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Ancient Wisdom for
Today’s Health Challenges

Dr. Bhavna Vaidya-Tank’s medical training did not include Ayurvedic medicine—but her life did. “It certainly was a part of my heritage,” notes the doctor, founder of Regenesis MD integrative care in Raleigh. “I come from a family of physicians: my great-grandfather was an Ayurvedic physician, my father—though a surgeon—embraced Ayurvedic traditions. But more important, even though Ayurvedic medicine was not part of my formal training, because I went to medical school in India, it was very much a normal part of my life.

Dr. Vaidya-Tank consults with a patient.

“Ayurvedic medicine, Indian medicine, and Chinese medicine incorporate mental health as a very important integral part of physical health,” she explains. “That differs from conventional attitudes here, where—unfortunately—people often see mental health issues as a deficiency or something wrong with them.

“It was never like that in medicine practiced thousands of years ago,” says Dr. Vaidya-Tank. “These ancient medical disciplines believed every type of food or experience had a quality that would affect both mental and physical health, with the two so intimately intertwined.

“In Ayurvedic medicine, it was understood that your mental state affected you physically: if your mind isn’t calm, your body won’t be able to perform in a calm manner. It was also understood that your physical health, diet, and actions affect your mental health. If you ate foods that triggered anger, for example, that’s what would happen.”
“In short,” says Dr. Vaidya-Tank, “mental health and physical health are inseparable.”

The Healing Process

These ancient wisdoms are in support of all parts of Dr. Vaidya-Tank’s practice. “My father always told me that the examination of your patients starts when they walk into the lobby,” she recalls. “Because a person’s mental/emotional state—which is so important to their physical health—is evident in how they present themselves. When someone is anxious or angry or depressed, it shows.”

After such first impressions, Dr. Vaidya-Tank’s examination begins with many, many questions. “My starting assumption is that the patient is coming here for their health, both physical and mental. So, I need to know how they’re feeling physically—their symptoms—but also how they’re feeling emotionally.

“Sometimes people may not share everything with you,” she cautions, “but I’ve become good at reading people through years of clinical experience, and I find that as we make progress in solving health problems, people open up more. And we use the same questions at six months and a year, to see how they are progressing.”

Healing Mind and Body

“While all health problems have both physical and mental components,” notes Dr. Vaidya-Tank, “in my practice, I find that there are three health issues where the complex connections between mind and body are especially significant: gut health, hormone imbalance, and autoimmune disease. And, in fact, most of my patients come to me to address one or more of these issues, because problems in any of these areas contribute to multiple health issues.”

An unhealthy digestive system, explains the doctor, “is at the root of so many health problems. Since the connection between brain and gut is direct and powerful, digestive problems have a profound impact on emotional health. In fact, I would argue that gut health and mental health are pretty much synonymous.

“Since 90 percent of serotonin is produced in the gut, any imbalance can deprive your brain of the ‘happy’ neurotransmitter it needs for mood balance. And an unhealthy GI tract can also cause absorption issues leading to deficiencies in vitamins that are key to mental health.

“Problems with the digestive system are complex, and typically accumulate over time,” notes Dr. Vaidya-Tank. “It’s like one thing goes wrong, then another, then another—there are so many things. For example, many people with unhealthy guts actually have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO. This condition is made worse by eating processed foods and sugars that feed the bacteria, rather than high-quality, whole food.”

Like digestive health problems, hormonal imbalances can have a profound impact on both physical and emotional health. “I always know that when my patients’ hormones are off, they’re going to be off mentally, too,” Dr. Vaidya-Tank says.

“Some hormonal imbalances can alter brain function and can impair memory and cause brain fog. Other hormonal imbalances can negatively affect mood and energy levels. These are coupled with physical issues—fatigue, weight gain, aches, and pains; the combination can be devastating. One of the most rewarding parts of my practice is to see these problems dissolve when we achieve optimal hormone balance.”

She acknowledges, however, that in other areas, such as autoimmune disease, progress can be more elusive. “Autoimmune disease is one of the hardest things we deal with. The body is making antibodies against itself, causing many nonspecific symptoms that lead to the patient feeling bad.  It’s both physically and emotionally draining. The treatment for autoimmune disease is individual and multifactorial.” 

Healing as a Collaborative Process

Because of the complexity of these health issues, Dr. Vaidya-Tank notes: “Restoring health is a multi-faceted process, but it can be done. I often find myself remembering a quote from the journalist Norman Cousins about the individual’s capacity for healing: ‘Each person carries his own doctor within himself.’

“This is so true; we have a lot of power to heal ourselves. But it’s important to remember that, healing doesn’t have to be solitary work—it’s a collaborative process. My job is to figure out where to start—to determine what’s most important and to give the patient a manageable area of focus, then we work together, one step at a time.

“Many health problems—gut health issues are a classic example—have developed over time, with the accumulation of many habits, stressors, or environmental factors,” she explains. “We don’t try to change everything at once—just a couple of things at a time. Then, as patients progress, they begin to feel better and start seeing a difference. They’re then motivated to take the next step. Over time, healing and symptom resolution happens.

“I appreciate that we want a much faster fix—by just popping a pill,” acknowledges Dr. Vaidya-Tank. “And there’s a place for medications in the healing process. But I find that there is so much that you can just do naturally: improving the gut microbiome, exercising, healthy food choices, making sure we’re doing all we can to reduce inflammation. These are the foundation for long-term health.”

Nonetheless, for those seeking quicker relief from the accumulated stresses of the pandemic, Dr. Vaidya-Tank offers advice culled from the ancient healing traditions. “Two things everyone can do now, themselves, to improve their health: eat well and exercise. ‘Eating well’ can be as simple as choosing different foods; an anti-inflammatory diet, for example, can reduce symptoms dramatically in many cases, without medication. ‘Exercise’ can be as simple as walking or yoga; just adding regular movement to your life makes a difference.

“And there is a third thing: The positivity you surround yourself with—the people you put around you—is also important. They can make you feel better.”