We have seen a boom in clinics advertising stem cell treatments. But how true are they really? Breaking down the walls of false advertising surrounding stem cell treatments is Dr. David Gallegos, the lead physician and founder of Modern Medicine AZ. In this episode, he joins Pamela Wirth to discuss this huge boom, weighing on both the positive and negative and revealing the truth about where stem cells come from. He then shares with us how they incorporate a holistic approach to doing stem cell treatments for patients. What is more, Dr. Gallegos provides some health tips on which diet is best for anti-inflammation. So tune in to this conversation and gain more insights about stem cell treatments and how to avoid becoming prey to some false advertising.
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With me is Dr. David Gallegos, a naturopathic physician. We're so happy to have you here. Thank you so much for joining us.
It’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me, Pam. I'm excited to educate our guests and our public about naturopathic medicine.
Tell us a little bit about how you ended up getting into health and wellness and becoming a doctor.
I went to the U of A down here in Tucson, Arizona to get my undergrad degree. I always knew that I wanted to be in the medical field. I started with nursing. I wasn't getting that motivated in that field. Exploring the different options, I ended up finishing up with the pre-med. I got a couple of degrees out of the university. After graduation, during my research, that when I stumbled upon naturopathic medicine and a naturopathic degree. That is when I knew that I wanted to pursue that career because it is the best of both worlds.
My entire four years of education are already focused on primary care. We're training to learn pharmaceutical treatments and diagnostic tests, including lab work and imaging. We also learn the alternative holistic approaches that are out there including acupuncture, botanical medicine, some regenerative therapies, and IV nutrient therapies. I wanted to find something that I can tailor the treatment based on the patient's specific needs and not just put them in this bubble of, “Diabetics get this. Hypertensives get this.” I always believed that there was something else out there that can help patients improve their overall health. That's my journey and why I decided to pick naturopathic medicine and pursue that.
It's a whole other degree that takes about four years is what you're saying.
Yeah. It’s pretty comparable to any other medical degree. You need to have a Bachelor's degree before you apply. I don't know what the current measures are in terms of applying. Back then, I took my MCAT as I was exploring DO and MD programs. You then apply just like any other program and it's a four-year medical school. The first two years are pretty comparable to any other medical school. It’s all didactic information like Anatomy, Science, and all that basic groundwork that every healthcare provider needs. The last two years are where we deviate into more inclusive naturopathic teaching.
Did you find that part of the education process helped you with hands-on training like the residency type?
The only way that you're going to get live cells is by it coming from your own body.
Yeah. For the last two years, we're taking some classes, but we also do tons of rotations. We have an insite-onsite clinic at the school here in Tempe. I had a rotation in pediatrics, in the IV nutrient department, and the regenerative. They partner with Neil Riordan Center for Regenerative Medicine. They're a pretty big and well-known regenerative group. They do tons of research in Panama and they have a clinic also Florida.
Partnering up with them was amazing because they were able to bring that knowledge and that information to the school. Being able to be a part of that and have rotations within their program was fantastic. I also wanted to broaden my knowledge so I did some rotations at the emergency department with Dr. Teri Bagnasco who you had previously on the show. I also did other rotations with internal medicine docs and dermatology. We're very well-rounded in terms of our knowledge and our exposure to different diseases and specialties.
When someone comes to you and you're trying to get to the root of what's going on with them, how long do you typically spend? A lot of folks worry about not having enough time with their doctors to understand what is happening with them.
That's a big part of why I decided to pick this field because I do take my time with my patients. My initial visit lasts anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour, sometimes even more. It depends on a case by case, but we dive deep into not only why they're here but trying to understand their lifestyle and stress levels. How are they sleeping? What else could be contributing to the prevention of their body healing itself and improving their health?
Their nutrition and all of these factors play a huge role in any disease aspect. If we can understand where the patient is coming from and their specific needs, then that helps me determine and come up with a personalized treatment plan that is going to help them not only with their main complaint at that time but also change their lifestyle and prevent the development of other diseases.
