I, Dr. Elena Klimenko, grew up in Russia, where three significant experiences put me on the path to being the health practitioner I am today—an American board-certified medical doctor in internal medicine, licensed in medical acupuncture, who empowers patients to take charge of their health, using the tools of acupuncture, homeopathy, and functional medicine, supported by a deep understanding of both science and the mind-body-spirit connection. Based on my training and experience, my philosophy of practice is grounded in an understanding of our bodies’ innate ability to heal. I use tools that encourage natural healing. I treat the whole person, taking the time to discover underlying causes rather than merely prescribing pills to suppress symptoms.
My introduction to a naturopathic approach to health began when I was just a child. My father, at the age of 37 was a heavy smoker, often depressed and starting to experience chest pains. But then he discovered The Miracle of Fasting, a book by Paul Bragg, a nutritionist, and pioneer in the wellness movement. He quickly realized that smoking and fasting did not go together. I watched in awe as my father’s life and health dramatically changed for the better, as he took charge of his health, quit smoking, changed his diet, and began exercising—all-important lifestyle changes. At age 42, he ran his first marathon. The second experience began when I was just six years old when my sister needed a series of medical procedures. I witnessed the importance of surgery in her life and saw how it transformed her. I decided then that I was going to become a surgeon. The third experience was a medical school in Moscow.
In 1994, I graduated from the Moscow Sechenov School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine after a six-year course of training including clinical and basic sciences, and went on postgraduate certification in laparoscopy and general surgery. When I moved to the U.S., I enrolled in internship and residency programs in Brooklyn, first, at the State University of New York (2000-2001) and then at the Lutheran Medical Center (2001-2003). From 2003-2005, I gained practical, hands-on experience in Emergency Medicine at the Trauma and Stroke Center in Brooklyn, as well as conducting research projects on “The Effect of Acupuncture in Labor and Delivery” and “The Nature of Health and Healing in Definition of Healthcare Practitioners.” In 2004, I started on another important path in my life, providing primary care to an important and often overlooked indigent population, with a history of substance abuse, psychiatric disorders, HIV at the New York Diagnostic Center (2004-2007) and later the International Center for Disabled (2007-2012). I currently provide continuity of care for many of those same patients on a part-time basis at the Institute for Family Health—one of the few places where acupuncture and other alternative and integrative therapies can be offered to those who would not otherwise have access. But the approach in the U.S. wasn’t what I had envisioned, and I felt there were serious gaps in the medical model I encountered. There was nothing in the training about how to teach patients about nutrition. Unlike in my training in Russia, there was no discussion of ways to work with the body instead of against it. The emphasis in treatment was on finding the right pharmaceutical to suppress symptoms, not on addressing the underlying root cause of the condition. So during my third year of residency in 2003 when it was time to choose a specialty, I started looking for alternatives. I wanted to find out where I, as a doctor, could learn about nutrition, follow the mind/body connection, and serve as a teacher to my patients, inspiring and guiding them on the path toward taking responsibility for their own health. Thus, began an ongoing commitment to continuing education, as both a student and a teacher.
I enrolled in a fellowship in Integrative Medicine—a global term popularized by Dr. Andrew Weil to describe a way of putting together conventional and alternative medicines or different cultural methods of healing—at Beth Israel Continuum Center for Health and Healing and graduated in 2005. At around the same time, I also began to study medical acupuncture—its 2000-year history encouraged me to learn more about this traditional Chinese medicine that addresses the free flow of chi (energy). I became convinced of the efficacy of acupuncture through my own experience of being treated and experiencing deep changes that I never experienced before through any other means including diet, exercise, or psychotherapy. It was deeply moving and affected me both emotionally and physically. In November 2004, I studied at the Helms Institute for Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, UCLA, a six-month program for licensed physicians in a primary care setting. I found that acupuncture was a useful tool in my medical practice. At the Montague Pain Management (2007-2011), I provided injections and acupuncture treatments for patients with acute and chronic muscular-skeletal pain. It was an encounter with a patient that piqued my interest in homeopathy. A patient came in with a blue tube of Boiron pills and asked, “Is it OK if I take this for bloating?” At the time, I wasn’t sure what was in that blue tube. I followed up on my interest at the Center for Education and Development of Homeopathy in New York in 2005 and completed an 8-month course for physicians in the homeopathic treatment of a variety of diseases and medical conditions. I learned that the principle of homeopathy is based on a natural phenomenon of healing, a principle of similarity between disease and medicine or “like treats like.” This natural law of healing was identified by Hippocrates (460-350 BC) who wrote: “By similar things a disease is produced and through the application of the like is cured.”
