Treating The Whole Person
Integrative medicine treats the whole person and the underlying causes of their disease, rather than just administering pharmaceuticals to relieve symptoms
There’s a growing dissatisfaction with the current healthcare system that often leaves doctors feeling rushed and patients feeling as if they’re nothing more than just a number. Integrative medicine (IM) seems to promise more time, attention and a broader healing approach, not the “one-size-fits-all” tactic. However, IM’s not a totally new concept to conventional medicine. For years, doctors have been incorporating some integrative medicine approaches into their practices by prescribing nutrients like vitamin D and iron for optimal thyroid health, and vitamin D for osteoporosis.1
IM, also known as functional medicine, is science-based healthcare that treats illness and promotes wellness by focusing on the unique aspects of each individual and then individually tailoring treatment to restore the whole being, including the physiological, psychological and structural balance.2 It doesn’t concentrate only on the symptoms of chronic diseases, but expands into the underlying causes of the problem, like environmental toxins and genetic makeup, to prevent the disease before it happens.
Autoimmune diseases occur when the body’s immune system sees its own cells as the enemy and starts attacking itself. Conventional treatment uses immune-suppressing medication in an attempt to restore immune health, but the integrative approach, which includes diet, detoxifying the liver, re establishing a balance in the adrenal glands and gut, and restoring vitamin and hormone levels, has been found to be more effective in treating the underlying causes.3 Low-dose naltrexone has also been used successfully.4
Prescribing an antidepressant is the standard conventional procedure, whereas IM looks to restore the balance of brain chemicals. There are five main neurotransmitters or “molecules of behaviour”:
- Dopamine is the motivator, giving us purpose, energy, enthusiasm, power, movement, pain, pleasure and implementation of thought.5 An excess of dopamine brings about impulsivity, violence and overdrive, while a deficiency causes fatigue, addictive behaviour, depressive symptoms, attention deficit disorder (ADD), hyperactivity and obesity. Imbalanced levels of dopamine are commonly linked to Parkinson’s. Vitamin C, copper and niacin will assist in balancing dopamine levels, as will D,L-phenylalanine (especially for pain and fatigue),L-tyrosine, methionine, B-complex vitamins, Rhodiola and
- Norepinephrine affects attention and vigilance (the “fight or flight” response), as well as the sympathetic nervous system and blood pressure. An excess causes anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder, while a deficiency will lead to energy loss, dizzy spells and the loss of the ability to sweat. To get back into balance, the supplementation suggestions are similar to dopamine, although folate, SAMe, arginine and the amino acid theanine, contained in green tea, should be taken as well
- Acetylcholine affects memory, learning, information processing and language. An excess leads to feelings of isolation and paranoia, loss of concentration and burnout. A deficiency causes memory loss, agitation, loss of creativity and learning disorders. Acetylcholine imbalances have been linked to Alzheimer’s, dementia and autism.6 Balance by taking choline/lecithin, phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylserine, acetyl-Lcarnitine, taurine, alpha lipoic acid, coenzyme Q10, B-complex vitamins, Ginkgo biloba and the hormones DHEA and pregnenolone
- GABA is a neurotransmitter and functions as a mood regulator. An excess brings about loss of control, while a deficiency causes tremors, anxiety, insomnia, irregular heartbeat and restlessness. Augment with glycine, niacinamide, inositol, L-theanine, vitamin B6, magnesium, valerian root, passion flower, pyridoxine, N-acetyl-cysteine and taurine
- Serotonin is the feel-good chemical responsible for feelings such as excitement, joy, enthusiasm and the exhilarating rush brought on by a challenge. Too much of it, however, produces anxiety and feelings of inferiority, while a deficiency produces poor sleep, exhaustion, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), sugar and carbohydrate cravings, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Physical activity definitively assists in balancing serotonin levels, as does supplementing with 5-HTP, folic acid, DHEA, vitamin D3 and St John’s wort.
