Taking an Integrative Approach to Medicine
Over the years, I’ve come across various names for individuals who are practicing medicine that is alternative to mainstream methods. These individuals’ practices are holistic medicine, natural medicine, orthomolecular medicine, and integrative or functional medicine.
Providers include medical doctors (MDs and DOs), chiropractors, Oriental medical doctors, acupuncturists, nutritionists, and naturopathic physicians (NDs or NMDs). Let’s explore the different types of non-mainstream medicine and explore which might work best for you.
- Holistic medicine aims to heal the whole person, integrating conventional and alternative therapies. One example of this would be using a combination of medication and aromatherapy to treat high blood pressure.
- Alternative medicine uses non-mainstream practices in place of conventional medicines, for example introducing acupuncture instead of painkillers to treat back pain.
- Natural (or naturopathic) medicine diagnoses, treats and prevents illness using natural methods, for example using herbal remedies to treat asthma.
- Orthomolecular medicine aims to maintain human health through nutritional supplements, for example introducing high levels of vitamin E to treat circulation problems.
- Integrative/functional medicine looks at the root causes of an illness, exploring the lifestyle choices that may be contributing to a condition and aiming to treat problems in a holistic way. For example, a functional medical provider may look at diet and food intolerance in relation to an autoimmune disease.
Why I advocate a functional/integrative medical approach
Mainstream medicine focuses on naming diseases and treating them with pharmaceutical, surgical, and (occasionally) lifestyle approaches. In integrative or functional medicine, the name of the disease is less important than how and when the patient became ill and how the provider can work holistically with the individual to help him or her become healthier.
I had the honor of meeting Jeffrey Bland and his wife Susan, who co-founded the Institute for Functional Medicine in 1991. At the time, Jeff hoped that it would incorporate the many practices and practitioners that were operating outside the traditional parameters of mainstream medicine.
His focus was on improving the function of each patient who sought out a less conventional approach by exploring how the patient lost a specific function. He would do this by looking at a range of issues such as diet, genetics, environmental toxins, gut disturbances, and hormone imbalances.
Best of both worlds
Personally, I like the term integrative or functional medicine as it implements the best of both worlds. In general, I have found that providers of integrative or functional medicine are usually able to devote more time and energy to their patient’s care. On the other hand, mainstream medical providers tend to have strict targets where a quick diagnosis is made and pharmaceutical or surgical treatment is prescribed.
It’s important to understand that no single approach is all right or all wrong. The important thing is that the medical practitioner takes the time to listen, records a detailed patient history, and works with the patient to achieve their long-term health care goals, whatever the means.
I opened my own integrative medical practice, New Beginnings Health Care, in 2001 to help my patients look at ways to treat and prevent illness. I help my patients explore the impact of their lifestyle choices on their mind, body, and spirit, as well as look for ways to improve their health using a combination of mainstream and integrative medicine. If this sounds like an appealing option, feel free to get in touch with me or to search for an integrative/functional medicine provider in your area.