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A New Look Inside Integrative Health in Medicine

by Sarah Whiteside (’24) 

The practice of integrative health is an increasingly prevalent topic that is growing due to the COVID-19 outbreak. People are considering other treatment options to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and get relief from lingering issues associated with quarantine and self-isolation. These alternative treatment options are not only being explored for those who are experiencing negative health effects due to lockdown, but also as preventative measures for people with increased susceptibility to the COVID-19 infection.  

Self-isolation has taken a toll on the mental well-being of many individuals, and integrative health measures offer relief for many people. Social isolation and quarantine have had profound effects on a diverse group of people, stemming from a “lack of exercise, unhealthy eating patterns, sleep disorders, and mental illness such as anxiety and depression” (Seifert et al., 2020). Integrative health measures could be used to improve wellbeing in a time where uncertainty and fear are prevalent, and they offer the ability to reduce stress and foster resilience (Seifert et al., 2020). Moreover, mind-body medicine has been proven to help immune function, as well as alleviate stress and inflammation (Seifert et al., 2020). One study reported that psychological stress can lead to an increased susceptibility to viral infections and have adverse effects on health (Seifert et al., 2020). Likewise, stress reduction techniques such as yoga and mindfulness have proved important during this pandemic. Yoga, for instance, has been shown to improve immune function and reduce the risk of obesity, hypertension, and cardiovascular problems (Seifert et al., 2020). Furthermore, many of these measures can be practiced at home — yoga can be performed at home with little equipment; likewise, it is possible to develop a better sleep schedule and exercise routine, as these practices boost mental well-being and keep an individual in good shape. These measures are potential coping strategies for people who are dealing with the negative impact of quarantine restrictions on their health. 

Alternative healthcare is broadly defined as “healthcare options which include diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine” (Tabish, 2008). Integrative practices focus on a myriad of factors that influence our health. These include addressing physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual influences. It takes on a holistic approach, instead of treating only the symptoms of the disease. For instance, an example of alternative medicine is acupuncture, which is becoming a new tool for management of chronic pain. Many physicians believe that their training in pain management is inadequate and don’t feel comfortable in their ability to treat chronic pain. Most insurance plans also don’t cover acupuncture, and this barrier significantly reduces access for patients. Other examples of alternative medicine healing systems range from Ayurveda, which incorporates yoga, meditation, and diet; homeopathy, which uses a substance to ultimately stimulate the body’s healing response; and naturopathy, which focuses on treatments to aid your body in the healing process (Tabish, 2008). The reason these alternative medical treatments don’t receive much attention is because they lack solid, evidence-based research, and the dangers and possible benefits of many of these treatments remain unproved (Tabish, 2008). Alternative medicine approaches are often rejected by conventional medicine because the efficacy of the treatments has not been demonstrated through the accepted double-blind randomized controlled trials (Tabish, 2008). On the other hand, conventional drugs are only approved for marketing once they have proved their efficacy with carefully designed trials and research (Tabish, 2008). Overall, these alternative measures can have a positive effect on stress that stems from the pandemic and social isolation, anxiety, and depression. Many advocates for alternative medicine agree that the placebo effect may play a role in the benefits people receive from these types of therapy, but they argue that this does not diminish its importance (Tabish, 2008).  

Further research needs to be done to explore the efficacy of these treatments before they are incorporated in formal medical practice, but there are promising treatments for preventative care, and they are a step in the right direction as physicians begin to focus on a patient’s whole being rather than individual pieces of the problem.  

Works Cited 

Tabish SA. 2008. Complementary and Alternative Healthcare: Is it Evidence-based? International Journal of Health Sciences. 2(1): V-IX 

Seifert G, Jeitler M, Strange R, Michalsen A, Cramer H, Brinkhaus B, Esch T, Kerckhoff A, Paul A, Teut M, Ghadjar P, Langhorst J, Haupl T, Murthy V, and Kessler C. 2020. The Relevance of Complementary and Integrative Medicine in the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Qualitative Review of the Literature. Frontiers in Medicine. 7: 946.

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