Integrative Medicine: What Is It?
Unfortunately, for many years a divide between traditional (or allopathic) medicine and alternative medicine has existed. This forced you to see different practitioners, if you wanted to incorporate treatments from both of these disciplines into your overall health-care plan. Yet, since these two branches did not work together, your doctor would not compare notes with your naturopath, acupuncturist and so on. This left you in the middle, hoping that combining treatments was safe and effective, yet with little reassurance to this fact.
The good news is, this divide is becoming less common, with the rise of Integrative Medicine (IM). What is Integrative Medicine? It is the combination of both traditional and complementary medical practices together, to create a single, more holistic strategy for dealing with health and healing (1). The idea is to take the best of both worlds, to enable you to have the best outcome possible (2).
Some of the complementary practices available include homeopathy, naturopathy, Chinese medicine, acupuncture, dietary advice and changes, herbal treatments, supplementation, and even biofeedback and meditation (3).
What IM Isn’t.
People sometimes get confused, as there are many similar terms floating around, which deal with different types of healing modalities. Alternative Medicine is distinct from Integrative Medicine, in that it only focuses upon naturopathic treatments and leaves traditional medical treatments to allopathic doctors.
In contrast, Integrative Medicine brings both the traditional and alternative together, for a more balanced approach. In fact, IM practitioners are often referred to as holistic doctors, as they look at your health from many angles – providing them with the complete picture.
How Does It Work?
While this definition of IM or holistic medicine can help, you may still be confused about how it plays out in a real-world scenario. A good example would be diabetes, where a traditional doctor would likely put you on insulin or some other type of prescription medication. They would likely counsel you to stay away from refined sugar and a high carbohydrate diet, but this would be the extent of their dietary advice.
An IM or holistic practitioner on the other hand, might first look into herbal or supplement options, in addition to providing much more in-depth dietary guidance. If your diabetes was too advanced or severe to be managed with these milder options, then they might prescribe insulin as well. The difference is, they would attempt to have these two approaches work together in concert. The result could be taking a lower dose of medication, experiencing better outcomes or less side effects.
From this example, you can clearly see, that there are some concrete benefits to working with a holistic practitioner. They can tackle your health issues from all sides, and they take into account how your lifestyle and diet can impact your results. In addition, they can often suggest alternative or complementary natural treatments or supplements, which can either replace or work alongside of traditional prescription drug options.
While the traditional medical community has been slow to recognize the benefits of Integrative Medicine, this philosophy is finally gaining traction. Patients who have experienced the improved outcomes possible with this balanced approach, have helped to lend weight to this growing trend. Some of the most prestigious medical institutions are now offering IM or have created IM research centers (4). This demonstrates that they’re starting to grasp how important looking at health in an integrative way truly is.