The way to wellness can come in many forms, including a hearty and balanced meal or a prick of a needle.
“Basically, your whole body is inflamed.”
Dr. Candy Drilon-Dalman of Centro Holistico said these words at the end of our initial consultation, a lengthy conversation that touched on my habits, my diet, and the problems that came with them. The good doctor is not being despondent, but rather matter-of-fact. “Your body is in a constant state of trying to heal because of your lifestyle, hence the chronic inflammation,” she explains.
All first time patients with Centro start with this consult, which will touch on your diet, movement, sleep, water intake, stress factors, daily routine and habits, bowel movement, urine output, and the supplements you are taking.
Like many Filipinos with a middle class background and temperance, I am a creature molded by what’s near and what’s accessible. While a big part of my day is spent walking or commuting, the majority of my meals are based on price points and whatever the convenience store downstairs happens to have. Unfortunately, canned fare, processed sugar, and microwavable boxed sets do not lead to a particularly healthy disposition.
Acute inflammation is okay since it’s our body’s first stage of healing according to Drilon-Dalman. But when it becomes chronic, when it keeps happening because of all the damaging things that we put in our bodies, it’s time for a rehaul. She adds that these produce “a lot of free radicals, which damage our cells. It also eats up a lot of our essential nutrients that our bodies need for basic functioning.”
Functional, integrative, and holistic treatments are the focus of Centro Holistico, which was founded by Dr. Candy, her husband Dr. Ryan Dalman along with Dr. Frances Bernardino-Vergara and Dr. Mikey Vergara. “We all used to work for a medical wellness resort around early 2013. My husband and I were new to the field and were fascinated with the results that we were getting,” Dr. Candy shares. “Of course, the medical resort setting was ideal because our patients weren’t exposed to outside factors like unhealthy food and stress.” The four realized that, with proper interventions and a lifestyle change, chronic diseases could be controlled and even reversed.
Health problems have been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember. These include childhood migraine, asthma, skin allergies, random nosebleeds, constant bloatedness, lower back pain, arthritis, vertigo, lethargy, and bruises unrelated to my love of walking and sports. My most common answer has always been some pill or prescription.
But Dr. Candy says that what’s actually needed are a few, regular treatments and, more importantly, a change in both diet and mindset. After our consultation, she sent me off to get a colon cleanse, an acupuncture session, and a vitamin drip.
The doctor’s perspective and pursuit of functional medicine stems from personal experiences. “When I was in medical school, I developed migraines. Late nights, bad diet and stress took a toll on my body,” she shares. “It continued even after I graduated, to the point that the usual meds weren’t working for me anymore.”
Since her husband has been seeing an acupuncturist since he was young, she decided to give it a try. Dr. Candy says that migraines went away after three sessions. “I decided to study it. I studied acupuncture while working in the medical resort,” she says. “While learning it and practicing in the resort, we saw how each patient would respond to the different interventions and protocols.”
Her curiosity led to even more study of alternative medical treatments. But since there was no course in the Philippines that offered it, she had to resort to online courses from other countries. In 2016, she attended a medical conference for Integrative medicine practitioners. “It was here that I was introduced to the functional medicine concepts, and realized that there really is a science behind what we were practicing,” she shares. “So I ended up taking up the course in the US, which gave us a better understanding of why and how our practice works. I guess that’s where the structure of practice became more solid.”
Dr. Candy recalls that when they started, most of those who would go to them because they were looking for an “alternative” to their medications and management of their disease. “Majority of the patients came because they already had a diagnosed illness, and they saw us as an alternative to the traditional allopathic or western medical practice,” she shares. “As the wellness industry started to boom, more and more people came because they ‘feel’ unwell, even without definitive diagnosis. They had this feeling of uneasiness and weren’t content with just continuing with their current lifestyles.”
The center also started getting more fertility cases, autoimmune conditions, and supposedly nonreversible conditions. “We’re also starting to get more patients that just want to prevent getting sick. More people are aware of the impact of their lifestyles to their overall health, and want to start with their wellness journey. We’re even getting young patients that just want to do preventive stuff,” the doctor says.
What You Eat
Gut health was stressed during my visit to the center, a factor disregarded by many today in lieu of salty potato chips or too many cups of milk tea. “There’s this popular quote by Hippocrates that goes ‘All disease begins in the gut.’ This is because everything that we ingest, from the time we were in our mother’s womb, to the time we pass to the vaginal canal, our first milk intake, all the way to our last meal on earth, affects our overall health,” Drilon-Dalman explains.
Simply put, she says that if the things we ingest are conducive to health, our body will be healthy. If we eat and drink junk, our body will suffer. “When we eat all processed foods that have low to no micronutrients, our body’s basic biochemistry and organ systems will not work properly. This will lead to disease in the long run,” the doctor says. It’s not a question of if but when, she adds, explaining that the length of time of when this disease will come out will depend on a person’s genetics, exposure to toxins, and the like.
