Dr. James featured in recent Rochester Business Journal article

Lesley James M.D. says roughly two-thirds of the patients at her Pittsford integrative medicine practice are female but notes that women generally seek medical care more often than men do.

Some local doctors practicing integrative medicine say female patients tend to embrace its principles more often than men do.

Blending conventional Western medicine and complementary therapies resonates with women for various reasons, including their interest in how mind, body, spirit and community influence health, wellness and disease.

“Also, I think that probably women talk to each other a lot more than men do,” says Jaimala Thanik M.D., medical director of Highland Hospital’s Highland Pain Management Center, where non-narcotic options are often woven into treatment plans. “They hear a lot, they read a lot of magazines, and I think they are much more informed than men are in many ways (about) these kinds of things.”

Other integrative medicine practitioners see closer parity in acceptance of the health care approach between the genders, with female patients being slightly more receptive. Women show more interest in health care and prevention in general than men do, even if the treatments are traditional.

“I think that more and more men are actually getting interested in taking care of themselves, and they’re versed in looking on the Internet, just like women, and finding out what works,” says Mary Claire Wise M.D., a Henrietta doctor who practiced conventional medicine for a decade before shifting to integrative health care in 1996.

At its core, integrative medicine aims to take account of the whole patient, including all aspects of lifestyle. The model makes patient and doctor partners in the healing process and calls on conventional and alternative medicine as appropriate.

The Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, which evolved from a program to a center in 2008 and has trained more than 400 fellows, further defines the health care approach as advocating effective interventions that are natural and less invasive whenever possible.

While not widespread in Rochester, integrative medicine is slowly becoming more organized here.

In 1997, the Monroe County Medical Society launched an integrative health care committee that currently has 25 members, including 14 physicians, medical society spokeswoman Jan Morrill says. MCMS and Rochester General Health System also co-sponsor an annual integrative health care conference, where recent seminars have ranged from ayurvedic treatments for chronic disease to anti-inflammatory nutrition.

Given limited public awareness of the approach, integrative medicine practitioners stress that they do not reject allopathic medicine, meaning the model that relies on surgery or prescription drugs.

“You know, there are conditions where if you do not take your prescriptions, you’re going to have problems,” says Wise, who has studied with Andrew Weil M.D., founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and the movement’s most widely known champion.

Wise notes that exercising regularly and losing weight can help control ailments such as high blood pressure, but some of her patients have no interest in counting calories. Instead, they prefer to continue taking traditional medication for the condition.

“And so that’s better than not doing anything,” says Wise, who is board-certified in holistic medicine and family medicine.

”And I don’t like throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” she adds. “I mean, there’s good in both (approaches).

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Joanne Wu M.D., a physician at Unity Health System’s Spine Center, says her female patients show more interest in integrative medicine than her male patients do. Specializing in integrative spine treatment and general musculoskeletal rehabilitation, Wu calls on the approach often for pain management “because of the limitations of what we can do, unfortunately, with current medical science,” she says.

Traditional options for pain management range from oral and topical medications to injections and surgery. While they are necessary in some cases, “there is never a true guarantee that one area … is the only thing that is causing pain,” Wu says.

Adds the physician: “So a lot of people go into surgery with a lot of very unrealistic expectations, thinking that is going to be, hopefully, a miracle cure.

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Still, prescriptions and injections can buy time until the body heals, and they allow patients to remain functional, says Wu, who is of Asian descent and was exposed to herbal medicine at an early age.

Wu practices what she preaches: She worked in the fitness industry for years and now teaches yoga classes for Unity employees and private clients, including those who have osteoporosis and pulmonary problems.

“I refer a lot of people for massage therapy, for acupuncture,” adds Wu, who is board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation, as well as integrative and holistic medicine.

Highland’s Thanik believes integrative medicine lends itself to pain management because chronic pain invariably affects many areas of a patient’s life.

“So you really do have to address it as a problem for the person as a whole being, rather than just a headache or neck pain or back pain,” says Thanik, an anesthesiologist who has specialized exclusively in pain management for more than 20 years.

Integrative options for patients at Highland Pain Management Center include working with a psychologist on behavioral therapy. Thanik also routinely recommends yoga, Pilates, acupuncture and tai chi, the last of which is particularly helpful for elderly patients with balance problems.

“You really work on having (patients) take responsibility for their wellness and well-being, so then they become active participants in their care,” Thanik says.

Lesley James M.D. says roughly two-thirds of the patients at her Pittsford integrative medicine practice are female but notes that women generally seek medical care more often than men do.

Still, she has found that her female patients show greater interest in nutrition, a cornerstone of integrative medicine. Traditional medicine relegates nutrition “to home economics, almost, when we have great scientific data” proving its efficacy, she says.

James, who practiced conventional family medicine for a decade before shifting to integrative medicine almost a year ago, says many of her patients are dealing with cancer and need nutrition advice. For patients with arthritis, she may recommend glucosamine or an herb known as devil’s claw, depending on what prescription drugs they are taking.

“My definition of integrative practitioner is really (one who takes) alternative therapies, alongside of traditional medicine, that have evidence, that are gentle and that work, and (it is) also looking at the patient as a whole person,” says James, who is board-certified in family medicine and has studied with Weil of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.

Integrative medicine practitioners’ tendency to spend more face time with patients resonates with women more than with men, Wise says.

“Women are much more interested in having the time to be heard and understood and having the questions they need to ask and really get a handle on what they need to do,” she says.

Wu, who studied at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and did her residency at the University of Rochester Medical Center, says she has encountered physicians, nurses and social workers here who believe strongly in integrative medicine. She now teaches an introductory class on complementary and alternative medicine at URMC.

Wu maintains that more patients, both male and female, would consider integrative medicine if one factor-time-were not so scarce in the conventional health care model.

”Unfortunately, time is a huge restraint in (traditional) health care practices,” she says.

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