The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a chronic disease as an illness that lasts longer than a year, requires regular medical attention, and/or interrupts daily living. About 60% of adults in the US live with at least one chronic disease.
When it comes to chronic disease management, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Patients with the same chronic disease may be in different stages of the disease or experience different symptoms. For this reason, chronic disease management requires a highly individualized approach.
In part five of Florida Medical Clinic’s holistic health series, Dr. Lakshmi Menezes talks about how holistic medicine can be used to help patients manage some of the most common chronic diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.
If you missed a previous blog in the series, be sure to check them out using the links below:
What’s the difference between management and a cure?
In medicine, a cure refers to something that can completely eliminate a disease. Management is about lessening symptoms, preventing a disease from getting worse, and relieving stress that may be associated with illness.
Chronic diseases, by definition, cannot be cured—even with extensive lifestyle changes, medication, and other treatments. However, chronic diseases can be successfully managed and their symptoms can be reduced through holistic care.
Holistic care involves treating the whole of a patient—mind, body, and spirit—to address the root causes of illness, as well as symptoms. The goal is to use traditional medical practices and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to help patients with chronic illnesses lead healthier, happier lives..
Note: Talk to a board-certified physician if you want to learn more about holistic care or want to start or stop a treatment.
Why is it important to consult a doctor?
It’s important that you involve your doctor in your health decisions, even if you’re just thinking about taking a simple herbal supplement or adjusting a recommended diet or exercise plan.
Some treatments may make symptoms of a chronic illness worse or interfere with a medication you’re currently taking. Your doctor can help you understand what to look out for and what may not be appropriate for you specifically. They can also advise you on what may happen if you stop a certain treatment.
Furthermore, a holistic approach to medicine requires doctors to fully understand your health from all perspectives—so keeping them in the loop about new supplements or therapies helps them better help you.
Chronic Disease Prevention
Many chronic illnesses are caused by genetics or long-term lifestyle habits. The CDC identifies four of the most common lifestyle habits that put people at risk for chronic diseases, including:
- Smoking/using tobacco
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- A sedentary lifestyle (not exercising enough)
- Poor nutrition
Holistic care can help address these lifestyle habits and find solutions for problems that can’t be solved by medication alone.
For example, meditation may help some people quit smoking and nutritional counseling can help patients change their eating habits for the better. If you aren’t exercising enough due to chronic pain, holistic care can help address the source of pain and aid in chronic disease prevention.
However, you should be wary of any therapy, supplement, or treatment that claims to prevent a chronic disease. Complementary and alternative medicine may be used as a robust prevention plan, but no single practice or supplement can prevent or cure a chronic disease.
4 Chronic Diseases Holistic Medicine Can Help Manage
1. Chronic Pain
Chronic pain can have many different causes, including arthritis, fibromyalgia, nerve damage, and more. Pain can be the result of an accident or injury, or can be a symptom of another illness or condition.
There are often long-term consequences of chronic pain, including insomnia, anxiety/depression, and fatigue. Holistic care can involve using a variety of techniques to help patients deal with the root cause of pain, as well as manage it in day-to-day life.
Some of the complementary and alternative therapies that can help patients manage chronic pain include:
- Yoga and meditation. Physical stretching and meditation can make the body feel good—and the mind, too. Yoga is often recognized as a safe and effective way to treat chronic pain.
- Acupuncture. When performed by a licensed practitioner, acupuncture has been shown to reduce chronic pain by up to 50%. Many medical institutions may even have acupuncturists on staff or can refer you to one.
- Massage therapy. Regular massage can help reduce pain, soreness, and tension in the muscles.
- Aromatherapy. When used with psychotherapy or counseling, aromatherapy can help patients deal with stress caused by chronic pain.
- Seeing a chiropractor. Chiropractors can help improve your posture, realign your spine, and treat musculoskeletal problems that may contribute to chronic pain.
To learn more about alternative treatments for managing chronic pain, read part three of our series on holistic health.
2. Cardiovascular Disease & High Blood Pressure
There are many different forms of cardiovascular (heart) disease. They typically involve the constriction or blocking of blood vessels, which can then lead to heart attacks or strokes.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is often part of cardiovascular disease. It can cause damage over time from the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which can lead to clots.
Taking medications can help treat cardiovascular disease and hypertension, but patients also need to incorporate exercise, healthy eating, and stress relief into their management plans. Here are a few CAM treatments that may help.
- Yoga and meditation. Yoga can be part of an exercise plan to strengthen your heart. Additionally, mind-body practices like yoga may help patients quit smoking, which can cause further heart problems.
- Nutrition counseling. It’s important to adopt heart-healthy eating habits to keep cardiovascular disease from getting worse.
- Herbal supplements. Some supplements are being investigated for their use in preventing and treating cardiovascular disease, including omega-3s fatty acids and vitamin D. Consult with your doctor before starting supplements as some can interfere with common heart medications.
If you start feeling sudden chest pain, shortness of breath, light-headedness, or otherwise suspect you may be having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. There’s no substitute for immediate medical care when it comes to heart attacks.
Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common chronic illnesses in the US. It’s often caused by a combination of genetic factors and lifestyle habits.
Diabetes can’t be cured, but it can be managed through a combination of medication prescribed by a doctor and CAM treatments aimed at increasing physical fitness and eating healthier foods. Some of these treatments include:
- Nutrition counseling. Your doctor can help you develop a healthy diet plan that best fits your lifestyle.
- Supplements. A study has shown that some supplements, like chromium, may help increase insulin sensitivity when used in combination with conventional medications.
- Yoga. Yoga can help alleviate stress and be an important part of incorporating exercise and movement into a sedentary life.
Complementary and alternative medical practices are not substitutes for cancer treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Talk with your oncologist before stopping or starting any medication or treatment.
Cancer can affect all aspects of a patient’s life, and many cancer treatments have severe side effects, like nausea or fatigue, that can make day-to-day life difficult.
While no complementary and alternative medicine practice can destroy cancer cells, they can be vital for patients in need of pain and stress relief—particularly in long-term cases of cancer. Some examples of possible treatments include:
- Acupuncture. Acupuncture may be helpful for patients with cancer who are struggling with pain, nausea, anxiety, and other symptoms and side effects.
- Yoga. Yoga can be a great way for patients to relax and get in some light physical movement when more intensive exercises are too strenuous.
- Aromatherapy. Aromatherapy can calm or energize patients with anxiety or depression. When used with talk therapy or Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), aromatherapy can be a useful means of stress reduction (just be careful about using essential oils around pets).
Learn More About Holistic Care for Chronic Disease Management
Patients living with a chronic disease often have to try a variety of different approaches to manage their symptoms and stop their illness from getting worse. With holistic care, you may be able to find the right combination of practices and medications to help you deal with pain, stress, and other symptoms and improve your quality of life.
If you’re struggling with a chronic illness, a board-certified holistic practitioner may be able to help you find new ways to manage your symptoms. To get started, make an appointment with internal medicine specialist Dr. Lakshmi Menezes in Lutz or Wesley Chapel, FL. Virtual appointments are also available here.
Read the rest of our series on holistic medicine using the links below:
Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Always talk with your doctor before starting or stopping medications or therapies.