Do you find that you have a certain protocol you would like to follow or a certain process? Do you send them a lot of paperwork ahead of time or do you interview them on the spot? What do you find is the best way?
I offer always a free fifteen-minute consult to everyone interested in learning more about my practice and what I do. A lot of patients do take advantage of that. We hop on a call and answer any needs and questions that they have in terms of my approach to healthcare. That's a great tool that I offered to any patient. A lot of people say that it's awesome that they’re talking to their physician. I know that a lot of times when they try to call the office, they're going to first talk to the front desk and other management people. It is hard to interview a good provider that's going to click with you and that's going to have that connection because it is a relationship. I’m big on connecting with my patients and making sure that they're comfortable, and that they’re willing to work with me in what we're going to be doing.
One of the things that I find is there are always new fads or whatever going on. I'm not even sure it's fair to call it a fad, but I was speaking with another doctor and he was saying that the answer to a lot of our problems is stem cells. He said that the cutting-edge is coming out of Panama. When you mentioned Panama, I thought of that. Touch on what you know about stem cells, what’s real and what's not. A lot of folks would find that interesting.
There have been tons of research on stem cells. Research has been coming along for twenty-plus years or even longer than that. It is becoming more popular because of the propaganda that is getting out there in the medical world. A lot of research is reassuring that it's still happening in terms of the benefits. We had a huge boom of clinics over the last 5 to 10 years that had been advertising stem cell treatments that cure it all, “We treat your joints. We can prevent you from getting surgeries, infections and cancers.”
All of this huge boom was a positive, but also a negative because some clinics took advantage of that advertising opportunity. They were falsely advertising certain treatments and certain benefits of stem cells. They were selling stem cells when there were not even stem cells or live cells within the products that they were getting. How I approach that and teach my patients the stem cell world is the only way that you're going to get live cells is by it coming from your own body.
Whether you're getting an adipose transposition procedure where they will do a small less invasive liposuction on a specific area of the body. They will either manipulate those cells minimally which is what the FDA hones in, which is minimal manipulation of tissue. They then will translocate that into an area that's affected, whether it's a knee area or a joint. They even use it for lip injections for aesthetic purposes.
The other option that you are going to get stem cells is from your bone marrow, which is where we normally get that natural production of cells. They would do a procedure where they would tap into your hip and then they would extract the bone marrow. They will process it in a specific lab, even then it's within the same treatment. They will isolate those stem cells and inject them or put them into an area that's needed.
That is the only way that you're going to get true stem cell treatments. Everything else is not stem cell. It's considered orthobiologics. There are products that are derived from amniotic fluid, either from placental tissue or umbilical cord or the actual embryotic fluid. They take donors. There are certain companies that will extract these components, do tons of testing, and make sure that it's a viable tissue. There are no infections and nothing else within that. Those can be used for different types of treatments.
The FDA has cracked down on those because of that aspect of false advertising. People are thinking that they're getting something that's going to provide huge, robust and profound healing properties and in reality, it's not. I always tell people to be cautious and careful. Make sure you do research within every clinic. If they are selling anything that says stem cell on it, make sure you ask them where they're getting it from. Also, do your due diligence as a patient.
Do you do stem cells in your clinic?
I used to do autologous stem cell treatments which are coming from your own body. What I found now is that there are a lot of different products out there called orthobiologics that provide similar positive reactions and effects to my patients. They're not going through these crazy high-risk procedures where we have to tap into your hip and the risk of infection and complications goes higher. That allows my patients to avoid some of the unnecessary risks but still get the benefits.
If clinics are selling anything that says stem cell on it, make sure you ask them where they're getting it from.
One of them that I wanted to talk about is called A2M, which stands for Alpha-2-macroglobulin, which is a protein component. We extract it from the patient. We do a blood draw on the patient. We spin and process their blood in our lab and then we can extract the plasma component, which is the liquid part of your blood from the red blood cells. Within that plasma component, we pass that solution through a protein concentrator, which is a tube that we get from a specific lab that will concentrate this A2M protein.