“When you ingest food that is high in preservatives, pesticides, antibiotics, etc, these will create inflammation and imbalance in the gut flora. This will destroy the gut’s lining, which will inhibit absorption of nutrients,” she continues. Even if you start eating the right type of food, she warns, your gut won’t be able to absorb them, and this will lead to disease.
Dr. Candy believes that Filipinos also neglect most of their micronutrients because of our diets and because we live in a very toxic world. She says that we’ve become too focused on our macros, “low calorie” “low fat,” “low cholesterol” diets. “We count our calories, but not our micronutrients. We survived on fast food, canned food, anything instant because we don’t have the time to get nutritious, whole, unadulterated food.”
Our environment has also become too toxic. “We breathe air that’s high in heavy metals and impurities, ingest water that is devoid of essential minerals, and live and work in high buildings that decrease our connection to the ground and natural environment,” she lists. “Add to the fact that how our food is grown is totally different now. The soil is not as nutritious as it was 20 years ago, so now our fruits and veggies are not as nutritious. All these lead to imbalances and nutritional deficiencies.”
She prescribed an overhaul of my diet: I was to avoid sugar, dairy, and gluten, and half of my plate in every meal should be filled with different colored vegetables. “The more variety the better,” Drilon-Dalman encourages. “If you can’t eat it, drink it. Take a fruit and veggie smoothie daily, with no added sugar. Get your protein from unprocessed sources—steak instead of canned meat, beans instead of veggie meat.”
When it comes to the thousands of years old practice of acupuncture, which I went through after my colon cleanse, preserving your body’s balance was also the point (pun intended). I was asked to lie down on an elevated bed while dozens of needles that are a few inches long were inserted in different points of my body.
The points chosen depend on the patient’s imbalance, Dr. Candy says. “We do an assessment prior to the treatment through consultation, looking at the tongue, checking their pulse, and doing a quick physical examination. Each protocol may differ every visit, depending on what we see at that particular time,” she elaborates. Finding balance through this method seemed to agree with me as I fell asleep a few minutes into the session, a funny thought given I was covered with needles.
In traditional Chinese medicine, as the doctor explains, we are all made up of Qi. This can also be defined as energy, frequency, life force, and vibration. “In a nutshell, if there is any imbalance in your body’s qi, you develop disease. Just like if you have an imbalance in nutrients, hormones, you develop disease,” she says. Acupuncture is a modality that will help bring back your body to a state of homeostasis by stimulating specific points in the body.
The color of the tongue seems to be particularly telling. “Acupuncture can also be used as a preventive measure. Sometimes hindi pa nila nakikita or nararamdaman, or hindi nila sinasabi, nakikita na namin sa dila nila. So we address it during the session. Para kaming manghuhula minsan, then nagugulat yung patients, bakit ‘nahuhulaan’ namin. It’s not hula. It’s their body telling us these things. [Sometimes, even when the patients haven’t felt or seen anything wrong in them, we could really tell based on their tongue. So we address it during the session. It’s like we’re fortune tellers sometimes, then the patients are surprised why we’ve managed to guess. It’s not a guess. It’s their body telling us these things.]”
Drilon-Dalman listed a few more recommended fixes, a liturgy of essential lifestyle changes: “Drink your water. One liter is not enough. It depends on the body weight. Drink an ounce for every kilogram of body weight; Sleep well, and sleep on time. Your bodies recover when you sleep, and produce your hormones for recovery at specific times of the day; Move.
Movement is not just to increase your caloric expenditure. It’s also to move your lymphatic system for proper detoxification, to sweat to release toxins through the skin; Get some sun. Sunlight doesn’t just make your body produce Vitamin D3. It also helps regulate hormones. Get your sun in the morning upon waking up; Breathe. With our toxic lifestyles, we often forget to take deep breaths. Oxygen is an essential molecule for all our bodies’ daily functions. Do deep breathing exercises, or do your daily workouts to increase oxygen intake. Ideally, do this in an environment that has clean air.”
And finally, choose your stress. “Stress is a culprit when it comes to overall health. In a perfect world, we just walk away from it. But we live in a world where stress is part of daily living. So we need to learn to recover from it, and be more resilient. If it’s a non-essential stress factor, get rid of it,” she emphasizes.
A month after that consultation and those treatments, I’ve managed to stay within the guidelines that were set for me. While I must admit, I miss the highs of consuming sugary treats, ice cold soda, and warm bread, I do not miss the lows that my bodies regularly went through. People have also started to notice how better my skin and body looked.
While it’s nice to be complimented, I didn’t stick to this change for vanity, but to feel better. I wake up with fewer headaches now, I don’t get sudden energy crashes, and I don’t frequently feel bloated anymore. Sure, I still grapple with stress, but my body feels different. It no longer feels inflamed because it’s constantly trying to heal. Now, like a more mindful world following more sustainable ways, the healing I’m feeling is slow, deliberate, and, hopefully, long-lasting.
For more on Centro Holistico, visit centroholisticoph.com.