Chicago Health | Homepage
Alternative Approaches

Alternative Approaches

Integrative medicine gains foothold, providing hope for chronic diseases

By Eve Becker

So much of modern medicine comes down to a pill for an ill—treating disease by using drugs, surgery or other interventions. But more people are starting to look beyond that, finding alternative treatments to either replace or complement conventional treatment.

Integrative medicine or functional medicine doctors spend more time listening to patients, investigating their detailed health history, as well as lifestyle and environmental factors that may affect health.

It’s easier than ever to find these practitioners, as integrative practices are increasingly included as part of large academic health centers, such as the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University (formerly known as Northwestern Integrative Medicine), which is associated with Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and the Integrative Medicine Program at NorthShore University HealthSystem.

These integrative practices blend conventional medicine with other therapies like Chinese medicine, acupuncture, chiropractic services, herbs, homeopathy, body work, energy medicine, nutrition counseling, relaxation therapy, psychology, Tai Chi, yoga and meditation.

Many patients come searching for a deeper doctor/patient relationship to help them address problems that have long plagued them such as chronic pain, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome or mood disorders, says Melinda Ring, MD, medical director of the Osher Center and assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Sometimes they come because they have a chronic issue that hasn’t been helped enough through what conventional medicine has to offer,” Ring says. “Conventional medicine is more disease oriented. You go to your doctor; they try to make a diagnosis, and then they give you a treatment, which is usually a medication or some kind of intervention. In contrast, with an integrative approach, we dig a little deeper to look for underlying conditions that influence what’s happening, for example trying to uncover inflammation, immune disturbances or nutrient deficiencies.”

“Patients end up with a better quality of life: feeling more vibrant, getting restful sleep, being able to achieve the weight loss that they’ve been struggling with for a long time, or recognizing a mind/body connection and how stress impacts health,” she says.

As part of a hospital health system, the integrative centers coordinate care and share health records with specialists such as oncologists or cardiologists. They also emphasize research and evidence-based therapies, says Leslie Mendoza Temple, MD, medical director, Integrative Medicine Program at NorthShore University HealthSystem.

Integrative medicine is no longer on the fringes. Fifty-eight centers in the United States—including Northwestern and NorthShore, plus five more in Mexico and Canada—are part of the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine ( There are now medical fellowships in integrative medicine, so physicians can be fellowship trained. And beginning this year, physicians can become board certified in integrative medicine.

“I feel like my tool box is a lot more expanded than it used to be when I just knew about allopathic Western medicine,” Mendoza Temple says. “With that expanded tool box I have more things to advise patients to try. I don’t feel stuck just giving medications or doing a procedure or vaguely telling people to exercise and reduce their stress.

“For instance, if a patient cannot tolerate statins, I may put them on red yeast rice, tell them to cut out refined carbs from their diet, take some fish oil, get their vitamin D levels up, get them on an exercise program that they actually feel like they can do and check their cholesterol in three or four months.”

For patient Connie Donnelly, Mendoza Temple recommended acupuncture to accompany chemotherapy treatments for Donnelly’s non-Hodgkin’s follicular lymphoma.

“It made such a difference in the way the chemo made you feel,” Donnelly says. “You’d go in there feeling ragged and tired but wired. And after having this acupuncture for 45 minutes, you’d come out of it feeling like a human and in balance, like things weren’t as out of whack as they were. It made you feel pulled together enough so you could go on and face whatever else was going on.”

And when Donnelly’s lymphoma kept growing back, Mendoza Temple advised a medicinal mushroom extract to promote a healthier immune system. “That was over two years ago, and my lymphoma is stable, and since the addition of the essential oils, [it] even seems to be shrinking,” Donnelly says.

Having alternate approaches helped round out her care, says Donnelly. “Including alternative and supportive care, in addition to traditional care, made me feel like someone was watching out for all of me—mind, body and spirit.”

Originally published in the Summer/Fall 2014 print edition

Similar Articles

Your Integrative Medical Home

Your Integrative Medical Home

Programs combine traditional and complementary medicine By Leigh Page Often, medicine seems like it operates in separate silos,

Years of good blood sugar control helps diabetic hearts

Years of good blood sugar control helps diabetic hearts

Source: University of Michigan Day in and day out, for years on end, millions of people

Getting By: Private Patient Advocates Help Navigate Care

Getting By: Private Patient Advocates Help Navigate Care

Private patient advocates act as personal assistants, navigating care By Rhonda Alexander “Healthcare is complicated,” says Dan

The Future of Medicine Is Spelled Y-O-U

The Future of Medicine Is Spelled Y-O-U

Photo above: Mark Dunnenberger, PharmD. Courtesy of Jonathan Hillenbrand, Media Production and Photography, NorthShore University

The Science of Sciatica Pain

The Science of Sciatica Pain

By Laura Drucker A few years ago, I suffered from a herniated disc. The pain in

Articles By Category

Family Health

In The Know

CH Lifestyle

January 2017
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
December 25, 2016 December 26, 2016 December 27, 2016 December 28, 2016 December 29, 2016 December 30, 2016 December 31, 2016
January 1, 2017 January 2, 2017 January 3, 2017 January 4, 2017 January 5, 2017 January 6, 2017 January 7, 2017
January 8, 2017 January 9, 2017 January 10, 2017 January 11, 2017 January 12, 2017 January 13, 2017 January 14, 2017
January 15, 2017 January 16, 2017 January 17, 2017 January 18, 2017 January 19, 2017 January 20, 2017 January 21, 2017
January 22, 2017 January 23, 2017 January 24, 2017 January 25, 2017 January 26, 2017 January 27, 2017 January 28, 2017
January 29, 2017 January 30, 2017 January 31, 2017 February 1, 2017 February 2, 2017 February 3, 2017 February 4, 2017


Recent Comments

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Enjoy a great night of baseball at Peoples Natural

Cost to give birth 1943 - Page 3 - Defending The Truth Political Forum

Cost to give birth 1943 - Page 3 - Defending The Truth Political Forum

A Hazy Shade of Healthcare: What does tort reform