For a small town, Juneau has a robust holistic health care scene. As treatments that promise to cure ailments without medication often are discounted or misunderstood, I decided to go in search of the basic philosophy and benefits of naturopathic healing in Juneau. I found disease prevention, and even cures, can be as obvious as finding the right mix of diet, exercise and sleep - naturally.
David Ottoson, the owner of Rainbow Foods, a downtown natural foods store, said he and his family have been using naturopathic doctors as their primary care providers for more than 25 years.
"I believe in 'first, do no harm,'" he said. "I want the gentlest, most side-effect-free treatment as a first resort, and if that doesn't work, then I bring in the big guns."
He says for optimum health, he tries to be careful about what he eats and tries to stick with organic fruits and vegetables, and grass-fed game.
"I try and eat grass-fed animals with no antibiotics and junk that they feed animals in commercial operations," said Ottoson, who carries grass-fed bison at his store.
Naturopathic doctor Kristin Cox, of Rainforest Naturopathic Medicine, said the top ailments she treats in local patients are food-related digestive problems like constipation. She also hears complaints of fatigue, depression, anxiety and insomnia.
Cox says most of these problems stem from dietary and nutritional deficiencies, and many of them can be fixed with simple adjustments. Cox also notes that vitamin D deficiency is a big problem and many ailments stem from a low-functioning thyroid, especially in women.
"Many people are eating something that doesn't agree with them, or they have a nutritional deficiency," Cox said.
She has had success with many patients by using an elimination diet to determine which food is causing the problem. Cox said she's had many patients who were treated with surgery and pharmaceuticals for a simple food allergy.
For example, She had a patient with acute abdominal pain who'd already had three organs removed and a complete hysterectomy before Cox saw her. Cox determined her pain was from a wheat allergy.
Diet also is a focus at the SEARHC medical clinic, where Stephanie Zidek-Chandler is the health promotions and injury prevention manager.
"I'm into prevention, so I encourage diets that are rich in fruits and vegetables, and getting out in the sunshine to get vitamin D. There are really basic remedies that help support health," she said.
Data shows that heart disease, cancer and diabetes are the primary health problems for SEARHC patients.
"Most of our lifestyle-related diseases involve stress, diet and exercise, and having an imbalance there," Zidek-Chandler said.
Diet has also made a difference for Bret Schmige, who is married to naturopathic doctor Emily Kane. Schmige said he has felt a lot better since meeting Kane and changing his diet.
"I really appreciate eating a lot more vegetables now. Bachelors don't tend to eat very well," said Schmige, who also said his energy level is now much better now.
Kane encouraged Schmige to exercise and stretch more to take care of back problems for which most doctors would have prescribed drugs.
"Naturopathic doctors look for alternatives to pharmaceuticals. (My wife) always tells me her healthiest older patients are the ones that are not on medications. It's just so easy to go to a doctor and complain about something and have them put you on medication. That should be the last resort," Schmige said.
Rainbow Foods' Ottoson also values exercise.
"I like to get up and move around and do something every day, and I meditate."
Ottoson also avoids prescription drugs but sees them as a necessary evil.
"There are instances where they are extremely valuable, but I think they are over-used."
For treating lifestyle stress that affects your well-being, energy work is a drug-free option. Massage, acupuncture, reiki, healing touch, chiropractics, physical therapy, occupational therapy, meditation or counseling can all enhance your health, and, in many cases, can be prescribed and covered by insurance.
Bartlett Hospital is an indication of changing attitudes. It has offered healing touch for about 10 years now with much success, according to Bartlett nurse Mary Donlon.
"Healing touch is energy work used to try and remove energy blocks that can cause illness," said Donlon, who said it is often used after surgery and can be requested by patients.
A whiplash injury from car accident years ago left me with chronic pain in my neck. Juneau's occupational therapist Linda Newman treated me with a cranio-sacral treatment that released the memory of the accident that I had stored as a knot in my neck for more than 15 years. Bartlett is offering this treatment now as well.
Instead of running to Western medicine for quick fixes like medications and surgeries, which are often recommended to save time and avoid lawsuits, why not start with a naturopathic doctor who can take a look at your complete picture and guide you to optimum health - naturally? I found it takes being proactive with our own health, which includes clearly communicating symptoms and health history.
"If people can get connected to a program or a personal system or something that results in them taking action, they can improve their health and decrease their risks for so many diseases and just enjoy life to the fullest for a lot more years," Zidek-Chandler said.