Ashok Bhandari, ND: Integrative Medicine Doctor Treating Pacific Northwest Elite Athletes and Weekend Warriors

Behind the scenes of the sports industry operates a strong support network of power players. One of these is Ashok Bhandari, ND, MSAyu at SageMED, a naturopathic physician in Bellevue, Wash. For those who won’t settle for anything less than elite performance, Dr. Bhandari plays a unique role by providing expert care that incorporates both cutting edge therapies and the empowering foundations found within Ayurvedic, naturopathic, and regenerative medicine.

Superfans of athletes wonder about the playlists they listen to before the big race and which protein powders they drink. Those who strive to match that level of athleticism dig deeper to learn what techniques will give them a leg up in competition and who these athletes rely on to optimize performance or help recover following injury. If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, that person is Dr. Bhandari. 

From Athlete to Naturopathic Sports Physician

Similar to how Olympic athletes aren’t simply handed gold medals, Dr. Bhandari didn’t become Dr. Bhandari overnight. In his preteen years, he was an avid martial artist and eager soccer player who was fascinated by all things exercise physiology, anatomy, and strength conditioning. He thought he would grow up someday to be a strength conditioning coach for professional athletes. After studying exercise physiology in college and working directly with those very athletes, he encountered his own health struggles and ran into dead end-after-dead end for treatment options both as a provider and as a patient. 

Eventually, he crossed paths with a naturopathic doctor who opened up a whole new world of options oriented towards first understanding root causes of his challenges and then shifting focus to prevention of those and other issues. “That significantly altered the trajectory of my health,” says Dr. Bhandari, “and seeing that approach in action really made me want to go into medicine.” Going into medicine, a strenuous and long road, is still a broad path with many different options. 

So, why naturopathic and ayurvedic medicine? Dr. Bhandari elaborates, “the process as a patient of naturopathic medicine made me realize that combining the naturopathic approach with sports medicine fills a void very uniquely [in this industry] – we were working towards figuring out why things were going on instead of just pushing issues and pain off to the side.” 

His master’s in Ayurvedic Sciences not only connected him to a traditional medicine deeply intertwined in India’s history and culture, but also a system of care that complements the principles of naturopathic medicine. Dr. Bhandari says this combination allows him to work with each person’s own innate constitution or body type, if you will, recognizing that some people function more optimally with certain types of foods, environmental conditions, routines. He explains that a healthy lifestyle can be built from these foundations.

“I was actually fortunate enough to do an externship at the end of that Master’s [degree] in India, and was able to see how [Ayurvedic medicine] is done as a primary system of medicine – integrated with their modern, conventional medical system, and how they utilize both of them seamlessly in the hospital setting.”

Naturopathic Doctor as Teacher

Ashok Bhandari, ND, sports medicine

Dr. Bhandari brought this experience back to the Pacific Northwest and into his private practice where he provides seamless collaborative care. When asked if he works alongside his patients’ existing team of providers and specialists, he replies, “all the time.” At SageMED alone there are naturopathic physicians (NDs), nurse practitioners, physical therapists, therapists and counselors, acupuncturists, and more. “I work with surgeons and several other types of providers as well. It works very seamlessly when you have a network that is able to provide specialized, individualized care across a team that understands each other’s approach.”

Dr. Bhandari’s impact goes far beyond the clinical consult. In fact, he may have taught your doctor. In addition to teaching at conferences and in online courses, Dr. Bhandari launched a company dedicated to educating other providers through all of the modalities and perspectives he’s gained throughout his career. This drive to educate is felt in the patient experience, and he makes sure his own education is hands-on, too. 

That’s right, Dr. Bhandari practices as he prescribes. He tests newer therapies on himself before ever recommending to a patient. He says this helps him confidently provide not only an additional layer of information to the patient, but also deeper empathy and understanding for the patient’s experience and context for their greater therapeutic journey. His commitment to walking the talk also means he is in the gym working out about three-to-four times a week, and, either playing in a soccer game with the community league or honing his martial arts skills in a local training studio.

