By Crystal McGough
In the world of medicine, there is often a divide between contemporary medical treatments and natural, alternative remedies. While some medical practices only offer mainstream medicines and procedures, there are also those that lean toward alternative healthcare while steering clear of contemporary Western medicine. But what if optimal healthcare requires a marriage of the two?
That is exactly what Dr. Melanie Miller, MD, offers at Birmingham Integrative Health in Trussville. The 159 Main Street, Trussville, location was originally the site of Trussville Family Healthcare, which was owned by Medical Center East before it was bought out by St. Vincent’s. Miller was hired by Medical Center East in 2004 with the knowledge that she and her partner planned to buy the Trussville Family Healthcare practice. About a year later, she and her partner did buy the practice, but in 2011, her partner left to open a practice in Chelsea, Alabama. It was around that time that Miller decided to focus her practice more on integrative medicine.
According to Birmingham Integrative Health’s website, “The National Center for complementary and Alternative Medicine and the National Institute of Health states that integrative medicine ‘combines mainstream medical therapies and Complementary Alternative Medicine therapies for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness.’ BIH works hard to integrate both Western and Complementary Medical knowledge and treatments to ensure the best for our patients.”
“I certainly still practice family medicine and care for people as a primary care, but I tend to look a little more at the whole body and try to figure out if there’s diet, or supplements, if there are herbs that can guide your body back to health,” Miller said. “Certainly people come to me often when there’s already disease, and sometimes you still need medications. I wouldn’t negate my years of training as a medical doctor and not use that knowledge.”
Dr. Miller completed her undergraduate and medical school degrees at the University of Missouri, Columbia. She served her Family Practice residency at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she furthered her knowledge of integrative medicine, and also trained in acupuncture at UCLA Helms Institute of Medical Acupuncture.
“My story is probably more about self-journey,” Miller said. “I think when physicians get challenged to heal themselves, they often look outside that box because we have the knowledge of what Western medicine can offer.”
While in medical school, Miller underwent treatment for whiplash after a car accident. After living with pain for two years, a nurse refereed Miller to one of the Student Health physicians who had been trained in acupuncture. Miller decided to give acupuncture a try and found that she improved significantly. The experience drove her to pursue training in acupuncture and integrative medicine.
“When you start treating outside that box, patients start enquiring,” she said. “They start asking questions of you, and you just keep kind of traveling down that road. So, the conferences you look for are already outside that box.”
Miller said that a significant portion of her patients are women who are concerned about sex hormones, and she has spent a lot of time training in outside-the-box treatments to help those women.
“Western medicine does a good job with a lot of people, but how can I help those that aren’t excited about traditional medicine hormones and want to have discussions about bioidenticals?” she said. “So you just go to this conference and, while you’re there learning about what you went there for, there’s two or three lectures you attend that say, ‘Oh my gosh, I never thought about these patients that I could help!’”
In addition to primary care, Birmingham Integrative Health offers services such as well-women exams, saliva hormone testing, additional testing on thyroids to determine if the body is listening to the thyroid gland, and evaluation of sex hormones to determine if herbal treatments would be effective to correct hormone imbalances, or if a bioidentical hormone is needed to help the body adjust or transition during postpartum, post-menopause or during menopause.
“We try to look at those key hormone flares in our body,” Miller said. “We try to focus on diet; we do food and tolerance testing, which often that’s called food allergy testing, to see if there are foods that our body isn’t tolerating very well and that’s causing inflammation.”
Miller also looks into and treats leaky gut syndrome, which is when a patient is suffering because their body is absorbing too much and not breaking food down into smaller particles that can be utilized for nutrition, but instead treats larger particles as foreign, causing inflammation.
Some services listed on the BIH website include acupuncture, glutathione, exilis, ultraviolet blood irradiation and plasma rich platelet therapy.
The typical patient at BIH comes in seeking a primary care physician who is willing to have discussions beyond the scope of surgery or strictly medicine, Dr. Miller said.
