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Holistic Health Update: Can Eastern Medicine Truly Heal?

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Main Line health experts explain why acupuncture and natural remedies may be viable solutions to different illnesses.

Holistic health modalities may seem irrelevant to many of us after more than 16 months of headlines about viruses, variants and vaccines. We aren’t going to reiki our way out of a pandemic, and acupuncture can’t cure COVID. Or can it?

At her Downingtown clinic, Inner Light Wellness Acupuncture, Margaret Celli is treating post-COVID patients with persistent symptoms. Dubbed “long haulers,” they’re a subset of COVID survivors who suffer from fatigue, shortness of breath, papules and limb weakness after the acute stage of the infection ends. This points to what may be a chronic form of COVID-19 that, like Lyme and other infectious diseases, affects some people for reasons that may very well elude the scientific community.

health cold kicker

Herbal Zen’s Cold Kicker. Photo courtesy of Herbal Zen.

A neuromuscular therapist in her first career, Celli has kept up with Western medicine’s emerging clinical literature on COVID. But she’s more focused on what she sees in her own practice—that acupuncture provides COVID long haulers with immediate relief from most symptoms. “It does take time to turn it around completely,” she says. “And I haven’t seen sense of smell or taste return, even with a lot of acupuncture. But the symptom relief is dramatic.”

While conceding that she’s offering only anecdotal evidence, Celli believes that acupuncture is a viable therapy. Through the lens of Eastern medicine, she sees COVID as inflammation and a lingering pathogen. “It’s in my training to address a disease like COVID,” she says. “We call it wind pathogen in Chinese medicine. But when I start talking like that, people’s eyes start to roll.”

Skepticism about acupuncture—and holistic health, in general—is nothing new. But it does appear that messages about boosting immunity and lowering stress are getting through to former naysayers. At local holistic health centers, business is booming. “People are coming out of the woodwork requesting acupuncture,” Celli says. “I’m busier than ever.”

“If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we need to improve our overall immunity. There isn’t a drug therapy for that.” —The Herbal Zen’s Jason Donahue

It’s a similar situation at the Herbal Zen, a Manayunk-based company that makes shower steamers. Cousins to bath bombs, the aromatherapy balls—handmade and available in nine varieties—release essential oils. Founded in 2018, the company took off during the pandemic. “People are looking for at-home self-care and ways to stay healthy,” says founder Jason Donahue.

Donahue created his first blend, Cold Kicker, to relieve his own seasonal allergies with eucalyptus and two types of peppermint. “It’s better than putting manmade drugs into my body,” he says.

Donahue graduated from pharmacy school and spent five years working in the field. “People are surprised that a former pharmacist believes in aromatherapy, but as soon as I researched and tried essential oils, I fell in love with them,” he says. “They’re natural—and they work. If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we need to improve our overall immunity. There isn’t a drug therapy for that.”

At his Village Wellness center in Berwyn, Lance Isakov has a growing list of patients awaiting acupuncture. “The other big piece of my practice is that I see people coping with mental health and spiritual issues,” he says. “Since the pandemic started, I’ve been seeing people who’d never had anxiety and are now like, ‘Oh, this is what anxiety is.’”

Gardening became one of Isakov’s coping mechanisms. “Being outside is one of the oldest forms of natural healing,” he says. “I’ve spent a lot of energy moving mulch. It’s healthy for me and the planet, and that’s what we need right now.”

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