Health and wellness is a hot button topic in today’s modern world. With all the stress of modern life, a holistic approach, such as functional medicine, is a good path to health. In this episode, Timothy J. Hayes, Psy.D and Valencia Ray, MD talk all about functional medicine. Dr. Ray discusses what set her on her current path and how you can empower yourself for better health. Tune in and learn more wellness advice from our great guests on On Your Mind.
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Achieving Whole Body Health Through Functional Medicine With Valencia Ray, MD
Thank you so much for joining. I’m honored to make the connection again. It has been years since I have seen you face-to-face.
There’s so much synchronicity. It’s amazing that our paths have crossed again like this.
I was hoping you could start us off by letting us know a little bit about how you’ve got into the work that you are doing and what drives your passion for it.
I’m a conventionally trained physician originally for over a couple of decades. I was an eye surgeon, a cornea transplant surgeon, and all of that. In getting there, I had studied, went through, and was trained in Internal Medicine. That’s what I did my internship in. The great thing that connects what I was doing as the eye surgeon, too, is we saw so much chronic disease.
We were primary doctors in many ways for chronic disease problems, everything from autoimmune, pre-diabetes, digestive issues like chrome, colitis, and all of these things that affect the eye. That’s how it came to me or people would show up thinking something was wrong with their eye. I found out they had all these underlying conditions.
Fast forward, the reason why I decided to listen to what I feel is a calling for me to move on to where I am now. It also aligned with something I had in my heart as a young child around the empowerment of mind, body, and spirit, even if I don’t really know what that meant. I took a leap of faith, sold the practice, and I have been on this journey. It was a convoluted journey.
It took me through neuroscience, brain, cognitive neural science, and how to help people to what I call, take back the steering wheel of their mind and develop greater emotional resilience but I finally found functional medicine, which has been around for many years, to my surprise because I didn’t know what it was at first.
I learned quickly that this is why I even went to medical school in the first place in that. It allowed me to help people empower their own health and to get to the root causes of mental, emotional, and physical conditions, diseases or however you would like to term them. It also allowed me to bring, in my passion, more spiritual awareness because that’s how I have forgotten superpower, I like to say in that.
We have forgotten that inner part of us that really relates to our mental, emotional, and physical health.
We have that inner part of us that, even in our mental, emotional, and physical health, brings all four together into what I call Mind and Body Integrative Medicine. From Chicago, where I knew you years ago and the business group, it would be located out here to Northern California. In this context, what I do now is bring all of the potential medical experience and personal journey.
Through all of that, everything from the happy people with their self-awareness and confidence around leadership coaching to how this connection between stress. It’s connected to 90% to 95% of chronic diseases, including mental, anxiety, depression, and all of these things. To help busy women to overcome this stress, fatigue, hormonal problems, and to lose weight stays off by going through this doorway of stress and understanding it is not about, “My job is stressing me out,” but it‘s to understand how they can, even with this whole four parts of our approach get to the root of why that stress is causing the pre-diabetes or contributing to it. It’s not about how much sugar we have.
The stress can throw off your adrenal system, which goes off the pre-diabetes or the high blood pressure, etc. When you start to connect that dot, it stops being this piecemeal situation and it becomes more of this holistic health. Also, how your gut is affecting your brain, anxiety and what you can do to not only calm your perception that’s causing the stress but educate yourself around food as medicine, so you can understand what’s going on with the gut that is causing the anxiety and not just feels anxiety. That’s what I’m doing. I finally found all the pieces to this holistic approach.
You mentioned that you were doing a lot of work with women and professional women. Can you talk more about how you’ve got into that?
I have been a busy woman all my life. Growing up as a child, I was more artistic, playful, and I loved people. I did hold a lot of leadership roles as a child in that phase of my life. I went through this phase of wanting to understand in spite of my academic achievements and performance, why was it always this easiness that something was wrong with me?
With the stories and the anxiety that we run in my brain, we are not realizing there were some root causes even at a genetic tendency level. Meaning your genes are not your destiny but if you have certain what’s called SNPs, which stands for Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms, that’s a big way of saying that if you have one amino acid, that might be a little different than what the wild type is. Therefore, you are most susceptible to epigenetic factors. Here’s what epigenetic means. The outside influences of nature and nurture dancing together.
