How Katie Coombs Beat Her Long Battle with Sugar

Doctor helps patient beat sugar addiction

Katie Coombs was the picture of health. Or so she thought.

The radio and media personality, business owner and mother of six led an active lifestyle. She ate in moderation and made sure her home was stocked with healthy food.

Every year, she had an “executive physical” during which everything from her weight, vital signs and cholesterol to a variety of key functions was checked. Sure, she had a few aches and pains, a few extra pounds and some sluggishness that she and her doctor at the time chalked up to being in her early 40s.

It was only when she joined the MDVIP practice of Dr. Merritt Dunlap in Carson City, Nevada, this past January that a clearer picture of Coombs’ health came into focus. After the two-hour annual wellness examination during which Dr. Dunlap reviewed her results, she learned that her cholesterol level was high and that her cardiovascular inflammatory markers, blood sugar and liver tests were elevated. Dr.  Dunlap sat down with Ms. Coombs to talk about what motivated her and what her goals were. Then, Dr. Dunlap asked Ms. Coombs how long she thought she could live well.

“I said I’d like to live to 90,” she recalled.  “But Dr. Dunlap said the test results showed that wasn’t going to happen.  My diet, elevated blood levels and weight indicated I wouldn’t live that long. He said that by 50, I could be pre-diabetic. I walked out of the office into the parking lot and asked myself, ‘Do I want to be diabetic?’ I was just given a warning.  I decided right there and then that I was going to choose healthy. I was going to lose that weight.”

It’s the message Dr. Dunlap hoped would get through. It’s one he’d not experienced enough in his traditional primary care practice where he often saw patients with end-stage disease, which refers to the worst condition an organ can be, sometimes barely functioning. “Closer oversight can prevent illness, like heart attacks for example,” said Dr. Dunlap, who knows that patients can change their behavior and reverse disease progression.  “That’s how traditional medicine works - you don’t do anything about it until people are diagnosed,” he says. “You don’t see pre-diabetics before they’re diabetics or arterial disease before patients are symptomatic. With personalized medicine, I can address these issues before they become problems.”

Ms. Coombs started thinking about her medical history. Liver enzymes that were elevated, questionable lab results, even a report that led to the removal of her gall bladder – these all might have struck a more discerning physician’s eye. Even persistent stomach issues likely had a more identifiable source and a congenital heart ailment could have been addressed through weight loss.

“The cardiologist’s advice was to go on a beta blocker and go out on disability, but not to exercise,” she said.

So, together, Dr. Dunlap and Ms. Coombs devised a plan to pursue a healthier course. She rid her life of various sources of sugar, from sugary drinks and even fruits, carbohydrates and breads. In the process, her blood work normalized and stomach issues subsided. She even lost 30 pounds and her husband, Chris, lost 15 pounds.

Today, 10 months later, she runs, works out or swims at least a half-hour daily. She eats no carbs or sugars and enjoys plenty of low-sugar fruits, vegetables and proteins. Her weight is down and her energy is back. Ms. Coombs regularly outlasts her children on the family workout videos. Her newspaper column detailing her success, “The Long Battle with Sugar,” was among her most highly read editorials ever.

“The combination of preventive medicine and a healthy diet will certainly give you a chance to live as long as you think you can,” she wrote.

She suspects this new approach would have prevented her from having her gallbladder removed. She even believes this type of care is what allowed her OB/Gyn to harvest and fertilize eight eggs as she and Chris try for a child together.

Ms. Coombs credits Dr. Dunlap for taking a true interest in her as a person, not just another patient. He says he just asked her to share her goals, discussed her health and “changed the trajectory of her life.”

“I really think the changes in my health impact every aspect of my life,” she says. “Most doctors treat your symptoms, not solve your problems. He provided care that changed my life.”

As for Dr. Dunlap, he stated, “When younger patients, like Katie, make the time to take a good look at themselves, they will find that preventive care is better than ‘repair care’ and there is real value in that.  Katie is an example of what I do in my MDVIP practice and how I work one-on-one with all my patients to help them achieve their personal successes.”

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