Call on Researchers to Study Integrative Health

Those of us who have experienced, first hand, the healing benefits of integrative health practices have a tendancy to want everyone else to get the same benefits that we did.  The problem is that our firm belief that such practices will be beneficial might, if we are not careful, interfere with the scientific method of study that might prove it.  Asklepios calls on all those who are in this field and/or able and willing to work on research to be unbiased and diligent in using the scientific method. Focus on those studies which will increase our understanding of exactly how integrative health practices work to improve health.  

When we read a research study that simply says that people did "Taijiquan" or "Qigong" without any explanation of what the subjects in the study actually DID and THOUGHT, we just shake our heads.  In order to be scientifically beneficial, a movement by movement, thought by thought, and breath by breath description of exactly what the subjects did is required. There are thousands of qigong and taijiquan forms and methods.   In order to "demystify" integrative health practices, it would help for everyone to focus on the actual, measurable, and describable behaviors and thoughts.   

One potential framework with which to start is the movement, breath, intention structure.  Whether we are talking about yoga, taijiquan, qigong, or meditation, there are certain movements, certain breathing, certain intention (i.e. thoughts or images) that fully describe the practices.   Research studies can utilize this framework to standardize terminology and improve the value of the findings.

Focusing on movement, breath, and intention can also solve the difficulty of conducting double-blind studies utilizing behavioral therapies. In a double-blind protocol, neither the person measuring the outcome, nor the person receiving the treatment, knows which treatment they are receiving.  It has been said that it is impossible to study Taijiquan and other integrative health practices, for example, because the subject can easily tell if they are in the treatment group.  However, we can eliminate the problem by eliminating the esoteric terminology of the practices and utilizing controls that don't utilize the movement/breath/intention being studied. We can establish that Treatment 1 is (for example) following the highly-documented set of movements in a certain sequence accompanied by certain thought patterns, and Treatment 2 is following a different set of highly-documented set of movements in a certain sequence accompanied by certain thought patterns. Under the covers, Treatment 1 might actually be the Evidence-Based Taijiquan form developed by Dr. Yang Yang, and Treatment 2 might be a set of Hatha Yoga postures.  As long as the terminology is only Treatment number, and movement, breath, and intention, (i.e. the subjects are not told if they are following treatment 1 or treatment 2, and they are definitely not told which each treatment is based upon), the subjects would be blind to which group they are in.  Of course, we would also require another group, Treatment 3, which might do nothing at all or just sit in a room as a control. 

Consequently, when the outcomes are measured (for example, blood pressure or immune response or pain levels) then the person who is asking the questions or measuring the outcome would not know which treatment which person was in.  Viola - a double blind, reproducable verifiable research study that would do much to actually further the agenda of improved health for everyone.

Furthermore, when we start actually using the framework of movement, breathe, and intention, we start quantifying items in such a way that they could, eventually be prescribed.  "Go do Taijiquan" or "Go do Yoga" is not a prescription.  "Perform the EBT form three times a day for 10 minutes, seven days a week" is a prescription.   If the goal is to improve people's health, being able to quantify exactly how much they need to do how often is critical - and it is something sadly lacking in our current state of research. 

The only problem with this research scenario is the cost; such double blind studies cost money to set up and implement.  Drug studies generally pay for themselves (if the drug ever gets to market) because of the millions of dollars the pharmeceutical companies eventually gain when selling the drug.  Unlike a drug, which needs to be purchased to be taken regularly, an integrative health practice can be learned once and practiced independently like physical therapy.  The dollars for such practices are limited.  And since the current business model for Taijiquan and Qigong are based upon values such as lineage and spirituality (both of which are useless in prescriptive mode) rather than health benefits, we see many obstacles to seeing this research become a reality.  

However - if we could get the resources of all integrative health practices joined together, and compare the treatment costs of the most common chronic health disfunctions using traditional drugs/surgery/rehab to the cost of treating the same chronic health disfunctions using integrative health practices, we could establish a business model that would decrease the health costs for insurance companies and government agencies.  That could be the source of funding for further refinements and research. 

But first we must prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, of the efficacy, efficiency, and effectiveness of integrative health practices,

Asklepios will continue pressing this agenda. We call on you (yes, you) to do what you can to encourage, support, and perhaps even demand high quality research on integrative health practices.  Let us know what you have done, and are planning to do, to further this agenda, and we'll post a page about it on our website.  Perhaps, together, we can make some headway.

In any case, thanks for listening.