Celeste Murdock Mitchell’s introduction to natural remedies dates back to her early childhood.
“My mom became diabetic when I was a 6-year-old girl,” she recalled. “Diet was always a main concern around our house. My mom was able to control her diabetes completely by her diet.”
As an adult, Mitchell was a frequent customer at a health food store and later went to work there. Fourteen years ago, she opened her own, Murdock’s Herb Pharm, on Independence Drive in Warner Robins.
She admits she expected a more open-minded reception in a city where so many workers came from all over the country.
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“We’re talking 14 years ago. It was hard when we first started. This was ‘snake oil.’ ’’ said Mitchell. “It wasn’t as mainstream as it is now, where you have Dr. (Mehmet) Oz on TV talking about the natural ways.
“This was a fight, tooth and nail, because of course the drug companies didn’t like us. But look at all the information coming out now.”
Complementary medicine has seen a surge in popularity as more people are turning to herbal supplements and other natural methods. That surge has meant more products on the shelf, with more claims about their benefits.
Mitchell counsels customers on their purchases, helping them separate fact from fiction and making sure they know about possible interactions with prescription medicines and other supplements.
For example, she had a wave of customers come in to buy gingko biloba after Dr. Oz, a frequent guest on “Oprah” who now has his own TV show, was on the air touting the herb’s benefits regarding memory and Alzheimer’s.
She talked someone out of a purchase after learning the customer took a prescription blood thinner, which can have dangerous interactions with gingko.
“As much as they ask me questions, I ask questions back of my customer. If somebody comes in for something, and they haven’t asked me any questions, I ask them, ‘What are you taking this for?’ Because I’m not a pill pusher. I talk customers out of stuff, too. I’m a firm believer if you’re not broken, why fix it?”
There are, of course, some supplements that Mitchell tells customers they absolutely should take. Women, for example, need calcium, she said.
“A good multivitamin is good because most people don’t eat well. To be honest, most things all stem back to diet and exercise,” said Mitchell, who has an exercise bike in her office.
“There are great natural anti-inflammatories that don’t have the side effects of the prescription anti-inflammatories. I’d love to see people give them a try before they get on the non-steroidal anti-inflammatories that can damage their livers or their kidneys or whatever.”
One of those natural anti-inflammatories is turmeric.
“They’re even saying that turmeric has cancer-fighting properties now,” she said. “They’re finding out so much information. They’re starting to really do some studies. But I also know there are times when you do need the doctors.”
Mitchell considers doing her homework on all the latest information just part of the job. She pointed to a recent study that links some cases of the painful condition fibromyalgia to a severe Vitamin D deficiency. Customers have come in with prescriptions for heavy doses of the vitamin.
“Vitamin D is super important, and it’s inexpensive.”
Last week, she watched a doctor’s discussion on a study that found fructose to not only be a leading cause of obesity but also a toxin.
“It’s more or less alcohol without the buzz,” Mitchell said. “It’s metabolized in the body the same way. The liver can’t break it down.
“It’s scary the way they’ve done our diets these days. ... The diabetic diet is probably one of the more balanced diets out there. Stay away from anything white — no white sugar, no white rice, no white potatoes, no white bread. High fructose corn syrup is in everything.”
The Coca-Cola Co., she noted, even added sugar to Gatorade after it purchased the popular sports drink.
“Drink coconut water,” she said. “It’s better for you, and puts all your electrolytes back in.”
Mitchell also has advice for grocery store shoppers.
“If you want to stay healthy, stay on the outside of the store. Stay out of those inner aisles. Stay where you know what it is, and it’s not in a box. And if you can’t get fresh veggies, buy frozen. They’re picked at their peak and frozen, and not put in a can.
“I’d still want organic because there are so many things now that are being genetically modified so they can produce more. That’s why we need to support our local farmers, instead of these big conglomerates who are just about the dollar.”
Donna Thompson of Warner Robins is one of Mitchell’s regular customers. She admits that at first she thought the herbal supplement business was “wacky and strange.”
“I don’t come in here as often as I need to. She tries to keep me on track,” Thompson said of Mitchell. “She’s got a good heart. She tries her best for the customers.”
“I care,” said Mitchell. “Sometimes you have to take a newspaper to customers. They have to take responsibility for their own health. Popping a pill isn’t always the answer.”
Mitchell recently was invited to speak to a gathering of active and retired federal employees and told them a lot of the same things she tells customers.
“We need to take back responsibility for our own health and well-being. And if you don’t have a doctor who’s willing to work with you and to listen, then it’s time to find a new doctor. Nobody knows your body better than you, but you have to start listening to your body, too. Stop ignoring the signs your body is giving you.”
Mitchell believes that many doctors overprescribe medication, especially antibiotics. Some of that, she said, is because patients expect, if not demand, to leave the office with more than directions to drink plenty of fluids and eat fresh fruit.
But she’s knows there are good doctors, even some who practice natural medicine. Her great-grandfather was a famous surgeon, Dr. J.B. Murphy, who operated on former President Theodore Roosevelt after he was shot in an assassination attempt.
“He bucked the system back then, too. Most doctors didn’t like him.”
To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.