Dr. Mary Pardee, who specializes in fecal macrobiotic transplantation(FMT), explores how personal history with trauma (emotional or physical) often contributes to chronic disease, the necessity of physicians acknowledging their patients’ journey into disease, and the paramount importance of community during the healing process.

Highlights include:

  • Empaths are more susceptible to chronic illness
  • Connection, bonding and community are pillars of health
  • Why group medical visits are necessary to transform the future of medicine
  • And so much more!

Resources mentioned in this episode:

The Power of Personal Growth in Reversing Chronic Illness | Ep 274

James Maskell: Welcome to the Evolution of Medicine podcast, the place health professionals come to hear from innovators and agitators leading the charge. We cover the latest clinical breakthroughs in health technology, as well as practical tools to help you transform your practice and the health of your community. This podcast is brought to you by the Lifestyle Matrix Resource Center, who provide a range of options to help you deliver successful, effective, functional, and integrative medicine. To find out more and to get started, go to goevomed.com/lmrc. That’s goevomed.com/lmrc.

Hello and welcome to the podcast. This week, we feature Dr. Mary Pardee. She is a functional medicine doctor, she graduated from naturopathic school, she has been a GI specialist. We talked a little bit about that at the beginning, but today we’re going to get into the topic of growth and personal growth as a part of our series this year on growth in medicine. We’re going to talk to Mary about the power of personal growth for doctors, for their patients, how to execute it.

And I’m really grateful that we got into a lot of really powerful conversations, really important conversations that I think will resonate. Whether you are a doctor in private practice, whether you’re any sort of allied health professional, or whether you’re listening to this and you are a budding patient, I think there’s so much power in what was discussed. And I hope that it’s as valuable for you to listen to, as it was to me to record it. Enjoy.

So a warm welcome to the podcast for the first time, Dr. Mary Pardee. Welcome, Mary.

Dr. Mary Pardee: Hi, how are you, James?

James Maskell: Super excited to have you here on the podcast. Today I want to talk about growth. I want to talk about personal growth. I’ve been quite inspired by some of the interviews that you’ve given about the role of personal growth in healing and I think it’s a topic whose time has come, but let’s just start from the beginning. Anyone who ends up practicing in this space typically has a fortuitous route, I guess, to it. So tell us how you got here and how you’ve ended up owning your own clinic, being a GI specialist, living in LA and making content and helping people.

Dr. Mary Pardee: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s so true. I think a lot of us end up here because of our personal stories and that was definitely the case for me. So it’s interesting to look back actually on my clinical career and my personal life. And they have a lot of similarities in them in terms of the fields I’ve decided to go into have been largely kind of pushed there by something that’s happened in my personal life. And so that was how it all started. When I was a young girl, I had stomach issues. So I dealt with constipation, bloating, reflux, migraines, and I went to every specialist and I saw a bunch of gastroenterologists. I did a lot of tests and I was poked and prodded at a really young age.

I eventually got to a doctor who had my chart in front of him and it was this thick file at that point because I had done so many things and he looked at me and he’s like, “Listen, you have IBS, irritable bowel syndrome. It’s really common. There’s nothing else we can do. You just have to live with it. It’s not that big of a deal.”

I left that appointment as a 20-something-year-old woman in tears. I really was so disheartened by that way of approaching patient care where it’s just kind of, “See you later, don’t come back. We have nothing more for you.” And I had tried a bunch of medications and failed them and had side effects from them. But it was at that point that I’m like, “I don’t believe this. I actually think that there is something that I can do and maybe it’s not a medication, which is maybe why he doesn’t know about it, but I really want to figure out what it is.”

So I sought out at that point to really become the doctor that I didn’t have growing up. That’s what’s led me here today. I specialize in integrative GI with a really big focus on functional bowel disorders like IBS, SIBO falls into that, dyspepsia, things like that. So that’s how I got to be a functional naturopathic medical doctor and it’s really driven a lot of my career and how I actually talk to patients, too, because I think that’s a big part of it is the rapport that we established with our patients.

