Integrative Medicine: How Conventional and Alternative Medicine Can Work Together
AUGUST 2023 | Dr. Ashley Southern
“Integrative medicine” has many different interpretations, but to some, it is a holistic collaboration between conventional medicine and alternative natural therapies. It takes an all-encompassing approach to health by providing comprehensive support that addresses not only physical symptoms, but mental, and emotional well-being as well.
What sets naturopathic medicine apart from conventional medicine is that it focuses on understanding and addressing the root causes of dysfunction rather than solely managing symptoms. An integrative approach understands that both systems offer benefits to overall health. While some believe that conventional medicine and naturopathic medicine have traditionally butted heads, there is more and more space for the two to come together to create an effective and holistic approach to health.
The Integrative Approach
Naturopathic and conventional medicine have shared goals: each want what’s best for the patient while doing no harm. Testing and lab work is one arena where naturopathic and conventional medicine perhaps differ. Alternative practitioners (NDs or NMDs, for example) rely on extensive lab testing to gain a foundational understanding of what the root cause of health concerns. Naturopathic therapies utilize both conventional and specialized testing to provide rigorous insight into any biochemical and physiological factors that may be at play.
Types of Naturopathic Testing
Functional Blood Testing: while conventional blood tests focus on diagnosing diseases, functional blood testing aims to go deeper. NMDs look for any imbalances and indications of dysfunction throughout the body’s entire ecosystem. Comprehensive panels look for any markers that could indicate inflammation, nutrient deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, heavy metal toxicity, and immune dysfunction. NDs will use these comprehensive test results to curate a customized nutraceutical and dietary plan to help re-establish balance within the body.
Salivary and Urinary Hormone Metabolite Testing: naturopathic therapies take into account the crucial role hormones play in the overall function and health of the body. Hormone tests from saliva or urine offer a non-invasive way to deep-dive into hormone levels and their metabolites, which is the end products produced downstream during the lifecycle of a hormone; this provides insight into any dysregulation through the pathways of a hormone’s metabolism. Hormone testing looks into key endocrine system players including cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, DHEAS, estradiol, and testosterone. An imbalance in any one of these hormones can cause a ripple effect of dysfunction throughout the entire body. NMDs can use hormone & metabolite testing results to determine not only how these hormones impact the body individually, but how they are interacting and influencing each other at a macro level. Hormone metabolite testing can be an effective method of diagnosing conditions that often go misdiagnosed, including endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), as these conditions are heavily impacted by hormonal imbalances.
Adrenal Stress Testing: chronic stress can have significant impacts on our health. NDs use adrenal stress tests to assess cortisol levels, and how the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems respond to stressors. These tests help to provide any indications of cortisol imbalances, and adrenal insufficiency and dysfunction. NDs utilize the results to work with the patient to best prescribe nutraceutical support and lifestyle recommendations to help manage stress responses and recalibrate adrenal function.
Nutritional Analysis: nutrition is a key player in metabolic functionality. Advanced nutritional testing assesses vital nutrient levels, insulin intake and absorption, and can help to indicate any nutritional deficiencies, allergies, or sensitivities that may be causing dysfunction. Naturopathic practitioners have a comprehensive understanding of not only the vital nutrients our bodies need to survive, but the mechanisms that ensure optimal absorption. Improving the body’s ability to metabolise the fuel we need can improve energy levels, boost mood and alleviate depression, and improve our overall health. NDs use the results gathered from extensive nutritional testing to tailor personalized dietary plans to improve metabolic function and help you get back to feeling your best.
Gut Health Analysis: recent research has shown just how crucial the health of our gastrointestinal tract is, and how much the bacteria that lives within our microbiome impacts our body. Overgrowths in certain types of “bad bacteria” including gram negative bugs have been linked to causing and increasing inflammation and can create or exacerbate digestive issues. Imbalances in gram negative bugs have been highly associated with inflammatory conditions including endometriosis and IBS. Comprehensive stool and blood tests can help to delve into the body’s gut health and provide indications of dysfunction caused by bacterial overgrowths or imbalances.
Conditions That Could Benefit from an Integrative Approach
Endometriosis and PCOS are two common conditions that exemplify the disconnect that can exist between conventional and alternative medical systems. It can be said that integrating both conventional and naturopathic methodologies into a holistic approach could improve rate of diagnoses, spread education and awareness, and improve available treatments.
Endometriosis is a condition where the endometrium—the tissue lining the inside of the uterus—grows outside of the uterus where it shouldn’t be, including the ovaries, pelvis, bowel, and abdominal walls. Symptoms of endometriosis include severe abdominal pain, fatigue, bloating, cramping, constipation, and diarrhea. It is a progressive condition, meaning it will worsen overtime if left untreated, and can cause increased risk of severe bleeding, scar tissue and damage, infertility issues, and increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Unfortunately, endometriosis is notoriously underdiagnosed and commonly dismissed as period pain; in North America it can take up to 10-15 years to get properly diagnosed. Conventional medicine typically prescribes hormone suppressant medications to help manage symptoms. However, while current hormonal-suppressive therapies can categorically reduce symptoms and provide relief specific to period pain, they do not necessarily make the lesions smaller, they do not improve fertility outcomes, and they do not improve the more systemic symptoms of endometriosis such as body aches and pains, fatigue, brain fog, mood changes and digestive issues. In order to address those factors, you need to look through the lens of naturopathic therapies as well as conventional methods.
Advances in endometrial research has shown there are many foundational factors to endometriosis, including inflammation, hormonal imbalances, and gut health. The naturopathic system offers support through extensive testing to achieve a proper diagnosis, and addresses any underlying factors to help manage symptoms. Through hormonal balancing, reducing inflammation, and nutritional pathways to improve gut health, naturopathic medicine can significantly improve symptoms related to endometriosis.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a common hormonal disorder where the ovaries produce surplus levels of androgens—often referred to as “male sex hormones” but women produce them too —which can cause symptoms including ovarian cysts, irregular menstrual cycles, excessive hair growth, acne, metabolic dysfunction and weight gain, and infertility issues.
Within conventional medicine, a PCOS diagnosis commonly comes with the advice of, lose weight and symptoms will improve. Indeed, studies show that a 5% reduction in body mass can help support PCOS symptoms. However, naturopathic medicine understands that this advice on its own can be dangerous depending on what systemic factors are causing PCOS within the body. Weight gain and weight loss resistance are often highly associated with PCOS due to hormonal imbalances, which can affect cortisol levels and cause insulin resistance. Once in that state, weight loss can be nearly impossible unless foundationally addressed. NDs work with the patient’s body to rebalance hormonal levels, manage stress responses, and regulate insulin uptake through nutraceutical supplementation. They can also suggest lifestyle modifications including diet, stress management techniques like mindfulness, and advice on how to improve sleep hygiene.
Our Approach to Integrative Health
At Nascent Health we believe in an integrative approach to your health, and can work with your other doctors to co-manage your treatments. We are proud to provide the community of Gilbert, Arizona with a wide range of naturopathic and alternative health methods, including bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, IV nutrient therapy, IV ozone therapy, peptide therapy, and many more. We offer both routine and comprehensive lab testing including food allergies, stool testing, and heavy metal testing, as well as supplement and medication management. We are on standby to help you regain both your health and your quality of life through our arsenal of integrative health methods. Book a free consultation with us today!