Traditional medicine is very orderly and compartmentalized. When something goes wrong with our health, the process is thought of as an entity called a disease and is given a label or diagnosis. Furthermore, our body is divided into systems (cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, nervous system, etc.) and each system has its own medical specialist. In this form of medicine, the doctor listens to the patient (briefly) until he or she can figure out which ‘diagnosis’ the person has and then chooses the medication recommended for that disease. If the doctor can’t figure it out the patient gets referred to the specialist for that body part. For those with serious conditions that have been identified as disease of a specific system, this has been remarkably successful .
Unfortunately, though, Mother Nature is not compartmentalized. While the traditional medical approach can be life-saving for acute illness, for the chronic problems that occupy most of our healthcare system, it may suppress symptoms with ‘anti-’ drugs when solutions for underlying functional problems may be available. Patients with complex problems often experience mediocre results and frequently undergo side effects from the treatment itself. Chronic illness is usually due to imbalance – the result of deficiencies, toxicities, allergies, infections, etc. This imbalance causes our body to respond with processes like inflammation or oxidative stress which wash over many of our ‘systems’ and lead to a variety of dysfunctions. For example, conditions as diverse as heart disease, dementia and osteoporosis can all result from inflammation. A practitioner of Integrative medicine would approach these problems by looking for the sources or ‘triggers’ of this inflammation and addressing them. Simply stated, this is usually done by supplying something that’s missing or removing things that don’t belong (e.g. toxins, allergens, infections, etc.). By restoring balance we allow the body’s natural healing mechanisms to respond.
Ironically, medical science is decades ahead of traditional medical practice, and basic research is confirming the principles of Integrative Medicine. In particular, the field of Epigenetics is showing us that the way we treat our genes is probably more important than the message the genes contain. This usually boils down to issues of lifestyle which are a major focus of integrative medicine.
This approach to healing can be time consuming and may require much effort on the part of the patient as well as the practitioner, but that collaboration can yield meaningful, life changing results.
Lyme Disease is the perfect example of a condition that requires comprehensive physiologic balance (immune, hormonal, nutritional, psychosocial) in addition to antimicrobials. It is this model of individualized care that has the best chance for positive clinical response.