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Nursing specialist taps into holistic medicine

Duke University, Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the Cleveland Clinic are among top medical hubs that have integrative medicine centers.

The University of Kansas Medical Center gives infusions of high dose vitamin C to cancer patients on chemotherapy.

A 2012 research study suggests that chelation therapy, a standard treatment to remove lead from the blood of children, seems to show some promise for diabetics with cardiovascular disease – though researchers say more study is needed.

Still, most doctors in Western New York are reluctant to give their blessing to the kinds of infusion therapy that Jennifer Jennings provides at Cardea Health Integrative in Cheektowaga.

“There’s a reason why Cleveland Clinic, Duke, the University of Kansas Medical Center have all embraced integrative medicine. These are very conventional places that have opened up their eyes to mind, body, spirit medicine – and people are getting better,” said Jennings, a Boston, N.Y., native who lives in Orchard Park and has two children, Aidan, 13, and Sophia, 11.

Jennings, 40, is a former level one trauma and neurosurgical critical care nurse, and assistant professor at D’Youville College and the University at Buffalo. She has a family nurse practitioner doctorate degree from Robert Morris University. She is an assistant professor of nursing and health studies at Georgetown University, teaching dozens of other health professionals online courses from Western New York on complex, chronic disease management. She has worked for almost three years at the preventative and wellness clinic started by Dr. Robert Barnes at 2470 Walden Ave., Cheektowaga, and bought the practice from the semi-retired osteopathic physician last year, creating a new name and website, She also has an office in Dunkirk.

A dozen blue recliners sit in the main room of the Cheektowaga office. Metal hooks dangle from the ceiling above each one. Sometimes, all are occupied by patients. Jennings said the practice has about 1,500 in all.

“We do a lot with nutrition and supplements, (ToTerra) therapeutic grade essential oils,” she said.

Services include sleep relaxation management, and hormone, immune, blood pressure, blood sugar, nutritional and probiotics support.

Light therapy for those suffering from seasonal affective disorder also is offered.

Is she on to something?

Maybe. According to the website for Cleveland Clinic Integrative Medicine Center, “Poor lifestyle choices are the root cause of modern chronic diseases. Scientific evidence is clear – adults with common chronic conditions who adhere to a healthy lifestyle experience rapid, significant, clinically meaningful and sustainable improvements in their health.”

The latest changes in integrative medicine “is sort of the tip of the iceberg...,” Jennings said. “We’re certainly not where we need to be yet.

“My goal is to pick up an education piece. I think self-healing is really important and self-management support is essential when it comes to guiding patients along their health-care journey. A huge cornerstone is of that education, them understanding their disease process, and understanding how something as simple as fulfillment in life or stress can affect disease, nutrition can affect disease, fitness can affect disease.”

Q. Why integrative medicine?

I have an autoimmune disease myself and struggled with that for quite some time. Hashimoto’s disease is essentially hypothyrodism with an autoimmune component. Most conventional practitioners I would go to would say, “We’re going to give you a pharmaceutical to treat the thyroid numbers” but there was never any forethought about the autoimmune part, which is a huge part of your symptoms as your antibodies go up – which is essentially your immune system fighting your own body – your thyroid continues to die off. Until you get that immune part under control, your disease is going to progress ... so I ended up learning as much as I could and doctoring myself with nutrition, exercise, yoga, meditation, supplements. I’ve always had a passion for holistic medicine. I’ve been doing yoga since I’ve been in my late teens. I’ve always been into health and supplements and nutrition. Then I met Dr. Barnes.

Q. Describe integrative, or functional, medicine.

It is essentially looking for the root cause of disease and taking a holistic approach to your treatment plan.

Q. Where does the name Cardea Health Integrative come from?

Car-day-ya is the pronunciation. Cardea is the goddess of health – both physical and spiritual – in Roman mythology. The name also talks quite a bit about health and well-being, acceptance, patience, compassion, and opening doors. That in a nutshell seemed to fit in mind, body, spirit medicine and opening doors to a new way of thinking – more of a global approach to your health.

Q. Can you talk about what you mean when you say it takes years for disease states to manifest themselves?

There’s not a light switch that turns on, whether we’re talking about cancer or cardiovascular disease or autoimmune disease. Oftentimes, these things are manifesting for quite some time. Before we get sick enough to show symptoms, our blood work will show significant changes. Usually when I see patients, I’ll tell them, “It took some time for you to get here and now it’s going to take some time for you to get better.”

