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Mixing East and West: Integrative medicine helps treat rheumatologic, stress disorders in kids

A pediatric rheumatologist is bringing integrative medical therapies to the Upstate Golisano Children‘s Hospital. Caitlin Sgarlat Deluca, DO, leads the newly created division of pediatric rheumatology and integrative medicine.

She cares for children with rheumatologic diseases, such as juvenile arthritis and lupus, and children with a variety of other musculoskeletal problems.

Caitlin Sgarlat Deluca, DO

Caitlin Sgarlat Deluca, DO

While Sgarlat prescribes conventional Western medicines, she also suggests treatments that some may consider complementary or alternative, many of which are rooted in the East. These may include nutritional counseling, supplements such as vitamins and botanicals, biofeedback or hypnosis, yoga or tai chi, meditation and, perhaps, acupuncture.

The practices she recommends are evidence-based.

Integrative therapies have shown benefit for children with arthritis and lupus, and also for those with musculoskeletal and other pain syndromes, asthma, inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, atopic dermatitis, migraine headaches and anxiety disorders, Sgarlat said.

A spike in stress-related disorders in children over the past decade has her concerned. Medications have side effects on their developing brains and bodies. “I do think an integrative approach to many of these conditions can help decrease the medicines and help heal the patient,” Sgarlat said.

Not all of her patients appreciate integrative techniques. Those who do typically are able to stop taking medications sooner than those who do not. The doctor said the patient‘s stress level drops, and so does that of his or her parents.

“Once some of these tools are taught, and the patients realize that they can add to their healing process, it makes for a whole different experience for the patient. That in itself also lends to the healing process,” Sgarlat said.

In an interview for Upstate‘s weekly talk radio show, "HealthLink on Air," Sgarlat told of a patient who was newly diagnosed with arthritis. The child received medication but also added anti-inflammatory turmeric, cinnamon and ginger to their diet; an exercise routine that included stretching, core strengthening and yoga, and counseling that taught visual imagery that could be used when their joints were hurting.

“All of these things together helped me take this specific patient off of the conventional therapies a lot quicker than I generally see with my patients,” the doctor said.

Layout 1Hear Sgarlat's radio interview about adding an integrative approach to pediatric rheumatology. This article appears in the fall 2015 issue of Upstate Health magazine.