LiveWell®

Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing


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Integrative medicine makes a difference in fighting disease

Integrative therapies like acupuncture can help patients dealing with serious illness cope with disease symptoms and side effects of treatment.

Integrative therapies like acupuncture can help patients dealing with serious illness cope with disease symptoms and side effects of treatment.

When facing a serious illness, more people are turning to integrative medicine to help deal with the symptoms of their disease or the side effects of treatment. A recent KSTP-TV segment described how integrative medicine is making a difference in their health and well-being, and it included comments from Courtney Baechler, MD, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

“Integrative medicine is truly combining Western and Eastern health [approaches] into one. That means if you are going through a cancer process, you get the best surgical and chemotherapy, along with the best Eastern processes, to make sure that we keep you well throughout this journey,” said Baechler.

Watch the entire segment: Inside your health: More than medicine.

Courtney Baechler, MD, is a practicing physician with and the vice president of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. To schedule an appointment, call 612-863-3333.


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Common questions about acupuncture and its use in treating pain

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The Penny George Institute for Health and Healing offers acupuncture, group acupuncture, and other services for pain management at multiple locations.

By Michael Egan, LAc, DiplOM, MaOM, licensed acupuncturist, Penny George™ Institute for Health and Healing – WestHealth

How did you get into acupuncture?

As an acupuncturist at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, this is a question I often get asked.

The answer is I discovered acupuncture as a patient. About 15 years ago, I was suffering from a severe case of tennis elbow (lateral-epicondylitis). The pain was impacting my ability to do just about anything and everything. I received a shot of cortisone that took the edge off for a short while, but then the pain reared its ugly head and it was worse than ever. So, I decided to try acupuncture.

I was treated with acupuncture and electric stimulation for about 10 visits. And I was coached to take a break from weight training and do some very gentle movements to help relax the tendons in my forearm and improve my circulation. I was encouraged to “give myself permission to heal” (a revolutionary concept for me at the time). The pain went away, the function improved, and I’ve had more than 10 years without pain.

What does acupuncture treat? What can it do for pain?

These are also common questions. While the answer to the first question is too expansive for this blog, one of the things acupuncture is most recognized for is treating chronic pain. Acupuncture is recognized as a safe and effective treatment option for conditions such as:

  • neck and back pain
  • knee pain
  • migraines/headaches
  • shoulder pain
  • arthritis pain.

It is important to remember that acupuncture is part of an ancient medical system called Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is much more that just acupuncture. Chinese herbs, dietary therapy, Tuina massage, and movement/breathing exercises such as tai chi and qi gong can also help people suffering with chronic pain.

The Penny George Institute has an amazing integrative approach to treating chronic pain that addresses the body, mind and spirit.

Approaching the treatment of chronic pain from a holistic point of view incorporates addressing the whole person, not just the symptoms. One of the things I love about Traditional Chinese Medicine is the wisdom that has been compiled over 3,000 years. It encourages asking questions like: How do we nourish our lives? How do we save and preserve our health so we can live more meaningful lives?

Anyone dealing with chronic pain knows it is not only physically challenging, but it can be an emotional burden as well. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we address the mind and emotions, as well as the body. I work with my patients to remind them that they are not their pain, and they are not their symptoms. They are a whole person who happens to be suffering with a difficult condition.

Michael Egan, LAc, DiplOM, MaOM, sees patients at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – WestHealth in Plymouth. For an appointment, call 612-863-3333.

 


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Curious about holistic health? Start here.

The Penny George Institute for Health and Healing - WestHealth in Plymouth is under construction, set to open in August 2014

The Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – WestHealth in Plymouth, Minn. is under construction.

Come and tour the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s new integrative health clinic set to open at Abbott Northwestern – WestHealth in Plymouth, Minn. this August.

The new clinic will host an open house on Thursday, Aug. 7, from 3-6 p.m. Come and learn how integrative medicine consultations, acupuncture, Resilience Training, fitness consultations, and nutrition can help you become the healthiest version of yourself.

The new clinic’s physician, advanced practice nurse, acupuncturists, health coach, nutritionist and other experts will be on hand to answer your questions.

