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Five Issues I Have with Integrative Medicine

Five Issues I Have with Integrative Medicine
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From Ronald Hoffman, MD, ANH-USA President and Medical Director

I spend a lot of time criticizing the excesses of conventional medicine here on Intelligent Medicine. It’s expensive, depersonalized, can deliver devastating side effects, and doesn’t get to root causes of most disease.

On the other hand, the very term “Intelligent Medicine” conjures a balanced approach to health, blending the best of high-tech medicine with the best of natural modalities.

As President and Medical Director of the Alliance for Natural Health, and a longtime integrative physician, my professional bias favors lifestyle modification and innovative deployment of nutraceuticals and low-tech/high-touch therapies often considered offbeat by mainstream medicine. But that doesn’t blind me to the potential for allopathic medicine to deliver remarkable cures, where appropriate.

At times the battle lines seem to be drawn between orthodox and alternative. Many standard doctors are reflexively skeptical of anything other than “evidence-based” therapies. They’re just cherry-picking the data, confirming the old adage: “If you’re not up on it, you’re down on it.”

But that doesn’t give some of my integrative medicine colleagues license to uncritically shun all drugs and surgery as “unnatural”. They’re practicing a form of narrow-thinking.

Here are some examples of where I think the natural medicine movement has gone off the rails:

The reification of “Functional Medicine”: This is going to be a difficult one, because I have enormous respect for the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM), which has developed a magnificent, detailed curriculum for addressing fundamental causes of disease rather than just placing band-aids on symptoms.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “reification” as “The treatment of a relatively abstract signified (e.g. technology, mind, or self) as if it were a single, bounded, undifferentiated, fixed, and unchanging thing, the essential nature of which could be taken for granted.”

In an effort to standardize the sometimes chaotic thought streams of alternative medicine, Functional Medicine has inadvertently substituted what amounts to its own orthodoxy. How-to courses teach would-be practitioners to see health problems as a concatenation of microbiome imbalances, leaky gut, food intolerances, nutrient deficiencies, environmental toxicity, and genetic susceptibilities.

Which is all well and good, but without a proper medical framework, it’s an incomplete way of looking at the body. Missing is an understanding how conventional therapies work—or don’t—and when they should be employed or withheld.

Emulating conventional continuing medical education—whose cost is a burden even to non-holistic medical practitioners—IFM offers turn-key courses like “Restoring Gastrointestinal Equilibrium: Practical Applications for Understanding, Assessing, and Treating Gut Dysfunction for $1,715.00 – $2,125.00; typically, from start to finish, their certification program costs between $13,000-$17,000.

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