Name, title, and credentials
Gene L. Bowman, ND, MPH
Naturopathic Doctor and Nutritional Neuroepidemiologist
Senior Research Investigator at National University of Natural Medicine Helfgott Research Institute
Affiliate Professor at Oregon Health & Science University Department of Neurology and Layton Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Center
Why did you choose to pursue naturopathic medicine? What were you doing before that? Why did you choose your naturopathic medical school?
I was working as an exercise physiologist in a cardiac rehabilitation program in North Carolina while taking pre-med courses at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in the late 90’s. This work experience helped me see first-hand the power of lifestyle medicine (diet, exercise and stress management) in people with coronary heart disease. Those that came to our program for 8-12 weeks had remarkable recovery after coronary bypass surgery and those that declined often ended up back in the hospital within months. In parallel, I was shadowing physicians in different disciplines and specialties to gain a sense of what felt right for my next career move in medicine. These mentors helped me realize that allopathic medicine is about treating with medications and predominantly not lifestyle medicine and their training reflects this fact.
I was at a crossroad with a difficult career decision at that time. On the one hand, attending conventional medical school that is well-accepted with a clear post-graduate career pathway was appealing, but the education did not emphasize the type of medicine that I had seen dramatic responses within heart disease patients. On the other hand, find some alternative that would provide advanced training in lifestyle medicine approaches to primary care and build upon my undergraduate exercise and nutrition science training.
A friend at the time introduced me to a naturopathic doctor, and after more research, I realized the potential that naturopathic medicine can have on promoting health and preventing disease through lifestyle and natural medicine approaches—it seemed to be a perfect fit. However, the challenges with this route were that the postgraduate career pathway was less developed, many of the treatment modalities suffered from minimal research to support and inform best practices and standard of care in order to broaden access and insurance coverage across diverse communities. Obviously, I chose the path less travelled and began my training at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine (now NUNM) in 2000 with a very talented cohort of colleagues.
How did you know it was the right path for you?
I knew this was the right path for me because I wanted to learn how best to take care of myself and in turn offer the best care for my patients, and I sincerely believe that naturopathic medicine provides that. It also offers remarkable opportunities for research to better understand the medicine, and how and in whom it is best applied.
What did you gain from your time at naturopathic medical school?
I became a doctor well versed in the prevention, diagnosis, and management of acute and chronic diseases though my training in naturopathic medicine (clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, and physical medicine, and the study of homeopathic and classical Chinese medicine philosophy). My graduate thesis, a NUNM requirement at the time to illustrate some level of synthesis of the training experience, was titled, “Health SENSE in Ischemic Heart Disease” where I applied my new knowledge in developing a multi-domain approach, including stress management, exercise, nutrition, supplementation/medications and education to prevent or even reverse heart disease. I also gained a real sense of health, wellness and community, and a realization of the abundant opportunities for research in naturopathy to grow the profession and widen its access.
How did you plan for success in your career from the beginning?
I set realistic expectations and goals. I had a good understanding of the challenges and opportunities that I would face as a naturopathic doctor. I interned with ND’s leading successful clinics all over the country and learned from their successes (and failures) and leveraged those insights together with those from other professions (holistic MD’s) until my path became clear.
What happened after you graduated?
I was offered a residency position with the late David Greenspan, ND, a well-respected naturopathic doctor in Portland that directed a busy functional/internal medicine practice. This permitted me to see many patients in the first 15 months of postgraduate period. During the same time, Heather Zwickey, PhD offered a part-time research fellowship position at the NUNM Helfgott Research Institute at the time (2004-05) to begin postdoctoral research on the relationship between hypochlorhydria, homocysteine and mild cognitive impairment in older adults. My research mentor at the time, Carlo Calabrese, ND, MPH, helped me formulate a testable hypothesis that dysfunctional cholinergic circuits of the vagus nerve and parietal cells in the gastric mucosa lead to insufficient stomach acid production that predisposes individuals to dementia due to malabsorption of nutrients that the brain demands for optimal cognitive performance. This was prior to the term “microbiome” being coined but an experience that sparked my interest in the central nervous system and cognitive disorders (i.e, Alzheimer’s disease) and lifestyle factors that predispose people to age related dementia.
