October 6, 2022

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Family Clinic of Natural Medicine nurse Kirsten Wredberg gives an IV infusion of high-dose vitamin C and other nutrients to patient Jim Snider, who is strength and conditioning coach for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team. Talking with Snider is Dr. Aaron Henkel, a naturopathic doctor who founded the clinic.
As a teenager, Dr. Aaron Henkel had abdominal pain, bloody stools and fainting spells. Doctors prescribed antibiotics, steroids and anti-inflammatories for ulcerative colitis. Despite that, Henkel, who at 6-foot-4 weighed 185 pounds, dropped to 111 pounds.
“I was just getting worse and worse, and they just kept saying to take more and more,” he said.
His parents took him to a naturopath in Madison, who told him to stop his medications and consume only water for seven days. He started taking fish oil, probiotics, vitamin D, the amino acid glutamine and slippery elm, an herb.
“It was amazing,” said Henkel, who soon felt better and eventually became a board certified naturopathic doctor, focusing on natural remedies such as herbs and supplements. “That’s where I saw how well my body functioned when it started getting the things it needed.”
Dr. Aaron Henkel, who runs the Family Clinic of Natural Medicine on Madison’s East Side, discusses urine test results with patient Iwona Majewska and her husband, Tom Zsurzs.
More than 20 years after naturopathic doctors first sought licensure in Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers last month signed a bipartisan bill to license and regulate them. Wisconsin became the 23rd state to do so.
The move comes as Henkel and some other naturopathic doctors, or NDs, have been in the spotlight for supporting natural immunity instead of vaccination against COVID-19, a stance in opposition to most of mainstream medicine. Other NDs favor COVID-19 vaccination.
About 30 NDs — including Henkel, who has run the Family Clinic of Natural Medicine in Madison since 2009 — have been working in the state, most of them licensed in other states. Along with herbs and supplements, many NDs incorporate acupuncture, massage therapy, nutrition counseling and other approaches into their practices, with the goal of stimulating self-healing.
The new law distinguishes NDs, who have doctoral degrees from accredited naturopathic medical schools, from naturopaths who don’t have that education. It also clarifies that NDs can diagnose and treat patients, perform minor procedures and order lab tests and imaging studies.
To get the Wisconsin Medical Society to drop its opposition to the bill, NDs agreed not to have authority to prescribe medications. Still, they say the measure, which includes the establishment of a seven-member Naturopathic Medicine Examining Board, marks a big change for their profession.
The Family Clinic of Natural Medicine has a variety of herbs and supplements, commonly used by naturopathic doctors.
“Licensure ensures Wisconsin is a state where NDs can practice with confidence as primary care providers and their patients can be assured their ND is medically trained and safe,” Dr. Allison Becker, an ND in Evansville, said in a statement.
Dr. David Kiefer, an MD who is medical director of UW Health’s Integrative Health Consult Clinic, said NDs can help fill unmet health care needs around the state. Kiefer did family medicine training in the Seattle area, where he was on the faculty at Bastyr University, the naturopathic medical school Henkel attended.
Kiefer said he and NDs co-managed patients, which he hopes will happen more in Wisconsin now that the state is licensing NDs.
“If we have more professionals involved (with) natural therapies, helping people to know which ones are safe and which ones may not be safe, I think it’s for the better,” Kiefer said.
Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin employs Dr. Ruddy, an ND who goes by one name, as is common in his native Indonesia. After graduating from UW-Madison with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, Ruddy worked as a lab researcher and yoga instructor before attending Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona.
A serious back injury led to his career change. He didn’t want to do surgery or take opioid painkillers prescribed by his doctor. After finding pain relief in yoga, he pursued naturopathic medicine to help others with the holistic approach, he said.
Ruddy
At Group Health, Ruddy works with patients who have pain, mood disorders, digestive problems and other conditions, recommending herbs, supplements, lifestyle changes, mind-body practices and even books, such as “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,” by Robert Sapolsky.
“I tend to be more skill-oriented than pill-oriented,” Ruddy said.
Wisconsin’s new law likely will bring more NDs to the state, said Dr. Sarah Axtell, one of three NDs at Lakeside Natural Medicine in the Milwaukee suburb of Shorewood.
In testimony before the bill passed, Axtell said she wants to hire more NDs but the lack of licensure was a barrier. “Newly graduated naturopathic doctors are hesitant to practice in an unlicensed state due to the limited scope of practice, inability to participate in loan forgiveness programs, and the fear of ‘cease and desist’ at any time,” she said.
Dr. Aaron Henkel, shown in the supplement room at Family Clinic of Natural Medicine in Madison, said herbs and supplements helped him overcome ulcerative colitis as a teenager. The experience led him to become a naturopathic doctor.
Another obstacle has been malpractice insurance, which NDs haven’t been eligible for without licensure, said Dr. Dawn Ley, of Full Circle Natural Medicine in Madison. “This bill gives NDs protection in the event of a lawsuit,” she said.
Henkel in January testified in support of another bill, to require employers to count natural immunity from a coronavirus infection as an alternative to vaccination and testing.
He said COVID-19 vaccines may carry a risk of causing autoimmune disease, which is not among the adverse events reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He also pointed to studies by UW-Madison and the CDC showing some vaccinated people who got COVID-19 last year had virus levels as high as newly infected unvaccinated people, meaning they can also spread infection.
