I’ll begin by posing another question: If you have pain in your foot and you look and find a tack, would you want to remove the tack? Or just take pain medications and antibiotics to hopefully make it feel better? It seems like a silly question, but it is all too common that we avoid making the changes necessary to treat or cure disease and instead “band-aid” a problem with a short-term fix.
Integrative medicine depends on a partnership between the patient and the doctor, where the long-term goal is to treat the mind, body and spirit, all at the same time. It is about prevention and wellness as well as addressing the root cause of disease.
What sets integrative medicine apart is that it combines conventional Western medicine with alternative or complementary treatments—such as acupuncture, tai chi, supplements, essential oils, etc.—in an effort to treat the whole person and facilitate a patient’s innate healing response. A guiding principle is to use therapies that have high-quality evidence to support them.
To give a few examples of integrative medicine treatments: acupuncture has been proven effective for migraine prevention and to reduce nausea during pregnancy, and yoga is an effective treatment for chronic lower back pain. I find that the integrative approach is effective when working with patients who are experiencing specific women’s health issues such as PMS and menopause, as well as with gastrointestinal issues and cardiovascular disease risk reduction.
How Popular Is Integrative Medicine?
Primary-care physicians increasingly stress preventive medicine and patients’ overall wellness and well-being. The “medical home” approach adopted by many Holland Hospital practices, in which patients partner with a physician-led health care team for ongoing preventive care and disease management, is one such model.
Use of alternative therapies is certainly not new; however, the practice of embracing those nonconventional treatments along with conventional medicine is gaining momentum in the medical community. Integrative medicine centers have opened across the country. In the United States, integrative medicine is used by nearly 40 percent of the population,* and scientific research continues to increase in this area as more and more patients seek alternatives to conventional, costly therapies.
* Source: Barnes et al. Adv Data, 2008.
ABOUT THE EXPERT
Laurie Birkholz, MD
Women’s Health, Certified
Lakeshore Health Partners—Women’s Health
Holland Hospital Medical Building
8300 Westpark Way, Zeeland
Watch Dr. Birkholz talk about Integrative Medicine: Combining Conventional Medicine with Complementary Treatments