Modern medicine has evolved dramatically in the past century. We’ve overcome and improved outcomes of health crises like polio and the recent pandemic through the development of vaccines, we’ve learned how to fight infections with antibiotics, and uncovered the dangers of smoking and other detrimental lifestyle choices. For decades, treating disease with the right pharmaceutical drugs has been the main priority of healthcare systems, and while modern medicine is essential, the next generation of healthcare has begun to form with a more preventative focus. This is where integrative medicine and similar disciplines like lifestyle medicine come into play.
What is Integrative Medicine?
Integrative medicine is focused on the whole person – mind, body, and soul. As a patient of chronic illness and autoimmune disease myself, I choose to practice in this way because I have first-hand experience with the mental and physical exhaustion as well as trial and error that is required to uncover your best self. Our bodies and minds are so complex, and while I believe in the power of modern medicine, integrative medicine doctors like myself also value the use of holistic practices. It’s a balancing act and a journey that we embark on with our patients to find the correct pieces of their health and wellness puzzle.
Integrative medicine has really opened my eyes to the possibilities of treatment other than reaching for a pill box. In addition to pharmaceutical drugs and other traditional treatments, here are a few holistic strategies that integrative medicine practitioners recommend to patients as a part of a comprehensive treatment plan:
- Food & nourishment – I am sure you have heard the adage, “food is fuel” but the more it is researched, the more evident the importance of nourishing our bodies with food and sometimes natural supplements becomes. It has been studied that phytonutrients, especially in fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods, can help alter the epigenetics in our gut which can lead to an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. This is a huge part of how I treat my patients struggling with chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases and I can personally attest to how changes in diet have positively impacted my life and the lives of many of my patients. Unfortunately, traditional medicine and the field of rheumatology does not put an emphasis on nutrition but it is my hope that this evolves over time. You can check out my recent blog posts on plant-based eating, here.
- Movement & exercise – Did you know that Tai Chi, an ancient form of martial arts in Chinese culture, is a grade 1 recommendation in the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) guidelines for osteoarthritis? In addition to Tai Chi, yoga, and really any form of physical activity is essential for anyone wanting to improve their health. Whether it’s someone suffering from chronic disease or an overall healthy individual who just wants to prevent health issues down the line, moving your body is essential.
- A focus on the mind – Our minds and bodies are intimately connected and this isn’t just speculation, it is fact. When we are struggling physically, this takes a huge toll on our physical health and vice versa. Strategies like guided imagery, hypnotherapy, and mindfulness are all psychotherapy tools that are used in integrative medicine to address both physical and mental health challenges.
- Alternative treatments – While they are typically recommended in tandem with more traditional avenues, alternative treatments like acupuncture, aromatherapy, and therapeutic massages are sometimes used by integrative medicine practitioners. Some of these are considered conditional recommendations meaning sometimes they help and sometimes they don’t, but using them in a layered approach with other treatments is common. Many would call aromatherapy a complete pseudoscience but it has actually been studied and is shown to help with pain management. I also believe aromatherapy can be helpful for anxiety and other psychiatric problems.
- Environmental medicine – How toxins from pollution, certain products, and other environmental factors impact our overall health is something that is still being researched and a topic that I have become invested in in recent years. Besides all the lifestyle factors, we are bombarded with environmental toxins every day which can lead to chronic inflammation and other health issues. I am invested in this area of treatment and believe that it should be taken into consideration when evaluating a patient’s symptoms and lifestyle.
Integrative medicine puts the patient in control
Have you ever left a doctor’s appointment feeling like you had more questions than answers? The traditional healthcare model is set-up in a way that sometimes makes a doctor’s appointment feel very transactional. You experience symptoms, go to the doctor, get a prescription with very little explanation of why you have the issue in the first place, and then are sent on your merry way with minimal follow-up. The sad truth is that this leads to continued health struggles with very little emphasis on how to address the root of health issues and prevent them in the future. Integrative medicine doctors are on a mission to stop this cycle. We view the patient-doctor relationship as an ongoing partnership and expect our patients to take an interest and active role in their treatment. In my journey with chronic illness, this approach has worked wonders and provided me with a sense of control over my situation. I want my patients to also feel heard, supported, and in control of their health journeys.
A new approach to healthcare
There are so many different ways that medical professionals can help patients other than prescribing pharmaceutical drugs. In my opinion, integrative medicine is a very open-minded and beneficial way to approach healthcare, but due to cultural norms, there is sometimes a stigma around it. People think that integrative medicine doctors are hippies that reject modern medicine in its entirety but this is far from the truth.
I whole-heartedly believe that this dynamic approach to medicine is the future. It is my hope to be a pioneer in the movement to expand the use of integrative medicine to ensure that patients, especially those with chronic illness, have access to comprehensive care.
If any of this resonates with you, I encourage you to seek out a doctor with a focus on integrative medicine. Our door is always open at my private clinic, Dr. Lifestyle and there are a lot of other practices out there with similar mindsets that are ready to help.