustment period to learn how to create boundaries, implement regular movement throughout the day, care for and connect with our team in meaningful ways, ensure quality family time, and so much more. I have a newborn and a young son at home, which makes things particularly interesting right now.
On the work front, I’m beyond grateful that Parsley Health was already available via telemedicine before COVID-19 hit. It made it really easy to ensure that we were able to offer care for our members across the country so they could keep caring for themselves. We’ve been very focused on helping our members and our community navigate this really scary time and provide the best possible care we can. We are trusted translators of medical information. We as doctors feel that responsibility acutely.
Which moments of your day bring you the most joy?
On a professional level, my team members have been such rockstars during this crazy time. I couldn’t be more proud of everyone—seeing how much they’ve been able to accomplish for our patients during this time brings me so much joy. And because of their hard work, we’ve had so many members writing to us sharing how much we’ve made a difference for them during this time, whether it’s COVID-19 related or not.
On a personal level it’s all been a real shock to my system. It took me a couple of weeks to really accept what is happening to our country and I am not 100 percent there yet. The thing that gives me the most joy is focusing on the here and now. Having my coffee (I’m an espresso addict!), being with my baby girl in the mornings instead of commuting, cooking all of our meals with my husband—well, honestly, watching him cook 90 percent of the meals—but he is a great cook and I am a great cheerleader! Going for walks outside, now that it’s warmer, is a big source of solace.
What has been most difficult for you during this time?
It has been both a blessing and a serious difficulty to be at home with my family at this time. Both my husband and I are working full-time, we have a baby girl who is three months, and a son who is three. It has been quite the situation to juggle, but I know that once life resumes back to our new normal, I’ll miss it. It has not been without its challenges but I am grateful for all the silver linings. I also can’t wait to go out to dinner… someday, it will happen.
Tell us about the role cooking plays in your life.
We have always been into cooking and into healthy food, but we were also busy New Yorkers, so eating out was a constant too. Now we’re cooking almost every single meal. I can count on one hand the takeout we’ve eaten in 10 weeks! We were healthy before, but the truth is we have been eating so much healthier. It has been really fun to play with ingredients and recipes, so while it’s a huge effort it’s also kind of cool to see that we can do it. Sometimes I can be in my head about cooking when in reality it’s so easy and such a great way to take a work break or end the day.
Any advice to people who are struggling to incorporate or maintain healthy habits?
Food will affect your mood, so start there when you can. Replace refined sugar and grains with whole vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish, meat and beans for the majority of your diet. This can help shift your sleep, mood, digestion, and energy while helping your body heal inflammation and improve immunity.
Throw out the sweets and the snacks, and learn how to make one good healthy meal. That’s where it starts.
My starter kit healthy meal is slow roasted salmon (300 degrees for about 20 minutes) covered in minced garlic salt and melted butter, a raw spinach leaf salad with walnuts and sliced red onions and a lemon juice-olive oil dressing, and roasted sweet potatoes with curry powder butter and cinnamon. All the good things and none of the sweat, in my opinion.
When you reflect on all of your accomplishments, what makes you most proud?
Hearing that we’ve made a difference for our members. It makes it all worth it. Each week at our team huddle we read a couple of the member stories that have come in that week. We have a number of member-moms that had “miracle babies” under Parsley’s care aftering suffering several miscarriages or being told they were infertile. Other members report that after a lifetime of missed diagnoses and malaise, their doctor at Parsley listened to them and figured out what was going on—ultimately helping them feel better for the first time in their lives. When you consider that people come to us with autoimmune conditions, hormone imbalances, chronic gut health issues, anxiety, depression and other illnesses that drag down daily quality of life, you can imagine how much change these people experience just by understanding what’s going on and starting to address it from the root.
At the end of the day, we are here to be of service. Even though running a business is seriously stressful, the impact we have keeps me going.