What is Integrative Medicine?

Find Out Whether Integrative Medicine Might or Might Not be Right For You.

Have you found yourself increasingly frustrated by conventional or Western medicine, but you don’t know whether you want to completely turn to alternative options either? If that’s the case, you may want to explore integrative medicine. Julie McGregor, MD is a board-certified internist and nephrologist trained in integrative medicine who works with the Integrative Medical Clinic of North Carolina. She explains in this Q&A what integrative medicine is and offers information that may help you decide whether it might or might not be right for you. 

Peppermint Tea & Me: What is integrative medicine?

Julie McGregor: It’s really about trying to blend any component of wellness or healing or disease treatment or prevention into an individualized approach for any given person. So, it’s trying to use the best of all the different worlds that are out there with healing and wellness to approach optimizing somebody’s health in an individualized plan. 

PTM: How do you feel like that’s different from conventional medicine?

Julie McGregor, MD

Julie McGregor: It’s really about trying to blend any component of wellness or healing or disease treatment or prevention into an individualized approach for any given person. So, it’s trying to use the best of all the different worlds that are out there with healing and wellness to approach optimizing somebody’s health in an individualized plan. 

Sometimes, there may be healing that is achieved from a lot of different modalities that are traditional – like Chinese medicine, or yogic tradition, or nutritional healing and that kind of thing. Integrative Medicine tries to hold space for those types of modalities in addition to pharmaceuticals or surgery. It’s not just doing alternative, and it’s also not just doing Western conventional medicine. It’s trying to use what’s best from all of that in helping a person achieve wellness or avoid disease through whatever means makes the most sense for that person. 

PTM: Your practice’s website says that you focus on the integration of complementary medicine with gold-standard medicine and specialty training. What exactly does that mean?

JM: It’s basically honoring that trying to avoid side effects or pharmaceuticals may be the best course for any patient. But, if a person has the need for pharmaceuticals or has an illness that is requiring of a specialized intervention, our clinic has the training to take care of illnesses in the Western or conventional approach. We’ve really focused our whole careers on how to use medicines and how to appropriately care for people in a medical setting, but we also have a focus on trying to be as holistic and non-pharmaceutical and open to all kinds of healing. 

What we’re saying is that if somebody came in and needed an approach to a serious medical condition, we feel completely comfortable doing that. At the same time, if a person came in and said, “I absolutely don’t want to be on a medicine, and I want to stay well without pharmaceuticals,” we feel completely comfortable aligning with that person and trying to help them on their wellness path. 

For most of the rest of us, who are kind of in between, who want to avoid medicines when possible but are open to using the best of pharmaceuticals or Western medicine if necessary, we feel comfortable in that journey with them as well. All of this feels really comfortable to us because of doing a broad range of training. All of our providers have been in the western medicine, conventional medicine tertiary medical centers for most of our training, so we don’t feel like we’re alternative providers but at the same time, we’re very open to a holistic or alternative approach for people who want to do it that way.

PTM: Do you ever find that people are skeptical about your approach?

JM: I think a lot of the people who come to us are looking for that kind of blend. I do have a number of patients who want to turn to the pharmaceutical route first, and that’s fine. Then I do have some people who absolutely really don’t want to be on medicine. They want to have me there telling them whether they’re making safe choices with their herbs. I’m fine with that too. 

For the most part, I think people are really open to combining all the different types of health and wellness ideals and a lot of my folks in our clinic have a multiple provider team. They may have a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, a physician, a wellness coach, and a nutritionist. That’s a lot of people weighing in. Our goal is to have mutual respect among all the different providers so that patients don’t feel like there’s a conflict between what one person is suggesting and what another person is suggesting. Unless we really see there’s a danger, and of course, we would speak up about that.

PTM: Is a team approach to healing and wellness part of the integrative medicine model?

JM: We do try in integrative medicine to have a connection with a lot of different types of providers. I will communicate with chiropractors, naturopaths, Chinese medicine providers, and shamans. All different types of healers. I’ll do that as much as I will with a hematologist or a gastroenterologist or a cardiologist or a neurologist. So, I think, integrative medicine is very much about a team approach. 

I don’t know how to do acupuncture, I am definitely not an herbalist, and I haven’t had formal nutritional training. I rely a lot on the expertise of people who are holistic providers and would definitely say that integrative medicine is about connection and about teams and about honoring a lot of healing modalities.

PTM: Your foundational training was very much in conventional medicine. Why did you decide to go in this direction?

JM: I was raised by a registered nurse who was involved with an obstetrician who worked under the focus of Dr. Christiane Northrup. Dr. Northrup wrote a book called Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. That’s how my mom sort of approached health and wellness with me. 

When I went to medical school, I had the idea that spirituality, emotional health and wellness, alignment and balance and nutrition would be how my career would progress. In western medicine training though, wellness, and nutrition and spirituality and emotion aren’t really the focus. It’s very comfortable actually. It’s hard, hard work to be in medicine, but at the same time, there’s a comfort that comes from doing this protocolized research-proven approach. I personally had a lot of interest in health, wellness, alternative medicine, spirituality and all of these things. But mentally, I had a lot of comfort with approaching medicine through conventional medicine and that scientific sort of western mentality. 