This research led to an invitation to present my work at an investigators meeting of the Oregon Health & Science University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center, which led to a National Institutes of Health National Research Service Award (T32-Ruth L. Kirschstein fellowship) in 2005-08 and NIH Loan Repayment Award conducted through a program directed by Barry Oken, MD, a neurologist at OHSU’s Oregon Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Neurological Disorders and Alzheimer’s Disease Center (ADC) directed by Jeffrey Kaye, MD. During my OHSU neurology fellowship, I was fortunate to work closely with Joseph Quinn, MD, director of the biomarker core at the ADC.
In 2008, I successfully funded a NIH mentored career development award (NIH K23) that provided 5 additional years of salary support to build a platform for individualized nutritional therapies in Alzheimer’s prevention. It also provided protected time to return to graduate school for a Master’s in Public Health in Epidemiology and Biostatistics (MPH) at OHSU to bolster my research and public health training and write another thesis, titled, “Pattern Analysis of Nutrient Biomarkers in Neuroepidemiology.” One of the publications from this work was well received by peers and the scientific community, making headline news around the globe; essentially formalizing my research career.
In 2013, I secured two major research project grants, one from the NIH National Institute of Aging to translate preliminary findings in the lab to clinical trial testing of omega-3 fatty acids for prevention of cerebral small vessel disease (NIH-NIA R01), and an industry grant to expand deeper into ‘precision nutrition’ for brain health (Abbott Nutrition).
In 2014, I was approached by Nestle to relocate my research program to the academic campus of one the premier universities in Switzerland (EPFL in Lausanne) to build up and direct a new clinical and translational research program for Nestle focused on nutrition and brain health. While at Nestle we initiated several studies both observational and one major multi-site clinical trial testing of a nutritional blend to stave off cognitive decline in France. We also developed human derived induced pluripotent stem cell models that recapitulated Alzheimer’s disease in a dish and permitted us to pinpoint modes of action of nutrients on cells of the central nervous system and vasculature.
In 2015, together with colleagues from Rush University Medical Center (the late Martha Clare Morris, ScD) and Columbia University (Nicholas Scarmeas, MD), we founded an international research “hub” focused on “nutrition, metabolism and dementia” within the Alzheimer’s Association International Society to Advance Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment (ISTAART). This professional interest area [link] at ISTAART has grown from 3 to over 430 members worldwide, including graduate students, post-docs, and professionals where we solicit, develop and present research sessions on nutrition and dementia at each annual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference and promote the careers of rising stars in the field.
In 2018, I was recruited back to academia by Harvard Medical School affiliate Marcus Institute for Aging Research to help build up and lead a new clinical trials center and teach clinical epidemiology at Harvard Medical School. While in Boston within the Harvard network I realized that of the approximately 10,000 scientists/physician scientists there were no other ND’s, and I found myself mentoring trainees and junior faculty that already have all the resources they need to be successful. In the meantime, I became aware of an opportunity to return to my alma mater (NUNM) to conduct research and mentor the next generation of ND’s interested in clinical research. After 20 years, since first arriving in Portland, I have now returned to NUNM Helfgott Research Institute, joining Director Ryan Bradley, ND, MPH, past director and founder Heather Zwickey, PhD, and other colleagues in hopes of nurturing the development of new promising faculty though research, clinic, and teaching.
What is your work and your life like now?
I spend most of my time conducting original research, mentoring students and graduates in nutrition and neurology, and a couple days a month in telemedicine practice direct patient care.
What do you like most about being a naturopathic doctor? What aspects are you passionate about?
Being a naturopathic doctor can be innovative, challenging and rewarding. I like the depth of training in nutrition and botanical medicine compared to other primary care providers and the philosophical approach to apply the medicine.
Does your practice focus on treatment of a specific health condition(s)? If so, please explain why you chose to focus on it and how naturopathic medicine can make a difference in treating that condition.
I focus on brain, vascular and gut health, and the axis between each of these. I am a specialist in naturopathic approaches for healthy cognitive aging, neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease) and vascular cognitive impairment.
What advice would you give to those considering naturopathic medicine?
I think it’s important to reverse engineer from where you see your career landing early on. Prepare by mastering the ND curriculum, developing a career path, network and securing good mentorship.
Links from Dr. Bowman
Professional interest area at the Alzheimer’s Association ISTAART on “Nutrition, Metabolism and Dementia”: https://action.alz.org/PersonifyEbusiness/Default.aspx?TabID=1599
National University of Natural Medicine profile: https://nunm.edu/research/investigators/
Gene Bowman LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gene-bowman-64b10b8/