December 8, 2016

A Physician’s Journey to Functional Medicine: Nate Bergman, DO, MBA

A ‘perfect fit’ for this physician

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Nate Bergman, DO, MBA

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For Nate Bergman, DO, MBA, functional medicine has given him a foundation or a “way of thinking” about a patient’s health history that he didn’t find in his traditional training. His path to becoming a functional medicine specialist is the result of a series of connections he made with colleagues. His wife, a registered dietitian, also heavily influenced his choice of specialty.

“I was always open to the notion of treating the whole person, it just didn’t seem practical” says Dr. Bergman. “When I was in medical school, it seemed to me that we fell short in this regard, but there wasn’t a viable alternative. Patients didn’t have time to tell their stories, and providers didn’t have the resources to ‘put it all together.’ We weren’t meeting people where they needed to be met.”

While in medical school, he discovered The UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts, founded by functional medicine physician Mark Hyman, MD (who now also serves as Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine). When he reached out to talk to Dr. Hyman, he was afforded the opportunity to spend a day at the center and was impressed. “I saw that there was a framework to think about all these apparently disconnected elements of a person’s health story,” says Dr. Bergman, referring to the Functional Medicine Matrix, which organizes bodily systems and core clinical imbalances.

The real journey begins

After seeing this practice up close, Dr. Bergman learned as much as he could about functional medicine through virtual and digital offerings from the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM). Eventually he campaigned for a scholarship to the introductory training conference hosted by the IFM, and he was among the first medical students to be accepted to attend the foundational course, Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice® (AFMCP). Throughout his residency, he continued to take more IFM training courses.

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Just a couple years later, Dr. Bergman came across a paper by Dale Bredesen, MD, that had a major impact on him. Dr. Bredesen, a neurologist of note at UCLA, had written the paper “Reversal of cognitive decline: A novel therapeutic program,” which Dr. Bergman saw as “essentially a functional medicine approach to potentially reversing very early (or Prodromal) Alzheimer’s disease.” Dr. Bergman says this first-in-class publication captured him and altered the trajectory of his career, leading him to focus on cognitive health.

A personal experience

Dr. Bergman says he himself had experienced cognitive issues while in his residency. He started getting extremely forgetful and was concerned about his brain health. After having labs, imaging and memory testing done, he realized that it was the stress of his busy home life and work load that were causing the issues. He and his wife had four young children, and he was neglecting his health.

This is when Dr. Bergman decided to focus on key lifestyle interventions he now stresses with his patients – sleep, exercise, quality food and stress management – all pillars of functional medicine and healthy living in general. In under a year, he says, his memory was better than it had been in several years.

At Cleveland Clinic

The same year Dr. Bergman came to Cleveland Clinic to do his fellowship in Geriatric Medicine in 2014, it so happened that Dr. Hyman had recently come to Cleveland Clinic to launch the Center for Functional Medicine. This time Dr. Hyman contacted Dr. Bergman to ask if he would want to pursue his medical practice as a member of the staff at the new center. Dr. Bergman was honored to accept the staff position.

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“In functional medicine we use a multi-domain approach that starts with nutrition,” says Dr. Bergman. “We have a number of elements in our toolbox to address most of the body’s physiology, and we see some great results with many of our patients.”

Dr. Bergman continues to have a special interest in cognitive health, and is bringing his functional medicine knowledge to those suffering from and at risk for cognitive impairment. “I couldn’t imagine a better place to be doing what I’m doing than the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. It is a perfect fit for me,” he says.

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