Integrative Medicine: From “Niche” Specialty to Mainstream
While most of my career has been focused on modern medicine prescribed by traditional medical doctors, I have learned over the past decade that many illnesses are often caused by unknown environmental elements that fall into ‘blind spots’ to most medical doctors (MDs). This by no means suggests that modern medicine is not extraordinary in diagnosing and treating chronic diseases, or performing lifesaving procedures. Physicians do regularly address allergies and bacterial pathogens. However, the impact of mold as a pathogen, an immune response trigger, or investigation of toxic poisoning is not standard with today’s western medicine. It does suggest the obvious.
“For any physician to diagnose environmental illness, they have to learn about it, probe for relevant environmental information, and understand how detoxification can be influenced in order to treat it. This type of training is not standard in medical schools today.”
Oxford Dictionary defines a ‘blind spot’ as an area in which a person lacks understanding or impartiality. Empirical Medicine, trained in and practiced by all traditionally trained MDs, focuses primarily on the specific symptoms the patient describes to them. They then decide on appropriate diagnostics and examinations, and then treat them with procedures or pharmaceuticals. All of this occurs within a 15-minute time allocation. Often, the patient may not have described their illness accurately, used the precise nomenclature, or connect the dots to describe any toxic exposures in their home and work environment. To further complicate the environmental illness diagnosis is that obvious symptoms are often the same with many chronic illnesses. As a result, the initial physician/patient discussion focuses on collecting medical history. As a standard practice, Physicians do not seek any information about the home or work environment history. This would take too much time. As a clear result, it is often impossible to correlate the patient’s symptoms with environmental exposures.
MDs, both general practitioners and physician specialties, also think in terms of major organ systems and specific disease states, while pursuing an understanding of the disease symptoms. As a result, traditional western medicine trained MD solutions can be limited to diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, and procedures. In some cases, nutrition and exercise are considered and suggested when directly related to the disease (examples: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.) However, these are suggestions and patients often hold themselves accountable to the physician and themselves. The insurance industry has the influence to ensure that medical diagnostics and treatment alternatives are kept to a minimum and keep expenditures down. Because of these scope limitations, treatment modalities that significantly impact broader bodily systems may not be considered.
Integrative and Alternative or Complementary Medicine
Integrative medicine searches beyond the normal organ systems and combines traditional medicine with alternative or complementary medicine alternatives. In some cases, home, homeopathic, or ancient remedies are utilized. Some of these have proven effective over decades, centuries, even millenniums and are integrated into certain cultures. With integrative medicine, the patient and health care provider form a partnership that allows for a holistic approach that includes beliefs, overall wellness, and community to the healing of the mind and body. Specific treatment modalities can include acupuncture, diet, nutritional supplements, chiropractic adjustments, mind-body therapies, natural remedies, and other holistic treatments. The approach may involve many effective natural or herbal remedies outside of conventional methodologies.
It is important to note that there are numerous approaches to integrative medicine. Osteopathy is a medical field that takes a holistic approach to the treatment of illness and injury. Considered a form of alternative medicine, osteopathy is based on the principle that illness and injury stem from structural alterations within the body. Doctors of Osteopathy often practice side by side with Medical Doctors, prescribe pharmaceuticals, attend four-year medical schools of Osteopathy (D.O.), and attend the same residencies as MDs. DOs routinely practice in a very similar manner as MDs. They can share practices, have the same time constraints, and treat a wide variety of diseases. Unfortunately, 15–30 minute appointments limit their ability to take a true osteopathic approach.
Naturopathic Doctors, NDs, also attend a four-year medical school, obtain fellowship and specialties. Naturopathic Doctors are not allowed to be licensed in most states to prescribe medicines; however, they can prescribe if under the guidance or management of a practice employing MDs. In some states, NDs can prescribe medications and treat complex diseases such as cancer. It is standard practice for NDs to use an hour or more to obtain all medical and environmental information for a proper diagnosis. In addition, NDs often explain the diagnoses clearly as they treat the patients as wellness approaches such as nutrition, stress, and exercise are often prescribed.
All of these treatment specialties are still rooted in scientific discovery and inquiry. Indeed, research and rigorous scientific investigation are conducted and published. In today’s world with the internet, ample sources of scientific literature and peer review journals for Alternative Medicinal Approaches are available. There are many possible complementary medicine solutions involving the different approaches in the image above. There are also modern alternatives that may be utilized. Each treatment is specific to the individual. Therefore, approaches can vary among different healthcare professionals. Today, there are many integrative medicine centers at the top teaching hospitals or healthcare organizations where specialists are often available for consultation as well as comprehensive care, or primary service.
