How Children Can Benefit From Integrative Medicine

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pediatric integrative medicine

Integrative medicine is something many adults have incorporated into our lives – perhaps you’ve tried acupuncture, massage therapy or have received chiropractic care.

But you might be surprised to learn that children also can greatly benefit from integrative medicine. Pediatric integrative medicine is different from what a standard pediatrician might provide, says David W. Miller, MD, LAc, Medical Director for Pediatric Integrative Medicine at UH Connor Integrative Health Network.

“Pediatric integrative medicine is a philosophy of care as well as a way of incorporating modalities that are evidence-based to look at the child as a whole person,” says Dr. Miller, an integrative medicine physician who specializes in pediatrics. Before he specialized in this field, Dr. Miller was a hospitalist and general pediatrician.

“We look at children in the context of their family, in the context of their community, in the context of their emotional state, how their diet is, what their sleep is like, what their exercise is like," Dr. Miller says. “We try to put all that together into a picture that best describes their current health status and look for places where we can improve.”

Taking Time

In an ideal world, every child would have access to such an evaluation and perspective, says Dr. Miller, though he is the first to say the mainstream medical system does an amazing job with specialty care, health screenings, critical care and providing the foundations for preventive medicine.

But, he notes, the kind of work that pediatric integrative medicine entails is simply more time-consuming.

“It is a joy to do if you love to do it, which I do,” he says. “I will spend an hour to an hour and a half, often with a family, at an intake. Then there may be subsequent visits, depending on the complexity of the case. It’s easy to recommend a family try dietary modifications; it’s more challenging to help them actually achieve those new eating patterns and track their results to assure those changes make a meaningful difference in their health status. 

“It’s easy to suspect that family dynamics or trauma, stress, or other issues are strongly influencing the medical presentation, and it’s far more complex to delve into that and determine how to navigate it within their care plan. Seeing how all parts of a patient’s life interconnect and influence their health status is core to the integrative approach. Integrating tools not commonly available, such as acupuncture or mindfulness or body work, to improve on that symphony of interactions is also part of the challenge.

“We work through many different aspects of health and wellness in a way that I, for one, did not have time to do when I was working as a general pediatrician.”

Seeing Connections

He provides examples of children with certain health challenges whom he has treated.

“One 9-year-old boy had a diagnosis of ADHD and there were some concerns about behavioral issues, and perhaps developmental issues,” he says. “So I met with the family and talked with the child, getting to know them, and there were areas for intervention that presented themselves.”

In that case, the child’s diet was one. “He had problems with certain types of foods, such as with refined sugars and foods with chemicals in the ingredient list,” he says. “And after the child consumed those foods, his mood and behavior went off balance.” It wasn’t the complete cause of his difficulties, but it was big piece of the puzzle.

Dr. Miller helped the family to see that connection; over time, the goal as well is to build insight in the child himself so that he can learn how his body responds to those foods and make informed choices about eating throughout his lifespan.

Dr. Miller also trained for four years in Chinese medicine, including Chinese herbal medicine.

“In the case of this 9-year-old boy, we also incorporated some herbal formulas that had a wonderful effect, it really was dramatic, actually,” he says.

The parents played a role too, as they do when integrative medicine for children is practiced.

“We provided tools about how to manage mealtimes, how to encourage different types of exercise for the child,” he says. “Things like martial arts can sometimes be an amazing training tool for children, both for the exercise component, but also the self- discipline, the coordination, the mind/body connection.”

A Complementary Approach

Other conditions for which Dr. Miller often sees patients include gastrointestinal conditions, such as constipation or diarrhea. “Tummy pains are a category of condition that we see great results with,” he says. “Asthma can be another one, as are chronic ear infections, chronic pain conditions, and emotional and behavioral imbalances. A lot of those are rooted in problems with nutrition and sleep.”

Trauma can also be helped – often with dramatic results – by using a mind/body approach, since in impinges on children (and adults) both physically and mentally.

“Appreciating that interconnection and working from top down and bottom up in order to regulate after a traumatic event can be exponentially more effective, I believe, than going in one direction only.”

Dr. Miller says that pediatric integrated medicine does not replace the care provided by your primary medical doctor, especially at University Hospitals, but that it is complementary. A child should still be connected to a pediatrician for primary care – such as for annual physicals.

Also, it is worth noting, that parents who are looking for pediatric integrative care should consider the provider’s credentials. Some may call themselves integrative providers, and yet may come from any type of medical or even a non-medical background. Check the provider’s credentials to see how he or she is certified in integrative medicine, and also if and how they are connected to a health care system, where traditional care – including surgery or emergency care – can be provided when necessary.

Related Links

At UH Connor Integrative Health Network, dedicated health care professionals are experts with the highest credentials, whether in conventional medicine, integrative health, medical massage or traditional Chinese medicine. They will work closely with your primary care or specialty physicians to ensure that the care you receive is coordinated and safe. Learn more about UH Connor Integrative Health Network.

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