The Road to Holistic Practice: An Integrated Approach

Author // Larry Palevsky, MD

Article Index
The Road to Holistic Practice: An Integrated Approach
A Change in Diet
No Safe Level
All Pages

Every doctor spends years gaining an education and training for his or her career. Medical school and internships present crucial opportunities for learning. But the education doesn’t stop once the training ends. Sometimes, in order to be the best doctor you can be, you have to be ready to unlearn the things you were told were true, and consider the evidence right in front of your eyes.

After four years of pediatric residency and fellowship training, I spent nine years caring for sick children in pediatric emergency rooms, delivery rooms, pediatric and neonatal intensive care units and in-patient wards in the New York City hospital system. I developed a large bag of tricks to give quick help to sick children.

Children with asthma seemed to respond well to treatment with inhalers, steroids and leukotriene inhibitors. Yet these same children kept coming back on a regular basis, with recurrent symptoms of cough, wheezing and difficulty breathing. Similarly, children with ear infections always received antibiotics. They often returned to the ER, however, presenting sick again after completing their 10-day courses of medicine. Newborns who appeared depressed and lifeless after difficult births were vigorously resuscitated and invariably admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit for observation and treatment since they didn’t perk up quite enough to go to the regular newborn nursery. Often, it took them days to recover and develop adequate tone in their bodies, or demonstrate the ability to feed properly.

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My medical training prepared me to intervene during a crisis. I was not prepared, however, to understand the contributing factors that led children to develop acute and chronic childhood illnesses. I was also not taught a vital piece of information, which has transformed my thinking about how to properly treat children: that children’s bodies are working to get well when they are sick with the symptoms of common acute and chronic illnesses.

Instead, I was trained to stop children’s symptoms and illnesses at all costs, using as many over-the-counter and prescription drugs as I could, to make all the pain and suffering go away. We are taught, after all, that illness and symptoms are bad and must be stopped, especially in our children. I have come to understand, however, that with our use and abuse of over-the-counter medicines, antibiotics and prescription drugs, what we are often really stopping is the natural process of healing and maturation in our children. This medical approach, combined with children’s regular exposure to toxins, is directly responsible for creating the chronic illnesses in a quarter to a third of the children in our society.

Gradually, I began listening to and learning the philosophies and scientific teachings of other healing practices—nutritional and functional medicine, Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines, chiropractic, naturopathy, osteopathy, homeopathy, Reiki, essential oils, energy medicine, shamanism and more. I was exposed to new and exciting ideas about health, wellness, illness and healing. They made a lot of sense to me. Many ideas were contradictory to what I was trained to believe, yet I knew I had opened a door to a perspective on health that resonated with a deeper wisdom.

I began to discover that I could help families learn about prevention and safe treatments for their children when they were sick, assisting them through their symptoms without suppressing them. These children were invariably stronger after recovering from their illnesses. I was surprised to learn that children have the innate capacity to heal. The basic sciences of physiology, immunology and neurology that we learn about in medical school demonstrate how inherently resilient children are, and how capable they are of keeping well and growing stronger if we don’t interfere with their biological systems. This scientific and philosophical understanding about our bodies is embraced by every method of healing around the world...except western medicine.

A World of Toxins

The transition to these new ideas was not easy. Colleagues, residents and medical students did not want to hear that the chemicals in children’s bodies that triggered their inflammatory symptoms of asthma, eczema and other acute and chronic health conditions were produced directly from the accumulation of toxins in children’s lives. They were in the foods they ate, the air they breathed, the skin products we were putting on them and the ingredients of their vaccines. Even the intensity of their nervous system stimulation was detrimental.

A simple change in their diets, an improvement in their intestinal health and a decrease in stimulation could not only treat their acute or chronic conditions, but actually prevent them from recurring. I thought my colleagues would be intrigued. I know I was. It was science, after all. Decrease the toxic load entering the children’s bodies and strengthen their inherent physiology, and they would stop being sick, or recover easily when balance was restored.

Nonetheless, the other doctors continued to prescribe the medicines to children to suppress their symptoms, often unaware that the symptoms of illness were part of their normal biology to expel accumulated toxic chemicals. Instead, with these medications, they were pushing these toxins further into their bodies until the next time the children attempted to get sick, which would be suppressed with medications yet again. In this cycle, children with frequent acute childhood illnesses would end up developing chronic medical conditions. Their bodies would no longer be strong enough to completely expel the increased load of toxic chemicals they accumulated. These new ideas challenged the very foundations of the conventional medical model in which we as doctors were trained.

“Nutrition is not a field of medicine,” were some of the first words I heard when I began medical school in 1983. Through my own education and experiences, however, I have come to see how important nutrition and the health of the intestines are to the overall health of our children. We can find the basis of these truths in the teachings of both western and eastern medical sciences.

A Change in Diet

I have worked with children with asthma who no longer needed medication after they cleaned up their diets, ate whole foods and made water their main beverage. Some of them weathered upper respiratory infections without wheezing for the first time in their lives. I have helped clear up the skin of infants and children with eczema after supplementing them with nutrients and removing foods which stressed and inflamed their digestive systems. Supportive topical treatments were added, stressors were eased at home, and no suppressive oral or topical medicines were needed. Most of all, I have been amazed at the quick improvements in children with chronic ear fluid after a simple change in their diets, giving their intestinal systems, damaged from the side effects of multiple courses of antibiotics, a chance to heal. Children with poor hearing and speech began hearing and speaking normally. Children who had been told they would require ear tubes never needed surgery.

I saw a large number of infants and children with puffy eyes, often with dark circles around them. These circles were an outward expression of the digestive and adrenal strain going on inside their bodies. Many children had persistent nasal congestion, thick white coats on their tongues, allergic nasal symptoms and other digestive and behavioral/neurological complaints. Most often these symptoms were related to sensitivities to dietary choices and environmental stressors. These stressors included over-scheduling; lack of rest and sleep; off-gassing from paints, clothes, dry cleaning, new furniture and plastics; and exposures to heavy metals and electromagnetic radiation. Once the parents decided to clean up their children’s diets and reduce stressors, their children’s symptoms dissipated. Children who had been taking allergy medicines were able to stop their prescriptions. There was even a subset of children with nighttime bedwetting who, after removing certain foods and chemicals from their diets, stopped wetting their beds. The chemicals had been inflaming and irritating their nerves and immune cells, and stimulating their kidneys and bladder.

I worked with one adolescent boy in particular who suffered from a minor motor tic disorder. He was a super bright kid with whom I enjoyed working, but he was also shy and hesitant to make eye contact. He spoke quietly, with lackluster energy, and needed to be encouraged to speak up and answer questions. He was prone to angry outbursts, and the tic movements of his face and tongue would increase under the stress of being addressed directly. During the first year I worked with the family, he tried nutritional supplements, Chinese medicine and acupuncture, homeopathy, osteopathy and behavioral therapy. Despite these treatments, the tics persisted and began to worsen. His parents were ready to start him on medication to control the tics. From our initial meeting, I had been encouraging them to make dietary changes, especially in light of the deep-red puffy circles under his eyes. Finally, he and his parents were willing to give it a try.

One month later, after the family changed his diet, I witnessed a different child. He was energetic, expressive and happy—so talkative and engaging that he dominated the conversation. The tics, while still present, were more in his control and had begun to subside, along with the angry outbursts and the circles under his eyes. His social life had improved. Most of all, he and his family had experienced the profound effects that good nutrition could have on a person’s health. As a result, he was more open to a successful outcome from the other treatment modalities. Most important, the family was willing to look at the factors that had created the agitation in his immune and nervous system in the first place. The entire experience offered me a profound understanding of the powers of holistic medicine. This boy transformed his own life, and the lives of the people around him.

