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Understanding Integrative Medicine

Rosemarie Diane Rose, MD, is a member of Inova Steinmetz Integrative and Functional Medicine Center board certified in family medicine. She has a special interest in functional and integrative medicine, including acupuncture. Read Dr. Rose’s profile.

The Rule of Tens

It’s not unusual that when someone first begins taking an integrative approach to a health problem they quickly feel as though there are dozens of new things to do and change. New supplements to take, new ways to eat, new exercise routines–even new ways to breathe!

Part of the shock comes from the way we’ve been conditioned by conventional medicine: get a diagnosis, get a pill. But more and more of us have found that this one-size-fits-all treatment paradigm doesn’t help because it doesn’t get to the root of the problem; and it leaves us with the same old problem or emerging new ones often brought on by the treatment itself.

Integrative medicine recognizes several things that sometimes get lost in a conventional medical work-up.

First, although it is important to identify the disease process in play, it is just as important to recognize the individual in whom the process is playing out. One person’s genetics, activity, nutrition, and capacity to adapt to stress may make them express a disease in a markedly different way than another person with different makeup and habits.  Addressing a disease without addressing the personal environment is less than half the battle.

Second, integrative medicine recognizes that most diseases afflicting members of modern society are long-latency diseases. These diseases often begin with low grade but chronic stimulation of the immune system that leads to inflammation. At some point the body’s innate healing mechanisms get overwhelmed and disease begins to express. The process has been happening for years, but we only see it when the balance of inflammation and healing is significantly askew. Again, depending on an individual’s genetics and other factors, the inflammation can express in many different ways involving any organ system.

And third, integrative medicine uses those innate healing mechanisms to get things back in balance. By getting rid of inputs like inflammatory foods, some drugs, and stress that increase inflammation, and by providing inputs like health-promoting foods, nutritional supplements, and botanical medications, the body’s healing mechanisms can be resuscitated and enhanced thereby relieving the cause of the symptoms.

It is the multi-faceted nature of an integrative approach that can lead to the feeling that there is so much to do to get better. Keeping in mind the complex interwoven nature of the body’s biochemical systems, and how a subtle shift in one process can cause big changes in another process, it becomes clear why it may take several interventions instead of just one to set things right.

And so we have the Rule of Tens. If we recommend 10 things for you to do—diet changes, sleep changes, vitamins, botanical supplements, exercise, meditation—and each intervention contributes a 10% improvement in your health, then pretty soon, you are at 100%. With a little help and guidance, you have allowed your body to heal itself and emerge into a new state of well-being. This process is the heart of integrative medicine.

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