All are welcome, and no registration is required. Refreshments will be provided.


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The evolving field of holistic health – from alternative medicine to integrative health

By Zena Kocher, LAc, MaOM, licensed acupuncturist, Penny George™ Institute for Health and Healing

At the end of my senior year of high school, our yearbook held predictions about each graduate’s future. It was predicted that I would quit my position as editor and chief of the New York Times to become a Zen Buddhist monk.

Even though this was one of the more absurd prophecies, this prediction actually hinted at my career path. Indeed, I did leave behind my dream of becoming a journalist to become a Chinese Medicine and integrative health provider at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.

I think a Zen Buddhist monk is the closest comparison to an acupuncturist that the yearbook committee could find. In high school, none of us had heard of acupuncture, and the field of integrative health – sometimes called holistic health – did not even exist. We didn’t yet have the language to describe my future profession.

Holistic health – focused on the body, mind and spirit – has evolved over the last thirty years from alternative medicine to complementary medicine to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to integrative medicine, and most recently to integrative health.

Though 50 million people use integrative health services in one form or another – be it acupuncture or meditation or integrative nutrition counseling – it is still relatively uncommon for conventional health care organizations to adopt integrative health services and programs.

The main tenets of integrative health have become established with holistic physicians and nursing programs around the nation. CAM providers have teamed up in clinics and hospitals to offer integrative health services.

I work for Allina Health’s Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, the largest integrative health program within a health system in the nation. We have been tasked with expanding our program across the hospitals of Allina Health. This means more hospitalized patients will have access to services like guided imagery, aromatherapy and massage therapy to help support their recovery, manage pain, deal with anxiety and sleep better.

Many health care systems look to the Penny George Institute for a better understanding of how to develop successful integrative health programs and improve health care overall. Fortunately, the Penny George Institute has a research team to collect and analyze data to help us better understand how and when integrative health therapies help patients the most.

Still, the language and science about what we do is still in the making. A deep understanding of how and why some integrative therapies work has not yet been revealed.

As clinicians, we are at the center of this evolving field. We have a crucial and unique perspective. What we see, experience, and practice helps define integrative health. It’s an exciting place to be.

In future blog entries, I plan to put my journalism skills to work by interviewing my colleagues about our work. I hope this collection of upcoming interviews will provide insights into integrative health care.

Zena Kocher, LAc, MaOM, is a licensed acupuncturist with Allina Health’s Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. She provides integrative health services to hospitalized patients at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.


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Make your summer count: A seasonal approach to boosting health and wellness

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While we’re eager to return to higher levels of activity as summer begins, Debra Bell, MD, advises caution. “Don’t make that first bike ride a 30-mile trip. Be mindful to stretch and pace yourself,” she said.

This article will run in the summer issue of the LiveWell® Newsletter of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

According to Debra Bell, MD, an integrative medicine doctor at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, taking note of seasonal changes and adjusting your habits accordingly is a powerful and practical way to rejuvenate the body, mind and spirit.

It can begin with the earliest days of spring when you notice that it is still light out at 6 p.m. “More daylight often helps our mood, so we should take advantage of that,” said Bell. Increase your exposure to daylight by going for an evening walk or sleeping with the curtains partially open.

Warmer weather can serve as inspiration to spend less time in your car. Instead of automatically driving wherever you need to go, walk or ride your bike for errands or outings.

Outdoor chores like yard work and gardening can help you tune in to the season while keeping you active. “Summer is a time of new life and growth. Finding ways to be engaged in the natural world can be satisfying and can serve as a metaphor for one’s own sense of growth and development,” said Bell.

Another important part of Bell’s “summer wellness tool kit” is fresh, local produce. “We have much more to choose from in the summer, and the nutrients in foods like spring greens are great for the immune system, anti-aging and digestion.”

“Some people also like to think in terms of spring cleaning – focusing on a cleansing or purifying diet under the guidance of a professional,” said Bell. Similarly, integrative practices like acupuncture and qigong can provide a seasonal tune-up, helping the body shift from the dormancy of winter to a more active, energized state.

