How Integrative HealthCare May Save Medicine

Spring is now in full bloom. This is an appropriate expression also for what is going on here with BreakFree Medicine.  I am in the midst of finishing my preparation for my certification exam in functional medicine and beginning my speaking engagements centered around my new book, BreakFree Medicine. Through these events, I am feeling as though my mission and vision of how I can contribute to the naturopathic and functional medicine movements, which support and empower individuals to access better health and to release fear and the feeling of being victims of their bodies, is coming to fruition. This seems to be part of an accelerated push by health care providers and patients alike to bring more to medicine than what’s available. It is a common message sprouting forth in abundance of advocating for empowered patients forming therapeutic relationships with their physicians to achieve holistic, comprehensive, scientific, and solution-based approaches.

What started as a small movement with the original pioneers, founders, and innovators now keeps expanding in growth and acceptance. This is not just in functional and naturopathic medicine.  Overall, integrative, holistic, complementary, and alternative professionals are becoming a part of  the political landscape for change in how we approach healthcare. What was underground for years is now a force to be reckoned with in a beautiful, gentle, yet powerful way!

Last week, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Dr. Keesha Ewers on the Healthy You Radio Show. It was wonderful to discuss the concept of integrative medicine and breaking free from the insane approach that hasn’t been working. Our current system has led the United States to be first in healthcare spending and last in rank among industrialized nations overall. Although access improved with the Affordable Care Act, the adverse responses to the current medical model continues to rise.

Supplements in the News

Still, as with everything, as supplements and alternatives are getting more popular, increased amounts of bad press follows. According to Modern Health Care Professional, reporting on the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s (CRN) latest survey on dietary supplement use:

The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) has released its 2015 consumer survey on dietary supplement use. Some of the more pertinent findings for integrative health professionals include:

  • 68% of American adults use dietary supplements. This percentage has remained consistent for the past 5 years, showing no indication that consumers will lose interest anytime soon.
  • Despite recent bad press, 84% of supplement users remain confident in their safety and efficacy
  • Multivitamins continue to be the most popular supplements

I discussed this issue of safe use of supplements and bad press previously. It related to a study that went viral with the reporting of an estimated 23,005 emergency room visits due to supplements. This headline, however, was misleading. When looking at the breakdown of the categories of “supplements,” approximately 60% of the cases were not due to true supplement safety issues related to the intended use. It seemed the majority were associated with swallowing problems, accidental imbibing of children, and “spiked” products with medications. Furthermore, there were no deaths with supplements reported in 2013 according to information collected by the U.S. National Poison Data System. Compare this to over 700,000 emergency room visits due to medications that was reported in 2006. Furthermore, there is concern of overprescribing and a national concern for pain prescription overuse.

I wrote about updates on this here, along with studies which demonstrate how integrative medicine can help.

Bad Science and Bad Reporting

It seems at times that supplements get the headlines for all the trouble, even if the studies were not necessarily the best designed, like these on fish oil. Furthermore, there’s the fact in general that study results can be misleading. This study, as discussed on Science Daily, points to the importance of accounting for the study population and sex differences.  In general the female species are not well-represented across trials. Furthermore, there’s the issue of bad statistics used in studies, which was recently discussed in Science Daily as well:

A review of p-values in the biomedical literature from 1990 to 2015 shows that these widely misunderstood statistics are being used increasingly, instead of better metrics of effect size or uncertainty.

Then, there’s misleading headlines in the press. For example, this article in HealthDay News reports on the dangers of taking supplements with medications, but inconspicuously reports the fact that more seniors have increased amounts of medications and supplements (bold emphasis mine):

More seniors than ever are taking supplements alongside their medications, a practice that puts them at risk for dangerous drug interactions, researchers report.

More than 15 percent of older Americans took potentially life-threatening combinations of prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements in 2011, the study showed. That was almost a twofold increase from 2005, when 8.4 percent of seniors did so.

The report was published online March 21 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Qato’s team first interviewed more than 2,300 older adults about their medication/supplement use in 2005, and then they surveyed another 2,200 seniors in 2011. Participants were aged 62 to 85.

The investigators found that the number of people taking at least five prescription drugs rose from over 30 percent to almost 36 percent during the study period. In addition, the number of seniors taking five or more medications or supplements increased from over 53 percent to slightly over 67 percent.

