Updated: Apr 17
An integrative medicine doctor uses an evidence-based approach to treat the whole person — mind, body and heart. Your physical health is inseparably connected to and influenced by your emotions, your mindset and your deeper human aspirations.
Integrative medicine approaches takes the time to get to know and understand these aspects of your experience and to get to the root cause of illness and health issues to improve health and prevent disease.
What is Integrative Medicine?
Integrative Medicine is a philosophy of healthcare focused on whole-person care.
It is client-centered and does not focus on isolated organ systems or symptoms without stepping back and looking at the person as a whole. It also recognises that an individual and their experience is created by their biology, lived experience and environment, so these factors are considered when working with a client using an integrative medicine approach. i
Mind and body are considered as a whole rather than separate entities. The field of Psycho-Neuro-Endocrine-Immunology (PNEI) has been revolutionary in changing our understanding of the important integration between these body systems are for creating health and illness, as they are considered in many traditional medicine systems such as Ayurveda and Rongoā Māori.
Thoughts influence our nervous system, especially our autonomic nervous system tasked with helping us to survive. They also influence our hormonal system and immune systems and also talk back to it giving feedback on safety of the body.
Many illnesses involve over- or under-activation of the PNEI systems and therefore integrative Medicine combines the best of current western medicine with evidence-based traditional, complementary medicines and mind-body practices that aim to re-balance the complex psycho-neuro-endocrine-immune systems.
Integrative Medicine reaffirms the importance of the relationship between practitioner and client and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches to achieve optimal health and healing.
Integrative medicine takes into account the physical (taha tinana), psychological (taha hinengaro), social (taha whānau) and spiritual (taha wairua) wellbeing of the person with the aim of using the most appropriate and safe evidence-based treatments that create wellbeing to that individual.
Exploring the deep and varied aspects of health takes time. Medical consultations are longer and healing is a journey or process.
What is the root cause of chronic disease?
Chronic inflammation is the process that underlies all chronic illness such as:
chronic kidney disease,
chronic liver disease,
Intermittent inflammation in the body is critical for survival during injury and infection. It is the immune system's job to create inflammation as part of it's role in defense and repair of the body. But certain triggers can promote ongoing chronic inflammation in the body, which disrupts the immune system balance in the body. These can be social, environmental and lifestyle factors.
What factors trigger or promote chronic inflammation?
Stress and Trauma causes chronic inflammation
Physical, emotional and psychological stress to the body can all trigger chronic inflammation.
Stress of any kind causes a ‘fight/flight/freeze/fawn’ reaction in the body which involves increased production of cortisol and catecholamines (stress hormones) and other hormones associated with this response.
These hormonal responses trigger are essential for our survival as human beings, in the face of a threat to our survival such as infection, injury or psychological trauma.
But when these inflammatory immune reactions are chronically triggered, or when there is a massive flooding of the system, as what happens with trauma, the body becomes stuck in the fight-flight response. In these cases the inflammatory immune response of the body constantly switched on.
With chronic inflammation , the immune system is constantly on alert, leading to a heightened state of distress leading to symptoms of unwellness, which overtime can develop into chronic diseases.
Adverse Childhood Experiences increase the rates of chronic diseases
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic experiences that happen before the age of 18.
Studies have consistently shown that ACEs are associated with an increased risk of many chronic diseases including:
some cancers and
autoimmune diseases in women.
These associations are a result of the body’s response to psychological and physical trauma, which is manifest in chronic inflammation.
Some common ACEs include: physical abuse; neglect; emotional abuse; parental separation and divorce; violence or substance misuse in the home.
As Bessel van der Kolk writes 'the body keeps the score' and for people who have experienced adversity, particularly those without adequate support systems to help balance that adversity there are ongoing physiological responses as the body seeks to navigate safety in the world.
Gut Dysbiosis can cause chronic inflammation and disease
Gut dysbiosis is an imbalance in the gut bacteria (gut microbiome) with reduction in a diverse amount of health promoting gut bugs and an expansion of inflammation promoting bugs.
Gut dysbiosis is caused by diets that consist of processed and synthetic foods, especially those characterised by;
Gut dysbiosis is also influenced by other factors such as
repeat or long-term antibiotics treatment
medications such as medications for reflux and anti-inflammatory drugs.
Gut dysbiosis leads to a chronic inflammatory state, as an increase of pro-inflammatory bacteria leads to an increase in cytokine production, which causes inflammation.
Infections and chronic inflammation
Certain infections can trigger a chronic inflammatory response in the body, such as:
H. Pylori which can cause chronic inflammation that leads to a stomach ulcer or stomach cancer.
HPV that can cause chronic inflammation and lead to cancer of the cervix, vagina, penis or anus.
Hep B or Hep C that causes chronic inflammation in the liver and can result in liver cancer.
