Growing up in Michigan during the 1950s, we didn’t know much about health or nutrition. I suffered from colds and regular allergies, and weight challenges from eating the new tasty, sweet, processed foods.
Still, I wanted to be a doctor, so I went to college and medical school. After receiving my MD and doing my internship I went into practice. Yet, I realized I knew hardly anything about “health” but a lot about diseases. I wanted to be healthier, lose weight, and learn more. So I told myself, “you better be your first patient.”
I wanted to do more than “treat symptoms”; I wanted to help people at the core of their health and healing. I felt it was important to learn how to motivate people to change habits and care for themselves in healthy ways. I began studying about nutrition, herbal medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, fitness training, mind/body healing, and guided imagery. I worked with many experts in these fields to get the base knowledge and expand from there.
I became increasingly convinced that these traditional systems should be part of mainstream medicine, because they seem to know much more about keeping people healthy than the conventional approaches I learned in medical school. I also sensed that I needed these disciplines for myself as well as for my patients.
In my view, bringing true integrative healthcare into the family practice setting—and coupling that care with education—was extremely important. This integrated approach has proven essential to helping people move from a “symptom fixing” model toward true preventive medicine and long-term sustainable health.
How might we define the main features of Integrative Medicine (IM)? My own answer is to say that IM embraces these following four aspects:
- IM blends family practice with health-supportive preventive medicine disciplines.
- IM takes a multidisciplinary approach to health.
- IM incorporates all levels of a person’s life and lifestyle.
- IM uses a new approach in treating symptoms and illness.
After years of testing and refining my own form of IM, I have observed, learned and now believe that most causes of ill health have their roots in our lifestyle. I employ four principles that I think are basically good common sense:
- How we look and how we feel are primarily based on how we live: what we eat, whether we exercise and stay fit, how we sleep, how well we manage stress, and our overall attitude, the “five keys to staying healthy.”
- Health is feeling good and having energy and vitality for life without many symptoms or medical issues—we can have medical problems and still feel healthy.
- If we want to feel healthier in many ways, we need to change how we live.
- My therapeutic approach is Lifestyle first, Natural Therapies next, and Drugs last.
It’s important for people (and ideally health practitioners, too) to know and apply more in regard to lifestyle as it relates to health. We all need some re-education and shifts in our behaviors often in order to Stay Healthy or to improve our existing state of health.
In the future, I believe that our system and all doctors need to also be educators. Primary care providers especially could engage their staff to support and motivate patients to make positive lifestyle adaptations. I also believe that patients need to take more personal responsibility for their own health. Self-reliance is crucial to attaining and maintaining good health.
The practice of medicine is always evolving, and in many respects we are at a crossroads today in terms of the future of our healthcare system. To be sure, we have made great strides in the past 40 years, with improvements in technology for testing and treatment, vaccines and surgical procedures—all of which have proved to be amazing in helping us handle many health problems. Yet, keeping people healthy before they need such medical advances is ultimately the best form of health care, and should be foremost in our minds, hearts and practices.
It can all work. I am so happy to be part of the integrative medicine approach in helping my patients stay healthy. That’s my personal motto: “Stay Healthy.” My practice motto might be: “Your health starts with you!”