Cheryl Burdette, ND, has been teaching and researching to provide more science-backed evidence for functional and naturopathic medicine.
Dr. Cheryl Burdette has always been interested in research. She has contributed to several published studies, which have appeared in peer-reviewed journals, such as Alternative Medicine Review and Clinical Chemistry. She has also lectured on the scientific research behind many naturopathic protocols at esteemed universities and conferences, and continues to do so.
In the course of her career, she has been a part of a growing number of naturopaths who want better access to tests not readily available through mainstream labs.
"Healthcare is not only about blocking disease, or reducing symptoms, but also about strengthening overall health."
To her way of thinking, comprehensive testing and profiling that aids things such as AIMS (amplified immunological monitoring system), advanced intestinal barrier assessment (IBA) neurotransmitter profile, adrenal stress testing, and heavy metal testing, just to name a few, can only help practitioners and patients find more pinpointed answers to the questions they are asking.
Dr. Burdette became co-founder and president of Dunwoody Labs, a testing and profiling lab that specialized in tests and profiles that deal with conditions commonly addressed by integrative medicine.
For Dr. Burdette, like most integrative practitioners, healthcare is not only about blocking disease, or reducing symptoms, but also about strengthening overall health. Practitioners need the tool of research to be able to capture a more complete picture of how a person’s systems are working, or not working, in order to find the best course of action to take.
And action is key to Dr. Burdette. She says part of what makes integrative medicine so attractive to her is that there are many actionable paths to take.
In addition, Dr. Burdette says integrative medicine is a team approach. It’s not just doctors telling patients what to do or not do. Integrative practitioners listen to patients and then look at the data from the patient’s own personal profiles or tests, as well as from clinical research, and then together with the patient, they implement the best solution.
What got you interested in integrative health?
CB: As an undergraduate who was dual majoring in pre-med and psychology, I thought surely these two must intersect in some way. So I started looking for programs that had integrative training that combined these two areas, and there weren’t that many at the time. But I did find schools that taught naturopathic medicine where I felt they were considering both fields of study. At first, to be honest, I didn’t even really know what naturopathy was. Of course I found out that the training involved for naturopathy looked at a western-style diagnosis, doing histories and physicals and then using less invasive measures to combat the illness or symptoms that were effecting people’s lives.
I think what really caught my attention was the fact that in naturopathy there was a recognition of a mind-body connection. And that’s what I was really interested in studying.
I found Bastyr University, one of the few naturopathic medical schools at the time, and I thought I’d be dual majoring again: getting a PhD and an ND. But that program didn’t really exist. I had always had a love for research and for study design, and so I got all the education I could in those two areas.
Once I graduated and did my residency at Cancer Centers of America, I went into private practice where I really enjoyed working with patients. And although I thoroughly believed in the work we were doing, I still felt we needed to validate it. I feel like the integrative medicine community at large is innovative, but I feel like the one area where we may have a little bit of a lag is in the validation of what we do. So, moving into research and the lab was a natural calling for me because it really allows me to collect data, to see trends, and to validate natural therapies that we’ve been doing and that we know work and are successful.
Tell us a little about your background?
CB: I grew up in a small town in Alabama. I grew up eating healthy. We had vegetables and we exercised, but in that part of the country there was not a strong preference for integrative medicine as you might find on the West Coast.
I’ve always really liked to figure things out or test things. I was a bit of a geek. I was in the band and on the debate team. I went on to become the assistant director of the Austin National Debate Institute and an instructor at Berkeley National Debate Institute. And that is still something I find really useful to my role as a naturopath. I learned there are a myriad of ways to look at something and that critical thinking, effective communication, and research are essential to being a good practitioner, teacher, and clinical researcher.
What do patients say is the most important thing they learn from you or your practice?
CB: Well first, as a lecturer and teacher I hope my students are learning a lot about the subjects I’m teaching, which run the gamut: nutrition and cancer, hormone imbalance, oxidative stress, histamine overload, leaky gut, there are so many. As for patients, the goal for me is also to teach. I think that’s what really makes the difference between naturopathic medicine and allopathic (mainstream or non-integrative) medicine: We are always leading our patients to learn more about themselves, about their bodies and their minds. Not that allopathy isn’t doing that at all, but I think patients that seek out integrative medicine are much more interested in effecting a permanent change in their health through lifestyle choices and less invasive means. They already understand that taking a pill is not going to solve all their problems and so they are already in a good place to want to learn. They learn about themselves, which is great for us because that’s our goal, to learn about their bodies and minds to help them achieve optimal health and feel better.
I think in integrative health we come into this and the patients come into it too as partners. We are both prepared and interested in learning. When you have that, I think you have already won half the battle.
Can you share a success story with us?
CB: What is the most inspiriting part of integrative medicine is that every day you get to hear these inspirational stories. The majority of them involve a patient who has either exhausted all other medical treatment or they have felt like they were not getting enough relief with the therapies they have been using. We had a 14-year-old pediatric patient who had costochondritis (an inflammation of the junction of the breastbone and ribs). She was already using a cane to get around and was on pain medication. She was seen at Emory University, a top-notch medical school, and she still was not getting enough relief. It was thought that she would be in a wheelchair if things did not get better. She came to see us. We started by looking at her sensitivity to gluten and running tests on her gut microbiome. It turned out she had bad gut bacteria, which had not been looked at. So we were able to address that and what was causing the inflammation and control it with diet rather than pain medications. Her story is not that different from many integrative medicine patients. They come to us and we try to set them up for longterm success instead of just addressing the symptoms.
Of course, people will have moments when they slip backwards. We all have those moments. It’s just part of being human. But if patients stick with their nutritional treatment, supplemental support, and avoid foods and situations that exacerbate their problems, then, for the most part, they are going to have success and relief, which is what we all want.
What is your favorite supplement?
CB: I find myself reaching for a controlledrelease alpha-lipoic acid combined with biotin the most often. It addresses so many of those areas that are fundamental. It lowers the body’s toxin burden and recycles glutathione, helping to regulate blood sugar. It can help with other hormones, including assisting in reproductive issues. It’s also an excellent antioxidant, which can turn on metabolic pathways. And currently we are getting strong data pointing to its efficacy as an anti-inflammatory agent.
What do you do for fun?
CB: I’m learning guitar. My mom was a piano teacher. I played piano and French horn as a kid. I’m just starting to play guitar now. I wouldn’t say I’m great, but I do like it. My husband, Robert, likes to cook. He’s an excellent cook. He is cooking something from each country. He will break countries up into different regions too. For example, Japan is categorized into seven different areas so we don’t just get to eat Japanese, we get to eat food from Hokkaido and Okinawa and other places. It’s pretty great. I don’t take any credit for it, but I do love to eat it. We also like to hike with our kids, Sabrina, 15, Connor, 12, and our two dogs Echo and Abby.