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BABs of the Month: Dr. Teresa Wlasiuk

BABs of the Month: Dr. Teresa Wlasiuk

Our March BABs of the Month is Teresa Wlasiuk.

Teresa is a Doctor of  Acupuncture and Oriental medicine, marathon runner, rock climber, mother, and all-around badass. She shared with us what it's like to run a marathon while breastfeeding (ouch), why she gave up veganism, and her thoughts on natural boob jobs.

What made you want to study holistic medicine?

I always knew I wanted to help people, perhaps it’s my namesake.  The path for me started as a kid searching for truth in a world that seemed to capitalize on the opposite. I was part of the mid to late 90’s punk & Indie music scene, which lead me to veganism and heavily studying Eastern philosophy when I was 16. I was a very strict vegan for 3.5 years and learned everything I could about nutrition, which is why I eventually got my Bachelor's in Nutritional Science. I am not vegan anymore, it turned out to not be good for my constitution and many ailments got better when I reintroduced meat. As much as I wanted to, for animal welfare, there came a point where my own health came first. While completing my Bachelor's, I received internships and fellowships in cancer biology. Post-grad, I worked for the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory’s ALS - Particle Accelerator and Columbia University’s Institute of Cancer Genetics. I left science in my mid-20’s and felt lost. I had meditated since undergrad and had always wanted to do a 10-day vipassana silent mediation retreat and so I did. It was during those 10 days that I became aware of how our thoughts control our musculature. I would think of the past and certain muscle would tense up and different ones when thinking about the future. I decided to go to massage therapy school because I felt that I could help people on a fundamental level without them really knowing. The school I went to also had an acupuncture school in it. So I started getting treatments and was amazed at how it helped me. I was going to just switch majors, but a classmate of mine told me to stick with massage therapy, that it will make me a better acupuncturist and it will give me a flexible schedule while in acupuncture school. He had studied Chinese medicine and martial arts for a long time, so I trusted him and it turned out to be a great decision.

Throughout my scientific career, I always toyed with becoming an artist. I loved photography and oil painting and would say in the most humble, yet honest, way that I had a lot of talent in those areas and could have developed it into something more… but acupuncture and Eastern medicine utilize all of the areas I am passionate about. It truly is an art form in the way you choose points, there is an artistic precision about it as we are essentially microsurgeons, and my never quenched quest for knowledge is entertained because there is always so much more to learn. I feel fortunate to have found the perfect career for me.

Can you share some of the craziest healing stories you’ve come across in the world of acupuncture?

When I was in Taiwan doing an internship at a hospital, there was a doctor who would use two 3-inch dull-tipped needles per eye to trigger the optic nerve. I saw both children and adults get his treatment. Another doctor at the hospital said that the doctor had helped someone regain vision who was going blind. I tried this protocol on a patient of mine with severely dry eyes, not with the 3-inch needle, but more shallow needling. Their dry eyes and eyesight both improved immediately. They are going to their Optometrist soon and will tell me if their eyesight had improved.

I treated someone with severe Meniere’s disease. They had lost the majority of their hearing and could only really hear with hearing aids. This pathology came on suddenly after a very traumatic time almost a decade prior. By doing two treatments, this patient started hearing noises again. They did not live in the US, but I was able to find them an acupuncturist in their home country to continue the treatments. When I was pregnant, I got the sweetest baby gift from them… a small sentimental token shipped from far away. It made me realize how much I helped them. 

You’re a new-ish mom. How do you balance being a doctor with your family life?

Very delicately. I think you just do what you need to survive the first few years, which is exactly where I am at. When I was in my early 30’s studying Chinese medicine in New York, I managed a spa and also worked there as a massage therapist. On top of that, I took a heavy load of classes and clinic hours and still made time for therapy, and Kung Fu three nights a week. I was barely home and never had a day off. My father and I would use this Ukrainian saying often, roughly translated to "You don’t work, you don’t eat". He would always say that to me jokingly and I remember telling him that I was training to be a mother. I had no idea how true it was. My partner and I agreed to stay just as active as we were prior to becoming parents. We really push each other to still have lives and goals outside of work and parenthood. I also do a ton of therapy and business coaching to remain accountable to my parenting, relationship, professional goals, and my self-care.