James Maskell: Absolutely. Yeah. I want to get more into that as we go along and I want to talk all about personal growth, but I do want to just have a little bit of moment because I know that you’ve been sort of on the cutting edge of fecal transplants, too. So can you just give us a sort of an update for the community who may be interested in it and want to know what’s going on. I think everyone realizes, “Wow, this could be a really, truly remarkable potential for GI disorders.” But what’s the state of the game, what’s been your engagement with it, and what do you have to report to us about the state of that for medicine?

Dr. Mary Pardee: Yeah, fecal transplants, FMT, is how we call them for short, but basically you’re taking the feces of a healthy person and infusing it usually rectally through either colonoscopy or just enema, and you’re putting it into somebody who is sick, that we think that there’s a tie to the microbiome, which is really important, because there’s a lot of people doing them at home for conditions that we wouldn’t expect them to get better and some people aren’t getting better. But my interest specifically is in inflammatory bowel disease with FMT because there is a good amount of research behind using FMT for those, with things like ulcerative colitis, mainly.

I just actually had a patient report back who is on probably day six of FMT with ulcerative colitis that she ate her first salad in months because she’s symptom free. And so that’s one of those things that really just brings a lot of joy and light into my life is having somebody really see positive improvements with something that we’re really restoring back, that root foundational thing that was disrupted in ulcerative colitis. So one of the mechanisms for ulcerative colitis is believed to be a disruption in the gut microbiome. There’s an inflammatory component as well, but the gut microbiome and the ecosystem that resides in our gut, we’re thinking that there is a disruption that happens that it actually possibly contributes to the inflammatory process that leads to ulcerations in the colon that causes bleeding, bloating, discomfort, abdominal pain.

So in terms of the research behind FMT, most of it’s been done for C difficile infections, which is an infection of the GI system that leads to diarrhea and can be lethal as well. And even pseudomembranous colitis, so looking like a colitis. And with that, we know that it works and it’s approved by the FDA to use in clinical practice using donor stool banks, things like OpenBiome or there’s a few other ones out there, too.

If you don’t have a C diff infection, the FDA has heavily regulated it that we can’t as doctors perform FMT on a patient unless they have that C diff. diagnosis. So unfortunately those with ulcerative colitis can’t go through the normal means for FMT right now, I assume that’s going to be changed just because the research is getting better and better, but right now I’m acting as kind of a safety liaison between the patient and the FMT procedure. So I’m screening donors for people, just like I would tell teenagers to use condoms during sex and not just abstain from sex, so I think education and harm reduction are really, really important. And so it is a harm reduction method that they’re not using donors that are unscreened and that they’re doing it in the safest way possible with the best outcomes possible. So that’s currently kind of how people have to navigate the FMT world, unfortunately.

James Maskell: Yeah. Well that’s a great update. Benedict will be proud of you, and I know you’re doing amazing work there. So look, let’s get into growth, another kind of growth. Let’s talk about personal growth because this is the reason why I wanted to have you on, I think you were being interviewed by Drew on his podcast and getting into some of this. I’ve seen you do a few different ones there. So let’s talk about personal growth and healing and what was it that sort of got you on the path towards wanting to really dive into this and understand it for yourself and understand it for your patients?

Dr. Mary Pardee: Yeah, sure. There’s a couple components for me but it really came to a head in 2018. An ex of mine overdosed and passed away. And so his death really became a cornerstone for me for asking big, big questions like, “Why are we here?” Or, “Why am I here? What’s my purpose? What is the meaning of life?” Things really didn’t seem fair to me at that point, that he was kind of taken away, this beautiful person that had so much to contribute. And so I went to a really dark place after that and I really struggled with figuring out why I was put on this planet. It brought a lot of questions up for me and finally in 2020, I was ready to face some of this stuff and really heal from his passing.

