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Part I: Saray Stancic, MD FACN, Lifestyle Medicine
Saray Stancic, MD, a graduate of UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School and a board certified Infectious Disease specialist since 1999, is the founder of Stancic Health and Wellness in Ramsey NJ. The mission of this innovative medical practice is to educate and empower patients for achieving optimal health via lifestyle modification, while shedding light on the large and mounting body of scientific data supporting the importance of optimal nutrition in disease prevention. She seeks a highly personalized doctor-patient relationship, pursuing individual health related goals which may include weight loss, and improved control of blood sugars, lipid profiles and/or blood pressure with an eye towards reducing dependency on medication.
In 1995, Dr. Stancic, a third-year medical resident working long hospital hours, was abruptly stricken with a severe and disabling case of multiple sclerosis. After 8 years of impaired and disrupted work and daily life, complicated by side effects of intensive pharmaceutical therapies, she stumbled upon a medical journal study reporting some beneficial reduction in MS symptom severity associated with one particular food: blueberries. This triggered an exhaustive exploration of the medical literature, revealing plentiful evidence in respectable peer-reviewed journals that dietary choices do play a key role in the development of chronic illness…. a topic that had eluded the medical school curriculum she knew so well.
Dr. Stancic concluded that the power of prevention/healing offered by a whole-food, plant-based diet for many chronic conditions is enormous and unquestionable. Inspired, she saw it as imperative to adopt this lifestyle personally, and she discontinued all medications and focused upon optimizing diet. Remarkably, after years of difficulty walking unassisted, she found her neurological deficits gradually improving, and felt renewed and infused with a great sense of hope. She decided to take up jogging, which evolved to running, and in the spring of 2010 ran a marathon. She followed through on a pledge to walk 2,015 miles in 2015, 20 years after being struck down by multiple sclerosis. These experiences laid the foundation for a personal crusade to prevent chronic illness by helping patients modify their lifestyles.
Opportunities for physicians within their usual practices and specialties to advocate for improved patient nutrition have long seemed very limited. Earlier in her career as a chief and director of infectious disease and virology clinics, Dr. Stancic did serve as Co-Director of the Dept. Of Veterans Affairs’ successful national “MOVE Program” (Optimizing Nutrition and Disease Prevention Program)…. leading a multidisciplinary team of nutritionists, psychologists, physical therapists and physicians in educating veterans about incorporating physical activity and greater attention toward nutrition into daily life. As the years went by, she shared with other physicians her insights from the research literature and personal experience about potential chronic disease prevention/remediation using plant-based whole-foods diets…. But she found regrettably that not many colleagues shared her enthusiasm or accepted that this approach could be valid.
As a physician observing unnecessary suffering and loss, Dr. Stancic had felt compelled to spread the word of this seemingly untapped therapeutic resource. The physician of today is relegated to symptom management via treatment plans highly dependent on prescription medications and invasive procedures…. with little time devoted to uncovering and addressing the underlying causes of disease, and little time available for counseling, support and education, interventions that have been proven to circumvent the need for drugs and surgery. Therefore Dr. Stancic concluded that she would establish her own small medical practice as a model for lifestyle based personal wellness promotion, where the primary intervention is educating patients on the importance of food choices and how these simple decisions affect our complicated health outcomes.