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Natural Awakenings Ann Arbor Michigan

Treetown is in Good Hands with Dr. Sickels

Jan 02, 2018 03:00AM
Dr. Malcolm Sickels provides holistic primary care for the whole family at 210 Little Lake Drive, Suite 10, in Ann Arbor.

Why did you become a doctor? I was originally thinking of maybe going to naturopathic school, but I was concerned that as a naturopath, I’d only be preaching the converted people who are already interested in this kind of thing. Plus, there would be a lot more restrictions on what I could do, because it’s only licensed in a handful of states. I decided that if I went to medical school, I would have a little more credibility as a physician, and then I would also be able to pick up the additional stuff afterwards, which I think I’ve done a decent job of. So, I was a little different than most of the medical school students because I was a little older and I already had some knowledge of the nutritional and alternative side of things. I spent some time trying to make the other medical students aware of what else was out there. In my family medicine residency, I was able to start going to conferences, and that was when I was really able to get into some of the meat of doing some alternative approaches and nutritional medicine.

What kind of alternative therapies do you integrate with traditional medicine? A lot of what I do you might call nutritional medicine, where we’re finding nutrients to help things work better. All of the enzymes and pathways that our bodies use on a regular basis to keep us going need vitamins and minerals and other things like that as co-factors to get everything to work. Everybody’s a little different; some people need more of one thing than another, and some people also have environmental influences like toxins, heavy metals—all of the amazing chemicals we’ve been spewing into the environment, tons a year, that are endocrine disruptors or otherwise block the normal pathways. Sometimes we can get around that, either by adding more of a particular nutrient, or sometimes we can pull out certain things in order to help things work better. For example, if somebody has too much free copper bouncing around in their body, they will have higher amounts of norepinephrine, also known as noradrenaline, which can cause anxiety, things like that, and it also lowers dopamine levels, so we can see depression and anxiety resulting from excess copper. When somebody’s on birth control pills, that can raise copper levels. So, we can see more anxiety in people that are on birth control pills, but there are ways we can mitigate that, so that it’s not so much of a problem for people.

Why do you offer thermography? Thermography as a way of diagnosing disease has been around for thousands of years. Back in the old days, they would smear mud on people and watch it dry, and if an area was hot, that area would dry faster, so they’d say, oh look, something’s going on there. So, it’s not a new technique. The use these days of thermography is with infrared cameras where we can see the heat signature on the skin of what’s going on underneath. Now, we can’t actually see the heat-produced underneath, but what happens is when there’s heat produced underneath, we increase the blood flow over it to dissipate the heat. Tumors or cancers are very metabolically active, so they generate a lot of heat.

By doing thermography, we can see the change in physiology that’s occurring around these cancers. This is a completely different approach to our standard way of screening for breast cancer, which is doing an anatomical test, just an X-ray, of the breast, which can find dense masses and calcifications. So, this is looking at it a different way. Sometimes mammography can pick things up earlier. They’re both screening tests, neither of them are diagnostic. So, with thermography, we can see the changes sometimes even before there’s a cancer, so there are things we can do to improve the woman’s physiology to reduce the risk of things progressing.

So, it’s a little hard to say what the effects would have been had we not been so aggressive in treating them. Both mammograms and thermograms have things that they’re better at finding; thermography is fabulous at finding inflammatory breast cancer, which is almost impossible to pick up with mammograms or even MRIs. The mammograms are good at finding some of the really deep, dense breast cancers that we can find, and women with large breasts that sometimes can be so deep that they don’t even show up on a thermogram. In addition, there are these new mammograms  that are sometimes called breast tomography, which is sort of 3-D mammograms. When I first heard about them, I thought, "Oh great, more radiation."

I looked it up, and it turns out since they’re using digital technology, they actually use less radiation than a standard mammogram. So when given the choice, there’s really little reason for one not to opt for the new tomography. It is a bit of a new technology, so we don’t know all the ins and outs of it. One of the risks of any of the new technologies with breast cancer screening is they may be a little more sensitive and find things that aren’t really cancers. One of the changes we saw with the increase in the digital mammography was that it was picking up a lot of little things and they weren’t sure what they were looking at, so in medicine, we err on the side of taking it out.

There are other physicians who are reading the thermography. And actually, we’re probably unique in the entire country in that we have two different thermography systems here. Two of the most well-researched and most science-based thermography systems, Meditherm thermography and Thermascan. So, we offer patients the option to use either one.

What is the number one health- care challenge that you see in your practice? Oh boy! Part of the reason I went into family medicine was to see a little bit of everything. The idea of being a specialist where you see the same thing over and over every day seemed really unpleasant. In family medicine, you can see everybody that walks in the door. I get a huge variety of things, and when I first started, one of the things that got my name on the map was getting people off antidepressants. I had a nice way of using some amino acids to help people get off of antidepressants.

I do have a segment of my practice that has more acute, life-threatening things like cancer, but I also have a lot of patients who have more run-of-the-mill things, whether it’s depression, anxiety, diabetes, high blood pressure, all the gamut of regular medicine.

I have two nurse practitioners and another other physician, and they have much shorter wait lists than I do, and patients can usually get in within a couple weeks, I worked with all the other providers, so they do a lot of the same stuff that I do, and in general, when one of the other providers run a patient past me to get some more input, it turns out they were doing the same thing I would’ve done. So, more often than not, they’re going to give the same care that I would.

It’s also a challenge, because I don’t see the first 10 people that are walking down the street. People come to me because they’re committed to doing something, and they’re generally able to wait the nine months it takes to come in and see me. So, I get kind of a rarified group of patients, and for me as a practitioner, it’s really great, because I’ve got people who are committed to doing the work that it’s going to take to get better.

For more information, call 734-332-9936 or visit Watch the full interview on our Healthy Living Michigan, YouTube channel,

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