Dr. George Spady came to Soldotna to work in internal medicine at Central Peninsula Hospital in 2008. Before that, he was in private practice in Portland for 20 years. He now operates two businesses – Holistic Integrative Medicine – where he sees patients for a variety of health needs – and Alaskan Boreal Herb Shop, which is located adjacent to his practice – and offers herbal products that are hand selected and either responsibly wild harvested from the boreal forest or organically grown. The company’s products are handmade in small batches on the Kenai Peninsula.
We recently chatted with Dr. Spady about his practice, the types of patients he sees, and some of his approaches to helping them. He also shared some of the unique approaches he takes to his work such as offering guided hikes, cooking classes, and gardening advice to help Alaskans live healthier.
What inspired you to become a doctor?
I always have been interested in farming and plants, and when I moved to Alaska, I started hiking and became more interested in herbal medicine. But what really changed me was a nurse I was working with who was helping me with a diabetes patient in Kenai. The woman had so much pain in her legs, she couldn’t even get out of bed. The nurse recommended a balm that her mom made from local plants. This woman, who was in her 80s tried the herbal compound and had almost immediate relief. From there, I really started looking at herbal remedies and how they work.
What are the biggest health problems you see among your Alaska patients?
Anxiety and depression are very prominent. We think it’s a small percentage of the population that suffers from depression, but I’d argue that it’s more like 40 percent of the population. Almost all of us experience anxiety or depression at some point in our life. The other patients I see a lot are dealing with something debilitating such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.
You are known for your work in genetic analysis. What is that?
I look at ancestry data and talk with my patients about it. If a person has a gene defect, we might be able to manipulate the enzymes with vitamins or minerals to treat their disease. On the other side, sometimes I find patients who are using a supplement and it’s causing them to have a problem. You can poison yourself with using the wrong supplements, too, so adding or taking away a vitamin or mineral can help with certain gene defects.
I really think that over the next decade, looking at genetics will grow into the major way we deal with diseases, to tailor-make diet and supplements for a specific patient’s gene defects. Each person is a product of their ancestry and their environment and I believe we can make dietary and lifestyle changes that will alter your disease or lower your risk of disease.
Do you have advice for things you think Alaskans should be doing to stay healthy during the pandemic?
I actually have an entire handout on that subject that I’ve been sharing with my patients. But in general, I’d recommend wearing a mask, gloves and washing hands frequently. This virus doesn’t die in cold temperatures, and Alaskans should be aware of that. I personally let the mail sit for a few days before I touch it. I think that there are some herbal supplements that can help people not get COVID or to lessen the severity if they do get it, but like everyone else, I’m still doing a lot of research about what does or doesn’t work. If I had one recommendation to give, it would be to keep your Vitamin D level up. With the lack of sun we get in the winter, a lot of Alaskans already take Vitamin D but I think it’s especially important during COVID-19. I also think that zinc, sometimes Vitamin C, melatonin, and quercetin are worth looking at.
Tell me about your Herbal Apprentice Summer Program
In the past, I’ve had people come from all over the U.S. to do an apprenticeship with me. It’s a structured program for up to six people. They put in over 150 hours of their time to go on hikes and to demonstrate their knowledge in harvesting and using herbal supplements. They write papers, practice cooking what they harvest, and make herbal preparations. As for 2021, I am not sure what the apprenticeship will look like, it may be more of a Zoom class if people are not able to travel to Alaska in person due to the pandemic.
I am writing a book with one of my former apprentices. It’s about 150 pages and identifies a variety of herbs. I also have developed some pamphlets on hikes you can do in the Kenai, Soldotna, Homer and Cooper Landing areas. All of these will hopefully be ready to publish by summer.
We heard you lead herbal nature walks. How can someone join those?
I do offer several free, open to the public herbal nature walks throughout the summer. They’re usually on Tuesday or Thursday each week and we either meet at my shop or at the trailhead. Following my Facebook page is the best way to get the most up-to-date information about each hike. We usually have between six and a dozen people show up, so it’s small and personal.
You mentioned that you have done a lot of work on Alaskan boreal herbs, tell us more about that.
I collect or grow about half my herbs that I use from local sources. . Before I decided to consider herbal uses for people I wanted to make certain they were safe. I spent a whole winter developing a simple toxicity scale that includes over 500 herbs and ranks their toxicity, based on human and animal studies, as well as traditional use. People can learn more about that at my website at www.alaskanborealherbs.com. We have a variety of loose teas, balms, and salves, bulk herbs, lip balms, tinctures,s or mist/spray/balms to choose from.
Learn more about Dr. Spady’s practice at www.holisticintegrativemedicineclinic.com or visit his office and herb shop 37030Conner Road in Soldotna. To make an appointment, call 855-436-7723 or book online on the Contact page.