Dr. Christine Bishara of ‘From Within Medical’: The Power of Flexibility; How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic
Don’t be afraid to ask. You may be an expert in one field, but as your career takes you into new directions, there are things you will not know. Share what you know, but be open to learning from others with different skill sets.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Bishara, MD.
Dr. Christine Bishara is the founder of From Within Medical, a medical wellness practice that places emphasis on the mind-body and gut-brain axis to prevent and manage disease. With over 20 years of clinical experience, time and time again, Dr. Bishara has discovered that the connection between these systems plays a significant role in disease prevention and management, but it has not been adequately addressed. Consequently, her approach to helping patients is multidimensional and focuses on these connections. She is board certified in Internal Medicine by the National Board of Physicians and Surgeons and is certified in Integrative Medical weight Loss by the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Ever since I was a teenager, I have been interested in wellness and nutrition and how they impact a person’s overall health. As an obese teenager, this passion grew after I successfully lost 70 pounds and found that not only did my weight loss affect me physically, but mentally in a profound manner.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My all time favorite quote, and one that really resonated with me when I read it is from Abraham Lincoln:
“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
Although we are not in control of the situations that affect our lives, we are in control of how we react to them. I have had many obstacles in my early life, including being bullied, labeled as “dumb” and discriminated against. Instead of letting it negatively impact me, I set out to be happy and defy all expectations of me.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
A few years ago, I read a book called ‘ Frames of Mind” by Howard Gardner. In the book, he describes six different types of Intelligences — musical, visual-spatial, linguistic, mathematical, personal, and bodily kinesthetic. The book reinforced what I have always believed — we are all intelligent, just not in the same manner. Unfortunately, society seems to value and test for certain types of intelligence, when in reality, it is not an accurate measure of someone’s abilities or gifts. In fact, ancient societies tapped into these gifts better than we do today. There are so many kids today that are disheartened because they don’t believe they are “intelligent.” We need to find better ways to discover and tap into these varied abilities.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
I have been a practicing Internal Medicine physician for the past twenty years. I have worked in both inpatient and outpatient hospital settings, choosing the latter the past fifteen years to have enough time to spend with my children. Ever since graduating Medical school, my dream has been to open a wellness practice so I could help people feel and look their best. This always starts from within. As advanced as we have become in the field of medicine regarding medications and treatments, I believe there is a gap when it comes to proper nutritional habits and how to avoid root causes of most chronic conditions. I knew that starting this wellness practice needed a lot of devotion and time, and it was something I couldn’t fully commit to while my children were younger. They’re now teenagers and in January of 2020, I opened my practice. Unfortunately, two months later, the pandemic hit and New York was one of the first states to be on lock down.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
With my wellness practice now being deemed non essential, I suddenly found myself with a little more time on my hands. My husband is a Pulmonologist/Intensivist and the COVID pandemic had the opposite effect on his schedule. He and his colleagues were immediately placed on 24/7 ICU coverage. I was interested to hear about his cases and the treatments he and his colleagues were using. It was during one of our nightly discussions back in March that I had that AHA moment.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the iea to start this new path?
The AHA moment came when my husband and I were having a discussion about who was getting really sick in his ICU. I was interested to discover that the majority of his sickest patients had very high levels of inflammatory markers and that some of the treatments being used inhibited one of these markers — Interleukin-6. Interleukin-6 is also the inflammatory marker involved in the deadly Cytokine Storm that seems to cause havoc in vulnerable individuals, leading to more severe COVID related illness. Aside from the already identified high risk and vulnerable population of patients, a large portion of those in the ICU had no other medical conditions other than a BMI of over 30. One night, during one of our conversations, my husband point blank asked me if those with high BMI’s had high IL-6 levels at baseline. That’s when the light bulb went off.
Interleukin 6 is a pro-inflammatory marker subclinically elevated in certain high-risk individuals including those with heart disease, diabetes and obesity. These were the same individuals frequently referred to as having “inflammation.” Also, knowing that kids were not getting as sick as adults, I started focusing my attention on what in particular afforded children this protection. Children’s guts are overall healthier than adults. During our research, I honed in on a particular gut microbe called Bifidobacterium which was present in much higher levels in children than in adults. The levels start to decline as we age and are very low in the elderly and those with the risk factors noted, but what made this even more significant was that Bifidobacterium was also directly involved in naturally regulating interleukin-6 in the body, as well as the same immune pathways that COVID was affecting. The clinical findings seemed to add up, but I wanted to make sure that the molecular pathways were matching up with the clinical data, so along with two scientist colleagues, we researched the molecular pathways and we found that indeed they matched up. We believe the higher presence of Bifidobacterium, which functions as an immune regulator, is what is protecting children from more severe infection.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Our research was based on review of data on Bifidobacterium. We would love to conduct a clinical trial to confirm our hypothesis. An Italian study performed in August of 2020, in which some patients being treated for COVID-19 were given probiotics containing this strain and showed an 8 fold decrease in respiratory failure compared to those given the standard Covid treatment protocol alone. Our goal is to conduct a similar clinical trial here in the US to see if we can replicate these findings. In the meantime, holistically improving our immune system with nutrition, and taking probiotics containing the Bifidobacterium strain represents a viable and virtually harmless way to protect ourselves.
