No longer a niche of the West Coast, holistic and alternative medicine and therapy providers have become a sizable presence in the Sugar Land and Missouri City area.
Nearly a third of U.S. adults have tried some type of nontraditional medicine or therapy, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“[Clients] want to avoid surgery,” Lonestar Cryotherapy owner Robert Garza said. “They want to avoid a lot of medications; they want to do something as holistically as possible.”
His Sugar Land practice uses intense cold to ease muscle pains. Reasons vary for why people seek complementary, alternative and holistic treatments although pain management is a common motivation according to NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
“I do think people like alternative medicine because it has fast results and more visible results,” said Erika Yigzaw, chief strategy officer for the American College of Healthcare Sciences.
What is “alternative?”
The NCCIH defines complementary medicine as a nonmainstream practice used in conjunction with conventional medicine. Complementary medicine usually falls into the subgroups of natural products or “mind and body practices.” By comparison, alternative medicine is a nonmainstream practice used in place of conventional medicine. NCCIH does not classify treatments as being specifically “complementary” or “alternative.”
Complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, can include chiropractors, dietary supplements, reflexology, yoga and aromatherapy, to name a few, according to the NCCIH.
A 2016 report by market research provider IBISWorld cited an aging population, a greater awareness of health and wellness spurred by the Affordable Care Act and increasing disposable incomes as reasons for the demand for these treatments.
The report also suggests that people without coverage also turn to CAM because it can be cost-effective and more accessible.
In Sugar Land and Missouri City, the population age 60 and older rose by 6 percent and by 7.8 percent, respectively, between 2009 and 2015. From 2010 to 2015, median household incomes rose by 3.3 percent in Sugar Land and by 7.5 percent in Missouri City, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Between 2010 and 2015, the median household income in Sugar Land rose from $101,611 to $104,939. During that time in Missouri City, the median household income rose from $81,854 to $87,955, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The NCCIH conducts a survey of complementary or alternative medicine usage every five years.
Spending expected to rise
IBISWorld and the NCCIH have each noted a correlation between spending on nontraditional medical providers and higher than average incomes.
In 2012, an estimated $30.2 billion—about 1 percent of all U.S. health care spending that year—was spent on out-of-pocket alternative medicine costs, according to the survey. Results from that year are still being analyzed, an NCCIH spokesperson said.
Community Impact Newspaper reported at least 10 such new businesses in 2016 compared to at least six the previous year.
Complementary and alternative regulations vary nationwide, and different Texas agencies license and certify some health care professionals but not all. Texas Medical Board spokesperson Jarrett Schneider said his office only licenses physicians and specific positions but does not inspect the facilities of alternative medical providers unless prompted by consumers.
“We’re complaint-driven, primarily,” he said.
Chiropractors and acupuncturists have their own state boards rather than the state medical board or the Department of State Health Services. The TMB and the department said they were unaware of specific regulations for opening a complementary or alternative medical business in Texas, but Theresa Buede, owner of ReConnect Chiropractic and Holistic Center in Missouri City, said she followed standard city health codes to open her business in March 2016.
“I’m a big advocate of partnering—not eliminating—with conventional medicine,” she said.
In the last three years, new complementary and alternative medical businesses that opened in Sugar Land and Missouri City ranged from Indian herbal medicine and yoga therapy to halotherapy, which allows customers to sit in rooms ventilated with salt-infused air to help respiratory illnesses and skin conditions, such as dermatitis and eczema.
Garza and Sandy Hinderliter, owner of Salt of the Earth halotherapy, do not take insurance because carriers do not cover their services.
Hinderliter said she chose Sugar Land for her practice to because it was close to home and close to customers from Katy and Houston as well as locals.
“Obviously, people have their own personal reasons but maybe feel like they didn’t get the quality of life they wanted with taking the medications,” she said of her clientele.
Ayush Wave Ayurveda Wellness and Yoga opened in Sugar Land in July. Owner Shwetha Reddy, who earned degrees in ayurveda and pharmacology in India and the U.K., said she chose Sugar Land because the southwest Houston region had a growing demand for the ancient Indian system of full-body healing methods.
Garza must be certified by the manufacturer of his business’s cryotherapy tank, which uses extreme cold on the whole body or in localized places. The treatment is popular with athletes.
“Some clients are referred from doctors, like [the Sugar Land Skeeters]players, and some are coming on their own,” he said. “It’s become more prevalent in Houston over the last year.”
Similar to Hinderliter, Buede said she chose to open her practice close to home. She pursued a holistic healing career after battling cancer for 13 years until 2011. Her treatments include an infrared sauna, massage therapy and a saltwater flotation tank for sensory deprivation—meant to relax and detoxify the body.
“My focus here, everything here is to identify and noninvasively treat toxic buildup [in the body],” she said. Buede only accepts it for some services.
A physically active and health-conscious population in Fort Bend County motivated Garza and Alvaro Medina to open their respective practices in Sugar Land.
Medina owns Medina Chiropractic Sports and Spine, he said. His student-athlete days inspired him to become a chiropractor, and Medina opened his practice last April and accepts insurance for all treatments.
He is licensed by the Texas Board of Chiropractic Examiners and inspected by the state for use of X-ray technology.
“We can neither prescribe nor take patients off medication,” he said. “That is out of scope for us.”
Terms to know
- Alternative medicine: A nonmainstream practice used in place of conventional medicine.
- Ayurveda: An ancient Indian system of mind and body healing techniques, including herbal treatments and meditation
- Complementary medicine: A nonmainstream practice used in conjunction with conventional medicine, usually with two subgroups: natural products or mind and body practices.
- Cryotherapy: An alternative medicine that applies extreme cold derived from liquid nitrogen to the body to treat tissue damage.
- Flotation therapy: An alternative medicine wherein the user floats in a shallow tank of heavily salted water intended to detoxify the body and encourage relaxation.
- Halotherapy: An alternative medicine using salt vapor to treat respiratory ailments, skin irritations and mental lethargy.
- Holistic: Treatment that is concerned with the well-being of the whole person including the mind and body.
- Reflexology: The application of pressure to specific points on the feet, hands or ears believed to correspond to different body organs and systems for the purpose of causing physical changes in the body.