Del Mar doctor takes an alternate route with autism and ADHD


For three decades, Dr. Lisa Loegering steeped herself in the pharmaceutical-heavy, symptom-centric treatments of western medicine. But now, at the private practice she started last year in Del Mar, she’s carving a different path — one that relies on a nutrients-based treatment to correct deficiencies in her patients’ brain chemistry.

Truth is, Loegering always harbored an interest in alternative medicine, even back during the decade she spent at the UCLA School of Medicine for her medical degree, residency and fellowship in child development and behavior. That interest only grew during her two decades of working with children at the Scripps Clinic and in the Sharp healthcare system.

It was then that attention-deficit disorder was booming and Ritalin and Adderall were standard treatment throughout the pediatric world. Parents were relieved to see their kids do better, but invariably, the side effects would arrive swiftly and sometimes be severe.

“I’m sure I prescribed way too many pharmaceuticals back then,” she said. “In western medicine, you diagnose symptoms and you treat that. But you rarely look at why it happened.”

More and more, she saw families turning to alternative practitioners. In those early days it was hard to separate fact from fiction, but with time, those practitioners matured the science, studies and data, giving the movement critical mass. And when she saw her father respond to a nutrients-based treatment after his Parkinson’s diagnosis, she knew it was time for her to enter a new medical arena.

First came the Institute for Functional Medicine, where she learned about building personalized treatment plans based on a detailed understanding of a patient’s genetic, biochemical and lifestyle factors. After that she immersed herself in the data-rich environment of the Walsh Research Institute, the central tenet of which is the fact that many of the vitamins, minerals and amino acids that come from food are also the building blocks in neurotransmitter synthesis.

She fused those fields together with her experience as a board-certified pediatrician into the approach she launched early last year at Integrative Pediatrics of Del Mar, where she specializes in difficult cases of kids with autism and ADHD as well as anxiety and depression.

“I didn’t want to be in any kind of traditional setting. I don’t want the short appointments. I already did that,” she said. “I wanted a different venue where I could use all my skills. I love alternative medicine and it made sense with my extensive experience in traditional medicine. Really, to be able to help people, to put that all together to do the most good for the kids in the most need, that’s my main goal —to be a parent’s answer to a difficult situation.”

The practice on Camino del Mar has grown over its 18 months, yet remains small enough to ensure she can give her cadre of families the intimate attention needed for her meticulous treatment.

But she cautions that the treatment isn’t for everyone.

Starting with a 60- to 90-minute session, she puts together a patient profile using their medical history and analyses of blood and urine to give her a vantage into the biomarkers involved in producing neurotransmitters. From there she can she carefully crafts a set of lifestyle interventions that include supplements, vitamins and changes to diet designed to target specific changes in brain biochemistry —naturally, rather than with foreign molecules that compel the brain into abnormal states.

“Not everybody’s biochemisty is right for pharmaceuticals,” she said. “For a lot of these kids, the pharmaceuticals are not working right. Some kids probably do need pharmaceutical help, but a lot of these kids are on three medications and they’re totally sedated. That’s probably not good for them, so I’ll try to get them down to two or even one.”

The treatment requires vitamins in the morning and more at night. Extensive lab work is common. The regimen is typically pricier than a bottle of pills. And while pharmaceuticals can yield immediate results, her route is slower, gentler and more deliberate. Some patients need up to four months before results start to show.

“It takes a certain kind of parent. People have to be patient,” she said. “With my approach, parents have to buy into wanting it. You’re basically correcting underlying deficiencies and prodding the body to make more neurotransmitters. That takes time.”

For those who stay with it, the pay-off is well worth the trouble and expense, she said. Side effects are rare, and her treatment can make the brain more receptive to other forms of therapy — for example, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) for autism. And while autism remains without a cure, but her type of biochemical treatments help her autistic patients roughly 85 percent of the time, she said.

“It’s a shame that people don’t even know it exists,” she said. “They know that ABA is very effective but they know absolutely zero that a nutrient treatment would make the brain healthier and as a result make the child healthier, and would complement that treatment.”

And it can have dramatic effect on the kinds of physical maladies that oftentimes accompany her patients’ disorders, such as asthma, allergies, eczema and trouble sleeping.

“Parents will say after a few months their child is like a different child. Some parents will say they don’t get sick at all anymore,” she said. “There are a lot of side benefits. I know that it works, it just works at different rates and it takes a lot of work.”

Dr. Lisa Loegering will be giving a series of talks at local libraries about her approach to treating ADHD, the first of which is at 6 p.m. on Oct. 17 at the Carmel Valley Library.

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