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What is Integrative Medicine?

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What is Integrative Medicine?

Nearly 90% of all countries use traditional medical practices such as "herbal medicines, acupuncture, yoga, indigenous therapies, and others." These practices have existed for centuries, if not millennia, and are essential health resources.

Integrative medicine practitioners incorporate these same traditional and complementary practices alongside conventional medicine to promote the body's healing ability. Integrative medicine has grown steadily over the past decade in both patients' clinical care and research publications.

This article explores what integrative medicine is, its benefits, and the types of practitioners involved in the integrative care of patients.

What is Integrative Medicine?

Imagine you are a patient with heartburn. The standard medical response might be to provide you with general dietary information and then prescribe an acid-reducing medication.

In contrast, an integrative physician may consider prescribing a medication to help with short-term symptom control, but also addresses:

  • past medical and surgical history
  • medication use
  • hormone health
  • dietary choices
  • timing of meals
  • alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco use
  • vitamin or mineral deficiencies
  • adequacy of stomach acid
  • mental health and stress management
  • sleep hygiene

The difference between the two approaches is due to the integrative medicine philosophy of focusing on the patient as a whole person and considering all factors that affect health, including the "mind, body, and spirit."  

In addition to conventional pharmaceutical approaches, integrative practitioners incorporate complementary therapies, including acupuncture, dietary and herbal supplements, meditation, and yoga, to promote the body's ability to heal.

What Type Of Healthcare Providers Fall Under Integrative Medicine?

Integrative medicine "makes use of all appropriate healthcare professionals and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing." As such, different types of providers deliver integrative care, including:

  • Physicians and other healthcare providers
  • Chiropractors
  • Psychotherapists
  • Herbalists
  • Naturopathic doctors
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners
  • Acupuncturists
  • Tai chi and yoga instructors
  • Massage therapists
  • Culinary medicine specialists
  • Nutritionists

What Health Conditions Can Integrative Medicine Be Used For?

Integrative medicine can be used alongside conventional medicine as well as in the treatment of various, and often very complex, health conditions, including:

  • Autoimmune Disease
  • Dermatology
  • Dentistry
  • Endocrinology
  • Gastrointestinal Disorders
  • Fatigue
  • Female Health Concerns
  • Mental Health
  • Neurology
  • Oncology
  • Pain Management
  • Pediatrics
  • Primary Care

How is Functional Medicine Different from Integrative Medicine?

Integrative and functional medicine are not mutually exclusive. They both seek to understand why a condition or ailment might be occurring. Functional medicine practitioners are looking to identify the root cause of an illness by looking deeper at factors like diet, genetics, hormonal changes, and other lifestyle components as potential causes and treatments for patients’ diseases.

Functional Medicine practitioners also focus on optimal lab values, which are more narrow than the standard lab values used in allopathic medicine. Anything outside optimal values can show patterns and markers trending toward disease. Functional Medicine practitioners rely on catching these markers early on to work towards reversing or stopping disease progression altogether.

Integrative medicine focuses on integrating and healing the parts of a whole person: the body, mind, and spirit. They do not commonly use specialty labs or optimal values like functional medicine practitioners. Still, they focus on treating the entire body and working as a team with other integrative medicine specialty practitioners to give patients a root cause approach to healing.

Summary

The use of integrative medicine has grown across the United States. Scientific research continues to explore the potential benefits of integrative medicine in various conditions, including pain management, relief of symptoms in patients with cancer, and programs to promote healthy behaviors in individuals who don't have health issues.

Integrative medicine focuses on the person as a whole; it helps the individual, their families, communities, and the population in general to improve and restore health. Integrative medicine focuses on treating different interconnected domains, such as the social, biological, behavioral, and environmental domains, rather than only treating the patient's illness.

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