Time to turn off the air conditioning.


mindful manFor most of the past week (and part of this week), the Center has had no climate control. The AC compressor, already among the ancients, seized completely last week. After consultations with the experts from Elite Energy in Goshen, I decided that the best thing to do was to replace both furnace and air conditioning. Frankly, I've been keeping the furnace running with magic beads and baseless threats for the past two years, so I consider this to be a good opportunity. Elite Energy came back to me with an excellent bid on the job, so I gave them the go-ahead. The catch: It won't happen until Wednesday or Thursday.

That's actually no problem, as the weather is mild, and this building is well-insulated, which means cool nights will last until noon. Then we have to open the windows.

But this experience has made me think how, in many ways, this change is beneficial for my patients. One of the essential health problems of our time is the disconnect between us and our environment. And the more we struggle to control and isolate ourselves from our environment, the sicker we become. For example, we now know without a doubt that early exposure to bacteria in the soil improves immune system functioning throughout our lives. We know that peanut allergies are likely caused by not being exposed to them as infants. We know that walks in the woods reduce the symptoms of depression and improve cognitive functioning. We know that the chemicals we use to isolate our foods from their environment results in illnesses in ourselves.

How much of a difference would it make in our health if we stopped cocooning ourselves in climate control? It's a question worth asking.

I might have a different perspective on this than many, because I have never lived in a house or apartment with air conditioning, and for the past 18 years, have relied for heat primarily on a single wood stove in the center of my New England colonial-style house with single-pane windows that rattle in the breeze. I ride my bicycle or walk to most places, including work, 10-11 months out of the year. So I've lived my life closer to the patterns and cycles of our weather than many Americans, to the point where I am surprised when I walk into a climate-controlled house in the summer. (Interestingly, though, in the 1960s, only 12 percent of Americans had air conditioning in their homes. People seemed to survive ok.)

Certainly, aesthetically, buildings open to the natural world about them are more pleasant. In the spring, I am greeted by the smell of budding flowers and freshly-mown grass wafting in the kitchen window as I have my morning coffee. Thunderstorms in the evening bring a sudden, refreshing coolness, and you can smell the ozone in the air.

Being exposed to the environmental changes brings on eating changes as well, keeping my diet in sync with my physiological response to nature.

Conversly, we know that air conditioning can cause bad health. Asthma and allergies can be worsened by air conditioning, sometimes as what is known as sick building syndrome. This is usually attributed to poorly-maintained systems. In a well-maintained system, allergies are more often relieved by air conditioning.

Outside of that instance, I would argue that air conditioning is bad for your health in other, more obscure ways, and it goes back to the principle of being dissassociated from our environment. The less contact you have with your environment, the worse you are. Not surprisingly, this notion has received little attention among medical researchers. Of the few studies published, however, the results are suggestive that more frequent exposure to the natural environment leads to better health.

Fortunately, however, I'm not tied to the research. I rely as much on the wisdom of my professional forbears as I do on modern research, and in that, the conclusions are unequivocal. Changes in environments have been prescribed since the days of Avicenna and the Yellow Emperor, and through the ages, "environmental therapy" has been an essential feature of the treatment of many serious disorders.

So, even after we get our climate control systems back online here, I think I will make more of an attempt this summer to keep my patients exposed to the healthy environment around them. In my office, patients find themselves regaining health in the most surprising ways. I should not ignore such a powerful intervention that has been used successfully for millenia.

Being up front about things.


It is often overlooked by doctors, but the person sitting at the front desk is perhaps the most important person in the practice. She is the first voice that a new patient hears when they call and the first face they see when they walk in the door. If a patient doesn’t like her, or she is rude, or incompetent, it is very likely that the patient will leave unsatisfied with their care. In this, my 20th year of service to Litchfield County, I will occasionally be writing posts looking back at the history of my practice, and I’m going to start where most of the action happens: Up front.

It’s not always been a pretty picture. After all, I’m a doctor, not an HR specialist, and I’ve made a few hiring mistakes. In fact, one of my best friends, who is a big wheel in executive employment and the founder of what is now a multi-million dollar placement firm, once said to me, “Avery, do you know how I’ve managed to be so successful? All I have to do with a hiring problem is think to myself, ‘how would Avery handle this?’ and then do the exact opposite.”

Hmmph. Granted, my hiring process is perhaps not the best, but I have learned a thing or two over the years.

After opening my practice in Kent, CT, I was not initially busy enough to need someone at the front desk. The phone did not ring all that often and the two treatment rooms I had were more than sufficient. Within about six months, though, trade was brisk enough to require a hired hand, at least a few times a week.

This was long before the Great Recession, and, in fact, was during a boom part of Kent’s oft-anemic business cycle. So good help was hard to find.

But I got lucky. Through a colleague, I found out about a young woman, single mother, who was going to school part time in accounting, and looking for work. Bingo.

I immediately hired J., and she stayed with the practice for several years, until she graduated from college. Her daughter was just a baby, and during those early (and rather slow) years, J. would bring her daughter into work, and set up a playpen in one of the treatment rooms, where the baby would nap and occasionally yell for her mother. It was a situation that worked out well. J. was young, intelligent, and of course, could whip numbers around in her sleep, so my accounting and billing was always up to snuff.

It didn’t hurt that J. was cute and friendly, so the patients really liked her as well.

I didn’t know it at the time, but during those first few years, J. and I were putting into place procedures that have lasted until this very day. It’s interesting that even now, when I’m faffing about the file room looking for some ancient document, I will find a file labeled in her handwriting, under a filing system she developed and that has only been built upon by her successors.

Of course, as soon as she graduated, she was snapped up by Mighty Big Corporation, and went to work full time on a salary almost equal to my own at the time.

At this point, I started on a personnel cycle that has seemed to repeat itself periodically.

After J.’s departure, I went through a bit of a merry-go-round with staff. There was the 30-year-old redhead who was moonlighting as a dominatrix. Then there was the ex-postal worker with authority issues. Neither of those lasted more than a few months, which is when I hired my First Big Mistake.

She lasted several years, and there seemed to be nothing wrong with FBM. She had a great personality, patients loved her, and she exuded competence. It seemed that I had made a great hire, initially. And for the majority of the time she worked for me, it seemed like she had great control over the financial end of the business.

Unfortunately, as I found out later, she was also moonlighting. In this case, however, she was moonlighting for my competition, and doing it when I thought she was actually working in my office. She also called to quit -- to go to work full time for the competition -- when I was out west dealing with a terminally ill family member. That wasn’t a good time. Also, the billing had kind of gone to hell in a handbasket while she moonlighted while I imagined her being at my front desk.

Once again, I found myself on the staffing merry-go-round. There was the woman who interviewed great, looked great on paper, and had hand tremors. By the second day, the tremors disappeared, and by the second week, a couple of patients had complained about the smell of alcohol. Meanwhile, she was telling me how she had taken to falling asleep at night in her front yard.

She was replaced by the top-of-her-class college graduate, who oddly enough, had been unable to find any employment. It didn’t take long to discover why. For the two weeks she worked for me, she actually only came in for two days. On her final day of “work,” she called in with yet another excuse for not showing up, and I told her not to bother at all, that she was fired.

She started shouting at me, about how dare I fire her, and it was so unfair, and she was doing her best...she was outraged that she was being fired from a job that she hadn’t really shown up for.

This is what gives the younger generation a bad name.

There was also the woman I hired who came for her first day of training. After training all morning, she went out for lunch, whereupon she called me and quit. She didn’t even want to come back for a paycheck.

But, about this time, T. agreed to start working for me more-or-less full time. I had initially hired T. only for Saturday morning hours. She was actually perfect for the job, working weekdays as a bookkeeper, and possessed of a warm and outgoing personality. I finally convinced her that she was working for a dead-end firm, and she signed up for the ride with the Center for Alternative Medicine.

And what a ride it was! T. worked for me for over a decade (I said 13 years, she said 12, so I concluded that maybe it was only 12, it just felt longer), through phenomenal change. During that time, I introduced acupuncture and nutrition into my practice, bought a building, closed the Kent office and moved the whole kit and caboodle to Litchfield.