“My aim is always to provide the knowledge and resources for others to be able to achieve the health goals that allow them to live the life that they desire,” says Dr. Bhandari…

Optimizing the Body’s Natural Responses

Ashok Bhandari, ND, sports medicine

“As an athlete, you end up with pain pretty consistently, you get used to being in pain or, you know, hurting your ankles or hurting your shoulder. The standard is to operate like ‘Well, take some painkillers, pain goes away, start training.’ And my approach was, ‘Well, there’s got to be a reason why I’m in pain, there’s got to be a way to recover better.’ I was always more preventative-minded, naturally-minded, you might say. ‘What else can I do instead of just taking medicine? What else can I do on my own? How can I alter how my body is responding at the level of its natural, innate response to injury …or pain …or training? How do I optimize that response?”

It turns out he isn’t the only athlete who wanted this kind of care. Dr. Bhandari says he tends to work with people who do high intensity/frequency training and participate in high fatigue sports. “So, soccer players, for example, swimmers – they do a lot of high volume training. They’re training 9-to-10 times a week, sometimes ‘two-a-days,’ and also extreme sports athletes like wakeboarders and snow bikers, BMX riders, and rock climbers,” he says.

Anyone from weekend warrior to elite and extreme athlete who uses their mind just as much as their body in performance, benefits from this type of care. Dr. Bhandari’s perspective demonstrates what’s possible for today and tomorrow’s integrative sports medicine. “There’s so much we can do to heal and prevent before feeling like we have to throw in the towel. My goal is to help shift the paradigm toward prevention and regenerative healing, instead of symptom management and waiting until there’s nothing you can do anymore.”

For people who want to be shown that their body can heal; who want support in finding the ways to remove obstacles that are in the way of their body healing; who want to achieve optimal function, performance, and health, Dr. Bhandari is your doctor, your teacher, your support. Whether it’s physical, mental, emotional, he’s the one you want on your team.

Because of his rich expertise and unique background, inherent drive to educate patients and fellow physicians, and ability to translate the latest research into digestible messages for the masses, that in June of 2021, the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM) welcomed Dr. Bhandari onto their Editorial Board as one of the inaugural members.

Dr. Ashok Bhandari is a Naturopathic Physician specializing in regenerative sports medicine. He received his Naturopathic medical training at Bastyr University. He is one of the first ever graduates of the Institute of Natural Medicine’s (INM) Residency program, completing a residency focused in men’s health, bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, pain and injury treatment, and regenerative sports medicine.

Alongside his medical education, Dr. Bhandari has completed extensive further training in physical medicine and sports medicine, nutrition and nutraceuticals, and mindbody medicine and biofeedback. Though specializing in regenerative sports medicine in clinical practice, Dr. Bhandari places a heavy emphasis on individualized diet and lifestyle modifications. He believes that all treatments must be built on top of this strong foundation. Dr. Bhandari regularly employs both traditional remedies as well as cutting-edge technology and research when treating his patients.

This article is sponsored by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following  initiatives:

  • Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine

Relationships are the epicenter of Dr. McMath’s work with INM as she supports our content Editorial Board and nurtures connections across the naturopathic space. Dr. McMath became involved in the advancement of the profession as a naturopathic medical student as a member of the board of directors for the California Naturopathic Doctors Association, intern for the Integrative Health Policy Consortium, research associate for Bastyr University’s Health Policy and Leadership Committee, and first ND student to be a delegate to the World Health Assembly in Geneva. Early in her career Dr. McMath helped lead the development of Integrative Wellness at the Maryland Proton Treatment Center and was elected to the board of directors of the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians where she serves on the Public Relations Committee.

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Deb Hubers

Debra Hubers is a serial entrepreneur and has started seven businesses; ranging from an advanced genomics to an employer health care purchasing cooperative. Deb has over 35 years of experience in healthcare finance, education, technology, and pharmacogenomics.

Ms. Hubers has dedicated her career to measuring and improving healthcare outcomes. Her expertise is leveraging technology to deliver personalized, preventative medicine. Ms. Hubers co-founded La Vita Compounding Pharmacy in 2007. Collaborating with her business partner, physicians and strategic partners, Deb has grown La Vita to be one of the most respected and sought-after personalized medicine providers on the west coast. She is also Co-Founder of EpigeneticsRx, a leading provider of precise, personalized, prevention which positively impacts genetic expression.

