Alumnus mixes medicine and nutrition for ideal health recipe

Colin Zhu, D.O., combines a dash of spice and a dose of medical advice to provide patients with an ideal plan to lead a healthy life.

The 2011 WVSOM graduate built upon his osteopathic medicine degree by adding a nutritional education component that he had an interest in even before he began practicing medicine. Being a graduate teaching assistant at WVSOM afforded Zhu more flexibility to explore career interests.

"Because I graduated off cycle, it allowed me to pursue more personal endeavors before matriculating to a family practice residency," he said.

"I traveled, read a lot of books and started to realize that I wanted to go to culinary school."

Through this self-teaching period, Zhu learned that most people deal with health issues that are related to lifestyle-related diseases, such as diabetes, stroke and hypertension. He became more interested in learning about how factors such as food and nutrition affected health outcomes. As a result, he enrolled in a health-supported and plant-based culinary school called the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City and after six months received his diploma. Additionally, he became certified in health coaching at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

A majority of his nutritional education was based on Asian culinary influences. It was his mother's Eastern medical techniques, however, that led him to pursue an osteopathic medicine degree from the beginning.

"My mother is a Chinese medical doctor, and she was the main influence in my decision to go into medicine. When I learned about osteopathic medicine and its principles and philosophies, it resonated with me. My mother's influence with holistic care and prevention, and looking at the body as a whole, spoke to me. For me it just made sense," he said. "In the beginning, I wanted to marry Eastern and Western approaches."

Now, Zhu marries medicine and nutrition to provide patients with information about "culinary medicine," a concept he defines as using evidence-based nutrition and culinary techniques to address and treat diseases. Culinary medicine ignites his desire to educate others about how food can greatly impact one's health.

"I didn't go to culinary school to become a Michelin-starred chef or to go on the Food Network. The point was to learn about food in the context of where it comes from, how to grocery shop and what to look for, and use that education to teach patients to empower their own health," he said.

Zhu works at an outpatient clinic called Providence Health & Services in Los Angeles. He is board-certified in family practice and osteopathic manipulative treatment and also received board certification in lifestyle medicine, a certification created in 2017 by the American Board of Lifestyle Medicine, the first board certification of its kind in the world. The physician said that 80-90 percent of his patient visits intertwine medical care with diet and lifestyle counseling.

"To me, diet, nutrition and lifestyle counseling is the primary treatment. It's the foundation," Zhu said. "If you don't have that or aren't knowledgeable about that, then it's almost moot to continue to talk about medication. If you keep getting medicated it's because you aren't fixing the root cause of what you are going through."

During office visits, Zhu tries to explain diet and lifestyle advice in a concise but impactful way, so patients can absorb information that will lead to actionable steps. He offers suggestions on eating habits, provides tips on how patients can get moving and suggests free, easily accessible resources for more information.

In addition to clinical consultations, Zhu speaks about culinary medicine at events geared toward health care providers and provides cooking demonstrations and interactive workshops.

"Teaching about food is a very hands-on type of approach, so creating these culinary workshops is practical," he said. "Events like these help me to reach broader audiences so that providers can then go back and share with their own communities. You teach someone and then they teach someone else. It's a ripple effect."

And though he's teaching others now, Zhu said, WVSOM taught him the foundation on which his entire career is based — the whole-person approach to looking at patients.

"I was grateful, humbled and blessed to have learned from osteopathic doctors and leadership who are passionate about their work. The school has been around since 1972, so it has history. It includes a lot of people who care about the school. People are invigorated about what they do. I find that to be humbling, because there are many osteopathic schools popping up but you don't know who or what comes with them. I was fortunate to attend WVSOM with its history and its dedicated staff and administration," he said.

Date Added: 
Thursday, August 22, 2019