From acupuncture to medical cannabis, Adams County residents are exploring different ways of achieving health and wellness
By Jaime Ridgley
A growing number of individuals are looking beyond conventional medicine for a whole new approach to health and well-being. For some, it’s about using nontraditional methods for pain relief and symptom management. For others, it’s about combining traditional medicine and complementary approaches for achieving optimum wellness and balance. Learn how alternative and complementary medicine are making a difference in the health of Adams County residents.
Treating the Whole Person
Two years ago, physician Smitha Nair, MD, was feeling burned out working in a traditional family medicine setting. Each day, she had a booked schedule of patients, limited to only a few minutes for each appointment, and the administrative side of the job was a far cry from the reason she went into medicine—to help people.
To Dr. Nair, there had to be a better approach. That’s when she discovered Dr. Andrew Weil’s integrative medicine fellowship, and her practice, Aura Integrative Medicine, was born. “It was my calling,” she says.
Today, her focus is patient-centered care, combining evidence-based conventional medicine with a mind, body, and spirit approach. Instead of only treating the symptoms, Dr. Nair tries to find the root cause of a person’s illness. “It is basically looking at the whole picture and getting to what caused a person’s symptoms in the first place,” she explains.
To do this, Dr. Nair’s patients become active participants in their own health. Before the first visit, Dr. Nair conducts a 15-minute phone consultation with prospective patients. “I get to know them and see if they are the right fit for the practice,” she says. “They have to make lifestyle changes, which isn’t easy for everyone. I tell patients, ‘It’s 80 percent you. So even before you invest in me or your health, you need to be really ready and able to do this.’”
After the phone consultation, the patient fills out a detailed health questionnaire in preparation for the first visit, which lasts about 75 minutes. There, Dr. Nair reviews the information with the patient—which details their health history from birth to present day—and puts together a plan. Subsequent visits allow patients to share their progress and any barriers to good health. “I think there’s a solution for every problem, and being compassionate and putting myself in the patient’s shoes is the most important because I can relate to them better,” she says.
One barrier may be insurance coverage. Some companies don’t recognize integrative and functional medicine services, so Dr. Nair does not accept insurance. However, she provides patients with a superbill, or an itemized form of services rendered, so they may try to get reimbursed for their costs, she says.
“I’m sure every doctor goes into this profession to care for patients,” says Dr. Nair. “Unfortunately, with today’s healthcare and the way it works, I’m sure even the best doctors don’t have that time to spend with their patients. They try to address what is the priority, and they just do that. I think that’s where healthcare needs to change.”
Dr. Nair cites the World Health Organization’s definition of health—“a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease of infirmity”—as the ideal, and it’s her mission to help patients achieve it.
Healing with Touch
For more than a decade, the WellSpan Center for Mind/Body Health has been providing massage therapy services in Gettysburg.
“WellSpan hires massage therapists with a robust variety of modalities and specialties so that our patients can experience a wide array of services tailored to meet their individual needs,” says Stephanie Shull, the center’s senior practice manager.
Massage can be beneficial for a number of conditions, including pain, stress, and anxiety. The center in Gettysburg offers a variety of massages by licensed massage therapists for all stages of life—from prenatal massage for women after their first trimester, to oncology massage that helps to reduce the side effects of cancer treatment, to massage to help relieve myofascial and neuromuscular pain, to geriatric massage that can enhance blood circulation, improve flexibility and joint mobility, and reduce arthritic pain.
Shull has noticed an uptick of people who are turning to massage as a way to improve their quality of life. “I think patients are much more informed about it, and they’re willing to try it in the beginning of their care,” she says. “The medical community is more informed as well, so they’re also much more supportive at the onset of someone’s medical condition, depending on what it is, instead of [utilizing massage]as a last resort.”
Improving Health Naturally
For more than 20 years, Rose Garden Natural Foods has been a wellness staple in the community. Jack Rose and his wife, Kitty, opened the store after moving to Gettysburg from Georgia. Health food stores were common where they had lived, and Jack had worked in the health food industry before moving north. “We thought there was a need we could fulfill,” Jack says.
Through the years, the business has evolved, and today the store’s main focus is on supplements and health and beauty products, he says. There’s even a Rose Garden brand of products including vitamin supplements and herbs that launched about 10 years ago. “People are becoming more aware of what’s best for their bodies and starting to realize what you take in is what your body has to work with,” says Jack.
When it comes to vitamin supplements, many customers look for those that will help with pain and joint discomfort, while oral products, such as toothpaste and mouthwash, soaps, and creams, are popular on the beauty side, says Jack.
