We ask four alternative medicine practitioners to describe their philosophies.
When conventional medicine fails us, there are really only two options: Give up—or take a different path.
There are plenty of paths to take in the world of complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, with a long and sometimes mystifying list of practices and products including everything from acupuncture and Ayurvedic medicine to herbs and meditation. Its popularity is bigger than you may think: Some 38 percent of U.S. adults and 12 percent of children use some form of CAM, according to a recent survey by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
But wait! Don’t dump your primary care doc just yet. It’s important to keep your doctor in the loop about any CAM treatment you’re considering, as some may have adverse effects, including drug interactions. And it goes without saying (though we’ll say it anyway) that you should do your own research to weigh potential benefits and risks.
To shed light on some of the different branches of CAM, we picked the brains of four local practitioners. Here’s what they had to say.
Lynn Amara, Better Health Homeopathics, Fair Oaks
Credentials: Amara is a certified classical homeopath and RSHom, meaning she’s registered with the North American Society of Homeopaths
If you book an appointment with Lynn Amara, be sure to carve two hours out of your schedule: That’s how much time she spends with new patients. Her diagnostic approach involves no tests, but a lot of truth telling, as Amara believes there are clues in everything, from the way you talk to your fear of snakes. “I’m a detective—halfway between a doctor and a psychologist,” she says. Amara was exposed to homeopathy at 17 and has been following her muse ever since, studying with master homeopaths around the world and helping to create the Pacific Academy of Homeopathy in San Francisco. She’s been practicing in the Sacramento area for about 20 years.
Homeopathy is based on the principle of “like cures like.” How so? Some people think like means like means, “Well, I got stung by a bee, so I’ll take bee venom.” That’s not necessarily how it works. But if I give you something similar, it can set your immune system in motion. I’m just giving you that likeness—not the sameness, but the likeness.
How is a classical homeopath different from other homeopaths? I use only one substance at a time—that’s what makes me a classical homeopath. I use substances that are from the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms, so I’m not just an herbologist. I’m using all of this in homeopathic form that is safe and gentle enough for a newborn baby. It’s chemically diluted past toxicity, but still energetically effective.
Tell me more about your diagnostic process. I don’t do any testing. I look at your health history in detail and look at things doctors aren’t looking at, from your dreams and phobias to how you dress and wear your hair. Homeopaths try to find the key to your “front door,” and when we find that key, all the other rooms in the house are available to us. It’s all about finding the underlying disorder. I don’t treat diseases, but the person who has a susceptibility to that disease, because there is no disease without susceptibility.
So do you consider homeopathy an alternative to, or an adjunct to, conventional medicine? I consider homeopathy an alternative in that it is a complete system for all stages of life, all kinds of illness and injuries. Conventional medicine works by opposing the body, while homeopathy works by working with the body. So as much as I value physical exams, lab results and surgery, I consider conventional medicine to be complementary to homeopathy.
Fees/insurance: $305 for new patient consultation (2 hours); $75 for follow-up visits (35–40 minutes). No insurance accepted.
Dennis Godby, Sacramento
Naturopathic Medical Center/Diabetes Natural Path Center
Credentials: A California-licensed naturopathic medical doctor, or N.M.D., Godby is also affiliated with Sutter Integrative Health
If you go to Dennis Godby’s website, you’ll find the statement, “California-licensed naturopathic medical doctors actually spend more time in the classroom than M.D.s.” Godby, an N.M.D. himself, isn’t bragging—he just wants to make sure people understand that he’s legit. “Because naturopaths are not mainstream, people often don’t realize how much training we receive,” he says. “We study all the conventional medicine M.D.s do, but we also study the natural medicines.” He incorporates both in his primary care practice in downtown Sacramento—meaning he’ll co-manage with mainstream docs (he’s not licensed to prescribe drugs)—though his first choice always is to do things the natural way, from herbs to hydrotherapy and old-fashioned diet and exercise.
What kinds of conditions is naturopathic medicine best suited to address? I see a long list on your website. Chronic disease is what we do best. But we’re not just treating people with disease. Oftentimes, they just feel like crap, they’re tired, they’re exhausted and don’t have the quality of life they intuit they should have. By the time people reach us, they usually have multiple issues and multiple causes. A lot of people are on pharmaceutical drugs and are experiencing nasty side effects. We see so many patients who are addicted to psych medications and want to get off of them. We also see many, many people who had a gluten intolerance or dairy issues or some other food-related issue, and it was never picked up.
What’s your diagnostic process like? The tests that help us the most are the blood tests that look at 50 different aspects of blood. What’s different is that my margins for blood chemistry are much narrower than in conventional medicine. For example, the conventional reference range for TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) is 0.35–5.5, but in my practice, the optimal range would be 1.3–2.0.
I also use saliva, urine and stool tests, but not muscle tests. Beyond that, I ask questions about your personal history—your childhood, siblings, your mom and dad, your current relationship with your husband or wife. There’s a body/mind connection that needs to be considered.
What’s your treatment philosophy? “What’s best for the patient” is my motto. That’s what a good doctor does. If a person has tried herbal remedies to help him sleep and it isn’t working, and they respond better to a drug, that’s OK. I’m not a purist, and it does me no good, and it does the patient no good, to bad-mouth an M.D. If we treat M.D.s with respect, they’ll respect us, too. But conventional medicine is not the only way—it’s just one way.
