Everyday Icon: The Integrative Neurologist, Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary

We sat down with Integrative Neurologist and author of The Prime, Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary, to talk about the best way to "diet", the benefits of whole foods and her lifelong meditation practice.
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We are big believers in the myriad of benefits gained from a healthy diet of whole foods, but were admittedly unfamiliar with the effects of said eating on the brain. You can imagine our curiosity when we were introduced to Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary. Dr. Chaudhary uses a holistic approach to treat the brain; her methods include prescribing a diet rich in anti-inflammatory and natural, whole foods, for people with issues from migraines to Parkinson's to Alzheimer's. It is this specific approach and practice that led her to an unexpected discovery - the chemistry of your mind can impact and alter your physical body.  

In her first book, The Prime, Dr. Chaudhary discusses how an upbringing rooted in an Ayurvedic lifestyle paved the path for her medical career, why digestion is more important than what you eat, the recipe for her favorite healing tea and how the alignment of your brain and your gut is the key to clarity of mind and lightness of the body.  

Can you tell us a bit about Integrative Neurology? How exactly do you work with the brain, and what types of patients do you see? 

Integrative Neurology looks at the brain as it relates to the health of the entire body. A traditional Neurologist would see a “brain” problem as just a problem in the brain. But an Integrative Neurologist looks at the brain as part of a system and ties the health of the entire body to the brain. For example, if someone has migraine headaches, I wouldn’t just start her or him on medications. I’d look at the patient’s sleep patterns, stress level, diet, exercise routine, etc. The migraines are just a symptom in the brain that reflects a problem in the bigger system (i.e. the entire person). My treatment plan includes lifestyle prescriptions to bring the entire person back into balance.

I’ve treated migraine headaches, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, seizures, peripheral neuropathies…basically all the same conditions that a traditional Neurologist also treats but my approach is more holistic.

When and how did you discover the organic effects of brain chemistry on diet and the body? 

The food you eat on a daily basis has one of the strongest impacts on your body’s biochemistry, including your neurochemistry. In Ayurveda there is a saying, “What you eat becomes your mind. As is the food, so is your mind.” In American culture unfortunately, food has become such an item of convenience that we’ve forgotten what a profound influence it has on us. The fastest way that I can help a patient is by changing what they are eating and it doesn’t take weeks to see the results. Patients notice a tremendous impact within a few days of switching from a highly processed diet of refined foods to a whole foods diet cooked at home.
But to get back to your question, I really discovered this effect of food on brain chemistry when I became a patient. I got to experience it firsthand when I developed migraine headaches and couldn’t find adequate treatment for them using the traditional route of migraine medications that I was so accustomed to prescribing. So my body was my first laboratory, so to speak. The dramatic changes that I experienced over the course of a few months of changing my diet on the severity of my migraines was totally astonishing to me and it inspired me to see if others would have the same result, and they did!

In your book The Prime, you discuss how to "prepare" your body for dieting. Why is this important? For those who look to starting the new year off with a cleanse or with an elimination diet, what do you say? And, how should they prepare? 

When most people think of weight loss they tend to think of willpower. They think you have to have the motivation to change what you eat and go to the gym. Because our motivation is highest at the beginning of the year, we make all these New Year’s resolutions that become weaker and weaker as the year goes by. When you think about it in terms of willpower it seems like just a simple mental task and people make the assumption that they must be lazy or unmotivated, and that is why they can’t lose weight. But the reality is that there is a lot more going on than just simply a willpower issue.

When I talk about preparing your body for dieting, I’m talking about changing your biochemistry first. I’m talking about switching what is actually happening chemically in the brain and the gut - these are the forces that determines what you eat, how much energy you have, and how susceptible you are to food addictions. When we think of other addictions, like alcohol or cocaine, most people understand that there is an underlying biochemical imbalance. Certainly when we think about conditions like diabetes or multiple sclerosis, people think of underlying biological issue. What I’m showing people in this book is that weight gain as it is now occurring in our modern world is also a biochemical problem and mirrors the same toxic inflammatory process that occurs in other conditions. It’s not a willpower issue—there are biochemical changes that have occurred in the body and the brain that need to be reversed, not only to lose weight but also to reverse other damage that is simultaneously occurring in the body and brain.

