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Originally published December 11 2006

Integrative Medicine Comes of Age: An Interview with Dr. Kenneth Pelletier

by Jared Rosen and David Rippe

(NaturalNews) Kenneth R. Pelletier, PhD, MD is a Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMMC) and the University of Arizona School of Medicine. At UMMC, he is Director of the Corporate Health Improvement Program (CHIP). Also, he is Chairman of the American Health Association and is a Vice President with Healthtrac, Incorporated. He was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, studied at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland and has published over 300 professional journal articles in behavioral medicine, disease management, worksite interventions, and alternative/integrative medicine. At the present time, Kenneth is a medical and business consultant to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Washington Business Group on Health, and numerous major corporations.

Kenneth recalls that his flip into wellness education began in the 1980s when he realized that he was more interested in helping people maintain their health than fight disease. "I began to ask myself, 'Where is there any part of our society, or any part of our scientific world that cares more about health than disease?' A light bulb came on and I saw that it was the private corporate sector. Corporations were paying huge medical bills, so they should be interested in health. So in 1984 we started CHIP, engaging fifteen companies to work together in developing programs at work sites to improve health performance, productivity, and cost-effectiveness. Today, at the Arizona School of Medicine we're running the nation's only training program in integrative medicine. It's a two-year post-doctoral program for physicians who are between five and ten years into their practices out in the world. They do rotations in clinical practices in herbal medicine, acupuncture, and mind-body medicine. The objective is to train them to feel comfortable with developing and overseeing a clinical staff to deliver these services to the general population.

"I can't think of any major city where these kinds of services are not offered now. In some states or geographic areas it may be more difficult to find, but it's not absent. There are small and single practices everywhere, as well as major institutions like the Cleveland Clinic or the Mayo Clinic. The demand has been almost entirely consumer driven."

But Kenneth thinks there's still a long way to go. "Right now, the United States is one of the most unhealthy nations on the planet. We also happen to be spending the most money per person per year for health care. On all of the World Health Organization benchmarks of a nation's health -- health outcome, infant mortality, average life expectancy, cancer incidents, heart disease incidents -- the US is among the lowest of the twenty nations against which we measure all of our other quality of life issues. And we have been declining in that rank steadily since 1960. So, we are spending the most and getting the least amount of health care. In the midst of this crisis you see that consumers are seeking out integrative medicine because they're not getting the kind of health care that they know intuitively they need. The number of individuals accessing integrative medicine is climbing exponentially, whereas the number of visits to primary care physicians is either flat or declining."

Kenneth notes several other forces driving the trend toward wellness education. "Corporate America, being invested in the health of their workers, their dependents, their retirees, is the second driving force. A third is a growing budget and the excellent research outcomes at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. And they're looking at molecular/biological mechanisms responsible for alternative outcome.

"Another force is that pharmaceutical companies are beginning to invest in teaching mind-body techniques to help people use medications more effectively with fewer side effects. For instance, acupuncture can be used to decrease pain levels so that people taking anti-inflammatory drugs can use smaller doses at a higher effectiveness rate and stay on them longer, if necessary.

"And ultimately it is the government of the United States looking around the world and beginning to ask the questions, 'How are all these other countries delivering greater health outcomes at a much reduced cost to large populations?' So there's a lot to be learned just from looking at worldwide health care delivery systems."

We asked Kenneth about the role of scientific research into alternative health approaches including prayer, energy healing, and therapeutic touch. "There's already some excellent research into these fields," he reveals, "as well as more funding. The Templeton Foundation is focused entirely on the effects of faith and spirituality on health care, for instance. And I recently took note of a Journal of the American Medical Association study showing that when people restructure their beliefs relative to pain, it induces a restructuring of the central nervous system so that other pathways are developed around the neuronal pathways that fire for pain. Now that's an extraordinary finding, because it demonstrates that consciousness is a fundamental property of biology. It is a precursor, inextricable interaction with our biology."

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