The sounds of sneezing, sniffling and nose-blowing have been coming from Midlands’ homes since autumn, when they first appeared as the symptoms of cold and flu and remain now because of seasonal allergies. In addition to the ins and outs of the upper respiratory system, many people are also concerned with health issues such as cardiovascular fitness, chronic pain or infertility. Because our tendency is to whirl around in frantic cyclones of activity, eating on the go, chasing children and worrying about work deadlines, it’s only natural for the occasional sniffle, stomach ache or sluggish feeling to pop up. But not everyone thinks that taking a pharmaceutical pill for every ailment is best, and so they seek advice on how more natural treatments can benefit them.
According to the National Institutes of Health, which conducts the National Health Interview Survey that includes a complementary and alternative medicine section, 38 percent of American adults use some form of complementary and alternative medicine. On a local level, this interest in alternative medicine has led to the popularity of stores that sell organic food and natural supplements, such as Rosewood Market, Earth Fare, 14 Carrot Whole Foods, Garner’s Natural Life and, soon, Whole Foods.
For those reluctant to try it, The World Health Organization offers this definition of alternative medicine: “Traditional medicine that has been adopted by other populations (outside its indigenous culture) is often termed alternative or complementary medicine. Traditional medicine is the sum total of knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures that are used to maintain health, as well as to prevent, diagnose, improve or treat physical and mental illnesses.” It can include herbs, teas, vitamins, pills containing natural ingredients, massage, acupuncture, acupressure, yoga, meditation and spinal manipulation.
Earth Fare on Devine Street in Columbia has a counter customers can visit for advice when looking to add herbal or vitamin products to their daily regimens. “People usually come to the Wellness area of the store looking for support,” says Angela Locklear of the store’s Wellness Department. But don’t mistake the store for a place to seek treatment. Earth Fare will help you find vitamins, herbs and supplements for everyday health, but it seeks a balance between product solutions and treatment. For advise on treating actual ailments, it is best to consult a professional.
Martin Herbkersman of Palmetto Acupuncture Clinic works with patients seeking natural alternatives to pharmaceutical therapies as well as those looking for relief from the side effects from such therapies. Recently, his practice added a Holistic Health Clinic. Through the different sides of the practice, Martin treats a variety of ailments with acupuncture, holistic medication and herbal medicine, as appropriate. People visit the clinic for reasons ranging from back pain to infertility treatment. “Basically,” he says, “we address anything that has been a part of the human condition over the past few thousand years.” His methods can be used with or in lieu of conventional medicine. Many patients appreciate knowing that they are trying the least invasive, most natural routes first before taking a more invasive track that can have side effects or a long recovery, says Martin.
One example of how Martin combines alternative and conventional therapies is his approach to infertility treatment. Working with Gail Whitman-Elia, a well-respected local board-certified subspecialist in reproductive endocrinology and infertility, Martin will determine whether a patient can benefit from acupuncture, herbal medicine or nutritional counseling to achieve a healthy pregnancy. Sometimes he determines that all three are needed, sometimes just one. Studies have proven that alternative therapies can help guide a woman’s body toward a healthier pregnancy.
During the spring and fall, allergy and sinus-related cases rise significantly. That stuffy nose and sinus pressure might be the result of overconsumption of dairy and wheat products, which cause the body to produce too much mucus. Or it could be as simple as excess pollen in the air, for which Martin has a favorite treatment that can be done at home. “I tell my patients suffering from allergies to take one tablespoon of raw, unfiltered local honey per day,” he says. A lot of patients find relief because it is believed that the local pollen properties of honey help the body build resistance, thus reducing its reaction to the onslaught of the bright yellow dust that covers cars in the spring.
Martin also treats high blood pressure, but he is careful to do so with a combination of acupuncture, herbal supplements and nutritional counseling. “A big part of reducing blood pressure is diet and exercise,” says Martin. “So when patients come in looking to use just acupuncture to treat the condition, we tell them they have to address their diet and exercise as well. Acupuncture is not a pill that makes something happen. The outcome we want to achieve is good blood pressure as a result of living a good life, eating a good diet and exercising.”
A popular nutritional component to controlling high blood pressure is garlic. Nick Beers, store manager at Garner’s Natural Life, says that it is a great home treatment. “We have a lot of people who come in who don’t like the taste, so we sell capsules that can be taken instead.”
Both Earth Fare and Garner’s Natural Life sell a variety of herbal teas that can be used in a variety of situations, from treating digestive issues, joint pain and headaches to a variety of other ailments. But just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe, so it is always best to check with a physician, herbalist or nutritionist before attempting to soothe the body with teas or any herbal supplement. Adverse effects can occur when herbs are mixed with certain medications, and pregnant or nursing women especially should avoid some herbs. For example, Gingko Biloba – touted by the World Health Organization for its ability to promote clear thinking and help boost energy levels – also happens to have anticoagulant properties, which are good for the bloodstream but can cause potentially serious problems for newborns.
When exploring alternative and complementary treatment options, be sure to do so with an arsenal of information, professional advice and education. Martin suggests Smart Medicine For Healthier Living by Janet Zand, Allan N. Spreen, MD and James B. LaValle, MD. The book takes a close look at the use of conventional, traditional and homeopathic medicine. It even covers diet and acupressure. Martin recommends the book often because it considers the use of both pharmaceutical and alternative treatments, including how they can be used together.
It seems only natural to explore the use of healthy organic foods, herbs and alternative treatments to create and enhance a healthy lifestyle. Many places in Columbia can provide resources for achieving such an ideal state, and with a little research, natural remedies can provide a refreshing treatment to common ailments.