“Patients that are motivated to look at how they can help their body to stay as healthy as it can, whether that be through supplements like magnesium, or vitamin D, or more complex herbal remedies that they need help through guidance,” she said. “They read about something on the Internet and they’re not sure if that’s really their physiological herb that they should be using, so walking patients through that.
“When you’re open to listening to your patients, they bring you books, they bring you discussions, they bring you articles they’re reading and say, ‘I think this makes sense for me. Can we look at it?’ So I feel like one of the things that we do well at Birmingham Integrative Health is be open to hear people and their experience in life, and try to integrate that into what we know about physiology and anatomy and infections and function of the body.”
Miller said that while she doesn’t really focus on anti-aging, a lot of her patients come in to the practice looking for ways to stay as healthy as they can for as long as they can and focusing on a good quality of life.
She said that she sees a lot of Medicare patients, even helping those who are already farther along in a disease to keep their quality of life as good as possible through both medications and supplements.
One method of treatment she uses is intravenous (IV) infusions.
“We can infuse certain nutrients, for example, vitamin C or glutathione, to help the aging process,” Miller said. “We also do infusions of ozone, so O3, oxygen three. It has a host of benefits; one of the amazing things, always, is that it helps the red blood cells do their job better.”
Dr. Miller also works with autoimmune patients, treats small intestinal bowel overgrowth (SIBO) and treats chronic infections such as Lyme disease, which can be transmitted through deer ticks.
“Lyme really does exists in Alabama, and it’s difficult for a lot of patients to get recognized and treatment for,” Miller said. “That part of my practice has been growing the last four years. It’s an under-recognized diagnosis in our state.
“There’s such a dichotomy to my practice of ‘I’m really healthy and I’m doing well, and I just want to stay here in case something bad does happen,’ and some really debilitated sick patients. I think probably what drew me to family practice in the first place is the variety. I think it’s lovely to help people who are in really chronic need and need to get better, and I think sometimes it’s just lovely to see really healthy 20-year-olds who need a well-woman exam. I appreciate them all.”
Dr. Miller is extremely passionate about helping her patients and enjoys working with them on a personal level.
“To take those years of training, 11 years of training, and accept that knowledge, but listen to people’s stories, I think that’s the art of medicine,” she said. “I love what I do, so I spend a significant time with my patients and try to make their lives better.
“My patients will tell you that I hug them, because I feel like touch is also healing. My elderly that are widowed or widowers, they’re home alone and I just feel like they need touched. But I think the 20-year-olds need hugs, too! I just think we all need love and compassion.”
While Dr. Miller “dabbles” in pediatrics, she said she does not do a lot of primary care before age 10 because she doesn’t carry all the immunizations for infants. However, she cares for families, so does see pediatric patients in her clinic. She said she also sees some patients under the age of 10 who need specific services she offers, such as gut health and nutritional health.
“I certainly am happy to always consult for a family and share what I know, and refer to whom I know,” she said. “We are open to listening to your story and your individual need, and seeing if we can help you on your path, your life and your journey.”
Birmingham Integrative Health accepts most insurances, with the exception of Blue Cross Blue Shield, which does not cover physicians who practice alternative medicine. BIH does take Medicare, but cannot take Medicaid unless a patient has both Medicare and Medicaid.
Miller said that many patients who are on BCBS insurance still come to her because she offers reasonable costs that make their treatments affordable, often even more affordable that their insurance deductibles would be.
“I’m not here to gouge, I’m not a cash-practice; I’m not a VIP doctor,” she said. “Again, I’m going to care for my $4 Walmart-list Medicare patients, in honor that that’s where they are in their life. I just think healthcare should be reasonable and affordable and accessible. Good quality care doesn’t have to come at $400 a visit. It isn’t right.”
For more information about Birmingham Integrative Healthcare or to schedule an appointment, call (205) 655-2110 or visit birminghamintegrativehealth.com.BhamIntHealth