Integrative Medicine: An Overarching Approach to Care
Dr. Scarlet Soriano shares what integrative medicine is, and how it shares similarities but also differs from functional medicine.
Scarlet Soriano, MD:
Scarlet Soriano, MD is an integrative medicine physician and a health and wellness consultant. She has a special interest in energy medicine, lifestyle medicine, and the impact of consciousness on health. She has a uniquely joyous way of bridging science and spirituality through her teaching and workshop facilitation. Dr. Soriano graduated from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and is currently an Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.
Melanie Cole, MS (Host): There are many different types of practitioners that specialize in integrative and functional medicine, but when you're looking for one, how do you know the difference so you can choose which is most beneficial for you? Today we have Dr. Scarlet Soriano. She’s an integrative medicine physician and the director of group visits and wellness based healthcare transformation at Boston Medical Center. Dr. Soriano, it’s a pleasure to have you on. I love this topic. Let’s just start by you telling us your philosophy of care and how you care for patients as a whole person.
Scarlet Soriano, MD (Guest): The philosophy that I aim to embody every day, not just in my treatment of patients but in my own life of a human being, stems from an awareness that we are not just a physical being. That we are a continuum of mind, body, and spirit. That wholeness, that continuum has to be attended to in the healing process, in all aspects of our life. So as I approach a person who comes to me in a healing journey, I am looking to connect with them as a human being, as a person that has an identify, a social context, a cultural context, a socioeconomic reality. A deep inner place of feeling themselves as well as the physical body in a mental, emotional aspect of their life. So as I hold that space for healing to happen, I'm seeking to connect with all aspects of that person and to support that person as they themselves being to bring harmony through all the lawyers of their being. We can use a variety of tools to support that journey.
Host: Wow. What an amazing philosophy of care, Dr. Soriano. As people are looking for someone as lovely as you to help them with their wellness, please explain for us the differences between alternative medicine, complementary medicine, holistic medicine, functional medicine, integrative medicine. We’re hearing so many different terms thrown around. Can you give us a little bit of a working definition, so we understand what we’re talking about?
Dr. Soriano: Absolutely. Boy, is that the topic of the day. The question that many people ask. I’ll give you my perspective in knowing that this is coming from my particular frame of reference. As I approach this base that has been termed multiple things depending on the length to which one enters, I look at back to that basic philosophy. I think that whether you call it complementary and alternative medicine or functional medicine or integrative medicine, underpinning all of these approaches is that awareness of the sum being greater than the part. Of the whole being being essential in the healing process. So I think it’s helpful because it can be a little bit confusing to say, “Well, how do I go about my healing and where is the place where healing can happen for me?”
What I have found is that there is an approach that we’re terming different things, and yet that centers on this wholeness. I would seek that more than a particular label. If I am a person seeking care, I would look for a practitioner whether they call themselves an integrative medicine practitioner, an alternative complementary practitioner, or a functional practitioner. I would look for somebody who’s holding the totality of me, who is interested in the totality of me.
So the terms are part of an evolving history in what we used to call alternative and complementary medicine, which was one of the first sets of terms that became widely used in popular culture to refer to the weaving together of modalities that were distinct and potentially an important collaboration in adjunct to allopathic medicine. So whether it be traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, whole systems of medicine—most of those are more than 3,000 years old—or newer systems of medicine or therapeutic tools whether it be naturopathy or chiropractic. The term began to be used to encompass this other world of healing opportunities beyond what we have turned allopathic medicine or a western style of medicine that was grown over the past hundred years. That then has given rise to integrative medicine as a way of highlighting the process of really weaving together the best of allopathic medicine. Best evidence tools that come from this allopathic tradition that has been the mainstream medical tradition in this country with the best evidence therapeutic tools that come from other traditions.
I really love that because it’s not about one or the other but rather about using the best available tools, approaches, healing modalities in order to support me. In knowing that this one me is going to need a unique formula of healing opportunities that is going to be different from what the person next to me might need. Similar with functional medicine. Sometimes I get asked this question a lot. Are you a functional medicine physician or an integrative medicine physician? What I find a distinction between the two of them is really in some of the approaches and some of the entry points into the healing process of the person, yet the underpinning philosophy is the same. Address hold the whole person. So I hope that helps.
