My Holistic Journey
by Gail Lowenstein MD
I am a Western-trained allopathic physician, board-certified in internal medicine, geriatrics, hospice/palliative medicine and wound management. So how did it come to pass that I became board-certified in holistic medicine?
Like so many allopathic physicians who study alternative or holistic medicine, it was because I got sick - and western medicine could not help me. For an inexplicable reason, my knees and other joints began to hurt. I went to an internist, then a rheumatologist and finally an orthopedist. They put me on anti-inflammatory medications and were considering arthroscopy.
An acquaintance suggested I see an acupuncturist with a specialty in herbology. To my surprise, I was able to walk out of his office, better than I had walked in! For the first time since my joints had begun hurting, I felt hope that I would heal!
I wanted to give this kind of hope to the patients at the nursing home, where I was the Chief Medical Officer. Western medicine was not always able to help the patients there.
I applied for and received three successive grants from the United Hospital Fund to bring Traditional Chinese Medicine to the nursing home. The results from the Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments were sometimes miraculous! The first patient seen by the Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner had had stasis ulcers on his legs for 5 years. Within one week of treatments by the Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, the wounds began to heal! In less than three months, the non-healing ulcers were virtually gone! This is only one example of the miracles I witnessed with Traditional Chinese Medicine.
To further my holistic education, I started Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Group for health care professionals in 2002. The purpose of CAM Group is informal networking, sharing of expertise and facilitating access to information not otherwise available on an individual basis.
I became board-certified by the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine in 2004. However, it was not until I studied Functional Medicine, that I was able to integrate holistic healing with western medicine.
Functional Medicine is an MD dominated field of alternative medicine. When my relative, a western medicine trained physician with antipathy for alternative medicine, developed fibromyalgia so severely that she was contemplating suicide, I suggested she go to functionalmedicine.org to find a practitioner in her area. When she miraculously got her life back, I took the courses to learn Functional Medicine.
Just as Functional Medicine helped change the health of my relative, so it did the same for me. I finally understood the concepts of leaky gut and how the food we eat, air we breathe, and thoughts we think, can produce toxicities that affect our health. I lost 30 pounds, despite having a lifelong weight problem, and healed up numerous chronic symptoms, of which I had not even been cognizant of. Functional medicine teaches that little symptoms, whose importance we may discount, are actually harbingers of future chronic illness.
The employees at the nursing home where I worked were not able to follow the food plan that worked so well for me. I, therefore, began teaching two sets of 10-week courses for the staff at my nursing home – one for the day shift and another for the evening shift. The concept was that when we nurture each other, we can nurture our patients. The goal was to see if the miracle that allowed me to lose weight and heal was transferable through the classes. Indeed it was!
The classes were so successful, that future classes were opened up to the community. The classes were supported by the New York Foundation for Elder Care through 2011.
Here are some comments from my students:
“I felt I was on a really bad health track. Bedsides my diagnosis of fibromyalgia, I also began developing arthritis. I am now on track and pain-free for over a year!”
“I feel absolutely amazing! My skin is glowing and I feel alert and alive. I feel as if you gave me my life back. The diet is easy to follow and pretty effortless to keep up with. I love your meetings and am learning a lot. Dr. Gail, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your encouragement, your research, and most of all your time and effort in helping us all reach a lifelong fitness goal.”
The concept of the classes is: “When you take control of what you think and what you eat, you take control of your life and your health.” About eighty five percent of people’s health issues will disappear when they follow the precepts of the classes. The remaining fifteen percent may require the individualized help of a holistic health care professional.
I do telephone consultations and home visits for people of all ages with any kind of health dilemma. Western medicine practitioners generally think in similar ways, so getting another opinion from a different doctor, may not actually produce a different opinion. Being dually trained in both western and holistic medicine, I am able to offer options not previously considered.
For example, an 83 year old man called to say he was having chest pain suggestive of stable angina, and three doctors wanted to do tests to see if he was a candidate for bypass surgery or stents. We discussed the risks versus benefits of having heart procedures, and he chose to make lifestyle changes rather than run the real risk of cognitive impairment from cardiac surgery.
The COURAGE (Clinical Outcomes Utilizing Revascularization and Aggressive Drug Evaluation) study in 2007 helped support his decision: “For people with stable coronary artery disease, artery-opening angioplasty was no better than medications and lifestyle changes at preventing future heart attacks or strokes, nor did it extend life.”
This 83 year old man is my father. It is now almost two years later, and he can walk at least 2 miles without getting chest pain! In the past, he couldn’t even walk half a block. Not everyone would have chosen the course my father took. However, everyone should know all the options available from both Western and holistic medicine.