Integrative medicine makes use of both conventional and alternative therapies to provide a holistic approach to your child’s health. The integrative approach addresses your child’s physical and mental health, social life, and home life. The Integrative Medicine specialist and your child’s healthcare provider will work closely with you to consider what care your child needs and help you find safe treatments. Natural healing or less invasive practices will be used when possible. The goal is to heal your whole child long-term, not just treat one problem.
Integrative Medicine Modalities
Integrative Medicine may be provided in several ways with different practices and techniques. Medical systems which are based in theory and provide a unique diagnosis based in a specific area of study are:
- Traditional Chinese Medicine or Oriental Medicine - Traditional Chinese Medicine has been around for approximately 3,000 years. Stimulating “points” on the body by placing a needle or applying pressure illicit biological changes in the patient. The stimulation increases the flow of blood and “qi” to areas in the body for assist in healing process. TCM also incorporates dietary advice, mediation, exercise, cupping, tuina, shiatsu and herbal consultations.
- Ayurvedic Medicine – This ancient Indian medical system, is based on ancient writings that rely on a “natural” and holistic approach to physical and mental health. Ayurvedic medicine is one of the world’s oldest medical systems and still is practiced in India today. Ayurvedic treatment combines herbs, minerals, diet, exercise, and lifestyle recommendations for better health.
- Homeopathy – One of the longest established complementary medicine, arising from Europe, is homeopathy. Using the basic belief of “like cures like”, its founder Samuel Hahnemann developed a way to use natural substances, distill them down to help heal illness. Homeopathic doctors (who also are called “homeopaths”) weaken medicinal ingredients by adding water or alcohol. The final product is then used to balance the body and help in healing process.
- Naturopathy – Naturopathy is a medical system that emerged in the 19th century. Naturopathic practice today includes the following diagnostic and therapeutic modalities: clinical and laboratory diagnostic testing, nutritional medicine, botanical medicine, naturopathic physical medicine (including naturopathic manipulative therapy), public health measures, hygiene, counseling, minor surgery, homeopathy, acupuncture, prescription medication, intravenous and injection therapy, and naturopathic obstetrics (natural childbirth).
Mind-body Therapies work with the body eliciting responses that affect the whole person and can be consider modalities and or techniques:
- Acupuncture or acupressure
- Manipulation (spinal, cranial)
- Massage therapy
- Mindfulness & Relaxation Techniques
- Tai Chi/QI Gong
Integrative medicine can be used to treat simple conditions as well as complex diseases. Your child might be treated using:
- Herbal medicine for acne
- Natural products like melatonin and probiotics
- Relaxation techniques to help manage stress or pain
On top of treating your child’s illness, this approach can help with side effects of other treatments. Your doctor might suggest:
- Therapy to teach better eating habits
- Hypnosis to calm them before surgery
- Massage to ease pain
- Acupuncture to help manage the side effects of cancer treatment
The main benefits of using integrative medicine include:
- A holistic approach, treating all parts of your child and their life
- A focus on safe, natural healing whenever possible
- Avoiding invasive procedures whenever possible
- Treating the root cause of a problem
To prepare, be sure you have the correct diagnosis for your child’s condition. Then, you can look for an integrative medicine specialist. This doctor will partner with you to treat your child in the safest way. They should:
- Have the right education, training, and licensing
- Be experienced in working with children
- Coordinate with your child’s medical team
Your child’s other doctors might be able to refer you to a specialist. Before you meet with them:
- Write down your questions
- Write down what you expect
- Keep a diary of your child’s symptoms
To prepare for specific treatments, ask your child’s care team for more information.
Integrative medicine treats the whole child: mind, body, and more. The basis of this approach is finding and treating the root cause of your child’s illness.
It uses both conventional medicine and other alternative treatments. A specialist in this kind of medicine will know what treatments are:
- Backed by science
- Safe or low risk
- Known to work
For many treatments, you can tell quickly if they are working. Sometimes it’s less clear.
For example, if your child is given a natural product to treat acne, it may take weeks for their skin to clear. With long-term results, you can usually see improvement over time. Talk to your child’s doctor about how long you might wait before you see results.
Follow-up care can vary. Because there are many options with integrative medicine, your child may need few or a lot of follow-up visits. It depends on the treatment plan you and the doctor have made for your child. You will want to make at least one visit to review the plan and how it worked.
National Center for Integrative and Complimentary Healthcare:
National Cancer Institute: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam
Primary Children’s Hospital Integrative Medicine: https://intermountainhealthcare.org/locations/primary-childrens-hospital/medical-services/integrative-medicine/
The safety of integrative medicine has not been as well studied as much as conventional medicine methods.
Integrative medicine needs to be based on you working with your child’s care team. Going outside the advice of your doctor can be risky. Not all treatment options are science-based, and many can be dangerous. And when inadequately trained individuals practice these modalities the patient may suffer. Patients’ and their families need to be informed and take precautions to find licensed professional for treatment and consultations.
Some of the best studied methods that have shown to be low risk include:
- Guided imagery
- Massage Therapy
By working with your child’s care team, you can help avoid alternative medicine practices that can hurt your child or upset their treatment. For example, some natural products are toxic. Some supplements are contaminated with metals or chemicals. Some natural remedies can interact with your child's current medications.