An interview with Dr. Tieraona Low Dog

by Dr. Sharon Ufberg, DC

Note: Dr. Tieraona Low Dog will be a featured presenter at the 2014 Integrative Healthcare Symposium in New York City where she is a Keynote Presenter and the recipient of the Leadership Award .

Reading Tieraona Low Dog, M.D.’s biography is a bit like taking a waltz through the best of the botanical and natural traditional medicine field and learning about one of the brightest stars of integrative women’s health. Her career over the past thirty years includes work as an herbalist, massage therapist and midwife. After receiving her medical degree, she ran her own integrative medical clinic before joining the University of Arizona faculty of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine as Director of their Fellowship program. Dr. Low Dog is an accomplished author and internationally respected speaker. She is a leader in national public policy and regulatory issues and has been appointed to numerous National advisory councils and panels.

When one hears her speak though, it is as if you are having a conversation with your next door neighbor or good friend. Dr. Low Dog’s relaxed, unassuming style makes her knowledge and expertise accessible and easy to grasp. A quote from her website reads:

“When I think of who I am and what I bring to medicine, I think I am the bridge between the woman growing peppermint in her garden and the researcher isolating menthol and everything in between.”

Below is the transcript from my interveew with Dr. Low Dog:

Dr. Low Dog, how did you come to be involved in this work of weaving natural traditional medicine into conventional western medicine? Why is this work for you?
The holistic approach to viewing health and wellness has been a part of me since I was very young. My journey began when I was a kid. My family held the belief that the body has an amazing capacity for self healing if we give it what it needs and don’t get in the way too much. Long before I went to medical school I was studying herbal medicine in the desert Southwest, where I live and where I have been deeply influenced by the richness of its multiple cultures. I began studying martial arts when I was 17, which opened a doorway to Eastern philosophy and acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. I went to massage school in my early 20’s, an amazing experience where I learned how to use the healing touch of massage and realized how much people hold in their bodies. I was then blessed with the miracle of witnessing new life when I was apprenticing as a midwife. So it was the culmination of all these experiences that has led to my philosophical approach to healing.

Integrative medicine just makes sense—it is a re-emergence of viewing the patient as a whole human being, a person with a rich story, a history and set of beliefs and a culture that you must consider in the co-creation of a treatment plan.

Was your family involved in health care; was your mother or grandmother a healer? Who were your family role models for this work?
My great grandmother was a midwife and was still alive when I was young girl. She worked with the local doctor who would come and take her with him when he had a sick patient in the community. I spent a great deal of time with both of my grandmothers when I was growing up. These strong, independent women were most definitely my role models. My grandmother knew and used a fair amount of folk and herbal remedies. This was not that uncommon in those days as people did not run to the doctor nearly as often.

Your topic for your presentation at the upcoming 2011 Integrative Health Symposium is titled: The Relationship of Environment and Human Health: Enhancing Awareness. Can you tell us about what you’re hoping to share with the practitioners in March? What are the take-away points?
The main point I want everyone to walk away with is that environmental health equals public health. Starting with the first environment of the mother’s womb, the overwhelming numbers of chemicals that children are being exposed to is deeply disturbing. I think many clinicians are startled when they actually hear the data.

I want to increase the participant’s environmental IQ. We will explore a wide range of topics including the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry, pollution and asthma and BPA in canned goods and plastics and its role as an endocrine disruptor.

I will be offering information from the neurological, respiratory, reproductive and cancer perspective. Then top it off with what we can each do to improve the health of our patients and make a positive impact in the world. We must all be more vocal and active politically in advocating for clean water, clean air, safe food and lower exposures to potentially dangerous toxins.

What is on the horizon for you? What are you working on now?
I have just signed a contract with National Geographic who has agreed to publish my book on the seasons of a woman’s life—filled with stories, lessons, tips, and herbal recipes for enhancing your health and wellbeing across the lifespan. Projected to be out in late 2011, this book is being written for general audiences.

I want to continue the work I am already doing with dietary and nutritional supplements as it is a strong area of my expertise and interest. I was Chair of the United States Pharmacopeia Dietary Supplements and Botanicals Expert Information Committee for more than a decade and I currently chair the working sub-group that looks specifically at dietary supplement safety. I will continue to guide and lead the fellowship at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and work to bring a scholarly and patient-centered approach to the field.

With continued participation at the local, national and international level in education, public policy and regulatory issues, I also look forward to my continued and expanded involvement with the women – through my writing and seeing patients. It is a part of my work that gives me great joy.

UPDATE: Hear more from Dr. Low Dog as the Integrative Health Symposium’s keynote speaker on Thursday, February 20th at 4:45 pm EST.

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