Integrative Medicine: The best of mother nature and modern medicine.

Alternative MedicineHolistic, Alternative, Natural, Green, Organic. All of these terms have come to describe everything from cleaning products to fruits and vegetables. How do you navigate this new “all natural” world, especially when it comes to your children? A great option is to consult a naturopathic physician. Naturopathic physicians are well-educated medical professionals who undergo conventional medical training with a different perspective, that is that nature can sometimes fill in the gaps where conventional medicine is lacking. This is the true definition of integrative medicine, using a more natural approach in combination with conventional medical treatment, and deciding which approach is the most appropriate for the patient.

There is no better age group to use integrative medicine than with the pediatric community. Children are lacking the lifetime of poor lifestyle and ignored medical conditions that adults often contend with, which makes them perfect candidates for a more natural approach. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending to conventional pediatricians that they become informed about alternative therapies and even use them if they are a “safe and effective” alternative to conditions not responding to conventional medical therapies. The latest research shows that up to 50% of parents of children with chronic medical conditions are using some form of alternative therapy, with or without the knowledge of their primary pediatrician. Unfortunately, many parents are navigating the world of alternative medicine on their own, or with the help of the all-knowing Google, which makes for a less than desirable situation.

Luckily, you don’t have to navigate these options on your own. Naturopathic Doctors, like me, can work with you to make sure that you are receiving the “best of both worlds”. Our goal is not to replace your pediatrician, but to offer other avenues when conventional therapies are not working. Most of us have attended one of four medical schools in the country that offer this integrative medical approach, and we have extensive training in using this knowledge within the pediatric community. Here are some of the more common questions I see in my office.

My child is currently taking his/her (5th, 6th, etc.) round of antibiotics for ear infections. I am considering ear tubes, but am wondering if there are any other alternatives to this procedure?

Children are more susceptible to ear infections due to their shorter, more horizontal, eustachian tubes. Fluid easily builds up, and can cause inflammation in the inner ear. This can be a nightmare for parents, who feel like their life is one continual visit to the doctor for antibiotics. From a naturopathic perspective, we attempt to look at the underlying cause of the problem, and use specific changes to the child’s diet to decrease reactivity to the environment and build up the child’s immune system. Antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria, but some bacteria in our bodies are beneficial, and frequent antibiotic usage can disrupt the normal, “good” bacteria in our bodies, which can in turn, lead to more immune dysfunction. Frequent antibiotic usage also creates antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, making judicious use of antibiotics very important.

Will my child develop Autism from immunizations?

The short answer is no. There does appear to be a correlation with onset of autism in some children with immunizations, but this is only for a subset of children with a particular metabolic disorder. Some vaccines are “live” vaccines, which can sometimes cause problems for certain children, however there are simple steps that you can do to lessen this reaction. The controversial preservative thimeresol has been removed from most vaccines, making this less of a concern. It is important that you make informed decisions about immunizations, including the benefits and/or risks associated with you decision.

I saw Jenny McCarthy on Oprah talking about how she cured her son’s autism by changing his diet. Do you know anything about this?

Autism is a multi-factorial condition with many unknown causes. Researchers and clinicians are working tirelessly to uncover the causes and treatments for this epidemic. Currently, the best approach for children affected with autism is a combined approach using behavior modification (such as Applied Behavior Analysis or ABA) and biomedical approaches (nutrient/dietary modifications). Awareness of these biomedical approaches have become mainstream from organizations such as DAN (Defeat Autism Now/Autism Research Institute) and celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy. A Naturopathic Doctor can help you determine if these approaches could be beneficial for your child.

Why doesn’t my pediatrician know about alternative medicine?

Herbal RemediesPediatricians are faced with the monumental task of identifying, preventing, and intervening with life-threatening diseases in children. While children have an uncanny ability to “bounce back” from illness, they also have the ability to become extremely ill in a short amount of time. Conventional pediatricians have education and experience that revolves around this paradigm, and is extremely important for the health of your child. There are numerous alternative therapies and attempting to find the therapies that are safe and effective can become too time-consuming for a busy practice. A true integrative approach to health care involves delegating areas of expertise to other practitioners, and naturopathic physicians can easily fill this role.

If you have questions or comments about Integrative Medicine, I would love to hear them!!  Feel free to comment below, or visit our Ask Dr. Tara section.

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