Integrative Medicine: How I Got Here and How I Envision the Future

I have had a long history with medicine. It began as a child with chronic sinus infections, fatigue and body pain and evolved into painful gynecological problems, depression and migraines that left me virtually debilitated as a teenager and young adult. Doctors were often stumped by my conditions, and I ended up seeing a lot of them. Some doctors were nice and really tried their best, some were indifferent, and some were flat out rude and told me and/or my parents that my pain was imagined. Well…it was real to me, and it was destroying my life. What was worse was having surgeries that did not help and medications with side effects worse than the symptoms they were supposedly trying to fix. I got sicker and sicker, which made me angrier and angrier. After it was discovered (23 years later!) that my lifelong constellation of symptoms was from untreated Lyme disease contracted as a child, I was hurled into a medical controversy where most of modern medicine knew little about the disease, doubted its very existence and mishandled its care, and most practitioners even went so far as to discriminate against patients. This discrimination almost took my life in 2016 when the disease spread to my brain and heart. Because medical research has not caught up to the disease  progression, insurance won’t cover it and very few doctors in the United States are able to treat it. Late-stage and persistent lyme patients are caught in a labyrinth of poor care, charlatans claiming cures that are not real, and mounting medical costs that crush the families into bankruptcy.

I started to see the doctors not as a people trying to help me, but as adversaries that are at best just doing a “job”…a job that proved to be at times dangerous.

In college I trained to be an anthropologist, and my experiences with medicine led me to the field of Medical Anthropology. This is where I could study medicine from a safe distance, and try to help the patient cope with the scary labyrinth of medical providers that understood symptoms, not people. I was still suffering at this point, and could barely make it through a day in one piece. But then a medical pluralism class introduced me to Acupuncture, and, desperate for help, I tried it for myself. It was a miracle. For the first time I started to get relief from my pain…and best yet, there were no dangerous side effects. And so I was hooked. I was inspired. My new life path was to help others find relief from their pain and from the dangerous route of surgery and pharmaceutical side effects. So I moved to a new state to earn a second Masters degree (followed later with a Doctorate) and worked at the long, arduous process of becoming an acupuncturist. That was 13 years ago.

I am ashamed to say that in the beginning of this process, based off my biased personal experiences, I harbored an adversarial view of medicine. In my mind allopathic medicine was dangerous and natural medicine was the light—but it was being blocked by hardened doctors that refused to let go of their power. I did not even realize I thought this way, but as I look back I realize how much anger I unwittingly harbored due to what had happened to me and my health. A dichotomy was created in my world, and it became my purpose to help people see the “truth” about medicine. This subconscious belief created a lot of unnecessary frustration in the early years of my career.

Over the years I have seen Acupuncture and Chinese medicine achieve amazing clinical results. I’ve watched conditions heal there were deemed untreatable and babies created for women that were told it was beyond hope that they could get pregnant–ALL through Acupuncture. But I have also seen its failures and short comings, and I have witnessed severe, complicated conditions needing nothing less than the skilled, technical advances of Western medicine. I have met good doctors and callous doctors; talented acupuncturists, and poorly trained acupuncturists. I have seen practitioners dedicating their whole lives to helping others, and I have seen practitioners cash in on their patients with useless gimmicks and “packages.” But, through it all, I have seen something truly remarkable: I have seen collaboration of both sides to the mutual benefit of the patient.

As with any profession, there are some medical providers that do not have their heart in it and went into the field with the wrong motivations. But by far the majority of medical providers entered the field because they truly cared and wanted to help people. They each practice the medicine they deem the “best”, and give it their all with the intention of healing their patients. It is a beautiful thing.

When I drop the ego and recognize this truth, I begin to see a medical world in this country based on collaboration, innovation, and integration. I see a world of communication and referrals between doctors, therapists, and natural healthcare providers allowing for the best combinations of medicine for the patient. I have met some really profound doctors so far in my career, and I am proud to know them. And I have witnessed some truly miraculous healings take place through Acupuncture and natural medicine. It is my dream as a healer, as a practitioner of one type of medicine, that this collaboration continues to grow and flourish, until one day there is no longer a clash of egos about which medicine is “better;” but instead, there is a general understanding that all medicine has a purpose and a place, and can be used harmoniously for the greater good.

