Why are top CEOs integrating naturopathic medicine in their health strategy?

February 11, 2014 in Complementary & Integrative Medicine, Wellness  •  By Michael Scott
heart shape by various vegetables and fruits

Maybe the last person you would expect to champion the integration of naturopathic medicine approaches into an overall strategy for wellness, prevention, and health is the CEO of one of the country’s top health insurers. But that is precisely what Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna, has done. Dr. Doni Wilson, ND, author of The Stress Remedy, is Bertolini’s naturopathic physician, and we had the chance to talk with her about the growing integration of naturopathic medicine and executive wellness. She also shared her insights on the importance of managing the stressors that can contribute to a decrease in your overall wellness and an increased risk for serious diseases such as cancer.

Q: Some people might think of the average CEO and naturopathic medicine as unusual bedfellows. Have you sought out CEOs and other business leaders as patients?

Dr. Doni Wilson (DW): No, I haven’t. I’ve found that many CEOs are increasingly interested in health and its effect not only on their own well-being, but also on the well-being and performance of their employees. Through my writing, practice, and speaking, I’ve engaged in the public conversation about health, lifestyle, and stress, so I think they find me through exploring that conversation.

Q: Mr. Bertolini has spoken publicly about how he came to integrate naturopathic medicine into his preventive care, as well as for treatment for ongoing pain after he suffered a broken neck. How is that changing his approach to health and prevention as a business leader?

DW: As a business leader, it’s had a big impact. He’s introduced yoga and meditation programs for employees at Aetna and has documented an improvement in participants’ cardiovascular wellness and in their daily productivity. There’s also research showing that when companies take positive steps to help employees improve their health, they experience fewer sick days and increased focus and productivity. He and other CEOs understand that optimal health leads to increased efficiency and improved outcomes. They are willing to make the needed changes for themselves and others to gain the benefits of optimal health on a large scale.

Q: What’s the impact of the leader of a national health insurer advocating for the integration of naturopathic medicine into our nation’s approach to health and wellness?

DW: I think it broadens the conversation. The future of healthcare is the integration of naturopathic and allopathic (conventional) medicine into a single preventive care model. As naturopathic physicians, we have the experience and training to play a role in this integration.

Q: You note that stress is one of the key factors that affect health. Do you mean the stress of deadlines, shareholder expectations, and the like?

DW: Those are types of stresses, but many people don’t realize that what they eat, whether they exercise, and how well or poorly they sleep also causes stress on the body’s systems. If you miss a meal, your blood sugar fluctuates and your body has to react and adapt, which stresses your body. And while people primarily associate blood sugar issues with diabetes, recent research has also linked blood sugar fluctuations with an increase in breast cancer risk and other serious diseases.

Q: For anyone—a business leader, a kindergarten teacher, a barista—what are the steps they should be taking to lower stress and increase wellness?

DW: Be aware of what your body needs and make sure you’re meeting those needs as much as possible. Understand what’s going on in your body and how that affects your energy, mood, and focus. And remember that all the systems in your body are interconnected. Our current medical system treats heart problems separately from gastrointestinal problems, but what happens in your digestive tract, for example, affects the rest of your body. A better way is to care for the body as a whole.