A family medicine doctor who has practiced with One Medical Group for almost two years, Margit Dijkstra, MD, is based in San Francisco. Margit attended medical school at Ohio State University and completed her residency at Grant Medical Center, a hospital in Columbus. Margit’s particular areas of expertise include nutrition; preventive health through a largely plant-based diet; women’s health; and educating her patients about herbal alternatives to traditional medications.
Give us the quick version of how you got to One Medical Group.
I attended a fellowship in integrative medicine–Andrew Weil’s program at the University of Arizona–when a colleague there suggested I join her group: One Medical!
What made you want to go into medicine?
I wanted to heal people. I have always enjoyed listening to people talk about what ails them. I like looking past the surface issues to determine the root cause of symptoms.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
I feel like I’ve accomplished something valuable when patients leave my office more educated about their bodies, educated about the disorder(s) that they’re dealing with, and when I can offer them a wide range of approaches, rather than just a pill. I’m really, really gratified when patients who make big dietary changes email me to tell me how much those changes have positively impacted their energy, their mood, and whatever other issues they face!
Tell me more about how you incorporate nutrition and dietary advice into your practice.
I do try to address nutrition with every patient, when appropriate. I think it’s vital for people to understand the way food is metabolized in the body and how the basic biochemistry of that process impacts various body systems.
I teach the plant-based diet, which aims to reduce a person’s intake of animals and animal products (red meat, chicken, fish, and dairy) to decrease his or her chance of developing diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. I’ve been a vegetarian since age 14 and only discovered the health benefits of that diet when doing my own research during medical school. I was convinced to stop consuming dairy as well during my residency, when I was first exposed to the work of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Esselstyn, a colleague of my father’s, suggested that my father go on a plant-based diet for his terrible cholesterol problems. My dad was able to avoid using medication entirely.
I use this same strategy to help my patients taper their medications for the illnesses above. I do tell my patients that they should adapt my advice to fit with their lifestyle and food preferences. Ideally, their diets should be comprised of as few animal products as possible.
What do you tell patients who aren’t willing to give up meat or dairy? Are you still willing to work with them?
I educate my patients on the metabolism of food and what effects the end products of that metabolism have on the body. In light of that information, I encourage them to change their diets in whatever ways fit with their lifestyles and health goals.
What patients can benefit most from a plant-based diet?
I often recommend it to patients with chronic diet-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. It’s also a good complement for patients managing rheumatological illnesses with prescription medications. Many patients find a plant-based diet decreases the overall levels of inflammation in the body. Other patients swear to me that giving up animal products has helped with their allergies and sinus issues!
What literature do you recommend to patients who are interested in a plant-based diet?
“The China Study,” by T. Colin Campbell, the seminal book on the plant-based diet. T. Colin Campbell is responsible for the largest population-based dietary study, and the book addresses how a plant-based approach to diet can help (and sometimes reverse) different diseases.
I also like “Crazy, Sexy Diet” by Kris Carr. It’s a hip, glossy book written in a down-to-earth style by a woman with whom a lot of my patients can identify. It explains the plant-based diet in a way that is accessible and fun.
“Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes” is a book I recommend to patients who are beginning to show elevated blood sugars but don’t yet have overt diabetes, as well as to my diabetic patients. The book explains the way in which animal products contribute to blood sugar problems and offers a dietary–rather than prescription–treatment.
I also tell people to watch “Forks Over Knives,” a documentary that came out in 2011. It brings together the giants in the plant-based diet field, each of whom explains the science behind the diet and its implications for health. The film explores a bit of the biochemistry behind the metabolism of various foods, and does so in a readily accessible and easy-to-follow manner.
We’ve talked a lot about diet–what are some of your favorite healthy foods? How about indulgences?
I love brown rice bowls with vegetables and tofu. I do love pasta, too, with healthy sauces. I eat a lot of vegetables cooked in various traditions: Indian, Thai, Italian, and French, for example.
My ultimate indulgence is ice cream made from coconut milk instead of dairy milk. When I stopped eating dairy, I lost my taste for a lot of junk foods. I do love mashed potatoes. I love dark chocolate; the darker, the better. And I’ve never passed by a bowl of guac!
What will you have for lunch today?
Homemade fresh veggie spring rolls with tofu and homemade peanut sauce.
What’s your fitness routine like?
I used to be an avid runner, biker, and yoga practitioner, but since moving to San Francisco, I’ve really struggled keeping to a routine. I’m definitely a weekend warrior and bike and hike every weekend. My aim this month is to restart my daily ashtanga yoga practice, now that I’ve finally found a studio with consistent classes.
What are a few highlights from your bucket list?
I don’t have a bucket list. I try to enjoy every day for what it brings. I’m always up for any adventure that presents itself, like a last-minute trip to Australia where I found myself on a biking expedition for three months!
Who inspires you and why?
My wife, Mary. She has tirelessly campaigned for women’s health over the last 20 years. She initially trained in traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture, then completed medical school and an internship, and started a biotech company. Her company has a drug undergoing FDA testing to become the first FDA-approved herbal medicine on the market. The drug is aimed at reducing menopausal symptoms, for which women now have very few safe medication options.
Anything I missed?
I played flute professionally before going to medical school. I’d gotten my undergrad degree in flute performance and then went to the Royal Conservatory in The Hague for graduate studies. There wasn’t much classical music opportunity in Columbus, where I was in med school and residency, so I joined a Celtic rock band for a few years.
Editor’s Note: All opinions expressed in One Medical’s Meet Our Providers interview series are the interviewees’ own.