A father of seven, Henkel said he “would never vaccinate my kids” against COVID-19. He said people who are 80 and older or have medical conditions might want to be vaccinated, but for younger, healthy people, it is likely better to “get COVID and deal with it.”
Medical groups opposed the bill, though at least one MD, Dr. Fernando Riveron, listed as being in Minocqua, supported it. The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the bill last month but Evers, a Democrat, almost certainly will veto it.
The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians said it “strongly advocates that naturopathic physicians have access to, and be able to administer, the COVID-19 vaccine where it is within their scope of practice.”
In an interview, Henkel, 46, said likely more than half of his patients haven’t gotten the COVID-19 vaccine. Neither has he. He hasn’t been tested for active COVID-19 or signs of prior infection but believes he contracted the illness in November 2020, when two family members tested positive.
After three days of “really not wanting to do much,” he recovered, though “I still can tell my smell isn’t 100% back,” he said this month. Late last year, when more family members tested positive, he briefly had what seemed like mild symptoms, possibly from another COVID-19 exposure or infection, he said.
Henkel said he is “not an anti-vaxxer,” noting that his children have been vaccinated against tetanus. “That’s something that’s in the soil, very common in Wisconsin,” he said. Henkel said the children haven’t received the chicken pox vaccine. He declined to discuss the family’s decisions about other vaccines, saying what’s right for them may not be right for his patients.
Family Clinic of Natural Medicine is at 3205 E. Washington Ave.
When asked about state Department of Health Services data from December showing people not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 were three times more likely to be infected with it, 10 times more likely to be hospitalized with it and 14 times more likely to die from it than those fully vaccinated, Henkel said such information looks at only part of the picture. It doesn’t consider vaccine-related complications, some of which may not appear for a long time, he said.
“We’re not looking at what’s happening to them 10 years later,” he said.
Family Clinic of Natural Medicine, which Henkel started in Monona before moving it about 10 years ago to Madison’s East Side, has two other NDs: Dr. Rebecca Georgia, who has worked with Henkel for more than 10 years; and Dr. Robert Coleman, who started at the clinic in 2018 and specializes in patients with Lyme disease.
The clinic also includes Dr. Jonathan Cotter, an MD, who oversees prescriptions and treatments such as intravenous nutritional therapy, or vitamins, minerals and amino acids delivered directly into the bloodstream.
Henkel said he recommends zinc, vitamin D, fish oil and other supplements to many of the clinic’s 2,000 or so regular patients. For those with thyroid disease, he might suggest a natural form of thyroid hormones instead of a conventional thyroid drug. For people with joint pain, “instead of ibuprofen, which can hurt the liver, we’ll give them turmeric,” which has anti-inflammatory properties, he said.
If patients have extremely high blood pressure or lumps that might be cancer, he said he directs them to medical doctors.
“If I break my leg, I’m going to a primary care doctor at urgent care,” he said. “But if I have anxiety, I’m going to consider first how do I help my body (through natural medicine) and what is my body trying to say to me.”
One day last week, Henkel reviewed urine test results with Iwona Majewska, a patient who lives near Baraboo. She said she was seeing him to improve her immune system following surgery and radiation for breast cancer.
With Henkel’s guidance, Majewska is taking a chelation agent to try to lower her levels of lead, mercury and other metals. “He tested (me) for very specific factors, including hormones,” she said. “This kind of testing has never been done at any hospital I went to.”
Family Clinic of Natural Medicine patient Jim Snider brought a prepared meal of nutritionally balanced food to his IV infusion appointment.
Jim Snider visited the clinic to get an IV infusion of magnesium, vitamin C, B vitamins and other nutrients. As strength and conditioning coach for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team, Snider said this time of year can challenge his energy level, especially during tournament travel.
“It’s a little boost to keep my immune system going,” Snider, 44, said of the two-hour infusion.
Kim Conradt, 61, of Madison, said she has been going to Henkel for more than 10 years.
Before that, she had abdominal pain. Medical doctors prescribed antibiotics and pain pills, and eventually removed part of her colon. But her problem continued, she said.
With Henkel, through diet changes and supplements, she said the abdominal pain went away. Conradt said she rarely gets sick today after previously having frequent sinus infections.
“I have way more energy now than I ever did when I was I my 40s,” she said.
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David Wahlberg is the health and medicine reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.
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Family Clinic of Natural Medicine nurse Kirsten Wredberg gives an IV infusion of high-dose vitamin C and other nutrients to patient Jim Snider, who is strength and conditioning coach for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team. Talking with Snider is Dr. Aaron Henkel, a naturopathic doctor who founded the clinic.
Dr. Aaron Henkel, who runs the Family Clinic of Natural Medicine on Madison’s East Side, discusses urine test results with patient Iwona Majewska and her husband, Tom Zsurzs.
The Family Clinic of Natural Medicine has a variety of herbs and supplements, commonly used by naturopathic doctors.
Dr. Aaron Henkel, shown in the supplement room at Family Clinic of Natural Medicine in Madison, said herbs and supplements helped him overcome ulcerative colitis as a teenager. The experience led him to become a naturopathic doctor.
Family Clinic of Natural Medicine is at 3205 E. Washington Ave.
Family Clinic of Natural Medicine patient Jim Snider brought a prepared meal of nutritionally balanced food to his IV infusion appointment.
Ruddy
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