The Whole Body Approach

When pills and surgery are not enough
By Amy Vergin

Unfortunately contemporary American society is transfixed by the idea that masking medical problems is far better (and easier) than actually digging down to the roots of the dilemma and starting the healing process there.

And medicine has given us lots of tools to “help you” on the road to a healthy heart. Are you in pain? We have prescription drugs for that. Didn’t help? Maybe you should exercise and lose some weight. Are you still continuously having heart problems? Have no fear, the option of surgery is always near. Then, if medication and surgery doesn’t cure you, clearly diet and exercise will. But is that all you really need?

Mimi Guarneri, MD, FACC, is the founder and medical director of the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine. “We were taught just to treat symptoms,” she said in an interview for the journal Advances in Mind-Body Medicine. “So if you had high blood pressure, we’d give you the drug to treat it. If you had high cholesterol, we’d give you the drug to treat it. We were never taught to get to the underlying cause.”

Prior to founding the Scripps Center, Guarneri worked on stents and angioplasties. After a while, she realized that these procedures weren’t addressing the issues that related to the patient’s heart disease. (Guarneri pinpoints emotions as a leading factor in heart disease in the United States.) If no one is teaching our doctors and nurses the alternatives for dealing with heart disease and related issues, how can we find the truth?

“It’s very easy as a cardiologist to give someone medication to lower cholesterol. But teaching someone how to eat, how to deal with the emotional issues that affect the heart—such as depression, stress, and anger—and looking at the deeper spiritual issues, like what is one’s purpose in life, are equally important in the treatment of heart disease,” Dr. Guameri said.

This is a new way to view heart health, and it isn’t focused solely on your heart. It’s what the Scripps Center calls the “whole body approach.” The mission of the facility is to heal the physical self, certainly, but to heal the emotional self as well. This is accomplished by using alternative medicine combined with evidence-based medicine—an approach known as integrative medicine. This field is becoming more popular, especially as more studies are being done.

To wit: traditional medicine says we should fix blood pressure and cholesterol. Alternative medicine says we  would be remiss if we didn’t address the emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of the disease. Guarneri says the heart radiates an electromagnetic field that energetically affects those in our environment, whether we are conscious of it or not. We experience this when we are affected by each other’s moods, attitudes, and feelings.

Think your moods have nothing to do with the physical side of your heart? “I see people who are so angry, and we know that anger increases the risk of a heart attack 230 percent,” said Dr. Guameri. (How’s that for evidence?)

In the Multicenter Lifestyle Heart Trial, Dr. Guameri teamed up with Dean Ornish, MD, to teach patients a low-fat vegetarian diet, how to exercise, how to do yoga and meditation, and then placed them in support groups. “We gave them the tools to manage stress,” said Dr. Guameri.

The study proved her right—almost 91 percent of the patients saw a reduction in chest pain. Perhaps even more important, people started to feel empowered about their health.

“We now know that people who are depressed have a higher risk of dying of cardiovascular disease, and that people who are depressed have poor coping skills,” said Dr. Guameri.

So what are the options if medication and surgery are out? By now diet and exercise should be at the forefront of your mind, but this alone may not give you a healthy heart. While Scripps Well-Being Centers are only located in southern California, there are multiple areas across the United States that offer similar approaches. These are just a few of the treatments provided at the Scripps Center:


According to traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture balances the opposing forces of yin and yang, frees energy to flow normally, and restores health to body and mind. Thin, carefully placed, and virtually painless needles are used in this procedure.

Advanced Liped Testing

This test provides a profile of your major biological risk factors and helps you and your health care professional determine treatment goals.


Biofeedback teaches you to enhance your physical and emotional awareness, decreases pain and anxiety, and controls the way your body performs. Electrodes on the skin and a computerized monitoring device are used to provide “feedback” about the body’s functions.

Cold Laser Therapy

Also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT), cold laser therapy is a treatment that has been shown to help decrease pain and musculoskeletal discomfort by improving blood flow and oxygenation and decreasing inflammation. This treatment utilizes specific wavelengths of light to penetrate tissue noninvasively and painlessly.

Electrostimulation Therapy

Used to manage chronic pain, increase local blood circulation and production of pain-relieving endorphins, and relax muscle spasms, electrostimulation therapy uses various electrical frequencies delivered through the skin to alter the pathways involved in the production of pain.

Enhanced External Counterpulsation (EECP)

Specifically designed for patients with angina and congestive heart failure, EECP creates a natural bypass around blocked and narrowed portions of the arteries. EECP eliminates chest pain, increases exercise tolerance, and lets you use less medication. This is a noninvasive, outpatient treatment.

Guided Imagery

Guided imagery reduces stress and anxiety, decreases pain, and enhances healing and overall well-being through a noninvasive technique that focuses and directs the imagination through visualization with the help of a professional guided imagery therapist.

Healing Touch

In this therapy, registered nurses manipulate and balance the electromagnetic fields surrounding the human body to restore and balance energy. This helps to decrease pain and relieve associated anxiety. Typically used as an adjunct to surgery and other medical procedures to assist in pain reduction, relaxation, and healing.


Hypnosis is used to help people heal from insomnia, acute and chronic pain, addictions, depression, and anxiety. Certified practitioners will guide you into a relaxed state of consciousness where your attention is focused away from the present reality and towards certain images, thoughts, perceptions, feelings, sensations, and behaviors.

Music Therapy

This therapy improves mood, induces relaxation, alleviates stress, and stimulates healing by listening to, or creating your own, music.

Therapeutic Yoga

These sessions guide you through a specialized program of yoga postures, breathing practices, and meditations. This can be a very effective complement to your care.

TheraSound Musical Body

This therapy releases tension, focuses awareness, and restores vitality with the help of vibrating musical mats.

There’s no reason to limit yourself to popping pills when there are so many great options out there for you to try. Learning how to take care of yourself will ultimately affect the way you take care of your heart. As Dr. Guameri says, “A labyrinth is medicine, yoga is medicine, food is medicine. These things belong in healthcare. They should not be left out.”