Is it true that you pumped while running a marathon?

Yes, part of that commitment to stay as active as before was both of us signing up for the ConquerLA challenge, including the Santa Monica 10k, Pasadena ½ Marathon, and the LA Marathon. The 10k was eight weeks postpartum and I really should not have been doing anything but I pushed myself. I walked the majority of it but I completed it. The ½ Marathon was six months postpartum and the whole waking up early to get to Pasadena to wait to run, then get back home thing was awful for my breasts. They were engorged by the time I got home. I just knew I was going to need to pump on the course for the full marathon. I ran the LA Marathon at 8 months postpartum, but this time I had two dear friends meet me with hand pumps. The first was around mile 15 and my friend actually took my milk back to her house and froze it. The second was mile 20, I just ran with that pump for about two miles, pumping while running, until I found a trash can. It took me a little over 5 hours to finish that marathon but I was damn proud I did it. I would never suggest a woman do this in her first year postpartum. I needed to prove my autonomy and keep that promise to myself… If I have another child, I will be chilling for the first year postpartum.

Vegetarian, Vegan, Keto, Ketotarian, Caveman, Paleo, Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Soy-free, Atkins, South Beach… There are at least a million different ways that we’re told we should eat. If you had to choose just one, what would it be?

Oh boy, loaded question. I am all about moderation diet. I try to limit my sugar, but sometimes I want to feed my soul. My partner is in a no-grain phase and we cook the majority of our meals at home, so I follow suit. I just try to eat organic and as little processed food as possible. I am afraid to recommend strict diets to people, unless they are very ill. I have had patients who try to follow diets and end up with eating disorders without knowing that’s what they have and when they finally get help they have wrecked so much havoc on their bodies. I personally was strict vegan and vegetarian for far too long during my developing years. When I re-introduced meat to my system, I had a slew of ailments that vanished. I was really bummed because I love animals, but feeling healthy was ultimately more important. I try to limit my meat and dairy intake.

How do you think that Eastern Medicine fits into the Western healthcare system?

I think Integrative Medicine and preventative medicine is going to be the future. The Western healthcare system is already recognizing acupuncture’s efficacy now that most health insurance plans cover it. The places I see it fit are where I see the greatest results: hormonal regulation (regulating periods, menopause symptoms, transgender hormonal replacement side effects, decreasing menstrual pain, etc), fertility, pain management, digestive issues, neurological problems are just a few. With some of these pathologies, Western medicine has no clue how to help or else it throws toxic pharmaceuticals at people that have their own plethora of side effects.

What’s the next big trend in the wellness world?

I wish I knew, I would try to capitalize off of it. I do feel like genetic testing is going to get bigger and people are going to start to learning more about their genetic makeup and designing preventative medicine protocols as a result of that.

What is a "natural boob job"? Does it work?

I had a patient a few years ago ask about an acupuncture boob job. I had never heard of it and randomly two other people inquired about it within a months time. I started looking into it and found in Korea they were marketing it and found good results. I told my patient I could try, but was not promising anything, but turns out it helped enhance her breasts naturally. I imagine it is from increasing blood and fluids to the area and probably stimulating mast cells to start a cascade of reactions that increase the size. With the amount of problems they are finding from breast implants, acupuncture can be a safe alternative.

We're interviewing you because we consider you to be a BAB. What does being a Badass Bitch mean to you?

Setting goals and accomplishing them no matter what. Trusting my intuition over others' limited mindset and opinions. I ran a half marathon 12 weeks pregnant, I was rock climbing and going on camping trips well into my 3rd trimester, I had a long unmedicated labor and birth in a water bath. I heard many opinions about these decisions, but in the end was grateful I followed MY plan. When someone says that I can’t do something, I find a way to make it happen. I like pushing myself, stretching boundaries and self or societal limitations. I think we are all capable of far more than we can even imagine.

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