In the current age of medicine, and with information more accessible than ever before, we see these different terms flying around all the time. It can be confusing, and often polarising trying to navigate this space. An integrative approach to medicine seeks to bridge this divide, offering a holistic approach that combines the best of both worlds.
One is either on the side of “normal” medicine, or “alternative” options. This polarity holds true within the medical community itself, where there is often dispute as to whether different medical options are safe, effective, evidence-based or even necessary.
Journey to an Integrative Approach
My journey towards an integrative approach to medicine was ignited by an ongoing disappointment in the standard medical practices I was observing on a daily basis through my early medical years. Hospital-based medicine differs from an outpatient clinic set-up in that hospital care is almost always very reactive – reactive to a sudden (acute) decline in health resulting in severe disease or injury from trauma.
This is where Western Medicine can thrive – acute management of symptoms to save lives. Where it fails (often dismally) is the management of long-term ailments, the so-called “chronic diseases”, where attempts to patch bodies back together with symptomatic pharmaceuticals are the primary ammunition. Symptomatic relief can be effective and certainly helpful, but not addressing the root cause of a body’s issues, and not assessing the full psychological, social, nutritive and biological aspects of a patient – fails to truly cure.
And in that space of altruistic youth, I wanted to cure. I grew more and more despondent with patching together tiny, sick bodies, coming from sick-inducing environments. Spending hours on end desperately resuscitating these little bodies that were trying their best to give up, to setting them up on life-prolonging machines, knowing that their oxygen-deprived brains would likely never be the same again.
Then – once the miracles of allopathic medicine had worked their special magic, and saved that precious life, we send that child back to the same environment that made them sick, to begin with, and never see them again (or at least until they return in illness).
There is absolutely a crucial place for this medicine, and for the incredible doctors who work tirelessly within this space. We all have our roles to play, and I knew early on that my role was not in the 11th hour -in the paediatric or neonatal ICUs and high-care units, but rather on the other end of the scale. Optimising health, preventing disease and managing root causes of illnesses within infancy, childhood (and beyond) is the area wherein I have found my deepest passion.
From the Greek “allos” opposite, “pathos” to suffer. To treat a symptom with its opposite.
Also described as conventional, modern or Western medicine is an evidence-based approach to the treatment of disease, where symptoms are treated using conventional, pharmaceutical medication or surgery. Lifestyle modification should be thoroughly discussed, reviewed and optimised.
Diagnoses are made with clinical examination and sometimes further investigations or tests, such as urine or blood testing, or imaging with x-rays, ultrasounds, etc. Allopathic medicine is highly effective at treating acute conditions and to control symptoms of longstanding issues (chronic diseases).
From the Greek “homeo” same, “pathos” to suffer. Like cures like.
Homeopathy is a form of complementary medicine that was developed in Germany more than 200 years ago by Dr Samuel Hahnemann. It’s based on two theories:
- “Like cures like”—the notion that a disease can be cured by a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people, allowing the body’s innate healing mechanisms.
- “Law of minimum dose”—the notion that the lower the dose of the medication, the greater its effectiveness.
In South Africa, to become a Dr in homoeopathy is a five-year Masters Degree. I am not a homoeopath, and I have many fantastic colleagues in this field who I refer to when necessary.
A system of complementary medical practice aimed at using natural remedies to assist the body’s natural healing abilities. Often gives evidenced-based more “natural” approaches a bad reputation – as anyone can call themselves an ND, without needing to study a doctoral degree. Makes use of herbs, foods, massage, etc.
Functional medicine is a medical system that uses a biology-based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease with a patient-centred approach. Functional medicine excels in the management of chronic disease.
The word “function” is aligned with the evolving understanding that disease is an endpoint and function is a process, thus a functional approach targets the preventative side of the health scale, not only reactively treating disease.
A beautiful, evidence-based, effective, safe and holistic approach.
Integrative Medicine is really an unnecessary term for “Good Medicine”. It is the way all doctors should be practising – a patient-specific approach, taking into account all aspects of a person’s biology, psychology, nutrition, development (age and stage), and social environment.
An integrative approach “integrates” evidence-based medicine, evolving research and literature with nutrition and lifestyle modifications to optimise health and well-being and address disease from the roots, whilst simultaneously managing symptoms judiciously. Importantly, the patient (and their parents) are involved in decisions regarding the management plan always.
Trusting the Approach
Unfortunately, the current medical models the world lives by do not allow the necessary time for such a thorough approach. In the public sector, patient-doctor ratios are overwhelming. Doctors do their best with an enormous patient load and lack of resources, that disallow the time required to have a fully integrative approach. In the private space, medical aids only contribute per patient on a time-restricted model of 15-minute doctor consults. And so private doctors are under constant time pressure to fit patients into a time-limited day.
Whichever end of the medicine scale you resonate with – the most important thing when it comes to your health and the health of your children, is that you feel completely comfortable with your healthcare provider and trust their approach.
In thriving health,