With Congress squabbling over how to combat the rising costs of Medicare and medic al insurance in general while attempting to slash the national debt, many seniors are joining all Americans in search of a better way to stay healthy and live longer. Their search is finding a solution in “integrative medicine”.
What is it? Integrative medicine combines conventional Western medical practices with non-traditional therapies, including stress management, lifestyle changes, massage, herbal treatments, nutrition and nutritional supplements, acupuncture and much more.
“The main difference between traditional medicine and integrative medicine,” according to Kevin Barrows, clinical director of the Osher Center of Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, “is that the latter is designed to treat the whole person and not just the illness. The old thinking was, ‘You’re broken – now we’ll fix you.”
More and more people are switching to the integrative medicine approach. A recent national health survey showed that 42.8 percent of women, 33.5 percent of men, and nearly 12 percent of children under 18 had used some kind of integrative medicine – without abandoning conventional medicine all together.
Today, more than 20 percent of the nation’s hospitals offer IM, and medical schools throughout the country now offer courses in non-traditional therapies. And, certified IM physicians and therapists can be found in every community.
In Southern California, a respected and experienced IM practitioner is Julian Whitaker, MD, founder of the Whitaker Wellness Institute and Medical Clinic at 4321 Birch St., Newport Beach. Since Dr. Whitaker’s facility opened in 1979, he has treated more than 40,000 patients who either were looking to overcome serious health challenges such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension or Parkinson’s disease or wanted to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“Many of our patients come to us because they hope to avoid recommended surgery or reduce their reliance on prescription drugs,” he says. “Still others simply want to adopt a healthier lifestyle within a structured and supportive environment.”
Here’s how Dr. Whitaker approaches some of the most common medical issues:
Weight Loss— With more than 60 percent of Americans overweight or obese, Dr. Whitaker’s approach to weight loss goes beyond conventional medicine’s prescription of diet, exercise and weight loss drugs. “We emphasize not only exercise and caloric intake, but the type and quality of the food you eat, along with targeted therapies and supplements to boost metabolism.”
Anti-aging– In addition to traditional anti-aging treatments, including drugs and/or surgery, the Whitaker clinic’s goal “is not to prolong life to some unrealistically advanced age, but to promote successful aging – staying healthy and functional up to the end of a long, productive life with a focus on proven natural therapies to prevent and minimize age-related diseases.”
Diabetes – “For a type 1 diabetic…insulin is appropriate and necessary,” says Dr. Whitaker. “However, for the more than 90 percent of all diabetics who have type 2 diabetes, the problem isn’t with an insufficiency of insulin, but with the ability of the cells to properly utilize it. Taking prescription drugs can lead to high levels of insulin. This may result in lower blood sugar, ultimately increasing the risk of heart attack. “Our approach is twofold – we lower blood sugar levels to reduce risks of diabetic complications, and we focus on diet, exercise and targeted nutritional supplements that can actually improve insulin sensitivity.”
Chronic pain– Instead of relying on conventional painkiller drugs and over-the-counter medication, the integrative medicine approach as practiced by Dr. Whitaker is to find the source of the pain, whether is stems from musculoskeletal problems, fibromyalgia, migraine, neuropathy or other conditions. “Rather than masking the pain,” he says, “we seek to relieve it by addressing the underlying causes.”
Anxiety – According to Dr. Whitaker, the usual treatment for anxiety is a prescription tranquilizer such as Valium, Xanax, or even antidepressant drugs like Prozac and Paxil. “These drugs mask the symptoms…and do not address the underlying cause. Even worse, they can be addictive and cause serious side effects. Our natural therapeutic approach is more likely to provide long-term through a program that includes targeted dieting, exercise and nutritional supplements.”
In a paper commissioned by the Institute of Medicine, it is reported that the “widespread implementation of an integrated medicine approach would fundamentally transform our nation’s current fragmented, inefficient, expensive and reactive ‘sick care’ system to one that is more proactive, personal, efficient and appropriately focused on enhancing the health of each person and the population as a whole.”
The report states that the number of U.S. physicians who are adopting the integrated medicine approach is growing rapidly as they rely more on teamwork, combine better physical and mental health services, utilize more non-physician practitioners for patient education and counseling and involve more complementary and alternative medicine practices.