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East Meets West, Through Research

There’s increasing scientific evidence to suggest that alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, chiropractic care and mindfulness, provide more than a placebo response.   

Through cutting-edge translational research, scientists are providing data that expands our scientific understanding of human health, replacing what has been for centuries mostly anecdotal evidence. 

Subjecting alternative treatments to such rigorous scientific inquiry has allowed integrative medicine to better assimilate into the traditional healthcare system.     

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An integrative view of health emphasizes interconnections between the mind and body and across physiological systems.

Research leads the way

Further integration of conventional and alternatives approaches to medicine relies on solid research, according to Helene Langevin, MD, Director of The Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“First, we need to know whether integrative treatments are effective or not, and then we need to determine the cellular and chemical mechanisms by which they function,” says Dr. Langevin.

Along with colleagues at The Osher Center, Dr. Langevin conducts research that seeks to determine the molecular mechanisms by which alternative and conventional therapies promote disease and restore health.  

Translating ancient techniques into modern scientific questions 

As principal investigator of the Connective Tissue Laboratory, Dr. Langevin studies the connective tissue, a network of fibrous tissue that connects the body’s systems. 

“Many of the manual techniques used in integrative medicine, such as the use of hands in chiropractic care, manipulate the connective tissue and the fascia surrounding the muscle,” says Dr. Langevin.

Her lab studies the role of connective tissue in musculoskeletal pain as well as the mechanisms by which treatments, even stretching, may produce their beneficial effects.

“We’ve found that acupuncture needles may mechanically stimulate the connective tissue, causing beneficial changes at the cellular and biochemical level,” she says.

If it works, it works

It’s widely considered that alternative treatments promote the body’s own natural healing mechanisms, but understanding the complex pathways by which they do so is a matter of intense, ongoing research.

Donald Levy, MD, Medical Director of The Osher Clinical Center, may not know precisely how a nontraditional treatment works, but that doesn’t stop him from offering it to a patient in need.

“Many things just don’t light up on our fancy machines,” says Dr. Levy. “That is why I tell some of my patients: ‘I’ve seen a lot of folks with your problem get better with acupuncture; I don’t know exactly how it works, but let’s try it.’” 

* Learn more about research taking place at The Osher Center

- By Dustin G. 

In this video, Helene Langevin, MD, Director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, talks about integrative therapies and how her team is using research to better understand their effectiveness.