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Baby Got Back

Health Wanted


Published December 14, 2005 at 5:00 p.m.

Mechanical disorders of the musculo-skeletal and central nervous systems -- which chiropractors address with hands-on spinal manipulation -- are more commonly associated with elders than kids.

But the patient waiting for an appointment on a recent morning is clearly an adolescent. And the toy table and zoo-animal mural suggest he's not the youngest treated by Shelburne chiropractors Jennifer and Palmer Peet. The boy selects a book from the coffee table: One Minute Wellness, The Natural Health & Happiness System That Never Fails. He's summoned before getting to the Peets-penned piece about chiropractic care for children.

The couple found out about the One Minute project when authors Ben Lerner and Greg Loman "asked if we would contribute because of our work with children," says Jennifer, who estimates 60 percent of their patients are kids. "I sent them pages and pages and pages, and they condensed it down to what they thought would be easy for the public to assimilate."

One Minute Wellness was published in August, and its eye-catching title probably helped land the book on The New York Times best-seller list. A mini-Bible of alternative health care, One Minute Wellness leads readers through the basics of "maximized living," which, the book suggests, can be achieved through moment-to-moment changes in one's daily life. "It takes one minute to change your mind," says Jennifer. "A lot of people will just keep doing things over and over again, not really realizing that it's ruining their health."

The fortysomething Peets have practiced chiropractic for more than 25 years in Vermont. The success of One Minute Wellness, they say, validates their approach. "Really, in just the last five years, everybody's been talking about wellness," says Palmer, a third-generation chiropractor whose mother, Helen Peet, was known as the "grandmother of pediatric chiropractic." He was named after D.D. Palmer, who founded the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa. "As chiropractors, we've been living the wellness lifestyle for over 20 years," Palmer adds. "We get regular chiropractic care; we've been vegetarians for a long time; we work out. We kind of live what the book promulgates."

Some suggestions on its pages may not sit well with all readers, however. Lerner, who also wrote the best-seller Body By God, includes a hefty dose of Christian proselytizing in One Minute Wellness. "Most scientists now realize that there's an intelligent design to life," he writes. "There are so many connections, interconnections and communication pathways going on in the body that we can't ever possibly understand how they work. And that's just how God probably wants it."

This information is presented in the half of the book called "The Facts." The other half is a fictional narrative of two families who find redemption, and love, through chiropractic care.

But if parts of One Minute Wellness are jarring to some, other parts offer sound alternative-medicine information, such as lists of natural-versus-artificial food sources, and tips on anger management. The Peets' section is straightforward, presenting statistics and summaries that back up their work in chiropractic. "A comparative study of kids raised under chiropractic versus those raised under medicine showed that chiropractic kids are less prone to infections," they write, citing a study published in American Chiropractor. "The chiropractic kids also used less antibiotics and recovered more rapidly from injury or illness."

The Peets are among thousands of chiropractors around the world who base their work not on cracking backs but on the overall health that can be achieved without drugs or surgery. Much of the practice involves adjusting vertebral subluxations, or misaligned vertebrae, to restore optimal nervous system functioning.

Though many patients initially consult chiropractors for back pain, an increasing number include the care as part of regular health maintenance. And according to the Peets, some 25 million adjustments are given to kids each year in the U.S.

"I had a child in the other day, 5 years old, who was on Ritalin and Prozac," says Jennifer. "That's not right -- there are alternative, safe methods of helping children without drugging them. Ritalin is a Class 2 narcotic, and there are side effects to it; it causes brain shrinkage, and it increases suicide in teenagers."

The Peets explain that correcting subluxations relieves the chemical irritations that cause abnormal behavior and relax the nervous system, leading to improved focus. They raised their own three children without a single aspirin and gave them regular chiropractic care.

Chiropractic treatment for some of the Peets' small patients begins at, well, the beginning. "I've adjusted babies before the placenta was born," says Jennifer. The Peets might help a couple with infertility, adjust the mom-to-be during pregnancy, and then see a child through growing pains to adulthood. "Some kids are actually told that it's normal to hurt to grow," says Jennifer. "We try to get rid of these odd notions people have about childhood."

The Peets, who recommend conventional medical care for some conditions, such as bleeding or broken bones, see plenty of pint-sized patients for a range of other conditions, from sports injuries to bedwetting, attention deficit disorders to ear infections. They have also discovered how chiropractic can work wonders on colic -- and on household happiness. "We've had family after family tell us that chiropractic care totally changed their life," says Jennifer. "Now they can go on vacations and do different things that they weren't able to do before."

Could chiropractic care help families fight off the flu this winter? Patients "find that they have fewer colds and fewer infections," vows Jennifer. "It doesn't mean that you never get sick while you're under chiropractic care, but your body functions better so you fight things off faster."

Many of their patients -- especially the older ones -- stumble upon chiropractic through Google searches. "Eighty-seven percent of people get their health information from the web," declares Palmer. "People are much more informed now about their health-care choices. As physicians, we think that's great. The more questions, the better."