Integrative Medicine is the application of conventional medical practices and non-conventional medical practices in the service of optimal health outcomes.
Conventional medical therapies typically involve the use of prescription medications/drugs and surgery. It also includes physical therapies and psychological therapies. Dietary advice is often provided but typically under-emphasized, unlike integrative medicine.
Conventional diagnostic techniques include laboratory and imaging/radiology. Invasive techniques such as gastrointestinal endoscopy and cardiac catheterization are both diagnostic and therapeutic.
Non-conventional therapies are widely varied. They include a general emphasis on the effort that the individual makes to improve their health. This includes dietary therapies, avoidance therapies, exercise therapies and psychological therapies, (mindfulness meditation). The Non-Conventional therapies draw on traditional practices such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage, and naturopathy. They also integrate techniques that have developed in parallel to conventional medicine such as chiropractic therapy, electrical stimulation therapy, exercise therapy, neural therapy, and nutrient therapy.
Integrative medicine is evolving continuously.
An example of integration that is now quite common in our area is the use of Acupuncture Therapy to help control the side effects that people with cancer experience from chemotherapy and radiation.
The increasing emphasis on the importance of dietary practice and exercise in the management of diabetes is another example. Integrative medicine, attempts to implement these practices instead of merely giving lip service to their importance.
Integrative medicine places an emphasis on the idea that we are unique in every way. Factors, which are considered in the development of a therapeutic regimen, include:
- Genetic variations that effect background metabolic processes, thus affecting our susceptibility to illness and our ability to regain our health.
- Total toxic load: The toxins acquired in utero, in our home environment and in our work place can cause us to be ill or impair our ability to regain our health.
- The psychological and social events of our lives: Events that occur in our past may have an adverse effect on our health in the present. Stress related to family and work issues are considered in understanding a health problem and planning therapy.
In the end, best practice is what produces a desirable outcome for the individual seeking health care, their family and for the society at large. Integrative medicine attempts to bring together the best aspects of conventional and non-conventional medicine to achieve this end.
Integrative medicine has been developing and moving into the medical mainstream over the last 40 years.
In the 1970s there were reports of ‘Mind-Body’ Therapies, such as the ‘Relaxation Response’ introduced by Herbert Benson, M.D. Such therapies were promoted as useful for stress related health problems. Specialized dietary therapies were introduced such as the Protein Sparing Modified Fast. Often there were positive unintended effects of such dietary therapies such as a reduction in blood pressure, blood sugar and pain. Acupuncture received attention when Richard Nixon visited China. Acupuncture began to be practiced in the cities and then smaller communities of America. The idea of energy became part of the vocabulary and thinking of a critical mass of people. The more extreme ‘non-conventional’ approaches evolved at the periphery of the conventional medicine community.
The Holistic Medical Association was started in the 1970’s. It was a society that was primarily for medical doctors. There was a small but growing realization among the medical doctors that non¬medical practitioners with complementary skills had a great deal to offer.
The 1980s and 1990s saw a small but steady collaboration of MDs with dietician/nutritionists, chiropractors, herbalists and other complementary alternative practitioners. Most important, there was a growing scientific literature created by dieticians, nutritionists, herbalists and psychologists, as well as medical doctors, showing the efficacy of non-traditional therapies for a variety of chronic health problems.
In the new millennium we have seen public funding for CAM/Integrative Medicine. This has led to the creation of departments of Integrative Medicine at many medical schools. The idea of Integration has grown to be more and more inclusive of practitioners from many disciplines; mostly to the benefit of the public.
Conventional medicine often takes a linear, cause and effect approach to illness and disease. It rarely looks at the person in whom an illness arises as it attempts to create precise diagnostic categories that lead to treatments involving medications and surgery.
Integrative medicine is interested in the background milieu upon which the foreground event of an acute or sub-acute illness occurs. The premise is that by recognizing imbalance caused by dietary, environmental and emotional/societal issues and correcting them, disease can be prevented and suffering improved.
The two systems really do complement each other.
The United States has seen a decline in primary care and an associated increase in specialty medicine with ever-greater costs to the consumer and the country. The integrative medicine movement provides an important new avenue for primary care services that promises to be an effective means of delivering on the goal of health improvement and disease prevention.