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Media Coverage

Second Opinion

Integrative Medicine

Column by Rebecca Ryder, M.D. - Hampton Roads Health Journal, January 2009

Q: What is integrative medicine?
A: Integrative medicine is a field that combines the best of traditional medicine and complementary and alternative therapies to help patients achieve optimal health and wellness. Physicians and other health professionals use it to manage symptoms, improve quality of life and increase treatment effectiveness.

Q. What are the basic principles of integrative medicine?
A. Dr. Andrew Weil has been one of the foremost professors of integrative medicine in the U.S. The following principles come from his nationally-renowned Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. Integrative medicine involves:
- a partnership between patient and practitioner in the healing process
- appropriate use of conventional and alternative methods to facilitate the body's innate healing response

- consideration of all factors that influence health, wellness and disease - including mind, spirit, body and community
- a philosophy that neither rejects conventional medicine nor accepts alternative medicine uncritically
- recognition that good medicine should be based on good science, inquiry-driven and open to new paradigms
- use of natural, less invasive therapies whenever possible
- the broader concepts of promotion of health and the prevention of illness as well as the treatment of disease.

Q. What types of therapies or treatments are used in integrative medicine?
A. Integrative medicine doctors may recommend acupuncture, herbal medicine or supplements, nutritional changes, specific exercise programs, biofeedback, massage therapy, chiropractic care, psychological counseling, or spiritual or energy healing, just to name a few.

Q. What types of illnesses or symptoms respond well to integrative medicine?
A. Many gynecologic problems, including premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menstrual irregularities, infertility and menopausal symptoms respond well to an integrative approach. Common disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, chronic constipation or diarrhea, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), asthma, chronic cough and seasonal allergies are often markedly improved with an integrative approach.

Chronic pain disorders such as migraines, fibromyalgia, lower back pain, sciatica, frozen shoulder, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), shingles pain, tennis elbow and other conditions can also be effectively treated with an integrative approach, as can urinary tract problems such as recurring infections and overactive bladder.

Q. What integrative therapies have you had particular success with?
A. Acupuncture, for example, works really well for treating nausea after surgical procedures, and for decreasing general anxiety and post-operative pain. I have seen acupuncture and herbal medicine regulate and/or stop heavy menstrual periods, decrease seasonal allergies, relieve the pain of frozen shoulder and other musculoskeletal pains, relieve chronic constipation, reduce or eliminate insomnia and cure overactive bladder. I have also used acupuncture for stroke rehab with good results.

Q. What is the difference between integrative, complementary and alternative medicine?
A. Complementary medicine involves practices designed to work in conjunction with traditional Western medicine to improve results. Alternative medicine is sometimes used in place of traditional therapies. Depending on the medical situation, integrative medicine may combine traditional, alternative and complementary practices.

Q. What are some examples of integrative medicine being used in the United States?
A. Several of the foremost cancer treatment centers in the country, including Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York, M. D. Anderson in Houston and Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, have incorporated integrative medicine into their standard care for cancer patients. Their patients are offered acupuncture, massage, counseling and other therapies to ease pain and cancer treatment side effects.

Many prominent medical centers across the country now have integrative medicine departments as well, including the University of Arizona, University of California at San Francisco and Irvine, Duke University, George Washington University, University of Maryland, Mayo Clinic, University of Michigan, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Stanford University.

These academic centers are not only treating patients but also doing research to add to the scientific knowledge base surrounding many of these complementary and alternative treatments and integrative medicine in general.

Q. Who should seek out integrative approaches?
A. Everyone! Integrative medicine is a preventive, proactive approach to health and wellness for just about anybody.

Dr. Rebecca Ryder is the co-founder of Synergy in Chesapeake, an integrative medicine center for women. She is a board-certified gynecologist and an expert in medical acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutrition and bioidentical hormone replacement, a more natural method of replenishing hormones to optimal levels.

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