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The FoodRx Project and Finn Haley

August 15, 2011
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After two years of after-hours planning and work, Finn Haley has launched FoodRx, a comprehensive non-profit resource for inflammatory bowel disease sufferers, especially for those living in the Minneapolis area.

FoodRx assists IBD sufferers by taking an integrative approach to therapy: helping patients find healthcare professionals who can assist with the SCD, conventional medicine, and complementary therapies such as meditation.

Integrative health care practitioners focus on building strong relationships with patients: assisting in educating them and personalizing treatments to summon all of the body's resources for recovery.

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Instead of simply making a website for FoodRx, Finn has taken the time to build a lasting organization. FoodRx board members include Dr. David Rakel, the Director of the University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine Program, as well as experienced professionals in law and corporate development.

Finn's personal story with ulcerative colitis began like many others: experiencing severe cramping after eating, seeing blood after using the bathroom, losing weight, and being told he would be on heavy medications for the remainder of his life. At the time, in 2001, Finn was in college.

After spending time searching the web, he decided to try the specific carbohydrate diet. He also had the initiative and good fortune of finding a doctor trained in integrative medicine. As well as using the SCD, the doctor helped Finn learn meditation and design an exercise program to reduce stress and strengthen his immune system.

After 4 to 5 months of using the SCD, meditation, and exercise, Finn writes that: "every one of my symptoms had completely disappeared." As time passed, his strength continued to improve, he was able to participate in competitive endurance sports, graduate from college with distinction, and land a demanding job in a mergers & acquisitions group. For years, Finn continued to experience good health and steady career success.

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Then, three years ago, he began to browse online IBD message boards and read heartbreaking messages. Finally, he read one story too many. It was from a teenager in high school. As Finn describes it:

"She was scheduled to have surgery. She was scared about what the pouch would be like. She wanted to know how it would fit under her clothes, if it would show under the dress she wanted to wear out to a dance. All of her concerns were things a young girl should never have to worry about."

"It didn't seem fair that I had lucked out and she hadn't. It was also clear that no one had ever offered her the alternative of dietary modification. She was very sad to be out of treatment options--she seemed more frustrated that she was out of treatment options than she was with having to undergo surgery. But the post I was reading of hers was an old one."

That post spurred Finn to create FoodRx. In creating the site and the organization, Finn writes in an email:

"I wanted, as much as it was possible, to have the website retain its objectivity. I didn't want to be a site that bashed traditional medicine - I wanted to be a site that promoted integrative medicine and the SCD. Too often, the message of how well the SCD works get lost in arguments about the 'evils' of drug therapies. I wanted a site that appeared professional, emphasized scientific evidence, and presented the diet objectively. That's a big reason I got Dr. Rakel from UW-Madison on board as a Medical Advisor. I wanted to reach that segment of patients who are reluctant to try anything that isn't supported by a traditional MD."

By taking an integrative approach and addressing all aspects of a patient's life, FoodRx could not arrive soon enough. In 2010, a study1 of 597 Crohn's patients showed that over 19% of them experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to the disease. Not only did they suffer more emotionally, but the PTSD exacerbated Crohn's symptoms.

IBD sufferers are more likely to succeed with the SCD, or traditional medicine, when they have medical professionals who consider all aspects of patient health. With a resource such as FoodRx to find integrative health care practictioners, the future will have fewer pouches, and not as many heartbreaking IBD stories.

1 Post-traumatic stress in Crohn's disease and its association with disease activity, Frontline Gastroenterology 2011;2:2-9.