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The Face of Medicine Is Changing on NYC’s Upper East Side

Two doctors are laying new groundwork in the world of natural health—with shocking results

There may be hundreds of doctors’ offices on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, but it’s safe to say none are like The Ash Center for Comprehensive Medicine. Located on the second floor of a high-rise on Fifth Avenue and 61st Street, The Ash Center, started 30 years ago by Richard Ash, M.D., is more reminiscent of a spa than a doctor’s office. The waiting room is all creams and beiges with end tables stacked high with fashion magazines and art-y coffee table books. Even the lighting is spa-like—there’s not a single fluorescent overhead bulb in sight.

Beyond the reception area is a room with leather recliner chairs draped with luxurious fur throws in beautiful browns and grays and long windows that reveal a stunning view of Central Park. The space feels like the kind of room you wait in before getting a massage, yet strategically placed medical paraphernalia quickly reminds you that it’s not—it’s where Dr. Ash performs a number of treatments, including vitamin C nutrient drips and gastrointestinal testing.  

Dr. Ash’s practice is as unconventional as his office. Although he trained in internal medicine at the Medical College of Pennsylvania, he has been a sought-after alternative medicine doctor for the last 30 years. Ash, 67, turned to alternative medicine in 1985 while seeking treatment for chronic joint pain. His doctor put him on prednisone (a type of steroid), and though it helped at first, “it caused me to gain weight, raising my blood pressure and making me sick,” says Ash. “I said to myself, ‘I can’t stay on this. I’ve got to find another way.’”

After researching alternative remedies, he changed his diet to minimize his body’s acidity and inflammation and, after eight months, he was able to stop taking the steroid drugs. “I discovered there was a whole world of treatments out there that I didn’t know about,” says Ash. Convinced that the key to good medicine was getting to the root of the problem—rather than pushing pills on people—Ash began incorporating alternative methods into his practice.

The first thing he does with new patients is look at their diet. “The window to your health is your gastrointestinal tract,” says Ash. “Many illnesses are caused by the food you eat and your ability to digest and absorb it. Even if you eat the right foods, you might only absorb three to five percent of the nutrients.” Ash gives people a “gastric analysis test,” which measures the amount of acid in their stomach. “When the acid is low, yeast and bacteria build up causing you to not absorb food properly,” he says. “This can lead to weight gain and even thinning of the bones.”

Ash’s other unconventional methods include Reconstructive Therapy (also called Prolotherapy), which is a nonsurgical injection of nutritional supplements into the tissues surrounding an injured joint. The injection works by causing a mild irritation that triggers the body to produce new fibrous tissues that strengthen the injured area. “By the seventh or eighth treatment, 80 to 88 percent of people notice an improvement in their pain,” says Ash. “It’s amazing how many people have been able to avoid getting a knee or hip replacement by doing this treatment.”

In addition to treating chronic pain, Ash helps people with a variety of ailments, including autoimmune disorders (like hypothyroidism), irritable bowl syndrome and adrenal failure. “So many people have adrenal burnout,” says Ash. “They’re tired, have aches and pains and eventually wind up feeling depressed. Then some doctor puts them on anti-depressants, but that’s not necessarily the solution.” 

Though Ash is confident that his methods can work on virtually anyone, he sometimes has to call in for reinforcements. His latest secret weapon: Dr. Jack Mantione, a 41-year-old licensed doctor of physical therapy and certified strength and conditioning specialist. Mantione, who previously had an office in the same building as Ash, moved in to Ash’s office space this summer, though his practice—Mantione Center for Sports Rehabilitation—remains separate. After referring patients to each other for almost a year, the pair thought it made sense to offer services in the same space.

“There are things Jack can do that I cannot, and vice versa,” says Ash. “Recently, I had a patient with hip and knee problems. I did what I could but he still had some issues, so I sent him to Jack. He realized the guy had foot problems so he put an insert in his shoe, which changed the way the guy walked, and the whole problem went away.”  

“I try to add a lot of the missing links that are out there,” says Mantione. “Many conventional treatments don’t work, so that’s where Dr. Ash and I come in. We think outside the box.” 

After suffering from chronic pain for many years, Mantione started his practice 15 years ago. Years of training to become a professional baseball player had left him with chronic low-back and foot pain, ankle sprains, and hip and knee problems. When he didn’t wind up playing baseball professionally, Mantione decided to make it his mission to help others dealing with chronic pain. “All those years of suffering forced me to seek out treatments from doctors, physical therapists, osteopaths, chiropractors, healers and energy workers all over the world,” he says. “I’ve been very blessed to learn from them and use their methods to help others.”

Mantione’s focus is on realigning the body. “I look for structural misalignments that are causing imbalances in the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons and energy of the body,” he explains. “I realign the leg length, the pelvis and the neck. And I do it all very gently, without having to manipulate anybody.” He says many people who have chronic low-back, hip or knee pain have imbalanced feet. To help with this, he makes “some of the most innovative foot inserts in the world,” he says. “I actually evaluate the person on a functional level instead of just casting their foot and sending it to a laboratory or just measuring them with my hands.”

By joining forces with Ash, he hopes to heal more people who can’t find relief elsewhere. 

“We can make a difference in anybody’s life,” says Mantione. “We both had pain for many years, and we know what it takes to get people better and out of pain.” 

“No one else is doing what we’re doing,” adds Ash. “It’s not like we have a lot of competition because what I do with him, it’s unique. The combination of what we do, you won’t see it anywhere else.”

[Editor’s note: Dr. Ash passed away unexpectedly during a routine medical procedure on December 25, 2015. He will be remembered for his many contributions to his patients and the medical community. The Ash Center for Comprehensive Medicine will continue to run with the guidance of the Ash family and a new team of innovative and inspirational doctors.]