First there was olive oil and balsamic vinegar…then peanut butter with chocolate. The perfect combination of two seemingly disparate items. In the world of medicine, we have Integrative Medicine. The simplest definition of Integrative Medicine is the merging of the best that allopathic (conventional) and natural remedies have to offer. Today’s article will cover why Integrative Medicine is gaining so much traction today with both patients and medical doctors alike and treatments that these practitioners use to cure your malady. Mind…body…soul.
The problem with conventional medicine
We, at Naturopathic Earth, have stated on numerous occasions the issues with allopathy. Conventional medical doctors are not trained on alternative/natural therapies. This may be partly attributed to the fact that many medical schools are funded by large pharmaceutical companies and as such their curriculum is no doubt influenced by this patronage. To exacerbate the situation Big Pharma inundates Americans with relentless commercials and advertisements regarding their new drug of choice. (Indeed, Americans are taking 10 times the amount of medications now than in the 1950s.)
They don’t heed the quickly-rushed-over warnings of the side effects of the cavalcade of medications nor ever read the inserts upon purchase. As it is most Americans are not too aware of natural remedies so they are led to believe that both OTC and prescribed medications are the ONLY solution to their ailment. The last deadly ingredient in this “Molotov cocktail” is our need for immediate gratification and “quick-fix” viewpoint.
Here is the typical scenario. Patients is complaining of serious insomnia. He is struggling and his concern is legitimate. He goes to Dr. Allopathy and speaks of his crippling problem. Dr. Allopathy will prescribe Ambien because he has been taught (and Ambien’s drug representatives repeatedly cajole him with gifts and free samples) that Soma, Lunesta, and other benzodiazepines are the main course of treatment. He prescribes the drug. The patient takes it having full trust in the training of the medical doctor. You see there are several disconnects here.
The doctor hasn’t been trained in the numerous natural remedies and biohacks that treat most insomnia. He dispenses treatment as he has been taught. It isn’t necessarily his fault. The patient is desperate and in the back of his mind has heard that people with insomnia take Ambien. He doesn’t bother to explore the natural remedies for insomnia. He takes the medications not knowing that Ambien has serious side-effects including increased drowsiness, “missing time,” sleep terrors, and eventual drug dependency on it. In the event he has one night’s rest with it, he will mentally become addicted to it thinking he can only receive a modicum of rest when taking this drug. He is hooked and will tolerate the side-effects for the remainder of his life. Great for Big Pharma…not so great for the patient.
Can the doctor be faulted? Yes and no. We teach what we know. It is not his fault that his curriculum, albeit excellent in diagnosing disease and treating life-and-death maladies and surgery, is seriously deficient in the treatment of chronic diseases and the use of natural remedies that have been around since time immemorial. But the onus is on him as a medical professional to accrue as much information on all aspects of healing.
Is it the patients fault that drugs are his first go-to treatment choice? Yes and no. As a literate American he should explore all treatments. But he has been inundated by drug commercials his whole life. Not to mention he is a busy American and doesn’t have time to be beleaguered by an illness, especially something as pernicious as insomnia. He needs a remedy now!
(Read our article on simple biohacks for insomnia and mild depression.)
We are a stressed people. Concomitant with that stress is the rise of medications, in particular in the elderly and children. The latter are commonly given amphetamines for attention disorders, or even worse strong antipsychotic medications when their SSRI anti-depressants aren’t working. Most frighteningly, children are prescribed these drugs when the inserts specifically prohibit kids from taking them due to their increase risk of suicidal ideation. The EU prohibits prescription of strong anti-psychotic drugs to children…the U.S. not so much…
The Broccoli & Cheese of Medicine
Practitioners of Integrative Medicine recognizes the aforementioned disconnect. The current system of allopathy is not working (unless you are employed by Big Pharma). They recognize the need for medications for life-threatening situations but acknowledge a panoply of lifestyle and natural remedies exists that can work in tandem with medications to ameliorate the patient’s condition. In short, it is the best of both worlds. So let’s briefly cover some alternative treatments that a good practitioner of Integrative Medicine might use to holistically treat the patient.
