Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Importance of Integrative Health and Medicine

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

Your health is important to you, but your health is also important to the health of our nation, and even the world. The average person may not think about how their actions directly affect the overall healthcare of the nation, but they do. The lack of prevention of disease results in increased utilization of resources, most directly, time and money. The U.S.A. spent roughly $3.3 trillion last year on healthcare, about 18% of our GDP. The Centers for Disease Control estimates 83% of healthcare dollars (about $2.7 trillion) are spent treating chronic disease and this is expected to increase 42% over the next ten years. Resources spent treating preventable disease takes from resources that could be used for other services such as (fill in whatever condition is important to YOU here). Similar to the concept of everyone chipping in to recycle and minimizing waste, by keeping ourselves healthy, we also contribute to helping with a seemingly insurmountable problem.

Combine all of these issues and you have what everyone in healthcare already knows -- there is a looming American healthcare crisis in the not too distant horizon. But there are two important significant things you can do by keeping yourself as healthy as possible: 1. you can prevent these types of diseases for yourself (and maybe even inspire your friends and family to do the same) and 2. you avoid contributing to the collective burden of treating preventable diseases, thereby freeing up the resources available to be used for (again, fill in whatever is important to YOU here). (Of course, I whole heartedly endorse that you see your health care professionals for regular prevention type services and regular health checkups, or for any issues that are concerning to you!)

At Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine we utilize a Five Pillar approach to a person’s health and wellbeing. These Five Pillars of Health & Well-being are: Nutrition, Exercise, Resilience, Sleep and Purpose. By analyzing and addressing strengths and deficits in each of these core components of a patient’s overall health we can develop specific and individual care plans as we to partner with our patients to minimize the risk of developing a preventable disease, and also to improve almost any existing chronic disease. There are extensive interventions that have been shown to improve quality of life, improve disease, and many actually prevent disease. As I noted in a previous blog, many of these interventions are relatively simple to incorporate but some take work and a partnership between patient and practitioner. Lifestyle change is often difficult, but it has been proven time and time again that lifestyle changes work, and have lasting effect. In fact, these changes are often the most effective interventions, particularly in the long run.

Let’s take just a brief look at just a few interventions we have been talking about: Healthy eating and dietary changes 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. Meditation, mindfulness and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) have been shown to help reduce stress, anxiety and to improve pain (possibly more than medication in the long run). Acupuncture has been shown to help many different disease conditions (e.g., complications from cancer treatments, headaches, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, hot flashes, etc.) and a multitude of issues relating to many different types of pain. In fact, based on extensive research and evidence showing safety and efficacy, acupuncture is now recommended by multiple major medical organizations such as the American College of Physicians for the treatment of chronic pain.
The evidence is clear: when applied appropriately (the same goes for any “traditional” medical intervention), lifestyle modification and integrative medical approaches to multiple conditions can be significantly effective. In addition, these interventions can help reduce disease burden and improve suffering and quality of life.

For the reasons above, I believe that integrative medical approaches -- including interventions for sleep, healthy eating, appropriate exercise and reduction of sedentary lifestyles, resiliency teaching and development and cultivation of one’s life purpose -- are not only the Five Pillars for an individual’s health but for the health of this nation. By utilizing the interventions above to improve overall health and reduce disease, we can stem the tide of chronic and preventable disease that is reducing the quality of life for so many people and overpowering our nation’s healthcare system. So you can feel great about taking care of yourself, and also our nation and our planet. You can make a difference! Most importantly, application of these Five Pillars of Health & Well-being can help to keep YOU healthy and in a state of Optimum Wellness. Try making some changes today!

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