Integrative Medicine approaches look at the body systems broadly, recognizing 11 body systems that are addressed collectively. Problems with one body system can be connected to another. For example, in the past 2 decades, scientists have learned a great deal about how the immune system and inflammation impact many chronic illnesses. An integrative approach might address alleviating symptoms by modifying behavior regarding diet, nutritional deficiencies, and other life stressors that may impact mental health, hormonal systems, fatigue, or pain. Helping the body detoxification process is the primary method of treatment by integrative medicine physicians.
While many alternative medicine treatments are anchored in a long history, science continues to move forward and provide more precise images and blood diagnostics, and a clearer understanding of disease physiology. As a result, newer treatment modalities are employed by practitioners: these include, but are not limited to massage therapy, acupuncture, oxygen therapy for recovery, epigenetics, chiropractic adjustments, FIR sauna to help “sweat out” toxins, and various electromagnetic devices to help manage pain symptoms.
The most significant challenge faced by an environmentally ill patient’s desire of receiving integrative medicine is access to reimbursement from insurance plans. Finding a physician requires some investigating. Integrative Medicine is often the last and final resort taken by a chronically ill patient before reaching wellness. Many integrative medicine practices work on a cash basis, leaving the responsibility for reimbursement with the patient. There is an emergence of traditional medical practices that offer integrative medicine approaches. This demonstrates some progress in providing broader and holistic care to patients. However, reimbursement is critical for most environmentally ill patients who also suffer from financial insecurity due to the ability to work and the cost of treatment.
Environmental Illness Limitations
Environmental illness has access to limited diagnostics, remedies, antidotes, and treatments for toxins in the body. There are chemical binders, age-old remedies (activated charcoal), or off-label usage of older, existing pharmaceuticals (cholestyramine). These products will bind to toxins in the gut and escort them out through the body’s excretion system prior to absorption. There are no FDA-approved diagnostics for mycotoxins. The available diagnostics are limited to urine (non-FDA approved) or environmental dust testing for identification with no proven correlation between the results and disease.
While seldomly suggested by physicians, testing the environment for mold or other toxins provides more precision in addressing a patient’s diagnosis. This is relatively inexpensive and can save a patient significant time, money, and human costs if done early in the process. I recommend ImmunoLytics Mold Test Kits because a patient can test several rooms, specific dust, or mold areas with swabs, and receive analysis with a well-written analysis addressing the findings. It is the easiest to use with the clearest directions, videos to help, and free consultation. Each mold plate or swab analysis is only $33.
Addressing mold early in the diagnostic process can save patients from months of physician referrals, expensive diagnostics, medical trials, and months of waiting for wellness. A positive mold test can be initially addressed with some cost-effective immediate DIY environmental solutions (such as HavenFog or HavenMist Kits) and proper cleaning (HEPA Vacuum and Wet Wiping). These fogging tools will provide a simple test of the hypothesis, which is plainly observed by you feeling better after the treatment. This may save significant financial resources and time in the medical diagnosis process that does not look to the environment as a potential cause. This does not replace identifying any moisture source, fixing leaks, and mold remediation, possibly by a professional if DIY is not an option. It does get patients to a solution faster and fixes the cause.
In fact, this concept of testing and misting to determine whether you feel better was proposed by me to physicians as a tool to inexpensively test a hypothesis that mold is their issue. This “scientific experiment” would cost patients in the hundreds and take a few days. As a comparison, any physician is likely to provide months of care that would cost thousands or tens of thousands and take months before determining whether the patient will feel better. Prescription medications can bring their own symptoms to the table, complicating the diagnostic process. Of course, out-of-pocket payment is usually the main concern of patients. Regardless, the combination of mold testing and mist/fog solutions with a proper cleaning would still be significantly less expensive, assuming the insurance deductible options available.
Confirming a mold or toxin issue with circumstantial evidence from the environment may be the only valid clue one can find to identify a cause of severe environmental illness. While PCR testing has made mold species identification very precise, testing for toxins is limited in scope due to the small numbers of identifiable species (<30) compared to thousands of known species and a seemingly infinite number of associated toxins that have not been identified. In addition, toxins are chemicals and can break into chemical fragments. These can be very toxic yet unidentifiable. If environmental elements or toxins are not considered, a series of diagnoses, medical trials, expensive diagnostic scans, and medical treatments will lead to one of several diagnoses of exclusion.
