When battling a chronic physical condition or disease, alternative medicine is often seen as a last resort. The average person tends to exhaust all treatment options offered by conventional medicine before he or she explores alternative treatments.
But why wait? Practices such as acupuncture, reflexology, homeopathy and Ayurveda are traditional medicines— the first line of defense—to much of the world. Eighty percent of the populations in Asian and African countries depend on traditional medicine for primary healthcare, according to officials at the World Health Organization.
Jodi Hutchinson of Wilmington sees the value of, and is well-versed in, both conventional and alternative medicine. As a member of Christiana Care’s cardiac surgical team for 18 years, she worked alongside some of Delaware’s top doctors as a physician’s assistant. When she quit her job to travel through Southeast Asia, she studied with monks and lamas to learn ancient healing techniques.
Now, as an integrative health consultant, Hutchinson brings Eastern and Western medicine together for what she calls “refined healing.” She’s one of a growing number of Delaware practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine (or integrative medicine) who provide services in addition to—not in place of—conventional medicine.
At the Vein Clinic in Newark, for example, Hutchinson can use relaxation techniques with patients rather than sedation, before they undergo surgical procedures for chronic venous deficiency.
“Western medicine offers the best scientific technology and we need that to fix things,” says Hutchinson. “True healing occurs at the subtlest level … the prana (prah’nah, Sanskrit), the qi (Chee, Chinese).” Complementary and alternative medicine modalities such as acupuncture, reflexology and Ayurveda work to clear blockages to the flow of prana or qi —the vital life force that’s centered in the brain and flows along 14 meridians—or energy channels—through the body.
Page 2: Acupuncture
The 2,500-year-old practice of acupuncture restores the flow of qi and balance by inserting tiny needles into specific points along the meridians. The meridians have a total of about 2,000 acupuncture points and are grouped according to the Five Elements of Eastern philosophy: fire, earth, metal/air, water and wood.
In the body, fire is heart, earth is digestion (stomach, pancreas, spleen), metal/air is the lung and large intestine, water is kidneys and bladder, and wood is the liver and gall bladder. All five elements need to be in balance in order for the body to be healthy, explains acupuncturist Barbara Donelan of Rehoboth Beach.
“The first thing people ask is ‘Do the needles hurt?’” says Donelan—and no, they don’t. They’re so thin you can barely feel them.
The World Health Organization currently recognizes more than 40 medical problems that can be helped by acupuncture treatment, stating that it is most effective in treating chronic pain. They recommend that acupuncture be performed in combination with other treatments for certain conditions, such as cancer, and that you try it for at least five to 10 treatments.
Donelan trained at the Traditional Acupuncture Institute (now Tai Sophia) and is part of Acupuncture Associates of Sussex County. She is among more than 16,000 licensed acupuncturists in the United States. More than 3,000 physicians perform acupuncture as part of their medical practice, including Dr. Steve Berlin, medical director of Integrative Health at Beebe Hospital, and Dr. Seth Torregiani of the Agada Center in Newark.
Page 3: Osteopathy
“Acupuncture has shown to be very effective for infertility issues. I’ve had quite a good amount of success with it,” says Torregiani. Part of his training in osteopathy was the philosophy that the body has the ability to heal itself from many things and the role of the physician is to maximize that capacity. At the Agada Center he works to facilitate that self-healing, whenever possible, using osteopathic manipulation, craniosacral therapy, acupuncture and more.
“A lot of my patients have been to different specialists already and they’re looking for other options,” he says. A patient may have chronic back pain, for example, but absolutely does not want to have surgery. They may be able to manage the pain with meditation, an anti-inflammatory diet, and acupuncture.
Page 4: Reflexology
Like acupuncture, reflexology works to remove blocks to the qi. By stimulating the nerve endings in the feet and hands that are mapped through the nervous system to other parts of the body (there are 7,200 nerve endings in each foot), reflexology practitioners—like David Patterson of Rehoboth Beach—can identify where the energy is blocked. Applying pressure to specific points increases blood flow and signals the nervous system to send help to those blocked areas. Patterson is a certified massage and bodywork technician and nationally certified master reflexologist. His job, he says, is simply to help the body relax so that it can reach homeostasis for optimal functioning and that “the body is designed to heal itself.”
Page 5: Reiki and More
“People feel very taken care of in scientific medicine but they also feel very loved and tended to here,” says Cheyenne Luzader, coordinator of the Department of Integrative Health’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine program at Beebe Medical Center in Lewes. The program offers Reiki, therapeutic touch, acupuncture, meditation and laughter yoga.
Beebe patients can receive Reiki treatments and learn to do it on themselves. Reiki, the Japanese word for “universal life energy,” is a hands-on therapy and visualization technique (without touching the body) used to improve the flow of qi. It is used in much the same way as massage to alleviate stress and pain and improve the symptoms of various health conditions.
One of the more unusual techniques used at Beebe is Laulima—a traditional Hawaiian practice of laying on hands and sending love. A team of hospital staff trained by a Hawaiian kahuna meet in the patient’s room to lay on hands and send love to the patient, a practice that often brings staff to tears. Nurses earn continuing education units for the training and, to Luzader’s knowledge, Beebe is the only hospital outside of Hawaii that’s teaching Laulima.
Page 6: Ayurveda
Ayurveda (“the science of life”) is the natural medicine practiced in India for more than 5,000 years that treats physical and mental health as one. It brings harmony and balance to the body using plant-based treatments of herbs and minerals, massage, dietary changes, facemasks, and steam to open up the channels and release blockages that could lead to illness. Practitioners look at the whole person—from the coating on your tongue and the food you eat to reading your pulse with three fingers on your wrists.
“With the pulse you can pick up on anything from sleep disorders to heart issues … and we can correct it before it becomes disease,” says Hutchinson. “A master of pulse-taking can read your entire history in about 20 seconds.”
When studying Ayurveda, Hutchinson also learned to look at the gastrointestinal system. “Look at what someone is eating, the combination of foods, and what might be building up in their system,” she says. “It’s a whole different way of seeing what’s going on in the body.” When the gastrointestinal system is imbalanced, “then you start to see inflammation, and that becomes signs of disease.” She frequently makes recommendations for dietary changes.
Page 7: Food as Medicine
“Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food,” says Dr. Kendall Guyer Ritz, quoting Hippocrates, considered by many to be the father of Western medicine. “Using food in a healing way is one of the main tenets of my practice,” says Ritz, a board-certified internist and pediatrician who works as a consultant to children and adults facing chronic illnesses.
Most of the patients Ritz sees in her Greenville practice are between the ages of 30 and 60. They complain of gastrointestinal imbalance, fatigue or generally feeling ill.
Ritz looks at the whole picture—medical history, diet, sleep and exercise habits, and stress levels—and “whittles it down to a couple of root imbalances,” then guides her patient toward stress management and achieving a healthy mind-body balance.
She heeds her own advice, too, by following a whole-foods diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and minimally processed foods. She tries to eat locally and follow The Dirty Dozen and The Clean 15: the lists of conventionally grown produce that have higher and lower levels of pesticide residue, indicating which are better to buy organic.
Complementary and alternative medicine gives us resources and options to use with Western medicine.
“I think people feel that if they’re doing one thing, they’re on to something; but you’ve got to look at everything,” says Hutchinson.
When you do, people will start to notice a difference in you that they just can’t put their finger on. You’ll have an energy that radiates a greater sense of openness, kinship and joy. And you’ll realize that you’ve learned the art of healthy living. It’s only been 5,000 years. Give it a try.