Integrative vs Western medicine
Sometimes it feels as though medicine pulls all the right forces into place, then just as quickly it can diverge and find itself at opposite ends of the field. By medicine I refer to both traditional/integrative medicine and conventional/western medicine. They are both forms of medicine.
Yet despite this, there still remains such a huge separation between the two in an era where more than ever all modalities need to work together. Not for the sake of how people perceive the industries and the different forms of medicine and treatment, but for the good of the individuals we treat. That’s why we doctors, specialists, nutritionists, naturopaths, massage therapists go into practice – because we want to improve the overall health and wellbeing of others.
As I sat down to write this piece, I spent time reading and understanding the attitudes toward both integrative and conventional medicine and how people define it.
Conventional / western medicine included… treats the symptom; is condition specific and utilises the development of drugs and surgery to improve illness. Looks at the human body as independent parts.
Integrative / alternative medicine included… treats body, mind and spirit holistically; takes a proactive approach to health and treating disease. Considers illness a result of nutritional deficiency which can be resolved with therapeutic supplementation of nutrients.
A publication by the Medical Journal of Australia in 2004 stated… “ To argue for complementarity or integrativeness implies that the knowledge bases of the paradigms are commensurable — that is, they are not logically inconsistent. For example, in the paradigm that we now call conventional scientific medicine, dilution of a therapeutic substance weakens its potency.
However, in the homoeopathic paradigm, dilution — even multiple times so that few molecules of the original substance remain — actually increases its potency. Presumably dilution can’t do both.
The paradigms are incommensurable, and so the possibilities for combining treatments based on the two paradigms must be limited.” Just over ten years later, looking at how the treatment of health has evolved, I do wonder if we’ve spent enough time coming together as practitioners or if there still exists such a divide in our practice.
There is time and place for all modalities of medicine. But more than ever, the health industry needs to converge and look at how we can practice together more holistically so we can improve the overall health of our patients, and our patients need to know how we can do this too.
If clients come to my practice having visited their doctor and are prescribed medication then my first port of call as a nutritionist is to speak to their doctor so we’re all on the same page. I’m not in nutritional medicine to tell people it’s my way or the high way with health, I’m practicing with the best integrative approach as I possibly can.
For every time I call a doctor, they are appreciative and for the time I’ve been to a doctor and talked about what I do for work, I hear the feedback that they’re tired of receiving requests through their patients for blood work or to talk about reducing prescription medications without having a word or letter from the requesting practitioner. This would be, understandably, fairly frustrating.
It’s time we all met on the same page…If a doctors practice is to treat the symptom/organ then as natural health practitioners we have much to learn from them. Similarly, as doctors aren’t required to be trained in nutritional medicine and the prescription of therapeutic supplements for health, maybe we can offer some of our guidance too. It’s a pretty simple, effective collaboration of minds and medicines and it’s important our patients and clients know that we can integrate our work.
Let’s look to some of the more common examples of integrative practice which can easily go amiss…
PCOS (Poly-cystic ovarian syndrome): Cases are frequently increasing in PCOS which is attributable to a variety of factors. When patients are diagnosed with PCOS depending on the severity of the cysts they are often prescribed the drug Metformin (used to control insulin, blood sugar and androgen production) and/or put on the oral contraceptive pill. As natural therapy practitioners we can support and integrate within this by looking at :
- Stress which can cause hormonal imbalances (increasing cortisol levels can cause a cascading effect on other hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone)
- Improving nutritional imbalances which may result from prescription medication. The oral contraceptive pill can reduce absorption and stored levels of folic acid, vitamins C, E, B2, B6, B12 and minerals such as zinc, magnesium and selenium.
- Tailoring an individual’s diet to reduce refined sugars and carbohydrates, alcohol and phytoestrogens.
Diabetes: The greatest health epidemic of the 21st century and one both doctors and natural health practitioners are treating increasingly. But prescription medication alone should not be solely relied upon and diabetes is a prime example of where doctors can refer to natural health practitioners to work with clients too. This is a case where so much can be done with diet whether it is for Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Across both groups as nutritionists we tailor planning for individuals to incorporate:
- high fibre, low glycemic load diets
- adequate intake and/or supplementation of vitamins and minerals to improve cellular efficiency, integrity, glucose tolerance and insulin metabolism
- herbal medicine to reduce blood sugar levels when appropriate
IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome): One of the more common gastro-intestinal disorders in practice between both doctors and natural health care practitioners. IBS is a functional disorder of the large intestine, without evidence of structural impairment. Some medical prescriptions for individuals with this condition might include antibiotics to reduce bacteria formation in the gut and relaxants designed to slow waste moving through the bowel. Whilst it is completely understandable for clients to feel unsure about moving away from medication that might reduce their symptoms, there is a place for natural health within the treatment of IBS too. As practitioners we may consider:
– Emotional stress contributing to the disorder and ways to manage it. The word “irritable” within the title of the condition might say something about how the individual is feeling toward certain components of their life which cannot go ignored
- Reestablishing healthy gut flora through the diet, in particular if the client has been through a cycle of antibiotics or otherwise
- Testing for food allergies/intolerances with the aim to reduce nonimmunologic foods in the diet and improve the overall integrity of the digestive system
As you can see there is time and place for different treatments in medicine – herbal, nutritional, conventional, integrative, you name it. And the aim here is not to make anyone feel as though they are doing wrong because there’s nothing wrong with following what you feel is right for you at different times in life, but more so to open up the channels of communication, understanding and more than ever how we all approach health, medicine and the treatment of patients, clients and ourselves.
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