Funny, Fearless, Fascinating: a Conversation with Nutritional Medicine Guru, Alan Gaby

August 22, 2018

We all know the book. Most of us probably have it. For many of us, especially the younger docs, Nutritional Medicine by Alan Gaby, MD, was our go-to reference during interminable student clinic hours and board exam study sessions, and now has a hallowed place of honor on our office bookshelves. Has it been awhile since you cracked open this tome? Perhaps it’s time for a revisitation!

We recently had the chance to chat with the nutritional medicine trendsetter (though he wouldn’t call himself that, of course), and one thing was clear throughout the course of our conversation: Dr. Alan Gaby isn’t afraid to call out the hype in nutrition–on both sides of the table. This medical doctor, who once moonlighted as a recording artist (this man is full of surprises!), has dedicated his career to compiling the most complete database on evidence-based nutritional practice, and his findings are nothing short of impressive.

Nutrition from and for the Ages

For example, did you know that his research spans over a century? It’s true! Some of the earliest papers he has uncovered on nutritional therapy date back to the early 1900s. One in particular stands out in his mind:

“I recently worked with somebody who had persistent diarrhea for three months, and her medical doctor had worked her up and not found a cause, so she was just to take anti-diarrheal medications. In interviewing her, I discovered that the symptoms began after an acute bout of gastroenteritis. From my awareness of the literature, there was a study back thirty or forty years ago that said there’s post-infectious hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid), and it can last months. It usually goes away, but it can last for a long time. And we know from the old literature that as a matter of fact, there was a study from 1902 that hypochlorhydria can cause persistent diarrhea. So, I asked her about other symptoms of hypochlorhydria–bloating after meals, inability to eat a large meal–it all fit, and it all started at the same time…Boom. Cured immediately. This was from 1902!”

From Purposeless to Purposeful

Dr. Gaby files away yet another piece of literature he’s uncovered. #fightthehype

Like so many of us, Dr. Gaby came to nutritional medicine by way of conventional medicine. The son of a surgeon, his father would take him to the emergency room (then called “the accident room”), where he would watch him “sew people up and…ugh [insert disgusted face emoji here], I almost passed out. And then I saw them giving all of these drugs to people, and this did not connect with me.”

After careful consideration, he eventually decided to pursue medicine, but with his own twist.

“One day, after college, when I didn’t really know what I was going to do with my life, I had an epiphany: you’re going to learn all there is to know about nutritional therapies, which was a very controversial field at the time (this was in 1973), and you’re gonna teach the world what you learn. So, it just connected. It was like, wow, I have a purpose in my life, and it went from purposeless to purposeful, at the age of 23. That was 45 years ago, and I’ve stuck with this very passionately ever since.”

On Updates, On Controversy

For Dr. Gaby, much of his work is bringing light to biases and misrepresentations coming out of mainstream journals.

“The main thing is that mainstream medicine does not believe that vitamins and minerals and accessory food factors have therapeutic value. Conventional journals constantly put out biased review articles and biased editorials that lead to that conclusion. I don’t know what the motivation is.

On the other side, there’s a lot of bias in our field, too…in alternative medicine, there’s a lot of hype going on and a lot of leaping to conclusions.”

Because of this, some of the work he publishes goes against what naturopaths are commonly taught in school. In his new course “Controversies in Nutrition,” he delves into two topics with which he takes the most issue: high dose Vitamin D (he’s not for it) and the big push for 5-MTHF over folic acid (he’s not convinced).

So, why new course content now? Why a Nutrition Update?

“There is an enormous body of research that goes way back, and it’s crucial, if you want to be a good practitioner, to know that research. The purpose of the update is to provide information  that’s clinically relevant that has been published since my 2017 2nd Edition of Nutritional Medicine came out.

About Doctors and Folks: An Original Album by Alan Gaby

We mentioned that Dr. Gaby is a recording artist, and while he hasn’t laid down any tracks in a while, somewhere in the universe, there is a copy of an album from his younger years, About Doctors and Folks.

“Actually, you know, I’ve long been interested in music. I started playing the guitar when I was thirteen, and I had a spree of very passionate song writing in my early and mid-twenties. Half of the songs were about medicine and medical school, and the other half were about life. So, in 1991, I went to a studio and recorded them…and came out with a 12-song album of original songs called About Doctors and Folks. It’s not available anywhere, [laughs] but I could probably mail to people if they were interested. I’ll give you my email address.”

Well, guess what? After a little bit of persuasion, we convinced this doctor/rockstar to launch his album in a limited release. About Doctors and Folks is available for donation here; and FYI all proceeds go to the charity of our Naturopathic CE community’s choice. Cast your vote for the recipient here!

Want to connect with this funny, fearless, and fascinating man? Check out the latest edition of his book, Nutritional Medicine 2nd Ed., enroll in his two new courses, Controversies in Nutrition and Nutritional Update, or “hear the comedy and tragedy of going through medical school and going through life” and get your coveted copy of About Doctors and Folks. We’ve got ours on loop.

Watch the Interview

Sarah

Sarah ND

After graduating from National University of Health Sciences (IL) as a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine in 2011, Sarah completed a residency in Seattle, WA, which focused on infectious disease and Autism Spectrum Disorder. While there, she also served as a volunteer physician at an LGBTQIA homeless shelter, acting as a primary care physician for both youth and adult patients. In 2016, she completed a term of AmeriCorps VISTA service, and has since become heavily invested in the intersection of public health and social justice, and how an individual’s health picture shapes a community. She currently serves as Naturopathic CE’s Director of Communications, and is available for communications consulting for private practices and health organizations.