Interested in integrative medicine? Read the following excerpt from the Mayo Clinic Guide to Integrative Medicine.
People who take an active role in their health care experience better health and improved healing. It’s a commonsense concept that’s been gaining scientific support for several years now.
As studies continue to reveal the important role the mind plays in healing and in fighting disease, a transformation is taking place in hospitals and clinics across the country. Doctors, in partnership with their patients, are turning to practices once considered alternative as they attempt to treat the whole person — mind and spirit, as well as body. This type of approach is known today as integrative medicine.
Incorporate integrative medicine alongside your treatments
Integrative medicine describes an evolution taking place in many health care institutions. This evolution is due in part to a shift in the medical industry as health care professionals focus on wellness as well as on treating disease. This shift offers a new opportunity for integrative therapies.
Integrative medicine is the practice of using conventional medicine alongside evidence-based complementary treatments. The idea behind integrative medicine is not to replace conventional medicine, but to find ways to complement existing treatments.
For example, taking a prescribed medication may not be enough to bring your blood pressure level into a healthy range, but adding meditation to your daily wellness routine may give you the boost you need — and prevent you from needing to take a second medication.
Integrative medicine isn’t just about fixing things when they’re broken; it’s about keeping things from breaking in the first place. And in many cases, it means bringing new therapies and approaches to the table, such as meditation, mindfulness and tai chi. Sometimes, integrative approaches help lead people into a complete lifestyle of wellness.
What types of integrative medicines are available?
What are some of the most promising practices in integrative medicine? Here’s a list of 10 treatments that you might consider for your own health and wellness:
- Acupuncture is a Chinese practice that involves inserting very thin needles at strategic points on the body.
- Guided imagery involves bringing to mind a specific image or a series of memories to produce certain responses in the body.
- Hypnotherapy involves a trancelike state where the mind is more open to suggestion.
- Massage uses pressure to manipulate the soft tissues of the body. There are many different kinds of massage, and some have specific health goals in mind.
- Meditation involves clearing and calming the mind by focusing on your breathing or a word, phrase or sound.
- Music therapy can influence both your mental and physical health.
- Spinal manipulation, which is also called spinal adjustment, is practiced by chiropractors and physical therapists.
- Spirituality has many definitions, but its focus is on an individual’s connection to others and to the search for meaning in life.
- Tai chi is a graceful exercise in which you move from pose to pose.
- Yoga involves a series of postures that often include a focus on breathing. Yoga is commonly practiced to relieve stress, as well as treat heart disease and depression.
Who can integrative medicine help?
A number of surveys focused on the use of integrative medicine by adults in the United States suggest that more than a third of Americans are already using these practices as part of their health care.
These surveys demonstrate that although the United States has the most advanced medical technology in the world, Americans are turning to integrative treatments — and there are several reasons for this trend. Here are three of the top reasons why more and more people are exploring integrative medicine.
Integrative medicine for people engaged in their health
One reason integrative medicine is popular is that people in general are taking a greater, more active role in their own health care. People are more aware of health issues and are more open to trying different treatment approaches.
Internet access is also helping to fuel this trend by playing a significant role in improving patient education. Two decades ago, consumers had little access to research or reliable medical information. Today, clinical trials and pharmaceutical developments are more widely available for public knowledge.
For example, people who have arthritis can find a good deal of information about it online. They may find research showing that glucosamine, for example, helps with joint pain and doesn’t appear to have a lot of risks associated with it. With this information in hand, they feel empowered to ask their doctors if glucosamine might work with their current treatment plans.
Integrative medicine for an aging population
A second reason for the wider acceptance of integrative treatments is the influence of the baby boomer generation. This generation is open to a variety of treatments as it explores ways to age well. In addition, baby boomers are often dealing with several medical issues, from weight control to joint pain, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. Not everyone wants to start with medication; many prefer to try complementary methods first.
Integrative medicine for the chronically stressed
A third reason for the growth, interest and use of integrative therapies is the degree of chronic stress in the American lifestyle. Workplace stress, long commutes, relationship issues and financial worries are just some of the concerns that make up a long list of stressors.
Although medications can effectively treat short-term stress, they can become just as damaging — and even as life-threatening — as stress itself is when taken long term. Integrative medicine, on the other hand, offers several effective, evidence-based approaches to dealing with stress that don’t involve medication. Many otherwise healthy people are learning to manage the stress in their lives successfully by using complementary methods such as yoga, meditation, massage and guided imagery.
Considering that many healthy people are engaging in integrative practices, it isn’t surprising to find out that they’re turning to these treatments in times of illness, as well. Here are just a few ways integrative medicine is used to help people cope with medical conditions:
- Meditation can help manage the anxiety and discomfort of medical procedures.
- Massage has been shown to improve recovery rates after heart surgery.
- Gentle tai chi or yoga can assist the transition back to an active life after illness or surgery.
Conventional Western medicine doesn’t have cures for everything. Many people who have arthritis, back pain, neck pain, fibromyalgia and anxiety look to integrative treatments to help them manage these often-chronic conditions without the need for medications that may have serious side effects or that may be addictive.
The risks and benefits of integrative medicine
As interest in integrative medicine continues to grow, so does the research in this field. Researchers are studying these approaches in an effort to separate evidence-based, effective therapies from those that don’t show effectiveness or may be risky. In the process, this research is helping to identify many genuinely beneficial treatments. In essence, both consumer interest and scientific research have led to further review of these therapies within modern medicine.
As evidence showing the safety and efficacy of many of these therapies grows, physicians are starting to integrate aspects of complementary medicine into conventional medical care. Ultimately, this is what has led to the current term integrative medicine.
Ask your healthcare team about integrative medicine and wellness
If you’re interested in improving your health, many integrative medicine practices can help. Not only can they speed your recovery from illness or surgery, but they can also help you cope with a chronic condition. In addition, complementary practices such as meditation and yoga can work to keep you healthy and may actually prevent many diseases.
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