Integrative Medicine; Healing Your Body, Mind, and Spirit

Shelves filled with local herbs from the Southern Arizona desert. Photo by Ashley Guttuso

You won’t find white lab coats, prescription pads, or even a pharmacy sign here.  Just shelves holding old mason jars filled with Siberian Ginseng, Sarsaparilla, Sassafras, Wild Cherry Bark, among an abundance of other herbs.

Tucson Herb Store owner Amanda Brown mixes up oils, herbs, and other native Southern Arizona plants for customers seeking an alternative to traditional, over-the-counter, and prescription medications.

“Some people are skeptical at first,” said Brown after she retold a story about a New Jersey couple that recently visited her shop.  Unaccustomed to natural healing methods from Southern Arizona’s local desert plants and flowers, the couple chose a few items to implement into their health care routine, a routine Brown said is a natural approach to health that treats what western medicine sometimes cannot.

“It’s a totally different lifestyle for some people who haven’t used herbal medicine before,” Brown said about the ancient tradition of herbalism, the study and use of medicinal properties of plants.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 percent of Americans use at least one prescription while 31 percent use two or more prescribed medications monthly.  These numbers have continued to rise steadily throughout the past ten years, according to the CDC.

With prescription drug use steadily rising along with costly health care, it’s no wonder more people are turning to alternative medical practices.


  Brown’s diversified customer base is noticeable within just minutes of being in her store.

A young, male college student asked Brown for an artichoke extract to improve his liver function, a concern plaguing many college students.  “I’ve heard it’s a lot healthier than other pharmacy stuff,” he said.

Right after, a woman entered looking for a glass jar filled with loose leaves; a stress relieving herbal tea.  Next an a older man, an obvious regular, grabbed a few specific jars filled with dark green dried leaves on the shelves and headed toward the front counter.

Brown explained that many people come in unsure of exactly what they’re looking for but all share a common desire; a natural approach to medicine.

As consumer awareness concerning organic, fresh, and natural ingredients is becoming more apparent, the use of natural products has become more mainstream.

“We use all local plants that are native to Southern Arizona, we try and focus on what is it here that we can use,” said Brown.

Herbalism has been recorded as far back as 3,000 B.C. on Egyptian and Chinese papyrus, detailing healing rituals to treat ailments using herbs.

Known for treating ailments of all kinds like fatigue and depression by elevating mood to other problems like skin conditions, using herbs is just one part of the all body encompassing alternative approach used in eastern medicine.

“For some people, it’s hard for them to wrap their brain around it.  For others, home remedies have always been used in their families,” said Brown.

Brown added that her natural herbs and remedies are especially popular with Mexican clientele in Tucson.  Mexican culture has traditionally involved natural healing remedies and the use of plants, making Brown’s line of work especially popular in the southern Arizona region.

For many people accustomed to traditional medical practices, holistic health is an opportunity to treat illness and other bodily functions through an all-natural process.

“I treat symptoms that people can’t resolve with their traditional doctor,” said Sarah Cotten, a Holistic Health Coach in Tucson, Ariz.

Cotten explained that the majority of the clients she sees come to her with fatigue, digestive troubles, and weight gain issues attributed to depression and hormonal changes.  These problems, she explained, are the most common symptoms she sees that tend to be unsuccessfully treated by traditional doctors.

“Often times, I address lifestyle rather than just medical issues,” said Cotten.

Cotten begins her overall health assessment for each client with a lab assessment to test the adrenal gland function, which helps her to determine a client’s overall stress levels and their response to stress.

“Once we know what the adrenal glands are doing, we can move forward,” she said.

Practicing therapeutic yoga and fitness with clients helps Cotten to correct muscle and joint imbalances on a muscular and skeletal level that helps reduce stress levels.

Stress is among the most common of issues Cotten sees from her clients, and her health care program seeks to treat them by focusing on other areas traditional doctors tend to overlook.

Incorporating a natural herbal supplement program into the treatment regimen enables clients to take an all-natural route when they are trying to cut down on prescription medications, she said.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that more than 40 million adults are affected by stress and anxiety disorders in the United States with the most common treatment being prescription medications.

Holistic health care practices focus on creating a healthy mind, body, and spirit; the essential components that set holistic and integrative medicine apart from traditional western medical practices.  The process of blending holistic health care practices with more conventional medical techniques introduces the possibility of integrative medicine.

The Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, established in 1994 by Dr. Weil, concentrates on research, treatments, and education.  Using integrative medicine allows practitioners to combine multiple techniques, including some traditional methods blended with alternative methods.

The center features the Fellowship of Integrative Medicine that has been recognized internationally as the leading integrative medical education program.

“Integrative Medicine is blending care.  It’s conventional and highly evidence-based complimentary approaches,” said Dr. Hilary McClafferty, Director of the Fellowship program at the Center of Integrative Medicine.

McClafferty explained that physicians are trained to approach both medicine and patients with different behavior.

“When patients get a terrible diagnosis, they feel like they’re in a free-fall.  We help them move into the mindset that they do have control,” said McClafferty.

The center is also heading scientific research concentrating on the mind-body connection.  Dr. Esther Sternberg recently joined the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine to head the research.

“This type of scientific research is taking off right now.  The specialty science of the mind-body connection is a huge element of Integrative Medicine,” said McClafferty.

Faculty at the center concentrates on addressing all aspects of physical and mental health like body, mind, and spirit.  A person’s mental and spritual health is highly attributed to an individual’s overall health, which can affect certain aspects of health like stress that is commonly attributed to illness.

The fellowship program was created at the University of Arizona for physicians and nurses, requiring 1,000 hours of training and a two-year distance learning program. Created by Andrew Weil, MD in 2000, the Fellowship in Integrative Medicine has achieved international recognition as the leading integrative medical education program in the world.

Integrative medicine has an appeal that draws people away from traditional medicine with their primary doctors.  “A lot of people are looking for gentler, effective methods to approach illness not involved in their current care.  Some traditional treatments are toxic and end up being more harmful than the illness,” said McClafferty.

Offering a wide variety of alternative care, Arizona is an ideal location for the individual seeking healing and treatment through spiritual and physical health in the peace of the desert.

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