The thing about this type of job is that you work cheek-to-jowl with one another, and so fundamentally, your personalities have to match. T. and I worked well together, so much so that very frequently patients asked if we were married. To which T.’s response was usually something along the lines of “I’d rather shoot myself first.”

That was the nature of our relationship, and over the years it got to be a habit for me to gauge the success of any day at work by whether or not I was able to get T. to say “I hate you!” to me. A truly successful day was “I hate you!” followed immediately by “I quit.”

Which was all fun and games of course, until the day she came in and said “I quit” and really meant it. There was no discord or ill-will. She had simply tired of the job, and found one with better benefits and more suited to her current needs. T. left on good terms, and left an impression on the practice that has dimmed little with time. Patients will still ask me about her and how she is doing.

You get the story by now. T. was followed by a couple of unsuitable candidates, one of whom informed me shortly after taking the job that she considered me working for me to be probationary, and then was wholly excised when she was terminated after herself going AWOL.

That was followed by Second Big Mistake. SBM similarly had me under the impression that all was under control, while the cart was careening wildly down the mountain. Once again, I only discovered the condition of things after she left.

While I’m still paying the cost of SBM’s duplicity, the bright side of that stormy cloud was that SBM’s employment convinced me to restructure the practice. Part of the problem was that the front desk job had just grown too large. So I split one job into three, and have put checks into place that help me independently spot problems before they become too large. This has also enabled me to hire people who are specialists in each discipline, which has resulted in even better performance.

Again, after a bit of faffing about, I hired G., who is -- at least at the time of this writing -- sitting at the front desk. G. represents a bit of a change, and is reflective of my new thinking about what the front desk job entails and where I want to take this practice in the next 15 years.

G. actually got hired because of something my big-pooba HR friend had said. “Avery,” he said, “you need someone who really wants that job.”

That was G. Although G. was young and untried, she was hungry. She had the basic skills I needed and, more importantly, I felt her to be fundamentally honest. She also had -- there’s no other way to put this -- attitude. I’ve been doing this for two decades, and the practice at this point needed an injection of passion and energy. G.’s got that.

Something else that she brings, which has been missing ever since T.’s departure, is an abundance of laughter. The other day, one of my patients said to me, “You know why I like coming here, Dr. J?”

I was somewhat hoping that he would mention my phenomenal diagnostic skills, or my skillful touch with hand, herb or needle.

Nope. “I like it here because there’s so much laughter,” he said. “You go to other doctor’s offices, it feels like walking into a graveyard. But not here.”

The incident that made me feel best about hiring G. happened just a few weeks into her employment. I was asking her to do something, and explaining how to do it, and explaining how I should have done it, but hadn’t had the time to. She just cut me off in mid-explanation, looked at me with a serious expression, and said “Don’t worry. I got your back.”

She did, too, fixing my mistake with efficiency and aplomb.

After 20 years in this game, and, as I’ve been told, “more receptionists than Seinfeld had girlfriends,” it’s good to know that once again, somebody’s got my back.

The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades.


I feel a bit like Janus today. He was the Roman god of transitions; usually depicted with two faces, one looking forward and one looking back, Janus stands at the crossroads of our lives, guiding our passages from where we are to where we shall be. Today, I look back on what, in 2015, becomes two decades of private practice, and where I will be going in the future. So for a moment or two, Janus I shall be. 2014 was a year full of new beginnings for me, both personally and professionally. I’ve made a great many new friends, and enjoyed a renewal of both intellect and spirit. It was also the year I rediscovered my voice, as my writing -- once my career -- has again begun to flourish, not only publishing on my blog, but also at other sites such as the Good Men Project. My book has been resurrected, and is finally making steady progress.

The Center for Alternative Medicine, my practice in Litchfield, also saw an incredible amount of expansion in 2014. I introduced my private line of supplements for general health, assisting people with chronic diseases, and to support mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. This, along with my ability to create custom herbal formulas for patients, has fulfilled a life-long dream of mine; the ability to incorporate my knowledge, not only into the recommendation or use of herbs and nutrition, but in their creation. This is a wonderful capability that will benefit all of my patients, regardless of whether they are seeing me for physical injuries or internal disorders.

I am the only doctor in Connecticut, to my knowledge, that has ability to offer both of these services. It has taken years of education and experience to reach this point, and my heartfelt thanks goes to all of those people who have helped me get here.

Growth occurred internally, as well. Over the course of this past year, I went from having a single employee to three employees. Though most of my patients don’t see anyone except the person at the front desk, behind the scenes I now have people handling the medical billing as well as bookkeeping and accounts receivable. This rapid growth also had me working hard on administrative issues, developing the policies and procedures that never had to exist before.

The front desk is now in the capable hands of Giselle, whose laughter is infectious and whose efficiency is becoming legendary. The steely-eyed Joanne is facing off with the insurance companies, making sure that they live up to the promises they made to you, my patients. And Thanhien, who has managed million-dollar payrolls in her sleep, is making sure that our cash flow runs evenly. I could not ask for more capable hands to assist me.

As if those weren’t changes enough, I have an ambitious program outlined for the next year, with some entirely new services.

In December, I passed the examination to become a federally certified Medical Examiner, and am now one of only a handful of doctors in Connecticut who offer the medical examinations required every two years for everyone who carries a commercial drivers license. I really enjoy doing these exams, as I get to explore with drivers the wide range of health issues that effect them. I have already uncovered a few serious illnesses during the course of my exam, and helped drivers find appropriate care for them.

I also now have a CLIA-certified laboratory on site, and in partnership with a couple of other laboratories, we can now provide a comprehensive suite of employment and forensic testing services.

I now have the ability to provide breath, urine and hair analysis for drugs of abuse, for everything from alcohol to opiates. When these test results are required for evidence in court, I have the ability to provide what is called “chain of custody” handling, which means that the sample is overseen from collection to analysis, virtually eliminating the possibility of intentional or accidental tampering.

I can also provide a full range of relational DNA testing, including gestational paternal testing. This means that, with a couple of blood samples, I can determine the father of a child even before it has been born, with 99% accuracy. I can also perform non-invasive parental DNA tests, as well as testing for multiple siblings.

My DNA testing, like the drug testing, can be done with chain-of-custody handling for the court or other agencies, or even to support immigration and citizenship claims.

The best thing is that I am making all of these services as affordable as possible for the average person.

Anyone who has picked up a paper in the past few years knows that medical services and products are incredibly expensive and have a huge markup. This is, in part, due to the inefficiencies of the medical system, with huge amounts of overhead.

I, on the other hand, have been a sole practitioner for decades. I know how to keep my overhead low, and as a result, I can offer these services more conveniently and at less cost than anyone else.

Ok, so is that the crop? Let me think...private line nutrition, custom herbs, new staff, DOT exams, drug testing, DNA...yep, I think I covered all the bases.

Oh, yes, except for one thing:

I want to thank every single one of you who helped make 2014 the incredible year it was. My patients, my friends new and old, and my family have given me so much for which I am grateful. I can only hope that I have given back in equal measure. I wish for all of you the most wonderful year to come.

From pain and cane to freedom.


????????????????????????????????????????I am thrilled. Early last winter, a patient walked into my office -- barely. She had suffered from intractable back and leg pain for a year, and was, literally, days away from surgery. Her spinal stenosis was killing her. She shuffled with her back permanently bent 35 degrees from vertical. Straightening up was impossible as it would send jolts of pain down her legs. With her head forced downward, she couldn't see very far in front of her. All she could see was the ground and pain.

We had some great initial success. After her first visit, she cancelled her surgery. After a couple of months, she got rid of the walker. A little bit longer, and she didn't need a cane. Then she started standing upright, taking walks, and talking about getting off all of the pain medications she had been on.

Throughout her recovery and rehabilitation, she would comment on my trike, which I frequently ride to work in lieu of driving or walking. As it turned out, she had once been an avid cyclist, but her back problems had taken that away from her years ago. As she improved, I suggested the trike as a great way of regaining strength in her muscles without risking falling. She loved the idea, but never quite felt ready for it.

"Maybe one of these days," she would say. I could see in her eyes that she wasn't sure that day would ever come.

With a home rehabilitation plan in place and less need for my oversight and treatment, I discharged her from active care early this summer. Today, she came back to see me for a long-term follow-up.

