Complementary Medicine Becoming Mainstream

One third of Americans report using some form of complementary medicine

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

About one-third of Americans use complementary or “integrative” medicine, according to the most recent statistics offered by the National Institute of Health. Complementary medicine describes using evidence-based practices to support health in conjunction with — but not replacing — Western health. “Alternative health” tends to describe modalities replacing Western health care.

Many complementary medicine methods have ancient roots. Their recent growth in popularity represents a desire for more natural ways of supporting good health, according to physician Joanne Wu, MD, a certified yoga instructor and integrative wellness coach, board certified in rehabilitation medicine and holistic medicine, specializing in wellness. She sees clients in Rochester.

Wu said that many patients have become turned off from rising costs and the side effects of Western medicine’s surgery and medication.

“Invasive treatments have a lot of long-lasting, irreversible side effects,” Wu said. “People want to use everything that’s natural that will help them in the long run.”

The holistic approach of complementary medicine, which addresses the person’s overall health rather than only reducing symptoms, appeals to many patients because it seems more personable and addresses the cause of the problems.

Wu sees modalities that promote the mind/body connection as among the most popular, including yoga, tai chi, qi gong and mindfulness.

“These reduce stress and pain and have been proven to improve outcomes,” she said.

Natural approaches include eating a balanced diet of whole foods and using supplements and herbs.

Wu cautioned that one drawback of supplements and herbs is the lack of regulation on the products, so consumers must ensure they seek high quality items.

Les Moore, doctor of naturopathic medicine, certified herbalist and licensed acupuncturist, directs the Center for Special Medicine in Pittsford. He has served as president of the New York Association of Naturopathic Physicians and co-founded the White House Health, Tourism, and Recreation Task Force on Obesity.

“In the past, the two paths were separated, Western and complementary medicine,” he said. “Now, more are sharing information on either path you choose to go or if you choose both paths.”

Western primary care physicians should know the modalities their patients choose and complementary medicine practitioners should know about any prescriptions and procedures in their clients’ care. It’s up to patients to ensure everyone knows what’s going on.

Although more cooperation has made coordinating care easier, insurance coverage would make complementary care more accessible to all patients.

Moore said that complementary care’s emphasis on preventing health issues and taking the least invasive method possible makes it generally less expensive and less time consuming than many conventional therapies.

Increasing volumes of clinical evidence proving efficacy has been driving the trend of complementary medicine, according to physician Az Tahir, who practices internal holistic medicine in Rochester and Syracuse.

“Many prominent medical doctors have found that putting patients with complicated cases on regimens of better nutrition and exercise gives better outcomes,” Tahir said.

He has observed at his own practice that good nutrition, stress reduction, adequate sleep, exercise, social support and supplements supports the improvement of patient health.

He said like likes to “diagnose modernly and treat naturally.”

Physician Leila Kirdani, board-certified in anti-aging, metabolic, and functional medicine, operates Quality of Life Medicine in Rochester and New Hartford. She said that the region is moving towards more complementary medicine.

She added that some of the resistance of traditional medical doctors to consider referrals to complementary practitioners has to do with liability.

“Doctors worry about being sued,” she said. “There’s almost less of a willingness for doctors to have an open dialogue. Patients are less able to bring what they feel is the best medicine for them to the table, even though we’re taught there’s a physician-patient relationship and part of that good health is having collaborative care.”

Physician Sachiko Kaizuka, who works at Highland Family Medicine, said that she uses supplements with patients the most, followed by deep breathing, meditation and chiropractic and osteopathic medicine combined.

“Vitamin D was considered as supplement and now, it’s a treatment,” she said. “Certain probiotics are now used for inflammatory bowel diseases. Studies coming out are showing causative effects of turmeric and essential fatty acids.”

While supplements can’t replace proper diet, and, in fact, work better when patients eat right, Kaizuka said that they can fill in any gaps in the diet to help improve health.

She added that modalities such as meditation, deep breathing and mindfulness are often overlooked, despite the body-mind connection.

“When we are stressed, there are physical consequences — always,” Kaizuka said. “Seventy percent of doctor visits are stress-related health conditions. Even if it didn’t start with stress, stress worsens many conditions.”

These may include pain, migraine, stomach upset, poor sleep, high blood pressure, low autoimmune function and autonomic nervous system imbalance.

Steven Sadlon, a licensed acupuncturist, certified internal health specialist, chiropractor and master’s level psychologist, operates Chiropractic Health and Acupuncture in Penfield. He believes one of the catalysts for growth in complementary medicine is consumer demand for personable health care.

Lower insurance reimbursements have forced many traditional physicians to see more patients per day to stay in business. As a result, visits can feel brief and cursory.

Physician extenders often see routine cases, which turns off some patients. At complementary providers who don’t use insurance, the interaction is longer and more personable. They’re not required to fill out lengthy exam forms during visits, so they can spend more time interacting with patients.

Sadlon hopes that complementary providers will continue to receive more recognition and licensure so that insurance will cover visits.

“With the information available on the internet, people won’t just sit home,” he said. “We have to provide more choices for the public and let the free market decide.”

Krista Ingerick, licensed massage therapist at The Springs Integrative Medicine Center & Spa at Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic, said that the integrating of conventional and complementary medicine comes from a “perspective where we meet the patient where they are. It isn’t one method or another, nor do we suggest that massage or acupuncture replace standard medical care.

“We are working with a patient’s current care plan and attempting to offer additional resources to help patients heal,” Ingerick said.

Pain management in the face of the opioid epidemic represents a major area where complementary modalities have made tremendous headway.

“By offering evidence-based, non-pharmaceutical options for patients needing pain management, we can contribute to stronger, healthier communities,” Ingerick said.

She listed modalities with strong evidence for efficacy to include massage therapy, traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture, chiropractic, meditation, aromatherapy, Ayurveda, and yoga.

“Reiki is also frequently offered, although the mechanisms of action are not understood completely,” Ingerick added.

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