This interview appeared in the summer 2013 issue of Annals of Psychotherapy & Integrative Health. Published by Robert O'Block.
Interview with Dr. Alan Pressman, DC, CDN, DACBN
by Cheryl Barnett
How did you become interested in the field of naturopathy and integrative health?
I developed my interest at a very young age due to family issues. In 1948, at the height of the polio epidemic, my mother got polio and was taken off to a hospital. In those days they separated polio victims from their families for quite some time because they thought it was very contagious and where they did rehab and all that. When she came home from the hospital almost two years later, medicine had nothing to offer other than a little bit of physical therapy. We were living in Brooklyn at the time and my mom and dad started looking for alternatives in treating her. We found a chiropractor, interestingly enough, right in Brooklyn and his work with her was quite dramatic. We are speaking of 1948 and ‘49 and he was telling her about the amount of protein to eat and to make sure she got vitamin A and vitamin C and he was also giving her physical manipulation. She had some very nice improvement in general under his care; of course she remained paralyzed for the rest of her life. I used to watch him treat her and I was really curious about the vitamins and the physical manipulation, and I knew at a very early age that this was what I wanted to do. When I got to college, the only thing available in that arena back then was chiropractic. There were no real courses in clinical nutrition that I knew of, so I wound up going to the New York Chiropractic College. It was here where my interest in nutrition started to peak because there were required courses in clinical nutrition. In fact, to this day this is the only health profession that requires a reasonable amount of hours in clinical nutrition.
When I did an externship in the early 1960s, I was fortunate enough to do this with a chiropractor that was very involved in natural medicine, as well as nutrition and natural hygiene, which was what they used to call it in those days.
At that time I was a very avid listener to Carlton Fredericks who was a radio show host and had a radio program on alternative health care. I had the opportunity to be on his show a few times because I was president of the nutrition club at the college and through him and his show, I became even more interested in clinical nutrition.
Tell us a little about how your practice has evolved through the years.
It’s not really that my practice has evolved but more that the art and science of clinical nutrition has evolved. When I first began practicing clinical nutrition in 1963, we had little more than a question and answer case history and a blood test for patients. That was it. Now 50 years later we have an amazing amount of technology that allows us to investigate the deepest aspects of your physiology. In fact I did a program yesterday, and I’m going to teach a class tonight, on how to do a pronice profile. In other words, given how your biochemistry is now, we can literally predict, or make an assessment, as to which direction you are headed in. By looking at levels of certain parameters in blood and urine we can literally tell you that if you continue living your life the way you are now, and eating what you are eating and doing or not doing exercises, that this is what you are going to be prone to 10 years down the road. We didn’t have the technology when I started, but we do now.
Right now I’m the director of nutritional services and research at the Institute of Rehabilitative Nutrition, and we are looking at an entire arena of restorative neurology. We are looking at different ways to incorporate nutritional protocol to support neurological structure and function, and our main area of interest is in something called autophagy, which is the body’s ability, especially through the nervous system, to detoxify itself. Through utilizing nutritional protocols, we can encourage the brain’s ability to cleanse itself because the root cause of a great many of the neurological issues, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, is the bio accumulation of certain proteins and different forms of plaque and it’s up to the body to clean those proteins and plaques out of the neuron. We can support this nutritionally. So it’s gone from eat an apple a day, exercise and don’t eat sugar to being able to literally support neurological regeneration in order to create new neurons and new mitochondria with very sophisticated nuerosouticals.
Do doctors that specialize in naturopathy replace traditional physicians or is there a place for both?
There is definitely a place for both. I could care less if my neuro surgeon or cardiac surgeon knows anything about vitamin C. I want him to be a skilled surgeon and that’s basically the extent of the relationship, but on the other hand, I would sure want my cardiologist to know about nutrition. It all depends on the medical specialty. Neurology, without a doubt, cardiovascular health, without a doubt, gastroenterology, without a doubt.
