The Bare Necessities: Natural Remedies in Veterinary Medicine
With Alexia Tsakiris
MIDWEST VETERINARY CONFERENCE PREVIEW SERIES See All Episodes »
Scientific advances have made modern veterinary treatments very effective, but let’s face it: They don’t always work. You and your team can be doing everything right, but the patient just doesn’t improve. What do you do when conventional options have run out?
For Dr. Alexia Tsakiris, the answer is to get back to nature. Her approach is to integrate herbs—along with other therapies, such as acupuncture—into traditional treatments to improve not just the symptoms, but the entire patient. This holistic philosophy has guided her practice over the course of her career, leading to improved outcomes for both animals and their people.
In this episode, Dr. Tsakiris joins us as we continue our 2023 Midwest Veterinary Conference Preview Series. She shares how she went from a 100% conventional practitioner to an integrative medicine vet and offers compelling reasons for giving it a try. She also gives listeners a sneak peek at her sessions at the MVC, which center around the use of herbs and how any small animal practitioner can begin integrating alternative therapies into their everyday practice.
BVetMed, CVA, GDVWHM, RH (AHG)
A graduate of the Royal Veterinary College, Dr. Tsakiris found her passion for integrative medicine early in her career and has been using it ever since. She owns Naturopawthic Veterinary Wellness Center in New Jersey.
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Registration for the 2023 Midwest Veterinary Conference is open! Featuring 300+ hours of live and on-demand CE in 25 tracks, 75 expert speakers, and more than 100 exhibitors, this is another event you won’t want to miss!
Photo by Oscar Sutton on Unsplash
Krysten Bennett: Thank you for taking a few minutes out of your day to join us on the show. We really appreciate it.
Alexia Tsakiris: Thank you for having me.
KB: So, before I embarrass myself, could you help us with the pronunciation of your name?
AT: My first name Alexia. So it’s like Alex and then SIA. And then my last name, Think of it as like a C-H: Cha-keer-is.
Mia Cunningham: Shakira, Shakira!
AT: I have had clients call me Dr. Shakira. I’ll take it!
KB: There’s definitely worse people to be compared to.
AT: I know. I love her.
KB: So, to start off, do you just want to introduce yourself to our listeners, tell us what you’re all about?
AT: Absolutely. I am Dr. Alexa Tsakiris. I graduated from the Royal Vet College in 2005 and have been making my way through this field of veterinary medicine ever since. I started out as a totally conventional vet. And about a year, two years into practice, I was really frustrated with how things were going, how my cases were going. I had this super supportive chief of staff who I’d go to her and be like, “This is what I’m doing. Am I doing anything wrong?” And she was like, “No, you’re doing it right.” But things aren’t getting better with these cases. Like, what the heck? And so I happened upon some lectures in acupuncture at a conference out in San Diego, and I was, like, totally engrossed. I didn’t want to leave the room. Acupuncture just really was calling me, and I signed up for the course, which is then where I was exposed more to herbal medicine and how we can use them in our patients. And my whole world was just opened up to other ways I can help my patients. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.
MC: Awesome. Well, we are excited to have you as a speaker at next year’s Midwest Veterinary Conference. Part of this is we wanted to give our listeners just kind of a teaser about your sessions and what you’ll be speaking about. So would you be able to just give us an overview of the subject matter you’ll be covering?
AT: Absolutely. So, my first one is the introduction to Veterinary Western Herbal Medicine. And here I will do my best to influence everybody as to why they should start to add herbs into their practice, because I think it’s really a great addition to any practice at all, no matter if you’re a GP or a specialist. Also, I’ll talk a smidge on the history and what a holistic approach to a patient is. That’s looking at the whole patient and not just trying to treat the disease. And I’ll cover how adding herbs into the practice isn’t just good for your patients—because you will get better results. But also it helps us in that frustration of, how else can we help our patients in these really frustrating cases? Herbs can be a really, really nice addition to these cases. And for me personally, I found that frustration to be part of the few times that I have burned out. And I think it could be helpful for all of us because, unfortunately, it seems like everybody’s burning out these days.
The other sessions, let’s see… I have top five herbs for practitioners. So here I want to give my colleagues a few herbs to be able to go back to their practices with, start to be able to use them. Because why are we sitting on these lectures if you can’t go home and start to do something? Theory is great, but let’s get in there, because that’s really how you start to see what vibes with you and see how it’s helping. And then maybe it takes some more interest and you want to learn some more.
And then herbal medicine for the stressed-out pet, which is near and dear to my heart. Even before COVID, I was seeing many behavior cases. But especially since COVID—which I feel like every other vet out there—my behavior case load has gone up quite significantly. But it also really was interesting during the peak of COVID when we weren’t allowing clients in how much better our patients did, right? Like it was really amazing. I had like that 2% maybe, where they needed mom or dad with them. But for the most part, I was having patients who they would be antsy in the room with their parents. They’d come in and they lay down and be like, here I am, let’s do this. So there’s a lot of lessons there for us. So we’ll explore herbs that will help. We’ll look at why everybody is stressed out and how I approach my stressed out patients.
The other session that I have is phytotherapy for the endocrine system. Part of this lecture, I’ll continue to talk about the stressed-out patient, because we’ll be looking at the HPA axis, but also the thyroid, adrenals, pancreas. So looking at herbs in how we can support those patients, especially on conventional medications, it’s this thing of like, what else can we do to really help them out?
And then my last sessions are going to be integrating herbs into general practice, where I’ll be presenting case studies, because it’s really how you can see and how I can best describe and show how adding herbs into these cases really, really helps with the outcomes. And so that’s what I’ll be doing.
