Most of you may remember that I work in medicine. I graduated almost two years ago with my Master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies, and I have been an Emergency Medicine PA ever since. If someone is in cardiac arrest, I know ACLS protocol is the best way to resuscitate that individual. And yes, sometimes patients need blood pressure medication or antibiotics or insulin. Western Medicine therapies, medication, and treatment modalities save people’s lives daily. But I don’t think it is the answer to everyone’s health problems.
Let me back up just a second and tell you why I have this opinion. From age 6 through 19 I had a stomach ache every day. And I mean all day every day. Eating made it worse. My mom was doing whatever she could—taking me to my pediatrician and to specialists. I had upper GIs, swallow studies, and multiple visits to my Gastroenterologist. My pediatrician told my mom that I was “making it up” so I didn’t have to go to school.
As I got older, the pain was worse. My bowel movements became further and further apart—like once every 7-10 days. I was always nauseated, bloated, and cramping. At 18, my GI doctor prescribed a medication that treats idiopathic constipation—for me to take daily for the REST of my life. There had to be another answer.
That same year, my face broke out in horrible acne. Prior to that, I never had a pimple in my entire life. I went to the Dermatologist, and they prescribed a topical medication to use daily. After 3-4 months of using the topical, I had absolutely no improvement. I was frustrated to say the least.
Stomachaches became so regular for me that I was used to feeling sick all the time. I couldn’t let it get in the way of earning my degree or living my life, so I just dealt with it. By the grace of God, my mom’s client told her about a nutritionist who could help me. As soon as she saw my face and knew about my stomach problems, she said, “I bet you have food allergies.” She ordered a blood test that checked for food sensitivities based on antibody levels. The results were shocking—I was allergic to 33 of the 96 foods tested. No wonder I was sick ALL THE TIME.
My nutritionist helped me create an elimination diet to heal my body from the inside out. I stopped taking the meds prescribed by my GI doctor and stopped the topical from my Dermatologist. I started taking probiotics and drinking distilled aloe vera daily. My stomach slowly started to improve. I began having bowel movements daily without using laxatives. Within 6 weeks, my acne was almost all the way gone. The food I was eating my whole life was making me sick. I started eating paleo before it was a “thing.” #TrendSetter. I attribute my healing 100% to my diet change.
This brings me to Integrative (Complementary) Medicine, which combines non-mainstream practice with Conventional Medicine. Chiropractic care, massage, acupuncture, essential oils, and whole food diets all fall under the non-mainstream medicine category. Considering my health history and my career choice, I am a strong believer of mixing the two together.
At work, I see IV antibiotics and pressers save patients who are septic. I see steroids and antibiotics treat patients with COPD exacerbations. I see x-rays reveal fractures and CT scans show diverticular abscesses, appendicitis, or subarachnoid hemorrhages.
But I also see patients who are my age with chronic back pain, taking narcotics on a regular basis. I see patients, particularly women, with chronic abdominal pain who have had every test in the book with no diagnosis. I see patients with “fibromyalgia” (which isn’t a real condition but that’s another talk for another day) who are on anti-depressants, muscle relaxers, and/or narcotics daily. I know diet changes, exercise, chiropractic care, physical therapy, and massage could help these individuals.
Unfortunately, Conventional Medicine Primary Care Providers (PCP) most likely aren’t discussing these other options with their patients. A lot of my patients don’t even have PCPs; I’m their primary care provider. I’m hopeful I can make a small difference with the short period of time I see patients in the ED. Also, most insurance companies don’t cover non-mainstream treatments, making them very costly. This can cause a barrier for patients to receive whole body health.
Many Conventional Medicine Providers view Alternative Medicine as quackery. And I agree to an extent—some of it sounds crazy. But prescribing narcotics for chronic back pain to a 30 year old to take for the rest of his/her life is crazy, too. There needs to be a balance between Conventional and non-mainstream medicine.
I know Integrative Medicine is the future; I’m seeing more and more of these Complementary Medicine Practices open in my city. I pray that combining Western Medicine and Alternative modalities quickly becomes common practice, for the sake of our country’s health. Utilizing practices from both types of medicine will allow patients to receive the best of both worlds.