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Tai Chi, anyone? Integrative medicine offers options

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DEBORAH ANN BALLARD, M.D., M.P.H.

Flaget Primary Care

 

According to the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine, (this includes such highly respected institutions as Harvard, Yale, Cleveland Clinic, Boston University, University of California, San Francisco, and Duke University):

“Integrative Medicine is the practice of medicine that reaffirms the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient, focuses on the whole person, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, healthcare professionals, and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.”

Integrative medicine is based on the foundations of a healthy lifestyle, such as a plant-based whole foods diet, physical activity, and stress reduction. Integrative medicine empowers people with tools and practices they can incorporate into their day-to-day life to prevent illness and improve their quality of life. Integrative medicine is especially helpful in the management of pain.

Across the United States, massage, healing touch, acupuncture, mindfulness, meditation, yoga and Tai Chi are being incorporated into pain management programs. Integrative medicine emphasizes not just treating a disease, but truly healing a person. This is a fundamental philosophical departure from the way medicine has been practiced in the western world up to this point.

Integrative Medicine includes therapies formerly labeled as complementary and alternative medicine. The National Institutes of Health established the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) to study integrative therapies and provides reliable information about their safety and efficacy. Integrative therapies are now being scrutinized with the same rigor applied to traditional medical treatments and there is a growing body of evidence on the effectiveness of integrative therapies. As Adam Perlman, MD, MPH, executive director of the Duke University Integrative Medicine program says, “We don’t practice alternative medicine. We don’t practice complimentary medicine. We practice good medicine.” In February 2012, the Bravewell Collaborative released a landmark study, Integrative Medicine in America: How Integrative Medicine Is Being Practiced in Clinical Centers Across the United States which provides current data on the patient populations and health conditions most commonly treated with integrative strategies.

According to the CDC In 2007, approximately 38% of adults older than 18 reported using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) during the preceding 12 months. Women (43 percent) were more likely than men (34 percent) to use CAM. In 2007, adults in the United States spent $33.9 billion out of pocket on visits to CAM practitioners and purchases of CAM products, classes, and materials. Clearly these are services people want and are willing to pay for. The challenge is to incorporate the best integrative practices into standard medical care and have them covered by health insurance so people have more choices to cope with illnesses and injuries.

So if the next time you see a physician, she recommends an anti-inflammatory diet, mindfulness-based stress reduction, or Tai Chi, don’t be surprised. Ask about the evidence to support these therapies and explore your options. Integrative medicine expands your options and that is a positive step forward for medical care for all of us.