Alternative therapies are becoming less and less … alternative. Treatments such as naturopathy, acupuncture, hypnosis and chiropractic may be able to complement or replace your doctor’s treatment of such common family ailments as infertility, ADHD, headaches or allergies.
Surprisingly, most of these alternative treatments are especially good for children. If you’ve been wondering if pursuing an alternative or complementary therapy is right for you or your family, read on.
Naturopathy, at its most basic level, is a system of natural treatments that may range from basic nutrition to more involved treatments. Most naturopathic doctors believe in intense communication between doctor and patient and believe that treatment should involve restoring the body to health—not simply the suppression of symptoms.
In Maryland, naturopathic doctors are not licensed (though they are in DC), so they are not permitted to diagnose nor treat disease. If you’re interested in pursuing naturopathic treatment, do your research. Go to the Maryland Association of Naturopathic Physicians website (mdanp.com) or the national association at naturopathic.org to find a practitioner.
Acupuncture uses small needles to “rebalance a person, balance them out so the body can work to heal itself,” says Elyse Provencher, a licensed acupuncturist practicing in Annapolis (annapolishealing.com). An ancient Chinese treatment, acupuncture uses small needles (smaller than the hypodermic needles you get vaccinations with) to move “chi,” or life force, through the body. The needles are single-use and disposable and could be placed anywhere on the body, from the tip of the head to the bottom of the feet.
“Every chiropractor is unique in his own way,” says Dr. Anthony Hardnett, a chiropractor in Millersville (his office can be reached at 410-729-2200.) “Generally speaking, we’re hands-on practicioners. We do manual manipulation, removing nerve interference throughout the spine to restore function to whatever area.” While many people think chiropractors are best at (or only work with) back or neck injuries, Dr. Hardnett says “for the first 70 years we didn’t have to do anything to do with neck pain or back pain…we are trying to treat conditions without the use of drugs or surgery.”
Forget what you know about watch-toting, Vegas-style hypnotists; hypnotism as a treatment is much less showy. In fact, it’s simply “a state of inner absorption and focused attention,” says Dr. Leslie Donnelly, a licensed psychologist in Salisbury (she can be reached at 410-742-7160) who uses hypnosis in her practice. Hypnotism involves a state of relaxation, but that doesn’t mean the patient is entirely out of it: “Driving a familiar highway—that’s a form of trance right there,” says Dr. Donnelly.
“Nutrition is a huge part of infertility,” says Dr. Kevin Passero, ND, a naturopathic doctor practicing at Green Healing Wellness Services in Annapolis (healthtides.com) and President of the Maryland Association of Naturopathic Physicians. He recommends “whole grains, reducing sugar, more vegetables, more fruits” to stabilize blood sugar and reduce insulin output. He also recommends monitoring a patient’s thyroid function and “for the difficult infertility cases, I would highly recommend working with an acupuncturist.”
Dr. Tania Howard, DC, a chiropractor working in Annapolis (yourfamilychiropractors.com) points out that “every message your body sends has to pass through your spinal column.” When it comes to infertility, “if the wiring to those parts isn’t effective, then nothing is going to work as well as it can.”
“Try anything natural first before you go playing around with hormones,” says Dr. Hardnett. “So many things are made so complex, when the answers can be very simple. Get the lower back and pelvis realigned and make sure those nerves are not impinged.”
Dr. Hardnett says chiropractic may be of special help for women whose doctors can’t figure out why they’re not getting pregnant. “For a lot of women, there’s no real explanation. Typical medicine doesn’t have answers. It’s those cases, where there’s no 100% definite answer that ends up being a chiropractic case. It’s worth a shot, because you have nothing to lose at all.”
Chronic headaches or migranes can even plague the very young. Elyse Provencher (whose youngest patient is currently seven months old) has treated a seven-year-old boy who suffered from migraines. “The migraines went away, it helped boost his self-confidence, and he felt better in his body. It’s five years later and he still comes.” While some children are nervous about the needles, Provencher spends more time with them and slows down the pace of treatment. “Once they realize it’s not bad, that it doesn’t really hurt them, they get excited about coming in for their treatments.”
Chiropractors also take a holistic view to headaches. “We do an in-depth consultation, really take a very comprehensive history,” says Dr. Howard. “What is your diet like? Are you properly hydrated? What causes you stress? We may then find out that the patient drinks no water at all, or sits 18 hours a day at a desk.” Proper spinal alignment may help readjust the nerves that are causing your headache.
Dr. Donnelly agrees that finding the cause of the headaches is at least as important as treating the headache itself, so she relies heavily on a patient’s medical history and what’s going on in their lives that may be causing the headache. But when it’s time for treatment, “If you could close your eyes and visualize the pain — if it had a shape, what kind of shape or color would it have? Then you use visualization to help them visualize: If they say it’s hot, imagine cooling water on it. Through that visualization, most people will get some relief from that, and that’s a technique people could use on their own.”
“Allergies take a couple of sessions,” says Provencher. “Everyone is really different. If I put a needle next to the nose, they might feel their nose open up. But in general, it’s more of a long-term treatment.”
“When dealing with hay fever and springtime allergy issues, use whatever natural substances to reduce the histamine response,” says Dr. Passero. He recommends such treatments as vitamin C, pycnogenol (extracted from pine bark) and bromelain, extracted from pineapples. Reducing the histamine response is what “regular” allergy medicines do; they work to suppress the inflammation allergies cause. “We’re just using more natural approaches.”
Most patients that come to Dr. Hardnett for treatment of their allergies do so because traditional medicine has failed. “They’ll come here and say, ‘I’ll try anything.’” Hardnett concentrates on the C-2 area of the spine; “the nerves that come out of that are control your eyes, optic nerves, sinuses, tongue and forehead,” he says. “If those nerves that come out of that region are impinged or irritated in any kind of way, you can have problems. 60% of the time a person with allergies will have some irritation around that C-2 area.”
When it seems that the drugs are scarier than the disease—as is the case with some treatments for ADD or ADHD—parents might seek out more natural treatments for their child.
“We’re going to have to look at what’s going on with the diet,” says Dr. Passero. “Parents who aren’t really interested in making significant dietary changes are not going to do that well under a natural approach.” Passero recommends a balanced diet to ensure stable blood sugar levels. He feels that most children get too little good-quality protein or fat and too much sugar, which lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes. “Just getting blood sugar levels stabilized can be a huge benefit,” he says.
After addressing any food concerns (and Dr. Passero says that up to 75% of his ADHD patients respond with just the dietary changes), he looks to amino acid therapies, B vitamins and supplements like DMAE to improve focus and concentration.
Dr. Howard agrees. “Is there a specific [chiropractic] reduction for ADHD? Absolutely not. But we’d look at chemical stresses in the body and at the kid’s diet. I’m not a nutritionist, but we have a lot of nutritional training. And if [the patient] has nerve stress, we adjust them.”
“I would never say, ‘get off your medicine,” says Provencher. “That’s the doctor’s expertise. My expertise is acupuncture. I would never let the doctor tell me what needles to use.”
Dr. Donnelly uses hypnosis to help with ADD/ADHD symptoms—and, in fact, she says that “children are easier to hypnotize because they use imagination so much.”
“Always, with kids with ADD, I teach them self-hypnosis, things they can do at home” to focus their minds and their attention,” she continues. “What they’re doing is learning to focus their minds, and focus attention, which is where they have problems.” She warns, though, that it’s not a quick fix. “It’s just like exercise. You can’t go out and run 10 miles today, even if you want to, but you can work up to it. Your mind is the same way. Some kids just have to work at it harder.
By Kristen Page-Kirby