By Jean Lotus
Two brothers interested in medicine: One looked west, one looked east. The Harris brothers, Matthew and Mitchell are both doctors, of a sort. Matthew Harris is a board-certified dermatologist while Mitchell is board-certified in acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.
Last week, they opened an office together in Forest Park, an experiment in combining eastern and western approaches to medicine.
"Eastern medicine is alternative, but it's also complementary," said Mitchell Harris. "Acupuncture doesn't require surgery, it's non-invasive. Unlike medications, it has no side effects."
"I have patients where I run out of things to do," said dermatologist Matthew Harris, who lives in Oak Park. "Or the choices they have with medications are not what they want to do. Skin is pretty complicated and Western medicine is slowly focusing on symptoms — and how the balance between what's inside and what's outside affects the skin."
Acne, for example, is a condition treated commonly by dermatologists. But no one really knows why it occurs, or why it breaks out in some people and not others, Matthew said. Acne is often complicated by stress, teenage hormones and diet. That's why medications don't always work, and why they often take several weeks. Treating the lifestyle of the patient can change stress and anxiety levels — possibly helping the body heal more naturally without the use of steroids or other strong medications.
The Harris brothers are trying to "fill in the gaps," between the two forms of medicine, they say. Their office is in the Women's Medical Building at 7339 W. Madison St., but the brothers see male patients as well.
The doctors Harris grew up in a family of physicians in Indianapolis. Their father is a retired, board-certified neo-natologist, and an uncle is a cardiologist.
How do the parents of these doctor-siblings feel about the new partnership?
"They were ecstatic," said Matthew. "My father is retired now. He and my mother drove up from Indianapolis the first day we opened this location — and to see their grandchild. They walked right into the back [of the office] and were inspecting everything. They never thought their two sons would have an office together since we were coming at medicine from two separate angles."
Matthew graduated from Indiana University Medical School and did his residency in New York City. But when he experienced back pain, he took a chance with non-western medicine and tried acupuncture — which he says worked for him.
Mitchell studied Traditional Oriental Medicine at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego, then traveled to Chengdu University Hospital, living and working in China to learn traditional Chinese medicine. He is accredited by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
"The Chinese have the longest-running written pharmacopeia for 400 herbs and their properties — what they do and how they react with each other," Mitchell said, adding that Western medical studies are "a decade behind" in testing and analyzing herbal drugs and interaction because "drug companies pay for the research." After all, you can't patent an herb. "They're dragging their feet," he said.
Mitchell insists herbal medicine is nothing to dabble lightly with, and he stresses that studies in China are the equivalent of a clinical doctorate, giving him expertise in the ways herbs work and interact.
"Context is everything in Chinese medicine," he said. "It's important to have the contacts who speak Chinese to be able to ask about treatments." However, all herbs he uses are grown and processed in the United States under U.S. quality controls. "That's important to know," he emphasized.
Having gone through traditional medical school, Matthew Harris says Western medical studies don't really focus much on Eastern methods. "They don't know who to trust," he said. "There's so much information out there, and it would take a long time to become an expert on it." He said most traditional doctors do not have Eastern medicine "on the radar."
"There's not a great communication between the two fields," he added.
As brothers, however, they do communicate, which they say helps them serve patients on all levels. "The great thing about this integrative practice is that we can bounce things off each other," said Mitchell. "We can look at studies and say, 'Have you seen this? Can I try this?'"
Both brothers have other offices, Matthew Harris in Hinsdale and Mitchell Harris in Lakeview.
Along with treating serious skin problems, Matthew also provides beauty and cosmetic services such as botox, fillers and chemical peels as well as leg vein treatments. Mitchell frequently sees patients for allergy treatments, pain management and fertility acupuncture. There are also cosmetic acupuncture treatments for the face and neck that are cosmetic alternatives to botox, he said.
"There's communication here — and collaboration," said Mitchell. "'Integrative medicine' is a buzzword, but this is really it. It takes a special doctor who respects other modalities and tries to understand them."
"This is about patient care," said Matthew. "I want to offer my patients something that is not being offered elsewhere. I know my brother has good training. I can actively support a doctor who has expertise."