December 13, 2012

Traditional Doctors, Alternative Treatments: An Intersection?

Choose meditation not medication


Sometimes it can seem as though complementary/alternative treatments and traditional medicine live in two silos -- never the twain shall meet, as the saying goes. We go to the doctor when we're sick or for regular wellness checks. And we go to the yoga studio or a meditation class. Yet we don't talk to our doctors about how one can support the other.

But the tide may be turning -- a recent study in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine has found that three percent of people seeking out mind/body treatments, such as yoga, meditation, tai chi, deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, are doing so based on a referral from a medical provider.



And while that number may not seem to be particularly high, consider a yoga or meditation class, of say, 30 people -- on average, one of them is there because their provider told them to be, explains lead author and HuffPost blogger Aditi Nerurkar, M.D., M.P.H, a physician and integrative medicine fellow at Harvard Medical school and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "We weren't expecting it to be that high," she says. "Forty-one million Americans are using mind-body therapies. Of those, 6.4 million are using mind-body therapies because they were recommended to by their provider."

Looking at a nationally representative sample size of 23,000 survey participants, the researchers found that the most commonly prescribed treatments were deep breathing exercises (84 percent of the respondents), meditation (49 percent), yoga (23 percent), progressive muscle relaxation (20 percent) and guided imagery (14 percent). These numbers were similar to those who sought out the treatments on their own.

"For years and years this has been a patient-driven phenomenon," Nerurkar says. As people discover what works best for themselves and loved ones, yoga studios, for instance, have popped up to fill a need that patients haven't always discussed with their doctors.

So why are some physicians ready to hand out an Rx for a little "Om" time?

One reason may be the relatively recent body of research on how various mind-body treatments can be helpful, healthy additions to traditional treatment programs for certain conditions, including anxiety and depression, headaches, chronic pain, cardiac disease, insomnia and treatment-related symptoms of cancer, Nerurkar says.

The researchers also found that the patients who were seeking out mind-body treatments at the recommendation of a medical provider were those who typically had more diagnosed conditions and used the health-care system more often. Nerurkar says one reason that may be is that providers are referring their more complex patients once other treatments have failed -- and this concept may lead to future research studies about what would happen if these complementary programs were offered earlier on in the treatment process.

Of course, not all complementary and alternative treatments have evidence behind them, Nerurkar points out. But when the research that is out there is coupled with patients' success stories, some providers are opening up to the possibilities. "Ultimately you just want your patients to feel better," she says. "At the end of the day, if my patients are using these therapies and they're feeling good, I encourage them to do it."
HuffPost Article By: Laura Shocker