Dr. Nicole Ortiz knows firsthand that the Coachella Valley sets the standard in the quest for a healthy lifestyle. She founded the 1,400-square-foot Live Well Clinic in La Quinta six years ago with another doctor. Within three years, the practice expanded to nearly 5,000 square feet and now offers a team of 15 integrative health doctors, practitioners, and staff.
“I think it is evident that integrative medicine (the combination of conventional and holistic practices) is wanted and needed by our community,” she says. Her practice offers multiple specialties, including naturopathic primary care, preventative cardiology, oncology, natural joint regeneration, and the newly added pediatric naturopathic primary care. Additionally, patients can find nutritional counseling, yoga, hypnosis, and massage.
A past board member of Women Leaders Forum and recipient of the 2013 Top Women in Business Entrepreneur Award, Ortiz shares her philosophies on healthy living.
How did you choose naturopathy?
A combination of experiences led me down this path. I remember playing doctor at my grandmother’s house since I was about 6 years old; I took out all my grandmother’s herbs and vitamins and gave them to my “patients” — my dolls. My parents also taught me healthy movement and eating was the key to staying well, something I still practice.
As a high school senior, I had the opportunity to mentor every afternoon with two doctors, an oncologist and a neurologist, at the local hospital in Janesville, Wisconsin. It was there I realized my true calling is to be a doctor. However, I realized they didn’t have the time needed to talk to patients about diet, lifestyle, mental attitude, and belief systems. For me, I wanted to talk about these “medicines” rather than hand out drugs.
While studying at Miami University, a life-changing opportunity presented itself. I traveled alone to Ecuador for research on integrative healing, since it’s a Third World country that employs both Western and traditional folk medicine. This taught me that medicine goes beyond pills and technology. In many cases, the power of the mind or the trust in the healer played a significant role in whether the patient recovered. I saw firsthand that addressing the body, mind, and spiritual components of illness was vital to healing.
When I returned to the States, I began looking for doctoral studies that embraced the philosophy I believed in for healing — preventative and natural. It was then I found naturopathic medicine. I loved the idea that I could be a doctor who focused on natural medicine and diet more than drugs and surgery. I applied to the best doctoral program with this philosophy of medicine — the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon — where I went on to receive my doctorate in naturopathic medicine.
Why did you choose the desert for your clinic?
I chose the beautiful desert because it fit my priorities for a healthy, happy residence. The valley is conducive to an active lifestyle, with abundant sunshine, opportunity for entrepreneurship, an educated community, low operating costs, access to fresh food, and no rush hour. And one of the greatest draws to the valley was the need for naturopathic medicine in the area.
I find Coachella Valley residents to be well-educated and forward-thinking, active beyond their years, and looking for health practices that are more on the preventative side of the spectrum — I couldn’t think of a more welcoming community to start a practice in.
What is the difference between a naturopathic doctor (N.D.) and a conventional doctor (M.D.)?
The difference is truly in philosophy. Naturopathic medicine is focused on prevention and the ability to create health through healthy practices. Although trained in pharmacology, naturopathic doctors utilize vitamins, herbs, and natural therapeutics as much as possible.
In addition, N.D.s diagnose, treat illness, and can perform outpatient procedures. Like medical doctors and osteopaths, they rely on blood work and tests to make diagnoses. Naturopathic doctors welcome opportunities to work with a patient’s medical doctor to discover the underlying reasons why someone is not feeling well and firmly believe that the future of medicine is in integration. Two great minds are always better than one.
How do allopathic and naturopathic medicines complement each other?
There will always be a need for emergency care and surgical procedures, but for the majority of us, prevention through daily self-care, some supplemental support, and a diet that promotes health can keep us away from the need for reactionary medicine after disease has set in.
A common assumption is that naturopathic doctors are against conventional allopathic medicine, but this is far from true. Optimal care is best provided by a team, and N.D.s are one part of the greater team. There are times when we shine, and times when specialists or other medical providers are best suited for the patient’s needs. We refer out to specialists and the ER regularly.
I like to say to my patients, “My goal is to keep you healthy enough that you never need to land in the cardiologist’s office. If I am doing my job right and helping you lead a life of health on a daily basis, there will inevitably be less trips to the specialists for emergency intervention.”
I think there is a general misunderstanding about what the natural preventative philosophy of medicine is. Naturopathic doctors actually have more schooling courses than their M.D. counterparts. They are required to learn the same science and pharmacology but also specialize in herbal and nutritional medicine. We are held to the same standards of care and ethical standards as M.D.s and D.O.s. I see the evolution of collaboration happening more and more when I travel around the country training doctors about preventative cardiology practices.
What are the current trends in accepting naturopathic medicine into the Western allopathic model of care?
Naturopathic medicine is part of a larger movement in medicine driven by the needs or desires of the people. Americans are becoming more conscious that health is a result of healthy lifestyle and prevention. Across the nation, we are seeing more integration of the two forms of healing. From integrative centers in the primary care setting such as Live Well Clinic in La Quinta to naturopathic doctors on staff at oncology units in major hospitals, there is the beginning of understanding on how each philosophy in medicine can complement the other.
Is naturopathic treatment generally covered by health insurance?
In the state of California, there is not complete insurance coverage for our services; however, we run our lab testing through insurance when possible.
What illnesses or diseases do you see more than others here in the desert?
Many valley residents come to our clinic for reduction of allergies, whether it be from the seasonal scalping or the small particulate matter that is present in our air from all the sand. Optimizing your immune function can support you through a season and decrease your chances of getting an upper respiratory or sinus infection that often accompanies the allergies.
We also see a large population of patients looking for natural pain relief. With age come degeneration of joints and arthritis. Also, we see a lot of golfers, tennis players, and bikers who have athletic injuries because of their active lifestyle. We utilize prolotherapy and Platelet Rich Plasma therapy to help regenerate healthy tissue in joints, thereby decreasing pain while avoiding surgical intervention.
Finally, we see many patients for optimization of hormones or preventative approaches to healthy aging. Residents of this valley are more educated and motivated to take charge of their own health through preventative approaches to living a full life. They often come in for preventative cardiology screens, food allergy testing for optimal nutrition, and bio-identical hormone replacement.
What are your top health tips for people in the Coachella Valley?
Get great sleep. It’s the secret to staying healthy and young. Benefits include healthy weight, smarter mind, less anxiety, more energy, better recall, healthier hormone levels, less pain, and much more.
Social hour is healthy as long as you practice moderation. This valley is incredibly social — which is a healthy way to stay connected to your community. However, many social engagements come with alcohol and not-so-healthy appetizers. Be mindful if you are eating most of your calories in this way — your body will begin to tell you. The most common complaints are fatigue throughout the day, often from unrestful sleep, fat mass increases around waist and butt, joint pain, and body aches increase.
Stay active, even if you aren’t the exercising type or even if you aren’t overweight. If you study centenarians, you notice that they are all active in some way.
Find your passion. This gives you reason to wake up each morning and a sense of purpose. A recent study shows this is one of the greatest secrets to living a long life.