The term “Integrative Medicine” is gaining popularity. It’s being used by Medical Doctors, Acupuncturists, Physical Therapists, Allergists… the list is growing. As the term becomes more and more mainstream within healthcare practitioner circles, it is ever more important that the general public understands what it means and why it is an important concept.
Generally, integrative medicine refers to the concept that medical care should take into account the entire person (i.e. current symptoms & diagnoses as well as past medical history, genetics, environmental exposure, injuries, stress levels, etc.) as well as all of the possible therapies (i.e. food as medicine, stress reduction techniques, exercise, acupuncture, herbs, supplements, drugs, surgery, etc.) in order to determine the best possible treatment plan for the individual patient.
This may sound like common sense to most people, however anyone who has had to spend significant time trying to get medical help for themselves or a loved one knows that so much of our medical community has become completely siloed into their specialties that there are few doctors that are actually trained in seeing the “big picture.” Specialization has led to huge advances in our ability to effectively treat very specific diseases affecting the cardiovascular system, musculoskeletal system and nervous system to just name a few, however it tends to miss the opportunities to recognize that multi-system, multi-symptom diseases need to be treated in a holistic manner. A chronically ill patient that has symptoms affecting multiple systems will not be served well by having separate doctors that look at each system apart from the others. Instead, they need an integrative medicine practitioner to help them put the pieces together and understand what root causes are making all of their symptoms be off balance.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) happens to give an extremely useful framework for understanding the mechanisms at play in the chronically ill patient. At a foundational level, TCM is based on relationships in the body – when relationships in the body are in balance, the person feels healthy, but when they are out of balance, symptoms and disease arise. Through working closely with patients and understanding what systems are out of balance, how they got that way, when they started and what it should look like in a healthy person, we can elicit changes to bring the body back to a state of balance and allow the body to naturally eliminate the symptoms of disease.
In some ways, TCM is the original integrative medicine – it is still effective today because it takes into account the whole person and makes use of techniques to rebalance the body. It’s effects are further enhanced today by everything else we can learn today from blood tests, X-rays, hormone panels, etc. that help us get an even clearer picture of our patients.