By Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN; Reboot Nutritionist
I’ve always been passionate about good food, nutrition and how to help the whole person maintain or achieve wellness. Back in the mid-late ‘90s, I started studying “alternative medicine.” After reading many books (nope, not online but actual printed books!) I began teaching classes to nurses at the hospital where I worked as a clinical dietitian in the cardiac surgery unit. Increasingly, patients were taking unregulated supplements and some were showing signs of these self-prescribed remedies interfering with their medications or surgical procedures.
For the past 15 years I’ve worked as a Senior Nutritionist for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a Harvard Teaching hospital, and was part of the start-up team for the Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies. The Zakim center began with Lenny Zakim; the former president of the New England Anti-Defamation League’s quest to treat his cancer using the best of Eastern Medicine and Western Medicine, from practitioners who worked together and studied new approaches using peer reviewed science.
It’s not just semantics.
Let’s take a look at what Integrative Medicine actually means. There are major differences with the language used to describe this rapidly growing field. Integrative medicine is meant to look at the whole person as an approach for optimal care. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) began back in 1992 and was first called The Office of Unconventional Medicine. Not such a positive name! This center within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has evolved into the current NCCIH, with many variations in between. Prior to NCCIH, it was referred to as the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).
Complementary essentially means “alongside of” and Alternative means “instead of”. Neither truly represent the goal of integrating or weaving together the best of both worlds (traditional, time-tested eastern therapies with modern, peer-reviewed western medicine).
CAM or IT use has increased greatly over the years. The largest and most comprehensive survey of CAM use showed that 8.2 million Americans used acupuncture in their lifetime and 1.2 million had used it within the past year. Dietary supplement use is also high especially among adults with cancer or other chronic illness. While 50% of US adults report taking supplements, 64-81% of cancer survivors report its use, with up to 1/3 of them starting use after diagnosis. As many as 68% of physicians are unaware of their patient’s supplement use. It’s important to update your supplement list at each doctor’s visit when you update your medication list, as there are many potential contraindications or cautions.
Let’s take a closer look at examples of integrative therapies.
There are many benefits of integrative therapies, including:
Reliable Resources to learn more:
General Health & Medicine:
Cancer Specific/Oncology Integrative Medicine
In our increasingly global culture, it’s my sincere hope that as our communication and connection abilities expand so will our minds and openness to integrating all that world has to offer when it comes to truly caring for ourselves and others.