Integrative medicine is a relatively new specialty in healthcare that combines complementary therapies (like acupuncture and yoga) and conventional treatments, emphasizing safety and evidence. Integrative medicine does not replace the advice of your doctor or specialist, nor does it urge you to stop all medications prescribed for you and switch to alternative treatments. Instead, it focuses on how complementary therapies can improve traditional medicine and reduce side effects. Some medications can be reduced or even eliminated, while others can be used with comprehensive options to keep your body balanced.
The Role of Physicians
An integrative medicine doctor does not replace your family doctor or specialist. Their expertise lies in treating chronic diseases, and they do not treat acute medical problems. (In urgent care and medical emergencies, you should always contact your general practitioner or emergency physician.)
In integrative medicine, the relationship between you and your healthcare provider is essential. You are equal partners in the treatment process. Integrative medicine is committed to well-coordinated care from diverse providers and specialists, combining traditional wellness methods (medication and psychotherapy) with complementary therapies. This form of medicine “integrates” all aspects of your health for optimal health and recovery.
The principles of integrative medicine are:
- Patient and doctor are equal partners in the recovery process
- Natural and less invasive procedures preferred
- Consider all factors affecting health, including body, mind, spirit, and community
- Tailor treatment to individual needs, conditions, and circumstances
- All therapeutic science is used to promote the body’s natural, innate therapeutic response
Integrative Medicine and You
Integrative medicine puts the spotlight on you (the person), not just the disease itself. It uses an evidence-based approach to understand the root cause of your condition by analyzing your body, mind, and spirit. This practice believes that your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs affect your health. It assumes that these needs are interdependent and affect your overall wellness.
Various health care providers provide this type of care. These providers may include:
- Massage therapists
- Holistic psychotherapists
- Chinese herbal therapists
- Tai Chi practitioners
Who Can Benefit?
This type of medicine can help a diverse group of people, even those in good health. Those with chronic pain or complex medical conditions might find this method particularly useful. Integrative medicine can help you relieve many health and medical problems, including:
- Acute and chronic pain
- Autoimmune disease
- Cancer and cancer-related side effects
- Chronic fatigue
- Cold/flu symptoms
- Headaches and migraines
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Menstrual problems/menopause
- Mental and emotional health issues
- Respiratory diseases
People with chronic conditions often find this approach the most helpful form of treatment. The most qualified candidates for integrative medicine therapy include those with cancer, autoimmune diseases, and other common chronic conditions such as lupus, fibromyalgia, and Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
The sudden onset of breakthrough pain can make life difficult for people with chronic pain despite using traditional pain relievers. It can help when increasing the dose of pain medication is not a safe option. Meditation or deep breathing techniques can help you overcome pain attacks and prevent your heart rate and blood pressure from soaring due to pain.
Integrative and Alternative Medicine
Contemporary and Alternative Medicine, or CAM, is an approach to healing that has not undergone the same rigorous scientific scrutiny as conventional medical treatments to ensure they are safe and effective. CAM is comprised of five categories:
- Alternative medical systems
- Biologically based therapies
- Energy Therapies
- Manipulative and body-based therapies
- Mind-body techniques
For example, the internet is full of stories of cancer patients miraculously cured through alternative treatments. However, alternative therapies are unlikely to cure cancer. You must also be careful; some treatments can harm your health. Alternative treatments can also be expensive and not covered by health insurance.
Complementary medicine was coined in the early 1990s to describe an integrative approach combined with traditional medical treatments. Complementary medicine differs from alternative medicine because providers aim not to replace conventional treatment with complementary treatment. Instead, complementary therapies aim to support people receiving usual care with well-researched and safe interventions.
Many integrative physicians have completed specialized training focused on safe, evidence-based, comprehensive treatment. This type of physician will work with your oncologist or other healthcare providers to provide you with the best holistic care and support that combines the best of both worlds: traditional medicine and complementary therapies.
Integrative medicine providers recommend modalities and treatments with researched safety and benefits. For cancer patients and cancer survivors, some comprehensive approaches can help address some of the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment. Some examples of integrative medicine are:
- Acupuncture for hot flashes and neuropathy
- Touch therapy for pain and fear
- Focus on healthy eating and specific nutritional supplements to promote overall health
The two fastest-growing forms of healthcare are functional and integrative medicine, designed to meet your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Functional medicine focuses on developing individualized therapies tailored to the underlying causes of the disease. In contrast, integrative medicine seeks to understand the individual and apply multiple forms of treatment to improve well-being. Although functional and integrative medicine is similar, they have unique differences that can help you move towards a healthier life.
Integrative medicine views the patient as a combination of interdependent mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs that affect the patient’s overall health. Because of the many areas to be treated, integrative physicians often use a combination of acupuncture, massage therapy, chiropractic, behavioral therapy, homeopathy, and energy therapy to provide thorough treatment in all areas.
An excellent way to describe integrative medicine is to take traditional approaches to wellness and combine them with less conventional remedies. Integrative medicine also promotes necessary health behaviors and skills for patients as they perform the self-care techniques needed to remain disease-free.