In Pursuit of Wellness
by Amy M. Orr
When asked how he came to pursue his current field, Dr. Michael Alter responds, “Actually, I think the career pursued me! I grew up in a wonderfully diverse family where I was exposed to talent in a variety of the healing arts.”
He adds, “Starting in grade school, I remember doing year after year of science fair projects based on how different foods and nutrients affect the body. As a third grader, I was asked to give a brief lecture at a school assembly on the spine and how it works, using a spine model, x-rays and an overhead projector.”
Dr. Alter completed his undergraduate education at Indiana University School of Medicine before earning a doctorate, with honors, at Palmer Chiropractic University in Davenport, Iowa. He has since earned certifications or advanced training in: x-ray physics and diagnosis, chiropractic pediatrics, sports injury and extremity rehabilitation, Advanced Clinical Nutritional Physiology, and pre- and post-surgical management of cervical and lumbar disc herniation.
During his education, Dr. Alter worked as an EMT. In the early 1990s, he completed an internship and clinical rounds in Tuscon, Arizona. Dr. Alter started his own practice in 1992, joining two brothers who are also chiropractors in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and he opened a satellite office in Berne, as well.
“The Berne office grew very quickly,” he recalls, “and needed my full-time attention. Just two years into practice, we required a move to a larger facility.”
Dr. Alter moved to an office on Marshall Street in Decatur, where his practice continued to grow for the next eight years. Alter Chiropractic Health Services relocated one last time to its current location on Morningstar Boulevard—a quiet spot with tranquil views of a shallow pond.
Not surprisingly, back pain is one of the most common complaints Dr. Alter addresses. But, he also sees many chiropractic patients for headaches and infant colic, as well.
“We are not either healthy or sick,” says the doctor, “but rather always on a continuum of becoming more or less healthy, based on the lifestyle choices we make or the events that happen to us—which are sometimes out of our control. Chiropractic health care works to identify issues and address obstacles to functioning optimally and, therefore, overall wellbeing.
“The chiropractic focus is on the structural relationships in our body that ultimately influence our nervous system. The nervous system is the master control for our body.
“Things such as hormones, blood flow, immunity and, indeed, every cell in the body are directly or indirectly controlled by the nervous system. Doctors of chiropractic are uniquely-trained and qualified in this type of care, which has been proven to be safe and, often, the most effective form of non-invasive care available.”
How does one benefit from routine chiropractic adjustments? “The simple answer is that it is much easier to stay well than to get well,” responds Dr. Alter. “How long do you want to function properly? If it’s a long time, then routine wellness check-ups make a lot more sense than waiting until something breaks or becomes diseased.”
Dr. Alter’s focus on wellness doesn’t end with chiropractic services. “My latest certification is in functional medicine, and I am pursuing an additional doctorate-level diplomat degree from the American Clinical Board of Nutrition.” Following this, he plans to continue the specialty training at the Institute for Functional Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.
“I decided to go forward with the more advanced functional medicine training because of the significant number of patients that were experiencing more and more chronic disease—and presenting with these issues at an earlier age. Many were not satisfied with the direction of care they had been receiving.
“All too often, patients’ concerns about symptoms are dismissed with ‘You’re just getting older,’ ‘That’s normal for you,’ or the dreaded ‘You’ll have to live with it…at least, until it’s bad enough for surgery. No one had answers for these people—myself included—and that did not set well with me. I felt that there needed to be more options available, and functional medicine provides those options.”
So, what is functional medicine? “Functional medicine focuses on uncovering the real causes of an illness. It moves beyond managing symptoms and conditions with prescriptions, so in that sense, it is a shift from traditional disease-centered thinking to a more patient-centered approach. Functional medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms.”
According to Dr. Alter, practitioners of functional medicine operate much like detectives. “We review your history, ask in-depth questions, and, as needed, examine the genetic, biological, environmental and lifestyle patterns that can influence long-term health and create complex, chronic disease.”
In treating these patients, Dr. Alter points to nutrition as one of the “essential components of a successful recovery or wellness program.” He compares the body to a computer, and food, its instructions. “The computer will only function as well as its instructions.
“If people do not eat the proper things in the proper amounts, then they should not be surprised when the body malfunctions. Sometimes, the bad instructions tell our body to act swiftly—like in food poisoning—but more often, it is a gradual process resulting in more chronic illness and dysfunction developing over time.
“Remember that food is like instructions for your body. What are YOU telling it to do?”
While patients often come to Dr. Alter with symptoms including pain, fatigue, depression, and hormonal issues, the underlying problem may be surprising. “What I find unusual,” he explains, “is the variety of serious health crisis conditions that can stem from something many people may not realize has anything to do with their symptoms—their gut.
“Immune function depends on the health of the gut, and the majority of neurotransmitters are produced by the gut. Things like yeast or fungal infections, bacterial infections, toxins, intestinal permeability (leaky gut), stress and drugs are now found to be common factors contributing to pain, fatigue, sleep issues, anxiety, depression, attention deficit and cognition disorders, autoimmune disorders and chronic inflammatory diseases.”
Nutrition is a key to treating some of these health problems. But, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. “The majority of people are confused about what a healthy diet is,” Dr. Alter says. “One of the reasons for this is the myth that we can all thrive on the same nutritional guidelines.
“Infants, children, athletes, adults, seniors, male, female, and different ethnic groups have different nutritional needs, even if everyone is perfectly healthy. Everybody is unique and needs a different set of instructions based on their heredity, stress levels, etc.
“What works for one person is not necessarily right for their neighbor. It’s important to understand and address these differences.”
This is where a functional medicine physician can help—“prescribing” the nutritional elements that are best suited to an individual’s needs. And, Dr. Alter is ready to help.
“A top priority for me is to recognize that I am the right doctor to give you the help that you need—or to recognize that I am not. If I honestly feel that there is a better option for you, I will do everything in my ability to get you to someone who can help you.
“It is beneficial for both of us for you to reach your health goals, so my promise to all of our patients is that, to the best of my ability, I will not waste your time or money, and that we all will do our very best for you.”