By Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
The Arizona Daily Sun, Flagstaff.
Flagstaff Clinic of Naturopathic Medicine offers all the benefits of modern medicine with a bit of a twist.
“We’re primary care physicians. We have similar training and can treat the same problems and offer the same drugs and treatments that a regular doctor can, but we take a slightly different approach,” said Dr. Amber Belt.
The clinic has three naturopathic physician partners, Belt, Dr. Emily Davenport and Dr. Erin Victor. Massage therapist Denise Stanga also provides services at the clinic.
The Clinic opened in 1986 and the three doctors took over the practice a few years ago from Mike James and Mary Poore.
“We are licensed physicians by the state. We have to pass medical exams and have continuing education requirements,” Belt said.
Some states don’t have the same strict education requirements or require naturopaths to be licensed to practice, which is where some misconceptions of naturopathic doctors being slightly wacky and off the wall may come from, she said.
Naturopathic doctors focus more on treating the whole person and may prescribe changes in diet, herbal supplements, prescription drugs, minor surgeries, and alternative therapies to prevent and treat both symptoms and diseases.
“We usually spend more time with our patients. An initial consultation can take up to an hour,” Davenport said. “We really try to get to know our patients. What their diet is like. What they do at work. And how much stress they may have in their life.”
“A patient who has a feeling that something just isn’t right or something feels ‘weird’ with their body can go to a medical doctor, have a bunch of tests done and be told that nothing is wrong,” Belt said.
But a naturopathic doctor may find that a change in diet or an extra boost of vitamins or an adjustment in a person’s hormone levels may reduce or cure their pain or symptoms. The idea is to stimulate the body’s natural reactions to help heal the body.
The three doctors do use a number of herbal supplements, vitamins and homeopathy treatments to help patients, but those treatments don’t call for smudge sticks and crystals.
“We have all these other wonderful tools that we can use,” Davenport said.
For example, the clinic recently installed a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber. A patient steps into the chamber and it is sealed around them. Then the air pressure in the chamber is increased and the patient is typically given an oxygen mask, Belt said.
The increased air pressure drives more oxygen into the blood and tissues of the body. This increased oxygen can help with a host of injuries and diseases including wound healing, head and brain injuries, chronic fatigue, pain, chronic infections and treating burns, Davenport said. The typical treatment lasts about an hour and patients may be prescribed repeated treatments. It can also be used to treat altitude sickness and help athletes recover more quickly from a recent game or event.
The chamber used by the Clinic is much roomier than it looks, Belt said. When it’s fully inflated some patients can actually sit up inside the chamber. Patients also have a release valve to deflate the chamber and a walkie-talkie to communicate with clinic staff in case they get claustrophobic or need to be released from the chamber quickly.
The Clinic usually combines hyperbaric therapy with other therapies such as IV therapy, which directs medicine, vitamins and nutrition into a patient’s blood vessels, or light therapy, which uses pads with different colored LEDs to direct different wavelengths of light at an area, Davenport said.
“We think of the hyperbaric chamber as an adjunct to the other therapies and treatments we offer,” Belt said.
While all three physicians at the Clinic offer the same services that a regular doctor might for patients of all ages, they each have their own specialties.
Belt specializes in treating pain and musculoskeletal problems. She often uses a treatment called platelet rich plasma therapy to help with chronic infections, chronic inflammation, soft tissue damage and pain. The treatment calls for a small amount of blood to be drawn from the patient. The platelets in the blood, the cells that help form clots on cuts, are spun out of the blood sample and then injected into the injured area. The process stimulates the body’s healing response to the area and accelerates the healing process.
She also uses prolotherapy, which is a series of injections of fluid into a joint. The injections cause a slight irritation in the tissue surrounding the joint and stimulates the body’s immune response. The immune system removes the irritant and usually produces new cartilage in the joint. This can help with arthritis or other injuries.
Davenport specializes in women’s medicine and treating hormonal imbalances in patients. Hormone treatment can be used to help with menopause, PMS, thyroid problems, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and osteoporosis.
Davenport specifically uses bio-identical hormones in her treatment. Bio-identical hormones are identical on a molecular level with human hormones. They are usually created from sources such as yams or soy.
In 2002, the Women’s Health Initiative found that the synthetic estrogen and progestin, which were frequently prescribed to women going through menopause, could increase the risk of breast cancer for some women, Davenport said. Bio-identical hormones do not generate the same response because the body recognizes them as the same as the hormones the body produces naturally.
“A lot of it deals with quality of life issues for people. They may feel slightly off or have mild pain that can’t be traced to any cause,” Davenport said of hormone replacement therapy.
Victor focuses on family, women’s health and pediatric medicine.
The doctors frequently refer their patients to Denise Stanga, a licensed massage therapists who has an office at the Clinic.
Stanga offers a variety of massage techniques including Swedish and myofascial release, which works with the connective tissues between muscles and specializes in massage for cancer patients.
Because most insurance does not cover the cost of naturopathic medicine, the clinic tries to keep the cost of office visits and treatments to a minimum, Davenport said. The first office visit typically costs around $140 and additional visits may range from $90 to $120, not including therapy or supplements.