Holistic Therapies hit the mainstream? Maybe… But We Have A Long Way To Go!

Female hand held palm up the word HOLISTIC in white above surrounded by a relevant word cloud on a wide blue sky and bright sunburst background

There was a time when so called “holistic” medicine was relegated to “junk science” and preventative measures were equally tossed aside.

But more and more we’re seeing holistic and integrative medicine actually entering the mainstream vocabulary… consider the following.

A new study published in The Journal of Alternative And Complementary Medicine revealed that more than half (53.1%) of office-based physicians in the U.S. recommended at least one complementary health approach (CHA) to their patients in the previous 12 months.[1]

The study was conducted by mainstream researchers, including those from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, National Institutes of Health, and Center for Health Statistics, and it’s a very important indicator of the acceptance and new understanding of just how well a fully integrated approach is to your health.

The study was conducted by mainstream researchers, including those from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, National Institutes of Health, and Center for Health Statistics, and it’s a very important indicator of the acceptance and new understanding of just how well a fully integrated approach is to your health.

The most common complementary health approaches in the study were:

  • Massage therapy (30.4%)
  • Chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation (27.1%)
  • Herbs/nonvitamin supplements (26.5%)
  • Yoga (25.6%)
  • Acupuncture (22.4%)

Those numbers are overall a step in the right direction and very good news! The more “traditional” physicians recommending holistic therapies will reduce the risk of side effects from surgery and even from drug reactions. But it gets even more interesting.

Researchers also found that general/family practice physicians were most likely to recommend chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation (54.0%) and massage therapy (52.6%).

  • There is something else to consider.
  • The reality is that these numbers are likely much higher since the data used was from physician interviews from 2012.
  • In my personal and professional opinion though… it’s not nearly enough to create the major shift we need toward the the prevention and treatment of disease in this country.
  • In fact, by my estimations I think we need to double the numbers in this study to really make a difference.
  • I want to illustrate what I mean so let’s take two conditions that are prevalent in the U.S. and look at the differences in a holistic approach and a traditional approach.

We’ll start with back pain

Did you know that almost 80% of adults experience lower back pain at some point in their life and more than a quarter of those have had lower back pain in the last 3 months! [2]

Not only that, it’s the #1 job-related disability in the United States.[3]

Here’s what you can expect from your doctor if you injure your back or experience lower back pain and seek help:

  • You go to your doctor and they’ll examine you to determine the extent of the pain and injury.
  • Your doctor prescribes pain medication and or muscle relaxers.
  • You go home and take the medications.
  • You go back to the doctor in a week or two. If the pain hasn’t improved you’re looking at physical therapy and potentially an X-ray or MRI.

And I hope you do actually recover quickly.

But almost 20% of the population actually has chronic back pain which comes with a whole host of other potential problems.

If you suffer from chronic back pain the list of medications gets far longer and it comes with the very real risk of side effects like  – blood clots, ulcers, liver and kidney damage… and the even larger potential for addiction to specific medication.

That’s, in a nutshell, what you’d be looking at for traditional treatment.

Now, let’s take just a minute and see how my approach as a holistic, integrative doctor would differ for back pain.

  • You’d still come to me for an appointment.
  • I would examine you to see the extent of the back pain and injury. (this is where things start to get very different…)
  • I would prescribe an all-natural combination of powerful anti-inflammatories like curcumin extract (500mg twice daily) and MSM (3000mg to 5000mg) and very possibly a topical homeopathic or CBD infused pain cream. But then I’d go even further.
  • I’d then do something a traditional doctor wouldn’t. I’d send you straight to see our very own Osteopathic Doctor at the clinic. I’d have them work on the soft tissue and manipulate the area near the source of the pain to relieve muscle stiffness and spasms. This could also be done by a chiropractor or massage therapist working with the Osteopath.

As you can see the approach is quite different and far more hands on. We actively work with the patient to truly dial in on the source of the pain and target the surrounding area of the body.

And our options don’t stop there. We have access to something called “cold laser therapy” which is a cutting edge, non-invasive technology that reduces pain and inflammation with zero risk to the patient.

Not only that, we also have Acupuncture! It’s been used for back pain for centuries, but I’ve found that it works even better when combined with additional muscle or joint therapy offered by osteopaths and chiropractors.

Take a minute and re-read those two approaches.

I think the differences are quite clear. We try to work with the entire body, find the true source of the pain and work on it directly. Not only does it work more quickly the potential for harmful side effects is a tiny fraction of what it would be with the typical prescription drug focused approach.

That’s one clear example but let’s look at another.

Let’s examine the differences between a traditional and holistic approach when it comes to women and menopause.

This is something that all women will face during their lives and a very stark illustration of the contrast between these treatment approaches.

