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How Integrative Medicine Can Enhance Your Health

Updated: Nov 24, 2023

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According to a 2012 national survey, many Americans—more than 30 percent of adults and about 12 percent of children—use health care approaches that are not typically part of conventional medical care or that may have origins outside of usual Western practice. [1]

One of those health care approaches is integrative medicine. During an interview for our podcast episode, Dr. Denise Millstine discussed the practice of integrative medicine. Dr. Millstine is the Director of Integrative Medicine and Consultant in Women's Health Internal Medicine at the Mayo Clinic, Arizona. "Integrative medicine is focused on whole person health," shared Dr. Millstine. "It utilizes all forms of treatments in addition to conventional medicine, with the focus being on health and healing."

How Does Integrative Medicine Work?

Integrative medicine is used as an adjunct to conventional medicine, integrating evidence-based healing treatments that focus on the mind-body connection along with a patient's standard clinical care. It can include treatments such as acupuncture, herbal supplements, and yoga combined with conventional care treatments such as physical therapy and medication. (2)

Within integrated medicine are three main categories that describe how therapy is taken or delivered: nutritional, psychological, and physical. For example, your care provider may advise you to begin an herbal supplement regime, practice mindfulness or meditation, or visit a chiropractor or massage therapist.

Integrative medicine is different from naturopathic or functional medicine. According to the Cleveland Clinic, "Integrative medicine seeks to understand you as a whole person. Functional medicine seeks to identify and treat the underlying cause of your condition." [3]. This approach includes the belief that environmental factors, toxins, and nutritional deficiencies can play a role in the function of our biological systems.

The Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges describes naturopathic medicine as prioritizing “the most natural, least invasive and least toxic therapies to treat illness, and promotes wellness by viewing the body as an integrated whole." [5]

According to Dr. Millstine, "Naturopathic medicine and functional medicine are very similar in their biochemical approach to managing health and disease. So there's a lot of overlap in these approaches, but they do come from a different foundation and a different set of training."

What Can Integrative Medicine Help to Treat?

Integrative approaches help treat people with various medical conditions, including cancer, depression, menopause, diabetes, and many more. Preliminary research suggests that yoga and meditation-based therapies may help smokers quit. [2]

In another study sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a program using mindfulness techniques that involved the whole family improved weight loss and eating behavior in overweight adolescents. [2]

Integrative Medicine and Women's Health

When it comes to women's health, Dr. Millstine said that "there are a lot of applications for integrative medicine in women's health, and this can be everything from stress management to anxiety." She noted that this approach has positive outcomes associated with treating menopause, osteoporosis, mood disorders, PMS, fibromyalgia, and other concerns that women often experience.

Dr. Millstine shed light on how integrated medicine may address symptoms of perimenopause. "The most effective way to reduce your symptoms is to take hormone therapy. But not all women have that as an option. So in that situation, we will use some integrative medicine strategies regarding natural products." These natural remedies could include magnesium, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, or a healthier sleep routine. In addition, integrative medicine can help manage chronic pain, hot flashes, and headaches.

Be an Informed Consumer

Being an informed and responsible consumer is essential when taking charge of your health—for example, be sure to research how supplements may interact with your other medications and ensure the correct dosage. Don't forget that "natural" doesn't always mean safer. Resources such as help consumers and healthcare professionals evaluate health and nutrition products by offering independent testing data. [4]

Advocating for your health also includes knowing how to access the proper care providers and what information to gather to help make better decisions. Dr. Millstine suggests reviewing care providers' websites for information on their background, credentials, years of experience, and education. You can also read physicians' reviews to get a feel for the patient experience.

The Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona is another resource for finding providers in your area that use this approach to care.

For more information on the positive benefits of integrative medicine, don't forget to tune in to our episode with Dr. Denise Millstine.


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