What Is Integrative Medicine?

What is integrative medicine? 

Integrative medicine is the umbrella under which all forms of healing with evidence lie. Under the umbrella of integrative medicine is conventional medicine which is what most of us are most familiar with. The development of integrative medicine was initially driven by consumer demand and is now increasingly accepted by healthcare providers. Consumers wanted doctors that were familiar with different types of healing modalities other than conventional medicine. Under the umbrella of integrative medicine lies all types of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Integrative medicine is patient centered and addresses the mind, body, emotional and spiritual needs of each patient. The University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine has been leading the way in Integrative medicine for over two decades and published a nice summary here. Ayurvedic medicine, traditional chinese medicine, functional medicine, osteopathic medicine, sound healing, massage and energy healing are all part of an integrative doctors wheelhouse. It is important to recognize that Integrative Medicine is now a board certified specialty and requires extensive training. I completed a two year fellowship with the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine (AZCIM) in February of 2020 and will be taking the board exam next spring. There are many practitioners out there who are labeling themselves as integrative practitioners without the extensive training. Some of them may have acquired their knowledge prior to integrative medicine fellowships and are likely as competent if not more competent than fellowship trained practitioners. As more and more consumers are looking for an integrative approach, there are also practitioners who are listing themselves as integrative practitioners who do not have the extensive knowledge. The AZCIM website has a list of practitioners who have completed their fellowship and its a great place to search for a well trained practitioner near you. 

An integrative physician is not an expert in each of these modalities but rather understands the literature and can provide evidence based integrative recommendations for a particular set of symptoms or disease. Integrative medicine has come into the spotlight this year with COVID-19 as people look for ways to improve their immune system. The directors of my fellowship published a nice article here. To summarize, you can help your immune system by getting enough sleep, decreasing your stress levels, eating well and adding some supplements. Persistent lack of sleep is associated with a 450% increased risk of becoming ill. We’ll go over sleep in another blog post. Keeping your body in the “rest and digest” parasympathetic state as much as possible rather than the “flight and fight” sympathetic system will also help your immune system. Consider trying the 4-7-8 breath every morning and every night as a baseline and do some breaths whenever you feel your stress levels rising. Really just having your exhales twice the length of your inhales will help switch you to into parasympathetic. We’ll cover how to eat well in more depth as well and eating an anti-inflammatory diet is important to optimizing your immune system. There are many ways to accomplish this and one model is here. There are many supplements that can contribute to an optimal immune system and we’ll revisit this as well. Vitamin C, D, zinc, melatonin and elderberry are a few that I recommend to keep your immune soldiers strong. 

What about integrative approaches to help you recover from COVID? There is another nice article here with further links. Breathing exercises and Qi gong both have evidence to help with COVID recovery. There are many types of breathing exercises out there and my recommendation is to go with whichever type you’ll actually do. I like the 4-7-8 breath and Wim Hof breathing. Qigong can improve your immune response by reducing stress and inflammation, strengthening respiratory muscles and increasing lung capacity.