While conventional medicine is often a life-saver, certain alternative medicines may be able to help prevent major health issues requiring medication or surgery, and thus improve your overall quality of life. However, with so many options available in both traditional and non-conventional medicine, it’s not always easy to make a good choice. When investigating alternative options, the wide variety of terms used to define and describe those alternatives can make things even more difficult.
An initial difference you might notice when searching for alternatives is between a standard MD and a Doctor of Osteopathic medicine (DO). Both MDs and DOs are similarly trained in conventional medicine. Both can prescribe medication, perform surgery, and practice in specialty areas. The most significant difference between an MD and a DO is that DOs receive specific training in Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment in the first two years of medical school. The approach they are taught is more hands-on, literally. DOs are trained to use their hands to diagnose and treat illness or injury, encouraging the body’s natural tendencies towards self-healing. The degree to which a DO differs from a standard MD in practice, however, is uncertain and must be determined by the patient.
In addition to the traditional medicine practiced by MDs and DOs, there are a variety of other practices often referred to as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). This is a broad category that can include a range of practices, including various systems of healing (such as mega-vitamin therapy, homeopathy, chiropractic, tai-chi, naturopathy, Ayurveda, and faith healing) that are not included in the traditional curricula taught in medical schools of the United States. Many of us already use CAM when we take vitamins or nutritional supplements, or go for a massage. “Complementary medicine” is used to define practices used in addition to traditional medicine, while “alternative medicine” is used to describe practice used in place of conventional treatments.
An increasing number of local physicians of many backgrounds are drawing on both conventional medicine and CAM in a discipline known as integrative medicine, defined by the American Board of Integrative Medicine (a member board of the American Board of Physician Specialists) as “the practice of medicine that reaffirms the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient, focuses on the whole person, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, healthcare professionals and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.” We talked with a range of non-conventional medical professionals in Knoxville to get an insight into integrative options.
Woman doing intense core exercise on fitness mat. Muscular young woman doing workout at gym.
One option is to see a doctor who is open to the widest range of CAM therapies. “My practice is unique because I combine several treatment types, while most therapists just focus on one way of treating the health problem, like prescribing medications or using acupuncture. I have been trained extensively in both traditional and osteopathic treatments, so I try to apply the best combination for the particular patient and situation,” says Dr. Kristopher Goddard, founder of The Osteopathic Center, who categorizes his practice into three divisions: integrative medicine, regenerative injections, and cosmetic therapy. “I use nonsurgical and natural treatments along with lifestyle coaching to help fight illness and prevent disease,” says Dr. Goddard.
Central to Goddard’s integrative approach is osteopathic manipulation, a gentle and often a slower way of getting an adjustment as compared to a chiropractic adjustment.
“I will not crack the body. I use cranio-sacral therapy, myofascial release, and muscle energy—I use your own muscles to push your body back in place,” describes Dr. Goddard. He adds that he also looks at “. . . other factors preventing healing, such as nutrition, or lifestyle.”
The Osteopath Center also offers what it calls comprehensive health screening to determine basic body functionality, metabolic testing for cellular-level health, and heavy metal testing for toxicity evaluation. Once the evaluation is complete, there are several IV therapies available, such as ozone blood treatment, which has shown some promise in treating chronic diseases. Also available are regenerative injections, from the minimally invasive prolotherapy for minor injuries, to platelet rich plasma (PRP) for more moderate injuries, to stem cell injections for more severe issues. “For best results, I mix treatments, especially for severe injury and degenerative joint disease, where I combine PRP, amniotic and bone marrow cells,” concludes Dr. Goddard.
Another approach is to seek out a doctor with the background of a more conventional family physician. Dr. Tom Rogers, board certified in Integrative Medicine and founder of Knoxville’s Performance Medicine, says that integrative medicine combines “. . . the best of alternative medicine, of lifestyle medicine, and of modern medicine. It’s a blend of the best of all the disciplines. The doctor that’s in the best position to do that is the family doctor.”
