Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Integrative Medicine is Our Best Hope for Healthcare in America (Part 1)

By David C. Leopold, M.D. 
Medical Director

Healthcare in the United States is in serious trouble. Despite spending far more on healthcare than any industrialized nation, we have outcomes that are no better and, in fact, are often worse (the USA recently ranked last out of 11 similar countries) than countries that spend much less. Americans are also much more likely to have more than one chronic disease condition (e.g. heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, chronic lung diseases, chronic pain, arthritis, etc.), further complicating care and quality of life. The implications of this issue are massive; chronic diseases are the major reasons for sickness, disability, suffering, death and health care costs in the United States.

Perhaps most unfortunate, the majority of Americans still do not make lifestyle changes that are proven to decrease disease and improve health. We still eat too much sugar and processed foods, not enough fruits and vegetables, we are too sedentary, and most people are under chronically high levels of stress and do not have adequate methods to manage this stress. The totality of this problem has direct health impact but also significant economic impact to our healthcare system; we spend an incredible amount of money treating diseases that are preventable. To paraphrase a cartoon, we are mopping up the floor while the sink is overflowing and the faucets are wide open. But what if someone could reach over that overflowing sink and turn off the faucet?

What if we could change this picture, what if we could actually stem the tide by decreasing the ramifications of these chronic diseases and, even better, what if we could actually stop them from occurring in the first place? This is what Integrative Medicine aims to do. Integrative Medicine is probably our best hope to change the current course of healthcare in this country because it focuses on the prevention of disease and a deep and lasting partnership with the individual to work together to improve our health individually and thus collectively as well.

Let’s take just a brief look at just a few interventions we have been talking about. Dietary interventions are proven to reduce obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Exercise has been shown to decrease pain, obesity, heart disease, reduce cancer and reduce recurrence of certain cancers. Exercise is also a powerful antidepressant and is an excellent intervention for stress management. MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) has been shown to help stress, anxiety and lower back pain. Acupuncture has been shown to help many different disease conditions and a multitude of issues relating to many different types of pain.

In fact, every major healthcare crisis in this country (e.g. chronic pain and the current opioid overuse epidemic, obesity, diabetes, heart diseases, cancer, anxiety, depression, insomnia, etc.) can be significantly impacted by the implementation of integrative medical approaches.

Look for my upcoming blog posts where I’ll be discussing this issue in more detail. 

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