Integrative medicine combines the best of conventional and complementary/alternative medicine, based on a patient’s individual needs and condition. It seeks to integrate the successes from both the world of Western (allopathic) medicine and complementary medicine. Care is tailored to each individual, recognizing his or her unique set of circumstances. The goal is to utilize the safest, natural, least invasive and most holistic approach. Integrative medicine focuses on the fact that there are many paths to healing, and that “good health” is a cohesive balance of mind, body and soul.
Health comes from the Old English word “hal” (think of the word hale) which means wholeness, soundness or spiritual wellness. The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity". Cure, on the other hand, refers to doing something, for example giving drugs or performing surgery to alleviate a troublesome condition or disease. Healing does not equal curing. We can cure a condition such as hypertension with a pharmaceutical drug without healing the patient. Healing would facilitate lifestyle changes that reduce stress, improve diet, promote exercise and increase the person’s sense of well being, and of course, in addition, reduce risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke. In doing this, we help improve the balance of health of the body that may result in the ability to discontinue the drug and remove the need for the “cure”.
Integrative medicine can be thought of as “healing- oriented medicine” that takes into account the whole person (body, mind and spirit) including all aspects of lifestyle and the stresses in their life. It emphasizes a therapeutic relationship in which the patient is an active partner who takes personal responsibility for his/her health. Integrative medicine encourages more time and effort be spent on disease prevention rather than waiting for something bad to happen. The incidence of heart disease, diabetes and cancer could be significantly reduced by better lifestyle choices. Instead, they are occurring in epidemic proportions. This has resulted in our current health care crisis. It is important to remember that most of the theories and practices of the complementary part of integrative medicine are rooted in complete systems of theory and practice, that evolved apart from and much earlier than Western medical approaches. Meaning that they are “non-traditional” only to us. Their history and efficacy are long established in other cultures.
Dr. Larry Dorsey, a well-known authority on the value of prayer in medicine, was recently interviewed by Dr. Frank Lipan, himself a renowned integrative medicine physician. Dr. Dorsey said the following: “When we think about medicine, the images that come to mind for most people are high tech, complex and expensive-pharmaceutical drugs, surgical procedures, organ transplants or up and coming therapies such as stem cells.” We do need these of course, but “ for most people most of the time, we can take care of our health in a more down-to-earth way. Behind the high tech world is another reality– a world of simple ordinary things that have an extraordinary power to heal– things such as good diet, exercise, controlling stress in our lives. There are less well known, yet in many cases equally as effective, tools such as music therapy, prayer, yoga and meditation. The landmark INTERHEART study published in the Lancet medical journal in 2004 studied approximately 25,000 patients and revealed that stress was found to be the second leading risk factor for heart disease after smoking. Many complementary/alternative medicine mind-body therapies, e.g. biofeedback and psychotherapy, focus directly on stress management techniques and can therefore significantly reduce the risk of having a heart attack.
Integrative Medicine uses the integrative medicine/holistic approach to provide the best options from evidence-based complementary/ alternative therapies as well as conventional Western medicine. This is called “the best of both worlds" approach. Often this means a blend of Western and complementary medicine not only to provide the tools of state-of the-art modern day technologies to diagnose disease, but, just as important, introduce therapies to treat and prevent further illness and to heal the mind, body, and spirit.
The ultimate goal of integrative practitioners is to consider natural approaches first: this includes using natural foods, vitamins and herbs, complementary therapies such as biofeedback, acupuncture and healing touch techniques. Only if these aren’t successful will we add or switch to conventional Western therapies such as drugs, surgery or other invasive procedures. We believe that physicians and health care givers should embrace the best of both of these worlds. It is only through openmindedness, education, research and sharing of knowledge that we can value and recognize the wisdom of all healing traditions.
It is the application of both Western and complementary medicine (Integrative Medicine) that we at NYMA believe provides the tools to achieving optimal health. Our hope is that one day we will be able to drop the term “integrative medicine” altogether and rename it simply “good medicine."