3 Common Complementary Health Practices

In healthcare you’ll often hear the words “alternative”, “integrative”, and “complementary” being used, sometimes interchangeably, but they each denote a different practice of medicine. “Alternative” medicine is the term for when you substitute conventional treatments with unconventional or non-mainstream ones, using the unconventional method in place of standard practice. “Complementary” medicine practices involve supplementing conventional practices with non-mainstream practices. Finally, “integrative” health practices are ones that bring together conventional health practices with complementary ones in order to give the most holistic solutions for and picture of health.

Incorporating these practices into your daily life doesn’t have to change your entire world, but the impact that taking better care of your mind and body could have can be life-changing. Here are a few common complementary health practices you can integrate into your daily life.

  • Deep Breathing

    • When we’re experiencing situations of high-stress or pain, one of our bodies’ natural reactions is to hold our breath during the incident. However, deep breathing not only helps to relax you but can help you fight pain and reduce your stress levels. During periods of stress, practicing deep breathing can help you retrain your body to control its release of stress hormones which, long-term, have damaging effects on your body. Whether you suffer from stress often or rarely at all, anyone can benefit from controlled and mindful deep breathing. The 4-7-8 breathing method is one that I highly recommend using.

  • Yoga

    • Yoga uses poses, meditation, and breathing exercises to bring the mind and body together. The practice is thousands of years old, with the word “yoga” translating from Sanskrit as “union.” It is a relatively low-impact and safe means of exercise, especially for those who may not be able to participate in high-impact workouts. In the United States, yoga is the sixth most commonly practiced complementary health exercise and has been proven to aid in the relief of a number of health concerns. It has been shown to help reduce the severity of anxiety, insomnia, and depression. It’s also linked to lower stress levels, lower heart rate, and increases your overall flexibility, balance, and strength. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is also actively supporting research that looks into the effects that yoga may have on diabetes, PTSD, multiple sclerosis, HIV, and the immune system.

  • Massage

    • As frivolous and extravagant as treating yourself to a massage can feel, they can actually provide a number of benefits that go beyond simply feeling relaxed; it has been proven effective in reducing stress, relieving pain, and releasing muscle tension. Although further study is needed to prove the benefits conclusively, some reports show that it may also prove beneficial for those suffering from headaches, anxiety, sports injuries, stress-related insomnia, digestive problems, fibromyalgia, and more.

Be Kind To Your GI tract: Understanding Prebiotics VS. Probiotics

You’ve seen them at the drugstore. Boxes and boxes of probiotics that make claims about helping all manner of the stomach, gastrointestinal issues from supporting digestive immunity to straightening out digestive issues. It’s all a bit confusing, but this discussion offers a primer on both:

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics naturally live in some foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, Kimchi, pickles and other dairy products, but they can also be prescribed or purchased in a pill form. People are often advised to take them to combat the gastrointestinal side effects of some medications such antibiotics. Some people also opt to take them as a daily supplement to replace the good bacteria in their digestive tracts that can disappear for a variety of reasons. Studies have shown that probiotics have the ability to combat some gastrointestinal disorders but must not forget about prebiotics, which also is very important.

What is a Prebiotic?

A prebiotic is classified as a specialized plant fiber that encourages the nourishment of good bacteria that is already in the digestive tract. While probiotics produce good bacteria back into the digestive system, probiotics are in a sense a fertilizer for the good bacteria that already resides there. Studies show that by using prebiotics to increase the good to bad ratio of bacteria has a positive effect on well-being including digestive function, brain function and more.

In short, here is a comparison of the two:

Probiotics:

  •      Control the growth of harmful strains of bacteria in the GI tract.
  •      Hundreds of available brands.
  •      Live in yogurt, fermented foods, and pills.
  •      Can be killed by stomach acid, heat, or time.
  •      Have been shown to induce remission of Ulcerative Colitis US when refractory to medication
  •      Reduce the frequency of diarrhea in patients with stable, active Crohn’s Disease (CD) however postoperative CD has not benefited

Prebiotics:

  •      A special form of non-digestible dietary fiber that helps grow the good bacteria in your GI tract.
  •      Comes in powder form or in some foods like bananas, oatmeal, asparagus, bran, psyllium husk, and more.
  •      Chicory Root has the highest density of prebiotics.
  •      Nourishes the good bacteria in the gut.
  •      Have been shown to be effective for some chronic GI disorders such as ulcerative colitis.

Can I use either one to replace medications for stomach disorders?

No, you should never stop taking any medication without consulting your doctor. Studies on both prebiotics and probiotics are very preliminary, but they may help alleviate some symptoms.

Can I take both probiotics and prebiotics?

Yes, it’s safe to take both at the same time, but it’s still advisable to speak to your doctor first before doing this.

Do things like soy and almond milk contain probiotics?

No, most of them do not contain probiotics.

When should I take prebiotics or probiotics?

Any time is a good time to try taking them to see if they make a difference to the functioning of your digestive system and support your general health.  Again, studies are still in the early stages, and our knowledge of the GI microflora is still in its infancy.  That being said, there is a large amount of anecdotal evidence from patients that say they do help tremendously, and anticipation of clinical data is eagerly anticipated.

Who should not take probiotics?

Immunocompromised or critically people should, for the most part, avoid probiotics. Please check with your doctor as each case is unique.


To learn more about how Houston Concierge Medicine & Wellness Center can develop personalized diagnostic and treatment plans using integrative medical care, call 713-333-6464 or schedule an appointment online.

