Is Integrative Medicine Right for Your Kids? 5 Myths Debunked

Dr. Christina DiNicola

Dr. Christina DiNicola

Parents spend a huge amount of time thinking about and making decisions about their children’s health and wellness on issues that range from the simple sniffles to complex decisions about selecting surgeons.

Obviously, these issues can be confusing in today’s healthcare world – there are lots of options. Many parents, for example, want to provide their children with non-Western treatments – so-called complementary medicine – but determining which of these are safe and effective is often challenging.

Christina DiNicola, MD, FAAP, a board-certified pediatrician at Jefferson who specializes in integrative medicine – which combines traditional Western medicine with the best complementary therapies and lifestyle modification –  works closely with parents and each patient’s existing primary care pediatrician to create an integrative health plan for both children and teens.

Dr. DiNicola says integrative pediatrics can help parents achieve their goals of raising healthy and happy children, but recognizes that sometimes it is challenging to distinguish between the fact and fiction that swirls around these issues. One thing to keep in mind is that her practice does not replace a child’s primary pediatrician, but rather works in conjunction with that physician.

Moreover, it is important to debunk some myths about integrative medicine, particularly integrative pediatrics.

Myth #1: All of the integrative therapies on the market are unproven.

It is true that many integrative therapies sold on the market are unproven and if used inappropriately may cause harm. But at Jefferson, Dr. DiNicola guides her patients through the maze of available treatments sold over the counter and gives them sound, reliable, evidence-based advice on how to select quality and proven therapies, if and when appropriate, alongside their necessary conventional care.

She is also clear with patients and their parents that while she has extensive training and experience in primary care pediatrics, her services are different from and not a replacement for good primary care pediatric services.

Myth #2: If my pediatrician doesn’t mention or recommend integrative medicine, then I shouldn’t consider it.

Parents are sometimes already familiar with integrative therapies such as yoga and acupuncture for their children but may not mention these therapies to their child’s primary pediatrician for fear of criticism and judgment. In addition, their primary pediatrician may not yet be aware of the ongoing research that supports the use of some of these therapies alongside state-of-the-art conventional therapy.

During Dr. DiNicola’s 90-minute consults, she asks for an in-depth medical history and offers a personalized integrative prescription that includes not only conventional treatments but also other promising evidence-based modalities such as nutrition counseling, mindfulness-based stress reduction, breath work, acupuncture, botanicals, herbals, supplements, massage, biofeedback, medical hypnosis, guided imagery, yoga, exercise, meditation, journaling and/or many others when appropriate.

Myth #3: Integrative medicine is not considered safe.

Integrative medicine is both safe and comprehensive. However, Dr. DiNicola has several caveats for parents:

  • The biggest risk of integrative medicine is when parents exclusively want to use complementary options when life-saving conventional medical treatment is indicated. For example, an acute appendicitis needs emergency surgery; bacterial meningitis requires urgent life-saving antibiotics. Integrative therapies alone used in these situations could likely cause serious harm or even death.
  • Another concern is when parents seek to avoid conventional care practitioners completely. When parents consult Dr. DiNicola, they have the benefit of discussing their children’s health with a well-trained conventional pediatrician who has experience in both using conventional medicine and complementary medicine modalities as integrative medicine. She says it’s important for families to ask questions and seek both a primary care physician and integrative medicine physician.
  • Sometimes in integrative medicine you will find practitioners who offer services to children but who have no pediatric background and do not practice in consultation with a pediatrician. Parents should be certain their integrative care providers are experienced, properly trained and accredited to provide health care to children.

Myth #4: Integrative methods should be used in lieu of traditional methods.

This is simply not true. Rather than having to choose between conventional versus complementary  methods, integrative pediatrics blends the best therapies from both perspectives effectively, offering the patient a more comprehensive and balanced approach toward maintaining health.

With integrative pediatrics, Dr. DiNicola looks at all aspects of a child or teen, including social and family dynamics, academics, personal strengths, spiritual and emotional factors as well as physical health – to get to the root of a problem by investigating what caused the health concern in the first place.
Integrative pediatrics also assists patients in choosing healthy lifestyle and dietary approaches to fine-tune physical health and offers real strategies and support for fostering a lifelong wellness of the mind, body and spirit.

Myth #5: Integrative medicine only benefits certain diseases and conditions.

Believe it or not, almost any child-related disease or condition can benefit from integrative medicine. A list of what Dr. DiNicola treats through Jefferson’s Integrative Pediatrics Program includes but is not limited to:

  • General/preventive health
  • Obesity /nutrition
  • Allergies (environmental, animal, food)
  • Asthma
  • Dermatologic conditions (eczema, hives)
  • Sleep dysfunction
  • Recurrent sinusitis
  • Gastrointestinal distress (inflammatory bowel disease – Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, GERD, dyspepsia, irritable bowel syndrome)
  • Pre- and post-surgery stress management


About Dr. Christina DiNicola

Dr. DiNicola completed her medical training at the UMDNJ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.  After earning her MD, she completed her full residency training in pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She worked for many years in primary care pediatrics and then completed an additional two-year integrative medicine fellowship under the direction of Dr. Andrew Weil, at the University of Arizona.

Since she has dual training in both conventional and integrative arenas, she can offer parents a very comprehensive healing plan for their children that may be more extensive than what they have been offered before.

Dr. DiNicola is the director of Jefferson’s Integrative Pediatrics Program within the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine.

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If you want to learn more about integrative medicine or integrative pediatrics, please join our online forum Ask the Experts About Integrative Medicine. And you can follow the forum on Twitter using the hashtag #JeffCIM.

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