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Can Complementary and Integrative Health Approaches Improve Health Across the Lifespan?

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June 16, 2016
Eve Reider, Ph.D.
Eve Reider, Ph.D.

Program Director, Division of Extramural Research
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

There’s growing interest in learning whether complementary and integrative health approaches, especially meditative approaches, can promote behaviors that help keep people healthy. Might these approaches help people avoid mental and emotional disorders? Could they reduce the risks of substance abuse and obesity? Our Center wants to find out.

One of the scientific priorities outlined in our new 2016 Strategic Plan: Exploring the Science of Complementary and Integrative Health is to increase understanding of how complementary and integrative health approaches may contribute to disease prevention and health promotion across the lifespan. This is a relatively new area of research. The current body of evidence is small, and there’s a need for rigorously designed, developmentally appropriate studies in different age groups, as well as in vulnerable populations such as children and families living in poverty, racial/ethnic minorities, and sexual minorities.

During the coming years, we hope to:

  • Develop and test theory-based interventions designed to have an impact on a broad array of outcomes, including cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and physical health
  • Investigate the underlying behavioral processes and biological and neurobiological mechanisms that may be modified by complementary and integrative interventions
  • Develop and refine sensors and other innovative technologies (such as smartphone apps and wearable activity monitors) that can be used to deliver and measure the outcomes of complementary and integrative health interventions
  • Develop and test approaches to improve the development and well-being of children that include the adults most influential in the children’s lives, such as parents and teachers
  • Develop and test prevention interventions for adolescents and young adults
  • Develop and test interventions focused on older adults, including the general population and those at increased risk for depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.

We hope that within the next 5 to 10 years, the research we support in this area will lead to an increased number of effective ways to promote health and prevent disease in different settings and groups of people.

Want to learn more about our priorities in this area? Please visit our strategic plan. Do you have any thoughts or ideas about this research area? Feel free to share your comments with us!

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Comments

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I would include the Alexander Technique as a study area as it is well-known that people who do Alexander Technique look much younger than they are and live long lives.  My teacher in England is in his 70s and looks like he’s in his 40s.  I don’t see this long-life effect on other modalities that I do, such as ortho-bionomy,  I believe this effect is due to its emphases on: a) allowing the body the room it needs to function optimally, promoting general good health, b) the general effect it has on your breathing and nervous system so that keeping mindful and calm throughout one’s daily activities becomes more and more natural, c) getting rid of energy-draining habits of mind and body. 

I passionately agree on all points and would add that this can be accomplished at the individual level. In fact, my passion is so great that I spent one year, and my life savings, trying to create a company around doing exactly this. Another area of focus could be on giving quick feedback to people who have little reason to choose healthier lifestyles. For example, if sensors advance to the point where you can show a person the spike in their energy/mood, and then the crash, when they eat unhealthy foods, or drink alcohol, that may be enough for them to make different choices. The concept is easy to grasp, but implementing it is exceedingly difficult on many levels, not least is privacy. I expect that the underlying system/software foundations for accomplishing this will exist in the next 3-5 years and hope to try again when it will be easier for a small team to build. It would be helpful to have this funded by a public health organization that is looking for inexpensive, non-pharmaceutical solutions. Would love to be involved or stay abreast of what you are doing. How can I do that?

@ChrisMurray, To stay abreast of news from NCCIH, you may want to follow us on social media or subscribe to one of the Center's email newsletters. You can learn more here:  https://nccih.nih.gov/news/subscribe.

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