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Restoring Faith in the Body
Chiropractors and naturopathic doctors teach healthy behaviors to help patients heal themselves

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November 2016

“Her medical doctor took X-rays, and nothing was broken,” says Dr. Michelle Zitzke of a woman in her 70s who came to Z Chiropractic in Bay View after a referral from her doctor. “Every time she took a deep breath, she would almost have a spasm, and she’d been dealing with it for two weeks.

“Our ribs move when we breathe, and one was stuck,” Zitzke explains. “So she had one adjustment (and) came back the next day and said, ‘You’re my angel. I can breathe again.’” Then Zitzke says she never saw her patient again, and laughs.

Like Zitzke’s client, many people seek out chiropractic care to ease pain, but more patients are returning to their chiropractor’s office, or visiting a naturopathic doctor (ND), for routine maintenance, preventative care and advice on taking charge of their health and well-being.

Chiropractors focus on the musculoskeletal system, whereas NDs look for internal biochemical imbalances — for example, ones involving hormones. Both types of doctors share a similar approach to care: Treating underlying causes rather than treating symptoms with medication.

“By looking at lifestyle factors — physical, chemical, emotional stresses — we can help the patient get an idea of why their problem started in the first place, why it may be recurring, and what can be done to prevent it from returning after the damage has been corrected,” says Dr. Kent McLeod of Chiropractic Company on the East Side.

“We have a faith in the body that it is homeostatic, that it wants to heal itself, and if we can give the body the tools it needs, it will do that job,” Zitzke says of holistic practitioners as a whole. “(We) help encourage people to have faith in their body again.”

“The body is wise and wants to be in a state of balance, but sometimes we need a guide to achieve that balance,” echoes Dr. Sarah Axtell, a naturopathic doctor at Lakeside Natural Medicine in Shorewood. “It is my role to teach the patient to heal themselves — how to cook, how to sleep, how to meditate or breathe deeply, how to exercise appropriately.”

Naturopathic doctors are trained as primary care physicians but are not currently licensed in the state of Wisconsin, Axtell says. So NDs help patients achieve a higher level of wellness using herbs, supplements, and diet and lifestyle recommendations while collaborating with clients’ primary care providers as needed.

Axtell’s patients come to her for a variety of reasons: fatigue, inability to lose weight, chronic gastrointestinal conditions, anxiety, depression. She says they are motivated to play an active role in bettering their health.

Unfortunately, short annual appointments within the traditional medical model make it challenging for patients and doctors alike to discuss and work on incorporating healthy behaviors that can minimize the effects of, or even eliminate, lifestyle-related chronic conditions. On the other hand, NDs and chiropractors spend a full hour with patients initially, and Axtell says her follow-ups are 30 minutes.

“A lot of people come to me frustrated,” Axtell says. “They want to be heard in a safe space (where) they can share their whole story.”

“When people feel like they’re listened to, they will get better,” Zitzke says, adding that she and her patients make decisions together, which empowers them to take back control of their health.

“You can change habits,” Zitzke says. For example, she’s been treating a diabetic patient with chronic pain for years and would occasionally mention that sugar might be contributing to the patient’s inflammatory problem. Recently, her patient avoided sugar for a month and the woman’s cholesterol numbers and blood glucose levels improved and her pain and fatigue were dramatically reduced. “She said, ‘Thank you so much for keeping on me about doing this,’ and I have a feeling she’s not going to go back to the old way,” Zitzke says.

3 Healthy Habits

Dr. Michelle Zitzke offers this advice for what you can do now to improve your overall health:

Get moving every half hour.
“Sitting for eight straight hours a day isn’t good for your joints in your spine,” she says. “Over time … it’s almost like rusting, so the joints get dehydrated, (and) it’s easier to get injured. Get a drink of water (or) take a two-minute walk to just pump your joints a bit.”

Eat whole, unprocessed food.
“Avoid some of the more inflammatory foods: sugar, alcohol — sometimes people have problems with wheat or dairy,” she says. “Eat meat, fruit, vegetables and leave the other stuff out for a little while — your body will heal faster.”

Take a deep breath.
“Stress is probably the biggest underlying cause of most people’s dysfunction, whether it’s cardiovascular, back pain, headaches,” she says. “But if we can figure out a way to manage stress, that is going to help us tremendously. Some of the stress-relieving things are free and easy: A deep breath profoundly affects your stress level.”


This story ran in the November 2016 issue of: