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Alternative medicine to treat pain and other ailments on the rise locally

Maria Furgat wants people to know there are options when it comes to treating everything from pain to the common cold.
Furgat joined the team at Circles of Wellness, 3626 E. State St., Rockford, a few months back. She specializes in acupuncture, cupping and herbal remedies after earning her bachelor's degree in nutritional counseling and master's degree in Chinese medicine from the Midwest College of Oriental Medicine in Chicago.
Patients come to Furgat to be proactive about their health, or out of frustration that other treatments and medications aren't working or are causing unwanted side effects. She's one of a handful of providers in the region offering alternative health treatments and alternative medicine.
"I always say try it," Furgat said. "I'm not saying it's the best thing for everyone, but they need to know there are options out there. You don't have to stick to the same routines."
Use of complementary and alternative medicine has no doubt increased since the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes of Health released research on the topic nearly a decade ago. At the time, about four in 10 adults and one in nine children used them in some form.
Their use was greater among women and those with higher levels of education and higher incomes. The most common therapies were deep breathing exercises, meditation, massage therapy and yoga. Insurance covers some treatments such as acupuncture, but for the most part, alternative health treatments are self-pay.
Read on to learn more about other popular health trends that you can access from Freeport to Rockford and beyond.
Furgat does a full history assessment when she sees a new patient. She wants to know if you're seeing other doctors, taking medications, she likes to look at lab work, she'll ask you about your urine and bowel movements, and she'll look at your tongue (appearance and qualities of which are used to diagnose ailments in Chinese medicine).
She doesn't necessarily promise cures, but she hopes to offer relief through a combination of treatment and often, herbal remedies. And she doesn't want you to stop seeing your primary doctor or taking prescribed medications.
"Most people feel much better with herbs because some have such imbalance in their bodies," Furgat said. "If you don't try to harmonize your body from the inside out, you never get to the root of the problem."
Fire cupping uses glass jars that are sanitized before and after use. Furgat wraps a cotton ball around a hemostat (a surgical tool with scissor-like handles and a clamp at the end), dips it in alcohol, lights it and moves it gently in a circular motion inside the jar to remove the inside air. The jar is then put onto the skin, creating a vacuum and pulling up the skin. Doing so lifts pain to the surface so Furgat can more easily manipulate the tissue and remove stubborn nodules.
Some people feel immediate relief of pain, others don't. There are different sizes of jars — small, medium and large — based on what type of pain she's trying to relieve. Fire cupping generally leaves circular bruises on the body — think Michael Phelps during the 2016 Rio Olympics. It's tradition to put up with the marks, so to speak, but Furgat can use a technique called gua sha to scrape away, or reduce, some of the redness.
Furgat also does wet cupping, which incorporates the fire cupping with a tiny hammer equipped with acupuncture needles. The hammer is used lightly on the back to release blood within the cup. It can be painful, but Furgat has a patient with severe back and shoulder pain who said the treatment helped target the points where he feels the most pain.
Cupping ranges in price from $50 to $65 for about 30 to 45 minutes.
There have been extensive studies conducted on acupuncture, especially for back and neck pain, osteoarthritis/knee pain, and headaches, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
With acupuncture, thin needles are inserted (or piped) at different points along the body just below the surface of the skin. Furgat wears gloves when she places and removes them, and the needles are used one time only.
The needles stay in between 15 to 30 minutes; patients report feeling a sensation of water dripping or moving around beneath the skin. Furgat said that's the body healing itself.
A potential ailment that could be soothed by acupuncture is recurrent urinary tract infections, she noted. In combination with antibiotics, there are points in the lower abdomen where acupuncture can open up channels to help alleviate pain and eliminate waste, Furgat explained.
If needles make you squeamish, Furgat also does acupressure, which uses finger pressure and/or magnets on the same acupuncture points. After treatments, she suggests drinking lukewarm water to help maintain a warmer body temperature.
