by Evelyne Vivies
Cristina Albertolli Todd moved a lot growing up due to her dad’s Navy career, but her mom is an Alabama native and Cristina’s sweet Alabama accent shows that’s where she spent most of her life.
The smart and beautiful owner of Nature’s Pharmacy didn’t always want to be a pharmacist. She started her studies in pre-med at the University of Virginia, but after volunteering in the Emergency Room, she changed her mind. “Honestly it looked like it would be hard to be a good doctor and a good person at the same time.” The experiences she said were “cut throat.”
She went on to receive a doctorate in pharmacy from Auburn University in Alabama, and then decided to specialize in a residency program. “I knew I did not want to do regular retail where you are just dishing out prescription medication. I really wanted to do more alternative, natural options, and they didn’t really teach you a whole bunch of that in Pharmacy school.”
She found a community practice site in Atascadero, California, but it fell through at the last minute. Her residency director was scrambling and found a pharmacy in Dinuba that was willing to do anything to get a pharmacist there. They said, “We’ll do a residency, we’ll do compounding, we’ll do natural options, whatever you want to do, just come with us!”
Cristina loved being able to focus on patient care such as asthma management programs, diabetes, and then started the compounding pharmacy. She helped build a compounding laboratory with the idea to build it, partner with the pharmacist there, and then move it to Visalia. They expanded the pharmacy over the next few years, focusing on Cristina’s natural alternatives, doing patient consultations, saliva hormone testing, and balancing hormones.
Then the owner sold to Walgreens. “It’s a small town; most independents have a hard time surviving with all the market competition and huge corporations. So, he offered to sell me the compounding portion of the business and move it to Visalia over nine years ago”.
But what is compounding?
Compounding is the art and science of creating personalized medications. Before the advent of drug manufacturing companies basically everybody relied on compounding “Mortal and Pestle” apothecaries, who mixed up their medication. “Your great grand-dad was getting medicine from compounding apothecaries.”
And then of course there came a market for mass manufacturing of pharmaceutical “one size fits all” medications. As a pharmacist, Cristina is very familiar with pharmaceuticals and she says, “They are certainly life-saving and appropriate in certain situations. Unfortunately, in my experience the medical system tends to over utilize them, often using them as a Band-Aid that treats a symptom, but doesn’t necessarily get to the root cause of the problem. My philosophy is really to get to the root cause of the problem.”
One of the many specialties of Nature’s Pharmacy is Bio-Identical Hormone Therapy. They allow women, and men, to have access to an individualized dosage of the hormones they are usually prescribed by physicians in the synthetic, one-size-fits-all, hormone pill. Using saliva hormone testing methodology practiced at Nature’s Pharmacy they are able to customize hormone medicine.
The popularized use of Bio-Identical Hormone Therapy is for anti-aging. You might have heard of it from celebrities such as Suzanne Somers who herald its uses for pushing back weight gain, fatigue, and diminished sex drive associated with aging, and certainly from the beautiful clients that I have seen walking in and out of the pharmacy, it is working!
However, as Cristina explains, “You can have a hormone imbalance at any age. I have patients from 13 to 93 year of age. We don’t just look at sexual reproductive hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone; we’ll also look at adrenal hormones which are DHEA and cortisol, the stress hormone that negatively affects our metabolism regarding weight, energy, and immune function.”
Natural hormones are used and compounded typically in a cream, so that the hormone is absorbed through the skin in a lower dose thus bypassing the liver. They address the cortisol issue with supplements, vitamins, herbs, and lifestyle modification to help your body adapt to stress, “Because stress is what kills us.”
One of the best-selling supplements for stress relief at Nature’s Pharmacy is Rhodiola which Cristina highly recommends because of its scientifically proven results to fight the effects of stress and aging, sharpen memory and concentration, ease anxiety and depression as well as improve sexual function and block fat for lasting weight loss.
Compounded medicine is also useful in many other cases that are not necessarily natural but provide an alternative dosage form that is not available commercially. In the case of allergic reactions to certain mass manufactured pills, for example, compounding allows for the isolation and elimination of an ingredient that is contained in medicine that a patient is allergic to. In the case of pediatric medication, infants can’t take tablets so Nature’s Pharmacy will take that bulk medication and make it into a flavored suspension.
Another example is pain medication. Instead of taking a pain medication orally that has to be processed through the liver and can cause side effects like drowsiness, constipation, and upset stomach, Nature’s Pharmacy will take these medications and put them in a specialized pain gel to apply where you have the pain. Or if a certain kind of pain medication contains a narcotic, you might not be able to work because it causes drowsiness. “So, if it’s your sciatic nerve or arthritis, or for me personally I have TMJ and neck tension, you could just rub the gel where you need it. This alternative dosage allows you to by-pass the majority of your liver metabolism because you are not taking it orally and therefore decreases your side effects.”
“It’s like cooking. The possibilities are endless, that’s what so great. Every day I can have something new to help with,” says Cristina. “But the important thing is you get the triad. You have the patient, the practitioner, and the physician working together to find a solution to whatever the problem is.”
Nature’s Pharmacy even compounds animal medication. “A common problem with cats when they age is to have thyroid problems. They go hyperthyroid. So, you have this cat that is out of control. The medicine comes in the form of a tablet which is difficult for the owner to get the cat to take. We take that tablet and make it into a gel and the owner gets to rub it into the inner part of their ear.” An ear rub, I’m sure we’d all enjoy.
Big pharmaceutical companies, as opposed to independent compounding pharmacies, have very limited incentive to research natural products because they are not easily patentable. “They have a lot of money and power, and they govern everything that doctors and pharmacists are educated on including our curriculum,” explains Cristina. “So, you really have to step outside of the box to learn about alternative medications.”
Fortunately for us, we have Nature’s Pharmacy right in Visalia when we need to go outside the box to get healed.
207 W. Main Street (Inside Visalia Downtown Plaza)
Tel: (559) 734-2478
Monday—Friday 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.