KPNW Doc’s New Book Guides Patients in Self-Care

Photo of Lucy Savitz and Merwyn (Mitch) Greenlick

Book Reflects 20 + Years Treating Patients

By Jill Pope, Senior Technical Writer/Editor

Charles Elder Dr. Charles Elder

When he started out at Kaiser Permanente Northwest (KPNW) in 1991, Dr. Charles Elder often saw patients with problems like chronic pain, depression and irritable bowel syndrome. He felt frustrated that many of them weren’t getting better.

In addition to training in Internal Medicine, Dr. Elder had trained in Ayurveda, the traditional health system of India. Ayurveda uses diet, daily routine, herbal remedies, and meditation to manage and prevent disease. Dr. Elder believed these approaches could help his patients.

After making a case for how he believed it could help, Dr. Elder was allowed to offer his patients approaches from Ayurveda in a pilot project. His patients reported good results. So in 1998, he began an Integrative Medicine Clinic at KPNW that combined Western medicine and complementary medicine. The referral-based clinic started out small—only a half-day a month, then a half-day a week. Today, the clinic sees about a thousand patients each year.

Now anyone can learn about Ayurveda in Dr. Elder’s new book, Picture of Health: Transform your self-care and health care through Ayurvedic and Integrative Medicine, published by Permanente Press in 2019. Dr. Elder wrote the book because he wanted to make people more aware of KPNW’s Integrative Medicine Clinic, and also to have a resource for his patients. “Now we can use the book,” he says. “I can tell them to use a certain recipe, and it’s right there.”

He wrote the book while spending a year in Jerusalem with his wife and co-author, Leslie Elder, MD, who also created several paintings for it. “This has always been sort of a joint area for us.” Dr. Elder explains. “Food as medicine. She was in Family Medicine and trained in Ayurvedic Medicine. This is what went on at home. So a lot of what we wrote was an extension of that dialogue.”

Basics of Ayurveda: Go With Your Gut

Picture of Health: Transform your self-care and health care through Ayurvedic and Integrative Medicine (book cover)

Ayurveda, a 5,000-year old health system, focuses on promoting good digestion. New research also shows that the micro-organisms that live in our gut are vital to our health. “We have information from this very old tradition, and also more recent recognition of the importance of the gut’s role,” Elder says. When asked what principles of Ayurveda he would like to see everyone implement, he says,Have your main meal at mid-day, when the body’s digestive powers are strongest. Eat a lighter meal in the evening.

He also says to go to bed by 10 pm. Ayurveda teaches that at night, our bodies process the day’s toxins. If we overload the digestive system by eating late at night, or if we don’t rest during these hours, the body cannot do this work very well. This creates an opportunity for disease to develop. “I think the book contains some profound and simple ideas that are underappreciated,” Dr. Elder says.

Picture of Health is available from The Permanente Press.