By my early 40s, I realized that I was approaching medicine in a way that I probably wouldn’t do for myself and wouldn’t suggest for my family. I was in dialysis care and prescribing a lot of chemotherapy for patients that had vasculitis and autoimmune disease. I loved what I was doing, but I didn’t have a lot of authenticity about what I was recommending to my patients because I probably wouldn’t have been making a lot of those choices if I was in their position. So, I came to this realization that I wanted the rest of my career to be in alignment with how I would approach health and wellness if I was the person that I was talking to. 

PTM: Was that a difficult shift to make?

JM: It required me making a big shift in my career trajectory. Not that I was neglecting everything that I had learned. I was actually happy to have been trained the way I was. incorporating more of the holistic and wellness that I honored in my own life and through my own family with my patient care was a shift away from conventional tried and true approaches. It was more of a vulnerable space of let’s partner together and find what works for you as an individual using all that we know about all of these different modalities. 

PTM: When might someone want to consider seeing an integrative medicine practitioner?

JM: There are some people who come to integrative medicine just because they’re looking for a primary care provider, and they like the idea of sort of being more natural or holistic as a first line. Some people come to integrative medicine because they actually really prefer naturopaths or Chinese medicine or chiropractic care but want to have an MD involved for just making sure that they have a doctor on record as part of their team. 

And then for other people, integrative medicine is just sort of how they have been living. They’ve been holistic, or Mind-Body connected or nutritionally focused or found through their own just trial and error that using food as medicine really resonated with them. When they go to their doctor, they don’t feel like those choices for their health are as respected or as honored as they want them to be. They will come to integrative medicine because they’ve sort of found that path for themselves and they’re looking for resonance.

Important Note About Insurance and Integrative Medicine

If you decide to work with an integrative medicine practitioner, check with your health insurance provider about whether it covers specific recommended therapies. Some therapies are covered by some providers, others are not. In addition, if you have a healthcare reimbursement account, you can check to see if the therapies that you’re considering are covered by that plan. 

What is Real Health?

Actionable Steps to Achieve Real Health.

Have you ever had periods of time where you simply feel right? We’re talking both mentally and physically. You feel in balance, you feel strong, you feel… well. That’s what I call Real Health.

If you have felt that or you still do, this website is geared toward helping you maintain that incredible state of being. If you haven’t felt that in a long time or maybe ever or when you did, it was fleeting, helping you achieve your version of Real Health is what Peppermint Tea & Me is all about. That’s why we need to define what Real Health is as well as lay out some actionable first steps that you can take to achieve it.

Please Note that as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through some of the links included on this page. 

What is Real Health?

As you’ll be reminded frequently if you hang out in this space regularly, I believe that Real Health is achieved by recognizing that every part of us – mind, body and nutrition – is connected. Monique Class, MS, APRN, BC agrees. She’s a board-certified family nurse practitioner and clinical nurse specialist in holistic health at The Institute for Functional Medicine.

Monique Class, MS, APRN, BC

In a conversation about holistic health, Monique told me that “the mind, body and spirit (if you want to use that word), are all connected and are a unified whole. There’s bi-directional communication, meaning what happens to the body influences the mind and the emotions and what happens in the mind influences the body.”

This is understanding that when it comes to our health and overall wellbeing, causes and effects are not simply either physical or “mental.” Most of the time, they’re both. Melissa Grabau, PhD reminds us in her book, The Yoga of Food: Wellness From the Inside Out (affiliate link) that “How we feel day to day, our general health and energy levels, and our overall sense of safety and peace in our own flesh have an enormous impact on how we feel about ourselves and our capacity to function effectively in the world.”

Role of Nutrition

Julie McGregor, MD

So, what does all of this have to do with nutrition? Everything! Julie McGregor, MD works with the Integrative Medical Clinic of North Carolina and is a board-certified internist and nephrologist trained in integrative medicine. She told me that, “Nutrition is a part of building up our physical cells, but it’s also an emotional choice and has a lot of overtones. What we choose to eat has to do with where we are emotionally and also then leads to an emotional response in our body.”

This connection can lead to a healthy, well-oiled machine when it comes to our body and our mind. Failure to recognize this relationship though can lead to us living a life that is less than our best or even worse, spiraling through physical or mental issues that we have more control over than we may think.

Photo by Teejay from Pexels

Common Barriers to Real Health

According to our experts, the most common barriers that many women run into when it comes to achieving Real Health can really be narrowed down to two primary areas.

1. Unhealthy relationship with food.

Both Monique and Julie say this is one of the primary issues they see when women especially don’t recognize how connected everything really is. Some of the primary reasons for this unhealthy relationship can include emotions, social or community expectations, or programming.