Menopause is tricky and doctors are quick to treat regular menopausal symptoms with harsh prescription drugs like anti-depressant.

This includes medications such as:

  • Venlafaxine (Effexor XR, Pristiq)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)

All of these have the risk of significant side effects like – as weight gain, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, dry mouth, sexual dysfunction, and others.

To me and especially in this case, integrative approaches are superior to the conventional medical approach for helping women relieve their menopausal symptoms safely and naturally.

To start with there are numerous studies that demonstrate herbal extracts such as Black Cohosh can have an even better rate of success than traditional prescriptions.

For example, in a recent study of 171 women over the age of 40, researchers found that Black Cohosh significantly improved menopausal symptoms, as did those women receiving hormone therapy.[4]

Also, additional research has shown Black Cohosh “demonstrates substantial anti-cancer properties”, which included estrogen and progesterone receptors and BRCA 1 ( a tumor-suppressing gene that when mutated increases breast cancer risk).[5]

For women with very intense symptoms or premature menopause, then I would use bio-identical hormone replacement, which has an excellent record for safety and effectiveness.

That’s just two examples of what I would do differently than you might find with a traditional doctor.

In the OSU stud in particular there’s another point worth sharing.

Something missing from this report and lacking in common recommendations from physicians is vitamins.

I’m not surprised at all. It’s the one area that most doctors simply don’t have adequate knowledge in.

No one will dispute the typical American diet is overloaded with calories but inadequate in nutrients. Oregon State University (OSU) researchers note that “micronutrient inadequacies” are common in the United States.[6]

Here is the problem: the government uses the Estimated Average Requirement as a standard for nutrient deficiency.

Yet, they define it as “a nutrient intake value that is estimated to meet the requirement of half the healthy individuals in a particular life stage and gender group.” [7]

This means that a lot of Americans may not have nutrient deficiencies as defined by the U.S. government standard, as provided by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Medicine.

As you can see, this is a vast standard that misses a lot of people with deficiencies.

However, beyond this problem is micronutrient inadequacies, which do not meet the definition of “deficiency” but still cause symptoms and health issues.

OSU researchers also state that micronutrient inadequacies can cause symptoms of general fatigue, reduced ability to fight infections, and even impaired cognitive function.[8]

They also can increase one’s risk for chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and age-related eye diseases.[9]

All of this points to real and substantive changes in the way we approach healthcare and preventative healthcare specifically.

While it is a good sign that complementary health approaches are being recommended by U.S. physicians, there is still a long way to go.

Your job is to continue to educate yourself about the very best ways you can prevent and treat illnesses!

One great way is to keep reading and learning with resources like this newsletter, my podcast and more.

Not only that, you’d be ahead of the game if you have a holistic health team at your disposal when you need them.

An ideal team would have the following:

  • Integrative medical doctors
  • Naturopathic doctor
  • Osteopathic doctors
  • Chiropractors
  • Massage therapist
  • Acupuncturist
  • Other holistic providers

I hope you enjoyed this article today! Keep up with all the latest holistic and integrative health news with me at AmericasNaturalDoctor.com!


Dr. Mark

[1] Stussman B, Nahin R, Barnes P, Ward B. U.S. Physician Recommendations to Their Patients About the Use of Complementary Health Approaches. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2019 [accessed 2020 Jan 19].

2 Low Back Pain Fact Sheet | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Ninds.nih.gov. 2020 [accessed 2020 Jan 19]. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Low-Back-Pain-Fact-Sheet

3 Ibid.

4 Friederichsen, Lena, Sabine Nebel, Catherine Zahner, Lukas Bütikofer, and Petra Stute. “Effect Of Cimicifuga Racemosa On Metabolic Parameters In Women With Menopausal Symptoms: A Retrospective Observational Study (CIMBOLIC)”. Archives Of Gynecology And Obstetrics, 2019, `-7. doi:10.1007/s00404-019-05366-8.

5 Crone, Michael, Kelly Hallman, Victoria Lloyd, Monica Szmyd, Briana Badamo, Mia Morse, and Sumi Dinda. “The Antiestrogenic Effects Of Black Cohosh On BRCA1 And Steroid Receptors In Breast Cancer Cells</P>”. Breast Cancer: Targets And Therapy 11 (2019): 99-110. doi:10.2147/bctt.s181730

6 Micronutrient Inadequacies in the US Population: an Overview. Linus Pauling Institute. 2020 [accessed 2020 Jan 19]. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/micronutrient-inadequacies/overview#EAR

7 DRI Glossary. 2020 [accessed 2020 Jan 19]. https://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/dri-glossary

8 Micronutrient Inadequacies in the US Population: an Overview. Linus Pauling Institute. 2020 [accessed 2020 Jan 19]. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/micronutrient-inadequacies/overview#EAR

9 Ibid.