Should your vagina have a preference? Here's the lowdown.
You've probably heard the buzzy wellness term holistic; it refers to an approach to health that takes the whole body into account, rather than looking into symptoms afflicting one body area only. Holistic MDs consider overall physical health, mental health, and lifestyle factors to diagnose illness—and they often use alternative therapies like herbal remedies to help a patient heal.
So when we noticed what seems like an uptick in the number of holistic gynecologists, we were curious. Gynos by definition focus on conditions that affect the vagina, uterus, ovaries, and breasts, handling everything from infections to fertility to sex issues. But would it be better for your reproductive and sexual health to see a holistic ob-gyn rather than a conventional doctor?
To find out, Health spoke to Eden Fromberg, DO, a holistic ob-gyn in New York City, to break down the term and discuss what a holistic gyno can do for you.
What makes a holistic gynecologist different?
According to Dr. Fromberg, one main difference has to do with treatment. A mainstream ob-gyn relies on "pharmaceutical drugs, synthetic hormones, and surgical procedures to solve women’s health problems," she says. Holistic gynecology, in her opinion, chooses treatments such as botanical medicine, nutrition, and mindfulness.
“I use techniques that are in concert with the body’s natural processes and rhythms,” says Dr. Fromberg. She takes into account trauma, illness, and injuries, among other factors, and tries "to restore balance and connection instead of severing it or giving people drugs that make it hard to get back on track from,” she explains.
Why do some women choose a holistic gynecologist?
Patients often turn to a holistic approach when their needs haven’t been met by their conventional doctor, says Dr. Fromberg. Other people simply lead a holistic lifestyle in general and want to have a connection with their gynecologist, says Dr. Fromberg. “Patients also just want to be heard,” says Dr. Fromberg. “They know from the beginning that I will spend a lot of time with them,” she says.
What is an office visit like?
Instead of the rushed, 10-minute window many doctors give to their patients, Dr. Fromberg says a holistic gynecologist will try to make each appointment as pleasant and comfortable as possible. She also dedicates an hour or two to each patient. “We’ll start by discussing everything to make you feel comfortable,” she says. “I don’t rush people through their exams—I give them the time that they need.”
What is the most common reason women go to a holistic gyno?
Fertility issues are the most common concern, says Dr. Fromberg. However, many of her patients come to her with chronic pelvic pain—which mainstream medicine often treats with antidepressants and painkillers, she explains. Instead of treating the pain only, a holistic gynecologist evaluates the patient’s lifestyle as a whole, addressing a variety of concerns like stress, inflammation, and autoimmune diseases. All of these could be behind chronic pain, which is a serious problem that can also make it difficult to enjoy sex.
So holistic gynecologists never prescribe drugs?
Not exactly. "In reality, some of my patients who come to me are already on two or three different medications,” says Dr. Fromberg. That said, a holistic gynecologist makes thoughtful decisions about what medications are necessary for the patient. “If somebody just needs regular prescriptions, I might not be the doctor for them,” she adds.
What about prescription birth control?
Like many holistic gynecologists, Dr. Fromberg strongly believes in the right of a patient to make her own reproductive choices and is against imposing her personal beliefs on her patients. Instead of telling her patients what choice to make, she informs them of side effects and risks. “So if they chose to take the pill, it’s done in the context of true, informed consent.”
Is a holistic gynecologist covered by insurance?
Unfortunately, most holistic gynecologists do no accept insurance, given the amount of time they lend to their patients, she says. To keep costs down many people will also keep contact with their mainstream doctor (who is likely covered by their health insurance policy) so they can make an appointment for a birth control refill or a Pap test.
Do holistic gynecologists have the same credentials?
Just like a regular gyno, a holistic gynecologist must be certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Beyond that, they should also have board certification for integrative holistic medicine and ideally should have some other experience in osteopathy or naturopathic medicine.
If you're thinking of going to one, Dr. Fromberg has some advice. “It’s important that they acknowledge the emotional, spiritual, and psychological component of women’s health,” she emphasizes. “Look for a holistic gynecologist that shows appreciation for that aspect.”