Integrative Health and Medicine

Dr. Mimi GuarneriIn medical school, we are trained to practice the “pill for every ill” approach, and that’s how I was trained as a cardiologist—to make a diagnosis and then prescribe an appropriate pharmaceutical therapy or surgery. This approach makes perfect sense in acute care, such as when a patient is having a heart attack or stroke and you need to act quickly. But with any chronic disease or the types of issues I see every day, whether it’s diabetes, hypertension, psoriasis, eczema, or depression, Western medicine seeks to name it, blame, tame it—without getting to the underlying cause.

My whole journey as an integrative medicine practitioner has been focused on health creation, to answer the question: How do we create health? One of the key steps, which is not really taught in medical school, is to understand the root cause of disease so that we can put in place a program that goes beyond pharmaceuticals to slow down or even reverse the disease process.

An Integrative Approach to Disease Prevention

In the early part of my medical career, treatment largely consisted of pharmaceuticals, surgery, and maybe some physical therapy. Patients would complain about stressful life events, financial stress, depression, or bodyweight issues, and all we had to dispense was medications. So, I began to look for other options for my patients. In the 1990s, I conducted research with Dr. Dean Ornish in which we asked a fundamental question: Can we reverse coronary disease through lifestyle changes? Study participants practiced yoga and meditation or maintained vegetarian diets or an exercise regimen, and the results were eye-opening. We realized that not only is disease preventable, but it’s reversible. This set me on the journey of seeking to understand the root cause of illnesses—to treat the whole person and empower people to take charge of their health.

In health care today, we dispense pharmaceuticals too liberally. For example, in treating depressed patients, instead of trying to figure out why the person is depressed—did the patient’s dog die? is the patient not getting enough sun? is the patient isolated?—we give different depressed patients the same therapy—an antidepressant. Nine out of 10 times, we as doctors are just not looking deeply enough.

Integrative medicine emphasizes root causes. Here’s an easy way for my patients to understand an integrative approach to health: I ask, “If you have a tree, and it’s not doing well, what do you do?” Naturally, answers involve fixing the soil, fertilizing the tree, or increasing watering and sun exposure. I have my patients label the branches of the tree—high blood pressure, diabetes, whatever health condition they’re dealing with. Western medicine would be inclined to dispense a drug for every disease or branch of this tree, but integrative medicine looks at the soil, at the roots. So, an integrative approach to treatment focuses on micro- and macro-nutrition, sleep, stress, exercise, community, and lifestyle.

Whereas conventional medicine prescribes medicines for chronic conditions, integrative medicine focuses on disease prevention. I believe what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. On a philosophical level, love is the greatest healer. How you connect with others makes a difference to your health. I believe that when people are lonely, depressed, angry, or stressed, they don’t always make the best health choices, but if they are happy, joyful, and have a purpose in life—things that we don’t talk about in medical school—making healthy decisions will come naturally.

Mimi Guarneri, MD, is a board-certified physician in cardiovascular disease, internal medicine, and integrative holistic medicine, and a founding board member of the American Board of Integrative Medicine® (ABOIM®), which is governed by the American Board of Physician Specialties® (ABPS).  

Save the Date
House of Delegates & Annual Scientific Meeting
Innovation & Overcoming Challenges
June 10-15, 2022
Patient Care Is Our Priority

Medical organizations throughout North America understand that our rigorous certification standards prove that ABPS Diplomates are capable of delivering the best patient care possible.

I feel truly blessed and grateful to be an internal medicine board-certified diplomate with the American Board of Physician Specialties. Their ongoing, steadfast commitment to physician board(s) enhancement, forward focused vision, and tenacity is second to none. ABPS has become a recognized choice in Physician Board Certification.

Adam Rench, MD
Internal Medicine
To be the best, you must measure yourself against the best. Achieving Board Certification in Emergency Medicine by the ABPS gave me the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the art of EM in an objective way. The high bar that ABPS sets for candidates to be allowed to take both the written and oral exam is a testament to ABPS's rigorous vetting of one's ability to practice Emergency Medicine at a high level. By maintaining these credentials, I've been able to instill confidence in my abilities at the department/employer level and ultimately with the patients that choose to seek emergency care at the facilities at which I practice.

Royce Mathew Joseph, MD
Emergency Medicine
The American Board of Physician Specialties has supported the entire field of Integrative Medicine in sponsoring our board. It has been so validating of the importance of prevention-oriented and holistic approaches to care while emphasizing the scientific basis of this specialty to have it recognized by ABPS. I am proud to have been one of the first groups to be board certified by ABPS in Integrative Medicine, leading the way for others committed to training in this specialty.

Myles Spar, MD
Integrative Medicine