WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.  – Nov. 27, 2017 – “Don’t knock it until you try it.”

Newswise — That’s the advice Vanessa Baute, M.D., has for those people who might be a tad skeptical about the practice of integrative medicine.

“Integrative medicine is nothing other than an approach to patient care that includes conventional and alternative forms of medicine and is about prevention and wellness as well as treatment,” said Baute, an integrative neurologist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “It’s a huge opportunity for patients and health care providers to look both inside and outside the box for things that work.

“It gives us as physicians a broader perspective and a bigger tool kit, so I feel like I always have something to offer a patient.”

But that something won’t necessarily be acupuncture, yoga or meditation.

“Integrative medicine actually incorporates more ‘regular’ medicine that people are more familiar with than complementary or alternative therapies,” Baute said. “I routinely prescribe nutrition plans and exercise, which aren’t exactly alternative.

“But I do talk specifically with patients about what they can do, are willing to do and are going to do. Tailoring a specific plan for the individual patient is a key to integrative medicine.”

While integrative medicine may not yet be considered totally mainstream, it is recognized by the National Institutes of Health, whose National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health funds and conducts “research on the diverse medical and health care systems, practices and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine.” And it is widely available: Hundreds of U.S. hospitals – including many of the best known and most highly regarded – offer integrative medicine services for a wide range of health conditions, as do countless private-practice clinics.

But there are critics, including physicians, who maintain that some services offered under the umbrella of integrative medicine are of dubious therapeutic value and that hospitals – especially academic medical centers, the primary sites for medical research – should not promote or provide anything that has little or no scientific validation.

For its integrative medicine clinic, which opened this past May, Wake Forest Baptist adopted a relatively conservative approach to the services it would provide, said Remy Coeytaux, M.D., Ph.D., professor of family and community medicine, Caryl J. Guth, M.D., Chair of Integrative Medicine and director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist.

“We apply the same scientific principles that we do in the rest of medicine, so if there’s no evidence for something it’s not in our plan,” Coeytaux said.

 “I don’t suggest anything to patients that isn’t backed by science,” Baute said. “There’s a large body of evidence for acupuncture and other integrative medicine practices, and we’re not promoting any therapy that hasn’t been shown to work.”

The services currently available at Wake Forest Baptist’s clinic include integrative medicine and nutrition consultations, acupuncture, pain management, mind-body therapies and Healing Touch, an “energy therapy” technique.

Some of the clinic’s patients are referred to the clinic by other providers while others seek consultation or treatment without referral. Either way, Coeytaux said, the clinic’s practitioners are dedicated to providing personalized, collaborative care that optimizes the patients’ long-term health and wellness.

Though Wake Forest Baptist is a newcomer to the clinical practice of integrative medicine, it has been involved in education and research in the field for more than a decade. Its Center for Integrative Medicine was established and endowed by Guth, an alumna of Wake Forest School of Medicine, in 2003. The center is a member of the Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine & Health, which includes more than 70 academic medical centers and affiliated institutions.

Coeytaux and Suzanne Danhauer, Ph.D., associate professor and vice chair of social sciences and health policy at Wake Forest School of Medicine, are the co-editors-in-chief of the consortium’s official journal, Global Advances in Health and Medicine.

Coeytaux said the Center for Integrative Medicine’s mission is to support and develop interdisciplinary research and other initiatives focused on physical, mental and spiritual wellness and healing.

The center’s list of completed, current and planned research projects includes stress reduction as a treatment for migraine; meditation as a technique to reduce pain; low-frequency pulsed electromagnetic fields as a way to regulate immune function and reduce inflammation; acupuncture as a remedy for hot flashes in menopausal women and for chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy; magnet therapy as a treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome; and yoga as a therapy for cancer patients and survivors.

The center also recently established a postdoctoral research fellowship. It first fellow, Deanna Befus, Ph.D., is exploring how non-pharmacologic approaches to chronic medical conditions may help improve outcomes in communities underserved by existing health care delivery systems.

In both research and clinical settings, Coeytaux said, the goal of integrative medicine is to help people by supplementing conventional medicine, not supplanting it.

“There are some aspects of care that aren’t being met by modern medicine, and integrative medicine seeks to fill those gaps,” Coeytaux said. “But we’re part of the medical system. We’re not alternative. We may offer alternative approaches, but we’re not replacing conventional medicine.”

And, he noted, “Many medical practices that are seen as conventional today were at one time considered alternative.”