How you eat, sleep, etc. can make you more of a tendency to throw off your genes and lead you down the road of anxiety, rumination, and all of these things are connected there or how are you throwing off your gut. Ultimately, this started with me at a young age. I was like, “What is causing this? I don’t have any reason to feel like this. I’m doing well. Why am I so always whatever?” After a somewhat turbulent teenagehood at personally at the family level, somewhere in there in my dreams and knowing, I took a U-turn. Instead of going into business and being an entrepreneur, which is what I thought, I found myself landing in medical school barely at age of 21.
I’m like, “How did I get here?” I go through that and I graduate barely at 25. I became this hyper-over-focused achiever. Unconsciously, I can look back and I was proving I could do this because I didn’t have a lot of external support. I didn’t know any other doctors. My family was more into business or architecture, etc. I didn’t feel the support partially because that was the way my paradigm was as well.
I saw the world almost through a scarcity lens and my fears. I can look back in hindsight. I even support that might have been there. I wasn’t acknowledging it but what that did was drive my fight-flight-freeze response. I became very hypervigilant, perfectionistic, doing too much. I didn’t need to finish college in three years. I put all that on my plate and pressured myself.
I did come back around full circle and right out of acquainting my cornea transplant fellowship. I took a full-time job and within that year, I immediately started making plans to open a business and my practice. In that year that I’m working full-time and deciding to start my own practice, believe it or not, I thought, “Why don’t I start a family, too?” I can look back and say, “What was I thinking?” My husband tried to bore me and I put that on a plate. That was 1991. That was the year of the most horrendous, emotional experience of my life. Why I even have such an awareness of mental health is what happened that year.
That was January of 1991 when I made all these decisions that ended up getting pregnant and single-handedly, juggling all this, work in my full-time job, and by August of that year, I had one and a half months miscarriage. It was very traumatic. My dad has suddenly become ill right behind that or during that year. He started going down and we didn’t know what was going on. He passed away right behind the miscarriage within a couple of months.
I was so driven by my lack of awareness and the stress-drivenness that, believe it or not, the day after he was buried, I was devastated. I was almost not even grounded enough to function at his passing but I crushed down the emotion. I plowed through and my practice had opened, all this debt, no patients, and two full-time employees. I got on the plane after his burial the next day and went from Chicago to San Francisco to take the oral section of my surgery boards for ophthalmology, which boggles my mind that I put myself through that much pressure.
Needless to say, after that, I came back and still didn’t take out. I went back to the office on the job on Monday. Within 1 or 2 weeks, I was so depressed and I was like, “I’m not going to make it.” I will never forget ever, I sat on the side of the bed and I said a simple prayer, which was, “God, if you don’t help me, I’m going down.”
Tim, I understand now why people kill themselves? I was so pressured. I wasn’t eating and sleeping right. I lost my father and had a second-trimester miscarriage. At that moment, when I said that I could still see him, I knew the house we were in, the bathroom, and sitting on the side of the bed. My poor husband, I had already told him it’s not that you could help me. He was worried.
I heard this still small voice whisper inside to me and it said, “Don’t worry, Valencia. You are going to make it.” That was the turning point in my life. It wasn’t my presto change overnight. It was faith but I had this sense of peace that I could make it. The will to go forward did come pretty quick. It was an act of faith, it grew me spiritually, and I have never looked back. I have never taken my foot off that path of my spiritual growth. I’m so grateful. The way it turned out is magical.
I made it through that. By six months later, I was able to work part-time and people were coming. Ultimately, I had another girl and a boy. While being an ophthalmologist, a surgeon, and I was able to let go of the job and have this big practice, through those years, I came to understand the mind better and stress. My hobby was studying me like, “What happened to me? How did this happen? Learning to let go and this sleep was important.”
Functional medicine filled in this whole empowerment piece because the neuroscience for the gut-brain connection really didn’t even come out well into 2017.
Learning all these things as I made the time to get the help to have more personal time with the children, etc. All of that let me, the busy woman who was always interested in any way to combine this business leadership with the stress, take it to this other level. That was where I had what I felt was the same small voice leading me to sell the practice and go to this new thing, which honestly was more interesting.
The new thing was the functional medicine training.
When I met you, I was doing leadership coaching because I didn’t know about the medical piece. I experimented with Ayurveda, a Chinese medicine but not what I’m meant to do. I don’t know where the medical piece comes in but I can look back. I have come to be part of my spiritual journey of learning how to let go, surrender and trust. My Bible teacher is along the way, and then I ended up in another arena, where I’m more of cosmic spiritual consciousness.
