Complementary, Alternative & Integrative Medicine

Sraddha Helfrich
University Of Minnesota Medical Student

It seems like everywhere you go, you hear and see mention of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) and Holistic healing. What exactly is meant by these terms and why are more Americans turning to CAM for treatment, making it the fastest growing sector of American health care?

Alternative medicine refers to those practices that are neither commonly taught at US medical schools nor commonly available at US healthcare facilities. Alternative medicine most commonly includes healing modalities like yoga, meditation, ayurveda, acupuncture, herbalism, osteopathy, aromatherapy, biofeedback, massage, homeopathy, naturopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, chiropractic, nutrition and craniosacral therapy. (This list is not exhaustive.) Alternative medicine implies that these healing techniques serve as a total replacement of conventional western allopathic biomedicine (conventional medicine).

Complementary medicine, on the other hand, refers to a healing approach that still places allopathic medicine in the center of care and that alternative therapies may be used as an adjunct to that conventional care. Holistic healing is an approach to health and healing that views a person in her or his entirety – mind, body, spirit-soul, social atmosphere – and does not fragment the body into parts and organ systems that are coordinated but mostly unrelated to each other. It views the patient as a whole person, and health is achieved when a person is whole, and all areas of her or his life exist in harmony.

Even with the great scientific advances by allopathic medicine, why is CAM the fastest growing segment of America’s health care? There are many reasons for this. Dr. Andrew Weil, in his introduction for Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier’s book, The Best Alternative Medicine: What Works? What Does Not?, mentions that in the 1960s, Americans began to shed their blind faith in technology because they realized it can create just as many problems as it solves. In medicine, this translates into runaway costs that placed our health care system in the grips of Managed Care. Managed Care is a health care system that has, according to Weil, reduced medicine to a business and has made life miserable for many patients and physicians alike. Physicians have severe time limitations on their appointments with patients. This gives many patients the feeling that they are not given the attention they deserve and are not given the opportunity to develop a proper healing relationship with their physician. CAM practitioners, in contrast, do spend more time with their patients and incorporate therapeutic interactions with their patients. Additionally, Weil notes that our fascination with technology, over time, replaced our love of nature. In medicine, this led to ignoring nature’s own wisdom, and led us to look away from our own inner healing intelligence to address our health problems. This, along with our increasing interest in spirituality, mind-body-spirit interactions and disillusionment with an allopathic medical establishment that reduces the patient to a physical body, have all prompted an increased demand for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

A shift in thinking is occurring, however, within the medical establishment. Instead of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which are two approaches to healing that still place allopathic and non-conventional healing methods in diametric opposition to each other, a new field of medicine called Integrative Medicine is being developed by the best minds in medicine today.

The following are some of the fundamental philosophical tenets of integrative medicine that were expressed at the recent Pediatric Integrative Medicine Conference hosted by the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota:

  • The role of the health care provider is to partner with each patient and jointly facilitate the optimal functioning of each individual’s own innate healing capability. This is accomplished through the judicious use of the best of conventional and alternative therapies.
  • All interventions, conventional and alternative alike, that are considered safe, of potential clinical benefit and cost-effective, should be offered to help optimize both individual and community health.
  • Health and healing are emphasized more than disease and curing.
  • Prevention of disease and health optimization go hand-in-hand.
  • All people must assume greater responsibility for their own health! Some of the most important functions of a healthcare professional are to provide access to credible information and to assist people to change lifestyle habits that do not support wellness.
  • In order to optimize community factors, attention must be paid to all aspects of a person’s being.
  • Health care professionals should be role models for healthy living.

Integrative medicine encourages a declining reliance on health care professionals and switches the focus of our health care activities to dietary and lifestyle changes. It also recognizes the dynamic relationship between the mind, body and spirit. Most importantly, it encourages people to look into alternative forms of healing, in a safe and judicious way, even when their basic tenets are in conflict with the present scientific culture and view of the world.

Holistic Health Tips:

  • Read about health issues. Knowledge is the most powerful tool to empower yourself to live a healthy and whole life.
  • Acknowledge that healing and health need time, attention and energy. You are so willing to invest time, attention and energy into your career, but what makes you think that your health is any different?
  • Realize that healing cannot be put into a pill!! You have a huge reservoir of healing energy within yourself, but it takes effort to harness that potential.
  • Remember, health is a lifestyle, not a by-product of taking pills to rectify a terrible lifestyle.
  • Educate yourself about food. Cook toxin-free, organic food in your home.
  • Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. Carry a water bottle with you and aim to refill periodically.
  • Quit smoking. You pollute other people’s air when you smoke. This is a human rights violation! We are all entitled to clean air.
  • Communicate with your health practitioners. You are the patient. The doctor is there to serve you.
  • Understand that your spiritual well being has an impact on your physical health. Take to spiritual self-inquiry and aim for knowledge of the “self.”
  • Recognize that the health of the earth, which gives us the food to sustain our bodies, is intimately tied to the health of our bodies. If you pollute the earth, you not only pollute your own body but also the bodies of people you love and future generations.
  • Reflect. Knowledge of the self and the universal spirit is crucial to your healing processes.
  • Use as few resources as you can. Humans are not the only species on earth (although we act like it) and the health of all species affects our health as residents of the earth.
  • Support the work of our local medical school. Contact the Center for Spirituality and Healing and encourage their efforts. Give a donation or take a course.
Read Up

The Complete Self-Care Guide to Holistic Medicine, Robert S. Ivker, D.O.

Physician: Medicine and the Unsuspected Battle for Human Freedom, Richard Leviton

Act Locally

University of Minnesota – Center for Spirituality and Healing

Northwestern Health Sciences University
2501 W. 84th St.
Bloomington, MN 952-888-4777

Powderhorn Cultural Wellness Center
1527 E. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 612-721-5745

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