CITYWIDE — Holistic medicine seems strange and nontraditional to many, but in Santa Monica it has roots as far back as World War II.

The Santa Monica Homeopathic Pharmacy has been in business within three blocks of its current location on Broadway since 1944. It offers free consultations with homeopaths, herbalists, nutritionists, naturopaths and other staff. They can’t legally diagnose anyone, but they can tell people their options and make recommendations.

“This place is unbelievable,” said customer Mitzy Robinson, who lives in Beverly Hills. “They are all bright and helpful. They care — that’s important.”

As the debate over health care reform rages on, little has been said about homeopathic medicine, much of which isn’t covered by traditional insurance plans. Even with an economy struggling and consumer confidence shattered, there are Santa Monicans who are willing to pay out of pocket for their non-Western remedies. Why? Some do not believe drugs are the answer while others feel investing now in their health will cut down costs in the long run, keeping them out of the doctor’s office.

“We try to get down to the root of the problem,” said Kristin Rotblatt, an acupuncturist who works at the pharmacy, contrasting holistic care with Western medicine’s palliative remedies. “We pick up on things doctors no longer remember to ask about because their whole idea is what drug will repress what symptom.”

The basic tenant of homeopathy is that a small dose of whatever is causing a symptom to appear can actually solve the problem. Son of the original founders and current co-owner Bob Litvak gave the example of arsenic as a remedy for food poisoning.

He stressed homeopathy’s non-invasive qualities.

“It’s safe for infants, children, nursing mothers — anyone,” he said.

Litvak said holistic medicine’s real rise in popularity began about 20 years ago, as the public became more aware of options available outside Western medicine.

“It’s definitely a trend that’s spreading,” Litvak said.

The pharmacy often refers patrons to other practitioners of non-traditional medicine, and sometimes Western medicine as well. Some employees also have their own practices, such as Rotblatt, who makes home visits so that patients can get the full benefit of treatment — without getting completely stressed out on the drive home, defeating the purpose of treatment.

At the Dynamic Learning and Listening Center in Santa Monica, one of about 50 such clinics in the U.S., Jackson Varady plays electronically modified music — mostly Mozart with some Oriental chants — that isolates certain frequencies and essentially trains his patients’ ears to listen more effectively. For the most part, his patients are children with attention disorders.

“Drugs are just putting a Band-Aid on the symptoms, but our treatment addresses issues at the foundational level,” he said.

Outside the box

Varady’s drugless treatment appeals to customers who don’t trust Western medicine.

Michelle Holt’s son, Alex, was recently treated for an attention disorder at Varady’s center. Holt said it made a world of difference — without drugs.

“We’re not a big believer in pharmaceuticals because if you don’t take a pill one day you’re no good,” she said. “That doesn’t seem like much of a treatment to me.”

Sunset Park resident Pamela Evans, on the other hand, tried Western medicine and it wasn’t enough. Visits to a psychiatrist and a therapist did not fully treat depression’s effects.

“I needed more balance in my body,” she said of her decision to seek out acupuncture treatment. “After a while it was just amazing.”

Holistic medicine can also be a way of seeking a more active role in health care.

Through her work as a manager at the pharmacy, homeopath Sabine Amadou shares her expertise with the community. But, since the birth of her first child, it’s been most valuable right in her own home.

“I feel fortunate to know what I know,” she said. It’s about management, she continued, and feeling a sense of control.

“It gives people a better idea of the capacity of the body to really heal itself,” she added. “You don’t get a lot of that at the doctor’s office.”

Some customers at The Massage Place, said owner Michael Marylander, combine massage treatments with visits to a Western doctor.

“They work better together,” he said. “Taking the Advil and getting a massage loosen you up even more to take away the pain.”

And if pain isn’t severe enough to warrant a doctor visit, massage can still help, Marylander said. He estimated that 80 percent of his customers suffer from stress-related discomforts of sitting at a desk or working at a computer all day.

Cash crunch

Marylander’s businesses charge about half as much for a massage as more full-service spas, but he still considers it a luxury. And although some remedies are cheaper than traditional medicine, Litvak said, the cost of some supplements can get pretty pricey. Varady’s treatment is extremely non-invasive and can help almost anyone, he said, but at $90 a session, often for 30 or 40 sessions, it doesn’t come cheap.

Marylander and Varady have noticed a downturn in customers since the economy fell last year, while Litvak said his first quarter profits were significantly down. Most customers seem determined to make it work, however.

“I just made the commitment and decided I wanted to go an alternative route,” Holt said. “To me the amount of money was well worth it.”

Evans has been receiving acupuncture treatment from Rotblatt for six years. She has no intention of letting a little thing like the recession get in the way of her well-being.

“When something works you just make it — you incorporate it in your monthly expenses,” she said. “It’s no different from women getting facials or haircuts.”

Litvak said the recession does have some benefits, as well.

“We’ve had people coming in who we haven’t seen before,” he said, suggesting that some might be attracted by the free consultations because they can’t afford a regular doctor in the recession. “I understand with what they charge people.”

Even with health insurance, medical care can be expensive — a subject that’s dominated recent headlines nationwide. But most of these holistic treatments aren’t even given a chance of coverage.

Customers are outraged.

“I was sick!” Evans exclaimed. “And if it’s acupuncture that takes care of it, then, yes, it should be covered.”

Evans said her friend’s acupuncture treatment was covered because she had recently been through chemotherapy. And in special cases such as car accidents, Marylander said, massage can be covered.

“I’m sure there would be some abuse, though,” he cautioned. “It feels really good to get a massage, so I guess they’d be more likely to go get massages if they knew they weren’t paying for them.”

Santa Monica is of course, Litvak said, “a little more liberal that other places.” But there might be other reasons behind the popularity of non-traditional medicine in the area.

Rex Wilson, a naturopath at Nature Way Systems in Santa Monica, attributed that receptivity to beach culture.

“There’s been a long tradition — with the beach here and the Venice gyms. For decades it’s been a center for body-building culture,” Wilson said. Today, he continued, many people in the entertainment industry continue the trend of seeking natural medicinal methods.

“People are also very educated and financially prosperous, and those people tend to be much more interested in natural health care these days,” he added.

Marylander agreed.

“It goes hand-in-hand with being a little more wealthy.” he said. “They’re willing to spend more money to explore and solve their health problems without having to take a drug or have surgery.”

And holistic treatments could get more popular still. Recently, Varady has noticed more people becoming aware that some attention disorders can be caused by an auditory issue.

“This is like chiropracty or acupuncture 20 years ago, when people would look at you like you were nuts,” he said. “Within the next few years, this will be considered mainstream.”

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