A lot of new research is coming out over the years on A2M showing that it can halt certain cells within the joints that cause more inflammation and degradation of the tissue and the cartilage within the joint, and can prevent the progression of arthritis and calcification of certain joints. It's a very exciting and very safe product. Again, it's coming from the patient. We're not doing anything to it. We're not adding anything else. We’re minimally processing to extract these cells and those are being reinjected into the patient. It's a fantastic product that I have seen awesome results for a lot of my patients.
I would imagine you have a demand for that similarly in people's knees.
Absolutely and that's where a lot of the research is within that protein, a lot of the knee injuries. There was new research that came out that talked about athletes, whether it's younger athletes or high-level performing athletes, that would get ACL tears or ACL damage. We already know from previous research that it leads to inflammation and that increases the risk exponentially of developing arthritis in the future. By starting a treatment like this A2M at the onset of the injury, you can prevent the degradation or deterioration of the joints so that they can avoid developing further inflammation and further damage to the area.
How often do you have to do these injections? It’s an injection, right?
Yeah. It's an injection. That depends on case by case. If we had to do it more than once, I usually recommend that we do it every 6 months to 1 year because it does take time to take into effect, start working and start doing what it needs to do. I usually do an evaluation with my patients a week after we do the injection. We make sure they're not having any complications and any pain with that. We'll do another follow-up three months later and three months later after that.
My protocol is very specific because I take that holistic approach to my patients. I look at their diets. I make sure that they're following an anti-inflammatory diet or a period before their procedure or they follow it a period after the injection. We look at other inflammatory markers. We get them on specific and targeted nutritional supplementation that's going to help with that healing and that robust response. We then get into physical therapy or even any specific bracing. We do the bracing here. We get it fitted and then that's going to propitiate the benefit or effects of the treatment.
In terms of nutrition, you hear lots of different people say different things, “I believe in paleo, keto or vegan.” Do you have one thing that you have found better than others for anti-inflammatory?
That's a tough one. To your point, there are so many different diets out there. The biggest thing that I see people with weight loss is they've tried paleo and keto, but what I approach or what I tell my patients is that it's very specific to you. Your metabolism is very different from anybody else's metabolism. How you're processing fats, proteins, and all of these nutrients is very patient-specific.
My approach is always to try to eat healthier and clean as you can. Plant-based and whole food diet is the best option for that anti-inflammatory marker. Don’t go too crazy with diets because sometimes it can be very overwhelming, especially if it's the first time that anyone is trying to do a diet. They get so overwhelmed with all this amount of information that's out there, supplements, shakes and things to do.
I always try to bring it down to the bare minimum. First is avoidance of sugars and things that we already know are going to cause inflammation, and start introducing other foods and other beneficial components within your diet in very slow progression because that's going to be more sustainable. The patient is going to adhere to that diet better. They're not going through that, “We promise 50 pounds of weight loss in three months,” and then what's going to happen after? The patient gets that rebound weight and sometimes it's even worse than before starting the diet. I'm a big proponent of that slow, steady and true lifestyle change that's going to be long-lasting and beneficial, rather than that short-term quick response.
The quick ones reverse massively many times. Is there anything that you think about that is new and different over the past couple of years that you wish you had known years ago, or anything that you see in research or is being talked about or that patients are coming to you for? Is there anything that's new and interesting?
I think that the A2M treatment that I talked about is awesome and fantastic. New research is coming out almost every week. It's overwhelming sometimes. As a practitioner keeping up with the research can be difficult with not only that but anything that is coming out. I'm a big believer in education and educating my patients about what's out there and making sure that it's the right fit. Not only because it says, "It's going to help with arthritis and this and that," does that mean that it's going to be something that you need for you specifically.
I always try to personalize my care and my treatment of my patients. I try to teach them and let them know that there are options out there aside from surgery and medications that definitely could provide a great benefit for the patient's care and their improvement in treatment protocols. Know that there's more out there than what you might think.
