Story By Cindy Black

In recent years, many non-mainstream healthcare approaches once considered fringe medicine have gained traction. Practices such as massage, acupuncture, dietary supplementation, meditation and yoga are now being performed alongside conventional medical therapies in hospitals across the country.

Called integrative medicine, this approach is healing-oriented medicine that takes the whole person — body, mind and spirit — into account and considers all lifestyle aspects in deciding a course of treatment. This wholesome approach, designed to treat the person and not just the disease, differs from conventional medicine in that it tends to be closer to nature.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), the federal government’s lead agency for scientific research on health interventions, practices, products and disciplines that originate from outside mainstream medicine, nearly 40 percent of all Americans use, or have used, healthcare approaches not considered conventional. These approaches typically fall within one of two categories: natural products or mind and body practices.

Botanicals, probiotics, essential oils, vitamins and minerals are all natural products that are typically marketed as dietary supplements. The most popular natural product used by adults is fish oil, while one of the most popular products for children is Echinacea.

Mind and body practices range from chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation to yoga and meditation. Of all complementary and alternative therapies, the use of natural products is the most popular, with deep breathing, meditation and massage coming in just behind.

Esther Sternberg, MD, a National Institutes of Health senior scientist and author of The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions, explains that the appeal of integrated medicine is rooted in patients’ desires to be seen by their doctors as more than their ailments. “It’s no longer considered fringe,” Sternberg says. “Medical students are being taught to think in an integrated way about the patient, and, ultimately, that will improve the management of illness at all levels.” The broader range of treatment options also helps patients to feel that they are doing everything they can to achieve wellness.

However, not all doctors are jumping aboard the integrative health bandwagon. In one national survey of hospitals that offer complementary therapies, 44 percent listed “physician resistance” as one of the top three hurdles in implementing programs, along with “budgetary constraints” (65 percent) and “lack of evidence-based research” (39 percent). Some critics insist that the rise of complementary health practices can be widely contributed to public fascination and demand for alternative treatments, whether or not they’ve held up under scientific scrutiny.

While evidence for the effectiveness of some practices is indeed lacking, NCCAM states on its website (nccam.nih.gov) that its mission “is to define, through rigorous scientific investigation, the usefulness and safety of complementary health approaches and their roles in improving healthcare.”

As integrative health continues to gain a stronger foothold within the medical community — among both doctors and patients — we can expect the benefits and effectiveness of complementary therapies to be studied more carefully. Though integrative medicine is still a budding field, if you are dissatisfied with the constraints of conventional medicine or simply wish to explore other treatment options, it is worth consideration.

Cindy Black owns and is a certified personal trainer at Body Edge Fitness Solutions in Ocean Isle Beach. If you’re interested in pursuing yoga, a free class is offered on Fridays for qualifying seniors at Body Edge Solutions. Call 910-575-0975 or go online to www.cme2bfit.com for the group class schedule.