Meet the New Medical Director of the Center for Functional Medicine

A Q&A with Elizabeth Bradley, MD

In July 2017, Elizabeth Bradley, MD, became Medical Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine. She came to Cleveland Clinic from Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire where she served as a medical director for 10 years.

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With a Master of Science in Nutrition and as a registered dietitian, Dr. Bradley started her career as a clinical nutritionist at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she practiced for six years. Wanting to do more to help patients, she went on to pursue her medical degree at Dartmouth Medical School. After practicing internal medicine for more than 20 years, she decided to study functional medicine, completing the program at the Institute for Functional Medicine. She became a fully certified functional medicine physician in 2015.

What made you pursue functional medicine as your specialty?

Dr. Bradley:  I started as a nutritionist and now I’ve come full circle, practicing as a physician who starts from the premise that food is medicine. The study of functional medicine is biochemistry based. It gives us the tools to look at the nutritional insufficiencies that can lead to chronic disease.

What brought you to Cleveland Clinic?

Dr. Bradley:  My passion for nutrition through functional medicine brought me to the Center for Functional Medicine. Cleveland Clinic its light years ahead of any other academic medical center in terms of practicing functional medicine. This position allows me to fully practice and support the advancement of this specialty. I can continue the broader mission of delivering functional medicine, while advancing research and education. And I can touch more lives through Cleveland Clinic.

What do you treat?

Dr. Bradley:  Our physicians are trained in functional and nutritional medicine. We address and treat a whole range of conditions, such as: autoimmune diseases, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, fatigue, excess weight and slow metabolism, migraines and headaches, digestive disease, anxiety, depression, dementia, and hormonal disorders. We also focus on environmental pollutants, mold exposure and food/environmental allergies. See Functioning for Life.

Can you speak to evidence-based research and the practice of functional medicine?

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Dr. Bradley:  Our center is charged with establishing the evidence base for functional medicine’s effectiveness. We believe that this research will prove the role of functional medicine in better outcomes and lower healthcare costs. We are working on a number of research projects with our Cleveland Clinic colleagues for the following conditions: diabetes, asthma, cognitive/Alzheimer’s, prostate and breast cancer. Some studies are underway and others are in process. See Research & Innovations.

One very exciting development was last year’s naming of M. Elaine Husni, MD, MPH, as the Endowed Chair of Translational Functional Medicine Research. Dr. Husni is Vice Chair of Rheumatology and the Director of the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Center at Cleveland Clinic. This is an incredibly important collaboration designed to bring scientific study to functional medicine modalities for autoimmune diseases.

In terms of evidence-based research, I do have to point out that there are decades’ worth of research studies into the benefits of good nutrition, from omega 3 to vitamin D. And we know without a doubt that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can improve the odds of longevity. You can take any number of foods and supplements and delve deeper into the research to learn their health benefits.

Does your team prescribe supplements?

Dr. Bradley:  Along with diet, nutrients and supplements may be prescribed to accelerate the healing process. These help to restore balance and health, while we look at other lifestyle behaviors, nutrition and therapies for the long-term.

Last year you had a great demand for appointments so you started the Functioning for LifeTM shared medical appointments program. How is this going?

Dr. Bradley:  Functioning for Life is a 10-week program designed for new patients to the Center for Functional Medicine. Disease-specific programs have been developed so patients can select the series that is right for them. These group appointments introduce patients to the functional medicine approach and provide the necessary laboratory testing, health information and dietary guidance needed to achieve optimal wellness. Patients interact with a multidisciplinary team of functional medicine providers, including physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, dietitians, health coaches and behavioral health therapists.

Why do you think the program is working so well?

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Dr. Bradley:  When patients come to us, they are often frustrated because they have tried every eating plan and cannot seem to lose weight – or they have been suffering from chronic pain for a long time. This program gives us ample time to provide health information. What would take too much time in a one-on-one appointment with a provider is spread over the course of 10 weeks so patients can absorb the information, ask questions and get support from other program participants. The positive feedback has been overwhelming and we are seeing amazing patient outcomes, with sustained weight loss and glucose management. I believe the power of group support cannot be overstated.

Do you have any final thoughts?

Dr. Bradley:  Chronic disease affects one in two Americans. Our functional medicine team is dedicated to reducing this national epidemic. Over the next 20 years, it is estimated that the management of chronic disease will cost more than $47 trillion worldwide. Here at Cleveland Clinic we are doing all we can to advance the science of functional medicine so we can help more people. Our functional medicine team wants to be an integral part of Cleveland Clinic’s population health, working alongside our specialist colleagues. 

The Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine is a collaboration between Cleveland Clinic and the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM), led by Mark Hyman, MD.

The center, located on Cleveland Clinic’s main campus, was designed to be environmentally friendly and was recently awarded WELL Certification from the International WELL Building Institute™. This award is based on the premier building standard, which focuses on enhancing people’s health and wellness. It is based on seven categories of building performance—air, water, light, nourishment, fitness, comfort and mind.