Driving with both eyes open is my analogy for integrative medicine, which is combining Western and Alternative medicine. Western medicine is one eye, Alternative medicine is the other eye. Using them together makes it integrative. It makes sense to people when I say: “Don’t just treat the symptoms, treat the cause.” What I fail to add as the last word is “too”. “Don’t just treat the symptoms, treat the cause TOO”.
That means, you can’t JUST do Western treatment (symptoms) and you also can’t just treat with Alternative (diet, supplements, herbals, acupuncture, laser, Reiki- you name it). Anything not Western is by definition Alternative. There is Chinese Medicine, Western herbs, acupuncture, chiropractic, laser, Reiki, Massage Therapy, Physical Therapy, Ayurvedics, aromatherapy, did anyone say Behavior Modification? How about Nutritional therapy? The list goes on and on.
How do you decide what to do and when?
When a pet has a problem, if we blindly go only to our long list of alternative treatments, because “Western is bad” then we are just as guilty as when some practitioners routinely give every vaccine to every patient in every case, just to follow a protocol.
Of utmost importance is making the patient feel better. That doesn’t mean we are ONLY making the patient feel better, but we ARE perhaps allowing the patient to have less stress, less buildup of radicals through oxidative stress, eating- maybe more, maybe better, taking meds without as much struggle, etc., etc.
So, treating the symptom is STILL the first step- and more often than not, Western medicine is best at that- it makes the patient feel better. “Do No Harm” is any doctor’s first rule. I believe that not treating the symptom and keeping the patient in misery is doing harm. Therefore part one of “Do No Harm” is symptomatic treatment, making the patient feel better and expediting the healing process.
Addressing the cause is the concurrent (not the next) step. If the underlying cause is not addressed, then the symptom will return and then we are again “doing harm”. This step has to start at the same time. The “Western meds” can provide the window of opportunity while the patient is feeling better to address the underlying cause which is the root of the problem. This step often takes longer and requires more patience, depending on how long the problem has been simmering.
No matter where you turn there is information regarding both Western and Alternative medical treatments. More often than not, the information can be confusing and at times conflicting. The internet offers powerful information…some in the form of clinical studies and clinical trials, some in the form of testimonials, and some just based on what others have found beneficial or based on what someone is trying to promote and sell.
Knowledge is power, but as a pet owner/parent, you must be sure that the information is applicable to the situation your pet is facing. I support client’s self-education as this leads to great dialogue but I also caution against self-treatment and diagnosis via the help of the internet.
There are many websites that offer diagnoses and promise cures if using their product. Some of these products are actually quite promising when you read the testimonials and even the ingredients list. But the right treatment has to fit the right diagnosis, and has to be given in the correct dose and timing and in the correct combination.
I have seen cases were owners have found a website promising a cure through diet and supplements only, for a presumed diagnosis. Well meaning, intelligent people who love their pet very much, end up potentially losing critical time on treatments that are not any cheaper. Months later, when the problem still isn’t fixed, they have to go back and do the proper diagnostic steps anyway.
Proper nutrition and supplements are always critical. Knowing why we are doing what we are doing is also critical. No matter what your veterinary practice philosophy is, blindly doing “western” or “alternative” is equally biased and does not serve the patient well.
Integrative medicine is to try to do the best we can, to drive with both eyes open.