So I started in the world of plant medicine and I did a few different plant medicine journeys and that really opened the door for me into a personal growth world that I didn’t even know existed, and really, that started to be the path for me to answer the questions of, “Who am I? What do I like? Why am I here?” I think a lot of people can relate to this, but in my teens, I kind of was that “yes” person of like, “Oh, do you like this band?” “Yeah. I love that band.” And then it would change the next day just based on who I was around and kind of this chameleon that I could become. So it was the process of really getting firm in who I was and that’s still a continual process for me.

Then I started to see it in my patients. We only can acknowledge things and see them in others until we’ve seen them in ourselves, I think. But I started to see that this world of figuring out who are we authentically like true authenticity… People ask, “What is authenticity?” It’s such a buzzword now, but it’s like, are you able to fully express exactly how you feel in this moment? And that piece right there is what I saw really lacking in clinical practice where somebody would come to me with GI issues and the GI issues maybe started when they got married. And so we kind of dig into that. Was there a piece of you that you lost whereas this of authenticity that had to evolve in order to have an attachment or a bond with your significant other. So that’s really where it started for me and it’s grown since then.

James Maskell: Wow. That’s such a powerful, I’m really glad you said that because I want to share something, actually, this is relevant. So I’ve been part of a men’s group for the last three years. I’ve talked quite a lot about it and it’s definitely helped me really with the group visit side of things, understanding the power of groups. And part of the role in that is that at the end, the last round in the group is like acknowledging what you’ve seen in other people.

And I had an opportunity to go to my daughter’s school for her birthday a couple weeks ago and they did this exercise at the back of the class where it was like, “Hey, it’s this person’s birthday. Everyone in the class has to go around and share something that they appreciate about her.” And it’s funny, some people just, so some of the kids said what the other kids had said, just easy. And you could see that some people took a moment, really thought about what they wanted to say and then delivered a real compliment that I know that it was felt by her, I know that it was said authentically. And I was like, so few people do that. My eight year old, my nine year old is doing that and it was so great to see it because I know for myself, being able to give someone else a compliment or being able to really…

Another part of the men’s group is tapping into feeling. I think most men are really cut off from their own feeling and understand what that is. And so you have to go on this personal growth trajectory, but it’s a significant part of healing. Right? It’s a significant part of reversing your chronic illness is really getting into that.

Dr. Mary Pardee: Yeah, no, you said that so beautifully and you can apply that to medicine in the clinical world, too. I think most doctors are empathetic, so they have empathy. They got into the world of medicine because they wanted to help people. But we don’t see a ton of empathy in clinical practice a lot of the times. And so if a doctor is able to really see their patient and be empathic and sit with them in that, I think that really skyrockets the healing process in and of itself. We know that the relationship with the patient and the doctor is part of what determines how successful the outcomes are going be. And so being seen by somebody, really seen by somebody, especially somebody who’s there to help you on your journey, I think is really, really important.

James Maskell: Absolutely. So from your experience, does it matter who that person is being seen by or do they just need to be seen?

Dr. Mary Pardee: Yeah. Good question. I think that they have to have an attachment. They have to have some sort of bond that’s formed. So I think that they have to trust the other person. So I think if you can trust your provider and your provider really sees you and you feel seen, I think that’s part of the milieu that makes for a good outcome clinically. It’s not all of it, but I think that it’s a hunk of it.

James Maskell: Well, I’m glad you’re saying this actually because it ties into a theme that we’ve been working on generally in this podcast which is just that ultimately 10 years ago I recognized… Okay, one of the reasons why we need to take doctors out of the system and get them into private practice, maybe direct primary care, membership or fee-for-service is that you take out all the other influences and you can really have the time that you need to build the rapport to have that kind of relationship.

And for 10 years, that was a big improvement on medicine. But in 2019, I really had sort of my own crisis of conscience when Gabe died, my partner, and that was really around the fact that yes we need to give patients time. But if the time always has to be from the most expensive provider who we have the fewest of, and there’s already, they’re under a resource constraint, the math is never really going to add up. We’re not going to be able to give everyone this kind of care and that’s why I ended up writing the book on group visits and now being focused on that, because what I’ve seen in these group visits that are run by coaches is that yes, patients need to be seen, but they don’t necessarily need to be seen by the one with the prescription pad.

