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Integrative Medicine

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

What Is Integrative Medicine?

Integrative medicine combines conventional and alternative, or complementary medicine, and is often framed as focusing on emotional and even spiritual aspects of health, as well as on physical well-being. In addition to standard medical treatment, integrative medicine practitioners and programs generally incorporate evidence-based dietary changes, supplements, alternative medical techniques, and or mind-body exercises, such as yoga and meditation, into their program.

Mind-Body Medicine Alongside Mainstream Care
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A multi-disciplinary integrative healthcare team often includes physicians, nutritionists, massage therapists, acupuncturists, yoga instructors, and meditation instructors, among others. Integrative health practitioners partner with the patient to provide individualized treatment and prevention of disease and disorders; the patient is part of the decision-making process. Whenever feasible, less invasive, more natural interventions are used for healing and health promotion. Many alternative treatments have been researched and can be effective.

How does nutrition factor into integrative medicine?

The food you eat affects your health and the development of illness and disease including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and many other conditions. If your diet contains too much fat and cholesterol, you may end up with atherosclerosis; too much sugar can lead to diabetes; add fish to your meal plan and your risk of heart disease decreases. And people who eat a lot of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains normally live longer and healthier lives. Nutrition is a foundation of integrative care.

Are supplements and herbs part of complementary care?

While it is best to eat your nutrients in the form of food, supplements are indeed part of complementary care. Here is a short list of helpful supplements.

Omega-3 fatty acids, high in cold-water fish, help prevent heart disease, arthritis, and cancer. It also reduces inflammation, which is important for immune response.

• Folate, high in leafy greens and other vegetables and fruits, also reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.

• Flavonoids, high in blueberries and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, may help fight cancer.

• Calcium and Vitamin D, high in eggs and fish and dairy, regulates the calcium in your body, which is good for bones and muscles.

• Lutein, high in leafy greens like kale and spinach, may also reduce the risk of cancer as well as cataracts.

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Complementary Care in Illness and Disease
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Integrative medicine is increasingly sought as patient sophistication grows, and a more holistic approach to care is encouraged by health providers as well as consumers. Alternative therapies—like yoga, acupuncture, and music therapy—can make a difference when used alongside standard Western medications and treatment protocols. Integrative medicine shows promise in treating mood disorders and psychiatric conditions. It can also help people grieve the loss of a loved one in healthy ways.

Can integrative medicine help with difficult illnesses such as cancer?

Standard treatment for cancer patients includes invasive chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapies. These ministrations are hard on the body and the mind, and an integrative approach is often used to counter the adverse side effects of such traditional care. If animal-assisted therapy, for instance, works for a particular patient by reducing stress, then adding such a therapy to the treatment program would be useful.

Can integrative medicine help with pain management?

When the proliferation of opioids led to addiction and overdose, integrative medicine came to the forefront in the management of pain. Drugs and medication are not always the right solution for pain. Conversely, complementary therapies, such as acupuncture and meditation, may well help a patient better cope with their suffering and even address their underlying and co-occurring problems.

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