It has become more apparent than ever that the immune system is the key to how our bodies fight inflammation and infections. Our gut health plays a significant role in this immune function and we believe it is the key to overall health. As Hippocrates said over 2500 years ago, “All disease begins in the gut.” We are now seeing strong evidence that he may have been correct.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am grateful for my mother’s influence in my life. She came to this country as an immigrant and single parent and she eventually got her license to practice medicine here. Her example taught me the importance of perseverance and of creating opportunity when faced with forced change. Furthermore in our home, the idea that women cannot achieve was unthinkable — which was an incredible gift. I am now trying to instill the same gift of tenacity and perseverance in my own two daughters.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
I have always been passionate about gut health, but before the discovery and publication of the Bifidobacterium-Covid hypothesis, the different aspects of my career were somewhat competing with one another. Now that I’ve propelled my passion for gut health as a priority, every other part of my practice falls into place, in the right priority. I am able to tell my story better and help more people and it’s having an effect on my patients and my professional development.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each
1-Stop listening to critics. What they have to say is 99% opinion. Without the experience or expertise to back it up, it’s just talk designed to make you second guess yourself. Had I listened to my critics, I would not be where I am in my life today.
2-Having a successful business is not a linear path. There are many forks in the road and a lot of moving parts, so be prepared and seek advice from others. There will be ups and downs. Ride that storm and you will emerge triumphant.
3-There’s no such thing as instant success. Success takes perseverance, grit and a willingness to pivot and readjust. Keep this mindset and you will eventually succeed.
4- It’s ok to set boundaries. A harsh reality that I’ve recently come to realize, is that many people will root for you as long as they feel like they have the upper hand. Once you surpass them in success, you become a threat. I am not saying this is true for all people, but it is for some. So, as you grow, there are things and people you will outgrow. You don’t have to leave them behind, but you do have to keep moving forward and focus on your priorities.
5- Don’t be afraid to ask. You may be an expert in one field, but as your career takes you into new directions, there are things you will not know. Share what you know, but be open to learning from others with different skill sets.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
Yes, there are actually a few very effective strategies I use.
1- I don’t worry about things I cannot control. Instead, I take measures to produce tangible results. For example, regarding our immune system, I encourage my patients to take simple measures such as increasing fruit and vegetable consumption. These provide anti-oxidants and prebiotics to help your gut thrive. Seventy percent of your immune system is in your gut. Your gut also makes Serotonin and Dopamine- two neurotransmitters that affect your mood.
2-Don’t go to that place of doom and gloom mentally. If you find your mind wandering to thoughts of fear, redirect it to a place of positivity and gratitude. This takes some practice, but it is very effective. Anxiety symptoms frequently occur when the mind focuses on things that haven’t happened. A way to avoid this is to focus on the present.
3-Find stress relieving activities. For many, certain activities can decrease anxiety by shifting the mind to a place of positivity. Stress relieving activities vary from one individual to the next. Make a list of five to ten things that normally relieve stress for you. Write these down on a piece of paper or in the notes section of your phone. Be sure to include some activities you can do away from home such as prayer or meditation. When fear starts to creep in, pull out your list.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
What I have learned in my life is that people are people- meaning we are all humans and flawed to a certain degree. It is important to not allow other people’s negativity to dictate who you are. Your thoughts and how you feel about yourself are stronger than any words people may throw at you. Channel that inner drive to get you where you want to be. Believe in yourself. You are different and unique. Use that to propel you forward, knowing there is no one else like you with the same gifts, talents or perspective.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
There are so many people that I would love to meet, but one person whose goal driven accomplishments I admire is Michael Phelps.
Michael Phelps represents exactly what I speak about in regards to not allowing outside distractions affect you. I always use his example with my kids. With a diagnosis of ADHD as a child, his mother put him in swimming to keep him busy and active. He is undoubtedly the greatest Olympic swimmer of all time. Watching him before every Olympics competition is a perfect example of how to stay focused, while drowning out any outside noise. Prior to his races, he sits alone, headphones in his ears and focuses on one thing-winning. I have read that he uses a technique of mental visualization of the perfect race. It is obviously a very successful technique. When I see my kids getting distracted or worrying about things, I always tell them “ Do a Michael Phelps.”
How can our readers follow you online?
They can follow me on Instagram @doctorchristineb or go to my website www.FromWithinMedical.com and read my latest blog or health article, or listen to one of my podcasts.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!