And actually, sometimes, it’s nice to be seen by someone who’s actually reversed their own chronic illness and that’s their story. I mean, you have that story for yourself, not every doctor has that, most functional medicine doctors do. But as long as that time is always spent with the most expensive provider, it sort of creates this blockage where access will be limited.

So I’d love to just get your thoughts on that because that’s, I mean, literally I think that’s what I’ve been spending a lot of time into realizing how do you get that time? What are you going to do with that time? And how can we organize people to be seen and heard and validated in a way that is very, very efficient.

Dr. Mary Pardee: Yeah, no, such a good point. So I think human beings have a few needs. They have a few necessities to thrive and bonding and communities, one of those needs, and it’s a non-negotiable Gabor Maté has this beautiful line that says, “We need to connect, we need to belong, we need to be loved and we need to love.” And it’s not something that adds to the human experience, it’s an essential part of being human in order to fully be present and thrive. And so I bring that up because I think the group sessions provide that they provide that community, they provide that sense of feeling like they belong to something, they belong to a group, they belong to others that are experiencing other similar things that are difficult to move through.

When we feel isolated, it’s one of the things that actually contributes to the disease process. So, feeling isolated or alone in your condition or in your struggles further perpetuates the pathological process because of inflammatory responses and other things. And so if we can really initiate that group setting where you have a health coach as like the proctor, the person that’s facilitating, but you also have a group of people that have come there for that reason to heal. I think it’s beautiful. And I think it’s probably the wave of the future when it comes to medicine because you can’t scale one on one patient care with a doctor at an affordable rate for a lot of people.

James Maskell: Absolutely. Well thank you for validating my whole life. I really… So yeah, let’s get into being just, I guess from your own journey, maybe can you share some examples where maybe, I can imagine there’d be patients who’d be medically stuck and then some sort of growth opportunity gets them unstuck.

Dr. Mary Pardee: Yeah. We just had a recent patient reach out. I started seeing this patient probably three years ago and he was really struggling. So he was going through withdrawal from benzodiazepines, he was living at home still at an advanced age and mental health, anxiety was huge. He was really just struggling and started to make steps forward. And I work with an integrative psychiatry team so he was working with them as well. And it really kind of halted a little bit. And then he reached out recently and said, “I really realized that I am a very sensitive person and I can see now that a lot of the things that I’ve been dealing with actually have to do with that.”

So we talk about highly sensitive people a lot in our practice, but it’s this idea that there’s a group of people, about 20% of the population falls into this category that are highly sensitive, HSPs for short. And these people are more prone to be susceptible to chronic disease because they’re highly empathic and they can take on people’s energies from the outside world. It’s not necessarily woo-woo, it’s people that are highly empathic, so maybe an empath is another word for it, but sensitive to even sounds, smells, lights, socially like social anxiety is really common in this population, too.

But the idea behind this is that if you can educate somebody about, “Hey, I think that you fall into this category about being a highly sensitive person. I think that’s why you’re actually easily anxious in a group of people or that’s why it really bothers you when you watch scary movies and you see an injustice in the world and you can take that to heart, you can take it personally.” And when we start to bear the weight of all of this the weight of injustice, the weight of watching other people suffer, then chronic disease can start to arise.

Now, my whole passion is to also educate people that, “Yes, you’re an HSP, but this is a wonderful thing too. This means you can read people in the room better. It means that you’re highly compassionate and empathic and you can sit with people as they move through things and you can make connections at a much, much deeper level.” And so when somebody’s able to really embrace this and say, “Yeah, this makes a lot of sense now how I got here.” And they’re able to really start to tie in their life story to be a part of the reason how they became the person that they are. At that point, they’re able to really say, “Okay, I understand now, this has meaning to me now.” And I think that the actual story of how we got here is part of the healing process, because it creates this greater understanding for who you are as a person and, like your hero’s journey, your own personal hero’s journey.

