Mara Whiteford, who lives in South Portland, was sick last winter from December right into April. She suffered with stomach flu, a cold and months of coughing.
“I kept going back to the doctor but no one could help,” she says.
Her search for some relief led her to Dr. Sasha Rose, a board-certified naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist. Eight years ago, Rose and her husband, Daniel Katz, founded Wildwood Medicine on India Street in Portland.
After graduating from college with majors in biology and women’s health, Rose was considering conventional medical school when a friend asked if she had ever heard of naturopathy. She hadn’t.
“I did some research and it just hit the nail on the head,” says Rose. “It was the right blend of western science with a real acknowledgement of the mind-body connection, the spiritual side of a person. Philosophically, it resonated with me.”
After six years of intense study in naturopathic and Chinese medicine, in 2005 Rose received her master’s and doctorate degrees from the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon. She says her training allows her to view patients from both a western and a Chinese medicine perspective. It has also given her an array of treatment tools that includes acupuncture, homeopathy, lifestyle modifications, nutritional counseling and Chinese herbs.
She used a blend of her tools to help Whiteford, whose first visit to Wildwood Medicine last summer lasted more than an hour. Rose spent most of that time asking questions and listening. She also examined Whiteford’s tongue, looking at its color, shape and coating, and took her pulses – three in each arm that correlate with the meridians, or energy channels, in the body. What she hears, sees, feels and senses all help Rose make a diagnosis.
She determined that Whiteford’s immune system needed a boost and began acupuncture treatments that day. She also suspected that her relentless cough was connected to a longstanding problem with acid reflux, or GERD. Herbal formulas, acupuncture and dietary changes got rid of the cough.
“I haven’t felt this good in a long time,” says Whiteford. “This winter I’ve been sick for three days only.”
On the second floor of Wildwood Medicine is a room called the medicinary, where one wall is lined with jars of Chinese herbs with names like fang feng and shu di huang. Rose custom-makes formulas for patients by combining individual herbs.
“If you came in with a cough, we would ask, is it productive or not? Is there a color? Is there tightness?” she says. “Based on your answers and your Chinese pulse and your tongue, we would put together herbs that would be good for your specific type of cough.”
Rose believes that one of the beautiful things about Chinese medicine is it doesn’t make a huge distinction between the mind and the body.
“The same reason that somebody is having heart palpitations, is having a hard time sleeping, has cold hands and feet,” she says, “is the same underlying pattern as when they’re really anxious or really stressed. So rather than give one herb for anxiety and another herb for, say, your poor circulation, our goal is to look for a pattern.”
Whiteford prefers her herbs in powder form, which she mixes into warm water. Other patients choose tablets, any many, like Deb LaPointe of South Portland, enjoy brewing tea from the loose herbs. LaPointe was diagnosed a few years ago with vestibular migraines. Physical therapy and traditional medicine had helped her quite a bit, but she still experienced headaches and dizziness every single day. Four years ago, she started seeing Rose and says she has not had to take any prescription medicine since. Instead, she has regular acupuncture treatments and brews the Chinese herbs Rose has prescribed.
“I don’t know what I would’ve done if I hadn’t found Sasha,” she reports. “I wasn’t able to do the things I like to do. Now, most of the time I have my bad headaches and dizziness is only around my menstrual cycle. Both the number of times I have them and the intensity have decreased.”
It’s outcomes like Whiteford’s and LaPointe’s that make her chosen line of work so satisfying, says Rose. Something she has learned along the way is how often stress and anxiety go hand in hand with patients’ ailments. While she would likely recommend acupuncture and Chinese herbs to help with both, she would probably offer some additional advice that might benefit everyone: Stop for a moment and take a deep breath.
“Carve out the time in your busy life to take care of yourself,” she recommends. “Whatever that means for you – a yoga practice, more sleep, time to cook a meal – but place importance on that. Stop and look at your life.”