Alex Keller, ND

Dr. Alex Keller, ND, AFMCP is a graduate of the University of Ottawa with an Honours Bachelor in Health Sciences and Psychology. Although originally intending to attend conventional medical school, following a three-month volunteer internship at a rural Kenyan hospital where he observed how doctors used local food to treat patients, he shifted his career goals and pursued a degree in naturopathic medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.

After one year of practicing with the esteemed Dr. Chris Pickrell, ND, RH in a community acupuncture setting, in 2015 he and his wife Dr. Jenn Keller, ND moved to rural Ottawa, Canada where they started an organic farm and retreat center. In the same year, Alex and his athletic therapist sister Jess Keller combined their practices to form Keller Active Health, an integrative physical therapy clinic.

Ever curious and passionate about the education of evidence-based natural medicine, in 2017, Dr. Keller joined a fledgling Ottawa-based health tech startup named Fullscript. He serves as its Medical Director and oversees the development of medical education content for practitioners across North America.

Prior to medicine, Alex worked in the renewable energy sector, where he developed a deep passion for sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. This connection between medicine and agriculture now drives Alex to focus much of his energy on bringing awareness to the quality and sourcing standards in the supplement and organic agriculture supply chains.

Today, he splits his professional time practicing as a clinician, working for Fullscript, and expanding the farming operation while chasing his kids with Jenn and occasionally running ultra-marathon trail races. He is also currently completing an Executive MBA through the Quantic School of Business & Technology with a focus on supply chain innovation.

Pamela Snider, ND

Pamela Snider, ND, is Executive and Senior Editor for the Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine Project, producing a first of its kind international textbook of Naturopathic medicine through a series of international retreats and symposia. A nationally recognized integrative health and policy leader, she is active in both national and regional integrative health initiatives. Dr. Snider serves on the Board of Directors, was founding Executive Director and co-founder of the Academic Consortium for Integrative Health (ACIH/ACCAHCa consortium of the councils of schools, accrediting agencies and certifying bodies of the licensed, traditional and emerging integrative health professions, and is currently Vice Chair and co-founder of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC).  Dr. Snider served as a founding Board Member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine from 2014-2016. Her public policy work includes completing a two year appointment to the DHHS Center For Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee (MCAC); serving as a Steering Committee Member for  the HRSA funded American College of Preventive Medicine NCCIM Integrative Medicine in Preventive Medicine Residency program, co-directing in USPHS Region X the Building Bridges Between Provider Communities Group, an exploration of interdisciplinary collaboration and common ground between public health and CAM; serving for 22 years on Washington State’s Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program Advisory Committee (HPLRSP); providing technical assistance to and developing key language for the enabling legislation for NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH/NCCAM); and staffing Joseph Pizzorno ND during his appointment as Commissioner on the White House Commission on CAM Policy.

From 1994-2003, Dr. Snider served as Associate Dean for Public and Professional Affairs and Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University, dividing her work between academic and public affairs activities, including chairing the Naturopathic Medicine Program Curriculum Review Committee.  Dr. Snider has been teaching, publishing and lecturing widely on Naturopathic philosophy, theory integrative health, public policy, and other topics for over 30 years. Currently, an Associate Professor at National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland, OR, Dr. Snider also continues at Bastyr University in her 22nd year as a faculty member teaching naturopathic medicine history, clinical theory, and global context. Among her Naturopathic medicine professional roles she serves on the Institute for Natural Medicine’s Leadership Council.  In 1989, she co-led the naturopathic profession with Dr. Jared Zeff, in developing a unifying definition of naturopathic medicine and its principles of practice adopted unanimously by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) House of Delegates. She was a co-investigator in the 2004 NIH NCCAM research study, the North American Naturopathic Medical Research Agenda and CAM Advisor in NIHCCAM’s Financing Integrative Health Care (University of Washington).  Her areas of experience include healthcare education; naturopathic and interdisciplinary clinical theory, curriculum development; clinical practice; government and legislative affairs, public policy, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community organizing.  Dr. Snider has received the Ontario Naturopathic Physician of the Year Award, the Physician of the Year Award from the AANP, the President’s Outstanding Vision Award and Distinguished Alumnus Award at Bastyr University, AANP’s President’s Award, an honorary Doctorate of Naturopathic Philosophy from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), the William A Mitchell Vis Award from the AANP and The Gathering – NMSA’s Beacon Award. She received her ND degree in 1982 from Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences and is a licensed naturopathic physician in the State of Washington. She lives with her husband and children at their homestead in North Bend Washington, in the beautiful mountain to sea landscape and home of The Revival – Restore the Vis, an annual student-led community gathering.

Susan Haeger

Susan Haeger is Founder/Principal of Transformative Health Solutions Inc. She has applied her twenty plus years in executive leadership to help shape and drive adoption of progressive health policy for whole person healthcare. She was a section contributor to the 2021 INM/AANP published professional white paper, Naturopathic Physicians as Whole Health Specialists: The Future is Whole Person Health Care that provides supporting evidence for the profession’s significant and unique contributions to preventive, whole person care and models of integrative clinical practice.

Bruce Barlean

Bruce Barlean is an owner and founder of Barlean’s, a global dietary supplement manufacturer located in the Pacific Northwest in Ferndale, WA. Bruce has been actively involved in the Natural Products industry since 1989 and is passionate about making a difference in the world and positively impacting the lives of others.

Bruce believes that people can make a difference in the world through ordinary purchases. He is committed to improving the quality of life for every person on the planet by making the best products and by using the profits to support outreach programs. Bruce summarizes it simply, “We make good stuff to do good stuff”.

In the late 1980’s Bruce became passionate about how health could be dramatically improved with Flax Oil Supplementation. Bruce along with his entrepreneurial parents saw the potential to improve the lives of many people and in 1989 they began selling Flax Oil under the Barlean’s name. From 1989 – 2000 the business grew an average of 40% year over year. While most companies saw a decline in business in the 2001 recession, Barlean’s continued to grow and soon became America’s #1 selling flaxseed oil and continues to be to the present. The brand has since expanded to include additional oils, green food concentrates and other premium supplements. Bruce continues to drive innovation and over the years his products and company have won countless awards including: Eight consecutive Vity Awards for #1 EFA, Six consecutive Vity Awards for #1 Greens Food Supplement, Natural Choice Award for Best Specialty Supplement, Best Product of the Year, Best New Product, Gold Medal Taster’s Choice Award, Gold Medal American Masters of Taste Award, #1 Health Food Store Brand for Consumer Satisfaction by Consumer Lab, and Manufacturer of the Year.

In 2013 as the company was on the eve of celebrating the 25th year in business Bruce and his parents decided to take their desire to help people to a new level that they call Pathway to a Better Life – which is now seen in the Barlean’s logo. Bruce and his parents had always been generous in their giving and support of charities, but as part of the Pathway to a Better Life they decided to increased partnership with charitable organizations such as: Vitamin Angels, Compassion International, KidsTown International, Autism Hope Alliance, Engedi Refuge, Project 92, and others. And because so many people are unable to meet basic nutritional needs, Bruce created a comprehensive Omega-3 and multivitamin formula that he distributes free-of-charge to local food banks. In addition, Bruce decided the company would supply food banks with organic coconut oil to provide people with a health alternative to standard cooking oils.

Always generous with his time Bruce has served as a youth leader for his local church for several years and continues to mentor youth. He has been on several not for profit boards including; Whatcom County Pregnancy Center (2003-2006), Natural Products Association (dates?), and the Institute for Natural Medicine Leadership Council (presently).

The Barlean family have been avid supporters of Bastyr University since the 1990’s and in 2013 were given Bastyr’s most prestigious honor, the Mission Award, which recognizes their leadership over time in improving the health and well-being of the human community.

Bruce currently resides in Ferndale, WA with his wife Lisa and their two dogs: Heinz & Shadow. When he’s not helping others he can be found fishing (catch & release).

Get Involved!

Michelle Simon, PHD, ND

President & CEO

As president and CEO of INM, Dr. Simon brings her passion for working with organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of healthcare. This desire stems from her years of practice as a licensed naturopathic physician. In addition to holding a Naturopathic Doctorate from Bastyr University she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She has served on boards for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI), and several advisory boards. Dr. Simon served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee, as Ambassador to the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) and was recognized as 2018 AANP Physician of the Year. Dr. Simon shares with her husband a passion for adventure travel, preferably by boat or motorcycle. She also enjoys teaching a women’s off-road motorcycling class.