I’m Dr Christianson, NY Times best-selling author & Naturopathic physician, father of 2 kids, and happily married to the woman of my dreams for over 20 years. You can call me “Dr. C” for short.
I research. I inspire. I love natural health.
From Cerebral Palsy to “Top Doc”As a child raised in rural Minnesota, Dr. Christianson was an avid reader. He loved spending time with his family’s encyclopedias and medical textbooks. His health, however, was a struggle. Cerebral palsy left him with seizures, poor coordination, and obesity.
In 7th grade, he was compelled to change after a classmate made a cutting comment in gym class. He became determined to reset his health and his life. Over the next few weeks he devoured dozens of books on nutrition, fitness, and health and created his own recovery plan.
At age 12 he gave up sugar and processed foods and created an exercise plan that was easy enough for him to start on. He stuck with it and built on it. With no prior sports experience, he became a varsity football player and his classes’ best endurance runner by 9th grade. This experience taught him that being healthy transformed both how you feel and how others treat you. He also learned that the tickets to health were knowledge and persistence.
Dr. Christianson was a member of the premier class of Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine (SCNM) graduating in 1996. He is the founding president of the SCNM alumni organization and continues to be an active board member. He is also the founder and acting president of the Endocrine Association of Naturopathic Physicians.
- I want to live in a world where decisions are based on what will yield the best outcome for all living things, not on short term personal interests.
- One of the most profound experiences in my life was when I saved a young girl’s life after she had a near fatal climbing accident. She fell nearly 270 feet. I was first on the scene and administered CPR even though it exposed me to her blood. It was one of those moments when I truly appreciated the gifts I have been given in this life; as a doctor and as a physically fit human.
My Philosophy of HealthI do believe that:
- Vibrant, joyous health is your birthright. Even if you’ve been at a dead end for decades, things can still get better. I’ve been through that. Never give up or never settle for anything less.
- Your health is in your hands. Conventional medicine is there to help trauma and acute illness. It is not effective for reversing or managing chronic diseases.
- You can heal more than you might think possible. Radical health transformations are possible because your body is always regenerating itself. To change every atom of your body, you just need to improve the nourishment you take in and maximize your ability to eliminate wastes.
- Consistency matters. Find the most important easy steps and stick with them.
- It helps to have a guide. There are over 5000 new studies that come out every day! Find those who have made it their life’s mission to understand health and leverage their time.
- The core principles of health have changed little over the millennia, even though fads come and go.
- The best diets focus on a large variety of simple, whole foods. Diets that cut out too many food categories are hard to sustain, psychologically stressful, and can lower the diversity of the microbiome.
- We need a blend of all essential macronutrients: proteins, fats, and carbs. I spoke out against extreme low fat diets in the 90’s, extreme low protein diets in the 2000’s, and extreme low carb diets in the 2010’s.
- You feed your mind with your impressions the same way you feed your body with food. Much of our modern media is to the mind what junk food is to the body.
- Nutrients and hormones have a ‘sweet spot.’ More is not better, and sometimes too much can cause the same symptoms as too little.
- Medical testing is important. The goal of medicine is to alleviate symptoms, but symptoms alone are not always specific enough to guide you to the best treatment.
- Movement is essential. No types of exercise are ‘bad.’ Ideally you would have a regular mixture of activities that raise your aerobic endurance, strength, balance, agility, and speed.
- We have a range of needs within certain parameters. No human will thrive on arsenic, but not all humans will die from peanuts, but some do. We have personal variation on our needs of macronutrients, responses to particular foods, and frequency of eating.
- You should depend on something to feel normal. If you feel a need for coffee, sugar, alcohol, or other mood-altering substances, work to find out what’s wrong and solve it. Stimulants and sedatives don’t improve health. The bigger the buzz, the deeper the crash.
- There is any one magic diet that is best for everyone. We all do better without processed foods, but beyond that, our needs and preferences can vary from person to person and from day to day.
- Aging means falling apart. Yes, aging is inevitable, but the majority of symptoms people think are from age are really just from a lifestyle that’s not ideal multiplied over many decades. This can change.
- All ideas are equal. Research means more than opinions; human studies mean more than animal studies; large studies mean more than small studies.
- You need medications on a daily basis. They can be needed for infections and acute care, but for ongoing symptoms, they hurt more than they help.
- You need a ton of pills. Long term think about some basic essential nutrients. For most everything else, have a clear, measurable goal and an enddate.
- Everything natural is safe. I’ve seen people hurt themselves from the wrong amounts of thyroid pills, hormone replacement therapies, and even too many supplements.
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Your health is a matter of fact. Your treatment is a matter of opportunity.
Have you ever seen those people who seem to be naturally fit, and healthy? Me too, and I’m not one of them. If you’re curious, below is a rather detailed version of my life so far. If you’d rather skip it and dig in, it’s OK too. In that case I’d suggest you start by seeing how resilient your adrenal glands are HERE.
Birth and adoption
My biological mom was an unwed teen who had a difficult pregnancy. I was born with symptoms of cerebral palsy like epileptic seizures and an inability to run or do sports. Thankfully, I was adopted by the kindest people I’ve ever met, a farm-family from Northern Minnesota.
Once I got settled in with the Christianson’s, life was good. I was a clumsy, out of shape but happy enough bookworm. Mom read to me so much that I picked it up early.
One year my parents got me a kids’ encyclopedia set which I quickly outgrew. Probably my most prized possession ever was the grown up set they got me to replace it. I loved it and spent hours every day reading them cover to cover. Everything fascinated me, but my big love was space science. The Apollo missions to the moon were still going on and I was insatiable to learn.
