Chiu, 35, is a chiropractic neurologist.
I was born and raised in and around Chicago. I think it was 7th or 8th grade when I discovered skateboarding. Got on it, fell in love, and didn’t look back. Actually, I did look back once. That was when I became a doctor. I was like, “Wait a second, doctors aren’t supposed to skateboard, right?” I stopped skating, and I was miserable. It was just stupid thinking. So I started skating again and, man, it keeps me young and strong.
At University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, I majored in biology. I was really good at it, kind of found it interesting—but when I graduated I didn’t really want to do research. I didn’t really want to become a medical doctor. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and ended up in Japan ’cause my girlfriend at the time had a friend living there. I was teaching English, and on my way to work one day I got hit by a car. That triggered a whole chain of events that led me to my calling. I pretty much was in chronic pain—had given up hope. Then one winter break I come back and my brother—he’s a chiropractor, he’s a healer—after just a few sessions healed me. Before I used to think those guys were quacks, but it changed my life.
I studied chiropractic medicine. Then after that, because of my own personal experience of giving up on the medical system, I found that my training in chiropractic medicine wasn’t enough to give me the tools to be able to help people the way I wanted. So then I went and studied acupuncture, then nutrition, and then I did a postdoc in neurology. I fell in love with neurology, just looking at the ways the body influences the brain and the mind. We’ve all heard about the mind-body connection, how things like stress and emotional issues can affect the body. There’s actually the body-mind connection. It’s not like a one-way street.
One of my recent passions is looking at how specific types of movement therapies or physical therapies profoundly impact the brain. It’s this process called neuroplasticity. It’s a fancy term for saying your brain can adapt and physically, structurally change based on your experiences. It’s fascinating stuff.
A lot of times, medical neurologists—and conventional medicine in general—are limited to their training, to drugs and surgery. From my perspective working with patients, especially patients with more long-standing health issues, those things are not adequate. I think drugs and surgery can work to save lives, which they do in an emergency situation. But in the long run, most of the diseases we suffer from are chronic illnesses that deal with lifestyle and our belief systems. So a lot of what I do in terms of therapies revolves around that. I’ll do a workup on a patient and I’ll figure out what is missing in this person’s life, whether it’s a nutrient, a certain type of movement or exercise, optimism with the world—because all that influences our health, whether it’s that they’re not spending enough time with friends and family, they’re not pursuing their dreams, or they’re not having a mission or a purpose in life.
The model of what we consider health—what we’re taught health is—is so limited. It’s like, oh, eat a healthy diet and exercise, check your cholesterol, check your blood pressure; if it’s high, take a drug. The human experience is so much more vast than that.
It might sound like I’m trying to knock conventional medicine—I’m not. I’m just trying to point out its limitations. It comes down to the patient and the community. Are we really serving them to the level we can? In my opinion, absolutely not, especially the patients I’ve seen. I think a lot of the questions about health care and insurance and costs and all that would just kind of disappear if we adopted a model that wasn’t as invasive, that wasn’t as expensive, that was more effective in addressing core underlying causes.
What’s Gandhi say? “Be the change you want to see in the world.” That’s really it. I have to say, love is the most powerful medicine there is. —As told to Tal Rosenberg