Fees/insurance: $189 for new patient consultation exams (90 minutes); $99 for follow-up visits (50–60 minutes).
No insurance accepted. “Super bill” with medical codes provided for patients to submit to their insurance carriers for possible reimbursement.
Michael Kwiker, Health Associates Medical Group
Credentials: Kwiker is a fully trained and licensed doctor of osteopathy, or D.O. (Training for D.O.s is the same as that of M.D.s, but with a distinct difference:
Osteopaths take a “whole person” approach and receive additional training in hands-on manual medicine.)
Michael Kwiker, D.O., is the first to admit he’s not your “typical” osteopath—whatever that means. “The difference in this office is that we focus on diet—it’s a nutrient-oriented general practice,” explains Kwiker, whose officemates include an M.D., two physician assistants, a chiropractor/acupuncturist and an I.V. therapist. “When a person comes in, no matter what the problem, we approach it from that [dietary] perspective.” A veteran of the local holistic community—he’s been practicing in Sacramento for more than 30 years—Kwiker says he loves being an osteopath “because we’re taught whole-body principles—that it’s all connected.”
If I were a new patient of yours, what would my first visit be like? First, I would review what I think you should start eating. Second, I’d look at what nutrients will optimize the healing of the intestinal tract, based on blood type. Glutamine powder, for example, is a healing treatment for an O. To me, the initial thing has to be the intestine, because seven out of the 13 life processes take place in the intestinal tract. That’s where nutrients are absorbed and waste is removed, so if it’s malfunctioning, it’s most likely it’s going to malfunction someplace else in our body.
Your clinic offers everything from vitamin C infusions to amino acid formulas to chelation therapy. Do you ever prescribe medicine? We do prescribe medicine, but that’s not the first thing we think of in a practice like this. First, we look for the steps that can be taken that are low-risk and high-benefit and will optimize a person’s chance of recovery, beginning with diet and nutrients.
What about testing? Many nutrient tests are not reimbursable through insurance companies, so there is a dollars and cents issue around it. But we will look at stool samples, incomplete digestion in stool tests and blood tests on various things. Vitamin D, for example, is commonly done here, Coenzyme Q10 we’ll do, thyroid and adrenal glands. Often, we’ll use salivary testing for hormonal purposes.
Anything else you’d like to add? Things have changed dramatically from say, the 1960s, when penicillin worked all the time. It’s a different world. The stress factor has become so much higher that it has hugely affected our health, making it even more important to get our diet right and take care of ourselves. When you have a problem, look in the mirror for a cause and a solution.
Fees/insurance: $325 for new patient consultation exams (60 minutes); $150 average for follow-up visits (30 minutes).
No insurance accepted. Forms with medical codes are provided for patients to submit to their insurance carriers for possible reimbursement.
M. Kelly Sutton, Rafael Medicine & Therapies, Fair Oaks
Specialty: Anthroposophic medicine
Credentials: Sutton is a fully trained and licensed medical doctor with additional specialized training in anthroposophic medicine
Never heard of anthroposophic medicine? No worries: It’s probably harder to pronounce than it is to understand. “It’s an inclusive approach to healing,” says M. Kelly Sutton, M.D., who gravitated to the field after about 20 years of mainstream practice. Based on the teachings of Waldorf education founder Rudolf Steiner, anthroposophic medicine attracted Sutton, she says, because of the way it “pulls everything together,” incorporating a wide range of therapies and remedies. In her peaceful lavender-hued office in Fair Oaks, Sutton collaborates with an on-site counselor and a massage therapist.
Anthroposophic medicine is a complement to conventional medicine, not a replacement for it—right? Right. You cannot get into this field unless you are a trained M.D. or D.O. (doctor of osteopathy).
Can you give me an example of the way anthroposophic medicine might treat a common condition differently than conventional medicine would? There’s a combination that’s really effective for ear infections—ear inflammations may be more accurate—two homeopathic remedies: Levisticum and Apis Belladonna. With these two remedies, plus supportive care such as warmth, diet and compresses, the body learns to do its own work in fighting ear inflammation. About 80 percent of the time, I use this instead of an antibiotic, and parents come because they want to wean their kids off the cycle of taking repeated antibiotic courses. But homeopathy is just part of what I do. I draw from all kinds of complementary therapies, from oil dispersion baths to therapeutic speech, movement and art. It’s all about individualized care.
What kinds of patients do you attract? My patients are my partners, in a way. I see people who want to take responsibility for their own health. People who select this kind of medicine are willing to look at their diet, change their lifestyle, not just do what’s easy. I know from my work in conventional medicine that people often have the attitude, “Fix me. You’re the doctor.” But with this kind of medicine, it’s enormously gratifying to give people hope and power. Just giving patients options is a balm on a healer’s heart—to be able to say, “There’s another way to do this.” There’s something on the human and spiritual level that we’re doing here. We’re not just a drugstore.
What else might you want people to understand about the work you do? I do primary care—that’s what I’m set up to respond to. I’m just like the family doctor. And I do value conventional medicine. I use lab work and refer people to specialists because I recognize I don’t have all the information. The more accurate the diagnosis, the better I can treat someone.
Fees/insurance: $120–$240 for new patient exams (30–60 minutes); $50–$200 for follow-up visits (15–60 minutes). Sliding scale available. No insurance or Medicare accepted. Forms with medical codes are provided for patients to submit to their insurance carriers for possible reimbursement.