Jumpstart your immune system

Photographs courtesy of The Blum Center For Health

Step into The Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook and you might be surprised to find the state-of-the-art Mind Body Kitchen, which is used as a lifestyle education center.

Open to the public, the kitchen features classes on cooking for different ailments and chronic conditions, detox programs and for those short on time, Blum organic food to-go. In addition, a trained practitioner leads a series of free monthly community talks, which include a pantry, fridge and freezer makeover class, among others. Nestled behind the kitchen and reception area are a medical practice and the Mind Body Room, which offers meditation, guided imagery, biofeedback and both therapeutic and restorative yoga.

The idea for a space with a holistic approach to medicine belongs to founding director Dr. Susan Blum, an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in Manhattan. During 13 years of private practice, she treated, healed and prevented chronic diseases by integrating nutrition, supplements, detoxification programs, stress management techniques and exercise into traditional Western medicine.

Her vision was to build a wellness center where people in the community could learn necessary lifestyle tools to help themselves. That’s why the center is open to the public and not limited to Blum’s patients.

Part of that vision included writing a book, “The Immune System Recovery Plan: A Doctor’s 4-Step Program to Treat Autoimmune Disease” (Scribner). The four-step method focuses on using food as medicine, understanding the stress connection, healing your digestive system and optimizing liver function. The how-to-book offers a message of hope and shows readers how to reverse their symptoms and prevent future illnesses.

“People don’t know that there’s another way. They don’t know that they can fix their underlying immune function and reduce inflammation and feel better and not need medication,” says Blum, a member of the medical advisory board for “The Dr. Oz Show.”

“I’ve been working with my patients with that same approach (of functional medicine) and seeing amazing results, and I wanted to get the word out, because I can’t see everybody.”

Indeed, her appointment schedule is booked through the end of the year, as is her nurse practitioner’s, Elizabeth Greig.

But despite that busy schedule, Blum is committed to offering each of her patients personalized care, starting with the initial visit in which she spends one and a half hours listening to the patient’s story and explaining everything.

Allowing herself enough time with everyone – as well as patient-free Wednesdays – helps Blum maintain her own center and balance so that she’s happy to see you when you walk in the door.

“One of the things we pride ourselves on here and why people will come back and love us is because they can feel that we care.”

the ‘experiment’

Functional medicine is all about the gray zone between health and disease.

“I look under the hood in a way nobody else does, because I’m looking for impaired function before (the patients) get sick. I have tools to measure your gray zone and to tweak your gray zone till you move to the white, before you move to the disease. In the conventional world, they’re just looking at disease and they’re good at it. And we need our acute medical system for that.”

But, she says, “If you feel off or have impaired functioning in your body or chronic inflammation and nobody knows where it is, I’m your man because I know how to figure out where the inflammation is coming from. I know how to figure out why you’re fatigued.”

Did you know that 70 percent of your immune system lives in your gut – a term that includes your stomach, small intestine and large intestine? That’s why nearly everyone who comes into Blum’s office to see her does the “experiment.”

The “experiment,” as detailed in her book, consists of two parts. It’s the removal and the reintroduction of five ingredients – gluten, soy, corn, dairy and eggs. The three-week elimination diet gives your immune system enough time to calm down so it’s not triggered adversely by those foods, she says.

Out of 100 people who see her, maybe one or two can remove everything, reintroduce it and say they’re fine.

“It’s the minimum of people.”

Healing herself

Growing up in Baldwin Harbor, Long Island, Blum always sensed there was something she was moving toward.

“I call it the little motor in me, always sort of driving me forward.”

The self -proclaimed “beach girl at heart,” who had wanted to be a doctor ever since she watched “Marcus Welby, M.D.,” did her undergraduate studies at Cornell University, attended medical school at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, trained in internal medicine at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, did her residency in preventive medicine at what was then called the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and received her master’s in public health at Columbia University.

By the time she finished, she had just given birth to her third son, Avery, now off to Cornell. The Armonk resident and husband Bruce are also the parents of Jeremy and Corey.

With all that training she hadn’t found what she was looking for. The journey to finding her life’s work began 15 years ago when a brochure from The Center for MindBody Medicine (CMBM) training for health professionals came across her desk while she was at home with her third child. She remembers looking at it and thinking, “I’m supposed to go.”

The idea in functional medicine is you need to work on yourself first before you can help others. She describes this process as transformational.

“CMBM helped me do my own work first, which is learning all the techniques that they teach – meditation, guided imagery, biofeedback , drawing, visualization and movement – for fixing your stress system, balancing your stress hormones and learning to relax.”

In order to understand nutritional medicine fully, she enrolled at The Institute for Functional Medicine for her training in 2000, where she finally found what she had been looking for.

“Nutrition and food is all biochemistry in the body. …The food you eat brings information into the body that determines how things function.”

That training allowed Blum to see how all the pieces fit and how functional medicine can work with chronic illnesses, including her own – Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease in which the immune cells attack your thyroid gland, often resulting in inflammation that leads to an underactive thyroid.

Inspired and motivated by her own diagnosis, Blum found a path to a full recovery by following the same principles she prescribes to her patients.

As she writes in her book, “My intuition and medical experience told me that I could find a better way, and once I did, I wanted to shout it to the world.”

For more, visit blumcenterforhealth.com.

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