Gym class was a bother. The teacher would send us all to run across the field and back. The second to the last kid was finished before I even finished the first 1/2.
All in all life was good, until adolescence came along. By 6th grade, I was obese and getting heavier by the week.
We also started moving every few years and I had a hard time being the new kid.
I was especially self conscious about my man (boy?) boobs. One day in 7th grade gym class, another student pointed out that I needed a bra more than any of the girls in our class did. I was crushed.
On my next trip to the library, I decided to see if there were any books that could help me. Adelle Davis was the most popular public health expert at the time, and I read all of her books and everything else I could find that sounded promising.
Here was the fitness plan that I created for myself in 7th grade. Diet
- No sugar or bread
- Protein shakes for breakfast
- No margarine or fatty meat
- No sauces
- Lots of vegetables
- Run every day as far as possible
- Go farther each day
- Lift weights every other day
- Stretch each day
- Balance and coordination drills
- Protein powder
- Cod liver oil
- B complex
I learned that my gift was being able to quickly digest huge amounts of information, comparing it against my experience, and synthesising new perspectives out of it.
I realized that:
- Nothing else matters if you’re miserable in your skin. Health is essential
- Health comes from good habits guided by good information.
- You’re in charge. My parents took me to doctors. I felt that they meant well, but they didn’t help me. I did.
I knew I wanted to be a doctor who used food and lifestyle as medicine, but I didn’t know that such a thing existed. I thought I’d get a conventional medical degree and pick up more of the rest on the side. Yet the doctors that I spoke to told me that even if I was helping people, I’d be violating standards of practice if I did not focus on medications.
Not knowing what to do, I kept on working on my prerequisites for medical school and kept up with my running.
Yep, I had long hair and a beard, way before beards were fashionable. In fact, this was the preparation for a Halloween 5k. It was the first race I won. It was quite a vindication for a slow kid.
During this time I worked in a natural food co-op. I was the guy who would help ring you up or tell you which herbs were best for bronchitis. One day in the store I saw a magazine article about Naturopathic Medicine. I’d never heard of it. It was exactly what I’d been looking for - a path to be a physician and a community of peers who shared my beliefs.
In the back of the magazine I saw an add for a brand new Naturopathic medical school that about to open up in Arizona. It was a perfect fit and I was accepted as a member of the very first class of Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Sciences.
My class graduated in 1996 and I started my practice that same year.
During my residency, I cared for a young girl who had disabling fibromyalgia. In fact, it was so bad she was about to have to drop out of high school. She was also 30 pounds heavier than she wanted to be and nothing seemed to help.
I knew what her frustration felt like and I wanted to be able to help. I found out she had undiagnosed Hashimoto’s and I was able to guide her to reverse it. This experience led to realize that hormones were powerful chemicals that could keep diet and exercise from working if they were out of balance.
This experience compelled me to learn all I could from the conventional and alternative worlds about hormones through the study of endocrinology. Since that time, endocrinology became the focus of my medical practice, I’ve trained thousands of doctors worldwide on it, and I founded the Endocrine Association of Naturopathic Physicians.
Health problems resurface
After about of decade into my medical practice, some of the old complications of cerebral palsy started to catch up with me again. My calf muscles were always way too tight. Between that and my love of being active, I started getting chronic heel and leg pain.
For 17 years total, I was unable to run the way I wanted to. I tried so hard to find some way to have fun outdoors I even took up off road unicycling. Nothing worked, the more active I was, the more I hurt.
I’d tried everything I could including a few surgeries, but nothing helped. My surgeon said I’d need more major leg surgeries, but they would require a year of recovery and they would not be guaranteed to help. For a few years, I was in limbo, not wanting to give up the little bit of activity I could do.
About this time, I developed a lump in my left arm. I suspected that it was a rare nerve tumor called a schwannoma. Most schwannomas are benign, but some are malignant. The ones that are really aren't treatable, but even just getting to it wasn’t that easy. If the surgery did not go well, I could lose the use of my arm.
I connected with a woman who is amongst the world’s leading neurosurgeons. She was optimistic but did say that there were three possible outcomes and we would not know until after surgery.
I had a few months of not knowing whether I’d:
- Likely regain function after a year of recovery
- Find an untreatable cancer
- Lose the use of my arm
As a doctor, I knew this was an example of the many ways in which our bodies were not perfect. You can take care of yourself and be a good person, and still random things can happen.
There are some things that we either know or we don’t. Other things we can know by varying degrees. I already knew that health was critical to happiness. I already knew that one of the greatest abilities was being able to help someone regain their vitality. I knew these things, but working through another health crisis gave me a deeper sense of their truth.
She felt optimistic, but did say it could take a year for recovery assuming all went well and that the tumor was not cancerous.
The surgeon who had worked on my legs in the past had become a personal friend and I told him about this situation. He knew that the main reason I hadn’t yet done the more extensive surgeries with him is because I did not want to go through the prolonged recovery process. He said that since I had the down time already, we might as well get my other surgeries done right after the arm. So I did.
The day after my arm surgery was a good day. My surgeon told me the lesion was not dangerous, she got it all, and she was confident I’d regain the use of my arm.
The last surgery was a year and 3 weeks ago as of the time of this writing. Over the last few months, I’ve been able to resume all activities. I’m having a blast being active again.
Now you know why this health thing is so important to me.
- I know how painful it is when you feel your body has betrayed you.
- I know how precious health is.
- I know how critical the right help is.
- Most importantly, I know that it is possible to be beyond hope, but still get better. If you’re beyond hope now, please reread that.