What is Integrative Medicine?
The term Integrative Medicine indicates just what it says: no medical methods are excluded on the basis of any preconceived paradigm, i.e. inclusivity at all its levels. This means inter alia, that it does not exclude the conventional Medical Model, but recognises its values (especially re the more acute, emergency problems) as well as its shortcomings (especially re the more chronic conditions). Integrative Medicine stands for a holistic approach to wellness and recognises three basic tiers in its modus operandi:
1. The mind-body-soul (or metaphysical) aspects of disease and wellness
2. The “oral” connection (of what and what not to put into our bodies)
3. Treatments and therapies, which enhance general wellness.
The term Functional Medicine is widely used these days and essentially means the “oral connection” mentioned above, the use of nutritional measures, supplements, remedies and detoxification. As such I see it as a subset of Integrative Medicine.
The terms Alternative Medicine and Complementary Medicine are out-dated, as these suggest an exclusive, an either-or scenario.
In brief the principles of Integrative Medicine are:
1. Safety first: do no harm
2. Support health instead of treating disease
3. There are many causes of any singles chronic illness, hence many solutions, hence the need for a personalised medicine.
4. A human being is much more than a physical body. The non-physical aspects of health and disease are of paramount importance.
The principles of holism in medicine can perhaps best be understood by comparing Integrative Medicine with the traditional Scientific Medical Model, as currently still taught at medical schools.
This Scientific Medical Model is generally based on the following principles:
- A human being is defined by his / her body, which is like a machine, consisting of separate parts (e.g. mind and body).
- In order to unravel problems of function the focus is on: “smaller and smaller” with ever more sophisticated diagnostic tools.
- It is disease orientated. Disease is an enemy to be combatted. Signs and symptoms are expressions of disease and their disappearance indicates healing. Disease has mostly a single cause, e.g. bacteria cause infections.
- It relies on statistics. Methods need to be repeatable, hence be predictable; non-quantifiable methods are taboo, indeed quackery.
- Nutrition is unimportant, hence is not taught at medical school.
- The doctor-patient relationship is generally top-down. The doctor tells the patient what to do, which “is the only scientifically proven way, otherwise..”
- This form of medicine is not safe, in fact is generally recognized as one of the leading causes of death and disease.
The holistic, Integrative Medicine Model, following the order of points above, compares as follows:
- A human being is much more than a physical body, in fact can be described as an open-ended system without clear boundaries. All parts of this human system are interconnected in dynamic, energetic balance. Any change in any part will influence the whole system.
- The whole is much more than the sum-total of the parts, i.e. one needs to see the “bigger” picture.
- It is health orientated. Disease is a meaningful process. Signs and symptoms are expressions of the body healing itself (as well as warnings). The disappearance of symptoms does not equate healing. Any single disease has multiple causes, hence multiple solutions. Weaknesses in the body’s environment and immune system cause infections, i.e. allow bugs to manifest.
- Human beings are not statistics, but unique and unpredictable, hence an approach to wellness needs to be individualised. Non-quantifiables such as thoughts and emotions play a very important part in physical wellbeing and illness.
- Nutrition is super important: we are what we eat, yet ironically the health industry has lost touch with food and the food industry has lost touch with health.
- The doctor-patient relationship should be ”horizontal”. The doctor’s main function is to help patients make better informed decisions (and ask the right questions).
- Integrative medicine is safe.