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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 25, 2009

Integrative care gains popularity

By Dr. Ira Zunin

Editor's note: Dr. Ira Zunin, medical director at Manakai O Malama Integrative Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, is joining the rotation of Prescriptions columnists. In his introductory column, he explains integrative medicine.

Q. What is integrative medicine?

A. Over the past 20 years, integrative medicine, the practice of bringing together modern medicine and traditional healing arts, has matured tremendously and moved into the mainstream.

According to a nationwide government survey released in December 2008, about 38 percent of U.S. adults used these services and products, which range from acupuncture to herbal medicine and yoga. Because of Hawai'i's ethnic diversity and cultural traditions, Island consumers rely on integrative medicine even more than the rest of the country. The Hawaii Medical Journal reported in 2006 that the highest use 78.3 percent was found among those whose pain severely interferes with normal work.

More than one-third of our medical schools now participate in a national academic consortium that collaborates on research, education and clinical models in the field, confirming an evolving interest on both sides. This is critical because the quality research done by consortium members serves to identify treatments that should be included in integrative medical practice versus those that might be a waste of resources or possibly harmful.

Here's an example: The Rochester Medical Center just published an excellent study that shows that ginger, taken in addition to prescription medicines that stop vomiting, is very helpful in preventing nausea from chemotherapy for cancer. This large-scale study is important because it validates a practice that dates back thousands of years in many cultures, including Tibetan, Chinese and Indian.

Hawaiians have long recognized the medicinal benefits of ginger, or 'awapuhi, for stomach ailments and to aid digestion. When ground in a stone mortar and mixed with ripe noni, ginger was applied to heal sprains. In modern time, many traditions use ginger for motion sickness.

Ginger's cousin, 'olena or turmeric, a canoe plant, has traditional uses for earaches and to clear sinuses. When cooked and eaten, the astringent qualities of 'olena were found to be helpful for bronchitis, colds and asthma. Fresh 'olena can be found at the farmers markets, including those held weekly at Kapi'olani Community College and in Kailua.

Unquestionably, there are instances where the quick intervention of modern medicine is the best way to go, just as there is no question that traditional healing methods can sometimes be more effective. It is when health providers and patients work hand in hand to determine the best combination of available therapies that everyone wins.