Robin Berzin is a doctor and the founder of Parsley Health, a membership-based holistic medical service that uses advanced testing and personalized health plans to get to the root of chronic conditions and optimize health. Parsley is available nationwide via telemedicine and in-person at custom-designed centers in NYC and LA.
I was so happy with my skin in my teens, safe in believing that I’d somehow miraculously escaped the dreaded acne phase. And then came my 20s. I was in med school when I started breaking out, and like so many others, it affected my self-esteem. I didn’t feel as comfortable socializing, which made being a med student all the more difficult. This wasn’t just a breakout or two – it was constant, deep, painful, cystic acne and I even developed scarring.
I was so anxious for a solution to my acne that I ran to every prescription out there. From the pill to Retin-A to cortisol injections and everything in between – but nothing helped. Topical creams, topical antibiotics, retinoids – they’re so popular, but they strip the skin and disturb the skin’s microbiome, which is an issue. You’re really taking away those parts of your epidermis that are there to protect you. “Killing the bacteria” doesn’t actually stop the process that leads to acne development. Topical treatments don’t cause the acne, but they also don’t fix the underlying problem and sometimes they can make them worse in the long-term.
And that’s the problem with these medications. They don’t get to the root of the issue. It was exhausting, expensive, and disappointing to go through quick-fix after quick-fix, only to have my acne stay put.
It took me far too long to realize that my issues could only be solved by getting to their roots, by peering behind the curtain and seeing what was on the inside. Similar to a lot of my patients today, my skin issues developed in response to food sensitivities I’d developed as an adult.
It wasn’t until after med school – around the time of my wedding, actually – that I did the research that led me to food sensitivity as a possible indicator. The elimination diet changed everything for me. At the 5-6 week mark, I noticed my acne was clearing up. I’d given up on medications and steroid injections. After thousands of dollars and countless anxious nights, I was so mad when I figured out that the solution had been there all along: I just had to stop eating the foods that were causing the problem.
Food sensitivities often develop during high stress periods; for me that was during med school. During high chronic stress, you can cause damage to your gut, creating permeability, and this in turn can result in the development of sensitivities to foods that you frequently consume. For me, that was wheat and dairy. Your immune system lives right behind your gut, so when that barrier breaks down and your gut becomes leaky, your immune system is exposed to all the things you’re eating causing it to interact (and react) to things that it doesn’t usually get exposed to. By cutting out the foods that were doing me more harm than good, my skin cleared up.
In my 20s, I started working at the NYU School of Medicine in research, and I loved it. I knew I wanted a medical degree because I wanted to help people. I loved my time there, but I also saw some red flags. We were there to help people survive – not to help them thrive. It felt like there was a responsibility that was missing. I wanted to help people get better, help them improve their lives.
Unfortunately, medicine has become transactional and reductionist. It’s that “alright, moving on, who’s up next” mentality, which goes hand-in-hand with the belief that we can treat every patient the same. But we know that’s not true. For example, certain diets work for different people. For some people, high-fat diets work well; others do better with plant-based diets. It’s all about your personal history, and I believe that’s the future of health.
In my early twenties, I also developed a yoga practice, which is when I first tapped into the connection between the mind and body. For me, yoga led to meditation and eating healthier. It was that first step into presence.
Western philosophy created a proverbial concrete wall between our heads and our bodies – and a lot of Western medicine takes that separation for granted. Often, we ignore all the signals our bodies are sending us until something breaks. But in yoga and Eastern philosophical traditions, things are seen as more connected. I learned and lived this experience, and I thought, wow, no wonder we have so many chronic health issues! We’re not listening to our bodies.
So, in 2016, I founded Parsley Health to address the rising chronic disease in America through a personalized and holistic approach to medicine. Integrating conventional medicine with these holistic practices means that we’re not missing anything. We want to be as attentive and thorough for our patients as we can be. Oftentimes, the solution to the problem can’t be solved by a prescription pad. It can be managed, sure, but at Parsley Health we’re interested in managing and reversing chronic conditions by addressing their root cause.
I want women to understand that they deserve better than a transactional, in-and-out experience. The story of your health is the story of your life. I tell my patients, you didn’t get here in a day. Medicine is not a one-size-fits-all situation, and it’s not too much to ask that your doctors get to know you, and your story, and your whole person before jumping to conclusions about what you need from a pile of prescriptions. Too many women are misdiagnosed because they’re not treated seriously, or some providers don’t have the time or resources to do in-depth work. But that’s not the only option. You exist as a whole entity, and your medical provider should understand that in order to treat you, they have to understand your mind, body, and history as an integrated experience.
When I was in college, I fell into the trap of believing healthy meant skinny. But now, especially since developing my yoga and meditation practices, I understand that health is how I feel not how I look. I take my diet and lifestyle seriously now. The transition into eating real food – vegetables and fish and nuts and seeds and whole cooked meals – led to me being the healthiest, strongest version of myself. Finally, I felt good and energized. I want my body to thrive, for my mind and body to work together to create the best home, the best vessel to live the life I want.
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