Doctor Profile

Education: National College of Natural Medicine (2000)
In practice since: 2001 (currently an administrator, seeing patients by appt. only)
Location: Portland, Ore. (licensed state)
Practice setting: Formerly private practice. Currently in administration at NCNM
Area of focus/specialty: Gastrointestinal disorders, women's cancer screenings and the specific health care needs of highly sensitive patients
Career highlights and contributions:
• Worked as managing editor at and published several articles for the Naturopathic Doctor News and Review, a leading naturopathic industry newspaper.
• Worked for Lao Tse Press, an organization dedicated to publishing books about process-oriented psychology.
Current professional endeavors:
• Public speaking to increase awareness of naturopathic and classical Chinese medicine
• Increasing placement opportunities for NCNM graduates
• Preparing NCNM students for their careers as practitioners
• Writing articles and books on natural medicine, including treatment protocols for highly sensitive patients
Personal passions: Family, writing, theater and dance
Favorite quotes:
• "Everything in moderation, including moderation." - Terry Palczewski, Dr. Loomis' father
• "The only mistake you can make is getting it right the first time." - Dr. Jack Daugherty, DC, ND

Alumni Career Spotlight

Marnie Loomis, ND

Growing up in Michigan with parents who were passionate about biology and anthropology, Dr. Marnie Loomis thought that nature walks and Latin genera were all a part of typical adult life. As someone fascinated by the manners in which people think and make decisions, Dr. Loomis was always drawn to subjects like psychology and sociology. When a high school career assessment test told her she should be a physician, her initial reaction was “Spend all day in a little white room? No way!”

Then in college, a coworker told her about the profession of naturopathic medicine. When she began to visit the schools of the AANMC, Dr. Loomis knew she had found a career that fit both her talents and interests.

Drawing upon her artistic background, Dr. Loomis has come to view nutrition as a paintbrush for wellness. She keenly understands and honors both the chemical and the psychological aspects of food.

Nutrition: a paintbrush for health and wellness
Then, now and tomorrow: a career path
Defining a highly sensitive patient
Using nutrition to treat highly sensitive patients
Big-picture problem solving

Nutrition: a paintbrush for health and wellness

AANMC: What is your view on the overall impact of nutrition on health, illness and longevity?

ML: Nutrition is a big part of the big picture. You really are what you eat, although people’s genetics are also important. Think of your body as a cookbook. You have several different possible genetic recipes, and your body makes its decision based on the nutrients available. Everything you are is a product of what you eat and the blueprint that is your genetic makeup, so figuring out the nutrients your body needs and how it uses them is essential to maintaining health and increasing longevity. As a ND, understanding the role of nutrition in health means understanding the main reason why a patient is susceptible to a disease in the first place.

At the same time, it is important to understand that what a person eats is a ritual for that individual. Ritual is extremely significant to human beings; it plays a big role in how we relate to ourselves, others and our surroundings. So if an ND asks a patient to change his or her diet, it’s important to make sure that there are other rituals that will still allow that individual to feel comfortable in life and manage stress. The psychological aspect of food should not be overlooked. Food and expressions of love are often closely related, and that relationship needs to be honored and maintained when making dietary changes.

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Then, now and tomorrow: a career path

AANMC: How has your career developed over the years?

ML: After graduating from NCNM, my initial goal was to build a successful full-time practice, and I succeeded in doing so. However, my long-term intention was always to increase public recognition and understanding of naturopathic medicine. My experiences as a practicing ND helped me to verify that the medicine really worked: I was able to see the medicine succeed time after time after time, and it was a beautiful thing to watch.

My plan was to practice for five years, and then to refocus my attention on teaching, speaking and writing in an effort to expand and forward naturopathic medicine as a profession. These days, I work full-time at NCNM as director of professional formation. In that role, I help naturopathic and classical Chinese medical students develop the skills they will need in order to operate the professional side of a practice: networking, professionalism, placement opportunities and the like. My background as a practicing naturopathic doctor with my own clinic gives me a great deal of useful knowledge when it comes to preparing future doctors to deal with the realities of life as an ND, such as business management, insurance billing and existing health care systems.

I also work with NCNM to promote naturopathic medicine through lectures and articles, the goal being to educate the public about what NDs do and how we do it. A lot of people don’t yet realize that the solution they’re looking for can be found in naturopathic medicine. I aim to change that, both through my work with NCNM and independently. I am currently working on several books that will help people understand and appreciate their bodies from different perspectives. I also plan to write more professional, science-based articles for my peers and lecture on topics related to those articles.

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Defining a highly sensitive patient

AANMC: From a naturopath’s perspective, can you explain what defines a highly sensitive person?

ML: Essentially, a highly sensitive person is someone who is extremely responsive to external stimuli. Elaine Aron, PhD, wrote a book called The Highly Sensitive Person, which explains why some individuals are more sensitive to their surroundings than others. Dr. Aron is a very shy person herself, and she disagrees with the theory that it’s a pathological personality flaw. She presents shyness as a coping mechanism for people who have enhanced “sensory processing sensitivity.” In other words, they pick up on a great deal of sensory information from the outside world. Although I’m not shy, I am a highly sensitive person (as is 15 to 20 percent of the population). As a practicing ND, I understood why my patients could become so overwhelmed in response to outside stimuli.

It’s important to realize that the capacity for high sensitivity is a trait, not a flaw. These people are often told to not be so sensitive, to calm down and to “grow thicker skin.” But high sensitivity is not strictly an emotional issue. I describe it as running a marathon with your nervous system: it creates a high metabolic demand. High sensitivity has a very important physiologic side, one that can be supported by giving the body the nutrients it needs in order to cope with the metabolic stress caused by responding to external stimuli.