She was doing well, she said. No pain medications for months, she wasn't in pain, and she couldn't believe the amount of energy that had returned since the heavy-duty painkillers had been eliminated from her system. I could see her eyes were bright, she had a liveliness to her step that hadn't been there before, and the color had returned to her face.

As I concluded the visit, she said there was one other thing I needed to know.

"I bought a trike," she said, grinning ear to ear. "It's pink."

I left the exam room with a huge smile of my own. It's patients like her who make this profession rewarding beyond words.

Fathers, Sons, Daughters, Paths and Patients


Part of the AMC Trail Crew in 1976. These are the men with whom I built trails. Nearly 17 years ago, my youngest daughter took her first steps at the airport on the way to attend my father's funeral. That moment, in the sterile hallway of an airway terminal, I experienced a strange crossing of emotions, as grief over the loss of the man who held my hand as I muddled my way through childhood collided into joy and pride as my daughter began her own long walk to independence. I didn't know what to do, really, so I did what my father had always done for me. I smiled at her and told her how very, very proud I was of her.

That's a memory I don't go to often, or willingly, but today it came unbidden and I suddenly realized how  much of my life has revolved around walking, and the paths on which we walk. I was no more than 14 or 15 when, enlisted by my mother and my best friend, I helped to create a woodland trail. Back in the late 1960s and early '70s, when land was less precious and government less war-crazed and more civic-minded, the Corps of Engineers bought up a huge tract of land -- an entire watershed, as a matter of fact -- so that they could build a dam and flood thousands of acres of what had been perfectly arable land. The ostensible reason was as a flood control measure for the downstream Ohio River, but everyone knew that the real reason was to create an outdoor recreation area in what had been a relatively backwater part of the state. I'm pretty sure the governor's  brother-in-law had a lot of real estate in the region, real estate whose value would  see a sharp increase as soon as the dam was completed and the farmland flooded.

But that wouldn't happen for a few years, yet. So in the meantime, I, and my friend Brian, and my mother, and his family, all chopped and cut and sweated and trampled and created many miles of trail to be used by both hikers and equestrians.

My first backpacking trip occurred on that trail, also with my friend. Out of plans found in a Boy Scout Fieldbook, I had built myself a wooden frame, wrapped it in canvas, and hooked onto it a packbag purchased at a local Army-Navy surplus store. Brian and I walked, and talked, and tried to make a no-match fire and cooked some undescribable and barely edible mess of freeze-dried food. It didn't rain, which was good, because our tents, such as they were, were simple tubes of plastic held up by a length of parachute cord. But I so clearly remember walking along the side of the soon-to-be-dammed creek, and seeing the muskrat holes in the banks of the stream, and poplar trees holding themselves violently upright with roots gripped tightly around the sedimentary rocks exposed by the meandering stream.

We knew nothing about trailbuilding, of course, simply cutting through what seemed to be the most reasonable and scenic route along the creek and the alongside the woodlands that lined it. We all knew that it wouldn't last long. The Corps of Engineers' creep to completion was as sure as it was slow. That path -- my first path -- is long gone, a sunken treasure of my adolescence.

I thought nothing of it at the time, for in that headlong rush with which the young meet the future, I had already found another berth. The day after graduating high school, I left my home in Ohio for New Hampshire, where I had secured a coveted spot on the professional Trail Crew of the Appalachian Mountain Club. At that time, it was the only professional trail crew in the country, and had a hallowed 75-year history in the most blue-blood of conservation organizations east of the Mississippi.

As a graduation gift, my parents had bought me a private berth on the Lakeshore Limited, an Amtrak route from Cleveland to Boston. From there I would find my own way to Pinkham Notch, New Hampshire, the place to which my compass would always point for the next several years. My father gave me a kiss, and a hug, and told me that no matter what I did, as long as I did the best I could, he would always be proud of me. As my train pulled out of the station, I waved to my parents. My dad had tears running  past the big smile on his face.

In the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I learned the craft of the trailbuilder. I learned how to drop a pine tree with a double-bit axe and skin the bark off it, sticky sap dripping from the naked wood, making it slippery to carry to its fate as a step or a footbridge or a waterbar. I learned how to quarry rock as large as bales of hay and roll its ungrateful mass to the trail, where I would dig a hole and expertly drop it in, leaving a flat, immutable surface to set foot on and another step in a long staircase up the side of one or another mountain. I remember one week counting in amazement after two of us, working together, had created 122 steps on a trail leading to Mizpah hut. Unlike the creek trail of my youth, these trails were made to last. Our goal was to create masterpieces that would last 100 years.

But building the Appalachian Trail was only part of my education. I also learned how to cook for six hungry men, how to motivate a ragged crew through their fifth straight  day of rain and mud with a little snow mixed in for variation. I learned what it meant to be part of a tribe. I learned to love and be loved. I learned how to absorb the beauty and majestic power of the mountains and make it my own. The trail I was building was to my own manhood.

I emerged four years later, stronger, hardier, and with an  unassailable sense of self. I knew who I was, and I knew the depths of my endurance.

Years passed, as they do, but the path never let me go. As I retooled from my first career to become a doctor, I also became a father. Thursdays, the traditional off day for chiropractors, became Daddy Day, and I soon found myself walking the wooded path holding the hand of Daughter #1, who contentedly ambled with me, stopping frequently to crouch down and intently examine a leaf. Or a bug. Or a pebble. Every week, we would walk along the same path, each trip filled with new discoveries.

One time we were walking along and she pointed to a log. "What's that, Daddy?" she said.

"That's a log, sweetie," I said.

"Where do logs come from?" she asked.

"A log is a tree that died and fell down," I told her.

Her eyes got wide. "It died? Why did it die?"

"Well, they have to make room for the other trees. See, when an old tree dies, it falls down to make room for a new, young tree to take it's place."

She chewed on that for a while. Then she took my hand and we began walking again. But she asked about it a few more times before she could really put her mind at ease about the whole subject.

Daughter #2 was the force behind my return to the mountains of my past. At the ripe age of 9, she decided she wanted to climb Mt. Washington with me. Of course, she thought the summit of Mt. Washington was a half-hour hike like the one to the summit of Mt. Tom here in Litchfield. She was a bit surprised on that June day when I pointed to that snow-capped summit half covered in clouds and told her that was where we were going.

No matter how you cut it, the trip up Washington is arduous. We went via Tuckerman Ravine, where we encountered our first snow, and then as soon as we hit the ridge, we entered the land of ice and clouds and wind. For hours we climbed, carefully moving from cairn to cairn so we wouldn't lose our way, as the path at that altitude was nothing but jumbled boulders and rock. By the time we reached the summit, visibility was down to about 30 feet, the wind was whipping us at 60 mph, and I don't even want to think about how cold it was. This was no simple hike for a nine-year-old. Daughter #2 was pushed hard by the trail, but she pushed right back.

After a short lunch break, we began picking our way down to Boot Spur. And as we reached the edge of the spur, a sudden gust of wind shredded the last of the clouds that had held us in blindness for so long.

"Look, honey, look!" I said, and pointed off the edge of the ravine. From 30 feet our visibility had gone to 30 miles, and you could see the whole majestic spread of the Presidential range and the valley from which we had climbed. My daughter's eyes grew as big as saucers. And I knew she would never look at the world the same again.

Today, I saw a new patient, someone who had been having back pain for several years, and the first thing I did, as I usually do with patients suffering from chronic back pain, was watch her walk. A biomechanically correct stride is important, and that's what I was analyzing, but as I did that, another part of my brain was thinking that how we walk says so much about who we are. And suddenly, I was taken back in time, to my daughter's first steps and my father's last. The friends who walked with me along parts of my path, and the miles I have walked alone. The bear I met in Maine, and the girl I met in Boston, who walks beside me still. And how even after all of these years, I can still skip surefootedly from root to rock and across the stream.

The skills of a trailbuilder are many. These days I no longer build anyone else's path but my own. But I'm putting the skills I learned walking the many paths of my life to good use, helping others walk along the paths they have created for themselves. There is little that could be more gratifying.

Reflections from the shallow end of the pool of knowledge.


