Shopping around for a new health care practitioner? You’re not alone. The ever-strained health care system, combined with disenchantment with conventional practices, has a lot of folks looking around at their options. And while there’s simply no replacement for a good doctor when you’re seriously ill or injured, there are many integrative health approaches to consider when looking for preventive care.
What Is Integrative Medicine?
If you grew up using conventional medicine, you know the drill: You get sick, have your 15-minute appointment and go home with prescription in hand. To be fair, that magic pill model is what we wanted for the last 50 years — too busy to change our diet and lifestyle, we wanted the quick fix, and boy did the docs deliver. The problem is that approach may get rid of the acute symptoms but not address the deeper issue.
Enter integrative medicine. Using a variety of approaches, integrative medicine takes into account the whole person. That means your typical intake will be about an hour, during which your practitioner will go into the details of your primary concern as well as associated dietary and lifestyle factors. From that larger perspective, they are better able to see the bigger picture and address not only the symptomatic expression but the root cause of the issue.
The body’s systems are connected! And as the research on these connections makes our understanding of them more clear, it’s important to shift our antiquated approach. It’s a model of supporting wellness versus a model of fixing disease.
Health Approaches as Unique as You
Still on the fence? Luckily integrative strategies can go hand in hand with conventional practices. Not only do practitioners collaborate, but many integrative therapies use some of the same state-of-the-art Western tools that conventional ones do, like labs and imaging. The beauty is that you get to tailor your approach to fit your own unique needs.
Check out these examples so you can start dipping your toe in the integrative health water.
Even if needles aren’t your thing, don’t be so quick to rule out acupuncture. This healing practice has been in use for over 2,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine, and more recent research has shown widespread health benefits. Acupuncture involves the insertion of hair-thin needles through the skin at specific points along the body, called meridians, to help balance the flow of qi, or energy. Interestingly, many of these meridians have been correlated with sensory neurons in the body that, when stimulated, can reduce discomfort.
A broad category, mind-body techniques help to strengthen how your mind and body work together. These are simple and powerful ways to support health, and the research is clear: When our mind and body are in harmony, our bodies and minds benefit. Some examples of mind-body techniques include meditation, prayer, yoga, music therapy and even animal-assisted therapy. If you’ve ever danced out frustration or snuggled with your fur baby when feeling down, you know how supportive mind-body practices are to your well-being.
Human touch is another powerful integrative healing strategy. Manipulative and body-based practices use touch to move parts of your body. Some examples include chiropractic, osteopathic manipulation and even massage therapy. These practices are often thought of as beneficial for physical issues, but there has been developing research in their role in mental health support as well.
Many of us are already using natural products — like dietary supplements, herbal remedies, aromatherapy and CBD — to support our overall health. These come in many different forms, including CBD capsules, essential oils and CBD oils, teas and powders. There are many to choose from, so ensuring you have a quality brand is key. Used for a multitude of health issues, incorporating CBD or an aromatherapy practice into your routine can be an easy and cost-effective way to support greater health.
Own Your Health
While the research on the benefits of integrative approaches is quite compelling, perhaps the biggest benefit is the ability to empower ourselves in our health care. Taking control of our health with integrative therapies can help us find the approach that fits our unique needs.
Kristin Henningsen, M.S., R.H. (A.H.G.), R.Y.T., is a clinical herbalist and educator who first fell in love with plants in the desert Southwest. She’s passionate about bringing plant medicine back to the people, integrating Western herbalism, TCM and Ayurvedic practices to empower folks in their health care. She maintains a private clinical practice and serves as faculty for several university programs.