Now that I am past my first decade as a healer and prepare for the many decades to come, I know that what I know will change often. I know that there are many changes on the horizon and always so much more to learn. But I will continue to hold the vision of integrated medicine, and am grateful for the doctors, nurses, therapists, and natural healthcare workers that continue to daily do their best to help others. I am thankful to play a part in the ever-changing world of medicine.

Why Drinking Cold Beverages can be Bad for your Health

This has been coming up a lot lately in clinic, so usually that means it’s time to write about it. I often tell my patients to stop drinking iced beverages, or even cold water, and they will look at me like I’ve lost my mind. For some people this is not as important, but for any patient that has heard me talk about them having “Spleen Deficiency”, or someone who is experiencing any kind of digestive disorder, this one step is vital to their success with treatments. Rest assured the advice to stop drinking iced beverages is one that actually makes sense, and I think when you see the reasoning it will be a lot easier to give it up—even on hot summer days!

The Spleen and Stomach in Chinese medicine is so much more than just the anatomical organs we have heard of in Western culture. In the Chinese tradition, one word actually encompasses a whole philosophy of conditions and concepts—which is why learning and speaking Chinese is so hard for us Westerners. If I say shoe, you know I’m talking about a shoe. But in Chinese medicine, if I say Spleen, I don’t mean your “spleen”, I mean a complicated and elaborate system within your body that digests food, holds your immune system, repairs muscles, regulates hormones and homeostasis, and, finally, regulates your energy levels. Phew, that’s a mouthful. There is NO Western word equivalent for all of these functions being related to each other in a systematic, elegant pathway stemming from an anatomical organ. So, since we don’t have an English equivalent to this concept, us Chinese medicine practitioners continue to say “Spleen” and have been confusing Westerners for decades. To make things easier for the purpose of the article, when I mean the anatomical organ I will use lower case (spleen) and when I’m referring to an entire system of physiological responses I will use upper case (Spleen).

Now that we have established that when I say “Spleen” I actually mean all of those processes I’ve just discussed, we can get to the purpose of this article—stop drinking iced beverages! Here’s the thing, your Spleen and Stomach are closely related and work in tandem together. If your Stomach is not functioning properly, your Spleen cannot do its extremely important job of regulating your metabolism, energy, and healing. Your Stomach is responsible for digesting—i.e. breaking down—any food we eat. In the Chinese medical model, the Stomach breaks down the food and then sends it to the Spleen (remember the energetic system, not the anatomical organ) to be transformed into the nutrients we need and then transported to the other organs and tissues in need of the nutrients. In order for the Stomach to do this important function, the stomach itself needs to have a healthy dose of stomach acid and Ph balance. This is true in both Western and Chinese medical models.

Think of the Stomach as a cauldron of stew sitting on a low flame. Because it’s been on this low flame for long enough, when you put new ingredients into the stew they immediately warm up and become part of the stew. Now, imagine you threw a bucket of cold water on that cauldron and blew out the flame. What do you think would happen? Now you have to wait for the flame to return and take its time warming up the whole stew once again—meanwhile all those new ingredients thrown in are not cooking, but instead floating and congealing in the pot. This analogy is very similar to what is actually happening in your body. When you throw iced or cold foods into your stomach you are dousing out the “flame” (technically the Ph balance), and forcing the stomach to work much harder to “cook” the foods. You can feel this phenomenon when you eat foods that don’t agree with you and the stomach has to produce more acid than usual to break it down—it’s called “heart burn”.