I’ve got to tell you, as brilliant as some of those practitioners in those fields are, they render, what I consider, very incomplete services to their patients. It boils down to a 10 minute consultation, which is the average amount of time that you spend with your doctor. You’ve got your blood tests and your conversation and here’s your drug. Not only is there no conversation about clinical nutrition, but there is not even a referral to clinical nutritionists who work at the hospital. There are nutritionists and dieticians who work at every hospital in the country. These are board certified, registered dieticians, but the problem is that they are not getting the referrals to the degree that they should. Neither are patients being sent to cardiac rehab. It’s in the hospital and it’s there, but it’s often overlooked.
What are some of the highlights of your career?
I’ve had the opportunity during my career to have some really exciting patients. I practiced in Greenwich Village for 40 years or so and I was blessed to have wonderful patients. Neighborhood people mixed with celebrities. In the waiting room would be the mailman sitting next to Frank Sinatra, Buddy Rich, Lauren Bacall, Paul Simon, Eliot Gould, or Leonard Bernstein. It was phenomenal.
The other thing professionally, was when I was offered the position of professor of nutrition research and Chairman of the Department of Clinical Nutrition at New York Chiropractic College. My responsibilities were designing and teaching nutrition courses at the college, which was a very big chiropractic college at the time and then from that a lot of things opened up. In 1974 I created what was called the Council on Nutrition of the American Chiropractic Association, which still exists.
In 1981 I created the Diplomate Board for the American Clinical Board of Nutrition which is still the only one federally recognized. Also, in the late 70’s early 80’s I was given the honor of developing the nutrition program at the University of Bridgeport. That developed into their college of naturopathic medicine.
I’ve had the opportunity to travel to every chiropractic college in the world, and have given thousands of hours of lectures at the graduate, post graduate, and undergraduate levels, and I’ve written about 25 books. So I’ve been a busy guy!
I just turned 70 and I’m heading for 71. I’ve got two great kids: my daughter is the director of development at the Signature Theater Group in Manhattan, which is a big Off-Broadway theater on 42nd street, and my son is a professor who owns a media company where he makes apps and all those things I don’t understand. He’s got two kids so I’m a grandpa. I’m also very active doing research and consulting with patients.
Tell us about your radio program.
I started in radio in 1963 as a guest on Carlton Frederick’s program and was a guest off and on for many years. Then in 1974 I started working with Gary Null, who was a pretty big hot shot radio guy. We partnered up on WMCA and since that time I’ve been on radio pretty much every day on a variety of different stations up to and including now. For the last dozen years I’ve been on WWRL 1600 here in New York. I’m on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at 10:00 a.m. and Saturday at 8:00 a.m.; in addition to that I do a nationally syndicated radio program on Saturdays and Sundays that is aired all over the country. So I’m on radio pretty much seven days a week in one way or another.
What we talk about on my show is alternatives in medicine. The program is called Healthline and it’s a typical a.m. call-in show. I open the program each morning with the health news of the day, which they’re not going to hear unless they’re getting medical journals. Very rarely does health news of any significance come on CNN or any of the other news channels. So I open the program with ten minutes of what’s in the news and then I do another ten-minute segment on a health topic. I usually open that up with a quiz and then from the quiz we have a conversation. The last half of the program I have a guest, but I always take calls. It’s very interesting, and it’s the number one rated program on WWRL .
I’m doing more research than practicing right now, and it is based on this whole concept that by utilizing foods and and nutrient supplements, we can literally impact the way the brain cleans itself. We can improve brain circulation and we can improve brain cell membranes, all of which deteriorate with age. This is really very exciting. We can literally prevent brain shrinkage as we get older.
We are now doing complimentary, free of charge, health consultations by phone. I’m going to do that for six months. We’ve set aside 12 hours a week so if anyone wants to take advantage of this, they can go to www.drpressman.com. and fill out the 300 word questionnaire and then we will assign them a health coach for a complimentary nutritional consultation. That’s what I want to do and when you get to be 70, you do what you want to!
Interviewed by Cheryl Barnett
Published by Robert O'Block