"What I want to do is help your body heal, balance you out so you're able to tolerate your medications better," Furgat said.
Acupuncture and acupressure are both $45 for about 20 minutes.
Essential oils and probiotics
Pat Leitzen Fye has long used patchouli essential oil as a fragrance and discovered other oils along the way for various purposes. She owns Your Core Being Wellness Collaborative, 107 W. Main St., Freeport, which opened in 2013 and focuses on yoga, massage, skin care and meditation. She's a certified integrative health coach, and the business also has a "wellness market" that proudly stocks local and regional products, fair-trade items and gifts, and other natural, clean and healthy products.
Your Core Being sells several oils — lavender is the top seller, while peppermint, patchouli, eucalyptus, jasmine and tea tree also are popular blends. Fye uses various oils in her yoga classes, either to energize and enliven at the beginning or to settle, calm and release at the end. She diffuses the oils into the air at the studio — right now, using a blend of lavender and eucalyptus — because the air gets so dry during the winter. Fye said eucalyptus is great for clearing the sinuses; lavender is a time-honored essential oil for its calming qualities, as is chamomile and sweet orange. Both of the Your Core Being's massage therapists use essential oils added to their massage oils and the esthetician uses them in some of her skin treatments or as a relaxing scent.
Essential oils have become so common that you can buy them at many grocery stores. A handful of local businesses carry them, including Choices Natural Market, 6718 Broadcast Parkway, Loves Park, and Nutrition Works, 4010 E. State St., Rockford.
Candle Crest, 1418 20th St., Rockford, started selling its oils this winter, co-owner Judy Bieck said. The local business had received several requests over the years to do so, but she and her husband, Dave, had to find a bottle distributor for the oils, create labels, make a display, and then find time to bottle and advertise them. So far, she said the response has been great, and during cold season, eucalyptus oil was the big seller.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a page on its website with consumer information about fragrance products such as essential oils and those marketed with aromatherapy claims. It notes that many plants are toxic, irritating or likely to cause allergic reactions when applied the skin. Cumin oil, for instance, is safe in food but can cause the skin to blister.
Some popular books to read on the topic are "The Art of Aromatherapy" by Robert Tisserand and "Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art" by Kathy Keville. Groups such as the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy also offer some good guidelines for use.
Similarly available in many health food and vitamin stores are probiotics, which are live microorganisms that are intended to have health benefits, according to the Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Products can include foods such as yogurt, dietary supplements and skin creams. Probiotics may help prevent diarrhea caused by infections or antibiotics and may help with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
The 2012 National Health Interview Survey showed that about 4 million U.S. adults had used probiotics or prebiotics in the past 30 days. They were the third most commonly used dietary supplement other than vitamins and minerals.
Popular brands include NOW Foods, Culturelle, Align, Nature's Bounty and Hyperbiotics.
Your Core Being in Freeport also offers Reiki, a Japanese "hands-on" light massage technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also is said to promote healing. It's based on the idea that the therapist can channel energy into the patient by means of touch and stimulate the body's natural healing process.
Vicki Johnson described it as a lighter massage that incorporates the flow of energy, but that Reiki is literally "a laying-on of hands with no muscle manipulation." She said Reiki also can help individuals deal with emotional issues that block the flow of energy, helping restore balance in a person's mind, body and spirit.
Sharyn Gooder, founder of Stateline Reiki, was trained by William Lee Rand, who established the International Center for Reiki Training and is known as a Reiki guru. Gooder is a member of the international center, which means she abides by its code of ethics and standards of practice.
Stateline Reiki was established in 2003, and Gooder first started doing Reiki therapy sessions and then began teaching Reiki later. The organization offers basic, intermediate and more advanced levels of Reiki, as well as Master Level Reiki and Karuna Reiki. The group also offers Reiki drumming, animal Reiki and many other unique classes, which Gooder said are approved for continuing education hours for licensed massage therapists and body workers.
By Melissa Westphal

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