Choosing Integrative Health

Ask more of your physicians and practitioners.

With chronic medical conditions on the rise, conventional medicine must adapt. Rather than simply treating symptoms of disease, health professionals need to address the root cause of illness, assist patients in implementing lifestyle changes for preventative measures, and take psychological and social factors into consideration when recommending plans of action, as much as physiology.

Integrative healthcare, which brings together complementary practices (nutrition, herbalism, acupuncture and meditation) and biomedicine (standard western care), is a response to the dramatic rise of metabolic syndrome (conditions that increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes) which our current medical system has failed to fully address.

Given my background in nutrition, I see dietary interventions as an integral part of maintaining health and managing the aforementioned diseases. I also believe in the importance of bridging the gap between evidence-based practice (using the latest research to inform recommendations) and holistic tenets including an improved patient-practitioner relationship, a whole-person approach, and a focus on patient-centered care.

The patient-practitioner relationship is often ignored in conventional environments, but can be influential in determining the course of a patient’s recovery, irrespective of treatment (Kelley et al., 2014). When patients feel supported by their practitioner or physician, they become more self-confident, are inclined to adopt healthy behaviors, and are more amenable to following proposed plans of action. Patients who do not enjoy a therapeutic relationship with their provider are unlikely to schedule necessary follow-up appointments or trust in their ability to recover.

Patient-centered care can also encourage optimal health through empowerment: giving patients the tools they need to acknowledge their own health challenges, assess their personal willingness to change, cultivate resilience, and shift from the role of a passive observer to an active engager in their healing journey. In fact, research suggests that patients who feel prioritized by their provider are more likely to notice a reduction in their symptoms, including less digestive distress, lowered blood pressure for those with hypertension, decreased reliance on pain medications and even shortened hospital stays (Conboy et al., 2010).

Still, incorporating complementary practices into the field of medicine is not without barriers. 70% of surveyed patients who use alternative treatments to manage chronic diseases are unwilling to share this with their doctors (Alder, 2003). In the field of oncology, where complementary medicine is pursued by almost half of patients, only 12% are likely to reveal their use of holistic therapies to their medical providers (Ge et al., 2012). This is discouraging, considering how strengthening the triangular relationship between patient, practitioner and physician can increase the likelihood of a positive health outcome.

As patients, being assessed as a whole person rather than a sum of parts is the best chance we all have for vitality. If you feel the standardized medical care you are receiving isn’t personalized for your specific needs and bio-individuality, it’s your right to demand a more integrative approach to your healthcare.

  1. Talk to your doctor about any complementary healthcare you receive: when patients avoid listing herbal supplements on an intake form, interactions with prescribed medications can have consequences.
  2. Bring studies from respected sources to your doctor’s appointment if you anticipate resistance from your provider. PubMed.Gov is an excellent research database that includes complementary medicine clinical trials and observational studies.
  3. Recognize that your doctor might be adamantly opposed to complementary therapies and consider finding a different provider. Doctors receive as little as 5 hours of nutritional training during their entire schooling, often inclining them to treat with medication rather than using a philosophy of food as medicine. Additionally, doctors are not always educated on vitamin and mineral deficiency as it relates to long-term medication use that they prescribe.
    • Warfarin: Doctors typically advise patients who take blood thinners not to eat leafy greens, which are packed with vitamin K that regulates blood clotting. Rather than eliminating leafy greens, an essential component of any diet, doctors can choose to work with licensed nutritionists to dose warfarin accordingly to ensure leafy greens consumption does not reverse the effects of the medication.
    • Birth control: Long-term use of birth control depletes B vitamins (riboflavin, B6, B12, folic acid) as well as vitamin C, magnesium and zinc. Patients should work with a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) or Licensed Dietician (LD) to counteract these inevitable deficiencies.
    • Statins: Cholesterol-lowering drugs inhibit coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) which can impair mitochondrial function. Patients should work with a CNS or LD to implement proper supplementation.
    • Metformin: Metformin depletes folic acid, vitamin B12, magnesium, DHEA, and calcium. Patients should work with a CNS or LD to counteract these deficiencies and create a dietary plan to manage blood sugar levels.
  4. Request a sharing system between your physician and practitioners. Many medical professionals are becoming increasingly open to sharing files and treatment plans, to ensure best practices for their patients.

Wellness is about ensuring that your body, mind, and spirit are being supported for optimal healing.

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