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VOL. 126 | NO. 111 | Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Naturopathy Gains Popularity in Fighting Illnesses

By Aisling Maki

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After being diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in 2003 and undergoing surgery to remove a golf ball-sized tumor and part of his large intestine, Memphian Chris Wark shocked and disappointed his friends and family members when he defied doctors’ advice to undergo chemotherapy.

John Smothers, who has been a naturopath for 15 years, runs the Integrative Wellness & Research Center. 

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

“People don’t understand the social pressure to chemotherapy,” said Wark, a real estate investor who also plays in local band Arma Secreta. “The oncologist told me I was insane for not doing chemo. I basically had no support, and I really didn’t even have family support. I love my family, but they were all really terrified by the idea of me not doing what the doctor said. There were interventions and phone calls and people trying to talk some sense into me. They were trying to sway me, but I was very solid in my position.”

During the weeks he spent recovering from his surgery, Wark, then just 26 and newly married, began to explore his options.

“After doing some research and reading, I decided against chemotherapy because it’s poison and it destroys your immune system,” he said. “Your immune system is what keeps you well, and even if you have cancer it doesn’t mean your immune system is not working – it just means it’s overloaded. Conventional medicine is typically only interested in treating symptoms and not the root cause.”

Wark said his goal was to transform his body into an inhospitable environment for disease.

“I believe cancer is not the cause of your problem, but the result of a sick body,” he said. “So taking a tumor out doesn’t solve your problem. I focused on a radical change in my diet to feed my body the raw nutrients that it needs to work properly to heal itself.”

Wark was intrigued by the raw foods lifestyle after reading the testaments of cancer survivors who’d taken that path. He eliminated all processed food from his diet and ate only foods grown from the earth.

And along his journey, he discovered an ally in John Smothers, a naturopath at Integrative Wellness and Research Center, 6262 Poplar Ave.

“People come to me because other things in their life aren’t working, and they’re open-minded when they come to me because of that,” said Smothers, who holds degrees as a Master Herbalist and Doctor of Naturopathy from Indiana-based Trinity School of Natural Health.

“They’ve already gotten bad news,” Smothers said. “I’m not usually the first resort. If they’re wanting to go the route of chemo and radiation, that’s their decision. Clinical studies tell us that, with cancer, if you work from an integrative approach, nutrition with traditional medical, your success is going to be much greater than working with just synthetic medication all by itself.”

A former mechanical engineer, Smothers’ interest in natural therapies began about 15 years ago when two friends were battling brain tumors simultaneously. Smothers said the one who followed the conventional route didn’t survive, while the other, who was given little hope, began a regimen of herbs, nutrient-rich foods, juicing, supplements and eliminating negativity from his environment.

Smothers said that within 18 months, his friend’s tumor was gone.

“He had medical proof of that,” Smothers said. “I got so excited about the journey he was on that I resigned from my corporate career, went back to school, and graduated a doctor or naturopathy. I started my practice and worked with some MDs for several years.”

Smothers traveled to 15 different countries, speaking with physicians around the world. “If you don’t have those experiences, if your experience comes from a textbook case or working in a hospital or clinic, it’s hard to have those open eyes and faith in those other areas,” he said.

Smothers’ degrees, however, are not recognized by the state of Tennessee.

A number of U.S. states from California to Connecticut are homes to accredited naturopathic medical schools, and licensed graduates are allowed to practice as NDs (Naturopathic Doctors), but Tennessee is one of two states – the other being South Carolina – where the practice of naturopathy is illegal.

In the Volunteer State, practitioners face the possibility of misdemeanor charges.

“I have to promote myself more as clinical nutrition or a wellness counselor,” Smothers said. “From that aspect, a lot of people don’t know who we are.”

Still, Wark calls Smothers a “tremendous ally. He was an answer to my prayers.”

Seven years later, Wark, now a father of two, remains cancer-free, and shares his experiences with people from around the world on his blog, www.chrisbeatcancer.com.

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