James Maskell: If you tie that into functional medicine, I mean, that’s the point of the timeline, right? To really get back to like who I am, how I got here, how do I put these pieces together? So that’s why I see that like functional medicine, personal growth being seen, connected, is all intertwined. And I’m glad you made that connection because as I was doing the research for the book, if you look at salutogenesis and it’s all really built on this idea that the understanding of what went before is really helpful is actually necessary to take it where it needs to go.

Dr. Mary Pardee: Yeah. And this individual, I think they kind of paired like, “Shitty stuff happened to me in childhood,” which his understanding like that was really shitty, “And now I can put meaning towards it in terms of, this is how I became this resilient person I am today.” And so you can see how it can be really healing to understand that some of the things that he went through that were really hard and really difficult actually have meaning for him today that makes him this better person, this more empathic person. But yeah, the timeline, I have a funny relationship with the timeline because when I first went through IFM, I did the timeline a few times and then I’m like, “This thing, it doesn’t matter. All we care about is the person that’s here with us today and they have this issue and that’s all I’m going to deal with. I don’t care what happened to them 10 years ago.”

And then I came full circle and I revisited a few years ago and I’m like, “Oh wait, this timeline is all about exactly what you said.” It’s about the person’s hero’s journey and I need to understand that as their practitioner so that I can tell them back their own story and really come to a consensus on how they got here. Because one, that makes them feel way more seen, but two, like you said, it’s essential part of salutogenesis and this idea of healing through your own story.

James Maskell: Yeah. Beautiful. Beautifully said. So now you are in it and you’re doing it and you’re aware of the personal growth journey, I guess. How is patient care different now for you because you sort of have this almost like this kind of mirror with these patients that you’re speaking to?

Dr. Mary Pardee: Yeah. So now when somebody comes to see me, the pillars of health has expanded for me. So in naturopathic medicine, we think that there’s a bunch of pillars to health that are necessities and those are things like exercise, movement, nutrition, sleep, sunshine, and the things that I’ve kind of added to that through the personal growth story are community and bonding is hugely important. Not hugely important, it’s a human necessity. The ability to self-regulate, I would add as a pillar for health. So our ability to actually self-regulate through our nervous system is something that’s essential and that’s where the research behind walking and yoga and meditation comes in. And then our ability to feel a sense of purpose and meaning, I think, it’s a human pillar that we need. It’s not icing on the cake, it’s a need. And then the need for authenticity.

So again, I’ll reference back to Gabor Maté, but he really believes that there’s two core human needs, which is bonding and authenticity and bonding will trump authenticity. And so a lot of the work I do with people is really telling them back their story and kind of seeing how, you can lose parts of yourself or your authenticity can degrade in order to bond or attach with somebody else, and that’s not your fault, that’s survival. You did that for a reason and we can now look back and say, “Okay you were really creative as a child and you let that go because it didn’t fit the norms of your family, but now can we revisit it because you are safe here? Like you have the ability to fully express that now.”

James Maskell: Yeah. That’s really, really powerful and interesting. I’m glad we had the opportunity to look at that. What it reminds me of is the naturopathic therapeutic order.

Dr. Mary Pardee: Yes.

James Maskell: So clear it’s like you have to have that foundation, the lowest level is turning on or dealing with the social determinants of health which is some of those things, and then that next level is looking at the obstacles. And I think a lot of what you’re talking about there is the obstacles to cure. The further I go into medicine, the more the naturopathic therapeutic order just speaks to me as just something that is a north star for people who are really trying to think about how to create healthy humans and then how to reorganize healthcare around the creation of healthy humans.

Dr. Mary Pardee: Yeah, absolutely. I feel like I’ve had my own hero’s journey in medicine in that way, in terms of like, I started out in naturopathic medicine and that’s the school that I went to and then I kind of had this rebellion against it. And it was like, “It’s biohacking technology, anti-aging. I want to be in the know, in the hip.” And as I’ve kind of gone through my career, I’m really returning back to the therapeutic order of naturopathic medicine and it’s real foundational which are tried and true.

