Bringing balance to research
"If things are real, they can be proven. With this motivating philosophy, Dr. Michael Lyon embarked, at the age of 16, on a medical quest that would feed his desire to prove the relationship between good nutrition and good health.
“If things are real, they can be proven.” With this motivating philosophy, Dr. Michael Lyon embarked, at the age of 16, on a medical quest that would feed his desire to prove the relationship between good nutrition and good health.
Over the years, Dr. Lyon’s career has taken him full circle, from an early membership in Calgary’s first natural food co-op and its emerging health food culture to a doctor of medicine degree, family practice, a stint with Sport Canada, and finally to his full-time devotion to proving–and then sharing–the connection between natural food and health.
A Shaky Start
As a fit, vital, and passionate Dr. Lyon recounts his early years, it’s difficult to imagine the young, out-of-control, and overweight young boy he describes: “I started smoking when I was in Grade 3; by 16 I was very unhealthy. I had asthma, I felt bad all the time with terrible allergies, and I was doing very poorly in school, acting out, and getting into a lot of trouble.” It was at this critical time in his life that a serendipitous event placed a life-altering book–written by natural health pioneer, Dr. Paul Bragg–in his hands.
The Turning Point
The formerly out-of-control teenager was inspired. He read as many books about natural health as he could find, quit smoking, began an exercise program, completely altered his diet to incorporate natural, organic foods, and joined a natural food co-op. He also consulted a naturopath who put him on a program that, as Dr. Lyon says, “revolutionized my whole life–I went from being a pretty marginal student to being the best student in my high school.”
So good, in fact, that he was offered grant money to conduct research during his years at medical school where he fed his passion for looking beyond accepted wisdom for new insights about the role of natural medicine in health maintenance and disease prevention. “Unfortunately, at the end of 11 years of medical training and residency, the system creates a doctor who is very efficient at writing prescriptions, but really not very good at thinking about the causes of illnesses and conditions,” says Dr. Lyon about his indoctrination into allopathic medicine.
Laying the Groundwork
After a short and frustrating interval in conventional medical practice, “with some prevention sort of thrown in,” Dr. Lyon spent some time as a physician with Sport Canada where, among other programs, he helped the bobsleigh team build from a 27th-place position to among the top in the world by improving their nutrition, optimizing their supplementation, and helping them enhance their body biomechanics.
“Bit by bit,” says Dr. Lyon, “I gradually veered over to natural and complementary medicine. Since 1993, I’ve been doing either natural medicine or complementary medicine practice or research and almost nothing but natural medicine research since 1996.”
A Natural Approach to Research
“My interest is to bring some balance to natural medicine research,” says Dr. Lyon. “Unfortunately, a lot of the research on nutrition or natural medicine is designed to fail because it’s done by conventional researchers who really don’t believe in natural medicine and don’t really understand how nutrients work or how they synergize.”
“The studies I’ve been involved with, though, are based on using natural health products in ways which are more in line with the way they’d be used in the real world and would be most effective. Rather than designing a trial to fail, we use rigorous double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of certain natural products that end up providing a fair investigation.”
Choosing a Course
With the incredible diversity of benefits made possible by natural therapeutics, I asked Dr. Lyon how he narrows his area of interest. “I like to do research on things that have an application to my own life,” he responds.
“ADHD has touched my life, my family. I want to be able to give parents more options than just drugs or nothing, which is the way it is right now.” Dr. Lyon has devoted years of study on nutritional strategies for treating this common disorder. He has shared his research findings and conclusions on many speaking tours across North America and in two books, Is Your Child’s Brain Starving?Food Not Drugs for Life and Learning (Mind Publishing, 2002) and Healing the Hyperactive Brain through the New Science of Functional Medicine (Focused Publications, 2000).
Exciting Breakthroughs in Weight Control
Dr. Lyon’s early experience as an overweight child has always motivated his interest in finding ways to address the serious problem of obesity and its ramifications, including diabetes and metabolic syndrome. “Seventy-five percent of my research time is spent in that area,” he says.
As the Medical and Research Director for the Canadian Center for Functional Medicine (CCFM) in BC, working closely with researchers at the University of Toronto (U of T), Dr. Lyon has conducted studies examining the effects of a dietary fibre blend, that he says is “beyond fibre,” on blood sugar control, cholesterol, appetite regulation, and insulin resistance.
Developed at the U of T, the new fibre blend has shown remarkable results in several studies where participants have reduced weight and cholesterol levels and maintained consistent blood sugar levels.
This completely natural formula imparts the benefits of extremely high amounts of fibre in a very small dose. It provides a feeling of fullness and lowers the glycemic index of the food eaten. According to Dr. Lyon, the formula shows great promise in helping to reduce the risk factors for diabetes.
At the CCFM, seminar programs focusing on permanent weight loss incorporate this groundbreaking research in appetite control along with secrets of behaviour modification, cooking for weight loss, and other important principles.
“Our goal is not only to help people to lose weight, but most importantly to transform their bodies for life,” says Dr. Lyon. “The things we are discovering in our research on appetite control need to reach more of the public.” This outreach model is in active development at the CCFM.
A Promising Future
When I asked Dr. Lyon to look into his crystal ball, he was passionately optimistic. “Presenting physicians with evidence about natural products even five years ago, you’d have almost gotten tomatoes thrown at you, whereas now they’re very keen to hear about natural products.”
“I see the natural health products industry as having a lot of tremendous victories, unprecedented, in the future, and I think it’s going to be stronger than ever in 10 years. I think natural health will be an essential element of our health care system.”
Bringing Balance to Natural Health Research
Dr. Lyon is currently associated with two general areas of research:
Childhood Learning Behavioural Disorders
Research through the University of BC (UBC) focuses on the effects of certain herbal medicines on ADHD. Ongoing research includes a formal double-blind study looking at the effects of a natural amino acid from green tea (L-theanine) in children with ADHD. Past research includes studies examining underlying physiological abnormalities in children with ADHD, for example, that children with ADHD commonly suffer from increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut) along with specific immune system dysfunctions and nutritional deficits.
Weight Loss and Risk Modification Programs for Diabetics and Non-Diabetics.
Studies have been conducted through the University of Toronto (U of T) and UBC. Research by the U of T Risk Factor Modification Centre, to determine what elements of a food lower the impact on blood sugar led to the identification and naming of the glycemic index. With this team, Dr. Lyon has been studying the effects of a combination of certain highly viscous soluble polysaccharides which, taken with food, create the effect of fullness more quickly and lower the glycemic impact of that food. This formula is now being used in several studies focusing on weight loss and appetite control and blood glucose levels.
A Team Approach to Functional Medicine
In his role as Medical and Research Director at the Canadian Center for Functional Medicine in BC, Dr. Lyon is engaged in clinical, educational, and research approaches to treating ADHD and weight loss and risk factor modification for diabetics and non-diabetics.
ADHD Programs Include:
Weight Loss Programs Include: