When Dr. Tasneem Bhatia — known widely as Dr. Taz — began losing her hair, she’d already completed years of medical school and had begun her residency, and yet she had no idea what was happening to her body. When she eventually found the link between her hair loss and diet, the revelation totally changed the course of her career. Today, Dr. Taz is an Atlanta-based functional medicine doctor, acupuncturist, certified nutritionist, and author, who prioritizes a holistic approach to medicine. Read on to learn about her story, the issue of medical gaslighting, why having more women in medicine is so important, and more.
Health Issues, the Link Between Hair Loss and Diet — and a Career Transformation
As is the case with almost every doctor in residency, Dr. Taz was under a lot of stress. “My eating was off, my sleep was off, I didn’t know how to take care of myself,” she remembers. Soon, she began experiencing what she knows now were inflammatory symptoms: her joints ached, she had horrible acne, her hair was falling out, and she was gaining weight for seemingly no reason. What shocks Dr. Taz most about this period of her life is that she wasn’t at all motivated to figure out what was causing all of these issues. “I think I was so in my head, and so determined to power through,” she remembers. She hoped it would go away on its own, magically disappear, as so many of us do when we encounter mysterious ailments.
But eventually, Dr. Taz’s hair loss accelerated to the point where she could no longer hide it, and people began noticing. At that point, she began looking for answers, and eventually discovered that her hair loss and diet were inextricably linked. “Ultimately, it came down to food quite honestly,” says Dr. Taz. All of her symptoms came from the fact that she was eating the wrong diet, and eventually she learned that she needed to be gluten-free and get more iron and B vitamins, among other shifts. Since then, she’s adhered to these guidelines and remained symptom-free, but she knows that the connection between hair loss and diet is strong, and the moment she falls off this diet, the symptoms will return.
Beyond teaching her what her body needed to thrive, this experience opened Dr. Taz’s eyes to the power of small, daily changes. “The idea that tiny shifts can shift your health so dramatically was fascinating to me,” she says. At the time, she was working in the ER, and was planning on being an ICU (intensive care unit) doctor, so the idea that small, subtle changes could make a big difference felt all the more revelatory. She suddenly saw clearly the strengths and weaknesses of conventional medicine, and it fundamentally changed the way that she approaches medicine to this day.
Looking back, she recalls the intense, dramatic atmosphere of the ER — or “hero” medicine, as she describes it. A more preventative, lifestyle-based approach moves away from the savior role of the doctor, and toward a dynamic where doctors work closely with patients’ to treat and prevent disease with small tweaks. Through her personal experience, she’d seen that intense healing could, indeed, be achieved without a big, heroic intervention, and she knew that was the medicine she wanted to pursue.
The Problem of Medical Gaslighting in Healthcare
Besides the misguided tendency to always jump into the “hero” role, Dr. Taz now sees other issues with the conventional healthcare system, and one of the most troubling is medical gaslighting. If you haven’t heard the term before, medical gaslighting is when a doctor or other healthcare authority denies, dismisses, or trivializes a patient’s reported symptoms or concerns. It’s quite common in the conventional healthcare world, especially for female patients or those with rare or poorly understood conditions, like Lyme disease or Lupus or thyroid dysfunction.
A few stats about medical gaslighting to give you some context on the issue:
It takes an average of 4.8 years for people with rare diseases to get a diagnosis, largely because their symptoms don’t fit into the doctors’ expectations and so they are dismissed.
Getting a psychological misdiagnosis can make it take 2.5 to 14 times longer to get a diagnosis. This is important because in medical gaslighting, women are often told that their physical symptoms are actually the result of a mental/psychological issue.
Studies have shown that women with serious health issues (ie, so bad they ended up hospitalized) avoided seeing a doctor because they’d felt disrespected or were worried about looking like they were making a big deal out of nothing.
Dr. Taz explains that medical gaslighting exists largely because there’s not enough money being put into women’s health. Looking at her colleagues and those in the top positions at large medical institutions, she says, the field is still quite male-dominated.
That is shifting these days, as more and more women enter the medical profession, but because of the very nature of being a woman, that equal presence doesn’t necessarily mean equality: “The usual variable with all of this is that a lot of these women start having children, we start to drop to part-time, so a lot of times we’re still not active participants in the policy changes that need to happen to support women’s health or in the advocacy that needs to happen,” she says. “We’re still very much in a gaslit medical culture for sure.”
Why More Women In Medicine Is Essential to Transforming Healthcare
Medical gaslighting is just one of the symptoms of the fact that there aren’t more women in medicine (or at least not in the top, policy-driving roles). On a more general level, the male-dominated medical field translates to a very specific medical approach, one that has led to our pill-for-an-ill mentality, and the lack of preventative medicine. This, in turn, has led to skyrocketing rates of chronic disease in the United States.
Dr. Taz describes the prevailing philosophy of conventional medicine as paternalistic and uninterested in nuance. “It’s a very male way of looking at medicine,” she says. “You go from Point A to Point B to Point C on this linear road, and there are no gray zones, nothing else, there can’t be any other possibilities.” By contrast, a maternal, feminine medical model would be more holistic, looking at subtle factors and the interrelated nature of a person’s life and health. “Women are more likely to think in this relational way,” says Dr. Taz. “So until we have more women in medicine in the decision-making chairs, medicine is going to continue to be this very paternalistic model where women’s health issues will be gaslit.”
She goes on to explain that it’s not simply about having more women in medicine since even female physicians are indoctrinated into the practices and beliefs of the conventional medical system. When young doctors come out of medical school, she says, they tend to be very passionate about what they’ve learned and believe that it is the only way. But through her own experience, Dr. Taz realized that you have to be open-minded to new approaches and perspectives in order to solve problems in a holistic and sustainable way — and she hopes that more of her female peers will have the same revelation. She says that the women in medicine are the biggest victims of the paternalistic medical model, because “we’re so fluid and flexible all the time. We’re hormonal. We do 50 different things in any given lifetime. For us to be put in these boxes where this is the only way absolutely doesn’t work.”
Have you ever experienced medical gaslighting? What happened? How did you respond? Share your story in the comments below!
Watch our full interview with Dr. Taz to hear her discuss:
Why she thinks the entire medical education system needs to be overhauled (and the challenges standing in the way of that)
Which health issues are most commonly left undiagnosed and why
The reason that she always treats mothers and children together
Why our modern environment is leading to more and more hormone disruption in women (especially young women)
The MTHFR gene and how it relates to IUDs
Her book Super Woman RX and how each woman has her own “power type” associated with a hormone pattern, diet, and lifestyle that we need to perform at our best
…and much more!