September 7, 2016

A Physician’s Journey to Functional Medicine: Aunna Herbst, DO

Dr. Aunna Herbst tells her story

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According to the Institute for Functional Medicine, more than 50,000 practitioners have been introduced to the principles and practices of functional medicine. Faculty from one-fifth of all medical schools in the U.S., and physicians from 44 countries, have attended the foundational training course, Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice. Aunna Herbst, DO, of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, completed the full IFM program. Here is her story.

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By Aunna Herbst, DO

It all started as a patient. Two years into my marriage, I lost the lifelong vitality that I had as a Type-A overachiever athlete. In my 20s, I was suddenly unable to function without being extremely exhausted. I was plagued with several ailments, including migraines and joint pain.

I consulted physicians, including several specialists, and a variety of treatments didn’t solve my health issues. I continued to look for answers. Thus, I found my way into the world of integrative medicine. On a personal mission to begin studying this field, I was especially interested in nutrition and herbal medicine. I appreciated the ancient clinical and antidotal history. But I was a left-brained, logical and science-minded personality who sought more. I was fascinated with biochemistry and human pathophysiology.

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During my studies, and my path back to wellness, I completed my naturopathic physician degree and understudied with a cardiologist and a naturopath in private practice in Oklahoma who exposed me to complementary alternative medicine. I then began a part-time lifestyle counseling business helping people with nutrition, hygiene, exercise and sleep issues.
As I regained my health and vitality and my practice began to grow, I knew I wanted to complete my journey in patient care by going to medical school. During my medical school training at Oklahoma State University, I fully embraced all of the specialties and enjoyed each and every one of my rotations, ultimately landing in family practice. In my latter years of residency as chief resident I knew I wanted to incorporate my previous life of nutrition and alternative therapies into my practice. But I also wanted more validity— more science behind what I knew to be clinically practical.

This is what led me to the Institute for Functional Medicine. With the IFM program I was able to embrace my osteopathic training and my knowledge base of biochemistry and nutrition, all the while learning to use a scientifically founded, evidence-based approach with standard and specialized laboratory tests to help with my patients’ diagnoses and treatment plans. I was able to understand where and how nutritional deficiencies fit into all the biochemical pathways that are taught in medical school, like that of the Krebs cycle and the stereogenic pathway. In 2013, I became a board-certified functional medicine physician.

As the advances in medicine leap forward, my functional medicine training has also taught me how genetic single nucleotide polymorphisms play a role in each enzymatic step, which enhances the individual treatment plans I can offer patients. The IFM brought this educational journey of mine together into one world where I have found a home.
After practicing family/functional medicine in rural Oklahoma in an insurance-based practice for five years, I decided to expand my journey by coming to Cleveland Clinic’s very busy Center for Functional Medicine. I started in July 2015 and I am honored to be working here.

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