Why Holistic, Integrative and Functional Medicine Professionals Should be Part of your Healthcare Team - A Deep Dive into Complementary Medicine
Allopathic medicine is a term used to describe conventional Western medicine. The terms holistic, integrative and functional denote alternatives that may vary from practitioner to practitioner but seek to complement traditional therapies to provide a foundation for good health. The main difference is that these "lifestyle medicine" alternatives generally emphasize prevention and seek to address the origins of disease, rather than just treat the symptoms.
The American Holistic Health Association defines holistic medicine as the art and science of healing that addresses the whole person—body, mind and spirit—using conventional and alternative therapies to prevent and treat disease. Holistic practitioners encourage their patients and clients to actively participate in the healing process.
Phyllis Gee, M.D., a practicing obstetrician, and gynecologist for more than 20 years, is the founder of Willowbend Health & Wellness, and integrative functional medicine practice in Plano. She looks at the rhythms of a patient's life concerning diet, exercise, stress, sleep and relationships. Other lifestyle practitioners include naturopaths, acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists, energy workers, herbalists, nutritionists and more.
As an integrative practitioner, Gee merges different systems of care into her approach to address root causes of diseases that originate from unhealthy lifestyles. Her treatments incorporate holistic elements such as red light therapy, lymphatic massage, herbs and nutritional counseling with allopathic treatments when appropriate.
Licensed acupuncturist and Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine Carlos Chapa, in Irving, notes that holistic health care tends to be viewed as having non-pharmaceutical and non-surgical options. He states, "This can include, but is not limited to, Eastern medicine such as acupuncture and herbal medicines, and therapeutic bodywork or manual therapy such as chiropractic." Holistic health care may also include food therapy such as avoidance of certain edibles or eating nutrient-dense foods and spices, and using essential oils.
Chapa considers himself an integrative medicine practitioner. He notes, "The South Korean hospitals in which I trained combine Eastern and holistic medicine with Western allopathic medicine. I often remind patients that we are not anti-Western medicine. However, our specialty is Eastern medicine, and most of our patients are actually referred by medical doctors."
Integrative practitioners may incorporate testing commonly used in traditional practice such as MRI and lab work to confirm issues and find underlying causes. Chapa notes the integrative model is common throughout Asia. "If a patient has a stroke, for example, it is common for them to be on medication and do physical therapy, but they also get acupuncture and take herbs at the same time for best results," he says.
Functional medicine focuses on how the body interacts as a whole system and strives to return optimal function to the entire body, without necessarily focusing on a specific organ or disease. It explores lifestyle factors that can contribute to poor health. Functional practitioners may diagnose with lab work and genetic testing and then use herbs, supplements and sometimes Western medicine at the same time.
Jerron Hill, M.D., an anesthesiologist and medical director of Ketamine Health & Wellness Center, in Plano, observes that many integrative and functional specialists have backgrounds in traditional medicine. But whether practicing holistic, integrative or functional medicine, he says, "They each have their place in healing."
When bringing holistic, integrative or functional practitioners to a health care team, Chapa believes the most important consideration is training and experience. He says, "If a practitioner only uses one therapy or approach, many times the patient will have limited results. In Asia, it's common to have a team approach to get best results. Professional athletes have several doctors, trainers and practitioners at the same time to get optimum results, performance and recovery."
He suggests that if a doctor tells a patient that a certain pill is the only solution and must be used for the rest of their life, they should consider getting a second opinion with a different type of practitioner.
Gee emphasizes that holistic, integrative and functional practitioners all offer the potential for what is considered a more natural approach to solving problems, but there may be more serious health concerns that need to be determined by conventional testing. "Sometimes, someone will come to me with a certain problem and I know that I'm not the only person needed to help them. There are other practitioners that may be more qualified because of their area of expertise," she says. While patients undergo allopathic medicine treatments, they can also see an integrative or functional practitioner to identify the root cause of an issue and address it, which may lead to the patient discontinuing treatments such as pharmaceuticals.
Chapa knows that medicine should not be viewed in black and white or as choosing sides, advising, "There are no 'sides' with health and medicine. In the military, we have a term, 'force multiplier', which basically means doing multiple things to get the best results. I changed my entire career after seeing dramatic results in days in Asia for neurological issues such as strokes and facial paralysis compared to mild improvement in weeks and usually months in the U.S."
Doctors and practitioners have different training and views, and there is no right or wrong approach per se. To build a well-rounded health care team, Chapa advises asking practitioners about their experience using alternative remedies; whether they have personally trained in these modalities or specialties; whether they have worked side-by-side and co-treated with other types of practitioners; and if they have personally studied these other modalities. He suggests that patients check their education, degrees and certification.
Being an educated consumer of health care is crucial, Hill advises. "Read about each modality and make a decision on what may work best for you. For example, abdominal pain could be an acute abdomen, which needs immediate attention and surgery, but it could also be irritable bowel syndrome or acid reflux brought on by stress. "He observes a societal shift toward these alternative approaches because with the rising cost of health insurance and pharmaceuticals, people want results for their money. This, he hopes, will cause more allopathic doctors to embrace alternative approaches.
Willowbend Health & Wellness, WillowbendHealthandWellness.com.
Ketamine Health & Wellness, KetamineHealthTX.com. See ad page xx.