In practice, the way it works is by using infinitesimal quantities of highly diluted natural substances that provoke the pathology to trigger the body’s innate ability to heal it. The amounts are so small, that there are no adverse side effects. The active ingredients in homeopathic medicines are diluted plants, animals, and minerals that relieve the same symptoms they cause at full strength (i.e., a microdose of coffee bean helps relieve nervousness). Homeopathy can relieve acute health conditions such as allergies, coughs, colds, flu, stress, muscle pain, and teething. Homeopathy is also very effective for chronic medical and psychological health conditions, such as anxiety, nervousness, and depression. As I learned more, I started experimenting with my own and my family’s health and was completely converted, and now use it as an adjunct to conventional therapy. Simply put, homeopathy makes conventional medicine work better. However, to be effective, it must be customized to the individual, the source of the problem must be identified in order to find the appropriate treatment. The goal of homeopathy is to bring you back to balance. Ultimately, it was functional medicine that really put it all together for me. In 2007, I began a three-year certification program at the Institute for Functional Medicine, where my course of study included a course in applying functional medicine in clinical practice and six advanced practice modules in Gastro-Intestinal; Detoxification; Immune system; Endocrine; Cardio-metabolic and Energy Regulation. Functional medicine teaches you how to get to the root of the problem, by closely examining the patient—looking at the skin, nails, tongue, mucus membrane—as well as using diagnostic tests, to get much more information about the individual and to spend more time on evaluation, putting the whole body in a matrix to understand how the different systems of the body work together congruently. If one system goes out of balance, the others follow. Functional medicine’s principles mirrored much of what I was already doing: Forming a partnership between patient and practitioner, using the body’s innate ability to heal; taking into account internal (mind, body, spirit) and external (environmental) factors; understanding and addressing unique nutritional needs of each human based on genetics, lifestyle and environment and promoting overall wellness instead of just looking at disease. Overall, functional medicine neither rejects conventional medicine nor accepts alternative medicine but uncritically recognizes that good medicine is based on good science. And it trains practitioners to be a model of health and healing—to set an example of a healthy lifestyle and to inspire clients to do the same. Bringing all my training and experiences together, I help clients with chronic, long-standing unresolved issues, metabolic issues, hormonal imbalance, and autoimmune diseases. Specific issues I have helped ameliorate include hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol; gastrointestinal (GI) distress; irritable bowel syndrome; thyroid problems; rheumatoid arthritis; fibromyalgia; chronic fatigue—by finding the root cause of disease. “Trust your gut” is a common phrase that has its source in the fact that our GI is a “second brain,” that is often trying to tell us something. A clenching or cramping in the stomach, constipation or diarrhea, maybe reactions to emotional or physical stress, food sensitivities, or many other sources. My job is to help you understand what your gut is trying to tell you—and to guide you into making changes to alleviate those problems.
I also have a special interest in addressing the anti-aging concerns of my clients with customized, non-invasive cosmetic procedures such as Botox and dermal filler injections, while also opening up their understanding that the skin is a reflection of your health, a mirror of your internal organs. So rather than just address the surface, I help my clients to see the literal meaning of the expression that beauty comes from within. An important part of functional medicine is the commitment to the process of self-exploration and self-development, to invest in improvement, continually working on yourself as a practitioner by continuing to learn and study as a student and as an educator. Since 2007, I have been a member of the teaching faculty of Continued Education and Development In Homeopathy (CEDH), a New York-based international organization, lecturing to American licensed practitioners on the basics of clinical homeopathy.
The principle of balance is primary in all aspects of life and health. I maintain my medical practice with the partner and balance work with my home life as a mother.