One Voice for Wellness

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A flourishing society requires access to affordable health care, healthy food choices, a safe, natural environment and integrative medical care. Some might see this as an elusive dream, but I am optimistic that the shift from conventional medicine to a holistic health care approach is gaining momentum. While some have promoted this idea for decades, no one has been as effective in bringing it to our nation as Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

Samueli Institute – along with leaders from a wide group of organizations – gathered last Monday to salute the work of Sen. Harkin and commend him on his positive impact on public health. These organizations included: the Academic Consortium for Complementary & Alternative Care, Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine, Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine, Georgetown University, The Institute for Integrative Health, Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium, Life University, University of Minnesota, Hyland’s Foundation, Bastyr University, National Center for Homeopathy, Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges, Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, Logan University, Maryland University of Integrative Health, National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, National College of Natural Medicine, New York Chiropractic College, Northwestern Health Sciences University, Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, Palmer College of Chiropractic, Southern California University of Health Sciences and Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine.

When Sen. Harkin was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984, alternative medicine was widely disregarded, often viewed as unconventional or quackery. But Sen. Harkin saw the potential in the treatments and the importance of healthy lifestyles for an individual’s overall health. The junior senator from the mid-west was determined to advocate for the health of the nation at large. 

At Monday’s event, several speakers mentioned the need to further educate the public, physicians and patients on the benefits and applications of integrative health. While familiarity with practices such as meditation, yoga, acupuncture, dietary supplements and nutrition has grown, many still have little understanding of the benefits of these practices can have on overall health.

When prescribed a medication for high blood pressure, for example, a patient must advocate for themselves and take other factors into consideration. Am I managing my stress levels? Can I make changes to my diet that would impact my blood pressure? Can exercise help? Just because a medication is prescribed does not always mean that it is the sole option. It is imperative for the public to educate themselves and ask questions of their physicians in order to make informed decisions.

That is not to suggest that conventional medicine does not have its place. I merely point out that in some cases there are opportunities to apply non-traditional models of care to achieve similar results.
For example, acupuncture has been gaining momentum as a treatment option for chronic pain. In a recent study of an active-duty Army brigade, nearly half of soldiers reported chronic pain and 15 percent reported to opioid use as treatment three months post deployment. Our researchers have been studying the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of chronic pain for nearly a decade and have published promising results in the treatment of trauma symptoms in warfighters through acupuncture. Co-existing symptoms such as chronic pain, depression, anxiety and fatigue are common in service members who have experienced physical and/or psychological trauma.

Members of the military are more likely to utilize integrative medical treatment for these ailments than their civilian counterparts. I see this as a promising indicator for the field of complementary and alternative medicine. Without the options for other forms of treatment, these soldiers, seamen, airmen and marines would continue using the highly potent pharmaceuticals that so often lead to larger problems.

The next step is to provide the civilian population with these options and the science that backs up its effectiveness. Part of that influence will come from the medical community, but legislative initiatives also play an important role.
It has been inspiring to work alongside Sen. Harkin and I hope that others will follow in his legacy of support for complementary and alternative medicine. It is because of his vision and the incredible support from colleagues such as Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.; Tim Ryan, D-Ohio; Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; John McCain, R-Ariz.; and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; that we have made significant strides in mainstream adoption of practices such as acupuncture and chiropractic care in the last two decades. As we move forward my dream is that all practicing physicians have the opportunity to learn more about the value of these integrative health initiatives and feel confident applying them where appropriate. During the reception to honor the legacy of Sen. Harkin, countless others echoed this vision for the future of integrative medicine. In order to get there, we need to band together and create one voice for healing.

Join me.

– Dr. Wayne B. Jonas, President and CEO