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Some practices now incorporate traditional, alternative medicine

Tuesday, March 31, 1998

By Ellen Mazo, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

If Charlotte Houser hadn't fallen off that ladder last year, she might never have sought alternative therapies to help handle her diabetes.

The 69-year-old Latrobe woman sought out Dr. Martin Gallagher's Medical Wellness Associates in Jeannette to ease the back pain from the fall.

A chiropractor who is chief of staff and a clinical nutritionist, Gallagher made sure Houser got more than manipulative, chiropractic treatments.

Her diet and overall physical health were evaluated; even her emotional state was taken into account. She began taking a variety of vitamins, and started a vegetarian meal plan.

She said her diabetes is under control.

But she's leaving nothing to chance.

Last week, Houser sat in a room on the lower level of the clinic as a clear liquid dripped into a vein in her right arm.

She was undergoing her monthly chelation therapy - a treatment using a man-made amino acid called ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid, EDTA.

It's a therapy, Gallagher says, that can ease complications of diabetes, although critics insist it undergo more rigorous scientific scrutiny before joining the ranks of standard treatment.

"[EDTA] softens the blood vessels," explained Rox Colarusso, a nurse overseeing Houser's treatment. "With diabetes, you're more prone to hardening of the arteries, so this is a preventive measure."

Houser's husband Fred, 71, is following a vegetarian regimen, including apple pectin and wheat grass juice - a program he has followed since visiting a California-based natural health center - to deal with prostate cancer.

"I told my doctor," said Fred Houser, who accompanied his wife to her treatment. "He wants me to have an operation. I don't. Not yet."

As more and more patients turn to alternative therapies, Gallagher's Medical Wellness Associates has become a popular refuge for patients fed up with conventional treatments prescribed by traditional doctors.

"We're talking about going back to the roots of health care," Gallagher said, carefully pronouncing disease as he thinks of illness: a DIS-ease.

Gallagher's practice, which includes two medical doctors, is part of a growing trend among practitioners to respond to the estimated 61 million Americans who say they use alternative therapies.

The chiropractor is among the scheduled speakers at this weekend's fourth-annual Health & Life Enrichment Expo, a series of lectures, workshops and demonstrations on holistic healing and lifestyles, starting Friday at the David Lawrence Convention Center.

Gallagher, 47, remembers that when he opened his practice 23 years ago with his wife, Charlotte Ciotti, also a chiropractor, "There was barely a health food store in the area."

Such practices in Pittsburgh are coming into the mainstream.

?Shadyside Hospital last summer opened its Center for Complementary Care and tapped Lewis Mehl-Madrona - a nationally recognized, Stanford-educated doctor who advocates combining natural healing with Western medicine. It incorporates Therapeutic touch and hypnosis in pain management, brings acupuncture into the hospital setting and promotes other holistic practices.

?Tai Chi and yoga - ancient meditative practices that can improve physical fitness, balance and mental health - are now almost as common at local community centers and YMCAs as basketball and aerobics.

?And you can now find tofu, veggie burgers and herbal products like St. John's wort, ginkgo and echinacea at your local chain groceries and pharmacies.

Like many holistic practitioners, Gallagher is almost evangelistic about natural health care without being unrealistic that drugs and surgery should never be used. They should only be a second or third choice, he said.

He reels off success stories of patients who were cured with natural health remedies, especially after prescription drugs failed them.

It took years for chiropractors to be recognized by insurers; it's taking years for holistic practices to be recognized, too, he said.

Without large, tightly controlled studies providing scientific evidence beyond anecdotal accounts that many of these therapies work, few insurance carriers are embracing these practices.

But Gallagher contends that the natural health movement will move much faster in the next 10 years than it has in the past quarter century.

"The health-care revolution has to do with people finding themselves on medical treadmills," Gallagher said. "They're sick and tired of using drugs and they're sensing there are great advances in studies on vitamins, herbs and homeopathy."

Medical Wellness Associates, 91 Lincoln Way East, Route 30, Jeannette, is at 800-834-4325 or 724-523-5505.

Martin Gallagher and Charlotte Ciotti also host "Optimum Health," weekly on Cornerstone Television, WPCB - Channel 40 (check local cable system for schedule).

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