Living Well in Litchfield County, Connecticut

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The (Holistic) Doctor Is In

The (Holistic) Doctor Is In

By Michelle Madden
Photo by Zandria Oliver 

“One of my dreams was to live in a colonial house and have a hearth fireplace in which to cook,” says Dr. Alicia McKelvey, a former thoracic surgeon who now practices holistic medicine. You get the feeling as you talk with her––her demeanor soothing, her knowledge boundless—that she has all the time in the world to not only guide, but more importantly, to listen. You could imagine her removing a black, cast-iron kettle from the coals and offering you tea. 

Holistic medicine is based on the philosophy that mind, body, and spirit are one. Dr. McKelvey augments this approach with genomic testing, which identifies unique variants in a person’s genetic code that could be leading to suboptimal health. A simple cheek swab provides data on thousands of variants, or what Dr.McKelvey calls “typos” in our genomic code. These variants get turned on and off like a switch (through diet and lifestyle) and if not identified and managed, can lead to everything from obesity to dementia. 

 What leads a highly accomplished surgeon to pivot to a very different style of medicine? “I had always had an interest in a more holistic approach to my own health care,” says Dr. McKelvey, “With many of my patients, I could see that most of their chronic illnesses, even cancer, was due to missed preventative opportunities.“ 

 The conditions that Dr. McKelvey treats are diverse. Take Jennifer, a middle-aged woman suffering from long-covid and bedridden with fatigue. Her primary care doctor said she had a mental health issue and sent her to a psychiatrist, who did little to alleviate her crippling symptoms. She eventually came to Dr. McKelvey who identified genomic variants that helped to treat and manage her symptoms––through lifestyle, diet, and supplementation.

Dementia is another area of growing interest. Dr. McKelvey can identify whether a patient is at risk and help ensure variants do not get “turned on” or if the switch has been triggered––slow the progression. “I am wary of saying that dementia is preventable,” Dr. McKelvey notes, “but there is no question that knowing your risk profile can significantly alter its course. For patients at high risk, even a 30-minute daily walk, can reduce their chances of dementia by 50 percent.” 

Why is this “whole body” approach, with a focus on root-cause and prevention, not more common in traditional medicine? The reasons are many, from a quota system––inquiring about sleep is not happening when a doctor is required to see six patients an hour, to sub-specialization or the “silo-ing” of healthcare. Doctors stay in their lanes. When you suffer an acute medical issue, you want this, but when the symptoms are many and the cause unclear––specialization can hurt.

Holistic medicine does not promise a quick fix, nor is it (or genomic testing) cheap––insurance does not cover testing or Dr. McKelvey’s services, though health care savings accounts can be used. But if the goal is keeping your own internal “fire” burning strong, then it’s good to know that this doctor is in. —

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