My experience with integrative medicine and natural therapies is over 20 years long and counting. I was diagnosed with both Lyme disease and scoliosis when I was 11. After trying antibiotics from a conventional doctor, I still had Lyme symptoms such as extreme fatigue and short-term memory loss. My mother then began a journey through the world of integrative medicine to get me better.
I can remember visiting a Chinese herbalist in Flushing, a neighborhood in Queens, New York, and having to drink some disgustingly bitter herbal teas which had anti-bacterial (Lyme is a bacteria) as well as immune-boosting properties. It stunk up our whole house, and as you might imagine, put a serious damper on my popularity for playdates.
Also for my Lyme, I took supplements with breakfast and dinner and avoided (with exceptions) dairy, processed foods and gluten, although back then we just called it wheat! About a year after my Lyme diagnosis, I wasn’t getting better and my mother took me to Minnesota to see a dairy farmer who helped us do a treatment called Hyperimmune Bovine Colostrum Therapy (HBCT). Colostrum is the first few days of a mother’s milk after she gives birth (humans and cows alike!).
Hyperimmune colostrum is produced by cows that have received vaccinations against specific disease-causing organisms (in my case Lyme). The Lyme vaccination then causes the cows to develop antibodies to fight Lyme, which then pass into the colostrum, which I then drink. It’s technically still in orphan drug phase (which means the FDA believes it can be effective but needs a drug company to pay for the clinical trials and “sponsor” the treatment to come to market). This means that when I did the treatment, it was illegal.
We stayed in a Motel 6 for three weeks in the stifling heat of the Minnesota summer, going back and forth to a dairy farm swarming with flies. I had my blood taken several times (by my mother in a car!) and then packed up gallons of frozen colostrum to take back to New York. I walked around school in seventh grade with a little freezer bag for my colostrum and swished a few ounces around under my tongue every few hours. Needless to say, I thought my mother was insane for doing this to me.
The very last summer that I was acutely sick with Lyme, I was taken to a hyperbaric oxygen facility in Lancaster, PA (Amish country) for another three week stay. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) uses highly pressurized air (three times that of normal air pressure) to hyper-oxygenate your blood (via your lungs). The oxygen travels through your body “helps fight bacteria and stimulate the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing.” I remember lying in this tanning bed–looking machine every day for a few hours and just breathing deeply. Finally, my health began to turn around by the time I was about 13 or 14.
For my scoliosis-related pain, I went to a chiropractor who used applied kinesiology (AK), also known as muscle testing. The idea with AK is that it “helps to assess the nervous system by utilizing changes in muscular strength as different sensory stimuli are applied to the body.” From this you can see which nerves are communicating an issue to the muscles you are testing, and then decide which body part to adjust.
I was lucky in that my scoliosis never became an extreme curve, but the imbalance continues to cause me pain today (in my hips, back, neck and when it’s really bad, my jaw and back of my head). I continued seeing the chiropractor ever few weeks or months (as needed) throughout my life until about eight months ago.
In 2018, I figured out that a combination of seeing a myofascial massage therapist every two weeks and an acupuncturist (who focuses specifically on the imbalance in my back and hips) every two weeks has helped me avoid the acute pain in my jaw that ends up making me bleed (from chewing on the side of my cheek). Therefore, I am very excited to say that I haven’t needed to see my chiropractor in nearly a year!
These days, I’m dealing with some thyroid health problems (likely due to the stress of being an entrepreneur!) so besides my acupuncturist and myofascial massage therapist, I also see a naturopath who does blood work with me every 6–12 months and is helping me improve my thyroid health.
I also see an integrative gynecologist, dentist and dermatologist (each 1–2x a year) and get thermography scans 1–2x a year. Lastly, I hadn’t done anything specific for my mental and emotional well-being since 2011, when I saw a therapist for six months following my mom’s suicide.
So as a Christmas present to myself this year, I did six sessions with an Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) practitioner. I learned about the concept when I interviewed the filmmaker Kelly Noonan Gores for WellBe. She wrote and directed the documentary film Heal. I decided to give EFT a try and ended up having quite an emotional release in the fourth and fifth sessions and was able to let go of some painful childhood experiences that had been lingering for decades that I was not aware were still affecting me.
Overall, I always try to solve any health issues (be they emotional, mental or physical) naturally first, so I like to have an arsenal of great integrative medicine professionals and natural therapies to choose from when I need them. When I do need to see an MD, it’s important to me that they think holistically, and use as natural an approach to solving my health issues as possible. They are harder to find and usually more expensive, but the long-term benefit is immeasurable.
Adrienne Nolan-Smith is a board certified patient advocate, speaker and the founder of WellBe, a media company and lifestyle brand focused on bridging the large gap between the healthcare system and the wellness movement to help people prevent and reverse chronic health issues naturally. She received her BA from Johns Hopkins University and her MBA from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University. She lives with her husband in New York City. You can follow her for daily inspiration and information @getwellbe
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