Dr. Dawn Motyka's ‘Functional Medicine’ practice redefines the modern patient-doctor relationship.

The calm, all-knowing voice of Dr. Dawn Motyka chimes over the airwaves of KUSP's central coast public radio every Saturday morning at 9 o'clock—just as it has every week since 1993. Over the years, Dr. Motyka has interviewed a wide range of notable doctors and experts on her radio show, Ask Dr. Dawn, from Dr. Gabor Maté on the neurological effects of early childhood relationships to, most recently, Jane Wade on the certification processes and nutritional benefits of organic food.

But mostly, Dr. Motyka opens the show up to her listeners—which, with the inception of the podcast, has expanded to include anyone with a smart phone or Internet access to NPR.

Drawing on 22 years as a primary care physician and her insatiable research habits, Dr. Motyka methodically addresses a lottery of topics, which, during the course of one show, can span from the concern around heightened mercury levels in the body or the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin to a mysterious bug bite filled with pus—complete with the caller's sound effects for how he popped it. If she's uncertain about any aspect of an issue, she looks it up for the following week.

Sitting across from Dr. Motyka in her office on the West side is like being in the presence of a virtual, up-to-date encyclopedia of medicine that happens to have long blonde hair and a propensity for Dragon's Breath green tea.

Dr. Motyka opened Optimage Health Inc. in August, on the main artery of Mission Street—and it looks nothing like the primary care office she ran for two decades before that. To start, she is able to spend more than 15 minutes with each patient; a monthly subscription provides unlimited time with Dr. Motyka, and of course, her cell phone number.

Functional medicine is a radically reframed “systems approach” to health, and Dr. Motyka integrates psychoneuroimmunology, acupuncture, natural medicine and even aesthetics—she’s as prepared to perform a pap smear or diagnose an autoimmune disease as she is to administer hypnosis or a Botox injection. Interestingly, she blames the evolution of her present-day practice not on years spent in medical school, but on Santa Cruz.

“My patients educated me,” says Dr. Motyka. “I came to this town in 1991, and people started asking me questions about herbs, and about natural substances, and I realized I didn't know enough. I'd always had a bias thinking that there was probably good stuff there in the herbal world, but that gave me the push to study it formally. …When you become a doctor in a town it's kind of like getting married, and Santa Cruz has shaped me.”

From mushrooms to potent Chinese herbs, Dr. Motyka takes natural medicine seriously, but emphasizes a common misconception that they're natural pharmaceuticals. “Pharmaceuticals hijack a natural process, they kind of grab the steering wheel and take control of the body,” she says. “Herbs, in general, are simply not strong enough to do that. But what they can do is give the body a nudge in the right direction.”

They can also really mess things up if you take the wrong combinations or too much, she adds.

But the number one measure for optimal health that we perpetually overlook is simple.

“Vitamin S,” says Dr. Motyka. “Sleep. And also just downtime. The mistake we make with ourselves, is that we try to squeeze in so much production… We are overstimulated as a civilization, and it’s starting to affect our longevity figures. If you look at the cultures where people live longest, the so-called blue zones, they’re quite different in many ways, so the question to ask is what have they got in common? And one of the things that they're doing is that they're having downtime.”

So go ahead, wriggle into that wetsuit, and pencil in an afternoon nap.

Connect with Dr. Motyka at www.askdrdawn.com.