Q. You say that if people take better care of themselves, they can keep some of these conditions at arm’s length.

My perfect patient is someone who comes in who’s healthy and wants to practice preventative medicine. They don’t have to be young. We have middle-aged patients and patients in their 90s working to keep on the path of health: How can I tweak your diet? If you’re exercising, how can I tweak that to make it a little bit better. How’s your stress management? I prescribe meditation oftentimes, yoga, fitness. I’ll go through dietary plans. We have a nutritionist on staff. And there are monitoring labs. Typically, conventional medicine will look at a certain panel of labs. We dig a bit deeper. We look at vitamin D levels, inflammatory markers. We do some genetic testing to see if you have genetic markers that show you might be deficient in a certain mineral or vitamin.

Q. Talk about your consultation process.

I take a medical history, but also say, “Tell me about your relationships, your fulfillment in life. Are you happy with your job?” Genetics comes into play and there’s not a lot we can change with that, but your fulfillment (is another story). Your environment. “Do you live in a toxic environment, have heavy metal exposure?” We talk about fitness level, diet, sleep, your mental health – stressors, anxiety. All of these things can certainly manifest as some type of disease, so these are the areas we try to modify.

Q. What is the role of conventional medicine in the integrative model?

They are a huge part of the design. We require all of our patients that establish care with us to maintain their primary care providers and whatever consultants or specialists they are seeing. We merely act as a consultant. We will say, “OK, you have established autoimmune disease, or cancer, or cardiovascular disease – or sometimes all three. We don’t pretend to be an expert in that but we’re going to take a look at your plan – sometimes people bring in stacks of records up to a foot deep – and we look through them and make recommendations.

Q. What conditions do you tend to see most in your practice?

We do bioidentical hormones. We do a lot of thyroid management, autoimmune. We see patients with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic fatigue.

Q. You specialize in infusion therapies. How do these therapies work and what are they generally used to address?

We do anything from nutritional infusions to chelation therapy. It’s basically getting a multivitamin through an IV, and why that’s important is that anything we take orally, we absorb about 30 percent if your gut doesn’t function at 100 percent. Most of us are gut compromised. When you take an IV, you get 100 percent. The literature shows there’s a lot of us walking around with mineral and vitamin deficiencies. Eighty percent of Americans are deficient in magnesium, for instance. So it’s things like vitamin C and B vitamins which will energize you, help with nerve pain and help your brain.

We also do chelation therapy. Chelation means “claw.” There’s currently a TACT trial that was authorized by the National Institutes of Health which was favorable for chelation therapy, especially for diabetic patients (Research showed chelation therapy found no significant improvement on quality of life at 6, 12 and 24 months, though did seem to hold some cardiovascular treatment promise for those with diabetes or angina, according to the Mayo Clinic.)

Q. Does insurance cover any of the services you provide?

We do not accept insurance. We do have some patients that will take their billing form and submit it to insurance, but we don’t play middleman. Some people use their flex medical accounts. My hope is that insurance at one point understands that this is preventative medicine and will save them money in the long run.

Q. What is the cost range?

An IV treatment is $130. Consultation is $195. Treatment plans vary. They’re very individualized. Some patients might come in for a vitamin C treatment to address a cold. Some might come in for a nutrition infusion when they’re feeling run down. Some that are very sick might come in once or twice a week.

Q. What’s the Georgetown class like?

Georgetown, even though they’re very steeped in tradition, they’re very good with bringing in alternative therapies. It’s always focused on evidence-based practice, which is kind of a buzzword. We encourage our students to think outside the box, to delve into the literature and the research and to incorporate a global approach to patient care. I’ve taught and D’Youville, I’ve taught at UB and I’ve taught at Georgetown. I would say Georgetown is probably more open to that. We’re very behind on the East Coast. Out West, there are clinics like this everywhere. Even D.C. has an integrative medicine practice. Cleveland Clinic just opened one.

Q. How do you stay healthy?

I get eight hours of sleep religiously. I do quite a bit with stress management – yoga, meditation. I diffuse essential oils. I stay active – skiing, a spinning class. I go to the YMCA. I try to be present and aware whenever I can. I’m very focused on what I put in to my body. Do I trip up every once in awhile? Do I sometimes have chicken wings? Yes, of course. I forgive myself and get back on track. A majority of the supplements I recommend to my patients I take myself. I have them in my bag: a good multivitamin, added B vitamin, curcumin, CoQ10, fish oil, magnesium and a probiotic. And I get an infusion once or twice a week, nutrition, vitamin C, chelation. And I get an infusion once or twice a week, nutrition, vitamin C, chelation.