The Frontier of Integrative Medicine

March 1, 2011

Today The Dr. Oz Show was titled ‘Andrew Weil’s Medical Renegades: Fighting for Unconventional Answers’. Dr. Oz said the show was about the new frontier of medicine. Modern medicine is constantly evolving and adapting. But it takes courageous medical renegades, usually at the skepticism of their colleagues, to challenge conventional wisdom and bring about change. Dr. Andrew Weil is one of those renegades. He is the man behind the integrative medicine movement – the combination of the vastly different practices of Western and Eastern medicine.

Integrative medicine focuses on the belief that the body can heal itself. Dr. Weil said his work is to give doctors more of a sense that their job is to figure out what is obstructing the healing process. It is not about putting cures into people, but rather allowing the natural healing mechanisms to come into play. He said the way you affect change is to train a new generation of health professionals who understand integrative medical philosophy. He founded the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona in 1994, with the intent of doing just that. Dr. Oz said now medical schools across the country are starting their own programs.

When Dr. Oz brought Andrew Weil out, he mentioned that a lot of people call him the Guru of Alternative Health Medicine. Dr. Weil said he doesn’t like that term, because he’s not a guru, he’s a physician and a teacher. He also said he is not a practitioner of alternative medicine, he is a graduate of Harvard Medical School, he is thoroughly trained in regular medicine, and he has broadened his knowledge base to include other things. He is not a chiropractor or a Chinese medical practitioner or an Ayurvedic physician. He’s a medical doctor. He thinks the term alternative medicine is accurate, if it is used to describe practices that are not learned in regular medical schools. But he worries that the suggestion of alternative medicine is that you are trying to replace conventional medicine, which is not his aim. He said conventional medicine does some things very well. He said it’s not about replacing conventional medicine, but rather about broadening it’s knowledge base and making it more effective.

Dr. Oz mentioned that he gets really angry when he hears from so many viewers, that their doctors don’t listen to them. Dr. Weil said the problem is the doctors are trapped in the system. Medicine is now a rabidly for-profit system, and most doctors work in corporate situations, where somebody tells them how many patients they have to see in an hour. He said sometimes this only allows them 5-7 minutes per patient, which has totally changed the way medicine is practiced. Weil said he feels it’s the reason so many physicians are leaving the practice of clinical medicine. They find it so unsatisfying to work in these kind of situations.

Andrew Weil hand-picked three people he wants us all to know:

Dr. Jim Nicolai – He has been practicing integrative medicine for 10 years. After medical school, he felt like medicine needed to change. He didn’t want to practice the way he was taught in school. He thought the way Dr. Weil talks about how to be a physician, was how it should be. He feels stress is the major health complication for all of us. 75-90% of all visits to doctors have a stress-related component. An integrative approach for stress focuses on how you live – that is the first treatment – lifestyle. Dr. Nicolai said one of the biggest benefits he sees in his own practice, is the ability to address more than just the physical problems.

Dr. Russell Greenfield – He was in Dr. Weil’s first class of the Program for Integrative Medicine, back in 1997. He was an emergency physician for many years, but felt like more could be done to stop illnesses and disease from even happening in the first place. He thought patients needed more education. Russell practices food science. He said understanding how specific foods can impact health and well-being is one of the most important things in integrative medicine. He said you can prevent things like heart disease and cancer, simply by the things you eat. (This revolutionary idea was discussed in an excellent documentary I watched last year – ‘The Beautiful Truth’, as well as another documentary coming out later this year – ‘Forks Over Knives’.)

Dr. Victoria Maizes – She has worked with Dr. Weil for about 13 years. She said integrative medicine believes there are 2 experts – the physician, and the patient (who knows better what does and doesn’t work for them). Maizes specializes in women’s health. She said a lot of patients come to see her because their doctors have told them they need to start taking certain medications for their bones. She said one of the tools she uses is a decision-tool – what is the risk of a fracture, then they look at Vitamin D, but also things like soy foods and tea, which are not a part of conventional medicine.