And while many of us are eager to return to higher levels of activity as summer begins, Bell advises caution. “It’s very easy to overdo it. Don’t make that first bike ride a 30-mile trip. Be mindful to stretch and pace yourself. The muscles you used all winter shoveling snow or running on the treadmill aren’t the same as when you garden or ride your bike.”

Bell also noted that seasonal changes in the natural world include cold viruses. “When the weather changes, the viruses that are circulating also change,” she said. She encourages her patients to take zinc and vitamin C at the first sign of a summer cold.

Debra Bell, MD, sees patients at the Penny George Institute – Abbott Northwestern. For appointments, call 612-863-3333. See her profile.


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Breaking away from unhealthy American ways

AmericanWays.57300728By Megan Odell, LAc, MS

My professor was new to our school and the United States, having only recently left China. I had the privilege of observing this brilliant acupuncturist as he assessed patients’ concerns and composed treatments.

As he worked on a patient chart one day, he paused and with a big sigh asked, “Why does everyone here have this pattern?”

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the word “pattern” is used instead of “diagnosis.” Where conventional Western medicine works to whittle an illness down to a single cause, TCM instead looks at the whole body-mind ecosystem and attempts to find a pattern to what is happening. A treatment plan is created to restore balance and health.

My professor had noticed that Americans appeared in our clinic with one predominant pattern―Liver-Spleen disharmony. This doesn’t (necessarily) mean there is anything structurally wrong with a patient’s liver and spleen. The issue lies in the functions that the Chinese medical system attributes to those organs.

Patients with Liver-Spleen disharmony might express concerns such as headaches, high stress, digestive difficulties, menstrual pain, irritability, fibromyalgia, or a host of other symptoms.

So, if my professor’s observation was right, what is it about living in the United States (or perhaps an urban area of the Upper Midwest) that makes it so common? In my experience, this pattern is all about four things:

  • Stress: According to TCM, the liver is in charge of the free flow of Qi.  Qi is energy that moves through your body along channels. When you are healthy, the Qi moves freely. When you are in pain, sick or emotionally upset, the Qi can become stuck. When you are in a state of stress, the qi often stagnates (which you might express by clenching your jaw, stopping breathing or tensing your shoulders).
  • Emotions: In TCM, we believe that emotions come and go like water in a stream. If we let them come and express them, everything should be fine. However, sometimes we deny or “stuff” emotions, such as anger, sadness, grief or jealousy. I often speak to people who have semi-successfully hid from emotions for months or years with unintended physical results.
  • Exercise: If we aren’t physically moving, Qi is less likely to move.
  • Food:  In TCM, the spleen is largely attributed with the transformation of food into energy. Some foods, such as soup and lightly cooked vegetables, are easy to transform. Other foods, such as dairy, sugars, and fried foods, are difficult to transform. Eating too much of the latter can bog down the digestive system. And if we do other things while eating (working, reading, driving), the body’s ability to focus energy on digestion is hindered.

Does any of that look familiar? Do you see it in your life or our culture? I would offer that the “American way” often encourages stress, overworking, emotion-stuffing, screen-watching, and food-as-stomach-filler. Even when we try to avoid these things, it is easy to feel pulled in a number of directions in our daily lives. And usually our self-care is the first to go.

So what do we do? TCM offers solutions like acupuncture and Chinese herbs that can help. But improvements from those therapies will only be sustained if lifestyle changes are made, too.

  • Meditate or find another way to manage your stress. Biofeedback and Mindfulness Training are available at the Penny George Institute and offer excellent approaches to handling stress.
  • Feel. Know that your feelings are right, and they are temporary. If you feel you need help processing your emotions, please consider seeing a therapist to help you.
  • Move. It doesn’t have to be high-intensity interval training. Any time you move your body in a way that you enjoy, that is good.
  • Savor. Experience and enjoy your food. Experiment. Slow down. Smell it. Taste it. Eat only enough to feel 70 percent full.

Good luck – together we can work to change the American pattern to one of balance and harmony.

Megan Odell, LAc, MS, is a licensed acupuncturist and offers services at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern.


