Integrative medicine looks at health in the context of nutrition, environment, and spiritual and emotional well-being.
Caring for the body, mind and soul
The more physicians and scientists learn about health and the human body, the more they understand how the body, mind and spirit are connected. This realization is the basis for integrative medicine, a term that has been gaining momentum over the past decade.
Integrative medicine looks at health in the context of nutrition, environment, and spiritual and emotional well-being. A growing body of scientific evidence documents the effectiveness and safety of integrative therapies, which have been used for centuries in non-Western cultures to optimize health and reduce suffering.
“An integrative approach may include things like nutrition, supplements, acupuncture, stress reduction or therapeutic touch,” said Rachel Busse, M.D., a family medicine physician with special training in integrative medicine. “We look at ways to support the body’s innate capacity to heal.”
Bridget Pitcock, 29, is a patient of Dr. Busse. She specifically sought out an integrative medicine practitioner when she chose her primary care physician. Part of her decision was based on a prior experience with gastroesophageal reflux disease when the physician gave her no treatment option but medication.
“The side effects or long-term options were not discussed; I was just handed a prescription,” Pitcock said. “I did some research and learned more about the foods I was eating and was able to change my diet and not need medication. It’s important to me that I try natural ways for my body to heal itself before I turn to medications.”
According to Dr. Busse, rather than managing disease, integrative medicine works to optimize health.
“Instead of treating symptoms, we treat the whole person,” Dr. Busse said. “I want to know when symptoms started, how you restore and support yourself through the process, and what you can do to really be a partner in your own wellness.”
Integrative medicine incorporates touch therapies such as reiki, nutritional therapies such as an anti-inflammatory diet, exercise therapies such as yoga or tai chi, and psychological therapies such as mindfulness training and guided imagery.
For Pitcock, who also is a registered nurse, in addition to eating mainly gluten-free, unprocessed foods, staying active is a key part of her overall wellness. She bikes, runs and is training for a triathlon.
“There is a lot of evidence about the role of nutrition and exercise in preventing disease,” Dr. Busse said. “Eating unprocessed foods and increasing activity are powerful yet simple things people can do to maintain health.”
Integrative therapies can also be used to treat and reverse diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, atherosclerosis and sleep apnea. Nutritional education is a major component of integrative medicine. For example, optimal nutrition can help cancer survivors stay cancerfree after successful treatment.
“I pay attention to my body and how foods make me feel, then I make changes as needed,” Pitcock said. “It’s all about being an active partner in your health.”