Dr. Oz said the purpose of the show is to give us all access to some of the best doctors in the world, the ones we need to know about. He then asked the panel how people at home can find physicians like the four of them. Dr. Maizes said the American Holistic Medical Association has a list of physicians that believe in this philosophy. You can also ask your doctor for a referral for alternative treatment. Andrew Weil said patients have to demand this. If we want doctors that are knowledgable about these practices, we have to demand it. Dr. Maizes said she believes the future of medicine is teamwork. It’s not about your physician knowing everything, but rather your physician working in conjunction with a nutritionist, chiropractor, etc. Dr. Greenfield said the problem is insurance doesn’t cover prevention, so many of these practices aren’t covered. He said that is one of the main things the integrative medicine practice is focused on changing.

The “Dream Team” then revealed their secrets that can change your health forever:

The Anti-Inflammatory Diet – Dr. Greenfield said this is not something you go on and off of, but rather you incorporate it into your life. The focus first and foremost is to stay away from highly processed, highly refined carbohydrates. What you want to eat most of are cold water fish (with their Omega-3s), extra virgin olive oil, and a wide variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Even pasta can be healthy if you only cook it for 6-7 minutes, and keep it al dente. Lowfat dairy can be part of a good anti-inflammatory diet too. Yogurt (like Greek Yogurt or Kefir) contains probiotics, which promote healthy bacteria. He said probiotics help with food allergies, as well. You want to look for products that contain live organisms/cultures. Those that have been previously treated with heat don’t offer the same benefits. Tempeh and miso paste are good as well.

Mind-Body Connection – Dr. Oz said this is probably the area where Andrew Weil’s vision and traditional medicine differ the most. Dr. Weil said he learned nothing about it in medical school. The mind affects the body, and the body affects the mind. When you understand how they interact, it opens up a whole vista of possible treatments for common conditions, that are cost-effective, interesting, and even fun to do. Dr. Nicolai said the best thing people can do to tap into the mind-body connection is learn how to breathe. The biggest challenge is that the breath is linked to stress-on or stress-off, and most of us know how to breathe only with the stress on. He teaches all his patients how to breathe right. The first thing you want to do is be able to breathe fuller and deeper. He likes a count of four – four in, four out – in through the nose, out through the mouth. Imagine any areas of tension you may have, all through the body. Tense those muscles, and then release with each breath, allowing it to relax, allowing those muscles to release their tension. Tense as you inhale, relax as you exhale. That on its own will remedy most stress related issues.

Supplements & Herbs (part of Ayurvedic & Chinese Medicine) – Dr. Maizes said many of her patients come to her for menopausal problems. She recommends flaxseed for this. She said it’s great for 3 reasons: 1) it’s a plant-source of Omega-3 fatty acids, 2) it’s got fiber, which most of us don’t get enough of, and 3) it contains ligdens, which help reduce hot flashes. She recommends flaxseed in addition to soy foods and Vitamin E. Dr. Weil pointed out they pass right through you in whole form, you have to grind them first. Dr. Maizes said if flax and soy and Vitamin E aren’t enough for hot flashes, she also recommends black cohosh. Black cohosh is an herb from Native American practices. You can take it as a pill, or in tea form. Next is astragalus. It comes from Chinese medicine, and is an adaptogen. It helps protect the exterior. It reduces the risk of getting colds or respiratory infections. She recommends it for anyone that travels on planes a lot, or is around kids a lot. She said it’s great to get you through the flu season as well. Dr. Weil said it is also good for more serious things. He has many patients with cancer that are going through chemo or radiation, that take it to protect the bone marrow. The next supplement was ashwagandha, which comes from India. It’s also an adaptogen. It’s good for people who are stressed out or exhausted, but can’t sleep. It’s one of the few adaptogens that help people rest, most are stimulating. The final supplement was a combination of two – acetyl l-carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid. It’s marketed under the name juvenon. Research has shown it protects the mitochondrion cells, which are respiratory factories. It retards cellular aging.

Here is the link to the episode: http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/Secrets-of-Integrative-Medicine-Pt-1. For more information on Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Jim Nicolai, Dr. Russell Greenfield, and Dr. Victoria Maizes, visit their respective websites: (www.drweil.com) (www.miravalresorts.com/The-Experience/Miraval-Specialists/James-Nicolai-M.D.) (www.bewelldoc.com) (http://integrativemedicine.arizona.edu/about/directors/maizes).

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