Regardless, most medicine focused on external toxins occurs in Emergency Rooms where accidental and purposeful overdoses are a primary concern. There are counteragents used in narcotic drug overdoses. In the case of poisons, chemical binders are used regularly in the acute setting. They are desired to be utilized as quickly as possible. Use within minutes of digestion is preferable to hours.
Modern Medicine Limitations
When we go to a traditional physician, we are diagnosed based on our symptoms and treated primarily with prescription medicines. We also must consider that any prescribed medicines can also cause adverse effects or toxicities. Environmental illness sufferers are particularly vulnerable in that many symptoms due to toxins are identical to the symptoms of many chronic illnesses. Any portfolio symptoms can steer a hospitalist physician to refer a patient to a medical specialist. This physician will often diagnose and treat using pharmaceutical medications. If the patient remains sick, they may see a different physician who treats the issue with a different approach or medicine.
Also, most general practice physicians and providers must see numerous patients each hour. 20 patients per day is common. Their schedules are determined by time requirements and reimbursement goals of the practice. This means physicians spend very little time with any patient. Furthermore, it is extremely rare for a physician to ask about the patient’s home or environment. There simply isn’t enough time to instigate what could be a lengthy discussion. Below are the average times specialists spend with patients. 
|Specialty||Most frequent response||Percentage||2nd most frequent response||Percentage|
|Cardiologists||13-16 minutes||40%||17-24 minutes||28%|
|Endocrinologists||17-24 minutes||46%||13-16 minutes||23%|
|Gastroenterologists||17-24 minutes||46%||13-16 minutes||26%|
|Oncologists||17-24 minutes||38%||13-16 minutes||27%|
|Ophthalmologists||9-12 minutes||41%||13-16 minutes||24%|
|Otolaryngologists||13-16 minutes||30%||17-24 minutes||29%|
|Rheumatologists||17-24 minutes||45%||13-16 minutes||32%|
|Urologists||13-16 minutes||35%||9-12 minutes||34%|
|Family Physicians||13-16 minutes||35%||17-24 minutes||35%|
|Internists||17-24 minutes||40%||13-16 minutes||27%|
|Ob/Gyns||13-24 minutes||34%||9-12 minutes||27%|
|Pediatricians||13-16 minutes||37%||9-12 minutes||30%|
Cognitive symptoms can make any interaction nonproductive. This debilitating but uncertain symptom is often initially treated as depression or referred to a neurologist or psychiatrist. That exacerbates the challenge for the patient to get treated. The burden to investigate a patient’s individual exposure to toxins ultimately falls on us, the patients. The only way to address this is to search for information and seek physicians or other health care professionals that diagnose and treat environmental illness. This is the primary reason I write these articles!
It is also not standard practice for physicians to address nutritional deficiencies. Blood diagnostics are often used by integrative medicine physicians to identify nutritional deficiencies that prevent healing and supplement the body to optimize a patient’s ability to remove toxins via their own metabolism and excretion. This article does not support any concern about the overuse of inessential supplementation. Since integrative medicine physicians often sell their own supplements, the issue of profitability can be a concern for patients. This is especially true when they amount to thousands of dollars. That is an issue to be discussed separately.
Many Medical Doctors Do Not Treat Mold
It is a fact that western medicine does not recognize mold as the cause of chronic illness outside of allergies. I have heard countless stories from patients describing their discussions with physicians that simply denounce mold as the cause of disease. I have spoken to multiple physicians who share the belief. Physicians cannot be solely responsible for this oversight or implied ignorance. Traditional medical schools do not receive training to identify environmental components to disease. Empirical medicine focuses primarily on symptoms. The medical school curriculum spends little time on nutrition. Recollection of a few specific lectures that occurred early in training cannot meet expectations that physicians are experts on the topic.
Over the past 7 years, I have also observed that a subset of the medical doctors that treat environmental illness have either themselves or a family member who has suffered from environmental illness. These physicians have tremendous empathy for the mold sufferer. I personally find them to be the best physicians for diagnosing environmental illness.
A Very Common Chronic Illness: Chronic Sinusitis
Chronic fungal sinusitis is treated by general practitioners and ENT specialists. These specialists focus on sinus function using endoscopic cameras and instruments. In general, they do not address mold illness as a systemic disease. They will often identify and remove clearly visual large fungal balls surgically.
