4 Local Alt-Medicine Innovators

Meet a handful of locals blazing trails in complementary care.

By Hannah Wallace Illustrations by Matty Newton July 16, 2014 Published in the Health Annual: Summer 2014 issue of Portland Monthly


If you’ve ever been to a Tuina parlor, you know that the rigorous Chinese massage is not for sissies. Tuina not only relaxes your muscles and loosens your joints, it can unfreeze frozen shoulders and alleviate pain from herniated discs. “It’s not a feel-good massage,” cautions Forrest Cooper. “It’s very deep tissue.” 

Cooper, a faculty member at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine (OCOM), fell in love with Tuina as a student. As a practitioner, he finds it works best in conjunction with acupuncture, especially for people suffering musculoskeletal pain. “Acupuncture reduces pain and loosens you up,” Cooper says. “Tuina puts bone joints back in place, and breaks up adhesions.” 

Cooper recently published his first article in the Journal of Medical Acupuncture and just got his doctorate in Chinese Medicine. This year, he plans to enroll in OHSU’s Human Investigations Program, which trains doctors to do research on human subjects. “I’d like to find out why people come back for acupuncture and Tuina,” says Cooper, who hopes to do more qualitative research. “What are they getting out of their experience?”


These days, it’s not unusual  to find an acupuncturist who focuses on fertility. Lee Hullender Rubin, though, not only sees patients but also conducts research on how acupuncture can boost fertility. 

One of about 300 acupuncturists in the US with a doctorate in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, Rubin is writing up findings of observational research from a Seattle-area fertility clinic that shows that women who had 12 TCM treatments (acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and diet and lifestyle recommendations) before a certain point in their pregnancy had a significantly higher live birth rate than those who had no acupuncture, or acupuncture alone. 

Rubin is currently recruiting Portland-area subjects for her own study—a randomized, controlled trial on how acupuncture and lidocaine affect chronic vulvar pain. Meanwhile, she has a flourishing practice near NE Alberta Street, where she works with women who have everything from endometriosis to recurrent miscarriage.


You don’t fool around with cancer. But chemotherapy and radiation bring complications of their own—everything from fatigue to nerve damage. Enter the “integrative oncologist.” David Allderdice limits his private practice at Sage Cancer Care to cancer patients only. “I’m trying to look at the science that’s being done on Chinese medicine, immune therapies—treatments that are called alternative or complementary—taking in the totality of what’s available, sifting through it, and determining what’s the best medicine from all areas,” he says. 

Depending on the patient and the type and stage of cancer, that could mean herbs or supplements alongside chemo drugs to reduce toxicity, acupuncture to lessen nausea and fatigue, or even novel therapies still in clinical trials. “The power of holistic medicine is supporting a vital system—therapies that keep you healthier and stronger, fighting against cancer,” Allderdice says.


When Heather Zwickey left Yale University School of Medicine to head up the Helfgott Research Institute at Portland’s National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM), her junior colleagues thought she was committing career suicide. The Nobel Prize winners on Yale’s faculty, however, applauded her move. 

“Their reaction was, ‘This field is wide open. Nowhere else in medicine can you ask such big questions like ‘How does acupuncture work?’” says Zwickey. 

Pursuing those big questions is exactly what Zwickey and her students do. Currently, she is overseeing 54 master’s-level research projects, including one probing the effects of “medicinal mud” on osteoarthritis. The Helfgott’s big research wins so far involve findings on how an Ayurvedic herb activates immune cells and natural therapies’ pain-reduction potential.

As she talks about these projects, Zwickey’s passion for putting integrative treatments under rigorous scrutiny is unmistakable. “Natural medicine is growing faster than other areas of medicine,” she says. “We need to study this stuff!”

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