A Brave New World: The Benefits of Integrative Medicine in the World of Chronic Disease Care


By Sonja Fung, ND

There is a trend in health care of “conventional” medical practitioners and “alternative” care professionals working together. This practice provides the best of both health care worlds in a fully integrated model of medicine that not only addresses the acute disease process and symptom management, but also treats the causes of underlying chronic disease. Integrating a holistic perspective in to traditional medicine can provide a full spectrum of health and healing.

The Take Over of Chronic Disease

Our society is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of people who suffer from complex, chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, mental illness, and autoimmune disorders like arthritis and inflammatory bowel diseases. In 2005, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 1 in every 2 Americans have at least one chronic disease. Think about how that number has increased in the last 7 years. Chronic disease treatment costs account for more than 75% of the United States’ health care expense. In 2008, the U.S. spent 16.2% of its GDP ($2.3 trillion) on health care. This exceeds the combined federal expenditures for national defense, homeland security, education, and welfare. The U.S. spends over twice the amount of any other country on resident health care.  

Yet the medical model we have been following is not meeting the needs of the majority of the patient population, and is costing us in more ways than just our wallets…. It’s costing us our health.

What is “Integrative Medicine”? 

The term “integrative medicine” is used to describe the combination of conventional and alternative approaches that address the biological, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of health and illness.  It is based upon a model of health and wellness, as opposed to a model of disease. Conventional medicine, as it is practiced in the United States, provides health care that limits a full-spectrum of treatment options, particularly regarding preventative health care and the treatment of chronic disease.  While conventional medicine excels at managing acute injuries and disease processes, integrative medicine addresses the root cause of the disease, especially chronic diseases. The integrative medicine model maximizes the strengths of “alternative” therapies and those of conventional medicine, while minimizing weaknesses of each discipline.

Some of my most successful cases are patients who utilize integrative medicine. Most of my cancer patients receiving standard medical treatment also receive a combination of weekly IV nutrients along with a specific daily supplement regiment, modified food plan, and stress management. Their recovery time from surgery and/or chemotherapy shortens, and their energy and muscle mass remains stable.

The Winds of Change

More and more medical centers and physicians are introducing a new shift in the treatment of chronic disease by integrating multiple healing disciplines under one roof. This collaborative approach to patient care utilizes an integrative medical model that is safe and evidence-based.  It’s not about replacing drugs for herbs or supplements, but taking into account the unique genetic makeup of each individual, and the factors such as environmental exposures to toxins.  It is based on the single premise of treating the whole person. 

A small pilot study on diabetic patients found that integrative doctors (naturopathic doctors or holistic-minded medical doctors) were able to reduce office visit numbers by more than 50% while effecting positive health changes such as weight loss and reduction of medication. 

By utilizing integrative medicine, doctors can effectively prevent and treat chronic disease, as well as ease our national economic burden, one patient at a time.

Dr. Sonja Fung is a primary care doctor of naturopathic medicine and co-owner of the Live Well Clinic, whose new integrative clinic is located at 78900 Avenue 47, Ste 102, La Quinta. For more information call 760-771-5970 or visit www.livewellclinic.org. 

Sources: Center for Disease Control

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