Toxins from the environment such as air pollution and heavy metals, like mercury or lead may also cause chronic inflammation. Exposure to environmental toxins can disrupt the delicate balance between the different components of the immune system and promote an inflammatory response with long-term consequences.
The most common environmental toxins people choose to use or consume include alcohol and cigarettes and vaping. These are harmful for the body as they contain toxic substances that can trigger inflammation.
In particular alcohol increases the risks of diseases such as:
alcoholic liver disease and cirrhosis and
cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum.
Cigarette smoke, along with vaping has been associated with an increased risk of respiratory conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Suppressed emotions and chronic inflammation
Suppressing emotions is a common coping mechanism in our society, with emotions often not seen as either valid or important. However, suppression of emotions can lead to chronic inflammation. Repressed emotions that are not worked through are stored in the body and create an ongoing inflammatory response.
This can be seen in people who have experienced trauma or even people who have historically or currently are experiencing difficulty expressing emotions in their interpersonal relationships.
Without being able to effectively talk about, process emotions or seek healing for emotional wounds, the neuro-immune-endocrine systems are hyper-or hypo activated by chronic inflammation. It is important for those who have experienced trauma or who have unresolved emotions or conflict to find help and to be active in the healing process.
Root causes of inflammation can be complex and result in a unique expression from person to person. Chronic diseases are often the result of a combination of physical, emotional and environmental factors as described above.
Working as a doctor for 15 years has given me much insight into the lives of clients and their illness. When using an integrative medicine approach we work with you to identify and understand the root cause of your particular chronic disease. This is key to moving towards healing and improving your health.
Integrative Medicine uses evidence-based approach to identify the root causes of each client's experience, so that individualised treatment plans can be developed to address the underlying causes and assist in restoring health and wellbeing.
By looking at the ‘big picture’, integrative medicine doctors able to provide an individualised approach which considers the physical, emotional, spiritual and environmental factors that may be contributing to a person’s illness.
Integrative medicine utilises the pillars of lifestyle medicine as it's core base.
Read about the 6 pillars of lifestyle medicine.
Read about Physical and Mental Wellbeing for Students.
Lifestyle medicine is a scientifically based field which focuses on how our lifestyle and environment impacts on health. This includes aspects like nutrition, exercise, stress management and relationships. These are the main areas that need to be addressed in order to create sustainable health outcomes.
Practicing integrative medicine means we work together to support lifestyle changes that become heath habits for life that aims to reduce chronic inflammation driven by the upstream causes.
I enjoy empower my clients to make changes in their life to improve their health and wellbeing as they come to understand what is driving their ill-health. Taking a long-term health approach I provide coaching to support positive lifestyle changes to optimise health.
How does integrative medicine support optimal health?
As an integrative medicine doctor, I work with clients to identify lifestyle changes that support optimal health and wellbeing during each stage of life including:
adolescence and young adulthood,
preconception including during fertility treatment,
perimenopause, including HRT if needed
midlife and beyond.
Women's physiology is constantly changing and I am passionate about working with clients in ways that create health habits that work for them in different life stages.
Regardless of your health state, or illnesses, integrative medicine is an excellent approach to start transforming your health so that you can feel better and get more out of life.
Is Integrative Medicine the same as Functional Medicine?
Functional medicine focuses on the underlying causes of illness that are influenced by the interaction between genetic predispositions and the environment in which one lives in. It takes a systems biology–based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease and uses principles of lifestyle medicine as well as supplements and medications that address the root cause not simply remove symptoms.
Integrative medicine certainly includes an examination of root causes of illness, but also evaluates the client as a whole and not just as a disease. Integrative medicine sees the client as a person with a combination of mental, emotional, physical cultural and spiritual needs that are interdependent on each other and affect the entire well-being of the person.
Integrative Medicine NZ
She practices Lifestyle Medicine and Integrative Medicine in New Zealand and Health coaching internationally. She has a passion for supporting women adapt to their changing female physiology for optimum health and wellbeing no matter what stage of life or health conditions they experience.
Schedule a free health discovery call with her to learn more or make a clinic or coaching booking online.
What is the difference between holistic and integrative medicine?
Integrative Medicine is a holistic science-based philosophy of healthcare. It combines the best of conventional western medicine with evidence-based complementary therapies to optimize health and wellness. It includes lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise and stress management in addition to traditional medicines.
What is the difference between a functional medicine and integrative medicine doctor?
In New Zealand a functional medicine doctor is called an integrative medicine doctor. We use a personalized, systems-oriented model of medical care that empowers clients and doctors to look beyond symptoms and address the underlying causes of disease.
Integrative Medicine usually involves lifestyle changes such as nutritional advice, exercise sleep support, stress management, mindbody practices and supplements or medications where this can augment the physiology to help it return to homeostasis or balance.
Furman D, Campisi J, Verdin E, et al. Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span. Nat Med. 2019 Dec;25(12):1822-1832.