In recent years, there has been increasing interest in integrative medicine. One of the great strengths of integrative medicine is that it recognizes each person as a unique individual with many aspects that are vital to their health and well-being.
Integrative medicine differs from conventional allopathic medicine in some fundamental ways. While conventional medicine focuses on symptoms and disease, integrative medicines focus on root causes and health. Allopathic medicine concentrates on the physical and breaks the body into separate, disconnected parts, whereas the integrative approach treats the human being—body, mind, and spirit—as a unified whole.
While it may seem that integrative medicine is a relatively new approach gaining momentum in the mainstream, it has existed for millennia. It is the foundation of many traditional medicines—like Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, homeopathy, and naturopathy.
Today, some conventional physicians employ an integrative approach and refer their patients to various integrative medicine practitioners to meet their health needs.
The Whole Person Approach
The whole-person approach of body, mind, and spirit works from the premise that these realms are intricately connected and vital to a healthy, happy human being. Our health and well-being depend on balance in every aspect of our lives, and practitioners aim to understand each of these realms to help their patients rebalance and heal.
Our Different Aspects
The following aims to give you an idea of how integrative practitioners evaluate their patients and all the things they consider. Once these practitioners have a more complete picture of who you are, they can better determine where problems lie and how to help to resolve them.
Treatment usually begins with a detailed intake process, including a thorough medical history. Practitioners are not interested in your disease or illness but in you—all the different parts of your life and the various roles you play. Below is a list of some of the “realms” that practitioners are interested in and may ask about.
Our bodies are the vessels through which we experience the world and are one of the places where illness can manifest. Our bodies provide us with vital feedback mechanisms, which, if we choose to recognize them, let us know when something isn’t right. These messages are often in the form of pain and various sensations (like an intuitive or “gut” feeling) and are the body’s way of getting our attention.
The physical realm encompasses the way we take care of our bodies. How much physical activity we do, how much time we spend being sedentary, the kinds of foods we eat, staying hydrated, the quantity and quality of our sleep, how much caffeine, alcohol, or tobacco we consume, and even our feelings of safety and security are essential components to consider if we want our bodies to thrive.
Anyone who has been nervous before a big exam or lost someone they love knows how powerful emotions can be. Emotions are a vital part of being human, but sometimes, when life presents us with challenges, they can be overwhelming and difficult to manage. Being emotionally healthy requires a certain level of self-awareness and the ability to process our feelings healthily.
Unprocessed emotions, can build up and interfere with our health—and the effect of that build-up can be significant on our overall health.
Emotional health also pertains to our outlook and attitude on life and how we feel about ourselves, all of which impact our health and well-being.
There is a direct relationship between our health and our social connections. Social connections can be romantic relationships, friendships, and our relationships with our families and members of our communities.
Positive relationships benefit us in many ways, but negative or difficult relationships can take a toll on our physical and psychological health. Often, evaluating the different relationships in our lives can help us clarify which ones are healthy and which ones may need work.
Our connections to others impact our health and well-being, and research demonstrates that the quality and quantity of healthy relationships in our lives directly affects our emotional, psychological, and physical health. One landmark study revealed that a lack of social connections is more detrimental to our health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure.
Although being “spiritual” may have different meanings to different people, it is often a belief in something greater than yourself—something greater than we can experience in the physical realm. For some, spirituality is about our search for meaning and purpose.
An example of how spirituality could affect your health is when something in your life rattles your beliefs and you struggle to reconcile. Such struggles may cause you emotional pain and stress, and even affect you physically. Disharmony in any of these aspects of our lives can turn our lives upside down and negatively affect our health.
We may not often think about our environment when we think about health, but it has a significant impact on our health and well-being. The environment can mean many things—the surroundings where we live and spend our time, such as our homes and our workplaces, and the effect of our relationships and the energy they create for us.
For example, if you have a job you love but a boss who constantly singles you out and makes your life miserable, it can create a toxic work environment that can contribute to psychological, emotional, and even physical symptoms.
Conversely, living in a moldy, damp basement apartment can cause many health problems.
So, your environment can refer to anything from the physical environments where you spend your time to the energy in those environments created by the people you share them with. In integrative medicine, all of these factors are taken into consideration as they can affect our happiness and ability to thrive.
Work & Life Balance
Balancing work with the rest of life is an aspect of particular significance, especially when it comes to our hectic, fast-paced lifestyles. In today’s world it is increasingly difficult to maintain a healthy work/life balance, so this is something an integrative practitioner will likely discuss with you to make sure you are getting adequate rest, can recharge your batteries, and have time to yourself, which is a vital part of being a happy, balanced human.
The Cost of Integrative Medicine
Because many health insurance plans don’t cover integrative medicine practitioners, people may be reluctant to try it. But integrative medicine has many benefits that, over time, exceed the expense, due to its focus on root causes and the whole-person approach.
Focusing on root causes allows practitioners to get to the bottom of what is causing your health problems and work with you to change the conditions that led to these issues so they can be corrected. Although this generally takes a little longer because of the investigative process involved, it often leads to better, longer-lasting results—as long as the patient is willing to participate in the process.
Treating all aspects of a person often costs less in the long run, and empowers the patient to actively participate in their healing and health maintenance, resulting in their being more likely to stay healthy and avoid future problems.
Everyone must find the approach to health care that makes the most sense to them. Integrative medicine offers a broader view of health and the underlying causes of illness which differs from the conventional medicine approach that many of us are used to. Integrative medicine treats human beings as beautifully complex miracles of life and biology—rather than objects of disease. In the United States, we spend more per person on health care than any other country in the world, yet we have worse outcomes. Nearly 60% of Americans have one chronic disease, and approximately 40% have more than one chronic condition. Among those over 50 years old, the number of people with at least one chronic disease is expected to increase by 99.5%, from 71.522 million in 2020 to 142.66 million by 2050. Concurrently, those with more than one chronic condition, or multimorbidity, are projected to increase 91.16%.
With the health challenges we face, having choices when it comes to our health care is essential, and integrative medicine is worth exploring.
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