We seek the moon but find only its reflection. (courtesy TORLEY/flickr) All creatures, simple to complex, have a limited level of understanding about this world. It is those limitations which make their life bearable, given the manifestation of their form. A dog cannot conceptualize much beyond his immediate environs; the hand of his master caressing his head, the full bowl of food, the warmth of the hearth upon which he lies. To have knowledge beyond that, of the atrocities which exist beyond his ken, would make his life one long terror. A dog is not equipped to cope with such knowings.

Conversely, this same limitation of understanding is a blessing to the dog afflicted by a cruel owner. To know of a better life, to be able to see and understand it and to know it exists, while daily experiencing the inhuman treatment of a heartless master --- that understanding, too, would make the poor mastiff's life even more of an unendurable hell. His ignorance protects him from even greater pain.

Man is no exception to this rule. The limitations of our insight befit our admittedly extraordinary ability to manipulate the world around us. From stone, sand and water, we create objects to extend our knowledge and presence to realms once unimaginable. Nonetheless, our understanding of the universe remains constrained by fetters we cannot see. They are so hidden that, like the dog, we don't even know that they are there.

To attempt to step over these boundaries is to dance toe-to-toe with madness. Those that can expand their horizons and absorb the chaos and heartbreak of fuller understanding yet retain their humanity are few and far between.

But from time to time, it does happen. And what then?

They return to us with their greater knowledge, and we immediately re-encumber them with the handcuffs of our own sad vision. We give them a name — Christ, Buddha, Moses — and anneal their message of dangerous freedom into a form which, by making it comprehensible, strips it of its meaning. The next thing you know, we are baptising, circumcising or prostrating in the pursuit of a reflection of the moon on a pool of water.

Knowledge becomes dogma, perception becomes ritual and teaching becomes liturgy, because we find no way to fit the larger picture into our smaller box.

However, if we discard the playthings of the ignorant worldlings that we are and look at the messages that these teachers have brought back, there are, as others have pointed out, universal truths that stand what we believe to be true on its head.

  • Less is more.
  • There is no I, only we.
  • Belief is the fundamental act of our existence.

These spiritual truths are no less valuable from the perspective of health. How often have I suggested to a patient that they are partaking too much of a good thing, whether that thing is pizza or pantothenic acid? How many hours have I spent explaining that the very microbes that live inside of us are not only critical for our digestive health, but also our immune health and our mental health, and that without our microbial friends or each other, we would die? How often has a patient improved solely because they have confidence in the doctor treating them?

We truly create our health, and the health of the world around us, by our thoughts and our actions. Chronic diseases in particular are susceptible to the metaphysical, and it is here that the future of chronic disease treatment lies.

We have such good tools to create vibrant, healthy selves. But using them means dropping our attachments, and facing the veil of our unknowns without fear or desire. Though the path has been trod, it is a hard path to follow. And you don't have to win to succeed.

Just take a step. And breathe.

The problem with mainstream medicine is staring us in the face.


scrutinium My perpetual, self-designed, professional continuing education has taken an interesting turn this year, as I've been stepping past the usual rounds of journal articles and monographs on herbs, and acupuncture, and the manual methods of healing of which chiropractic has become the primary form. Digging deeper into the roots of the traditional healing professions, I'm looking past that data, into the ofttimes misty past of traditional medicine, trying to discern what it was that my forebears saw in, say, the bark of the white willow tree -- which, in the industrial age, turned into aspirin. And just what was it about spinal adjusting that led Hippocrates to recommend it.

In essence, I have been delving into my professional collective unconscious, because that was the mode of thought of the earliest healers. Shamans, alchemists, and both early and modern Chinese doctors all work in the realm of symbols and their meanings; which is the same means of communication favored by our unconscious minds. The earliest herbalists often chose herbs based on their resemblance to the body part or disorder they were attempting to heal, bringing together unconscious associations with empirical evidence.

As anyone who has worked extensively with the unconscious mind can attest, this part of you communicates through symbols. While symbols lack precision -- just what does that young boy standing there holding a ball actually mean -- they pack a powerful emotional punch. Someone who is an expert in the manipulation of symbols, such as an advertising professional, has access to our deepest motivations, which is one way in which we can be manipulated without even being conscious of it.

Symbols are a form of visual shorthand, in which a whole host of ideas or emotions are framed and communicated in one fell swoop. For example, with just a glance, everyone knows that this symbol:

means DON'T DO IT, whatever "it" happens to be.

That's an example of an informational symbol. Other symbols are intended to evoke an emotion. For example, this symbol:

Is a nearly-universal symbol of love, and evokes feelings of warmth and affection.

But then there are the symbols which reach deeper still, which are universal, and which tap archetypes in what psychologist Carl Jung called our "collective unconscious." These symbols go back thousands of years, to the earliest civilizations and beyond. These symbols call forth associations from our unconscious to primal psychological forces, powerful motivators of behavior. For most people in the U.S., you don't have to go much further than the corner church to see one of those archetypal symbols at work:

The Christian cross, however, is much older than Christianity. This is what the cross looked like in ancient Egyptian times:

Back then, however, it didn't belong to the Abrahamic god and his son, but to multiple Egyptian gods, who used it to confer life on the mummies of the dead, permitting them an afterlife.

In its earliest incarnation (if I may be so bold), the cross initially appeared like this:

And in this form, the swastika was used to represent the sacred force of abundance, with the arms of the cross invoking the cycle of death and rebirth. Of course, later the symbol was perverted in Western civilization by being reversed and becoming the symbol of an inhuman killing machine.

You can see, however, the common theme of the archteypal cross. At every stage of its existence, it represents the spiritual quality of rebirth, whether it was Christ rising from his sepulchre or mummies restored to the afterlife.

Throughout humanity, this archetypal symbol holds this same meaning. It is part of our collective unconscious, the psychic commonality which links and motivates all of us, whether ancient Egyptian or modern Baptist.

Which brings me, at last, to the point of this post.

Who, reading this blog, is unfamiliar with this symbol:


 Even at its most stylized, this is an easily recognized symbol. It is the symbol of the doctor, of the hospital, of the men and women that will heal you when you are ill and tend to you in your demise.

The problem is that this symbol, commonly called the caduceus, is not the symbol of health or healing at all.

It is the symbol of commerce and money.

The caduceus is the staff of the Greek god Hermes. Hermes is the god of the trades and commerce, and he actually acquired the staff after defrauding his half-brother, Apollo.

And that is the symbolic representation of medicine in this country. There are no healers involved in this archetype, no caregivers, none who would freely give of themselves for the well-being of others.

Instead, the medical industry has chosen as its symbolic representation, the archetype of greed and self interest.

In comparison, what have the members of the second-largest whole body health profession in the world chosen as their symbol?


This is the chiropractic profession's winged angel of health. As you can clearly see, this symbol embodies the cross, that symbol of rebirth and renewal -- and hope. Accompanying the cross is an angel. The angel is another archetype as old as humanity, and its function has been to manifest the divine power to aid mankind. They protect. They guide. They heal.

So let me ask you a very important question. When it comes to your health -- the foundation of your quality of life, the ruler of your longevity --  in whose hands do you trust? The person who chooses to represent himself with greed and unenlightened self-interest? Or the physician who guides himself by the principles embodied by the angels?

It's an important decision. Choose wisely.

Heart Disease Myths

This month being national Heart Health month, I'll be doing a series of articles on heart disease and how to avoid it. I mean, how to really avoid it, as opposed to the have-this-scan take-this-pill approach to prevention. In fact, it is just that approach to health that has got most of the population walking straight toward the heart attack guillotine. In 20 paragraphs or less, I'm going to show you how to reverse that death march.

The problem is that mainstream medicine has failed miserably at reducing the rate heart disease. After billions of dollars and a half-century of research, heart disease remains this country's number one killer, causing 36% of all deaths.  The claim is often made, based off of a CDC report, that there are fewer people dying from heart disease, and that is true; but that's not because fewer people have heart disease, it's because we can keep people alive longer after heart attacks. They still have heart disease, and are usually very sick, but at least they're not dead. Which is wonderful for those people who are living with heart disease, but honestly, wouldn't it be far better to stop the disaster from happening in the first place?