This doesn’t mean you can never have cold beverages again. But your Stomach likes it warm to do its job properly, so every time you drink or eat something cold you are playing with fire (pun intended). If you already have a digestive disorder, this is essential for you. Try drinking warm water with lemon juice in the Spring or some ginger in the Fall; and do your best to avoid cold foods all together while trying to repair your digestive system. This even includes salads or raw veggies. Lightly cook everything you eat to make it easier on your stomach to digest, and drink warm nourishing liquids. If it’s hot outside and the idea of hot water really turns you off, use room temperature water with cucumbers or lemon. This makes it refreshing and cool without damaging your Spleen and Stomach.

Hope this article helps clear up some of the confusion when we Acupuncturists tell you strange things like “you have Spleen Qi deficiency.”

5 Steps To Breaking Bad Habits

I find myself musing more and more on the concept of healthy choices and behaviors, and why we, as logical beings, would choose to do a behavior that is unhealthy or detrimental to our health. It is so easy to give advice to patients about ways they can improve their lives, but so difficult to see that advice followed through to fruition—with myself, my family, and my patients. The answer is obvious, and has been discussed by the greats (Lincoln, Franklin, Socrates, etc.) for centuries. The reason for behaviors we do not choose is simply that of habit. Habit that is so engrained in us that we act from the subconscious, as opposed to following our reasoning and knowledge. We know that we should eat vegetables more and dessert less. We know that we should drink more water and less alcohol. We KNOW that we should de-stress and enjoy life…yet we make decisions that are ultimately detrimental toward that goal of well-being and health. It is a frustrating process to say the least, but with awareness, willingness, and a little bit of faith, it can be overcome.

National Portrait Gallery:

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin writes of his own struggles to overcome habits he did not want and to exemplify virtues he admired. He says,
While my care was employed in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another; habit took the advantage of inattention; inclination was sometimes too strong for reason. I concluded, at length, that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous was not sufficient to prevent our slipping; and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct.

Now if arguably one of the most productive members of society, not to mention a Founding Father, struggled with overcoming habits, you can imagine why it is so difficult for the rest of us. Luckily, as part of his legacy, he provided advice on how he overcame his habits, and it is the same advice I provide to my patients. And it begins with awareness.

I compiled 5 Steps that walks you through developing healthy habits and walking away from habits that no longer serve you.

Step 1: Keep a journal or daily log, checking in with yourself daily, and really becoming aware of your actions. If you are not aware of your habits, you can’t change them.

Step 2: The next step requires some soul searching. Start asking yourself the tough questions of “WHY do I do this, WHAT am I feeling?”, and not allowing yourself off the hook with simple, average answers. Really ask yourself and allow the space for honesty. That sounds strange, but it is amazing how much time we spend not being truthful with ourselves. There needs to be a suspension of judgement to make this space. It does not matter if the answers you discover within yourself make any sense, and there is no point in judging yourself for beliefs and thoughts that you probably picked up as a child—long before the reasoning mind took over. This step is not about blame, shame, or regret; it is simply knowing from where you are starting the journey.

Step 3: Make a list of goals. For example, I have a goal to always have a clean house.

Step 4: Make a list of action steps for those goals. If having a clean house is my goal, than I need to dust regularly, vacuum almost daily, and have organization for the clutter. So action steps for this example is every morning before I leave the house, dedicate 15 minutes to picking things up, emptying the dishwasher, running a quick vacuum, etc. The point is to delve into the goal and pick it apart into doable, realistic action steps to allow the goal to become possible.

Step 5: Resolve. Create a resolution with yourself that you will implement these action steps daily. Every fiber of your being will fight you to return to the comfortable patterns of your past. You must resolve to keep that from happening. That means following step 1 daily. Check in with yourself daily to make sure you have not fallen back asleep, unaware of your actions and motives. Eventually the new habit will be ingrained and work on autopilot. But until that day, the key to your salvation is daily reflection and self-honesty.

 

I hope this list helps you. I know, it is not the magic bullet you were probably hoping for–but I think it is even better. Self reflection leads to greater self worth and sense of purpose. Life is not just about what is good vs. bad, it is about experiencing the fullness God gifted us. If you would like help with a habit that no longer serves you, or just to experience the fullness of overall wellness, call my office today to see if I can help.

Blessings,

Dr. Davis