Communication at the Heart of Healing

by | May 10, 2016 | Integrative Medicine

According to a paper just published in Preventing Chronic Disease, we don’t seem to be doing a very good job of it. Preventing chronic disease, that is.

In fact, rates have gone up.

Earlier figures showed that just about half of adults have at least one chronic condition, with 25% having two or more. Now more than half do – 56.1%, to be exact – with nearly 34% having two or more.

We’re talking about things like hypertension, cancer, COPD, diabetes, hepatitis, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, depression – all largely lifestyle-fueled conditions, all largely preventable.

Too often, the goal seems to be mere “symptom management” – “controlling,” rather than reversing, illness. After all, these are complex, multifactorial problems. There’s no one cause that’s to blame. Many causes need to be addressed in order to restore and sustain health over the long term.

We want to do more than just quash symptoms. We want to deal with the causes so the body has an opportunity to heal as it was designed to do.

holistic health diagramTaking a holistic, lifestyle-focused view of the problem and using appropriate complementary therapies to support the body’s natural healing ability lets us do just that. This involves taking the time to really listen to and understand your problems and needs so that we can work together to move you forward on your healing path.

That listening matters. For one, the more information we have, the more we can personalize your treatment. But just knowing you’re being heard is healing, too. The health and well-being of mind, heart, and spirit are no less important than that of your body.

Every year, more folks opt for this kind of integrative medicine – what’s also been called “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM). And that’s the main focus of the Preventing study we started with: CAM use by those with chronic health conditions.

Many used at least one form of CAM. Multivitamins, multiminerals, or both (52.7%); vitamins (34.8%); and minerals (28.4%) were the most common. Compared with adults with no conditions, adults with 2 or more conditions were more likely to use multivitamins or multiminerals or both, vitamins, minerals, nonvitamins or herbs, mind–body therapies, chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, massage, movement therapies, special diets, acupuncture, naturopathy, or some combination of these therapies….

Now, some in the medical community view such figures with concern – some with understandable reason, others from mere bias or limited understanding of the science supporting such therapies. Unfortunately, that perceived bias is something that keeps many patients from talking with their physicians about their use of CAM. Fearing ridicule or a stern lecture from their doctors, they choose to say nothing instead.

That can be dangerous, and that accounts for the concern about CAM. Bad interactions between pharmaceutical drugs and supplements are a real concern. A recent study on “polypharmacy” in JAMA Internal Medicine, for instance, pointed up the risk in combining fish oil supplements and blood thinners.

This is hardly the only bad combo. For example, St. John’s Wort – a popular herbal supplement for depression – is contraindicated with a wide variety of pharmaceuticals, including SSRIs, MAO inhibitors, and birth control pills. Kava shouldn’t be taken with any drug with the potential for liver toxicity. If you take anti-seizure meds, evening primrose oil could actually increase your risk of seizure.

The list could go on.

Unfortunately, the medical establishment tends to be quick to blame the supplement, not the drug. (In the case of fish oil, some argue that the blood thinning drugs are the actual problem.) Yet it’s not supplements that come saddled with “side effects” even at the proper dosage but drugs.

(We put “side effect” in quotes because, truth be told, there’s no such thing. There are effects. Some we want; others, not so much. Those “not so much” effects get labeled as “side effects,” but they’re just as direct as any other.)

A more helpful and positive response would be this: If you’re using (or thinking about using) CAM and conventional therapies at the same time, you really need to talk with your doctor about it. Let them know what you’re doing (or thinking about trying). Ask about possible interactions. Ask what you can do to bring the best of both worlds together without raising your risk of deepening illness.

If you can’t talk with your physician about this, then find another – ideally, an integrative physician; at minimum, one who is well-versed in CAM.

Being able to speak honestly and openly with your doctor is critical for your health. For restoring health is a joint endeavor, patient and doctor working together to support you on your healing journey.

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