In Portland Monthly's July "health annual" I profile four of Portland's alternative medicine innovators, including a naturopathic oncologist and the woman who runs the National College of Naturopathic Medicine's Helfgott Research Institute. I also interview Dr. Robert Martindale ("the Probiotic Crusader"), who found a simple, low-cost, delicious way to prevent antibiotic-resistant infections at Oregon Health & Science University.
Here are my profiles in full:
When Heather Zwickey, PhD, left Yale University School of Medicine to head up a new research institute at Portland’s National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM), her junior colleagues thought she was committing career suicide. The Noble Prize winners on the faculty, however, applauded her move. “Their reaction was, ‘This field is wide open and it’s so exciting because nowhere else in medicine can you ask such big questions like ‘how does acupuncture work?’” recounts Zwickey. As dean of NCNM’s School of Research and Graduate Studies and director of the Helfgott Research Institute, pursuing the big questions are exactly what Zwickey and her students do. Currently, Zwickey is overseeing 55 students’ masters research projects, including one that is looking at the affects of “medicinal mud” on osteoarthritis and another that seeks to determine whether the nutritional supplement MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) reduces pain in marathon runners. “His question is ‘Are all these runners wasting their money or is there something to their claim?’” says Zwickey. Important research has come out of Helfgott, including a study that showed natural therapies result in greater pain reduction for temporomandibular disorder (TMJ/TMD) than conventional care and another that showed that the Ayurvedic herb Ashwagandha activates immune cells. As she speaks about these projects, Zwickey’s passion for putting integrative treatments under rigorous scrutiny is unmistakable. “The number of users [of natural medicine] is growing faster than in other areas of medicine—we need to study this stuff!”
When it comes to cancer, you don’t want to fool around. But chemotherapy and radiation come with complications of their own—everything from fatigue to nerve damage. Enter the “integrative oncologist.” Though many alternative practitioners in Portland treat cancer patients, David Allderdice, ND, has a degree to back up his expertise: he’s a FABNO, or a Fellow of the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology, which requires a two-year residency in oncology as well as five years of a cancer-focused practice. Allderdice’s residency—at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia—allowed him to witness standard care oncology and work alongside MD surgeons and radiologists while developing a natural medicine program. Allderdice returned to Portland in 2011 (he’s a graduate of the National College of Naturopathic Medicine) and soon thereafter began teaching a class on integrative oncology research at NCNM’s School of Research and Graduate Studies. Allderdice limits his private practice at Sage Cancer Care to cancer patients only. “I’m trying to look at the science that’s being done on Chinese medicine, immune therapies—treatments that are called alternative or complementary—taking in the totality of what’s available, sifting through it, and determining what’s the best medicine from all areas,” he says. Depending on the patient and the type and stage of cancer, that could mean taking herbs or supplements alongside chemo drugs to reduce their toxicity, suggesting acupuncture to lessen nausea and fatigue, or even trying novel therapies that are in clinical trials.“The power of holistic medicine is supporting a holistic, vital system—the therapies that keep you healthier and stronger, fighting against cancer,” Allderdice says.
If you’ve ever been to a Tui na parlor in New York City, you know that it’s not for sissies. A rigorous, often aerobatic form of Chinese massage, Tui na not only relaxes your muscles and loosens your joints, it can separate adhesions, unfreezing frozen shoulders and alleviating pain from herniated discs. “It’s not a feel-good massage,” cautions Forrest Cooper, LAc. “It’s a get in there and get it out massage. It’s very deep tissue.” Cooper, a full-time faculty member at at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine (OCOM), fell in love with Tui na when he was a student. As a practitioner, he finds that it works best when used in conjunction with acupuncture, especially with people who have muskoskeletal pain. “Acupuncture reduces the pain and loosens you up. Tui na gets in there and puts the bone joints back in place, and breaks up the adhesions,” says Cooper. On days when he’s not teaching Tui na courses or supervising Tui na clinics, Cooper sees patients at the OCOM clinic. Unlike most masseurs, Cooper has a passion for research. He recently published his first article in the Journal of Medical Acupuncture and just got his doctorate in Chinese Medicine, a degree few U.S. acupuncturists have. This year, he plans to enroll in OHSU’s Human Investigations Program, which trains doctors to do research on human subjects. “I’m kind of a scholar. It’s fun!” says Cooper, who hopes to do more qualitative research. “I’d like to find out why people come back for acupuncture and Tui na. What are they getting out of their experience?”
These days, it’s not unusual to find an acupuncturist who focuses on fertility. But Lee Hullender Rubin, LAc, is unique in that she not only sees patients, she is conducting research on acupuncture’s ability to boost fertility. Just one of 300 or so acupuncturists in the U.S. to have a doctorate in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, Rubin is currently writing up findings of observational research from a Seattle-area fertility clinic that shows that women who had 12 TCM treatments (acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and diet and lifestyle recommendations) prior to embryo transfer had a significantly higher live birth rate than those who had no acupuncture or than those who had acupuncture alone immediately before and immediately after embryo transfer. “I think the question has to be changed from ‘Is acupuncture effective for the day of embryo transfer” to “Is it an insufficient dose of acupuncture?’” says Rubin. She is currently recruiting subjects in the Portland area for her own study—a randomized, controlled trial on how acupuncture and lidocaine affects vulvodynia, chronic vulvar pain with no known cause. She hopes to recruit 30 subjects to come to OHSU’s Vulvar Clinic for 18 acupuncture sessions. Meanwhile, she has a flourishing practice in the Alberta neighborhood, where she works with women who have everything from endometriosis to recurrent pregnancy loss. Perhaps surprisingly, she also treats men. “Men tend to be easier to treat with Chinese Medicine,” says Rubin, who notes that Chinese herbs are very effective at improving sperm morphology. She’ll also suggest lifestyle changes that boost sperm counts such as laying off alcohol and even cycling.