For me, I call it Christ consciousness within. It all worked together, even though I’m on this convoluted journey. If I wasn’t clear in my knowing and purpose, I would have run back to the ophthalmology screaming because it was back gone as planned. The first part of my life was so linear, “I’m in 21. I’m out in almost 25.” This was all over the place.
What’s the core thing was this desire to understand the mind and to understand why there is so much fear, where does that comes from, why do we tend to put ourselves down, and these conditioning pieces. Through those years, I’m connecting how our environment was getting so volatile, uncertain in how to play the leadership and how they played any emotional resiliency. I was learning all of that in much deeper detail and working on my own lack of self-awareness around certain things.
When I did finally stumbled into functional medicine ten years after that point, I was ready with all of the mental and emotional pieces. A functional medicine filled in this whole empowerment piece because the neuroscience for the gut-brain connection didn’t even come out well into 2017. I was far ahead of looking for this thing. The science space wasn’t even there like it is now.
I have watched it expand and grow up quite a bit, even since I have been at it in terms of the science, research, access and the outcomes of my patients and clients are mind-boggling to me. I took a year, even in the beginning to say, “Does this stuff work?” I was skeptical about it and it has been profound from a mental reversing of everything.
A couple of my clients had scary mental stuff going on to reverse and they might have moved on. There were the whole obesity and hormonal issues. I had issues in my stuff I couldn’t get to the root cause, even though I have been a doctor this long. Everything kept being normal and I knew it wasn’t normal but once I’ve got into functional medicine and could do the functional medicine testing, I was like, “It’s sure isn’t normal,” and I took care of it.
My husband finally got rid of the extra 50 pounds that hit accumulated through the system that wasn’t happening at all and also dealt with the underlying issues that were causing it because he wasn’t overeating. I live with him and we have been married for many years. At the end of the day, he is in great health and has maintained. I wait because he doesn’t diet. We fixed his metabolism and helped him to understand some things about what he was doing to self-sabotage.
I know you have a series of stories from people that have had reversals in physical chronic illness and the mental health field. What are some of the key stories you want to share with us?
Since you are linked with mental health, I will give you two short dramatic stories and I will summarize that. The physical is everything from weight loss its staying off and reversing menopausal symptoms that struggle with the years or autoimmune problems related to thyroid. People are told that your thyroid is fine and certain things aren’t checked. We check them and we realize they are not fine. You have them fix it and that is important.
The gut and auto-immune, how that’s connected? Brain fog is connected to all this. The whole sleep piece, the results you can see that right on the website to your point. The stories, because of the mental health out connect to briefly, is my 2nd or 3rd patient. I didn’t even think I was supposed to be the person that worked with this person.
I’m licensed in Illinois and California. I was doing Telehealth before it became accepted as widely as it is because I have been good at technology since I sold my ophthalmology practice and went down this entrepreneurial path. I started using Zoom in 2011 when the company was created. I’m not a primary care doctor. People have to have their own primary care doctor. I’m more of a consultant doctor.
My son, who was an athlete all through college, played basketball from the time he was in second grade. I’m from Naperville, we lived there twenty years and all of this was going on at that time. He needed extra coaches but he had a primary and secondary. The secondary coach at that time would stand on the sidelines. My son was only in fifth grade and we would talk about neuroscience.
In those years, I eventually sold the practice. I don’t think I had sold it yet because I started talking about neuroscience even before I’ve got sold the practice. We were staying there to talk about it and I would tell them all these interesting things about cognitive neuroscience, mindfulness, and all this. This is probably about 2005. I was still in my ophthalmology practice.
My son goes on, and fast forward to the very last week or two of 2018 going into 2019, out of the blue, I get an email from this coach. I was like, “This is interesting.” He said he threw up in Hail Mary and he remembered our conversations on a sideline. There was this issue around his son. Long story short, he did not understand why it was going on.
If your food looks like it’s something that it’s not, then it’s processed.
For two and a half years, he was struggling with some mental stuff. He had been in the medical system and to make a long story short, it wasn’t working, so he reached out to me. After some mind-stretching on my part because I was like, “I can’t help him. He contacted me.” At the end of the day, I had started studying nutrition genomics before he had contacted me.
I started that inner voice. It was like, “You help him.” With the doctors in place, of course, the fight guys were still there and I had talked to them and all this because I wasn’t going to manage them, I did some nutrition genomics testing and found out he had some certain gene issues. It took only two months to reverse the situation that he had been struggling with for two and a half years he couldn’t even work. His father sent a note letting me know that he’s still great. This is 2021, almost 2022. He has been promoted a few times.
