There’s a quiet revolution going on in medicine, and southeast Minnesota is at its epicenter. While a national debate rages over health care options and costs, many here are quietly turning to what is often called alternative medicine to supplement, if not supplant, more conventional therapies.
Partially driven by consumer demand, such venerable medical establishments as the Mayo Clinic have begun incorporating aspects of integrative medicine in their treatments, and spreading the word via their websites and newsletters. Last year the second, updated edition of The Mayo Clinic Book of Alternative Medicine was published. Dr. Mehmet Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, regularly spreads the gospel to his and Oprah Winfrey’s viewers.
What is complementary and alternative, or integrative, medicine? It includes such modalities as homeopathy, naturopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, herbalism and nutritional-based therapies such as Ayurveda, according to the American National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). It differs from mainstream, American Medical Association-dictated medical practice in that:
• Based on quantum, versus Newtonian physics, it views the body as a dynamic energy system, not as a bio-machine.
• It believes that emotion and spirit can influence illness or health via energetic and neuro-hormonal connections among body, mind and spirit.
• It seeks to re-balance the body to maximize wellness, rather than “fix” illness.
Though it is said that integrative medicine has had only limited clinical study, scientific investigation is beginning to address this gap, and the boundaries between it and more traditional practices is beginning to blur. Seventy-five percent of Americans older than 18 have used some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Medical schools are breaking free of the AMA mold: 60 percent of the nation’s medical schools now include CAM courses in their curriculum.
Northfield is noted as a progressive community, and nowhere is this more noticeable than in the number of holistic practitioners; a local publisher puts out an annual guide to help keep track of the myriad masseurs, chiropractors, Reiki masters and acupuncturists in and around our city limits.
Northfield Patch will present a series of profiles of local integrative health practitioners, explaining what they do and exploring the ways in which Northfield is weaving a new web of holistic health care that is more inclusive, less intrusive—and abundantly available in our backyard.
A LOOK AT HOMEOPATHY
Could Homeopathy heal our health-care system?
These days, just paying those inflated health-care premiums in enough to make you sick.
What if there was a medical treatment that tailored itself to your specific needs, had no side effects, and could not just quell your symptoms—whether acute, as with a cold, or chronic, like cancer—but improve your overall health at a fraction of the cost of traditional care?
Homeopathic medicine touts itself just as that—and more people are opting for it.
Homeopathy is an alternative medical science based on the concept of our bodies as energy fields, strongly tied to mind and emotions. This energy, also called prana or chi, must be maintained in balance, or disease occurs.
Practitioners stress that it complements rather than replaces traditional, allopathic medicine, which is best for catastrophic injuries or illnesses. Homeopathy treats the whole person, not just his symptoms, and is better at preserving wellness, preventing of illness, and at treating chronic conditions.
“There is much more awareness about health, and our personal responsibility for it,” says Sujata Owens of homeopathy in Northfield, which has been here for 22 years. “Many more are coming to us, and to our website, shopping for answers."
Seeking an alternative
The revival of interest in homeopathy has come as health-care costs rise and consumers recognize the limitations of drugs and surgery to deal with the epidemic rise of the “Western diseases:” obesity, diabetes, stroke and heart disease. And Western medicine has no help for the constellation of autoimmune ailments—including chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, endometriosis—that has risen along with the level of toxins in our environment.
“My tag-line is that I’m nurturing you to greater health,” says Owens. “It’s a journey into completely understanding a person, taking time to learn what makes this person unique.”
Visits to Vital Force are not your typical 20-minute rush job.
Owens’ clients fill out a 28- page case record that covers a genetic and personal health history, the patient’s body type, food sensitivities, current physical, emotional and mental symptoms—even their dream history. Patient visits are lengthy and treatments are individualized to each person; different people with the same condition might receive different treatments.
This is because homeopathy operates on a completely different theory of disease. Traditional Western medicine sees sickness as an invasion of physical symptoms. Success in treatment is judged by the abatement of symptoms.
While homeopathy regards these symptoms as important clues to imbalances in the body that cause disease, it understands illness as multidimensional and complex, unique to the individual, and most likely more mental and emotional than physical in origin.
A history of homeopathy
Homeopathy, which was the primary medical modality in the United States until well into the 20th century, was established more than 200 years ago by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician who was horrified by medical practices of his time, which were often brutal and more harmful than helpful.
Hahnemann articulated two main principles:
- The principle of similars (or “like cures like”) says a disease can be cured by a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people. Though this principle traces back to Hippocrates, it was further developed by Hahnemann after he repeatedly ingested cinchona bark (a popular treatment for malaria) and found that he developed the symptoms of the disease. He theorized that if a substance could cause disease symptoms in a healthy person, small amounts could cure a sick personal who had similar symptoms.
- The principle of dilutions (“law of minimum dose”) states that the lower the dose, the greater its effectiveness. In homeopathy, plant, animal or mineral substances or diluted down in a stepwise fashion and shaken vigorously in water in a process called potentization. This process transmits the energetic healing “information” from the original substance to the final remedy—usually a small sugar pill. Most homeopathic remedies are so dilute that no molecules of the healing substance remain: it’s the “healing memory pattern” that stimulates the body’s immune system.
By contrast, allopathic medicine treats a patient’s symptoms with chemical substances that neutralize the symptom. For example, if you have a runny nose, you are given an antihistamine to dry it up. But you still have a cold, and it may take longer to recover, as the drug weakens the body’s own immune system.
Pracitioners say homeopathy is so useful for self-limiting acute conditions such as allergies, asthmas, digestive problems, ear infections and headaches that patients can learn to treat themselves with a home first-aid kit of standardized remedies.
But Owens says the majority of her patients come with chronic conditions that traditional medicine has failed to improve.
“With chronic conditions, your best ally is homeopathy—nothing else even comes close,” says Owens. “People come to me totally fed up with the prescription drug route. They’ve been on drugs for years, but their disease has worsened because if symptoms are merely suppressed by medication, they go deeper into the body and mutate to other systems.”
Healing mind, body, spirit
Owens says that most of her clients are already health-wise with respect to lifestyle.
“By the time they get to me, they have usually already dealt with nutrition and exercise. If they still have food allergies or sensitivities yet undiscovered, I’ll have them make a weekly log of foods to check for these,” she says.
(Diet is particularly important, according to Owens, because certain substances such as nicotine and caffeine can render homeopathic remedies ineffective).
Once all potentially harmful substances are out of the system, clients are ready to move on to improving their spiritual health.
Such practices as meditation and yoga aid in “connecting to the spiritual intelligence that governs health,” says Owens, an experienced yogini and meditator.
Homeopathy has its detractors, given that it’s difficult to get consistent scientific results for a modality that is so individualized in its approach.
“We don’t even try to explain how it works,” says Owens. “We know it works, and there are double-blind, controlled studies that show empirically that it heals, and that’s the proof we can give you.”
She has scores of satisfied clients in Northfield, and her website is a virtual cornucopia of insights into homeopathy, instructions for using homeopathic remedies, and blogs supportive of a healthy lifestyle.
“If you have been chronically ill and nothing has helped, just give me a try for a year,” she says. “Let’s see if we can get you better naturally.”