AANMC: Did you notice any differences in terms of health and illness among your highly sensitive patients, as compared to other patients?

ML: I started to notice predictable patterns in the physiologic stress that resulted from the stimuli they faced; if my patients didn’t meet the metabolic demands of their bodies, they would get sick in predictable ways. The nutrients they needed to maintain their sensory activities weren’t available for other processes in the body. When a highly sensitive person has a physical problem, we tend to see it as a separate issue. But if we consider the physical impact of high sensitivity and keep it in mind when examining the physical aspect of a presenting problem, we can ask, does the body have what it needs in order to physically cope with all of its demands?

Treating the physical causes of stress-related health challenges in any person, including highly sensitive people, is exciting because it has long-term benefits. Patients have to meet the nutritional needs of their bodies. If they don’t, their specific nutritional deficiencies can cause more problems in other parts of their bodies down the road. It is very simple supply and demand.

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Using nutrition to treat highly sensitive patients
AANMC: In working with highly sensitive people, what did you learn about the roles of food and nutrition specifically?

ML: In determining how best to treat highly sensitive people, I start with the nutrients most used in the physiologic aspects of sensitivity. When the body’s nervous system is analyzed from the ground up, it’s obvious that a whole plethora of nutrients are needed for it to function properly, so it’s not surprising that the diet of a highly sensitive individual has a huge impact on his or her health.

Nerve conduction is both a chemical and an electrical process, and it requires a lot of nutrients in order to work: electrolytes (such as sodium, potassium and magnesium), high-quality fat, amino acids and other nutrients are all essential. So if, for example, a person’s diet lacks the correct protein, the body won’t have the amino acids it needs to create neurotransmitters. This, in turn, will prevent the nervous system from functioning as it should.

Another example of how nutrients can affect highly sensitive people can be found in women undergoing hormone-rich phases: puberty, ovulation, menopause, etc. The high amount of hormones in women’s bodies is associated with a lower level of vitamin B6, possibly because the hormones interfere with their ability to absorb B6. This vitamin is needed for healthy adrenal function (the gland that responds to stress) and for the initial decarboxylation reaction that turns amino acids into neurotransmitters. Highly sensitive women usually find that additional B6 during these phases helps them maintain an even mood and a healthful stress response.

AANMC: What observations did you make in treating patients with gastrointestinal (GI) disorders in particular?

ML: GI disorders were a really fun challenge to work with because of the functional component. Mainstream gastroenterology has fantastic tools when it comes to fixing major physical problems, such as tumors and erosions. But when the system is still whole and is simply not functioning as it should, there just aren’t a lot of allopathic tools available. I loved working with GI patients because it was very satisfying: there was so much I could do to ease their pain, which had often been a chronic problem.

AANMC: As an ND, what key elements did you focus on to treat GI disorders?

ML: One of the main aspects of working with gastroenterology is remembering the importance of the body’s interest in protecting its borders: a lot of bodily resources are put into Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT), which defends the digestive system against germs and other unwanted substances. Keeping those bodily resource priorities in mind was very helpful when treating GI problems.

Another big factor is the wonderful advancement of science and medicine in recent years when it comes to gastroenterology and our intestinal bacteria. We’ve come a long way, baby! These days, we have a better idea of how the gut works, what it contains and what surrounds it. We are beginning to understand the body’s symbiotic relationship with intestinal bacteria and how that relationship can be affected by what we eat. When good bacteria eat the food being ingested by the body, their metabolic byproducts are anti-inflammatory for the entire body and soothing to the intestinal tract. So to maintain a healthy intestinal tract, it is important to consume foods that good bacteria like and want to eat, such as fruits and vegetables. Encouraging good bacteria is one of the keys to good long-term gastroenterology health.

AANMC: Did you ever encounter any challenging patient cases that did not respond to your naturopathic treatment protocol right away?

ML: When presented with a patient for whom there was no obvious strategy, I found it useful to create a timeline. We would determine when the patient last felt healthy, when that changed and how so. We looked for traumas, stress, dietary changes and other clues to what might have been going on. Then I backed up that timeline with lab work and diagnostic imaging and looked for the greatest common denominator to tell us why the patient was having these problems. Once we knew the diagnosis and the probable reason why the patient was susceptible in the first place, we’d come up with a strategy of potential therapies. If the first treatment didn’t work, we would try a second possibility, and then a third. It was a very methodical form of treatment, and patients found it reassuring to know that if my first theory turned out to be wrong, I always had contingency plans.

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Big-picture solving
Dr. Loomis believes strongly in naturopathic medicine’s crucial role in the medical field. “The practice of naturopathic medicine and mainstream medicine are both important, but they’re also very different, so it’s important to figure out which is the right match for you. Naturopathic medicine really involves learning a lot about a patient’s life; it’s about coming up with solutions based on an analysis of why the patient became ill in the first place. It’s an appropriate career for people like me, who enjoy looking at the big picture and thinking about problems and solutions using critical thinking and creativity.”

Because the medical challenges of the future will be different from those of the present, Dr. Loomis supports the cultivation of naturopathic doctors, because their practice methods include evidence-based medicine but are not limited strictly by protocol. NDs have the training and the professional flexibility to think of new ways to deal with new problems. “In naturopathic medicine,” she asserts, “the ability to think creatively is just as important as the ability to understand clinical science.”

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