This is my 100th article for Trilogy by Shea Homes Active Lifestyle Communities. It’s unbelievable to me that it has been more than eight years since we started producing this monthly article that ranges from general nutrition, to nutrient highlights, to chronic disease management, all with a common theme of wellness. At the same time as the launching of the monthly health tip, I started a practice in my local community, Trilogy at Vistancia. I questioned (I’m sure all involved silently questioned), how accepted an “alternative” doctor would be. One hundred articles and a full patient load later, I’m humbled by the reception and excitement that Members of the community have for our quest to keep them well.
Of course, we can’t take all of the credit for the success, as integrative and complementary medicine is on the rise everywhere. It was last estimated by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with combined data from nearly 89,000 adults, that about one-third of Americans seek some sort of complementary medicine. Naysayers will argue that the apparent acceptance is relative to the broad and relatively undefined parameters of “complementary” medicine. This could be partially true, but what I hope is that people are realizing that you can partake in the benefits alternative medicine has to offer, without abandoning mainstream medicine completely. In other words, you don’t have to pick one side or the other when it comes to your wellness. In fact only about 5% of those 89,000 polled in the NIH study use natural or alternative medicine as their sole source of healthcare. “Integrative,” meaning using both complementary and traditional medicine, is the way that many of us practicing in the field prefer it. Most of us aren’t trying to take over your care completely. We want you to use traditional medical services and we use them ourselves. Traditional medicine can be fantastic at discovering what is making you sick and can be remarkable at making you well. Complementary medicine might have its greatest skill in keeping you there, or in the discovery and diagnosis of why you don’t feel as well as you should.
Many traditional providers appreciate this integrative approach, with more medical schools including alternative courses according to Merck. Merck defines the difference between approaches as follows:
“Conventional medicine generally defines health as the absence of disease or dysfunction. The main causes of disease and dysfunction are usually considered to be isolated factors, such as bacteria or viruses, biochemical imbalances, and aging, and treatment often involves drugs or surgery. In contrast, alternative medicine practices often define health holistically, that is, as a balance of systems—physical, emotional, and spiritual—involving the whole person.”
Personally, I don’t like this definition because I think that it sells traditional medicine short, which is ironic, because Merck is certainly geared to traditional versus integrative medicine. This just circles us around to the same problem of trying to choose sides as if we live in a black and white world. Wellness and medicine are somewhere in the grey area. You as the patient and/or consumer should pick and choose what you are comfortable with, gather opinions and move forward with a combination of traditional and complementary as you see fit. Are there quacks out there? Yes. If treatment outcome promises seem too good to be true or the diagnostics used to get there totally inexplicable, they probably are. On the other hand, are there closed minded physicians and practitioners that won’t open their eyes to the other side of medicine at all, even when it is based in science? Yes. Are there alternative doctors that don’t respect traditional medicine? Yes. But more and more, there are those of us happily and successfully practicing in the grey area. Naturopaths and other integrative physicians can improve your nutrition, adjust your nutrients and hormones, and maybe even improve your health with acupuncture, for example (all proven effective by Western based science, by the way). And there are many scenarios where we cross into each other’s worlds. For example, I prescribe antibiotics frequently when they are needed and blood pressure medicine when alternative treatments fail. Conventional doctors are prescribing supplements more and more. Many are suggesting probiotics for patients with digestive issues, and fish oil for heart health. Many others are actively referring for acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic care. These are all complementary treatments.
Integrative medicine will never be as “westernized” as some would like it to be, as there is just not enough funding to produce large-scale studies as can be done for a pharmaceutical. It is also often difficult to apply conventional research methods to some alternative therapies, but even as the Merck describes, “a lack of scientific studies does not mean that a therapy is ineffective. A large number of alternative therapies have been practiced for thousands of years. They include acupuncture, meditation, yoga, therapeutic diets, massage, and herbal medicine.” Merck is not alone, as many traditional facilities are beginning to include alternative highlights. The Mayo Clinic has even published a book on alternative treatments shown to be clinically effective, usually alongside traditional treatments.
There are 100 articles in the archives and I hope each one will give you a glimpse into how to use integrative medicine to complement your conventional care. Several of the communities have naturopaths that visit to bring complementary wellness right to your door. Eight years ago Trilogy took a risk on me and on how to define wellness for their Members. And, in a moment of nostalgia for my 100th article, let me just say, it’s been incredibly rewarding for me, and kudos to them for their foresight and acceptance. I thank too, the Members who have become my patients, my friends, and the reason that I continue to have a passion for my work every day. BlueStar employees at Vistancia lend me incredible support in my daily practice. Also, thanks to two great ladies who help every month with the production of this article: Diane Dreon for editing all of my mid-western phrasing when necessary, and to Dana Danielson of Black Sheep Design for her branding work and 100th layout! And last but certainly not least, thank YOU: for your interest in health, wellness, integrative medicine, and for your continued reading!
Stay healthy & be well!
— Amy Whittington, NMD