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Inviting contemplation into daily life

By Jill S. Neukam MS, LAc

“I felt grateful for the reminder of the sacred.  I found myself feeling a little weight … that invited a pause and a vague remembering of something bigger.  I liked this feeling. It seemed to feed part of myself. I felt gently nourished and befriended.” -Unknown 

I recently had the pleasure of taking a trip to the Middle East that included spending some time in two interesting cities.

Istanbul was the first stop. While the city is full of many interesting sites, I found myself being most moved by the sounds. The call to prayer is a regular occurrence when Muslim criers at mosques sing to summon followers to prayer.

Numerous times per day this evocative and calming sound bellows through the air. I found myself paused by this rhythmic gift and grateful for the invitation of contemplation or silent prayer that so naturally seemed to follow.

Jerusalem was my second stop. This city has been on my “bucket list.” Commonly coined as part of “the holy land,” the city is filled with history and sacred sights of numerous world religions, such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I had always felt drawn to experience this place and see if I would feel any significant connection.

Here, too, I was struck by the opportunity for prayer in everyday life. On a simple stroll through the old city, I repeatedly crossed paths with groups of “pilgrims,” praying, singing, and worshiping quietly. I couldn’t help but be moved by this public act of devotion. There was a grace that seemed present.

Upon my return, I found myself reflecting on my experiences and noticed that I missed those opportunities for pause in my daily life.

We hear a lot about the benefits of the practice of meditation, mindfulness exercises, gratitude lists, and creating prayer and contemplation opportunities, no matter what spiritual beliefs we hold.

One way that I find a pause is through a regular meditation practice that is focused on my breath. I like to do this for a half hour, but even 10 minutes goes a long way. I like focusing on breath because it is always there.  This means that even at a stoplight, I can take a minute and notice my breath. I find it an interesting experience, sometimes difficult, sometimes wonderful.

Now I would love to hear from you. How do you find a moment of pause in your day? Please share in the comments section below.

Jill S. Neukam, MS, is a Licensed Acupuncturist and yoga instructor at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Unity in Fridley, Minn. Jill comes from a diverse wellness background. She has worked in the complimentary care field for more then 15 years.


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My path to the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

Debra Bell, MD, hiking wth her husband, Daniel Wolpert.

Debra Bell, MD, hiking wth her husband.

By Debra Bell, MD

This fall marks the start of a new chapter for me in a more than 25-year journey as a family medicine and integrative medicine physician.

In September, I started offering integrative medicine consultations alongside two other physicians and a clinical nurse specialist at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern Outpatient Clinic. I am part of a team of integrative health practitioners, including acupuncturists, massage therapists, integrative nutritionists, and a psychologist.

As a new team member, I’ve been asked to introduce myself and my style of practice. Doing that requires giving you some history on how I got here.

I consider my work in health care a calling. I was exposed at an early age to medicine and drawn to the notion of helping people. As a pre-med student, I became interested in women’s studies and birthing practices. I found inspiration from my mother’s first edition books from the 1950s and 1960s about natural childbirth and breastfeeding and went on to study natural remedies used by midwives and ancient healers.

In medical school, I took a year off to concentrate on an independent study of natural medicine. I met my husband, and we spent 10 months traveling internationally visiting spiritual communities around the world. This led us to choose a simple life in which health and spiritual well-being are a priority.

We moved to Vermont, where we had a small, commercial, organic farm. I started an integrative medicine family practice and home birth private practice. Later we moved to California, where my husband attended graduate school, and I worked in a practice with other integrative medicine providers. I enjoyed having like-minded colleagues, and we learned a lot from each other.

From California, we moved to Crookston, Minn. People often ask how we ended up moving to northwest Minnesota. Divine intervention? I felt drawn to the area for a number of reasons. I found the open space and big sky breathtaking. In my practice, I could offer my services to a broader population, and the clinic at the local hospital was very supportive.

I was pleased by the number of community members who previously had never considered natural therapies but decided to come to see me because they wanted a holistic approach. Often, they did not want another prescription and did want to address more than physical symptoms. With an integrative medicine approach, we could address all aspects of well-being and healing ― work life, home life, exercise, diet, stress, coping skills, emotional well-being, and spirituality

Holistic medicine refers to focusing on the “body mind and spirit,” but often there is less emphasis on the “spirit.” I try to make sure I focus on all three.