When customers come in looking for a supplement to help with an ailment, Jack asks if they are taking any prescribed medications and, if so, have they spoken with their doctor about taking supplements. If customers have questions about possible interactions, he refers them to their pharmacist to discuss. “We don’t recommend, we don’t prescribe, and we don’t diagnose,” Jack says. But they do help customers research supplements with independent, third-party literature. “We always caution to make sure your sources are reliable,” he says.
Customers mainly find out about the store through word of mouth, and Jack says he especially enjoys helping customers. “You have to be a good listener and empathize, and that’s easy for us to do,” he says.
Holistic Healing with Acupuncture
For the past 12 years, licensed acupuncturist and licensed physical therapist Renee Lehman, MS, PT, MAC, has used hair-thin needles to help her patients achieve balance and healing through acupuncture.
“It’s about bringing our body, mind, and spirit into balance so that the body can heal,” Lehman says.
Acupuncture is based on the principle that everyone has Qi (pronounced “chee”) that moves on pathways through the body. “This Qi is really translated as universal life force; it’s what keeps us alive,” Lehman says.
She likens the energetic pathways in our body to an underground subway system—the entrances to the subway stations are like the acupuncture points on the body.
“These pathways connect every single cell in the body, and by placing a needle into an acupuncture point, the goal is to bring about balance in this energetic flow,” Lehman says. “There’s a saying in Chinese medicine that where energy is flowing there is no room for illness to penetrate. So we basically say that anything that happens with the body—illness, injury—is stuckness, or stagnation, of this Qi. That could be anything, from physical injury to digestive issues to sleep issues.”
Lehman says the beauty of acupuncture is that it’s very individualized. “You could have 10 people that could have headaches, and you would treat them differently because of who they are,” she says. “It’s always about relationships in acupuncture and Chinese medicine. We’re always talking about how one thing is related to another because there is no separation; energetically, everything is connected. So it’s never about just treating a symptom. It’s really about assessing the person as a whole.”
Relieving Pain with Medical Cannabis
With the opening of the Herbology dispensary on Baltimore Street in August, medical cannabis is one of the newer alternative forms of pain and symptom management in Gettysburg. Cannabis has been used for thousands of years for medicinal purposes, according to the National Cancer Institute’s website. It is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment option for cancer or other medical conditions.
However, the National Cancer Institute acknowledges that “cannabis and cannabinoids [the active chemicals in marijuana]may have benefits in treating the symptoms of cancer or side effects of cancer therapies,” and, in fact, two cannabinoid drugs have been approved for the treatment of chemotherapy-related side effects.
“The majority of people we’re seeing are dealing with pain—cancer patients and Parkinson’s, spinal cord disease and injuries, and a lot of different neurological conditions,” says Mahja Sulemanjee, director of marketing and community outreach of Grassroots Cannabis, Herbology’s parent company.
To purchase cannabis from a dispensary in Pennsylvania, patients must register online with the state, then their physician activates them in the system, Sulemanjee says. At the dispensary, the patient must show two forms of identification—a medical cannabis card and a state-issued ID—before making a purchase.
Medical cannabis is patient-directed medicine, Sulemanjee says, and it comes in a variety of products, including patches, capsules, vapor pens, and dried herbs for vaping. “Instead of a physician telling you the exact dosage that you need and how you’re going to take it, it comes down to a patient’s comfortability level,” she says. At Herbology, Sulemanjee says professionalism and product education are key. Staff meet with patients and educate them on cannabis products that will help them manage their pain and other symptoms, such as lack of sleep or lack of appetite, with the ultimate goal of improving their quality of life. “We help them find the products and the consumption method that will help them the best,” she says.
Dispensary patrons are generally ages 45 and older. “Quite a bit of older Americans are really starting to utilize cannabis,” Sulemanjee says. “I think there are several reasons for that, and one is that they are the ones who are experiencing a lot of this pain and discomfort. They have tried a lot of traditional medications and not had a lot of success with them.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website states that cannabis-based products “may help treat chronic pain in some adults, but more information is needed to know if pain relief from cannabis is any better or worse than other pain management options, such as over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen or alternative treatments like occupational therapy.”
With medical cannabis as one of the newest alternative medicine resources in the county, residents have another option for their pain and symptom management—and an active hand in deciding how they will find relief.
Aura Integrative Medicine
Smitha Nair, MD
963 Biglerville Road, Suite A, Gettysburg
19 Baltimore St., Gettysburg
249 York St., Suite B, Gettysburg
The Rose Garden Natural Foods Co.
Gettysburg Shopping Center
Corner of West Street and Springs Avenue, Gettysburg
WellSpan Center for Mind/Body Health
40 V-Twin Drive, Suite 205, Gettysburg