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Health Talk 

Dr. Henri Roca, director of LSU Health Sciences Center's new Section of Integrative Medicine, discusses the increasing emphasis on holistic health and the roles of complementary and alternative therapies in conjunction with conventional medical treatments

Q: I understand LSU just initiated the Section of Integrative Medicine at its medical school. What will this new department do?

A: The Section of Integrative Medicine initially is charged with educating medical students and providing continuing medical education to practicing physicians, centered around the concept of complementary and alternative medicine -- learning what works, what doesn't and when it's appropriate to refer someone outside of conventional medicine.

Q: How will these two components of health care work together?

A: We're going to reach out to the practitioners of alternative medicine. It will be a program based in the community, the idea being that we can enhance wellness and health in our city and state by bringing together the best of traditional and complementary medicine. It's more consistent with how the body and the community view healing, which is holistic.

Q: What has caused the shift in thinking to include complementary therapies?

A: Expenditures for complementary therapies exceeded $27 billion in 1997 and have been growing at a rate of 5 percent a year since then. More than 60 percent of the population uses complementary therapies. A better informed public can make better choices, and better informed health practitioners can help their patients talk to them about the therapies they're using, incorporate them into treatment plans, and reduce unintended side effects. One of the other components is that our cost of providing care is increasing dramatically. Technology is designed to deal with significant consequences of lifestyle illnesses. The best way to improve the public health and improve the gross national product that goes to medicine is to enhance wellness. It's got to be a huge part of future medicine. The way we are going is not sustainable.

Q: What kind of therapies are we talking about?

A: Complementary and alternative therapies include mind-body therapies, energy therapies, manual medicine, nutritional-botanical medicine and other systems of healing. In each of those categories, there are lots of things that go into it, such as homeopathy, ayurvedic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture, prayer (under energy medicine), things like healing touch, massage, aromatherapy, herbs, supplements, meditation, yoga, tai chi, hypnotherapy, the list goes on.

Q: Is it mainly decompartmentalizing so that doctors and other health workers consider the whole body every time they see a patient instead of just focusing on a specific ailment or pain?

A: There are two trends. One is a trend toward the concept of integration, putting other healing modalities into a Western approach. Alongside that trend and partnered with it is a trend toward holism, where individuals are being looked at from mind, body, spirit, emotion, and command societal points of view. We recognize that not only is everything in the body connected to how one sees and feels, but how one finds oneself in the community, and the larger social system. In south Louisiana we have a rich community of complementary healers. One of my goals is to be able to bring these two modalities together.

Q: Do you see this as a shift away from medical specialties or more of a broadening of the thinking of physicians and nurses within those specialties?

A: I think there is a shift more toward holistic primary care. There will be people who specialize in any one of these healing modalities and conceivably specialize in treatment of certain illnesses in the modalities -- (and) a key, core group of primary care doctors who can view these modalities and point people toward the most effective modality to address the concern. There are many, many complaints that people come into a traditional doctor's office with that are not amenable to pharmaceutical intervention, and usually those people leave without any real satisfactory suggestions. By being able to see the larger picture and how things are related and how the body can be viewed in other ways will allow the doctor and the patient to form a partnership that will allow them to alleviate those symptoms.

Q: Is the practice catching on all over or does LSU have one of the first departments to address this within a medical education format?

A: It's happening all over, but we're the first in the Deep South to do it.

Q: Are the complementary therapies such as massage, reflexology, hypnotherapy and naturopathic medicine especially helpful for chronic diseases or just in general?

A: They're especially helpful for chronic diseases that have failed conventional therapy and for constitutional issues before they reach the place of symptoms. Constitutional health is something that Chinese medicine and ayurvedic really address. Looking at the body as an energetic body, you can address imbalances before they show up as symptoms; you can intervene to bring the body back into a place of balance prior to the onset of physical disease.

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