Sunday, December 04, 2005

Integrative medicine investigates healing approaches

By Lindsey Morgan

Practicing Tai Chi to treat rheumatoid arthritis may strike some as odd. But research on the healing uses of the Chinese martial art Tai Chi, as well as other non-Western medicinal approaches such as acupuncture and homeopathic remedies, is part of the daily grind at the UCLA Collaborative Centers for Integrative Medicine.

In an effort to safely and effectively contribute to the knowledge of how an integrative health approach can be beneficial to breast cancer patients and survivors, the centers will be holding a conference today. Integrative medicine focuses on a holistic approach to health, making use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, professionals and disciplines in order to achieve optimal health and healing, according to the definition developed by the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine.

While it has only been within the past five to six years that medical institutions have shown significant openness toward the integrative medicine approach, it is a movement that looks back to long-established remedies, said Dr. Andrew Weil, founder and director of the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

"The irony is that this is the way medicine was a long time ago," said Weil, one of the founders of the consortium and a leader in the field. "The essential idea is that the body has the capability of healing itself, and that good medicine starts from that assumption," he said. Integrative medicine at UCLA is highly research-based, and those working at the centers hope that eventually it will be part of the approach to general medicine, said Katie Couturier, coordinator for the UCLA centers. "UCLA is very unique in that there's many centers on campus that are doing important research aspects of integrated medicine," she said.

While UCLA doesn't have a stand-alone integrated medicine center, it is an esteemed member of the consortium, which attempts to promote curriculum development for medical students in the area of contemporary alternative medicine, Couturier said. Current projects at the collaborative centers at UCLA include research on the benefits of Tai Chi as an alternative medicine intervention, part of a study on behavioral treatments for rheumatoid arthritis. "What we're trying to see is if these behavioral methods actually affect the disease and whether there's evidence that the immune system is affected in persons with this disease," said Dr. Perry Nicassio, a clinical professor in the department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and the primary investigator of the study.

While there has been quite a bit of research on the use of behavioral treatments for arthritis over the last 15 to 20 years, this study – sponsored by the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology – looks at the effects of the interventions on the immune system. "No one else has done that yet. It's kind of unique," Nicassio said. The conference, sponsored by the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine, will be held in the Northwest Auditorium today from 1 to 6 p.m.

Andrew Weil, M.D. – Author of:

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