Even while we were working together in doing the visioning and planning, he reached his goals for the next few months, which I won’t go into detail about but he got that job and goal that he wanted to do and has not looked back because he understands now some lifestyle things, self-care, shouldn’t be eating, taking and certain supplements that can help him to keep on track. He’s good. That’s one then the second, real quickly, was another mental one where the son of a friend who is my age.
In two years, I went from being an A-student tech person going off to college and couldn’t even function well. To make a long story short, he had been through the system and he had certain strong conventional therapies going on. As I was doing the functional medicine testing and assessing the big picture, I knew that it was probably molded. I tested it and off the chart, that’s what it was. Mold will cause mental and neuroinflammation and other things.
What happened at that point was do the functional medicine. Food is medicine and it affects the gut in certain ways. I had all of that information and we could do the treatment. There were some other modalities that were involved but ultimately, he’s back online in college now and we were able to find someone to take the ball going forward that he could go and see locally.
I’ve got them to the point of working together where he was back into socializing and online in college. At the end of the day, that is so gratifying because you are saving people’s lives when you are able to do an interview like this. Those are two examples. My main primary focus isn’t so much mental health. I aligned with work with other therapists who I might refer to depending on what the person is looking for but it can be this cult of collaboration, where you are also looking at it from a gene and foods with a lot of chemicals and things in it, and it looks like it’s something that it’s not then it’s processed.
If you know that, then you can start to reeducate yourself and you are more empowered to take control of your own health. I’m working more around helping people understand that stress instead of trying to find a thyroid doctor, brain doctor or prediabetes doctor, and that’s what makes me different. I understand this umbrella of the four key stresses and how they are branching off, causing mental, emotional glycemic, neutrino, inflammation, and circadian sleep. How they are all like this then you can cut to the chase and like, “I fixed my thyroid but I didn’t learn anything much about this other area of prediabetes stuff.” Now ultimately, if you mess with that too much, it’s going to throw off your thyroid in the end.
Many people who end up in integrative and functional medicine approaches were in the conventional medical approach that chases down symptoms and tries to squash them. They ended up chasing around in circles until they were told, “There’s nothing we can do for you.” That’s how they ended up in a system like functional medicine, which looks at the overview.
As you have already discovered, for a lot of people, that provides options that they simply can’t access through conventional medicine. I’m thrilled that you found that and I remember back when we were doing the engaging speakers work and you were doing coaching. I’m thrilled to learn that you are doing the coaching with this work. You are integrating even more than functional medicine but as you say, the spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and the physical.
I was at a breakout session for a leadership conference for a woman and they wanted me to do a mindfulness session. I was like, “Sure.” I titled it Three Tips for Mindfulness for Business Success. Here’s another dot connection. Mindfulness is the beginning. It’s a way of helping the runaway left brain to start to focus but it still leaves out an emotional piece as well.
What I did was focus on how does mindfulness tie into mental agility and emotional resilience, left brain, right brain, my heart. I will say that if we are thinking mindfulness is the magic wand, for now, being able to elevate yourself awareness but we leave out this conversation of how to make friends with feelings, which is a right ring deeper connection to the heart, we still can be easily jacked around by the fear button being pressed.
If you want to talk about scattering your mental agility, that will do it if you don’t know how to take back the best thing well. My interest in leadership, coaching, and wellness are still under this umbrella of stress because leaders are stressed out. There is this dynamic of the whole journey I told you is an overachiever. You get clear about your purpose, the role you are going to play, and self-talk about yourself.
Mindfulness is the first step and there are other steps you should know about. The goal is ultimately mental agility and emotional resilience, which by the way, not only will accelerate your leadership capacity, how many leaders could use mental agility and emotional resilience but it will also affect your physical health. That’s where the dot needs to be connected that this is a whole body, not just run over here for your brain fog and run over there for your weight loss.
What is the aspect of your work that we haven’t even touched on yet? I want to make sure we get in here and make sure that we let people know how to reach out and connect with you?
What we have mostly been speaking of are the medical pieces that I have been doing, testing out, and seeing how amazing it is. That is limited to Illinois and California. It is about getting functional medicine, personalized either one-on-one or I am going to be opening to certain areas of a group medical within 6 to 8 people. It’s a little different structure but it’s focused on putting together.