A more honest method of measuring our ability to prevent heart disease is to measure it's prevalence, or what percentage of the population has heart disease.  In terms of the percentage of the population that has heart disease, "Among adults 18 years and older, the prevalence of heart disease and stroke between 1997 and 2009 has remained essentially the same," according to this report. So, in fact, we aren't really winning the war against heart disease. Instead, mainstream medicine is simply propping up the corpses and declaring victory.

While mainstream medicine pats itself on the back for its "success," the science-based skeptics among us can plainly see that they have been an utter failure at preventing heart disease. The heart of the problem, if you'll forgive the allusion, is that mainstream medicine has built its "prevention" approach on a shaky therapeutic foundation, one predicated more on profitability than on true prevention. These heart disease myths, while they are making lots of money for high-cost, high-tech clinics, surgeons, and pharmaceutical companies, are ignoring the scientific research which conflicts with the profit imperative. The sooner we recognize these myths for what they are, and discard them in favor of evidence-based prevention, the sooner we can reduce the number of Americans dying from heart disease. At the current rate, one American dies from heart disease every 40 seconds. I think we can do better than that.

Heart Disease Is Not A Disease

This may sound spectacularly absurd, but the fact of the matter is, most heart disease does not begin as a pathological process. Heart disease is not a disease in the same way that multiple sclerosis, thyroid disorders or many forms of cancer are diseases. What we call heart disease is actually an unholy conglomeration of lifestyle choices. Stop, for a second, and think about how evolution has molded our bodies. We are designed to live in physically-demanding environments where energy is obtained only with significant energy output. Our ancestors of only a few thousand years ago lived in places where the energy balance between alive and dead was as thin as the edge of a stone blade. Nutrition varied tremendously, from place to place and from season to season. Our bodies developed to adapt to them all. Our systems were honed to provide the best possible performance in those circumstances.

Simultaneously, historical evidence shows that heart disease was not prevalent in pre-industrial societies, from the medieval English to nomadic Ethiopians. What these unlettered, unhygenic people did that we do not is make use of one of the basic premises of medicine, Davis' Law. In non-technical terms, Davis' Law, and it's logical brother, Wolff's Law, boil down to this: Use it or lose it. The heart is a muscle, and the less you use it, the weaker it becomes. What happens to weak hearts? I don't think I really have to tell you.

The real truth is that heart disease is, first of all, the beginning of the failure of a weak, underused muscle: Your heart. What the research actually shows, as opposed to the faux science you have been handed, is that the number one risk factor for heart disease is cardiopulmonary fitness, or in other words, how strong your heart and circulatory system is. The stronger your heart, the less chance you have of having a heart attack or stroke. This influence is so strong that it overrides genetic influence, smoking history, cholesterol levels and weight. For example, if you smoke and do regular, vigorous cardiac activity, you will have a lower risk of heart disease than an unfit non-smoker. If you've got an extra 25 pounds around the middle, but can pound out 50 miles on a bicycle, you are unlikely to die of a heart attack, even though your BMI would make a cardiologist gasp in fear. Our hearts are designed to be used, and used hard. We are made to chase our food with foot and spear, lift logs, roll stones and dig dirt. And the less we do that, the weaker our hearts become. Once a week on the stationary bike while reading the Sunday funnies doesn't turn the trick. You have to pant, sweat and push on an almost daily basis.

You can do this by going to the gym, or by engaging in a home bodyweight/cardio workout. But that takes a lot of self-discipline, more than most of us have. So my suggestion is to incorporate high levels of physical activity into your everyday activities.

Am I suggesting that this we turn our lives into a daily replay of some Scottish highland games? Well, not completely. But if you do want to actually prevent heart disease, it's time to make some changes. Keep the car in the driveway for any trip less than 1 mile. Chop wood to supplement your normal house heat. Ride a bike to work every day, shovel snow instead of blowing it, rake leaves instead of blowing them, and quit blowing away time in front of the television. In our society, we have made physical activity the special time, the consecrated time of the modern American. It's time to reverse that, by integrating high levels of physical activity in our lives and sitting down for our sacred space.

Diet is another lifestyle choice that contributes to heart disease. The confusion that the mainstream medical community faces is that it has no idea what a healthy diet really is, though it hasn't prevented them from promoting an ersatz "heart healthy diet" that fails to do much for anyone. The research shows that vegetarians have a much lower risk of heart attack; it also shows that people eating a meat-heavy Adkins diet also have a lower risk of heart disease.

So, if you want a healthy heart, what are you supposed to do? Become an omnivorous vegetarian?

The problem with the studies purporting to demonstrate the components of a heart-healthy diet is that they fail in two regards. First, they do not take into account what I call individual biochemical diversity, something that I have seen to be of tremendous importance in the nutritional treatment of disease. Second, they ignore the rather extraordinary fact that we do not absorb only energy and nutrients from our food; we also absorb information.

Individual biochemical diversity simply means that we all process our food differently. Some of those differences are genetic, making an eastern European's nutritive processes significantly different from those of a Maori. As a result, though both may suffer from the same malady, the nutritional therapeutic intervention will be different for both. So, yes, for some people, a heart-healthy diet is a vegetarian diet. For others, avoiding heart disease means lots of protein. The trick is finding out what kind of diet (and there are more than just two) will best prevent heart attacks for you.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is the concept of xenohormesis. Living things produce certain molecules in response to certain stressors. When those organisms become food, we ingest those molecules, and our body recognizes the signal that the food is giving us. For example, an animal produces certain molecules when it is stressed because its food supply is low. When we eat that animal, we are informed that a famine may be on the way. So guess what? We start storing energy. And energy is stored as -- wait for it -- fat. And, just for giggles, guess how stressed out an animal that has spent the last month of its life in the execrable conditions of a feed lot is? Guess what its meat is full of? Yup. All those chemicals that tell us that a famine is coming.

The study of xenohormesis is in its infancy, but its a safe bet that the "food as information" paradigm plays a much larger role than we currently understand. The trick is, if you want to stay healthy, eat healthy foods.That means locally grown, locally raised, and if not FDA-approved organic (which is the worst kind of organic, mind you) at least raised with no help from Monsanto.

Cholesterol Doesn't Matter. At All.

This is the part where all of the pseudo-skeptics start getting the vapours and call up the quackwatch hotline. But the fact is, when it comes to heart disease, cholesterol doesn't matter. 

I have come to that conclusion, in part, after examining the epidemiological data over the past 30 years, which demonstrates that, although we've reduced cholesterol levels on a nationwide basis, the rate of heart disease, as I mentioned above, has not budged. My conclusion has come after reading multiple studies, often cited in the literature as a justification for the creation of a cholesterol panic, and finding that in many cases, the researchers' own data does not support their conclusions. And, in some cases, the data has been fabricated, or massaged, to produce the desired outcomes.

And I'm not the only physician to arrive at that determination. Marcia Angell, former Editor-in-Chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, is among many prominent doctors who have looked behind the cholesterol curtain and found the same thing I have -- biased research, bad science, and a public health policy more interested in your wallet than your health.

I could write entire chapters on the damage that the cholesterol myth has done, and perhaps someday I will. Suffice it to say now that, whatever your medical doctor has told you about cholesterol, just ignore it. And, though I risk bringing the wrath of the FDA on my head for saying this (I would certainly never say this to a patient, as recommending pharmaceuticals is not part of my scope of practice), if you have no heart disease, and your MD has given you pills to bring down your cholesterol levels under the guise of prevention, just chuck them. They are likely to do you no good at all.

So I promised you an effective preventive strategy for heart disease in twenty paragraphs, and this is number 20. So here's the deal. Turn off the TV. Hide the car keys. Whatever it is, pick it up yourself and carry it with your own two feet. Sweat and gasp for breath at least once every day. Sprint to the mailbox like you're waiting for your lover's letter. Quit eating crap. Plant or mammal, if it died more than 60 miles from you, don't eat it. Eat anything that's fresh or unprocessed unless it disagrees with you. And one other thing: Ignore most of what you've been told about how to prevent heart disease.

Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at or by calling 860-567-5727.

The Road to Health is a 20 Mile March

One of the great questions any physician faces is why one patient thrives, while another patient, under nearly identical circumstances, fails. As in any other profession, no doctor and no therapy can be 100% successful, but for the fully engaged physician, any missed opportunity to change a life is vexing. Not surprisingly, then, this is a question that I've put a great deal of thought into. And after 18 years, I've finally come up with an answer.

