Unique healthcare found at the TPSS Food Co-op

by Katie Gallagher

The Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op is not your average grocery store. Along with the expected milk, eggs, produce and meats, the co-op also supports a wide variety of complementary and alternative medicines.

When entering this section of the co-op, which was founded in 1985, it is evident that the store has rgbCo_Op_NelsonGraves_Sherrock041.jpga loyal following of customers who truly believe in the healing powers of herbs and some foods.

Complementary and alternative medicines are various types of healing methods, not considered to be mainstream medicine. Unlike modern medicine which aims to attack and kill foreign bacteria or ailments of the body, complementary medicines take a more holistic approach to healthcare, according to the co-op’s website.

photo by Joseph Sherrock
47 years ago Nelson Graves began working in what they called “specialty food stores.”  Now serving on the Board of Directors at the Takoma Park Coop he is team coordinator of its Wellness Department.
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“They [complementary medicine practitioners] believe that health and
disease involve a complex interaction of physical, spiritual, mental,
emotional, genetic, environmental, and social factors,” the website
details. “CAM [complementary and alternative medicine] practitioners
treat the whole body by taking all of these factors into account.”

The terms complementary medicine and alternative medicine are often
grouped together but have very different meanings. Complementary
medicine is used in conjunction with conventional medicine while
alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine.

For example, the co-op’s website cites hypnotherapy in conjunction with
pain relievers to treat stress and reduce anxiety as an example of
complementary medicine, while following a special diet rather than
taking medications to treat ADHD as an example of alternative medicine.

Nelson Graves, team leader of the Takoma Park Co-op Wellness
Department, says that the alternative and complementary medicine
section of the co-op has been in existence from the co-op’s inception.

Beginning as a collection of various vitamin supplements the selection
has now grown into an entire Wellness Department, which accounts for
about 25 percent of the co-op’s sales, Graves said.

The co-op began expanding its complementary and alternative medicines
section of the store from high demand within the Takoma Park community.
Graves said that at the time Whole Foods did not exist and customers
did not want to drive far away to places like Washington, D.C., for
their holistic medicine needs.

The co-op responded to the call by using an outside company that
manufactures complementary and alternative medicine to finance their
own vitamin line. The company provides the co-op with the highest
quality herbs and supplements while under the TPSS label.

While the popularity of these products, “runs the gamut,” according to
Graves, most recently Graves says that the co-op is receiving many
customers seeking vitamin D supplements. Graves credits this to the
lack of outside exercise that most children presently receive, and when
they do play outside Graves says the large amounts of sunscreen used
prevent children bodies from creating their own vitamin D.

In addition to this lack of exercise, Graves says that he has also seen
an increase in parents coming in requesting help for high cholesterol
in their children. Graves recommends cinnamon, which naturally lowers
cholesterol and can decrease the early development of diabetes.

“They’re very easy and pragmatic solutions,” Graves, who has worked with herbs for over 40 years, said.

While both the Takoma Park and Silver Spring locations of the co-op
carry alternative medicine, or what Graves calls, “folk medicine,” the
demand for such remedies is much higher in Takoma Park.

“There is a higher appreciation level in Takoma Park,” Graves said.
“The attitude of the general population is a little bit distrustful of
the public standard health line, but I personally and the staff are not
substitutes to doctors, we’re compliments.”

Graves says that when a customer comes in seeking alternative medicine,
he will always ask when the customer last saw a doctor and suggests
that if their ailments persist they should contact a physician.

While in Silver Spring most customers seek natural insect repellants,
shampoos and toothpastes, in Takoma Park Graves says some of the most
popular and sought after items are Echinacea, golden seal and
aromatherapy products such as lavender.

Echinacea is only found in America and is what Graves calls a classic
American folk remedy for the common cold. Discovered by some of the
first American settlers, Echinacea raises white blood cell levels and
“responds felicitously with mucus membranes,” Graves said.

Takoma Park customers, who Graves calls, “ex-hippies whose tye dye
still shows through in the summer time,” also ask for golden seal,
which is a mild antibiotic also only found in America and used to treat
the common cold. Golden seal when used with elderberry, “an American
folk remedy,” as Graves calls it, softens mucus membranes and while it
does not wipe out the common cold, it flushes the virus of out the body
without allowing it to take hold of the respiratory track.

“Every time flu season hits there are lots of people coming with in runny noses asking for these remedies,” Graves said.

In addition to their large and varied collection of alternative
medicines, the co-op also carries a large selection of supportive
literature on complementary and alternative medicines.

Some of the titles the co-op sells include Enzymes for Autism and other
Neurological Conditions by Karen DeFelice and The Family Guide to
Homeopathy by Dr. Andrew Lockie.