Integrative Medicine – A Historical Perspective

Integrative Medicine – A Historical Perspective

Feb 6, 2010

The history of the development of medicine and medical care is as fascinating as it is tumultuous.  From the earliest written and spoken records, we know that our forefathers shared our interest and at times obsession with the factors of birth, death and disease.

To begin with, what causes disease?  Over the centuries we have blamed influences such as demons, witches, astral influences and even the gods.  In more recent times pathogens and genetic predispositions have been targeted as the culprit.  Whatever the cause, innovations in other fields have had a profound effect on the nature of disease.  Improvements in sanitation, for example, have greatly reduced the incidence of infectious diseases.  As a result, people are living longer and are now open to new types of illness.

The nature of disease seems to be shifting with the sands of time.  According to the CDC, “Chronic diseases—such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes—are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States.  Chronic diseases account for 70% of all deaths in the U.S., which is 1.7 million each year.  These diseases also cause major limitations in daily living for almost 1 out of 10 Americans or about 25 million people.”

Lately, much debate has centered on how to reform our medical system.  Most of the arguments seem to relate to the payment and delivery systems, yet very little attention is given to reforming the quality and effectiveness of the medical approach.  Geared largely to handle acute medical conditions such as traumatic injuries, exposure to toxins, etc., that come as a side-effect of the industrial revolution, our the present medical system is largely incapable and ineffective at meeting the unique challenges presented by the rise of chronic illness in our country.

So where do we turn?  While vain regrets about the past are meaningless, it is often helpful to scan our history for lessons on how to better handle the future.  Of particular interest is the historically acrimonious and antagonistic relationship between proponents of “modern medicine” and “traditional medicine.”  A recent resurgence of interest in traditional approaches to health care combined with mounting dissatisfaction with the effectiveness of our system as it is now designed is prompting a lively discussion on how to reform our medical system.

Homeopathy, as an example, works on a different principle than most drug-based interventions of our era.  Using the principle, similia similibus curantur, or “likes are cured by likes,” homeopathic medicines are therapeutically-active micro-doses of mineral, botanical and biological substances used to treat many health conditions.  Homeopathic medicines have been regulated as drugs since the FDA’s passage of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1938.

Traditional medical systems such as homeopathy are quickly finding their way back into our primary medical care system.  Just look at trends in the medical schools, who are educating the doctors of the future.  Medical education is also going through a process of reform at the moment and medical schools such as Duke University, the University of Michigan and others now have departments and schools for the research and promulgation of integrative medical systems that combine “modern” with “traditional” approaches to health care.

Where does that leave the general public?  Well, it’s time to get educated!  Take time to read about integrative medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, homeopathy and chiropractic, to name a few.  They are fascinating systems that are themselves under reform as they move from being the “alternative” to being a part of mainstream care.  Do your part to help shape the debate.

The debate needn’t be rancorous.  We need to find common ground for the good health of our society and for the future of our planet.  As our theories about birth, death and disease continue to evolve, so to must our approach to the debate.  It is increasingly clear that a number of the “traditional” medical systems have merit and broad applicability in our time and that one system needn’t be implemented to the detriment of another.

Finding the points conducive to “integration” is a good place to start.  How can we most effectively move forward from where we are?

One comment

  1. It’s true Gregg, as a practitioner interested in helping to integrate the different fields of medicine, I would have to say that first we have to have some integrity ourselves. From my perspective as a healthcare provider, this would mean to be respectful and supportive of other people’s genuine efforts in this area, as long as they have the patient’s best interest in mind. All modalities have something very unique and valuable to offer, and only in working together this way can we be begin to mend this broken system, to the end that all may benefit from the best that ‘medicine’ provides. Thanks for the article!


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