Over the same period, the use of over-the-counter medications dropped from slightly over 44 percent to almost 38 percent, while the use of dietary supplements rose from close to 52 percent to almost 64 percent, the researchers found.

This was the actual conclusion from the abstract of the article on seniors reported above:

In this study, the use of prescription medications and dietary supplements, and concurrent use of interacting medications, has increased since 2005, with 15% of older adults potentially at risk for a major drug-drug interaction. Improving safety with the use of multiple medications has the potential to reduce preventable adverse drug events associated with medications commonly used among older adults.

A recent study in BMJ in 2015 reported that it was rare to find studies that actually reported on the benefit in mortality (overall death rate) in properly prescribed medications for standard of care treatment. Furthermore, most studies reviewed did not take into account comorbid conditions (more than one diagnosis or disorder) which would require being on more than one medication at a time.

Medpage Today, which reported on the same study above relating to seniors, also discussed a second one in connection to it. This second study addressed what could be the underlying root cause…many patients are afraid to tell their doctors that they are taking the supplements! I have bolded the reason below:

Quiet About CAM

Jou and Johnson looked at data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). They found that out of 34,525 adults, 30% had used CAM in 2012, and 66% had a primary care physician.

A total of 7,493 had used CAM and had a primary care physician, and 42% said they did not disclose their most commonly used modality of CAM to their physician.

Nondisclosure was most common among patients who practiced yoga (65%), meditation (64%), and homeopathy (51%), and least common among those who used herbs and/or supplements (25%), special diets (39%), and acupuncture (36%).

The most common reason for nondisclosure was lack of inquiry by physicians (57%), while 47% of patients said they didn’t believe their physician needed to know about their use of CAM.

“Contrary to earlier findings, our results attribute most nondisclosure to physicians not asking about CAM use or to concerns about physician knowledge regarding CAM rather than to physician discouragement or negativity about the use of CAM,” Jou and Johnson wrote.


Getting the Best of Both Without the Bad (Potential) Effects

This is exactly what BreakFree Medicine is trying to prevent–this hesitancy to form a therapeutic relationship with your physician! Importantly, this shows that a gap exits that those I who practice naturopathic (slide 16) and functional medicine are trained in and to fill–the safe use and knowledge about supplement-drug interactions.

Furthermore, both professions focus on the therapeutic partnership. Functional medicine also supports the education of a wide array of practitioners who may not have the naturopathic medicine background and philosophies, uniting many professions in this concept. Supporting the doctor-patient relationship is vital. Did you know that studies actually show that the empathy of a doctor can actually positively or negatively impact the duration of a common cold or the outcomes of patients with psychological issues?

No way am I saying that we should throw the baby out with the bath water and that medications are bad! Rather, I’m supporting the use of what’s best for the patient and not using only one tool to address a symptom. It’s evident–people are using both!

Furthermore, incorporating all these tools with lifestyle factors can make a big difference. For example, it was shown that many Americans are not implementing healthy choices, affecting their heart health:

Only 2.7 percent of the US adult population achieves all four of some basic behavioral characteristics that researchers say would constitute a ‘healthy lifestyle’ and help protect against cardiovascular disease, a recent study concluded.

Following this report, another study reported on the benefits of an integrative approach to changing behavior, and proved we can incorporate multiple changes at once.

So, it’s not that medications aren’t helpful, it’s that we are only using them (and maybe not very scientifically) is hoping for a miracle in a pill. It’s not about addressing the causes and lifestyles which contributed to the problem to begin with. The BreakFree Medicine approach, which combines both, can get you started with integrating what’s best for you.

My book release was a big topic in March, but the world had many other topics to cover.

In my effort to keep you informed and empowered, below is the latest top headlines in health, wellness, nutrition, integrative medicine, conventional medicine, and more for March 2016.

You may notice a few changes…

I changed the title to include “integrative,” because, although it is holistic, I have always included both conventional and integrative medicine news. I have shortened my Top Reads article summaries as well. Instead, I did a commentary on some of the latest updates in a blog (see above) and for other noteworthy news gave only the title and link to the actual articles.

Although I’ve tried to stay as neutral in the headlines as possible, remember they can be misleading,  so check out the full articles if you want the details. Of course, you can still skim and still be informed of the news that’s out there.

Enjoy, my smart, empowered readers!



Some Good News!

BreakFree Medicine is now available as an E-Book and you can click the link for access to a sneak peek inside it here!