Monique gives the example of coming home at 8:00 p.m., going straight to the freezer, pulling out the ice cream and eating it until the whole container is gone. If you do that every night, it becomes a pattern. “We know physiologically that every time you do that pattern, you create wiring in the brain. It’s called neuroplasticity. So, neurons that fire together wire together. Every time you do something over and over again or choose a particular food over and over again, you get hardwired into the brain where that choice becomes automatic and not conscious.”

The same concept is true of emotions. If you reach for chocolate or something sweet every time you feel anxious or stressed or alcohol every time you feel angry, you’re hardwiring your brain to react to those emotions with food.

2. Lack of self-care.

Julie says this is a huge issue for women because we put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect in every aspect of our lives. To have perfect careers, to keep a perfect home, to be a perfect mom, to be perfect daughters and to be perfect friends.

“There’s a lot of pressure that we put on ourselves, and the one who ends up coming last is ourselves. So many of my female patients who are in their 50s or 60s come to me fatigued, worn out, completely depleted, having not concentrated on wellness for themselves. They were out trying to achieve perfection in every component of their lives for, you know, 50 or 60 years. Then, they just can’t keep going because there isn’t that attention of self-care or focus on wellness for oneself.”

She’s found that this often leads to obesity, depression, thyroid disorders and general physical unwellness that plagues us around the time of menopause. “This, coincidentally, is a lot of times when we’re retiring or when we’re empty nesters, or during these transitions when the adrenaline stops and the body is just feeling the effects of decades of neglect.”

First Steps Toward Achieving Real Health

To shift away from these barriers, there are several first steps that you can take to achieve Real Health.

1. Love yourself and be happy with yourself just as you are.

There may be things that you want to change, but Monique says that accepting and loving where you are right now has to come first. Then you can identify and become aware of the areas that you want to change in a healthy, realistic way.

2. Carve out time for self-care.

We may not be able to exercise for an hour every day, get a massage once a week or meditate for 30 minutes every morning, but there are plenty of things that we can do. It’s all part of making sure that we’re the best versions of ourselves now and that we don’t end up tired and depleted when we finally do feel like we have the time.

3. Become aware of the choices that you’re making.

According to Monique, this is critical for making any kind of change in your life. She suggests that as you reach for that ice cream every night, that you notice the behavior and check in with yourself and think about what you’re feeling, what you’re eating for, or what you’re hungry for. More times than not, you’ll find that you’re not hungry for the food, you’re looking for something else.

The first step, she says, isn’t taking that food or behavior away. You have to first recognize the behavior and then begin to figure out what you’re really hungry for or what you really need in that moment. At that point, you can substitute the behaviors that truly address those needs for the ones that aren’t serving you well.

4. Drink more water

You may think that you don’t like water, but your body does. In fact, the U.S. Geological Survey says our bodies are made up of up to 60% water, so we have to have it to survive. Since we want to do more than just survive, we want to thrive, Julie puts this step toward the top of the list for achieving Real Health and adopting an attitude of overall wellness.

5. Get better sleep.

Julie says this has to be a priority. I’m the first to acknowledge that this isn’t always as easy to do as it sounds, but there are things you can do to not only make sure that you’re getting the amount of sleep you need but that it’s quality sleep as well.

6. Move as much as you can.

Here are some ways that you can work movement into your day, whether you have 30 minutes at a time or 5-10 minutes here and there.

Photo of coins pouring out of a jar as an example of Real Health on a budget

Real Health on a Budget

“That all sounds great, but even if I can find the time to take care of myself and to eat more healthy, nutritious food, I can’t afford it.” If that’s what you’re thinking, I’m here to ask you to be willing to think differently. Gym memberships are not a requirement for achieving Real Health and neither is having someone else to watch your kids while you focus on yourself.

Yes, whole, nutritious food is going to be more expensive than a 99-cent fast food burger, but in the long run, it evens out. Without health issues that could have been prevented with different lifestyle choices, you’ll likely save money in a number of ways. These include doctor’s visits and prescriptions as well as not missing work or losing opportunities among many others.

Real Health on a budget isn’t about an attitude of lack, it’s about an attitude of abundance. It’s being grateful for what you have and recognizing that healthy can be affordable. It’s also allocating your dollars in a way that supports your priorities rather than automatically spending money in ways that don’t serve you well. 

Mind + Body + Nutrition + On a Budget = Real Health

Julie sums it all up in a beautiful way. “How we exercise and what we choose for our physical wellbeing as far as movement and environment and choices about stretching or meditation, and our choices with our nutrition all affect how we think and our emotions. In turn, all of our emotions affect how we move, where we put our bodies and the choices we make for our physicality and our diet.”

Because of how entwined these factors are, Real Health looks different for everyone. Yes, the general steps outlined here are good places to start in achieving it, but Real Health is very individual. What it looks like for me probably won’t be the same for you. The goal for all of us though is to live in that place of personal wellness as much as possible and to draw on the strength and power that brings to live our best life possible.