There seems to be confusion, particularly in medicine, about exactly what constitutes integrative medicine (IM), which is really just a way of emphasising lifestyle management so as to collaborate with the body’s physiological and biochemical processes.

Lifestyle as medicine has the potential to prevent up to 80% of chronic disease.

What is integrative medicine?

  • IM supports health using the most natural and least invasive approaches to facilitate the body’s innate healing response
  • It is guided by scientific, experiential and traditional evidence, and employs strategies best suited to each patient
  • It neither rejects conventional medicine, nor accepts alternative therapies uncritically
  • It recognises the holistic nature of the physical-energetic-informational system of each individual, and recognises that each person is different
  • It also reaffirms the relationship between the practitioner and the patient, who work together as a team
  • All factors that influence health, wellness and disease are taken into consideration so as to prevent or minimise the impact of disease
  • IM is systems-based, treating the system as a whole, correcting causes and restoring health

Integrative tools used by doctors

  • Education about lifestyle changes, including exercise, nutrition, stress management, cessation of bad habits, etc. where applicable
  • Evidence-based therapies (vitamins, minerals, hormones, etc) which will restore the functional integrity of the biochemical system, where applicable
  • Bio-identical hormone replacement therapy, and other compounded products manufactured by compounding pharmacies, where applicable
  • Intravenous therapies including vitamins, minerals and other nutraceuticals, where applicable
  • Neuro-muscular stimulation using needles/injections or low-energy laser, where applicable. This does not follow classical acupuncture points or principles
  • Pharmaceutical drugs, where applicable
  • Surgery, where applicable.

Global need for integrative medicine

Globally allopathic medicine (what is now seen as conventional medicine) is in jeopardy due to the high cost of treating chronic disease, and perceptions amongst the public regarding poor outcomes.

The rise in chronic disease trends and related healthcare spending in South Africa and in many other countries around the world is unsustainable. Type 2 diabetes (T2DM) alone is a looming global pandemic with incalculable consequences. Patients are demanding less harmful approaches than the use of conventional chemical drugs.

In the United States, 80% or more of all healthcare spending is tied to the treatment of conditions rooted in poor lifestyle choices. Chronic diseases and conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, stroke, T2DM, obesity, osteoporosis, multiple types of cancer are among the most common, costly and preventable of all health conditions.

In the most recent 2017 Stats South Africa, seven of the top 10 causes of death can be treated with education and lifestyle modifications. There are many hospitals and healthcare plans in the United States that are embracing IM, as it is cost saving for everyone and improves patient outcomes. Prescription drugs are now considered the third leading cause of death in the United States. 

Treating chronic disease

We know that there are multiple causes of chronic illness, which must all be taken into account. The integrative doctor considers ALL factors which influence health, wellness and disease. This includes the body, mind, spirit and community influences.

We look at major or marginal nutritional deficiencies, such as vitamin D, magnesium or fatty acids, which need supplementation. The patient may be making poor food choices or not exercising.

The patient may need assistance with detoxification. We are all exposed to environmental toxins in the air, water and food, but some individuals may be exposed to excessive amounts of toxins or may not be able to detoxify adequately.

Mercury in dental fillings is a significant source of toxic metal poisoning. Emotional stress and poor sleep patterns are big contributors to chronic illness. The rapidly developing science of genetics is also demonstrating that we each respond to our environment in unique ways, and that treatments must be personalised.

Addressing dysfunction in the body

When there is an imbalance between the external or internal causes and the body’s resistance, dysfunction develops. This dysfunction can develop in one or more of the body’s systems e.g. immune system, sugar balance, hormonal system, etc. Dysfunction over time leads to disease; while dysfunction is reversible, disease often is not.

IM aims to correct the dysfunction as early as possible, to restore normality and health. Even if disease has become irreversible, function can still be improved with resultant improvement in quality of life.

Lifestyle as medicine has the potential to prevent up to 80% of chronic disease. No other medicine can match that. In addition, it is potentially inexpensive and even cost-saving, free of all but good side-effects, safe and appropriate for children and octogenarians alike. It is, quite simply, the best medicine we’ve got, according to Dr David Katz, a well-known American functional or integrated medicine advocate.

Thus, it can be seen that IM does not purport to be a new speciality of medicine, and is not different to conventional medicine, other than it places an emphasis on lifestyle management and assisting the body’s physiological and biochemical processes to normalise and recover.