Alternative Medicine. Holistic. Integrative. Functional. What’s in a Name?

by | Jul 8, 2021 | Functional Medicine, Integrative Medicine

integrative medicine word cloudAlternative. Holistic. Integrative. Functional. Terms like these are often used interchangeably to describe a specialized medical practice like ours.

But while there’s definitely some overlap among them, each speaks to a slightly different aspect of what a physician like Dr. Joe actually does.

For a long time, “alternative medicine” was the phrase of choice, identifying something other than conventional Western medicine, with its focus on managing symptoms rather than treating causes and its heavy reliance on pharmaceutical drugs. Unfortunately, it became an umbrella term, including both science-backed therapies and those without much evidence to support them.

“Holistic,” on the other hand, is more specific. While it doesn’t say much about particular therapies and treatments, it does accurately describe the philosophical nature of a practice like ours – one that encompasses body AND mind AND spirit. A holistic practitioner is also acutely aware that any treatment can have effects other than the main one desired. They choose interventions accordingly, favoring more natural approaches to healing. “First, do no harm” is a strong guiding concept.

But “holistic” can also fail to account for standard clinical practice. For all that there is to criticize about medicine-as-usual in this country, there are many things it does extraordinarily well, especially when it comes to acute conditions, such as injury or infection. Where it can fall short is in treating chronic conditions, which tend to have more than one cause and are largely driven by lifestyle and environment.

This is where a term like “integrative” becomes really useful. Something of a replacement term for “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM), it describes a practice that brings together the best of both conventional (allopathic) and naturopathic modalities. Which therapies and how they’re brought together depend on each patient’s unique needs. Nutritional therapies, ozone, homeopathy, and other low-risk “alternative” treatments have their place just as much as orthodox ones.

And that brings us to the term “functional.” As one doctor has described it,

The functional medicine model for health care is concerned less with what we call the dysfunction or disease, and more about the dynamic processes that resulted in the person’s dysfunction.

It’s a systems-based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the cause(s) of disease or dysfunction. Low-risk therapies are employed to actually change the trajectory of illness down to the cellular level. A functional medicine doctor like Dr. Joe thus prioritizes each patient’s health issues as needed and crafts highly specific treatment plans based on their unique health history – a history that includes not only medical factors but personal, social, family, and other influences, as well. You, yourself, are encouraged to take an active role in the healing process.

Dr. Joe with team membersAbove all, though, is our focus on treating causes rather than sufficing in managing symptoms.

This means providing the body what it needs to heal, whether that comes through nutritional therapy or something like ozone or BHRT, informational or botanical medicines, or conventional treatments. For your body has an innate wisdom and can run beautifully so long as it’s given the raw materials to do so or facilitate its best use of what we give it. Doing so is also a recipe for prevention – something else we emphasize in our practice.

This is the way of naturopathic medicine, which very much informs Dr. Joe’s integrative approach.

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