Experiences With Reiki

Along my path, I became a Reiki II practitioner. Children in the pediatric intensive care unit, recovering from spinal or other serious surgeries, required less pain medicine after I gave them Reiki treatments. Often I would watch them simply drift off to sleep. I saw critically ill neonates increase their oxygen saturation and lower their heart rates while receiving Reiki as well.

My most fascinating experiences with Reiki were in the delivery room, caring for infants born in distress. Many of these babies were born and placed on the infant warmer without movement or even a single cry. I would assess them to make sure they had adequate vital signs and were breathing on their own. Many were breathing rapidly and with some difficulty, while others would need a little assistance to start them breathing properly. As long as the newborns were breathing and moving air, and had an adequate heart rate, I would prop the oxygen masks in their faces, turn the overhead lights off, decrease their stimulation and give them Reiki, usually lasting about 10 to 15 minutes.

Nurses and doctors hovered over me, trying to get near the babies to startle, slap and stimulate them to get them to cry. I knew that as long as the babies had an open airway, were breathing and had adequate heart rates, they were safe. I watched closely for changes, for better or worse. Invariably, these depressed, initially unresponsive infants would slowly emerge, open their eyes, move their hands, arms, feet and legs, and begin a slow squirm in my hands, normalizing their tone, color and behavior. They appeared to let out a cooing noise, so gentle and appreciative. Vital signs remained stable; their breathing normalized. I would wrap the babies up and give them to their parents. Afterward, I made several follow-up visits to the newborn nursery to make sure the infants were doing well. No admissions to the intensive care unit were necessary for these newborns.

Similarly, I once saw a two-year-old girl in my office with a high fever and a layer of fluid in her right ear. Clinically, she otherwise appeared well. She received cranial osteopathic treatment in my office, and soon after showed almost complete resolution of the fluid. The child went on to have a full, uncomplicated recovery of the febrile illness, requiring no medication. Not only did I have the opportunity to witness the healing potential of cranial osteopathy, chiropractic and energy medicine in children with acute and chronic symptoms—especially for ear pain and upper respiratory symptoms—but I also witnessed how powerful these modalities were in helping to maintain children’s health when parents used these therapies for prevention and maintenance of well-being.

No Safe Level

I continued to be exposed to new information and experiences while working in the conventional medical world. The moment that had the greatest impact on me, and continues to fuel my scientific inquiry to this day, was when I learned in 1997 that vaccines contained mercury. I had been working with children for a dozen years, since I was a third-year medical student in 1985, but I had never thought to question the ingredients in vaccines. I don’t even remember our instructors mentioning how the vaccines were made or what they contained.

There is no health benefit for any child to be injected with even the tiniest amount of mercury, no matter what disease we are trying to prevent. Mercury is a neurotoxin, and can poison other organ systems as well, whether it is injected or ingested. There is no such thing as a safe level. I continued reading vaccine package inserts to find that, along with mercury, vaccines contained aluminum, formaldehyde, gelatin, antibiotics, polysorbate-80, yeast, human and animal cells, live and killed viral particles and other chemicals, some of which are known carcinogens in lab animals.

In the world of conventional medicine, vaccines are heralded to have saved many lives from infectious diseases and possibly even death. Yet questions remain. Is there a cost to giving our children vaccines, with an ever-increasing vaccine schedule? Are the side effects of vaccines fewer and less severe than the likelihood of serious complications or death from any of the infectious illnesses we vaccinate children against? Do any of the vaccine ingredients, and the contaminants that sneak into the vials, damage the immune and nervous systems of our children after they are injected?

How do individual vaccine ingredients affect children’s bodies? We don’t know. How do their properties change when they interact with each other upon injection? We don’t know. Most importantly, how great a load of these chemicals do infants receive, how many of the ingredients are toxic, and what are infants and children able to detoxify at any stage of their development? We don’t know. What are they unable to detoxify that might accumulate in their bodies over time? Does this accumulation impair any of their proper brain, immune or nervous system functions? We don’t know.