Meditation Offers a Powerful Integrated Treatment Option

Meditation has been a common spiritual and religious practice for thousands of years. More recently, the practice has been making its way into mainstream and secular use as a strategy to improve stress management, mindfulness, and overall quality of life. Researchers are beginning to take note as meditation becomes increasingly popular and shows promise as an integrative treatment option. Currently, 8% of Americans engage in meditation, and 11% spend time practicing deep breathing. Almost 1 out of every 10 Americans do yoga, which is considered by most to be a form of meditation, and 45% of those who don’t say they are interested in trying it.

Mediation’s growing popularity is easy to understand. Anyone can practice, anytime, anywhere. Meditation requires no special equipment or training. Although teachers and classes certainly exist and techniques vary, practicing meditation can be as simple as spending 15 minutes a day quietly focusing on your breath. Practitioners swear by these simple methods, with many reporting that they feel calmer and more relaxed throughout their day, more compassionate, and better equipped to handle difficult interpersonal situations. Many also report benefits in the form of new perspective and mental clarity, increased intuition and creativity, an ability to live in and appreciate each present moment, and an overall increase in happiness and wellbeing.

Meditation water fall

Scientific and medical research on the effects of meditation are still in the early stages, but a growing body of data promises a strong future for the use of meditation as a healthy, available, drug-free integrative medical treatment option.

Americans today face an epidemic of stress, and meditation may offer a powerful source of relief. Stress-related health problems are at the root of up to 80% of doctor appointments and make up the third highest health care expenditures, behind only heart disease and cancer. Given these numbers, it is shocking that only 3% of doctors attempt to address stress reduction techniques with their patients. A recent study suggests meditation goes a long way to address the problem.

People who participated in a meditation based relaxation program found that they required 43% less medical services compared to the previous year, and the newly relaxed patients enjoyed health care savings from $640 to as much as $25,500 per year. Also indicative of the success of such programs is that Aetna, a health insurance provider, offered its own employees a mindfulness program as an experiment of their own. The company itself enjoyed an increase in worker productivity of over an hour each week, or $3,000 yearly – a 1:11 return on their investment. The employees reported 28% less stress, 19% less pain, and 20% better sleep.

In a similar vein, mindfulness meditation is a natural match for treating both garden variety anxiety and patients suffering from Generalized Anxiety disorder. Based on her research, Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, recommends mediation for anyone “dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power” and “nagging worry that has no benefit.”

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New research suggests that the positive shifts in subjective emotional states that mindful meditators have been reporting for years may even have an objective, traceable physical basis. Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar has been studying the effects of meditation on the brain, and she is reporting some fascinating results. After just an 8 week meditation program, brain scans showed increased grey matter in the frontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with memory and decision making.

They also found thickening in the left hippocampus, which is associated with learning, cognition and emotional regulation, as well as areas which assist with perspective taking, empathy, and compassion. Most notably the amygdala, a brain structure famously called the “fight or flight” center and closely linked to fear, anxiety, and stress, shrank considerably in people who had practiced meditation for 8 weeks. Finally, Lazer found that 50 year old meditators had grey matter density in the prefrontal cortex that rivaled an average 25 year old, instead of the shrunken cortex she would expect to find in someone at that age.

Researchers continue to study and learn about the myriad effects of meditation, but you can start reaping the benefits right now. Even 10-15 minutes a day spent meditating is thought to improve quality of life and reduce stress and anxiety. Meditation certainly can’t cure everything, but it can serve as a powerful tool alongside other therapy and treatment, or simply help to improve your stressful day.

 

 

Click here to check out some downloadable guided meditations

Beyond the Pill: How Integrative Medicine Provides Holistic Care

Doctors Looking to Treating the Whole Person
Going to the doctor can be no fun. So much so that many people avoid it like the plaque. What if there was a doctor that did more than just looked at the problem and tried to fix it but got to know their patients as a person instead. They looked at the whole person, the whole being instead of individual parts. This is called being holistic and is the idea behind integrative medicine.
According to Katherine Kam, the goal of integrative medicine is to “treat the mind, body, and spirit, all at the same time.” Some of the ways integrative medicine goes beyond pills is by teaching their patients about different treatments. These treatments could include yoga, herbal medicines, messages, and tai chi. Naturally, the doctor will not be able to do all of this for the patient. Therefore, the therapists to work together with the doctors, all focusing on helping the patient get better in every aspect. In order to achieve this, each member of the team must be respected and valued.
It is important to note that the number one advocate in the group will be the patient themselves. They must be sure to eat healthy, workout, and get enough sleep. Western society can make this difficult; however, working with the proper team can leave a patient, and their physician, feeling better than they did to begin with and with little to no help from the expensive pharmaceutical system. This has benefits and drawbacks. One of the drawbacks is the potential for the holistic remedies will take longer than traditional medicine. This means forgoing our desire for instant gratification. At the same time, Dr. Sheldon T. Ceaser reminds Melody K. Hoffman that, “They (the patient) are not going to be able to buy a twenty or thirty dollar product and expect it to turn around major chronic illnesses” (p. 15). Another drawback is the cost of eating healthier; however, growing produce can help offset the cost. The benefits may outweigh the drawbacks as a patient feels better in every aspect of their health.
Integrative medicine is changing the face of the medical community. Hospitals in the United States offering complimentary therapies have more than doubled while twenty-four percent of hospitals plan to add these therapies in the future (webmd). The number one advocate for our health is the patient, as they search for the type of doctor such as Dr. Ceaser, that will treat the whole person and not just the problem.

Resources:
Hoffman, M.K. (2009, August 10). Healing Held in Holistic Health. Jet, Vol. 116 (4), pp. 14-15.
Kam, K. (2009, April 16). What is Integrative Medicine? Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/alternative-medicine-integrative-medicine#1