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The New Healers

Backed by an army of celebrity patients, buttressed by clinical studies, alternative medicine is winning new respect in New York. Some of the best practitioners in the world are a cab ride away. And also some of the loopiest.

The crystals in Dr. Howard Bezoza's center on 57th Street are encased in glass boxes, embedded in the walls, and labeled with their palliative effects and relevant chakras. A chunk of teal-and-black malachite (fourth chakra) is good for the tendons, muscles, and throat; purple fluorite (sixth chakra) promotes clear thinking. There are a few Huichol Indian masks and god's eyes adorning the walls. "These things say in a nonverbal way that this office accepts the fact that there is a mystical aspect to human life," Bezoza explains. "Although as a doctor, I'd prefer life to be two-dimensional."

Down one hall, a woman snoozes in a recliner, covered with a plaid blanket, her arm attached to an IV delivering a yellowish liquid into her vein. She is indulging in a vitamin infusion, a specialty of the house.

Dr. Bezoza is a living advertisement for his vitality regimen. At 47, he exudes the hyperactive energy of an adolescent, rapidly and defensively spouting statistics gleaned from Harvard surveys and a Journal of the American Medical Association article about alternative medicine. "There's as much money being spent out of pocket on alternative remedies as there is being spent by third-party insurers," he says, citing a Harvard study. "Who seeks alternative remedies? The smartest, most successful people. So we can't continue to proselytize this issue of the quack!" Bezoza has attracted a large, well-heeled (insurance doesn't cover intravenous vitamins) following that includes actresses, socialites and Wall Street tycoons. The actress Olympia Dukakis and the model Tahnee Welch are among his patients. Bezoza's back-combedorange hair and beard and protuberant eyes give him a slightly werewolfish look, but you get used to it. He is trim inside his black turtleneck, thanks to daily oral dosages of a plant-based testosterone (the equivalent of eating ten yams, he says) he started taking last year to vanquish middle-aged fat. He also follows a "Paleolithic diet" (one third animal, two thirds vegetable, based on the foods supposedly available to early man).

"New York is the mecca of high-level alternative medicine," he says. "You'd think it is California, but the largest concentration of competent alternative practitioners is right here."

There was a time, back in the seventies, maybe, when Howard Bezoza and his ilk were stereotypically associated with Marin County or Santa Monica. If California was ever alternative medicine's mecca -- and many alternative healers in New York dispute even that -- it is no longer the case. New Yorkers, especially rich, famous, fabulous New Yorkers, are now flocking to shamans, spiritualists, Chinese masters, and alternative M.D.'s as fast as their Town Cars can carry them.

The national trend toward alternative medicine in the past five years has been led by the wealthiest, most educated people, and one of the largest concentrations of that demographic is not in the California hills but right here. To get an appointment with many of New York's top practitioners, you need a referral from a VIP -- or be prepared to wait several months. Health insurance won't cover many of these treatments, so a walletful of cash is imperative.

New Yorkers can choose from a vast array of alternative medical services, from storefront acupuncture in Chinatown to spiritual healers, bodyworkers, and purveyors of herbal medicine and vitamin supplements in tony apartments and clinics. Some of the practitioners are M.D.'s with prestigious academic appointments and faculty positions. Others have taken courses with gurus, spiritual healers, or Chinese medicine masters. Still others simply believe they have "a gift."

Though some of their techniques are buttressed by clinical studies conducted by Harvard professors and are on the verge of being accepted into the canon of Western medicine, others simply must be taken -- or not taken -- on faith. But for many in New York's new medical Establishment, Western medicine is beside the point. They believe they are in the vanguard of the healing arts; science will eventually catch up.

Bezoza is one of the many New York practitioners whose medical epiphany occurred on the West Coast. Trained as a conventional M.D. in the seventies, Bezoza was 28 years old and working in the emergency room of Coney Island Hospital in 1980 when he had a bad case of burnout. He decided to take some time off and drive cross-country in his RX-7. In L.A., he went to a lecture given by vitamin C missionary Linus Pauling at UCLA.

"I had one of those life-changing experiences," he says. "The first guy who spoke was a Biospherean, and he talked about studies that showed undernutrition -- not malnutrition -- led to a 30 to 50 percent increase in the life span of rats. Then Linus Pauling spoke -- next to Einstein, the greatest scientific mind of the twentieth century. He was in his eighties and taking six 1,000-milligram vitamin C tablets a day. And I knew he was right."