A Meditation on Spirituality and Health

Self-appointed "skeptics" frequently point to practices such as mine, claiming that I'm engaging in nothing but voodoo witchcraft, preying on those so ill and so without hope that they will grasp at any straw proffered them, ante up any outrageous fee desired, and dearly pay for the false hope which I and my colleagues allegedly peddle.

My patients, of course, know the reality is far different. They know me as a hard-headed pragmatist, whose foremost rule is "Find it, fix it, and get out of the way." They know me as a doctor who will rather unflinchingly -- though I hope not unkindly -- point out how they have contributed to their own ill health, while also finding ways they can repair the damage. And they know that my fees are modest; I am unlikely to bathe in gold coin anytime soon from the revenues of my practice.

What they don't know, unless they ask, is that each discipline that I practice, whether it is chiropractic, acupuncture, or herbal/nutritional therapy, is supported by a wealth of scientific research that supports every modality that I use.

When I have used acupuncture to treat children with Tourette's syndrome -- usually successfully, I might add -- I can point to not just one, but several studies that support and guide my intervention.

When I blend a custom herbal formula for a patient suffering from a cold or urinary tract infection, I am relying on studies which show me that the herbs in question are more effective than anything in the MD's formidable arsenal. Though of course, the FDA would have the fantods were I to be so foolish as to make the claim that herbs can actually kill the bacteria causing the infection, even though studies exist demonstrating that very fact. So I won't make the claim that herbs can help cure the common cold, even though substantial research exists supporting that statement.

And when I explain to an acupuncture patient that Qi is a life-force running through their body, and that the flow of this Qi can be altered by placing needles at certain points along that flow, I know that I am using a time-tested analogy for a phenomena that we are only beginning to touch upon in Western science. It is likely that this Qi is actually a form of intercellular communication, and that acupuncture alters the nature of that communication. When you begin to change the body's command and control systems, your results are going to be powerful and intersystemic, which is why both acupuncture and chiropractic have such profound effects on people. Chiropractic adjusting, through its influence on neural communication, and acupuncture, through its alteration of intercellular ionic flow, are both acting on a meta level, thus their widespread effects.

With all of that said; with all of my adherence to the logical discrimination of disease and therapeutics, and my hard-headed emphasis on results, I cannot ignore the power of my patient's spirits, nor their immeasurable will to survive, improve, and in some cases achieve a level of health they never thought possible. Where does this will come from, and how does it manifest its results? Most importantly from my perspective, how can I help my patient harness that power?

Multiple studies have shown that intercessory prayer have little effect on disease outcome. Nonetheless, it is often through their religion or spiritual beliefs that people harness that powerful exercise of volition which dramatically alters the course of their disease.

Despite increasingly frequent forays into this domain, the realm of the spirit remains largely opaque to the otherwise piercing lenses of science. There is some evidence that  our brains are hardwired, as it were, to engage in spiritual practice; to "believe" in unquantifiable, unmeasurable forces which help to direct our lives. And those familiar with the work of Carl Jung and subsequently Joseph Campbell will recognize the hero myth as the unifying essence of almost all religions. Neurological research has shown how the regular practice of meditation, independent of the specific religious tradition of the meditator, can create long-term alterations in our brains. Nonetheless, these scattered breadcrumbs only beg the question of how these beliefs unlock such potent personal power that the course of a disease can be radically altered.

This is a question worthy of consideration, particularly today, when much of Christianity celebrates the birth of its central figure. And as I drove home from a family gathering last night, I could not ignore the beauty and tranquility exuded by the churches I passed, all decked out for their celebrations and lit with candles for their midnight services. There is a compelling power there, not just in Christianity, but in any religion as it expresses the majesty of its office in our affairs. From the miraculous birth of Jesus to the transcendental satori of Gautama Shakyamuni to the revelations of the cave-dwelling Muhammad, there is a common thread from which has emerged some of the most beautiful expressions of art, literature and music of which humans are capable.

To that I would add religion's ability to give us the power to manifest our ideal selves in the physical realm as well as the sphere of ideas. While I cannot explain it, I would be a fool to ignore it, though it is clearly not in my scope to harness it. That is more truly the realm of the priest, the roshi, the imam. As a doctor, I must remain ecumenical to best serve my patients.

To me, this day marks both a beginning and an end. It is the end of the work year for me, and over the next week of "vacation," I lay the foundations for beginning the new year. I am looking forward to the changes I hope to bring about, both personally and in my practice. And I know that this question, the role of spirituality in health, will be one which will invite me back to ponder its challenges throughout this year. I am looking forward to the conversation about to ensue.

And I am also, as always, incredibly thankful to my patients who continue to be my most influential teachers. Thank all of you for your trust in me, and thank you for permitting me to join you down the short segment of your path that we are traveling together. I hope my guidance has not led you astray, but assisted you to become more of who you want to be.

And to all of the readers of my blog, thank you for your attention and your feedback. You encourage me to continue these public musings and consider new topics and new approaches.

Happy Holidays to all! I look forward to seeing you in 2012.

Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at or by calling 860-567-5727.

There is a better way to manage your depression and anxiety. Find out how.

There are better ways to manage depression and anxiety.

Paralysis. Suicide. Fatigue. Heart Attack. Birth Defects. Liver Disease. Weight Gain.

Is This Any Way To Treat Depression and Anxiety?

These are just some of the side effects of antidepressants. At the same time, research has shown that these drugs are not much better than placebo at treating depression and anxiety.

Please join me on Nov. 9 for an exploration of the dangers of medical treatment for depression and anxiety, and a look at alternative management strategies.

At this seminar, you will learn:

  • What are the long-term effects of using drugs for mood disorders?
  • What really causes depression and anxiety?
  • Can acupuncture help people with depression?
  • Which herbs are most effective for people with depression? Can herbs really reduce anxiety?
  • What is the research behind alternative management strategies?

If you or someone you know suffers from anxiety or depression, call today to reserve your seat.

Wednesday,  Nov. 9, 2011 Litchfield Community Center 7 p.m.

Call 860-567-5727 and ask for Teresa, or email to

Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at or by calling 860-567-5727.

The Lenses We Look Through

courtesy Larry Miller/flickr Page A13 of today's New York Times has an article about St. John's College, a rather unique Great Books program. The thrust of the article is to illustrate how St. John's professors -- referred to as "tutors" -- are expected to teach every discipline, regardless of their own specialty. As an example, the article features Dr. Sarah Benson, an art historian, who is currently teaching mathematics -- via Euclid.

The Times article says "students who attend St. John's...know that their college experience will be like no other. There are no majors; every student takes the same 16 yearlong courses, which generally feature about 15 students discussing Sophocles or Homer."

I mention this article for two reasons. My daughter is a freshman at St. Johns College, and is finding the experience to be uniquely mind-expanding.

I can already hear the changes in her thinking; for example, in a recent telephone discussion about how her younger sister's classmates feel that American imperialism is in all cases justified, daughter #1 bursts out indignantly: "But what about Virtue? Don't they even consider that?"

In my mind, I laughed, then applauded.

The second reason is that this article brought back memories of my own undergraduate education, the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at Miami University (of Oxford, Ohio, thankyouverymuch). Cloistered on its own campus (the former Western College for Women, at which my mother was an assistant dean), the School of Interdisciplinary Studies taught us in much the same way that St. John's College trains my daughter today. Frequent, small discussion classes, only barely run by the professors, punctuated by more formal seminars, at which the academics of the College presented insights from their own disciplines, viewed through interdisciplinary lenses.

There was one class, however, which became for me an intellectual satori. I spent a semester studying the relationship between Picasso's Cubism and Einstein's theory of relativity.

It was team taught by a physicist and an art historian, and we all learned together, studying the works of Picasso and Georges Braque, and reading Einstein's original works. And somewhere, through the heat of that challenge, I emerged a changed man. Somehow, my lenses had shifted, and I never looked at the world in the same way again.

The School of Interdisciplinary Studies is long gone, replaced by a sub-department within a department, but I am glad to see that schools such as St. Johns College continue to educate men and women who will be capable of gazing out onto the landscape of culture and ideas and see things to which others are blind.

Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at or by calling 860-567-5727.

The Power of Chiropractic

Courtesy of Pete Hunt Thursday's wild storm left the Center for Alternative Medicine without power for a day, and what an unusual day it proved to be! Though my hours were quite fully filled for Friday, I went in that morning with low expectations for the day. I told my ever-suffering office manager, Teresa, to stay home, as I expected that I would easily be able to handle what few patients showed up.

Of course, I had no idea of exactly who that might be, as I converted to entirely digital scheduling and medical records several years ago. In fact, when it comes to solo doctors' offices, my practice is pretty close to the bleeding edge, technologically speaking. I have set up a highly integrated network of Linux-based servers, desktop systems, laptops and netbooks and even smartphones, all entirely fueled by international-standard FOSS software. In fact, to my knowledge, I am the only doctor in the country whose practice is entirely built around the Ubuntu operating system. We use no Windows or Mac operating systems or applications, from patient charts to accounting.

All of which, of course, was of absolutely no use on Friday. Even a battery-powered laptop was ineffectual, as it needed a functioning router and powered-up server to tell me anything about anything.

So I went into the office Friday morning prepared to amuse myself by engaging in an archeological dig through the junk mail, research journals and meaty tomes on acupuncture which have been serving to hold my desk firmly onto the floor for a few months.

I abandoned that project, mid-pile, when my 9 o'clock patient walked through the door. Then the 9:15 patient showed up. And all of a sudden, in darkened office with windows opened to the breeze, my day came alive. The next time I looked at the clock, it was lunchtime. I took a quick lunch, and was back at it for another 6 hours.

It was at some point, while I was blending a custom herbal formula for a new patient by the light of the sun streaming in the laboratory window, that I realized just how independent of technology is the practice of primary care chiropractic. Here I was, with no notes, no power and no machines, treating patients as I would on any other day.

Granted, it wasn't quite the same. With no water for washing my hands between patients, I resorted to rubbing my hands with alcohol, not a dermatologically comfortable practice when you are doing it 30 or so times. And without power, the bath of hot water in which I store my thermal packs is just a bath of tepid water.

As many of my patients know, I often apply heat prior to myofascial therapy because it makes the process a bit less painful. So a few of my patients on Friday experienced a tad more discomfort than usual, but all managed to take it in stride.

Chiropractic adjustments were similarly easy. I've chiropractically examined and adjusted people just about everywhere and on just about everything, from logs deep in a national forest to incubators in a neonatal ICU, so adjusting in natural light with the windows open did not even draw conscious notice on my part.

Acupuncture treatment was a bit trickier. The room in which I usually treat my acupuncture patients is without windows, and is dark as a cave with the lights off. So I re-fitted one of the tables in my other exam room with outriggers to be used as a suitable acupuncture room.

What was more difficult was determining treatment protocols and plans, all of which comprise part of a patients' chart. For each patient, I note where I am adjusting, and which adjusting techniques are used. And I will often alternate complementary therapies. Acupuncture patients also have an individualized point prescription which I follow for treatment. With none of these available, I was forced to rely on my memory.

Interestingly, I was pretty successful. Fortunately, a chiropractic doctor develops a close enough relationship with his patients that when my memory did falter, people cheerfully volunteered the information, often with a teasing jab at my stumble. It was all good-humored though, and nobody seemed disaffected because they had to remind me of my duties.

And when their treatment was finished, it was "Goodbye, I'll have Teresa call you about appointments and payments!" Nobody seemed to mind. Everybody likes to leave the doctor's office without having to pull out their wallet!

Notes were jotted down on pieces of paper and put on the desk for transcription when the power went back on. At 4:30, I walked out of a treatment room, and realized that there were some lights on in the hall. The CL&P linemen had pulled out all the stops in getting the power back up; and I recalled that some time earlier, I had seen a truck hauling a rather oversized transformer up the road. Perhaps a swap had been made.

But by then I had established a rhythm to the day, and I decided not to disturb it. Until hours ended at 6:30, I continued to work the day old-school style, sleeves rolled up, as chiropractic doctors have for generations before me. It was really a very welcome return to my roots.

For a few minutes before I left on Friday, I sat on the bench in the front of the Center and reflected on the day. Though busy, it had proved to be exceedingly pleasant. Without telephones or email to pester me, I was really drawn into the present and the presence of my patients to the exclusion of all else. As I have written before, it is really that relationship, between patient and doctor, that is the source of my joy in my work; to have it enhanced in that way was not only surprising, but also served as a reminder to me. It was a call for me to, professionally speaking, stop and smell the roses. To forget the distractions and to focus on what is truly important:

The healing power of both touch and words. The ability of laughter to pierce through pain. The sincere "thank you," unblemished by commerce. Those are the things that matter to both my patients and myself, and in turn make my practice as healthy and robust as it is.

Isn't it funny how a loss of power should actually become its reclamation?

Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at or by calling 860-567-5727.

A Touch of Wellness

When I started the Center for Alternative Medicine, one of my goals was to create a truly multidisciplinary clinic, a collection of independent yet collaborative health care professionals. And while Dave Pavlick, of EEG Neurofeedback fame, has been here virtually since the beginning, the office up front has too often remained empty. I have actively sought someone in a complementary  discipline, with impeccable bona fides and a patient-centered ethic to match the spirit and mission of the Center.

I am very pleased to announce that our search has ended, as massage therapist Christine Decarolis has joined us. Christine is a graduate of the Connecticut Center for Massage Therapy, and holds both a national certification and Connecticut licensure (CT license #006339). She is a member of the American Massage Therapy Association, serves the needy and those in crisis as part of the Connecticut chapter's Community Massage Team,  and on top of all that, Christine participates in events sponsored by the Sports Massage Team.

Christine got into massage the same way many of us find our life's calling: She fell into it.

"I had just lost my job due to 'restructuring,'" she said.  "It was the fourth time I'd been out of work, I was tired of bouncing from job to job and realized I had a decision to make.  Did I want to continue going from job to job and never settling anywhere or did I want to go back to school and follow my heart?" she added.

"I'd been a Reiki practitioner for two years at this point and made the decision that whatever I did next had to include Reiki.  Massage kept popping up either in conversations or in the media.  I figured after the third time, the Universe was trying to tell me something.  Two months later, I was in massage school," she said.

Christine's experience and training gives her the ability to provide a wide variety of massages, she said. "I've been trained in Swedish, Deep Tissue, Sports, Trigger Point and Myofascial Massage.  I don't have a particular favorite although I do use Swedish techniques the most."

"Every massage is tailored to the specific needs of the client and so I almost never use one type of massage exclusively.  That is why I charge a flat rate for massage and not by type of massage or by benefit.  Massage for stress reduction and for pain relief could be nearly identical or vastly different," she added.

Outside of the massage studio, Christine is the President of the Thomaston Ladies Choral Club. And she teaches sewing through the continuing education program at Litchfield's Education Connection.

I think this summary of Christine's skills gives you some idea of why I am very glad to have Christine at the Center. To get more information about this outstanding woman, check out her Facebook page. If you are interested in scheduling a massage, give Christine a call at 860-796-2571. Or email her at

Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at or by calling 860-567-5727.

Guilty By Association

The history of chiropractic has, to a great degree, been formed by its response to its enemies. Of all of the forms of alternative health care which arose in response to the callous use of "heroic medicine" by the medical profession of the 19th century, chiropractic was the only one to survive intact. And not only did chiropractic survive, it thrived. While the homeopaths were chased out of the U.S. to find tenuous purchase in Europe, the osteopaths were co-opted to become the red-headed stepchildren of medicine, and the Thompsonians and Eclectics were simply annihilated, chiropractic doctors spread to every state in the Union and got licensing laws passed in all 50 states.

To a large degree, the success of chiropractic legally was due to its success with patients. The legalization of chiropractic was enabled by grass-roots patient movements lobbying their state legislators to turn aside medicine's attempt to quash the young profession. When chiropractors were jailed for "practicing medicine," their patients would line up at the door of the jail, requesting admittance so that their chiropractic doctor could adjust them.