Perhaps the biggest component of Integrative Medicine. Many traditional doctors will give perfunctory often outdated advice on how to treat your malady. But most medical schools don’t teach the complicated, yet intimate relationship between malnutrition and disease. We at Naturopathic Earth have mentioned ad nauseum that most diseases that take the lives of Americans (e.g. cancer and heart diseases) are heavily influenced by lifestyle choices, namely weight maintenance, alcohol, smoking, and eating inflammatory foods. We know the importance of a healthy microbiome, adequate Vitamin D levels, and sufficient sleep et. al..
Integrative Medicine practitioners know the importance of nutrition, sleep, and the reduction of stress in maintaining optimal health. These doctors would first tell the patient to radically change their diet and lifestyle before putting them on medications. (Or they will give them a limited supply of medications.) Change of lifestyle is crucial. Incorporation of exercise, meditation, a reduction or elimination of processed foods, alcohol, and smoking would be emphasized since many maladies can be remedied by the simple implementation of these lifestyle practices.
Practitioners of Integrative Medicine will commonly refer their patients to osteopaths and chiropractors for their ailment. Both of these professions see the intimate connections between disease and proper alignment of the spine as crucial to optimal health. In particular if the ailment is related to chronic pain many IM practitioners will refer them here.
Botanical Medicine, Herbalism, Ayurvedic/Chinese Medicine
Significant scientific evidence backs the use of herbalism in the treatment of ailments. Herbalism has been used since the beginning of time to treat our health problems. Ironically, Big Pharma used the active ingredients found in natural remedies to concoct their multi-billion dollar medications (e.g. aspirin comes from willow tree; morphine/Vicodin from the poppy seed, etc) so they too know its efficacy. We at Naturopathic Earth have numerous articles boasting the efficacy of natural remedies. They work for most people. Now it is certain possible to have adverse effects to botanical therapies and certain caution must be used when using certain ones. But as a whole herbalism has much less side-effects and practically no dependency or withdrawal symptoms compared to pharmacopeia.
(Read our article on Elimination Diets, the easiest way to rid yourself of food allergies.)
Yes, Sign me Up!
Please don’t misunderstand me. The American medical paradigm is excellent in the treatment of life-threatening illness, cutting-edge surgery, and top-notch diagnoses. Alas, we are not as adept in the treatment of chronic diseases. Many times the allopathic model only treats the symptoms of chronic problems and never finds (or even cares to look for) the underlying reason of the malady. The medication-first paradigm many times doesn’t even remedy the chronic ailment, but adds insult to injury by creating the need to treat the side-effect of the medication or create a new ailment. Integrative Medicine embraces the idea of optimizing the body’s inherent, natural, and resilient ability to heal itself augmented by changes in lifestyle, alternative therapies, and simple biohacks.
Signs Point to Yes!
Signs of a good practitioner of Integrative Medicine are:
- They treat mind, body, and soul.
- They treat the whole patient…not just the symptom.
- They only embrace alternative or natural remedies that have a good amount of scientific evidence corroborating their efficacy.
- They will exhaust natural remedies, in combination with significant changes in lifestyle choices, before implementing medications.
To be clear practitioners of Integrative Medicine are medical doctors (M.D.s) who go to the traditional medical school. (These are not Naturopathic Doctors (N.P.) though to be fair the N.P.s have been practicing Integrative Medicine the whole time.) Many medical schools are turning toward Integrative Medicine since they too see the disconnect, but don’t make the assumption that your doctor is versed in Integrative Medicine.
In full candor, you have nothing to lose by choosing an Integrative Medicine practitioner. They use the best of what both fields have to offer!
For more information, consult Harvard’s Center for Integrative Medicine. or ABIHM-certified practitioner near you.
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A. Gregory Luna, double-certified Health Consultant
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