What exactly is integrative medicine? Simply put, integrative medicine combines natural or holistic practices with conventional Western medicine. While not novel in many other countries, this is a relatively new area of practice in the United States. Integrative medicine can include the use of herbal supplements and techniques such as  acupuncture, massage therapy, reiki, spinal manipulation, pilates, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, meditation, guided imagery, hypnosis and lifestyle changes. Treatment may include a focus on spirituality as well. Fast becoming a more mainstream approach to health and healing in the United States, formal training and supervision in these areas is becoming more available to healthcare providers. In fact, prominent hospitals, such as Mayo Clinic and MD Anderson Cancer Center now offer programs in integrative medicine.

While many of my patients are interested in integrative medicine, they are also fearful of receiving misinformation and/or treatment that may be harmful to them, and rightfully so. In the past month I’ve been offered CBD oil by a massage therapist, a pilates instructor, a clerk at the local natural foods store and a neighbor. When I asked each of them about possible side effects, drug interactions, contraindications, and which disorders have been documented to show improvement with use and which have not, none of them could answer my questions, yet articles addressing these issues are readily available and being published on a routine basis. None of these individuals had any concerns about promoting and selling a substance that can and has caused harm to some and has been a waste of money to others. Now, before you jump on me for being anti-CBD oil, I’m not. However, just as antibiotics can’t cure viruses, neither is CBD oil a cure-all. I personally know an individual who had a horrible reaction to CBD oil recently. She purchased it at her dance class, from the instructor. Had she asked any of her healthcare providers, we would have cautioned her that one of the prescription medications she is taking is known to have a synergistic effect with CBD oil. Instead, she spent an evening lying on the floor because she was too dizzy to sit or stand, while vomiting into a bucket. Three days later she still had an excruciating headache.

One of my patients told me about a reiki session he had several years ago in which he felt the practitioner transferred negative energy to him, causing him to be ill for three days. Another told me he felt compelled to purchase a large rock he was offered during the course of a reiki session as the reiki practitioner insisted that he carry it with him at all times while at work to ward off the negative energy of a hostile work environment. My patient wanted to know if the rock had been somehow blessed or purchased from a holy person, or if the reiki practitioner had picked it up at Hobby Lobby and then sold it to him for its alleged mystic powers. He had no idea why that specific rock was allegedly able to ward off any negative energy, or why he had to carry it with him rather than simply leave it on his desk as a paperweight. Tongue in cheek, I suggested that perhaps he was supposed to throw it at his negative coworkers as they approached!

Integrative treatment and techniques, while beneficial when done properly by a trained professional, are often poorly regulated or not regulated at all in the United States. If you’re new to integrative medicine and would like to learn more, I recommend that you start your research by completing an overview of the most promising practices in integrative medicine.

Brent A. Bauer, M.D., who is a Professor of Medicine and Director of the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at Mayo Clinic and thus a reputable source, created a lecture series in conjunction with The Great Courses that does just that. The series, entitled The Science of Integrative Medicine, consists of twelve thirty-minute lectures. It can be purchased through The Great Courses or rented from many libraries.

Disclaimer: This blog is not designed to diagnose, treat, or prevent illnesses or trauma, and Dr. Emick is not responsible for your use of this educational material or its consequences. Furthermore, reading this blog does not create a doctor-patient relationship. The information contained within this blog is not intended to dictate what constitutes reasonable, appropriate, or best care for any given physical or behavioral health issue, nor does it take into account the unique circumstances that define the health issues of the reader. If you have questions about the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of a condition or illness, you should consult your personal health care professional. As always, consult with your personal health care professional before beginning or changing any fitness or nutrition program to make sure that it is appropriate for your needs. Dr. Emick reserves the right to modify her positions on a subject based upon new research or data as it presents.