As a traditionally trained physician in the Western Medical Model, I find that our conventional medicine in the US is unparalleled any where in the world for acute conditions, that is. Our response to trauma and surgical emergencies is truly awesome. What I find particularly lacking, however, is any sensible approach to chronic illnesses. The western model throws lots of medications at a disease, in hopes of relieving the symptoms. This view sorely misses the point of treating the underlying cause of the condition. It also dooms the patient to be dependent on medications each with its own set of side effects, medications which actually perpetuate an illness, instead of curing it.
I don’t blame doctors, as so many pop culture magazines do. I believe that physicians do the best we can to compassionately care for patients in a derelict Industrial Medical Insurance System. The Medical Manufacturing Machine coerces doctor cogs in to fast visits and quick fixes, not lengthy appointments to delve into the deeper mysteries of the origin of a disease for a given patient. The 10 minute appointment robs both the patient and the provider of any meaningful experience.
These abrupt visits prohibit the time to discuss the multiplicity of complementary and alternative options available for treatment. Also, sadly, most of the doctors in practice today have no training in alternative medical options and feel scared about using herbs and energies which they know nothing about. Luckily, most current medical schools, including little known and minimally respected places such as Harvard, have a good quality Alternative Medicine courses and philosophies. So take heart, transformation is on the horizon with a new generation of practitioners who have decent training and open minds.
Until that fresh set of doctors is fully qualified to practice, for now, and for always, I recommend that each person take charge of her own health. Be the captain of her own vessel, and surround herself with caring people who can give good, complete, advice about medical conditions and options to truly heal them. Let’s take a couple examples of disorders which have many options in the both Conventional and Complementary camps.
Uterine Fibroids: Western medicine theories can tell you exact details concerning the cell type, it’s chemical properties, what makes them grow faster or slower, and the expected course and outcomes. It can not, however, explain WHY they originate in the first place. Eastern Medicine does not concern itself with the diagnosis, but instead to unblock the stuck energy. Homeopathy would ask a woman to consider what void in her creative / reproductive center is her body trying to fill? Reiki would fill the woman’s body with love and support to face her symptoms and clear her hurts.
The range of treatment options for fibroids includes, among other modalities:
- Hysterectomy (remove the uterus without removal of cervix and ovaries)
- Myomectomy (surgical removal of the fibroids)
- UAE (Uterine Artery Embolization: plug the uterine arteries)
- Ultrasound Disintegration (experimental, done in Boston)
- Lupron (a strong drug causing temporary menopause to shrink the fibroids)
- Birth Control Pills (to reduce symptoms of bleeding and pain)
- Acupuncture (reduce symptoms, maybe shrink tumors by balancing energy using needles)
- Homeopathy (reduce symptoms, maybe shrink tumors, by subtle essences remedies)
- Herbal Therapies (iron replacement, limit blood flow, reduce inflammation)
- Energy Medicine (Reiki, Qi Gong, Cranio-Sacral, etc.)
- Diet (less: chemicals, wheat, dairy, soy and other phytoestrogen sources)
(more: whole, raw, natural, organic foods)
- Vibrational: Sound, Color, Light, and Aroma Therapies (didgeridoo)
- Guided Imagery (power of your own mind to relieve symptoms)
Every woman has the right to seek out, evaluate and choose from the many options available. EVERY option is a RIGHT answer. Just one of the choices will be more appealing to a given person at a given time in her life. She takes into account all the surrounding circumstances such as surgical recovery time, side effects of medicines, financial constraints, and tolerance for the unconventional.
The most correct answer will likely change over time, given the expected progression of symptoms. I have had patients with huge fibroids, filling their bellies up to their navel, choose to do nothing but replace their lost iron and wait for menopause. Other ladies try many modalities without success, then opt for a surgical treatment. Still others get relief from the simplest acupuncture regimen or constitutional homeopath remedy.
Each individual has her own goals and her own best answer. Integrative Medicine allows and supports the woman in her best choice. It is not pedantic, patronizing, nor definitive. It places the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the patient, exactly where it belongs. Remember, doctors don’t heal patients; the shear determination of a woman with the help of nature cures herself. I believe doctors are present to give information & advice, then step out of the way. They can provide a technical service, such as surgery, or a medication prescription, but it is the patient who ultimately decides for herself what she prefers to be done for her.
Let’s look at another example: Hot Flashes. There are many diverse theories that explain the bane of a woman’s menopausal symptoms. Western Medicine claims that they are due to estrogen fluctuations. Eastern medicine describes their occurrence based on a fire/water imbalance and stagnation in the liver. Homeopathic practitioners would ask what in your life is, “is burning you under your skin?”. Herbalists and Dieticians suggest using phytoestrogens – like herbs, roots, berries and food items to lessen the symptoms. So what are the options?
- Do nothing, use a fan, wear a cool cloth, dress in layers, drink lots of water
- Adjust Diet to include Soy Bean products (tofu, etc.) and Wild Yams.
- Eliminate red wine, caffeine, alcohol, and try to reduce stress from your life.
- Accept them as part of life. Convince yourself that they do not bother you.
- Enjoy them. Laugh at yourself with others. See “Menopause, the Musical”
- Acupuncture, Acupressure (at these points: spleen 3, 6, 9, kidney 1,3,6, liver 3)
- Homeopathic Remedies: Sepia helps cool & withdrawn ; Lachesis helps passion & anger
- Herbs: such as Extrovera, Vitex, Maca root, Black Cohosh, Don Quai, etc.
- Energy Medicine: Cranio-Sacral, Reiki, Qi Gong, Shamanism, EFT
- Vibrational Medicine: Color, Sound, Light, Aroma, Didgeridoo
- Estrogen in pills from animals, plants or laboratory.
- Bio-Identical Estrogen in pill, patch, ring, cream or gel. (either commercially available through pharmaceutical companies or compounded)
- Testosterone (through pharmaceutical or compounding agents)
- Anti-Depressants (Effexor, Prozac, Zoloft, etc.)
- High Blood Pressure Medicines (Catapress, alpha blockers,etc.)
- Sedatives (barbiturates, belladonna, etc.)
- Medicines to constrict blood vessels (ergotamine, etc.)
Again, each person must fully evaluate her individual goals, her fears, her family history, her medical conditions, her values and her flexibility to accept a differently functioning body. Some of my patients have had one terrible hot flash, per day or night, absolutely ruin her life. While other patients who have 20 – 30 per day and 10 – 20 at night get through without any intervention at all. We are all unique individuals who must make the best decision to give us our ideal quality of life and accept the results of our own decisions which we make with guidance from health care professionals whom we trust. This is Integrative Medicine at its finest.
This philosophy is what gives me the most joy in my practice of Gynecology and Sexual Counseling.