Few ENTs will treat the patient with antifungals to eliminate the remaining microscopic microbes to mitigate the risk of future growth requiring surgical intervention. Due to the resilient nature of fungi, anti-fungal medications have potentially dangerous toxicity profiles. Alternatively, many patients will eventually receive numerous surgeries during their lifetimes as the microscopic mold remains in an ideal reproductive environment and eventually regains its footing. Patients must often identify or convince such an ENT to treat all fungal components including systemic symptoms. More often, patients must seek medical help for environmental illness elsewhere. In seeking an ENT, be cautious of ENT practices that will only treat you “Out of Network” of your insurance. This will result in substantial billing with coinsurance responsibilities to the patients amounting to several tens of thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, the physician cannot waive these coinsurance fees per insurance regulations.
Food as Medicine
One “obvious” observation that has caught the attention of both the environmental health providers and traditional allopathic doctors is the diet. While integrative medicine physicians focus heavily on a healthy clean diet, traditional western trained physicians are recognizing the bad actors amongst food eaten. Eliminating these foods is essential for many autoimmune diseases and malnutrition.
Over the past several decades, the American diet has been disrupted by a few key ingredients that impact our health negatively. When I was young, dinner was composed of a protein, vegetable, and starch. Fast food was less available. Grocery shopping and cooking were the norm. Today, fast foods have become standard in our modern diet.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
High fructose corn syrup has replaced sugar in many processed foods and drinks. Fructose is metabolized in the liver and contributes to fatty liver and obesity.
Cereal grains are composed of simple carbohydrates that act like sugar causing insulin release that can impact blood sugar and lead to adult-onset diabetes.
Industrial Seed Oils
Industrial seed oils like canola, sunflower, etc. are commonly used to cook. These oils are composed of Omega 6 fatty acids. This impacts the body’s need for a balance of the healthy omega 3 fatty acids.
Soy as a source of protein or ingredient is harmful to us. It is estimated that Soy accounts for up to 20% of processed foods. This limits the body’s ability to break down and utilize minerals required for wellness.
The Importance of Gut Health
Since the 1970s, industrialization has introduced toxins in exceedingly high amounts to our diets. Your gut is home to approximately 80% of your immune system. It also houses the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome—the microbial community in the intestinal tract—is an influencer of metabolism and immunity and a mediator of resistance to some pathogenic infections. The digestive system helps regulate other essential systems within the human body.
The gut microbiome contains an estimated 500-1000 species and 100 trillion organisms, encoding 100-fold more unique genes than our own genome. The balance of these microorganisms is important as the biome is responsible for maintaining healthy levels of bacteria and mold without infection. When imbalanced, opportunistic microbes can be overgrown. An example of this is a yeast infection of the gut, tongue, vagina, or toenails. Today, many people understand that an unbalanced diet can impact many diseases of the gut, cause inflammation in general, and impact many elements of the immune system.
Ways to Ease Your Toxic Burden
- Eat Organic. Non-organic foods expose you to pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones, artificial flavors, and sweeteners.
- Avoid consuming fish that are high in mercury.
- Decrease your intake of sugars and other carbohydrates. These foods feed fungus and lead to fungal overgrowth in the body.
- Switch to green or all-natural cleaning products. Avoid bleach and ammonia.
- Hydrate well with filtered water. Water helps to dilute and flush out toxins.
- Improve the quality of your air by cleaning for mold regularly and investing in an air purifier.
- Try to use glass instead of plastic containers (especially plastics containing BPA).
- Choose natural, organic personal products.
- Use natural fibers, like wool or cotton when decorating your home. Also, limit use of carpet in favor or natural fiber rugs, hardwood floors or ceramic tiles.
- Service your HVAC regularly replacing filters every few months.
- Consider seeing a physician that treats environmental illness when suffering from a mysterious illness that your general practitioner has trouble diagnosing.
- Keep your house and home air free of toxins by vigilant cleaning, dusting, and vacuuming.
Next Time on the Toxic Mold Journey
The next article will focus on the most important contributor to health, wellness, and ability to heal. I will discuss Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and the importance of the air you breathe in your home; and just as important, how poor IAQ will stifle your ability to heal.
- Brodwin, Erin. “ Here’s how many minutes the average doctor actually spends with each patient.” Insider. April 6, 2016
- Mayo Clinic. “Mayo Clinic Study Implicates Fungus As Cause Of Chronic Sinusitis.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 September 1999.
- Gilbert JA, Blaser MJ, Caporaso JG, et al. “Current understanding of the human microbiome”.Nat Med. 2018;24(4):392-400.