Summit County embraces healthy lifestyles with alternative medicine |

Summit County embraces healthy lifestyles with alternative medicine

Caitlin Row
Summit County Correspondent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado – With so many alternative medicine practices in Summit County – from acupuncture to yoga to naturopathic doctors – many may ask: “What’s the deal?”

“People are not taking passive roles when it comes to their health,” said Dr. PJ Perrinjaquet, a local family practice physician who’s also board certified in holistic medicine. “I think we have a well-educated population that really wants to aspire to a high level of wellness.”

Perrinjaquet also noted that alternative medicine practices are generally for people who already have good health. While Western medicine is important for those who are sick and need treatment, alternative health options can improve someone’s overall wellness and vitality.

“If you want to maximize your life, you can take advantage of these things,” Perrinjaquet said.

Summit Community Care Clinic executive director Sarah Vaine said she sees alternative therapies, like acupuncture, as helpful parts of a treatment plan. The care clinic, a medical organization that treats locals without health insurance, refers people to Mountain-River Naturopathic Clinic as it accepts patients on a sliding scale.

“It’s a wonderful compliment to traditional Western medicine,” Vaine added.

And, according to Don Parsons, a retired surgeon with health policy experience, “a lot of doctors have traditionally rejected alternative care because they think it’s not scientifically based and sometimes fraudulent.”

“I don’t feel that way,” Parson said. “I see a lot of folks who feel better. There’s plenty of room for it.”

Laura Adams, an herbalist and massage therapist, said she’s interested in using alternative medicines personally “because it works so well and it’s a way to give you more longevity and to become healthier. I keep from getting sick from doing alternative medicine and a healthy diet. You can pull from different things, and there’s different routes to that with diet, exercise and herbs.”

Adams also noted that massage therapy and alternative medicines “really go hand in hand,” and that local doctors are educating themselves about herbs because their patients are asking about it.

While alternative health practices can be as simple as incorporating stretching into your daily routine, seeing a naturopathic doctor is generally used by people who don’t want to simply take a pill to feel better.

Naturopathic doctors strive to communicate with their patients about why they’re having certain health problems – like hormonal or digestive issues – and education is a big part of the treatment process, said Dr. Kim Nearpass, a naturopathic doctor in Frisco. It’s not just about prescribing medicine to make them feel better.

“We have an educated population, and people want to understand their bodies and their health,” Nearpass said. “Alternative medicine is not a quick fix. It’s about making lifestyle and nutritional changes that are permanent.”

Nearpass also noted that physicians in the county are taking interest in other aspects of better wellness, like nutrition and acupuncture for pain management.

“I know people who go to both – Western and alternative,” Parsons said. “They go back and forth depending on what kind of problem they have.”

According to Dr. Justin Pollack, ND, natural health treatments are more popular in Summit County compared to other, more urban, areas because “people are do-it-yourselfers up here. They’re very active and already eat pretty healthy.”

“A yoga or pilates studio will be popular (in Summit County) because it helps with health and wellness overall,” Pollack said. “We often think of naturopathic doctors being wellness doctors.”

Though Qi Gong isn’t a well-known wellness practice, like yoga for instance, local woman Chriss Cowan said locals and visitors to Summit County use this practice because they’re more aware of their health to begin with.

“They’re looking for natural things to stay healthy and keep their stress lower,” she said. “Qi Gong is about taking ownership of your own health and well-being. A lot of people like that. … It can be complimentary and integrative. Someone with cancer will want Western medicine. Qi Gong can help with stress and pain management.”

Cowan, owner of the Qi Gong Institute Of Summit County, said locals and visitors come to her studio to learn easy ways to lower their blood pressure, lower stress levels, and strengthen the immune system.

“Anyone under any kind of stress benefits because you become more centered,” Cowan said. “It can be used for attaining and maintaining good health and anyone who has an injury can use it to facilitate healing.

Qi Gong is based in Chinese medicine, and it incorporates breathing techniques, meditation and gentle movements. It also uses energy healing, which is like acupuncture but without the needles, Cowan said.

“There really are a lot of practitioners here in different modalities,” Cowan said. “People should do whatever resonates with them.”

While alternative forms of medical treatment are gaining popularity in Summit County, most treatments – like a naturopathic doctor visit or massages – aren’t accepted by health insurance. Patients must pay for their therapies out-of-pocket, so having disposable income is important when seeking better-wellness options.

Another issue surrounding alternative medicine is the lack of recognition by the state. Colorado hasn’t yet started to license naturopathic doctors, so they must be licensed in states that do recognize them as part of the medical community. However, Pollack said the push to license naturopathic doctors in Colorado is recommended, and there’s a lot of opportunity for the natural medical community through the new federal health reform.

Yet another concern about natural medicines is lack of research on dietary supplements and recommended doses.

Barbara Davis, the spokeswoman for Saint Anthony Summit Medical Center, noted that Western-trained doctors rely on research and many dietary supplements aren’t regulated.

“There could be dangers,” she said. “There’s risks you take.

SDN reporter Caitlin Row can be reached at (970) 668-4633 or at

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