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Overcoming Chronic Illness with Fitness

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“Eat less, exercise more” is a maxim behind many weight loss missions. It’s straightforward, easy to understand. However, with American obesity rates at record highs, this slim slogan isn’t working. Perhaps it’s because dieting is ultimately a more scientific problem, one for which four simple words are too small a portion.

NJH metabolic health care team

Beginning early this year, the Metabolic Health and Breathing Program at National Jewish Health was inspired by recent advances in the study of how more precise nutrition and lifestyle choices can unlock better health outcomes. Obesity, diabetes, hypertension and elevated blood sugar are often linked to the respiratory conditions National Jewish Health is renowned for treating, so it was crucial to find an innovative solution.

“We started thinking about how to address the root cause,” said pulmonologist and program co-founder Marjorie Patricia George, MD. “What if we counsel people in ways to nutritionally modulate their disease — to put it into remission in the same way subjects have done in the literature? And so, that’s what we’ve done.”

Alongside specialists like Mohammad Dalabih, MD; Darlene Kim, MD; and Dthia Kalkwarf, RN; Dr. George helps patients develop strategies for better health. This process leads to dramatic results. In some cases, patients are able to reverse chronic conditions like diabetes.

“I think a lot of patients have been chronically ill for a long time, and that starts to feel normal. They feel powerless,” said Jenna Milliron, NP.

Even though the program is new, Milliron has seen multiple transformations. “What I hear consistently from patients is that they feel more empowered to make changes in their life because they better understand the problem.”

These turnarounds come from the program’s cutting-edge approach. Dr. George and her team create personalized diets that curb carbohydrate and sugar intake. Because these diets are so interconnected with other aspects of health care, the successes of the program’s patients reverberates throughout the hospital. Dr. George recalled how one patient’s previous weight gain caused her to develop a stiffness on the left side of her heart and other complications that put her life in danger. After working with the program though, this patient was able to lose 100 pounds.

“We see her every three months. She’s doing great now,” said Dr. George. “She went from being able to do short bursts moving around in the hospital bed to walking on the waterfront, just doing tremendous.”

The Metabolic Program is another instance of how National Jewish Health is exploring every possible way to help people breathe better.