As a scientist, I wanted to know the answers to these questions. I was, and am, amazed that the science to answer these questions does not exist. The science we do know, which sheds light on the dangers of vaccines, is kept out of the public eye to protect the vaccine program. The rigid standards we were taught in medical school are not adhered to when vaccine studies are conducted. What disturbs me most is how few in the medical and scientific community are interested in finding out the answers to these questions. Thankfully, parents have been, and will continue to be, the force behind getting doctors and scientists to provide the answers to these questions and making sure they become public knowledge.

A Parent’s Choice

I began to meet parents who believed their children were damaged by vaccines. I also began to meet parents who were afraid to inject these ingredients into their children. Some came to my office having been thrown out of their pediatrician’s office for even questioning the safety or efficacy of vaccines. Many expressed an interest in choosing which vaccines they wanted for their children and which they did not. Others wanted to delay them or spread them out. Most parents wanted an empathetic ear, and did not find it in their physicians.

Many did not trust the science behind the vaccine safety and efficacy studies, and with good reason. They were learning how crude and unclean the vaccine manufacturing process was. Parents were also learning about the influences of special interests on vaccine policies and manufacturing. A growing number of them expressed an interest in holistic and alternative medicine, emerging with a different view of health, wellness, illness and healing than what is forced upon us by conventional medical culture. Somehow, they were learning that vaccines were not always the best and only way of preventing illness in their children.

Clearly, my training was challenged by my newfound education and exposure. Who was I supposed to listen to and believe? As a young resident, I remember my mentors expressing how important it was to listen to parents. “Who knows the children better than their parents, especially their mothers?” they would say. Yet so many parents were witnessing the regression and decline of their children’s health soon after the administration of single or multiple vaccines, only to be ignored, refuted and belittled for even thinking that the events were related. I chose to trust the parents, and believe what they were saying.

Vaccine adjuvants, ingredients and contaminants, along with the very process of injection of foreign materials, interfere with the natural development of balanced, healthy immune systems in our children. Scientific evidence is mounting linking vaccines to the development of chronic debilitating medical conditions. If we are willing to understand the contributing and causative factors that bring on acute and chronic diseases in children, we must include a discussion about the potential side effects of single or multiple vaccine administration and the cumulative effect they have on a child’s immune and nervous systems. The medical and scientific communities continue to avoid a public discussion. The party line remains: Vaccines are safe, effective, necessary and unrelated in any way to the onset of serious health complications.

Parents want to learn ways to keep their children’s immune systems strong. I like to start from the premise that newborns already have a strong immune system, which gets stronger still if we don’t interfere with their innate capacity to heal. Our job is to rear our children by avoiding things that weaken their immune systems. We need to improve our children’s nutrition by encouraging a whole foods diet for the whole family, reducing the temptation to eat processed, packaged and artificial foods and beverages (not to mention dairy, soy, flour products and processed sugars), and by using water as our main beverage.

Teachers, parents and other family members can increase their awareness of how stress and exposures to environmental toxins can affect our health. Parents can begin to learn about the benefits of holistic healing practices for prevention, maintenance and safe treatment and support of childhood ailments. Fear of worst-case scenarios can be transformed into empowerment through proper education.

The impetus to use over-the-counter and prescription medication can be great when a child is sick. No one likes to watch children in discomfort. However, the fewer suppressive medications and injected toxins we prescribe, and the more we allow children to experience many of their acute childhood illnesses, the greater the likelihood that they will develop balanced, mature and healthy immune systems. Let children be sick, and watch them get well.

Lawrence PalevksyAbout the Author:

Author, lecturer and educator Dr. Larry Palevsky is a board-certified pediatrician who utilizes an integrative approach to children’s wellness and illness. Dr. Palevsky is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, past president of the American Holistic Medical Association, co-founder and president of the Holistic Pediatric Association ( and a diplomate of the American Board of Holistic Medicine. Dr. Palevsky maintains pediatric consultation practices in Northport, Long Island and Manhattan.

Pathways Issue 23 CoverThis article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #23.

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