The typical approach to cancer is to cut, burn or poison the disease out of the system. However, this approach doesn’t look at the patient’s individual situation. An integrative plan takes into account the patient’s cancer cell groupings, sensitivity or resistance to chemotherapy, anaemia protection (iron levels in the blood), enzyme inhibitors and bone integrity. Other elements that are factored into tailoring a treatment plan include nutrition and supplementation to fight specific problems. 7
Conventional practice operates within the theory of completely blocking the build-up of cholesterol with medication called statins. But, essentially, it’s not that straightforward. Cholesterol is actually needed by the body for normal functioning and is the precursor of vitamin D, some hormones and the bile acids required for digestion. It’s also needed to form the membrane around cells and for regeneration of damaged cells.
Conversely, too much oxidised cholesterol leads to blood vessel disease. Lipoprotein, a cholesterol molecule attached to a protein, usually functions to repair blood vessel walls, but an excess of it causes blood clotting and plaque build-up which narrows the blood vessels.
Cholesterol, however, isn’t the only cause of heart disease. Other major players in increasing your risk include insulin, free radicals, heavy metals, stress, high blood pressure and genetics. Heart and blood vessel disease can be detected by the degree of inflammation in the body by doing a test called hsCRP (highly sensitive CRP).8 Natural antiinflammatories like omega-3 fatty acids from fish, krill or flaxseed oils, and curcumin, an extract from turmeric, ar ideal supplements to lower your risk of high cholesterol.
HORMONE REPLACEMENT THERAPY
It’s becoming progressively more accepted that premature aging is due to a decline in hormone levels, and that restoring these levels helps avoid many diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, dementia, osteoporosis and arthritis. Other consequences of deficiency include visual and hearing loss, fractures, frailty, incontinence, obesity and reduced libido. Additionally, low testosterone or rising estrone levels in men are associated with prostate cancer, while low progesterone or raised estrogen levels in women may result in breast cancer.9
Synthetic hormones are artificial chemicals that attempt to replicate human hormones, but are structurally foreign to the body. It’s been well-documented that the immune system will attack anything it perceives as foreign or toxic to the body. These synthetic hormones are associated with increased side effects, for example, if used at inappropriate doses or for too long, there’s an increased risk of breast cancer or thrombotic disorders like deep vein thrombosis, stroke or heart attack.
Bioidentical hormones, on the other hand, have the identical molecular structure to human hormones, enabling easy metabolism. Synthetic hormones have been around for less than 50 years, whereas bioidentical hormones have existed in our bodies since the birth of the human race. IM isn’t a strange, separate body of knowledge. It’s grounded in scientific principles and information is widely available today, combining research from various disciplines into effective proven management techniques. In other words, it “cherry picks” the very best, scientifically validated therapies. Creating a pathway to wellness is the most intelligent response to disease, as opposed to the conventional methodology of merely relieving symptoms.
- Hanley DA, Cranney A, et al. Vitamin D in adult health and disease: a review and guideline statement from Osteoporosis Canada. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 7 Sep 2010;182(12):E610-8
- Maizes V, Rakel D, Niemiec C. Integrative Medicine and Patient-Centered Care. Journal of Science and Healing. Sep 2009;5(5):277-89
- Nakazawa C. The autoimmune epidemic. Touchstone, NY, US. 2008. www.donnajacksonnakazawa.com/autoimmune_epidemic.htm
- Brown N, Panksepp J. Low-dose naltrexone for disease prevention and quality of life. Med Hypotheses. Mar 2009;72(3):333-7
- Schultz W. Behavioural dopamine signals. Trends in Neurosciences. May 2007;30(5);203-10
- Wessler I, Kirkpatrick CJ. Acetylcholine beyond neurons: non-neuronal cholinergic system in humans. British Journal of Pharmacology. Aug 2008;154(8):1558-71
- Maugeri-Sacca M, Vigneri P, De Maria R. Cancer Stem Cells and Chemosensitivity. American Association for Cancer Research. Apr 2011;1078
- Ridker P. Establishing a Clinical Basis for hsCRP in the Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease. Clinical Chemistry. Apr 2010;56:1186-7
- Acs G, Wagoner M. Postmenopausal Hormone Replacement Therapy and Breast Cancer – Clinicopathologic Associations and Molecular Mechanisms. Cancer Growth and Progression. 2010;12;187-20