Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How Whole-Health Care Can Help You Feel Great... Live Longer

Henri Roca, MD
Greenwich Hospital Center for Integrative Medicine

T hink of your health as a pot on the stove that’s about to come to a boil. Conventional medicine would try to slam a lid on the pot and hold it down tight. That may work at first, but unless the heat is also turned down, the pressure under the lid will build up and the pot will boil over anyway. What alternative therapies try to do is reduce the intensity of the flame under the pot. In both cases, we’re trying to keep the pot from boiling over.

The difference is that with integrative medicine, we’re trying to keep that flame turned way down and keep it from bringing the pot to a boil at all.

This combination of conventional medicine and alternative treatments works so well that today many hospitals (including the one where I work) offer integrative medicine centers. When we incorporate alternative treatments, we’re looking at ways to help people with certain lifestyle issues that are out of balance and will eventually cause illness. We’re looking at the whole person -- mind, body and spirit.

CREATING BALANCE

Our goal is to bring balance back -- instead of allowing an imbalance to continue until it develops into serious symptoms. Through poor eating habits, lack of exercise and exposure to toxins (pesticides and added hormones) in the air we breathe, water we drink and food we eat, we put a huge burden on the body. By using integrative medicine, we can reduce that burden and help the body detoxify.

How it works: By supporting the liver, the kidneys and the intestines. If any of these organs don’t function correctly, we will develop serious disease sooner or later.

Do you suffer from such common disorders as acid reflux, stomach ulcers, obesity, diabetes, menstrual irregularities, skin rashes, allergies, asthma or digestive problems? Many of my patients do. All those diagnoses are related, because the human system is a web of interactions and no single diagnosis can stand alone. Instead of giving someone three or four or 10 diagnoses with three or four or 10 pills to treat them, we work to bring that entire system back into balance. Treatments I use include...

Herbal products.

Biofeedback or other types of mind-body techniques, such as visualization.

Meditation or deep breathing techniques.

Traditional Chinese medicine, such as acupuncture.

Homeopathy.

There’s no single best treatment that works for everyone. We look closely at the patient as an individual and choose treatments based on what is most likely to be effective for him/her. But there are some important general guidelines that may apply to you...

CHRONIC DISEASES

When we have situations in life that impact our bodies significantly, such as chronic disease or stress, our nutrients are used up very quickly. We need to replenish them -- if we don’t, then chronic diseases worsen or we develop new disease. Examples...

Depression often occurs after a person has been under significant stress that continues over a long period. Under these circumstances, by replenishing basic nutrients necessary to create natural mood-regulating chemicals in the brain, we can potentially diminish depression symptoms. We don’t automatically put any depressed person on an antidepressant medication. Sometimes we do so in conjunction with vitamin therapy, but the goal is to eventually lower the medication dosage or stop it altogether.

High blood pressure (hypertension) can be caused by a magnesium deficiency. In that case, we might prescribe medication to lower blood pressure but also recommend a diet with more magnesium (or use magnesium supplements).

WHEN TO CHOOSE ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES

Conventional practitioners worry that by using alternative methods, some patients will end up delaying treatment until the condition has worsened... or even until it’s “too late” in the case of life-threatening conditions. That’s a valid concern, but rarely do I ever tell anyone that it’s appropriate to use only conventional medicine or only an alternative approach.

Emergencies: When there’s a truly dangerous medical condition -- for example, blood pressure that’s so high that the patient is in serious danger of having a heart attack or stroke... or a serious bacterial infection needing antibiotics... or cancer that might respond to chemotherapy, radiation and/or surgery -- then conventional medicine, through the emergency room if necessary, is definitely the way to go.

But what if your blood pressure has just begun to increase? Then you could choose standard blood pressure medication to protect yourself from complications and worsening disease... and use an integrative approach to rebalance the system and turn off the fire. The ultimate goal is to reduce the medication dose or to stop the drugs completely.

In the case of a life-threatening illness, such as cancer, alternative therapies are not cures. Instead, integrative medicine focuses on supporting the person through the conventional treatment process and can be very effective in helping with the pain, fatigue and nausea associated with chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Similarly, integrative medicine can be very helpful for treating chronic diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, where fatigue is a big problem. Integrative medical doctors are board-certified by the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine. You can find a doctor near you by checking its Web site, www.holisticboard.org.

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