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Why You Should Explore Integrative Medicine

Integrative medicine is the crossroads between traditional medical practices and alternative, holistic therapies. Here's how it works for patients.


PhotoTake a zinc tablet to ward off a cold. Drink herbal tea or gargle with warm salt water to soothe a sore throat. We all have home remedies we swear by.

These natural ways of healing are one component of integrative medicine. Many have been around for centuries, passed down from generation to generation, but it was not until recently that studies began to support the outcomes of these practices. The combination of alternative remedies with traditional methods is what makes up integrative medicine.

What is integrative medicine?

Integrative medicine is an evidence-based medical practice that takes account of the whole person and integrates traditional methods of medicine with alternative therapies. This practice emphasizes the therapeutic relationship between the patient and provider by allowing them to be collaborative partners in the healing process. Integrative medicine providers take a holistic approach and combine traditional medical approaches with alternative ones to create plan that fits your particular needs.

“Initial appointments may be much longer than your average doctor’s appointment because they explore all aspects of the patient’s health such as lifestyle, sleep habits and diet,” says Huda Jarmakani, DO, a family medicine physician at The Iowa Clinic’s Ankeny campus. Once a thorough assessment is done, an integrative medicine provider will collaborate with the patient to create a personalized treatment plan.

Together, you will consider your health needs and goals, lifestyle and preferences. Your treatment plan may include elements of traditional medicine like physical therapy or use of prescription drugs, along with non-traditional options like meditation or yoga. The beauty of integrative medicine is its adaptability – rather than take a one-size-fits-all approach, your provider will tailor your care to your needs.

Now that I know what integrative medicine is, what are some common practices?

A wide variety of practices fall under the scope of integrative medicine, some of which you may already incorporate into your health and wellness habits without even realizing it. Remember grandma’s seemingly crazy cold remedies such as adding honey to your tea, downing a glass of orange juice for vitamin C, or rubbing peppermint oil on your temples to relieve a miserable headache? Those are all examples of integrative medicine. Although they are not a promised cure, remedies like these can help relieve symptoms and assist the body in a quicker recovery. 

Acupuncture is one of the most common integrative practices. It has been shown to relieve many types of pain including headaches, lower back pain, and chemotherapy-induced or post-operative nausea.

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Could Integrative Medicine Benefit You?Talk to your provider about incorporating non-traditional methods into your health journey.

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Another method is osteopathic manual manipulation (OMM). Practiced by Doctors of Osteopathy, or DOs, who learn this additional skill during their medical education, OMM sees every part of the body as connected. OMM treatment plans take the whole body into consideration and serve as a holistic approach to your health.

Meditation, which can help reduce blood pressure, depression and anxiety by directly affecting the sympathetic nervous system, is another example of nontraditional technique your provider might suggest. Experts agree that spending just a few minutes of your day meditating can positively impact your energy level and sleep patterns.

Pharmacies and grocery stores also offer a wide variety of over the counter supplements that can improve your overall health. Elderberry supports the immune system, magnesium boosts mood, and Vitamin A helps maintain a healthy reproductive system. Your primary care provider can provide recommendations for which supplements are recommended based on your needs.

Alternative therapies, such as animal assisted therapy, music therapy and massage therapy may also be suggested by your doctor based on your health history and condition. These practices each have specific merits and can help improve overall well-being.

How can integrative medicine benefit me?

Practitioners commonly incorporate these practices for patients who suffer from anxiety, depression, cancer or chronic pain. The goal is to manage a patient’s symptoms and improve quality of life by reducing pain, fatigue and boosting overall mood. All types of people can benefit from integrative medicine – young or old, healthy or sick – there is some aspect that can benefit you! “With the diverse number of available treatments, integrative medicine can help a range of people,” says Dr. Jarmakani.

In essence, integrative medicine is about determining what methods work best for your overall health and wellness through a combination of the usual practices, medications, surgery, physical therapy – or less traditional methods like animal-assisted therapy. Integrative medicine is simply another tool in your healthcare provider’s toolbox, allowing them to more closely personalize your treatment and meet your needs.

Yes, integrative medicine is still “real” medicine.

Integrative medicine can feel confusing or intimidating. One common misconception is that doctors who practice integrative medicine don’t practice conventional medicine. You might feel concerned that an integrative medicine doctor will try to replace your tried-and-true traditional methods with oils or natural remedies, but there’s no need to worry. The goal isn’t to eliminate traditional medicine, it’s to add to it. A good integrative medicine doctor will work with you to understand and prescribe all of the remedies that will get you feeling you best – from traditional to alternative.

Integrative practices are safe and supplemental ways of healing the body. “After all, integrative medicine has existed for centuries, but now we have the studies to show how much it can help in your day-to-day wellbeing,” Dr. Jarmakani says.

If you’re interested in learning more about integrative medicine practices, talk with your primary care provider to learn how they could benefit and contribute to your overall health goals.

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