James Maskell: Beautiful. Well I guess one last question I have for you is for doctors and practitioners who are listening to this, who sort of maybe recognize that there’s some deficit of consistent personal growth happening in them either themselves or more likely in their patients, where are some jumping off points that you’d recommend for practitioners to think through, “How am I doing and how can I do better?”

Dr. Mary Pardee: Yeah. I think it’s a personal thing for them to do themselves. So I think as you do it yourself, you’re able to see it in your patients and what you can offer them. So in terms of where to start, I think it’s looking at your patient population but my belief is that a lot of chronic disease evolves from some sort of traumatic response during childhood or later in life. So I think understanding trauma and the physiology behind trauma, what actually happens in the body when somebody experiences trauma is hugely important to the treatment of chronic disease. I’m not talking about you get an acute infection, but I’m talking about something that has developed over the years, whether it’s high blood pressure or whether it is IBS or even inflammatory bowel disease. How did we get here? And to understand how the human body gets there is really, really important.

And we have research behind it. Like we have real evidence that shows that trauma affects our physiology and can contribute to chronic disease. And so that’s where I tell people to start. There’s a great book called Waking the Tiger by Levine, is the author of that one. And he really goes into how does a trauma get converted into something that’s actually stored in our body and can result in pain, discomfort, and chronic issues like arthritis or something like that. The other one that I love is The Body Keeps the Score. So between those two books, I think they are a great launching pad for practitioners that are interested in this to dive a little bit deeper and the world keeps expanding from there.

James Maskell: Beautiful, Mary. Well, look, I just want to thank you for coming part on this podcast. I think there’s so many great starting points for practitioners in our community. We’ve hit on some points of sort of what we’ve been trying to talk about through this year of growth that if we want to expand access, if we want to have this fully alive medical experience for patients where they can experience personal growth and they can learn why that disease is telling them and they can overcome it in a hero’s journey. We really need to think about that growth in the context of how’s it going to happen? How do we sort of predictably create it? I think we touched on some of the stuff that I’m passionate about with groups. We talked about all kinds of different areas there and I think brought it well together at the end. Thank you for all your work. Tell everyone how they can find out more about your practice if they want to, if they want to follow up.

Dr. Mary Pardee: Absolutely, and thank you. Thank you for what you’re doing with all the group coaching it’s so, so needed. My work… the website to book a complimentary call with one of our practitioners is www.modrnmed.com. It’s M-O-D-R-N-M-E-D.com. And then my Instagram is @dr.marypardee to also look at some of my content that I put out on Instagram.

James Maskell: Awesome. Yeah look, I want to just acknowledge, not just that you’re doing this and kind of leading this conversation in an interesting way and I appreciate that, but I also, someone who helped doctors create their practice for a number of years I think we were friends before you even started practicing, right? When you were still in school or just doing the residency program. I haven’t seen anyone land on their feet in the way that you did with your practice, with the brand and the positioning. So many things that we talk about in the Practice Accelerator with having your niche, owning that one area, building care pathways, like all the stuff that you’ve done at MODRNmed, I’ve just been watching and just see you’re moving forward in the direction of your dreams and it’s exciting to see. So congratulations.

It’s awesome. I really, I paid attention. I just see, it’s really exciting to see doctors like yourself, setting a new path, operating inside the digital age and being the change that you want to see in the world. So to Dr. Mary Pardee, this has been The Evolution Of Medicine podcast. I’m your host, James Maskell. If you want to check out more about group visits, check out healcommunity.com, or you can check out the group visit toolkits, goevomed.com/gvt. They’re one of our sponsors here on the show, Dr. Mary Pardee, thanks so much for tuning in. This is the Evolution Of Medicine podcast. This is the year of growth. I’m your host James Maskell and we’ll see you next time.

Thanks for listening to the evolution of medicine podcast. Please share this with colleagues who need to hear it. Thanks so much to our sponsors, the Lifestyle Matrix Resource Center. This podcast is really possible because of them. Please visit goevomed.com/lmrc to find out more about their clinical tools like the group visit toolkit. That’s goevomed.com/lmrc. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.


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