Integrative Medicine

Integrative Medicine

What it is and is not, and what that means for business.

By Brad Lemley
Editorial Director, Weil Lifestyle LLC 

Integrative Medicine (IM) is a recent, popular movement that is attracting thousands of doctors and patients worldwide. But hand-in-hand with that burgeoning success is considerable confusion about what IM actually is and is not. Consequently, doctors, patients and LOHAS-oriented businesses need to understand the term if they want to make clear, unequivocal choices about their practices, their personal health and the health of their enterprises. 

So first, let’s explore some emerging nomenclature. Using synthetic drugs and surgery to treat health conditions was known just a few decades ago as, simply, “medicine.” Today, this system is increasingly being termed “conventional,” “orthodox,” or “allopathic” medicine. This is the sort of medicine most Americans still encounter in hospitals and clinics. Often both expensive and invasive, it is also spectacularly good at some things—for example, handling life-threatening conditions such as massive injury or heart attack.

Some conventional medicine is scientifically validated; some is not. Any therapy that is typically excluded by conventional medicine, and that patients use instead of conventional medicine, is known as “alternative” medicine. This catch-all term includes hundreds of old and new practices ranging from acupuncture to homeopathy to iridology. As a general rule, alternative therapies tend to be closer to nature, cheaper and less invasive than conventional therapies (though there are certainly exceptions). Some alternative therapies are scientifically validated; some are not.

An alternative medicine practice used in conjunction with a conventional one is known as a “complementary” medicine. Example: using aromatherapy to calm a patient after surgery. Together, complementary and alternative medicines are often referred to by the acronym CAM. 

Enter IM. As defined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, IM “combines mainstream medical therapies and CAM therapies for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness.” In other words, integrative medicine can be said to “cherry pick” the very best scientifically validated therapies from both conventional and CAM systems.

Dr. WeilAndrew Weil, M.D., twice the cover subject of TIME magazine and author of ten books, is undoubtedly IM’s most famous proponent. He is unstinting, furthermore, in his appreciation for conventional medicine’s strengths. “If I were hit by a bus,” he says, “I’d want to be taken immediately to a high-tech emergency room.”

Referring to Dr. Weil’s latest book, Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well-Being, A New York Times reviewer summed up this orientation, stating that Dr. Weil “doesn’t seem wedded to a particular dogma, Western or Eastern, only to the get-the-patient-better philosophy.”

Integrative medicine, as Dr. Weil defines it, places patient and practitioner as partners in the healing process. All the factors influencing health, wellness and disease are taken into consideration. These include mind, spirit and community, as well as the body.

For most of his more than three decades as a medical doctor and author, Dr. Weil was a lone voice, crying out for a system that put what works best ahead of profit, prejudice and inertia. In 1994, he co-founded the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and a movement began. As of December 2006, over 250 physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners will have completed the program, and many are involved in spreading the word in their home states and countries. In the past 12 years, academic instruction in integrative medicine has grown rapidly nationwide. There are now 31 academic medical centers that offer integrative medicine programs, including the Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical School and Georgetown, Duke and Columbia Universities.

Unfortunately, such programs are expensive to run. The University of Arizona’s program costs an estimated $3 million a year. Further, integrative medicine in general fights an uphill battle for research dollars. The gentle, nature-based therapies it often uses lack the profit potential of, say, a patentable drug.

To provide a steady stream of funding for integrative medicine research and education, Dr. Weil helped to establish Weil Lifestyle LLC in 2004. The company licenses the right to use Dr. Weil’s name and likeness to companies philosophically aligned with his principles and committed to advancing integrative medicine. To qualify for licensing, the products themselves must also conform to the principles of integrative medicine. Current licensees are: Origins Natural Resources (skin-care products), IdeaSphere (vitamins and supplements), Jamieson Laboratories (vitamins and supplements), Waterford Wedgwood (healthy cookware and housewares), Natural Pet Nutrition (premium pet food), and Ito En Ltd. (tea). 

Dr. Weil donates all of his after-tax profits from royalties received by Weil Lifestyle LLC from the sale of these products to the Weil Foundation, a charitable foundation dedicated to advancing integrative medicine by supporting education and research.

 “I feel very good about the progress that integrative medicine is making,” says Dr. Weil. “Conventional medicine and the whole profit-driven model of medical care is in crisis, and I frankly think it is on the verge of collapse. I am convinced that integrative medicine is the medicine of the future.”

How Weil Lifestyle, LLC Qualifies Companies

Three basic criteria are considered for product licensing with the Weil Lifestyle brand:

1. Dr. Weil must have genuine authority in the category.
2. The products must be cutting-edge, and distinguishable from the competition.
3. The products must have proven efficacy and contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Beyond this, the companies behind the products must also fit certain criteria: 1. Must have world-class research and be dedicated to product development.
2. Senior management must be dedicated to healthy living.
3. Must have a strong marketing department.
4. Must have significant financial resources.
5. Must have established multi-channel distribution.

Finally, the most important criterion is Dr. Weil’s personal endorsement. He evaluates every potential licensed product, and even if it meets all of the above criteria, he may—and often does—reject a product simply because it does not meet his own standards.

Which Therapies Does Integrative Medicine Use?

Integrative medicine is a dynamic medical viewpoint that encompasses virtually any healing therapy for which there is scientific validation of effectiveness. Practitioners of IM hold traditional medical degrees such as M.D., D.O. and R.N. They employ conventional medicine’s synthetic-drug and/or surgery regimen in some cases— particularly for acute disease or trauma—but otherwise favor the following approaches:

1. Alternative medical systems including Ayurveda, homeopathy and traditional Chinese medicine.
2. Herbal and plant-based therapies, either singly or in combination.
3. “Non-plant” organic/biological therapies such as vitamins and minerals and naturally derived substances such as fish oils or chondroitin.
4. Nutritional guidance according to the latest research from clinical and epidemiological studies.
5. Manipulative and body-based therapies such as massage therapy, cranial sacral work, and exercises of all kinds. 6. Energy therapies such as acupuncture. 7. Mind-body therapies including breathing exercises, meditation, guided imagery and hypnosis, as well as counseling and support groups.
Brad Lemley
Brad Lemley is Editorial Director of Weil Lifestyle, LLC, an organization founded with the purpose of providing a funding mechanism to the Weil Foundation. Its mission is to be the leading resource for education, information, products, services and philanthropic contributions based on the principles of integrative medicine. Headquartered in Phoenix, Ariz., Weil Lifestyle is the owner of the website www.drweil.com and the exclusive worldwide licensor of distinctive products and services selected and designed by Dr. Weil. Brad is also a journalist whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Parade, Life, Reader’s Digest, Psychology Today and many other publications, and is a contributing editor of the science magazine Discover.