Putting Integrative Medicine to Work Everyday

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The benefits of integrative therapies have a place in your approach to health

Regardless of where you stand on the continuum of medicine, it's hard to dispute the position that health, wellness, and disease are all related and come from the same combination of physical, emotional, dietary, genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. In fact, this recognition that we are more than just the sum of our physical parts is the basis for Integrative Medicine.

Integrative Medicine can include a wide range of what are sometimes called complementary therapies, many of which have been studied extensively by organizations as prestigious as the National Institutes of Health, one of the world's foremost research centers. What these and most other researchers tell us is that – when combined with the best of research and evidence-based clinical care -- these supportive therapies are safe, non-invasive and can play an important role in treating a patient as a whole person rather than a single diagnosis.

Because of this effectiveness, Integrative Medicine is available at no cost for individuals receiving treatment at the Riverside Cancer Care Center.

Pioneered regionally by the late oncology specialist Mark Ellis, MD, these therapies are often used to help reduce the impact of side effects that can occur during cancer treatment. As you might imagine however, the same kinds of benefits, including pain relief, reduced depression and anxiety, and an overall improved sense of well-being, have an important place in our everyday lives.

Examples of Integrative Medicine therapies used at the Riverside Cancer Care Center include:

Woody & Owner That Special Bond: Pet therapy, often called animal-assisted therapy, consists of the simple act of bringing people and animals together. It can serve as a focal point for conversation, distract people from discomfort, reduce stress and improve mood. For that reason it keeps increasing in popularity as therapeutic support for a wide range of health concerns including cancer care. The good news is that those same advantages transfer directly to people who aren't being medically treated. Just petting a dog, for example, has been shown to reduce blood pressure. And if unconditional love and acceptance sometimes seem in short supply from our human counterparts, they are definitely not lacking in animals. Neither is affection. If you're able to have a pet, take advantage of the physiological and psychological benefits they offer. If you don't, take a moment, every chance you get to be around our animal friends.

The Sound of Music: There's quite a bit of scientific research that confirms music's role in helping people relax and feel less anxious. If you're receiving cancer treatment it brings a combination of benefits that will mean a great deal to you and to the people around you. For everyone else, music works the same way. It affects breathing rate and blood pressure in a positive way and can help take our minds off the extensive array of concerns that can accompany work, family and life in general. Current technology has made music more mobile than ever so you can carry the very personal "sound track of your life" with you during just about anything you do.

A few words of caution: Because music has that power to transport us -- as well as create that sometimes annoying habit of singing along -- it's best not to use it as an accompaniment to something that requires our utmost attention or concentration.

Healthy SaladGood Food is Always a Good Thing: Nutrition for cancer patients is closely related to managing side effects from treatment, maintaining body weight, supporting the immune system, and boosting energy. As part of Riverside's Integrated Medicine approach, registered dietitians with specialized oncology training are on hand at the Cancer Care Center to provide the information and guidance needed for a personalized guide to better eating.

But for all of us, good nutrition plays an essential role in maintaining health and helping to prevent illness. There are a great many resources related to nutrition with a fair amount of diversity, but most seem to come down to the same basic set of recommendations:

  • Eat a variety of foods
  • Choose most of what you eat from plant sources
  • Eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables each day
  • Minimize the high-fat foods you eat, especially those from animal sources
  • Choose lower-fat, lower-cholesterol foods
  • Limit the amount of simple sugars in your diet

For a detailed look at current nutritional guidelines and recommendations visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website.

back massageThe Power of the Human Touch: Massage therapy is a useful, non-invasive addition to medical treatment in general and an important component of Riverside's Integrative Medicine model. Its popularity is reflected in the fact that the National Cancer Institute reports that the majority of cancer centers now offer massage therapy to individuals receiving treatment, and for some very good reasons.

Research studies show that the benefits of massage include decreased anxiety, stress and fatigue. Massage can also help promote relaxation and improve sleep. And that's just the beginning.

Massage has been shown to strengthen the immune system, increase flexibility and range of motion, enhance rehab and recovery after an injury or surgery, alleviate back and neck pain, relieve migraines and ease medication dependence. So whether you see it as pampering, rejuvenating, therapeutic, or a special treat, massage therapy can be an important part of an overall health regimen.

Integrating Integrative Medicine into Your Life
The elements and philosophy behind Integrative Medicine continue to grow through widespread application to cancer care and other healthcare areas. And the same benefits they bring to helping people heal, recover, reduce stress and improve quality of life during and after illness or injury have a place in everyday life. So make some of the Integrative Medicine therapies part of your approach to better health. It's unlikely that anything but good can come of petting a dog, listening to music, eating better and getting a massage.

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