KB: I’ve always thought of—and maybe this is just a misconception of mine—but I’ve always thought of herbal medicine as being more Eastern than Western. Is that a common belief, or are there separate kinds of herbal medicines?
AT: Yes, like everything else, we’ve become very reductionistic and we’re, like, this is what herbal medicine is. But yes, so there’s Eastern, absolutely. So, like, traditional Chinese. But then also we kind of clump Western—it’s European, Native American, Greek, Unani tibb. At the end of the day, all cultures had herbal medicine. It’s just as it’s kind of coming back into mean state medicine, let’s say now, it’s learning more and more about what other cultures were doing. And so, yeah, there’s a ton of different herbs out there from different cultures.
KB: Okay, so it’s named that way because of the plants native to that particular region. Like Chinese herbal medicine uses herbs found in China.
AT: Exactly, yes.
KB: Okay, I got you.
AT: And that’s the thing, right? Chinese herbal medicine is fantastic. That’s really where I kind of I started. But then I was like, wait a second—because my brain goes to crazy places. I was like, what if I wanted to grow the herbs? I can’t grow certain herbs. They can only grow in China because, like, there’s certain elevations and whatever it is. So what are we growing here? And then also, I grew up in a very Greek household where, like, there were certain things like oregano that you can’t live without—for everything from, like, seasoning to if you have food poisoning, you better drink Oregano tea. So it was like, Wait a second. Let’s also start to look back at my own culture and what we use. And then here, what can we grow here in New Jersey and kind of go from there?
KB: Interesting. So is there anything specific that you want to highlight about your sessions to kind of pique interest? Any surprising or new research areas or unique methodologies?
AT: I think something that we all need to remember is that, like everything else in life, things are evolving, right? And we’re learning more, and there’s more research out there. And we’re also a very research-driven profession, obviously, as we should be. But we’re also looking at, like, what do our clients want? What are they looking for? And so I found a fun statistic: In 2012, Americans spent $30 billion out of pocket on complementary health approaches for humans, according to the NIH. Now it is from 10 years ago, so it’s probably a lot more now, but that’s a lot of money. So people are looking for more answers. They’re looking for how to stay healthier, how to keep healthier, and obviously, our current medical system isn’t doing it. Otherwise, they’re not spending $30 billion out of their pockets, right? And in the global pet supplements, market size will be expanded to reach $2.1 billion by 2027. This is a huge, huge market.
And I’m not saying that what we do is driven by money, right? But obviously, people are looking for more, and they don’t feel like they’re getting the support that they need. And so, instead of having them go online, asking Dr. Google or buying random supplements, where who knows what the quality control is? Who knows what’s actually in these supplements? How else can we be helping our clients? Why don’t we educate ourselves a bit more, so that they can come to us, and we can help them and we can teach them and we can give them more of the answers. We can actually have good-quality supplements on hand, or at least companies that we know of that we can recommend—so that people are not just kind of willy nilly trying to treat their own pets. They should be able to trust us. And so, I think for us as a profession, we can start to really collaborate and add these things in. Even if practitioners don’t want to add herbs into their practice, because if you’re doing surgery, you’re doing GP, you’re doing euthanasias, like, at the end of the day, who has time to learn a ton more? Maybe not everybody, but to be open and say, “You know what? I sat in on this lecture. There’s a ton of data behind all of it, how it all helps. I’d love to refer you to a colleague.” And then, this way, we all can work together for the benefit of our patients. So it can go many different ways, because I don’t think everybody needs to try to be a specialist in everything, but to be open so that we can see medicine kind of moving forward and not being stuck.
MC: Where can attendees go online to find you if they want to seek out additional information? Do you have a social media imprint or email address that they can touch base with you?
AT: On Instagram, I am @naturopawthic_vet because I love a good play on words. So instead of naturopath, I’m a naturopawth. And let’s see, my websites are naturopathicvet.com. I also have AlexiaTsakiris.com, where I also have some information on the Women’s Veterinary Collective and Kefi Collective, which I founded during COVID when we all needed a little bit more support.
I also have a few publications if anyone’s interested, on reading how we use some herbs for alpacas. It’s fantastic. I also have an article coming out in the journal for the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association in January on ADHD in our dogs, because I’m currently obsessed with that topic right now. And so it is fascinating. Did either of you know that we use dogs as a model for ADHD in humans? And so as I’m learning more, I’m like, wow, mind blown. All these behavior cases where I would have people coming in, they’re like, I swear, my dog’s got ADHD, and it turns out they probably do.
KB: Wow, that’s really fascinating. I smell another podcast episode!
AT: Oh, my God, it’ll be so much fun.
MC: Can we use my dog as subject matter?
AT: 100%. We might have to talk about you too!
MC: Well, thank you. Is there anything else you wanted to add to the promo?
AT: How else can I invite people in to come to listen to the lectures and learn some fun things and some great takeaways? And maybe even if it’s just, like, a pique of an interest, that maybe it’s not even herbal medicine. Maybe it’s something else that I inspire them to go and do.
KB: I found that free food is very persuasive.
AT: We’re all college students at heart! Free food, throw a little alcohol in there.
KB: Absolutely. Although aren’t you speaking in the morning?
AT: Mimosas! Yeah.
KB: There you go. Awesome. Well, my interest is definitely piqued, for sure, so might have to pop in and check it out.
AT: Pop in, please do. Love to have you!
KB: Well, thank you for doing this. This has been really interesting.
AT: Thank you for having me.
MC: We look forward to seeing you in February.