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Homeopathic consultant Sujatha Mannal, of Whole Health Chicago, talks about the benefits of combining conventional medicine with homeopathic therapies.

Integrative medicine: combining the best of both worlds

by Brooke Workneh
Nov 29, 2012

Therapies using acupuncture, massage or homeopathy may be considered alternative treatments. But doctors and their patients increasingly are seeking out integrative medical practices that combine conventional primary care medicine with complementary therapies.

Northwestern Integrative Medicine, a center of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, helps doctors and patients bridges these two worlds of healing. 

“I see patients for everything,” said Dr. Melinda Ring, the center's medical director. People who commonly come to her practice, “have a condition that conventional medicine is not really great at treating.”

Ring said she often gets referrals from physicians for conditions such as hormone imbalances, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain syndrome.

The center may include homeopathic therapies, acupuncture, massage, naturopathic medicines or other complementary therapies in an integrative treatment plan.

Both physicians and complementary medicine practitioners at the center address all aspects of an individual’s life and health history to provide holisitc treatment options for the patient.

With integrative medicine, the goal is to look for “root causes and explore evidence-based complementary therapies,” Ring explained. “When we start to treat underlying issues, we can prevent a lot of disease.

“If something works like acupuncture, or a dietary supplement and the evidence shows that it is safe and has benefits, then it should be included in somebody’s care,” Ring added. Although integrative medicine and complementary therapies are becoming more recognized, ”it hasn’t yet become the standard of care.”

“There [are] a growing number of patients seeking integrative medicine,” Ring said, and with that “there is a growing collaboration between integrative and conventional doctors.”

Dr. David Zich, an internal and emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said he believes that both integrative and conventional medicine could go hand in hand. But first, the terminology needs to be right. Integrative medicine is not the same as alternative medicine,” Zich said.

There have been many cases where people rely on their own alternative medicines and end up hurting themselves or delaying critically needed conventional treatment, Zich said. “We have to be selective about what alternative medicines we try to integrate, because there are certainly some alternative medicines that are completely unfounded" in terms of medical science.

Zich does think integrative medicine is a good idea if instruction is given under the guidance of a physician.

When conventional medicine does not provide relief or results for a patient, as seen with chronic pain or fertility treatments, it is common to suggest alternative medicines, such as acupuncture, yoga, massage therapy - essentially safe treatments that don't pose health threats, Zich said. “Unproven treatments by themselves can end up in disastrous results.”

If you trust that alternative medicine is powerful enough to enhance your medical well being, it’s naïve to think it can’t, if done the wrong way, make you feel worse, Zich said.