Probably one of the larger questions in a lot of people's minds is when I go to a doctor like you, is it cash only? Do you do a combination? Is it subscription-based? Is it fee-based? It's hard for doctors too. I've got friends with offices who are not taking insurance anymore because they said by the time they hire somebody and they fight back and forth with the insurance company, they may have made $15 an hour. What do you find is working for you as a doctor and what do you find the patients can live with and find value in?
That's a great question. The thing with insurance in my practice is we don't currently have an insurance model. However, we do use the insurance if I need to order x-rays, MRIs and tests like that, as well as labs. A lot of the time, I do very specific non-insurance-based lab work that's going to give me even more information that I'm looking for. Sometimes, unfortunately, those are not covered.
Always try to eat healthier and clean as you can. Plant-based and whole food diet is the best option for that anti-inflammatory marker.
To your point, the reason why I decided to go with a non-insurance model here in the office is providing that excellent care for my patients, unfortunately, the insurance models inhibit me from doing that. I've had a case specifically that I can tell you about. A patient came in for low back pain. We did an evaluation. I suspected there was something else going on there. I ordered an emergency MRI scan for his back. The patient wanted to go through insurance. The insurance denied the order originally. They were trying to get pre-approval.
It became two months after the original order until the patient was able to schedule. I know they didn't get it, but just get scheduled for the MRI. The patient had to go to the emergency room about a week or two before his appointment because his pain was intolerable and it was deteriorating drastically. Unfortunately, at the emergency room, they found that he has a cancerous lesion that was affecting his condition and it was causing the pain. At that time, we could have avoided perhaps the need of going to the emergency room.
We could have gone on the imaging right when I order it and gotten the referral to get him the proper treatment that he needed. For that reason and more reasons aside from that is why I decided not to use insurance in my practice because it allows me to practice how I see fit for my patients. For example, I can get a cash price deal for $240 for an MRI.
That's a massive difference from what you see in the insurance company.
Even with insurance, some people tell me, “Even though I ran through my insurance, I still got a bill of $800 or $1,200 because I haven't met my deductible or my plan didn’t cover,” or whatever the case might be. Unfortunately, the insurance model here in our country is not benefiting the patient. It's benefiting everybody else.
I believe part of your practice is you're bilingual as well. Is that correct?
I speak Spanish and English. I'm originally from Mexico City. I have tons of knowledge in terms of the language. That allows me to connect with my patients on personal and cultural levels, especially the Spanish-speaking patients. Again, going back to that relationship aspect of my patient care, I always try to connect with them to a deeper personal level because that's going to hone in our treatment or compliance and everything else is going to work better.
Is there anything else that you want to bring up or anything you want folks to know about? How would they find out more about you and your practice?
They can visit my website, which has tons of information in terms of what else I offer with regard to treatments. They can go to www.ModernMedicineAZ.com and the website is bilingual. If they are Spanish-speaking, they could check out all that information in Spanish as well. From there, they can browse through the website and see what I offer. We're updating some educational videos that we're going to put on there as well. They can also book directly the free fifteen-minute session from there or they can call us at (480) 371-3690. We'll be more than happy to chat with them and make sure that they get what they need. If it's not a good fit for me, I'm always looking for the best care for my patients. I will refer them to whoever I think will work well for them.
Do you offer telemedicine at all?
I do offer telemedicine appointments for patients. I have some patients all across the US. The new technology and the new changes in the law helped me to get to more people.
Is there anything else we need to know about you? You're an amazing individual so thank you so much.
Thank you for having me now. This awesome. I'm always happy to help and answer any questions. If you have any other questions, please reach out. I'm here for you. I'm here to get you on a better health journey.
Thank you, Dr. David
Dr. David Gallegos is the lead physician and founder of Modern Medicine AZ. Dr. Gallegos is bilingual in Spanish and English. He has always had a passion to help others improve their overall health in order to reach their full potential. In order to achieve this, he went on to complete his naturopathic medical degree at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, AZ.
He has a passion for improving health outcomes in the Arizona community. His practice is focused on anti-aging medicine, with an emphasis on a non opioid approach to pain management . He holds certifications in nutrient and ozone IV therapies and regenerative therapies.
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