Our modern diet of processed foods with additives, preservatives, and a highly addictive combination of sugar, salt, and fat has essentially disrupted our natural communication between our brain and our gut. Additionally, these modified foods have also directly harmed the gut mucosa leading to inflammation and damage to the enteric nervous system (the brain in our gut). The added toxic load of these unnatural foods has also derailed our body’s natural detoxification systems so that we can’t process or transform the toxins into less harmful substances. The end result is a slow mind and a dumb gut. You have to fix this problem first in order for dietary changes and weight loss to become spontaneous. It’s just a smarter approach to changing your dietary habits. If you don’t address these biochemical disruptions first, weight loss becomes an uphill battle. If you address these biochemical obstacles, weight loss becomes a spontaneous outcome of a healthier biochemical state. Most diets are doing things backwards—asking people to change their behaviors around foods before addressing the underlying chemical state that is resulting in these behaviors.

What are the top three things we can all be doing to heal our "guts"? 

This tea is a cornerstone of The Prime. It helps heal the gut mucosa, improves the absorption of nutrients, and stimulates the lymphatic system. The tea helps move fluid through and out of the body, so you may urinate more, which is a good sign. 

Here’s how to prepare this pleasant-tasting savory tea:
Boil 4 to 5 cups of water in a pot. As the water is heating, add the following to the pot:
1⁄2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1⁄2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1⁄2 teaspoon fennel seeds

Let the water boil for five to ten minutes with the seeds, depending on how strong you want your tea. Afterward, strain the seeds, then pour the tea into an insulated vessel (like a thermos) to keep it hot all day. If you have a tea ball use it, so there’s less cleanup. Sip the tea throughout the day until it’s all gone. Try to finish it before 6 p.m., to keep nighttime bathroom breaks to a minimum.

Most Americans are grossly deficient in fiber, which is likely one of the major reasons that sluggish digestion and constipation are such common problems. Women need at least 25 grams of fiber every day and men need 38 grams, but most adults get only 15 grams at most. These are minimal daily recommendations, but for optimal health you should be aiming for even more fiber.

In Ayurveda, your agni (digestive fire) is linked to the cycles of the sun. When the sun is the strongest (at noon), that is also when your agni is the strongest in your body. Eating more at lunchtime is simply more efficient—you absorb more nutrients and create fewer toxins when your body is running at full steam. Dinnertime is when your body begins to prepare for detoxification, which predominantly occurs during the night when your body is at rest. (This is also why most people have a bowel movement in the morning—the body is expelling the waste it was processing while you slept.) If you have a large dinner, not only does it tend to disrupt sleep, but it also makes detoxification less effective because your body has to expend extra energy breaking down the food you consumed at dinner.

You are a doctor, author and a leader in your field - what has been your greatest accomplishment thus far?

That is an easy question to answer. My greatest accomplishment has been my meditation practice. I was lucky enough to start at a very young age—9 years old—thanks to my mother. The degree of satisfaction, peace, and pure joy that has been brought to me through meditation is by far my greatest accomplishment in life. I’ve come to appreciate that things can be going up or they can be going down, but the ability to maintain equanimity in our constantly fluctuating world will always be my greatest gift to my family—both my nuclear family and my global family. This is not to say that I’m perfect at not reacting to bad news, but having a mediation practice that spans decades gives me enough of a buffer that I don’t make rash decisions that could bring stress and harm to others. Offering peacefulness to the world will always be by greatest ambition and it has ultimately been the motivation for everything I have done, including writing this book. I genuinely believe the knowledge in this book will bring people greater peace in their lives, and as a result to our planet. I’m a huge believer in the power of one person to have a positive influence on the entire world, and I’m hoping people who read this book unleash that inner power once they reconnect to who they really are by getting rid of the toxic waste they’ve been living under.

Do you have a personal mantra that gets you through your day? 

There is a Sanskrit mantra that I repeat in my mind throughout the day and it is written in the beginning of The Prime as well. It is Om Namo Narayani. It is an ancient Sanskrit mantra that means “I surrender to You.” It’s a way for me to not get too caught up in what I’m doing and just constantly reminds me to use my actions as an offering to the Divine and then let go. An American equivalent is “Let Go and Let God” but this mantra just happens to be in Sanskrit! It keeps me sane in my otherwise pretty hectic world and helps me not to take on the pressure of trying to control what happens around me. It reminds me to just let every action be a sincere offering to God and then I’m done with it. It’s no longer mine to worry about.

What is your favorite meal/foods to recommend to patients?

Split Mung Dahl. It is a classic Indian dish and it combines a powerful combination of spices, many of which are mentioned in The Prime, that fight disease in the most delicious possible way. It’s also a great source of protein from a vegetable source and easy to make. We have it at our home at least 2-3 times a week!


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