Chiropractic progress was also secured by enormously courageous doctors willing to risk jail terms in order to gain the right to serve their patients. I never knew it at the time -- indeed, I did not discover this fact until I was well into my 30s -- but the chiropractic doctor I saw as a child, Dr. Herbert Reaver, was jailed no fewer than 13 times before the state of Ohio finally passed a chiropractic practice act. Dr. Reaver, one of the unsung heros of health care, continued to see patients into his early 80s.

While chiropractic success was largely built on patient demand and individual acts of courage, such as Dr. Reaver's, the medical model pursued a different tack. It employed an enormously well-funded central association -- the AMA -- to attempt to eliminate medicine's economic competition.

And that, really is what today's question is about. Can you tell me what the AMA, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals (JCAH) and the American College of Physicians all have in common with regard to the history of chiropractic?

As always, the first person to send me the correct answer will receive a 10% one-time discount on any order of supplements from our dispensary.

Good luck!

Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at or by calling 860-567-5727.

DocAltMed IQ Test: Mystery Man

Since its inception, the chiropractic profession has paid great attention to the nutritional needs of patients. After the AMA had annihilated the eclectic and homeopathic schools of medicine, both of which advocated replacing drug therapies with medicinal use of food and herbs,  chiropractic doctors were almost the only health professionals which kept alive the concept of  "food as medicine."

(It bears noting that, at the time the medical profession was attempting to hound chiropractic doctors out of practice for being unscientific, mercury was a common ingredient in many medicines routinely prescribed by MDs. Mercury is today recognized as a dangerous poison, to the degree that releases of small amounts of mercury have caused entire school evacuations. However, the same MDs who now understand the dangerous toxicity of mercury advocate for its continued use in vaccines administered to infants and children. Go figure.)

The medical profession's opinion of the importance of nutrition during the 20th century is well summarized by Dr. Elmer Nelson, who was the director of the Nutrition Division of the early FDA. Dr. Nelson, in court testimony, said “It is wholly unscientific to state that a well fed body is more able to resist disease than a less well-fed body. My overall opinion is that there hasn't been enough experimentation to prove dietary deficiencies make one more susceptible to disease.”

Interestingly, however, there was another profession that continued investigating the use of nutrition: Dentistry. In the interests of oral health, a few enterprising dentists continued research into nutrition's effect on disease.

One of these dentists was among the first to recognize the dangers of trans fats, excoriating the manufacturers of margarine as "food counterfeiters," who "have kept their eyes comfortably equipped with mercenary blinders."

Even more prophetically, this man recognized 60 years ago what is only now being acknowledged by mainstream medicine. This is the fact that isolated, synthetic nutrients do little to affect overall health. Nutrients work with one another synergetically. Vitamin B complex, by itself, is absorbed and utilized poorly. However, when accompanied by a number of cofactors which typically accompany Vitamin B in food, our ability to use this vitamin to fight disease is greatly enhanced.

This doctor, again writing in the 1950s, said: "The whole nutrient complex is greater than the sum of its parts. Just as no single component of a watch keeps the time, no single chemical accounts for the functional action of the entire nutrient complex. Vitamins are bundles of nutritional factors that create a vitamin effect. Only in whole, unprocessed food does the synergistic balance of nutritional components yield that vitamin effect to a living body."

In the course of developing means to healthily condense, extract, and process food, this dentist acquired almost 100 patents, developing processes that are used in supplement manufacturing to this day.

Your question this week is: Who was this doctor?

As always, the winner's of this week's quiz will receive a one-time 10% discount on an order of any size from our Dispensary. The answer will be released on this blog on Wednesday, Feb. 2. If you think you have the answer, email me. Good luck!

Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at or by calling 860-567-5727.

When The Universe Changes

It may be entirely apocryphal, but I was once told that in ancient China, it was the practice to pay your doctor when you are healthy, and your payments would stop when you are sick. This economic model -- the wellness model -- makes far more sense than our current system, in which physicians, including myself, make more money from you being sick than being healthy.

If you look at any other industry, it is apparent that the medical habit of paying for failure is entirely topsy-turvy. Should you pay the airline for not getting you to Hoboken in time for Thanksgiving at Aunt Marcy's? Should you tip the waitress more for bringing cold coffee and yesterday's French fries? Of course not. But when it comes to health care, the sicker you are and the longer you take to get better, the more your doctor makes.

What brought this to mind recently was my daughter's acceptance into college, and the concomitant realization that I was now on the hook for a considerable annual fee to join the august club of College Student Parents. I was bemoaning my fate to a friend who also happens to be a patient. They just looked at me and said:

"You know what your problem is, doc? You get your patients better too fast."

Well now, there's a concept. In what other industry could I possibly be in where I actually hurt myself financially by improving my performance?

The medicopharmaceutical industry has neatly tied up both ends of this ribbon. On the one hand, they create new diseases, find ways of convincing you and your non-chiropractic doctors that you have it (adult ADHD, anyone?), then sell you on a lifetime of pills to fix it. The Great 20th Century Statin Deficiency is another example. Through corrupted research and savvy marketing techniques -- up to and including the use of prostitutes at medical conferences -- the pharmaceutical companies have deluded millions of healthy Americans and their medical doctors into believing that they must take their daily dose of statins to survive. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, but there's nothing wrong with a healthy revenue stream, is there?

On the other hand, they market drugs as tools of disease prevention, all the time knowing that the nostrums they peddle do little to encourage better health. A perfect example of this are the bisphophonate drugs, such as Fosamax. We now know that bisphonates not only fail to create healthier bone, they also kill the very bone that they are supposed to strengthen.

Long before reaching that fraudulent extreme, however, there is a sound basis for wellness, or preventative care.

Both proper diet (a term I am loathe to use these days, as it has been sorely abused by the media) and exercise are, of course, the foundations of preventative care. But aside from these factors, what should be stirred into the mix of preventative care?

Here's what the research shows us:

  • Seniors who receive regular chiropractic manipulation use fewer drugs, have fewer hospital stays, spend less time in rehab, and live healthier lives.
  • Pregnant women who recieve regular chiropractic manipulation require fewer ceasarian births.
  • It should go without saying -- but in fact, is well supported by the research -- that preventative chiropractic manipulation reduces the risk of suffering from low back pain.

And that's just chiropractic manipulation alone. What about the other services provided by chiropractic physicians?

Acupuncture is one of the therapeutic approaches I use the most for treating people with a variety of existing conditions. But does it make any sense at all to adopt a "preventative acupuncture" strategem?

The research on this topic is surprisingly vacant. While a number of studies have discussed the effectiveness of acupuncture for early intervention in disease processes, this is far from the idea of wellness. A few articles have noted that traditionally, regular acupuncture at certain points has been regarded as beneficial for seniors.

I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for some research to appear, however. Government funding for acupuncture research is only slightly higher than the homeopathic doses grudgingly dispersed for chiropractic manipulation. So how do we decide?

I remember when I posed this question to one of my acupuncture professors: How often should we have a patient return for preventative care?

He didn't break stride. "Of course," he said. "When the universe changes." And then he went on to discuss some observations of the more esoteric uses of Bupleurum.

The answer didn't make sense to me at first, but as I puzzled over it during the following week, I finally realized what he meant. The aim of acupuncture -- indeed, chinese medicine as a whole -- is to put the individual in balance with the environment. Any time that there is a change in the person's environment, they must respond by altering their metabolism and behavior. (This process is known as "homeostasis" in modern biology). Thus, when the universe changes, the individual  can use assistance that acupuncture provides in adapting to the altered environment.

When does the universe change? We need look no further than directly around us to tell. When the fresh green of springtime appears, the universe is changing. When the leaves turn brown and fall from the trees in autumn, the universe is changing. At the height of summer, as the sun ascends to its northernmost latitude above the equator, the universe is changing. And, finally, in the dead of winter when the day's length reaches its nadir, the universe is changing.

The change in seasons does, in fact, affect our health. The fluctuation in communicable diseases, mental health, and the course of some chronic disorders is profoundly affected by the time of the year.

So, from a very practical standpoint, it makes sense to evaluate and adjust your position in the universe as the universe itself changes. And in the absence of more precise clinical data, it is on that concept that I rest my recommendations for preventative -- or should we say adaptive -- acupuncture.

See you when the universe changes!

Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at or by calling 860-567-5727.