Richmond Integrative Psychiatric and Nutrition Services
H5RVA: Ashley! In your nomination you were described as a “true medical detective” and a “maverick.” Tell me about your work.
Ashley: I am a psychiatric nurse practitioner and nutritionist trained in functional medicine. This means my treatment approach with patients is pretty unique—instead of just medicating my patients’ symptoms away I dig a lot deeper to try and figure out what could be the root cause(s) of their symptoms. I do a really comprehensive work-up to figure out not only WHAT is causing the problem but also WHY it is happening? Depression, anxiety, mood dysregulation can all be symptoms of so many different health problems from autoimmune disease, hormone imbalances, poor gut function, impaired detoxification pathways—to name just a few—that if we don’t explore what the underlying problem is that could actually be causing mental health issues we miss out on an opportunity to really help patients get well again.
H5RVA: Sometimes it seems that we consider lifestyle and illness to be unrelated. Even though we all know better. A friend of mine had a feeding tube (she suffered from cystic fibrosis) and I remember thinking how fragile that seemed. How there was tube leading straight into her belly and how careful she would have to be with what went near it. How clean everything should be entering her body. She was only ten years-old, but pointed out that I, too, had a hole that led directly to my belly. My mouth. And just as she would never crush up a bunch of Cheetos and put them in her feeding tube, perhaps I should not be doing that with my mouth. How do we shift the thinking that our nutrition is not driving our health?
Ashley: That’s a great and powerful observation that your friend made! I think that on some basic level people do know that their food choices affect not only their health but how they physically and mentally feel on a day-to-day basis. However I don’t think people understand or are aware of the degree to which the quality of our food supply has changed over the years—our soils have less nutrients in them, conventional (meaning not organic) foods are loaded with genetically-modified organisms, pesticide residues, preservatives, thickeners, and a host of other ingredients that we really weren’t meant to ingest, and sugar is added to practically EVERY food product that comes in packaging of some sort or is “shelf stable.” Over time eating processed foods that have a long list of ingredients you can’t pronounce really takes a toll on our gut health---which then invariably affects our brain health. So to answer your question I think the first step is to help people build awareness around what actually is in the food they eat, where the food comes from, and get people to be more mindful about how it actually makes them feel physically and mentally after they eat it.
H5RVA: Is it possible to describe “functional medicine” in a nutshell?
Ashley: Yes! Functional medicine is an approach to working with patients that addresses the dysfunction (aka “chronic disease” ) that occurs when an individual’s genetic susceptibility, environmental exposures, and unhealthy lifestyles all intersect—as they do in varying ways for all of us. Functional Medicine tries to get to the underlying cause of the dysfunction as opposed to just suppressing symptoms. Here are 2 different analogies for you: The difference between functional medicine and conventional medicine is like the difference between actually turning off the stove rather than just putting a lid on a boiling pot, or it’s the difference between putting out the fire rather than just addressing the smoke.
H5RVA: How does your work make you happy?
Ashley: I absolutely love my job and I’m so lucky that I discovered functional medicine-- as it is what gave me the framework and guidance I needed to really bring my worlds of psychiatry and nutrition together in a way I had always hoped and envisioned I could. My work makes me happy because it allows me to help people feel well again without it being about prescribing another medication-- and I find that immensely gratifying!
H5RVA: What are you going to do with this High Five?
Ashely: I am going to use it to high-five all of the patients who come to the practice because they believe that there has to be a better way to treat their mental health issues, and are willing to try a unique and progressive treatment approach to healing their bodies and feeling well again.