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Holistic health practitioner sees more acceptance in WNY medicine

Jo Ann Colosimo, an adult nurse practitioner at Invision Health in Williamsville, practices "functional medicine" and works with patients who have hormonal imbalances, chronic conditions and, often, are overweight. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Buffalo News

Jo Ann Colosimo is among those in the Western New York holistic health field who have begun to see a crack in traditional medical care in the region.

It’s still a fairly thin one, compared to many other parts of the country, Colosimo said, but it shows itself when patients come into the practice where she works and say something like this:

“The primary doc says whatever you’re doing seems to be working, so go ahead.”

Holistic medicine seeks to get to the root causes of health conditions, most of them chronic, that have come to plague modern Americans: obesity, diabetes, heart disease. The vast majority have their genesis in lifestyle choices and create nasty inflammation that wreaks havoc on our bodies, including hormonal imbalances, arthritis and other joint disease, and a host of gastrointestinal challenges.

Colosimo, an adult nurse practitioner and subject of today’s “What are you Eating” feature in WNY Refresh, is the latest person in holistic medicine to tell me such medical treatment in the region is about to bubble into a groundswell.

The Buffalo native who lives in Cambria – heart of Niagara County wine country – has worked in both the traditional and non-traditional medical fields in the region, including at hospitals and primary care offices. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University at Buffalo and worked at the school for a decade.

She’s focused on holistic medicine for the last half-dozen years, the last 18 months with Dr. Sylvia Regalla at Invision Health in Williamsville. The duo practice “functional medicine,” which is designed to use better eating, nutritional supplements and regular exercise as part of a regimen toward better health.

“I work with a lot of people with hormone imbalances, so I do a lot of thyroid, adrenal, women’s hormones and weight loss. Those are my big buckets,” she said.

They work closely with a nutraceutical company treatment plan called Metagenics FirstLine Therapy, which is designed to treat patients with “pre-chronic diseases” that include “metabolic syndrome,” a combination of maladies that combined raise the risk of diabetes, heart attack and stroke (read more about it here). An estimated one in four Americans has this syndrome.

“In the holistic realm,” Colosimo said, “we look at the whole person: genetics, environment, family history, hormonal imbalance, what are you eating, exercise, things like that.

“Ninety-nine percent of all chronic disease is based on inflammation. Then you begin that journey, Why do you have that inflammation and what can you do about it? A lot of times, food insensitivities may be causing chronic inflammation, so you work on the nutrition and eating healthier.”

Here’s what else she told me on Monday about her job:

What’s your sense of how holistic health professionals are seen in the Western New York medical community and if insurance has jumped aboard in terms of helping with the cost of some of your work?

I work with Invision Health and I can actually bill insurance.

In terms of the traditional medical community, I think there is skepticism. ... I’ve had more and more patients recently who tell me, ‘The primary doc says whatever you’re doing seems to be working, so go ahead.’ It’s a sort of a hands-off approach. I attend to more women than men, and doing a lot of thyroid, and they’re primary care says, ‘Jo Ann orders your thyroid medication, so I’ll leave that (to her). So it’s not so much acceptance as a little more tolerance of it. They don’t quite understand it.

Invision Health has done some education and done some talking. The group is sending more referrals. We can spend more time, try alternative stuff for some disease, and people are referring to hormones, weight loss, that sort of thing, and are becoming quite accepting.

In other parts of the country, it’s much more accepted. Buffalo’s very conservative, even more than in Rochester (when it comes to medicine). They don’t know enough about whether it’s a good or a bad thing, so it just seems to be more passivity right now.

Talk about leaky gut syndrome.

If you have food sensitivities, you develop inflammation in your gut. In time, as the inflammation builds and builds and builds, the inflammatory things get out, they sneak out. And in the lining in the intestine, some of the cells separate out and you get this leaky gut. You can get any of your itises – thyroiditis, arthritis, any of your inflammatory diseases. That’s where we go and treat where we think the (challenges are). We are very interested in food sensitivity.

What would you do when someone comes in overweight with leaky gut syndrome or similar condition, someone with inflammation?

We would do a complete history and physical. We have a nice little machine called a bioimpedance analysis and this little machine gives me a reading and tells me about body composition so I can measure that fat and lean mass, water balance. I can look at their metabolic rate and it tells me how many calories they’re burning at rest, the BMI (body mass index). We usually do some lab testing; there’s markers for inflammation that we can do. We would evaluate cholesterol levels. For food insensitivities, it would depend on symptoms – how severe, how long? Often what we might do is put them on a 30-day elimination diet. Then what we do is have them reintroduce a couple of the foods that most likely would be their allergen, and keep track of their symptoms. Then we kind of go by that. Or sometimes we send out and have food sensitivity testing done.

We usually start them right away making sure they’re on a good probiotic. We have a couple of things, like our medical foods. They’re like a protein powder drink but they have additives in there to help calm the inflammation and help heal the gut. We usually start them right away on that.

If it’s weight loss, it depends on how severe. Sometimes we might try to give them a month or two to calm down the leaky gut ... With our little BIA, we can say what they’re resting metabolic rate is. We use that calorie amount and look at their activity level and we can give them a calorie-per-day recommended nutrition program.

The FirstLine Therapy Program is modified Mediterranean: lean protein, very low carbs, your good omegas – lots of good oils, nuts and sees, which are good anti-inflammatories – and lots of vegetables and fruits.

We pretty much personalize each thing, and we can do lab testing and can give any kind of recommendation nutritionally. We have a gluten-free program.

We can give them so-called medical foods (through Metagenics). If they have a flexible spending account, they can the cost it out of there.

You see a lot. What have you learned from your work experience when it comes to eating better?

Offering this modified Mediterranean diet, I’ve learned over the years to eat much more like that. Carbs and myself have never been good friends anyway, and over the years, I saw Atkins and some of the horrible stuff that was being offered, so learning more about the modified Mediterranean diet and the lean protein, and the healthy protein, has been important. The benefit of the omega-3s as anti-inflammatories I think is just huge. I tell my patients if I was on an island and could only have one thing, I would have my fish oils because they’re so great. I also think we have a huge epidemic of people who are either pre-diabetic or diabetic. Years ago, whether is was whole grain, healthy fat or whatever, it was better. Today, we just eat way too much sugar. The low-glycemic index is really very important. I just had a lady tell me today that she eats a banana every day. It’s not that bananas aren’t good, it’s just that they’re the highest in sugar (of all fruits).

Is there any food you can’t resist, even though you know you should?

I do dark chocolate because it’s good for you and sometimes I think I do too much. And even sometimes with the nuts. But now I count them out and put them in baggies. My weakness is potato chips. ... I may ask someone to move them away if I’m at a party.


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About The Refresh Buffalo Blog

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon is an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered various topics in his quarter-century as a journalist in South Florida, Syracuse and Buffalo. He is aiming to pass along what he is learning these days about health, fitness, nutrition and family life.

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