Rogers has been a practicing family doctor for 30 years, and until around 10 years ago was a fairly traditional doctor. He now advocates preventive care and finding the root cause of a problem in order to take care of his patients. “I base my practice on four things: nutrition, exercise, sleep, and handling stress,” he explains. “If you focus on those and how the gut works—like somebody who is not digesting foods properly, you have to find out why and try to rebalance that gut because everything starts metabolically when that patient puts something in their mouth.” He notes that if you focus on the root causes of most diseases, it comes down to two things: food and stress. “If you don’t know how to deal with those two,” he says,“you’re going to be throwing pills at people all day long.”
Rogers’ change in approach came from dealing with two children with type 1 diabetes. He began concentrating on nutrition and hormones, leading him to explore connections between nutrition and brain function.“Brain chemistry starts in your gut,” he says. The neurotransmitters are actually made in the gut, not in the brain.” Such an assertion has the support of the scientific community. In a 2015 study published in the journal Cell, Elaine Hsiao, a research professor at Caltech, notes that an estimated 90 percent of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, is manufactured in the digestive tract. The study additionally found that “mice…with changes in their gut microbes exhibit altered behaviors.”
When the family physician practices integrative medicine, they look at the patient from a little different point of view, trying to teach them a better lifestyle, which includes a focus on diet and sleep. “My focus is on trying to prevent them from coming down with illnesses they didn’t need in the first place,” Rogers says. The focus is prevention rather than treatment oriented. “Modern medicine is more reactive; preventive medicine is more proactive.”
Dr. Rogers asserts that, “as a primary care doctor, really you have to have the ability and patience to listen to a patient, because if you listen to them and know what they’re saying you can usually figure it out.” Family doctors are trained in everything and can be incredibly helpful as you try to distinguish between effective and non-effective alternative treatments. If you’re not improving, the treatment isn’t effective.
A third CAM tactic to consider is the practice of chiropractic manipulation and acupuncture, which are two techniques used and accepted by the general population. Dr. David Shreve, Chiropractic Physician and Board Certified Acupuncturist, believes in the power of using multiple CAM treatments, in addition to personal coaching, to ensure his patients’ health. Having suffered shoulder injuries that required surgery, and having seen how chiropractic helped his dad’s chronic back illness, Dr. Shreve took his passion for helping people with their health to another level. After becoming an orthopedic surgeon, he expanded his knowledge to the areas of chiropractic, acupuncture, and nutrition.
“There is so much more you can do for your health besides taking a pill or having surgery,” said Dr. Shreve. “Many of my older patients who have developed peripheral neuropathy (numbness, burning, or tingling in their feet) are prescribed a drug like Lyrica. After I work with them, ninety percent of the patients get better by following our prescribed lifestyle changes; their balance improves and they are able to walk more. And being active is paramount to one’s health.”
Most regular doctors’ offices are busy and the doctors don’t have a lot of time to spend with each patient. However, as Dr. Shreve points out, “you have to spend time with the patients in order for them to trust you, and be convinced to take your advice to change their lifestyle.” That’s where his weekly New Patient Workshop comes in handy. The workshop ensures that he spends quality time with the patients, where they can be educated about their health and options available, ask questions, and build the trust necessary for long-term wellness. “My passion as a doctor has been to educate myself on the different ways to provide better health for my patients with fewer or no drugs at all. Also, I am dedicated to educating my patients on their own conditions and health, to make them understand how to truly be healthy, and empower them to make the correct decisions about their long-term health,” concludes Dr. Shreve.
The goal of most practitioners of integrative medicine is to get people off medication that they don’t need and get them back in control of their own health. The first thing they do is sit down and ask what you’re eating, what kind of stresses you’re under, and how active you are. Any treatment, from standard medical practice to controversial alternative therapy, comes after. And ultimately, how can you tell if a treatment is working? In short, if it helps you and you’re feeling better, great.
The main contributors to our long-term health and overall well-being, as we all have heard before, are diet, exercise, and living a healthy lifestyle. However, whenever these guidelines are not enough, we can rest assured that Knoxville provides a variety of options—from traditional to non-conventional medicine—ready to help us get back on track. Stay healthy!
Oana Harrison is a senior writer for Cityview who also teaches dance.