It’s been a year of big breakthroughs in integrative medicine, the approach that combines Western or allopathic medicine with complementary practices. So much so that Prevention magazine recently declared us to be in the midst of a “health care revolution” as ever more doctors work elements like yoga, acupuncture and mindfulness into more, quote, traditional care.
Here are 11 of the moments we think stood out in 2011 — moments that thrust the spotlight on the potential benefits of adopting a more integrative approach when it comes to your health.
And of course, here’s to many more of them in a safe, happy 2012!
Yoga Approved For Back Pain
Back in October, an Archives of Internal Medicine showed that weekly yoga is effective when it comes to the management of chronic back pain — as is regular stretching. The research confirmed what many yogis have long suspected: Yoga can help with pain management, sans drugs.
Indeed, as HuffPost blogger Dr. Loren Fishman pointed out in an accompanying post, the study was “long awaited” and “the best of its kind in organization, sheer brute numbers and statistical analysis.”
Acupuncture Shown To Help Chronic Stress
In December, researchers with the Georgetown University Medical Center released a study showing how — at a molecular level — acupuncture can help reduce stress. The research, published in the journal Experimental Biology and Medicine showed that in rats, acupuncture reduced levels of a peptide secreted by the system in our body during the whole flight-or-fight response.
“It has long been thought that acupuncture can reduce stress, but this is the first study to show molecular proof of this benefit,” the study’s lead author, Ladan Eshkevari, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Georgetown’s School of Nursing & Health Studies said in a statement.
Tai Chi Found To Aid Heart Failure Patients
An April study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that tai chi, which the Mayo Clinic describes as “meditation in motion,” may help improve the quality of life and mood in patients with heart failure.
Another benefit? The research also suggested that it may help improve exercise self-efficacy, or belief in one’s personal abilities.
CAM Use Better Understood
This fall marked the release of a new study — which relied on data from 2007 — that may help researchers, health care providers and even patients better understand who benefits from integrative medicine according to how they use it.
The study, published in the journal Health Services Research, found that adults who use complementary and alternative medicine for general health reported having better health than those who turned to CAM in order to treat a specific illness, a National Center for complementary and Alternative Medicine release explains. According to that study’s abstract, the data may go a long way in future health services research and policy decisions.
Acupuncture Deemed Safe For Kids
This year, acupuncture was found to be safe for kids, according to a sweeping review of the existing literature published in November in the journal Pediatrics. It found that the incidence of adverse events was around 11 percent and most were mild — like crying and bruising.
“Based on [the] available data, we are comfortable saying that in trained hands, pediatric acupuncture is safe,” Dr. Sunita Vohra one of the review’s authors told HuffPost last fall.
Integrative Medicine Moved Into Med Schools
This year integrative medicine made major strides in mainstream medical schools, getting worked into curricula in more robust, concrete ways. Case in point? The University of Arizona recently created a distinct, four-year-track that allows students to supplement their traditional training with a focus on integrative medicine.
“It’s a really big step that the College Of Medicine was willing to say ‘This is important. This is no longer fad, and we will recognize it,’ ” Dr. Victoria Maizes, executive director at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine told us in November.
Obama Appointed Ornish
In 2011, President Obama announced the appointment Dr. Dean Ornish to his Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Public Health. Ornish, who is the founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, (as well HuffPost’s medical editor) is widely regarded as a pioneer in integrative medicine. The appointment sent a signal that the government is interested in the role that complementary medicine can play in promoting public health.
“When you make healthy diet and lifestyle changes, most people find that they feel so much better, so quickly, it reframes the reason for changing from fear of dying to joy of living,” Ornish once said in a HuffPost blog.
The Nutrition/Epigentics Connection Shone
A cornerstone of integrative medicine and prevention is nutrition, and in January, the journal Current Opinion In Clinical Nutrition And Metabolic Care, published a review drawing attention to the role nutrition has on the epigenetic mechanisms involved in longevity and aging. In other words, it shone a light on how what we eat can impact the switches controlling our gene expression.
Meditation’s Impact On Brain Measured
A January 2011 study in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging found that mindfulness meditation made changes in the gray matter of the brain in spots that, among other things, help with learning and memory processes, as well as the regulation of emotions.
In other words (as a release from the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine put it): “The researchers concluded that these findings may represent an underlying brain mechanism associated with mindfulness-based improvements in mental health.”
Doctor Referrals For CAM Increased
Another 2011 Archives of Internal Medicine study — this one looking at the use of complementary and alternative treatments — suggested that three percent of the people using treatments like yoga, meditation and tai chi are seeking them out because of a referral from their medical provider.
As HuffPost blogger Dr. Aditi Nerurkar put it to us back in May, that may not seem like much, but if you consider a yoga class with 30 people, one of them is there because their healthcare practitioner suggested it.
“We weren’t expecting it to be that high,” Nerurkar told HuffPost. “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.”
Mushrooms Wowed At TedMed
As HuffPost’s Wellness Editor reported in November, one of the most buzzed about talks at the 2011 TedMed conference came from mycologist Paul Stamets, who argued that mushrooms do serious good in the body — providing anti-inflammatory help, restricting the growth of pathogenic bacteria and even helping conventional anti-cancer drugs do their thing.
As HuffPost’s Patricia Fitzgerald wrote in November, the mere fact that the audience — which included many bigwigs in pharma and medicine — was so interested in these low-tech options for wellbeing suggests that integrative medicine is being taken seriously by a diverse group.