Still, umbrellas as stress go over both of that but there’s maybe one focus on hormonal, and one is on maybe pre-diabetes weight loss. That’s going to be medical but I know there are millions of people in the world and we have a crisis. When it comes to our health and wellbeing, it seems to be getting worse, not better. 2021 was my 40th year from starting medical school and I have watched things go in this direction instead of this, for the most part.
In 2022, I’m also going to have more of a coaching educational platform because that still moved the needle enough where you need more personalized. It’s because you are so advanced with your condition and you need more of a deeper dive, you can always still come through the medical door. This other area is more of an educational health wellness metabolic reset that still will move the needle on these issues but there’s also an area that I call facet healing as a subprogram to my bigger signature wellness.
We have a crisis when it comes to our health and wellbeing and it seems to be getting worse, not better.
That has to do with understanding the parts of ourselves that we tend to shove in the closet and deny. It’s like that. If you can imagine, there is a diamond and if that diamond was the divine source. When we realize we are a part of this diamond, instead of being like these individuals separated and isolated from each other, we realize that we are individual sovereign body beings but we are sourced from this one source and our fastest on this macrocosm.
The light is already there within us. It tends to be covered over by the facet of that big diamond. We are the facets that light isn’t shining off through us because we have these stories going on and that’s that whole part I mentioned the way in the beginning, “I’m not good enough. I’m not something.” It’s mostly conditioned.
Think about it. You are in kindergarten and now you are competing instead of cooperating. It’s all based on a standard that may not even be your genius. Maybe your genius is art and music, which has been taken out of the system for the most part. What we don’t realize when we do that, we even hurt the math and science side of our brain. I know Einstein talked about that. That is a back and forth and your genius and ideas come through. The left brain can take it and put it into shape and form.
If you take that away, this left-side, which does not have good access to imagination and emotion. In fact, that tends to be afraid of feelings because you can’t make sense of it. You can’t linearly write it out here. That creates a state of potential separation and isolation because the left brain does think like, “It’s the focus. This is me. This is you. It’s the separation side about the brain.” It’s not bad. It’s important. You don’t try to get rid of your ego. It’s built into your left brain.
It allows you to be your unique human expression but we need this right side that connects us more to a heart, spirit, and emotion. What’s stopping us is that as we realize how to retrain the brain to be more embracing of the whole self. All mammals have emotions, even your dog. I’m saying we have these emotions. Instead of vilifying them and making them bad, and wrong or acting like, “We have it all perfectly together,” it doesn’t mean you are less than.
Vulnerability doesn’t mean you share your personal everything. It means you are willing to say, “I have this part of me. I have a part for you to build XYZ.” It’s the internal family system, Timothy. I did get certified in that in 2019 but I have a little different slant on it, too. That’s what I used unconsciously before I knew it was therapy to clear out some of my self-talk that was causing the anxiety, stress, and couldn’t sleep at night. I take pieces of that and something called the gene keys, which is an assessment map that can help people to target certain things. I meet people where they are but in this particular area, I am going to be more on the front end of, “Here are some new ways to accelerate your emotional resilience.”
Is that what you are calling the Facet Work?
That is the Facet Healing Work. The actual coaching program of it was Well Whole Wise.
Is that something you are going to be launching in 2022?
It’s already in the works. In 2022, this entity will hold this educational wellness container and the Facet Healing of the program under that. The tagline to facet healing is, “Be You Magnificently,” and it goes back to the diamond. The macrocosm is the source that we are all interconnected to this light and love source.
At a microcosm level, we are our own diamond with our own facets parts of ourselves, and then we have that inner light. The most neutral term I would use is The Essence Stuff. You can think of it however you want to. Some people call it the Christ consciousness and some people might call it Atman, etc. that’s fine. Language always gets in the way when you start talking spirituality.
People have their own journey and path but being you magnificently is what you are. That’s the thing. It’s not like, “I’m trying to get there. It’s already there.” It’s that inner magnificence that light is that divine source that we have forgotten about. It’s trapped us into thinking competition and comparison judgment, “I’m isolated. I’m all alone.”
Do you realize that the source of chronic disease is isolation and loneliness? That is a cause of chronic disease because the hormones in your body are not going to be the most harmonious out there circulating through your blood. Those are the two ways of working with me but now, certainly directly, there’s this medical piece but here is the broader piece where more people can empower their own health.
What is the website?
Thank you so much for sharing all of that with us. I look forward to following what’s happening in 2022 when Well Whole Wise comes online and we will check back in with you and see how it’s going.
That sounds exciting and good. Thank you so much for the interview.
It’s a delight to see you again. Take care.
About Valencia Ray, MD