Is Integrative Medicine New Age?

We receive a lot of questions from Catholic who are uneasy about integrative medicine and are afraid of being inadvertently introduced to New Age practices. This is a very real possibility and the discerning Catholic consumer may want to be aware of some of the risks associated with this field of medical care.

By definition, integrative medicine means the pairing of conventional medicine with other treatments that are considered to be alternatives in an effort to treat the body, mind, and spirit. For example, a doctor might treat a cancer patient with both chemotherapy and acupuncture to help manage its side effects.

Today, it is possible to find doctors who are board-certified in integrative medicine which supposedly means that a patient can trust that the alternative treatments they recommend will be safe and proven to work. However, this isn’t always the case and consumers should be aware of what can go wrong if they decide to go this route.

First, very few of the most popular alternatives have been scientifically proven to be effective so even if a board-certified integrative physician recommends something, this doesn’t mean it works. It just means they’ve chosen to believe it works.

Second, a Christian should be aware that some of the recommended alternatives may be based in non-Christian religions and/or philosophies such as yoga, mindfulness meditation, energy medicine, and acupuncture.

Third, the wise consumer should be aware that the scientific community is not entirely onboard when it comes to the use of integrative medicine. As this post explains, many believe that integrative medicine is nothing more than a “brand” created to legitimize the use of alternatives that are unable to pass scientific scrutiny.

Fourth, there is also a great deal of criticism about the lax standards set by the American Board of Integrative Medicine (ABOIM) which provides board certification to integrative medicine physicians. The ABOIM does not require a fellowship from physicians who have a degree from a naturopathic, chiropractic or oriental medicine school – which means that a person need not be an MD. All a physician needs to do to be board certified is have a license to practice medicine and accumulate 500 points of “documented training and experience,” including at least one year of clinical experience which can be documented with little more than a few letters.

Fifth, as a result of these lax standards, there is increasing evidence, even from within the integrative medicine field itself, that it is attracting “bad apples”  to the field, i.e., doctors who go “rogue” and recklessly recommend all kinds of untested alternatives regardless of their lack of scientific support.

A prime example can be found in the tragic case of Stephanie Sofronsky, a Florida Atlantic University student who was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma in 2011 by the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, the NIH/National Cancer Institute and the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. She was being treated by oncologist Neal Rothschild, MD and had an 80-85 percent chance of going into complete remission with appropriate treatment.

At the same time, Sofronsky began seeing a family practitioner and integrative medicine physician named Kenneth Woliner, MD, who didn’t believe she had cancer and suggested she get her house tested for mold. Convinced that her problems might be due to allergies, she cancelled her follow-up with Dr. Rothschild. Sofronsky died in 2013 from complications related to untreated Hodgkins lymphoma. Woliner was eventually stripped of his medical license.

Dr. Prudence Hall, a doctor from Santa Monica who was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network, also ran afoul of the state’s medical board by touting controversial plant-based hormone therapy for menopausal women. She was eventually put on probation for four years after failing to catch an aggressive uterine cancer in a patient and treating another based on an “incorrect diagnosis in a manner such that [Hall] stood to gain financially.”

In light of the above, whether one is Catholic or not, the savvy consumer needs exercise a great deal of caution before becoming involved in integrative medical care.

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