Complementary Medicine Becoming Mainstream

One third of Americans report using some form of complementary medicine

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

About one-third of Americans use complementary or “integrative” medicine, according to the most recent statistics offered by the National Institutes of Health. Complementary medicine describes using evidence-based practices to support health in conjunction with — but not replacing — Western health. “Alternative health” tends to describe modalities replacing Western health care.

Leslie Eimas, licensed massage therapist and founder and president of My Oils Life, in Fayetteville, said that skepticism about her modalities has decreased.

“My gynecologist purchases essential oils from me,” Eimas said. “I think people are much more open and realize they want all the help they can get.

“Doctors are becoming more aware that rest, exercise and nutrition are important.”

Eimas said she has new clients who are nurses and has even had a few doctors refer people to her.

Many complementary medicine methods have ancient roots. Their recent growth in popularity represents a desire for more natural ways of supporting good health, according to physician Joanne Wu, a certified yoga instructor and integrative wellness coach, board certified in rehabilitation medicine and holistic medicine, specializing in wellness. She sees clients in Syracuse and other Upstate locations.

Wu said that many patients have become turned off from rising costs and the side effects of Western medicine’s surgery and medication.

“Invasive treatments have a lot of long-lasting, irreversible side effects,” Wu said. “People want to use everything that’s natural that will help them in the long run.”

The holistic approach of complementary medicine, which addresses the person’s overall health rather than only reducing symptoms, appeals to many patients because it seems more personable and addresses the cause of the problems.

Wu sees modalities that promote the mind/body connection as among the most popular, including yoga, tai chi, qi gong, and mindfulness.

“These reduce stress and pain and have been proven to improve outcomes,” she said.

Natural approaches include eating a balanced diet of whole foods and using supplements and herbs.

Wu cautioned that one drawback of supplements and herbs is the lack of regulation on the products, so consumers must ensure they seek high quality items.

Les Moore, doctor of naturopathic medicine, certified herbalist and licensed acupuncturist, directs the Center for Special Medicine in Pittsford, near Rochester. He has served as president of the New York Association of Naturopathic Physicians and co-founded the White House Health, Tourism, and Recreation Task Force on Obesity.

“In the past, the two paths were separated, Western and complementary medicine,” he said. “Now, more are sharing information on either path you choose to go or if you choose both paths.”

According to Moore, Western primary care physicians should know the modalities their patients choose and complementary medicine practitioners should know about any prescriptions and procedures in their clients’ care. It’s up to patients to ensure everyone knows what’s going on.

Although more cooperation has made coordinating care easier, insurance coverage would make complementary care more accessible to all patients.

Moore said that complementary care’s emphasis on preventing health issues and taking the least invasive method possible makes it generally less expensive and less time consuming than many conventional therapies.

Increasing volumes of clinical evidence proving efficacy has been driving the trend of complementary medicine, according to physician Az Tahir, who practices internal holistic medicine in Syracuse and Rochester.

“Many prominent medical doctors have found that putting patients with complicated cases on regimens of better nutrition and exercise gives better outcomes,” Tahir said.

He has observed at his own practice that good nutrition, stress reduction, adequate sleep, exercise, social support and supplements supports the improvement of patient health.

He said like likes to “diagnose modernly and treat naturally.”

“I think what’s happening is more and more we have clinical evidence that the natural approaches are very important for health, not only medications,” Tahir said.

He referenced nutrition, drinking water, stress reduction, adequate sleep, proper exercise, supplements and social support as essential for creating a foundation of good health.

“Doing all of these can reverse all kinds of diseases,” he said. “I’ve seen amazing results in my practice.”