In time, I created an integrative medicine center in partnership with the hospital. I worked with acupuncturists, massage therapists, spiritual directors and others as a team to provide holistic care.

After 13 years in Crookston, I am ready for this new chapter at the Penny George Institute. I’m looking forward to working with a remarkable team of practitioners and serving patients in Minneapolis and the greater Twin Cities area.

Debra Bell, MD, is now seeing patients. She offers an integrative medicine, or holistic, approach, to women’s health, fibromyalgia, fatigue, allergies, chronic disease and nutrition. Call 612-863-3333 to learn more or schedule an appointment.


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Managing the heat of summer with Traditional Chinese Medicine

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By Megan Odell, LAc, MS

Most of us in Minnesota welcome the heat as a time to get creative about staying cool – lake swimming, popsicles, complaining about another dramatic weather system. But hot weather can bring with it a series of symptoms.

Although this summer hasn’t been the hottest, July’s humid foray into the 90s brought with it a shift in patient complaints at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing clinic.

Suddenly I had more people complaining of seemingly mysterious fevers, nausea, diarrhea, sweating, dizziness and a heaviness of the head (or the whole body). Some also had respiratory issues that led them to believe they had caught a cold or flu, but most complained that their symptoms were “random” and seemed strange and unexpected to them.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) attributes these symptoms to an external cause called “Summer Heat.” Yes, that’s right. While Western medicine might ascribe the cause of a sickness or disease to a virus or bacteria, TCM attributes the causes of some disease to the external factors, or pathogens, of “Wind,” “Cold,” “Heat,” and “Dampness” – and we also have “Summer Heat.”

Summer Heat is characterized by sweltering heat outside, which then attacks the individual’s inside. In humid climates like Minnesota, the heat combines with dampness and creates the tell-tale pattern of symptoms I saw last week:

  • fever
  • heaviness in the head and body
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • stuffiness of the chest
  • dizziness
  • irritability.

This pattern can affect everyone but seems most prevalent in children, the elderly and 20-something apartment dwellers without air conditioning.

So what do you do if you experience these symptoms? First, make sure that you’re not suffering from other symptoms that might indicate you are actually suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke (fainting, dark-colored urine, rapid heart rate, confusion, throbbing headache, red and dry skin). Seek immediate medical attention if these occur.

Assuming that your situation is not this extreme, TCM focuses on cooling your body and expelling the pathogen. This can be done with acupuncture, certainly, but three of your best weapons are at the grocery store:

  • Watermelon: Enjoy the red flesh of the melon, but the most potent medicine can be found in the white part of the rind. Eat down into that as far as you can. This is a mild diuretic.
  • Mung Beans: These small green legumes originated in India, but are now grown all over Asia and in hot, dry parts of Europe and the United States. They can be found dried at most co-ops and natural food stores. Boil a cup of dried mung beans in about three cups of water. Drink the liquid. This is also a mild diuretic.
  • Electrolytes: With the sweating of Summer Heat, be sure that you are replenishing your fluids and electrolytes. My personal favorite is coconut water, but other sources of electrolytes are Smart Water, Emergen-C, and sports drinks – each with their own pros and cons. Try them all and see which your body prefers.

And if heat is a problem, cool down! Take cooling baths. Rest. Then get back out there to your lake swimming, popsicles and complaining about the weather. Enjoy summer while you can!

Megan Odell, LAc, MS, is a licensed acupuncturist and offers services at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern.


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Acupuncture can provide relief to cancer patients

by Noah Frohlich LAc,DiplOM, MaOM

Since I joined the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing and Virginia Piper Cancer Institute teams in 2010, I have been privileged to work with a great group of health care professionals to help those with cancer who are going through chemotherapy and radiation.

Acupuncture is very successful in providing relief to those suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue and pain. Another benefit of acupuncture is it can help balance out emotions and lift spirits.  When I offer acupuncture, I also like to provide helpful information about diet and lifestyle modification, and acupressure points for nausea and pain. Here is a great article on how acupuncture can help with cancer.

If you or someone you know has cancer, we offer these services through the Penny George Institute at Unity Hospital and at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.