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Medicine: the integrated complementary approach

Julien Henzelin tells us what’s changed in alternative medicine and explains why it’s time we saw it as truly complementary, working hand in hand with conventional medicine for the benefit of everyone.

Alternative and complementary medicine has evolved significantly in recent decades, and it can no longer be dismissed as an outsider. The numbers speak for themselves: around the world, 100,000 practicing naturopaths see 5.5 million patients a month. In Switzerland alone, more than 30% of the population uses alternative and complementary medicine on a regular basis and more than 50% does so at least occasionally. This popularity can partly be explained by the explosion in chronic diseases – such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or obesity – over the last three decades. Many of them correlate with modern lifestyles and factors like stress, nutrition and pollution, and as such they require a more holistic treatment. At the same time, patients have changed: many people crave a return to something simple and more connected to nature, and naturopathy offers just that.

Naturopathy is a global medical system that is closely linked to nature. It takes a holistic view of a person’s health – physical, psycho-emotional, mental, spiritual, social and environmental – in order to better understand the cause of disease. In practice, this means that naturopaths spend time listening to patients to see their illnesses in a broader context. In contrast, pressures on our health systems often don’t allow this in conventional care. Alternative medicine’s holistic approach also has benefits for the healthcare system. As patients make healthier lifestyle choices and learn to manage their stress or nutrition better, they are less likely to rely on conventional medicine for more complex care later in life.

The complementary nature of the two disciplines is becoming increasingly accepted in Switzerland. Part of this shift has been the creation of a federal diploma in naturopathy in 2015 to guarantee a unified, high quality of treatment. The framework ensures that naturopaths have 716 hours of training in conventional medicine, and it has seen more and more medical schools include an introduction to complementary medicine in their programmes. In doing so, it has not only made Switzerland a leading example on regulation, but it has also helped move naturopathy away from being a wellness profession and towards a health profession.

Conventional medicine and alternative medicine could work really well together – and, most importantly, patients would have better outcomes.

This progress has undoubtedly strengthened the profession, but sceptics remain. Conventional and alternative medicine shouldn’t be seen as antagonistic, though. The reality is quite the opposite, especially in terms of research and innovation. Take the microbiome for example. Naturopathy has long been advocating the importance of the gut and nutrition in our general health, including our mental health. But research has only recently proven the huge impact of the microbiome on our health. Now a hot topic in conventional medicine, it is seen as our ‘second brain’. The risk for us is that every time a research paper is published on a concept linked to naturopathy, the findings are absorbed into conventional medicine and doctors forget about the value gained from alternative medicine. The problem here is that patients lose out on the expertise of the two professions.

Because naturopathy is based on tradition and ancestral knowledge, some people don’t think it can innovate. That’s simply not true, and the centre André Henzelin (cAH) is a case in point: part of our mission is dedicated to advancing research in the field. When we first arrived at Biopôle, one of our neighbours was working on a vaccine solution. This caused a bit of a stir with some of our students, who tend to be on the more sceptical end of the scale when it comes to vaccines. But that’s exactly why we wanted to be based at Biopôle: for the opportunity to connect with and learn from others – in other words, to be able to innovate together. And that is exactly what is happening. We’re currently in discussions with a company onsite that studies epigenetics, a field closely related to lifestyle, to see how we can include its advances and innovation in our patients’ care. The kind of cross-pollination that comes from interactions between different people with different ideas is what innovation is all about.

Conventional and alternative medicine should be seen as complementary approaches, not just for research and innovation but also for treatment. My vision for the field – apart from advances in research – is for alternative medicine to be fully integrated into the healthcare system, so you’ll have naturopaths working alongside doctors as part of the same team. That way, we can help more people benefit from naturopathy. We’re not going to achieve that if we see ourselves as two independent disciplines.

At the end of the day, the patient should be at the centre of both healthcare and research. By putting the patient first, conventional medicine and alternative medicine could work really well together – and, most importantly, patients would have better outcomes.

Julien Henzelin
Strategic Director of the centre André Henzelin
Julien Henzelin is the founder and strategic director of the centre André Henzelin (cAH). The cAH was born at the beginning of 2020 during the expansion of the Ecole Professionnelle Supérieure de Naturopathie (EPSN), a school created in Lausanne in 1992 by André Henzelin (Julien’s grandfather) according to the principles of contemporary naturopathy and to preserve the original philosophy of traditional European medicine.

Julien currently works as a hydrotherapy teacher at EPSN. In parallel, he has set up a coworking space called La Serre, which provides various services around lifestyle behaviour. He has also been the catalyser – alongside Anne Gimalac – behind the creation of Navi, the first naturopathic and health integrative research centre, based at Biopôle.

Julien was a board member of the Swiss Marketing Club Vaud and the Swiss Community Manager Association, which organize events and inspire professionals from these fields in Switzerland. He has also been a lecturer at the University of Lausanne for the third-year Medicine course, offering future doctors an insight into naturopathy through a project with Dr Pierre-Yves Rodondi and Dr Bertrand Graz.

Centre André Henzelin (cAH)
The centre André Henzelin (cAH), located in the Alanine building, is committed to a more preventive, integrative, personalised and transdisciplinary approach to health. It brings together three interconnected fields of activity to form an innovative concept of Health Promotion.

Firstly, it trains health professionals in naturopathy through its schools (EPSN, EPSH) and its academy (APMT) and prepares them for the Federal Diploma of Naturopathy in traditional European medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine (2022) and homeopathy.

Secondly, its applied research centre, the Navi, contributes to the advancement of knowledge in these so-called complementary practices, through its scientific projects and partnerships, particularly in Integrative Health.

Finally, their La Serre coworking spaces allow combining work and health by educating our community and the general public about healthy living practices.

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