Host: Well, it certainly does. So we don’t have a lot of time in these podcasts, but I’d like to discuss how nutrition is the key component in this view as a whole person and not just a disease state. While you're doing that, anti-inflammatory nutrition choices as we look at that. Because we are really paying attention now doctor to the difference in connection between environmental health and personal, the choices, the food we eat, the way we live our lives, the environment we live in. How does this all tie together? Give us some absolute nutrition choices. Things that you tell your patients every day, “I want you to make sure to look to this.”
Dr. Soriano: So some things I like recommend to my patients are avoiding processed foods. I think one of the biggest ways that we can get into inflammation is by eating highly processed foods. Avoiding things that have artificial colors, artificial flavors, and a lot of preservatives in them. That’s a very easy way to begin. Increasing greens. The Cruciferae family, unless you have a contraindication, which includes broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, collard greens are loaded with antioxidants. So that’s a wonderful choice. A lot of berries. Other things, and one of the things that has become a mainstay of the groups that I do, is meditation. We really begin to shift the neural nets in our brain that are effecting everything from how our body functions to hormonal levels. We begin to change the way that our mind functions. To bringing the mind to rest through meditation is really very, very helpful. We do a lot of different meditation practices that are easy and applicable, some of which are only one or two minutes long. A lot of breathwork as well.
Cognitive reframing. Becoming aware. Using mindfulness to become aware of our inner self-talk and beginning to shift that. That’s one of the big, big points of emphasis. An attitude of self-worth is actually critical to healing. That I am doing this not just because I want to be out of pain, but because I am worthy of living the highest expression of myself. That is the platform on which we build the whole healing process in our groups and individual visits. Then also decreasing environmental toxins. So I work with my patients on simple ways that they can detoxify their homes. I send them to the environmental working group website, I have them download the healthy living app and I have them begin to look at what are some choices that I can make to lower toxicity in my body. Hair products, facial and body products, cleaning products. It’s the combination and of course movement. We have quite a history of yoga for pain here at BMC. Dr. Rob Sapert did some really wonderful research on the use of yoga in chronic back pain. It’s that combination of movement—movement that is meaningful and joyful—self-worth, self-efficacy, positive psychology, meditation, breathwork, and an anti-inflammatory way of eating that begin to become the secret recipe that can really move a person from illness into wellness.
Host: Well, that is absolutely perfectly put. As a summary, Dr. Soriano, just tell the listeners how integrative medicine combined with conventional western medicine using time tested proven practices from around the world, how we’re all coming together now. Eastern medicine, western medicine. I'm an exercise physiologist and I see that chiropractors and physical therapists and athletic trainers and how we’re all coming together to do similar things. I know that this is what's happening in the world of complementary medicine as well. So wrap it up with your best advice for the listeners on why they should look to an integrative medicine physician to take care of their whole body and their whole selves.
Dr. Soriano: Well Melanie, it goes right back to your first and fundamental question, which is the approach to care. We are whole beings. We are not one part. We’re not an elbow, we’re not a knee, we’re not just a mind. So because we are whole beings, we need a much more holistic approach to care. That is going to involve a team of people that weave in their unique gifts, their unique skillsets to support that totality that a person holds. So the allopathic trained practitioner and the naturopath and the traditional Chinese medicine physician and the person who’s doing mind body medicine and massage therapy, reiki. All of them are needed in order to support the different dimensions of a being. I think we’re looking at the medicine of the future. I don’t think it’s just the medicine of the future. It’s the medicine of today beginning now to grow and using this growing body of evidence to support the importance of this approach in the absolute right on evolution of our medical practices. I'm really hopeful for where we’re going.
Host: Well, thank you so much Dr. Soriano. So am I. Thank you, again, for joining us. That wraps up this episode of Boston Medtalks with Boston Medical Center. To find out more about Boston Medical Center’s integrative medicine practice, please call 617-414-2080 or visit our website at bmc.org for more information and to get connected with one of our providers. Please remember to subscribe, rate, and review this podcast and all the other Boston Medical Center podcasts. For more health tips and updates on the latest medical advancements and breakthroughs, follow us on your social channels. I'm Melanie Cole.