Alternative Medicine in the Amish Community

Katherine Ryder Published:

Holistic medicine for some might still bring to mind images of pow-wows, antiquated tools, ancient medicine bags and house calls. The old stereotype of nontraditional medicine, however, doesn't appear to align with many of the different practices available in mid-Ohio.

With such a dense population of Amish and Mennonites in the area, this kind of medicine is even more prevalent with chiropractors every few blocks in some small towns in Holmes County. Some of them offer care and treatments usually affiliated with large hospitals and large-scale health clinics.

"What I've found is that the Amish are a little more holistic in their philosophy and the English community is catching up," Chad Jacobs of Jacobs Chiropractic in Berlin said.

Jacobs said he wasn't sure exactly why the Amish seemed to catch on so quickly, but he provided several possible explanations. Much of the Amish community works jobs that demand healthy bodies to perform manual labor. They also find many of the practitioners who use holistic methods generally charge less, which eases the burden from many of the self-paying patients not relying on health insurance. Additionally, the tendency to use prescription drugs and surgery as a last resort attracts many of the Amish community members because holistic medicine explores how the body can heal itself if possible.

National averages in the alternative and holistic medicine have been increasing in the past 10 years as well. According to a study conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, in 2007 approximately 38 percent of adults in the United States were using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in some form. Some commonly known forms of CAM include chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation, acupuncture, pilates, diet-based treatments, massage therapy and meditation.

Jacobs said some people have been leery of accepting chiropractors into the medical circles because of competition between them and traditional doctors more than 100 years ago. At the time, most physicians trained under an apprenticeship and attended school less.

Dr. Leonard Torok of Trillium Creek in Medina said the lack of quantifiable results in holistic medicine may do the practice a disservice also. Torok has been administering holistic treatment modalities for more than 20 years, but he's also found that "Amish patients are quite open to homeopathy."

"It's hard to measure things in the mental and emotional sphere," Torok said.

In his practice, Torok has found that when he examines patients, he considers a number of potential contributing factors to the symptoms. Instead of treating the symptom, he aims to treat the person, inquiring into the person's lifestyle, mental and emotional state, as well as the problem in question.

"[Holistic medicine] takes all things into account and as it turns out, the human being is holistic. That's our nature," Torok said. "That's why this medicine can have such a great impact."

According to Torok, the body is already well-equipped to fight infections and heal itself. Symptoms that arise due to an ailment provide clues to the sources of the ailment, and if removed without understanding the scope of the problem, may easily return or worsen.

"You can actually augment the healing response of the body that soothes more quickly, completely and powerfully," Torok said.

Avoiding and alleviating pain in treatment reaches into other areas of holistic and natural care. Midwives provide an alternative route to one of the most physically painful naturally occurring experiences. Mary Ann Durbin of Millersburg has been a midwife for 17 years and said that about 80 percent of her clientele are Amish women.

Previous to becoming a midwife, Durbin worked in medical surgery as a nurse, but after using a midwife to have one of her children, she became interested in becoming one.

Sherill Kennedy, a student nurse who is training to receive her midwife certification at the University of Cincinnati, has been working with Durbin. Through her experiences so far, Kennedy has observed that too many people believe that women who use midwives don't have access to hospitals or help of obstetricians. Durbin, however, works with Pomerene Hospital in Millersburg and sees patients in clinics in Berlin and Sugarcreek.

Midwifery (pronounced mid-whif-uh-ree) encourages mothers to assume birthing positions most comfortable and natural for their bodies. Women who turn to midwives also see them frequently, learning about how to take care of themselves for a healthy pregnancy.

Kennedy said she loves to see how women who have their babies with midwives gain confidence in their strength and become increasingly comfortable giving birth afterward.

"Your body was made to do this and it's wonderful to show the women they can do it," Kennedy said.

Despite the increase in public awareness of alternative medicine, there are some limitations to some of the treatments available. Durbin said she can only see women who are generally healthy. She cannot treat women with diabetes or extremely high blood pressure. Jacobs and other chiropractors can treat many symptoms, he said he works with neurologists and various other doctors when he finds a problem that requires care beyond his training. Working with other medical professionals outside their practices isn't a problem for them because they aim to treat the patient with the best available remedies in and out of their offices.

None of the doctors disparaged other medical practices, but they all shared that in some way, their approach to medicine gives the public another option to work with their symptoms and not against them.

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