top of page

What is alternative medicine?

As I continue into my Masters Program I am learning more and diving deep into things that before I had only touched the surface. Such is this discussion on alternative medicine.

Let’s look at Holistic first according to Borins 1 “Holistic Medicine approaches the physical, emotional, spiritual and social aspects of a person as they relate to health and disease.” When we think of holistic medicine we may think about prevention or the food we eat. We may think about how much is the patient’s responsibility as opposed to the doctors.1

If we think about the word holistic, a simple Google search to define it on 2 “Characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease.” Holistic medicine looks at the full picture of things rather than just the symptom or the issue all by itself.

“The Western approach to medicine clearly divides health from disease, and the main emphasis is on the individual body.”3 Western medicine has developed techniques and therapies to treat the diseases. “These achievements mark the victory of science and wisdom of mankind.” Western medicine has helped prolong the human life, but people are still feeling discomfort or pain. People still suffer and are still unhappy.3

When Functional medicine was first thought of in 1991 these were the defining 7 characteristics: Patient centered v. disease centered, systems biology approach, dynamic balance of gene-environment interactions, personalized, promotion of organ reserve and sustained health, health as a positive vitality, function v. pathology focused. 4 “Functional medicine has evolved to be a clinical operating system for the application of a patient-centered, systems biology approach to health care. Its focus is on understanding an individual’s physiological, cognitive, emotional, and physical function as well as on the design and implementation of a therapeutic program that is personalized to the functional needs of the patient.”4 Functional medicine gives the patient a personalized plan to live. Functional medicine is less concerned with the dysfunction but more about the processes that caused it.4

“Integrated medicine (or integrative medicine as it is referred to in the United States) is practising medicine in a way that selectively incorporates elements of complementary and alternative medicine into comprehensive treatment plans alongside solidly orthodox methods of diagnosis and treatment.”5 “Integrated medicine has a larger meaning and mission, its focus being on health and healing rather than disease and treatment.” 5

Let’s look at a headache or a migraine. Many of us have experienced heachaches. You may get a headache from lack of sleep, from hunger, from banging your head, from being thirsty, and so on. From the holistic approach we are going to “ a full history and general examination, blood workup and X-rays to rule out conditions such as aneurysms….”1 If everything comes back fine, in holistic medicine we may start looking at more natural ways to treat it and dive in a bit deeper to the patient’s life. Maybe it’s food, maybe it’s the way they sit or sleep, maybe it’s an environmental exposure.1 In Western medicine, a pill is more than likely going to be prescribed for the headache. In the 1990’s syndromes like metabolic syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, obstructive sleep apnea, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, chronic pain and many more began to take over doctor’s offices. Anyone of these may cause a headache. From the functional medicine perspective they would not treat the headache on it’s on but look at the full picture too. “They become skilled in looking at the patient simultaneously from the frame of reference of both a telescope and microscope - ….” 4 And finally, “Complementary treatments with the best evidence for migraine include lifestyle factors, mind/body therapies, acupuncture and supplements (MIG-99/feverfew, magnesium, riboflavin, and CoQ10).”6


Inspired by the Bland article 4, I did a Google Trend search to see where each of these stood.

It seems functional and integrative medicine are at the top with holistic in third. I doubt the average person would search the term Western Medicine. So, it's hard to say if that is accurate. But it gives you a good indication of the other three.

Western medicine seems to stand on its own here. The other medical paradigms look at the bigger picture. Whereas western medicine will look to replace diseased or injured body parts 3 these other paradigms will take a step back and see why the body part is diseased. My research already indicated that integrated medicine is starting to be added to the curriculum for medical providers. 5 But also, I believe when you have the right medical doctor who is open to other alternative medicines, they could possibly suggest someone for you. But I think as the patient you have to express this wish, you cannot assume the doctor is going to think that’s what you want. I believe that western medicine has made huge strides in testing and other things, but I think without looking at a person’s whole self when it comes to a modern day syndrome or a well known disease, you will not get a patient that is fully healed in mind and body.

Integrative Medicine embraces nutrition. You can find a holistic nutritionist program online as well as functional nutrition. Western medicine needs to catch up here. My own doctor tells me she has very little nutritional training. My experience reading medical records for 10 years tells me that doctors have very little nutritional training. I believe this is where western medicine and alternative medicine needs to come together. It’s why I think doctors can now get access to integrative medicine nutritional classes. I think the medical field will change. It seems we are going backwards a bit with medicine, looking for more natural ways to treat something, but I believe food is medicine and that you can treat a condition with food. I know I have.

Integrative medicine seems to be the center that will bring all the different areas together.


  1. Borins M. Holistic medicine in family practice. Can Fam Physician. 1984;30:101‐106.

  2. Holistic: Definition of Holistic by Lexico. Lexico Dictionaries | English. Accessed May 21, 2020.

  3. Tseui JJ. Eastern and western approaches to medicine. West J Med. 1978;128(6):551‐557.

  4. Bland J. Defining Function in the Functional Medicine Model. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2017;16(1):22‐25.

  5. Rees L, Weil A. Integrated medicine. BMJ. 2001;322(7279):119‐120. doi:10.1136/bmj.322.7279.119

  6. Home. Richmond Integrative & Functional Medicine. Published April 25, 2020. Accessed May 21, 2020. (Image only)

  7. Wells RE, Baute V, Wahbeh H. Complementary and Integrative Medicine for Neurologic Conditions. Med Clin North Am. 2017;101(5):881‐893. doi:10.1016/j.mcna.2017.04.006

  8. What Is Functional and Integrative Medicine? (Posts by Summer William). Bloglovin'. Published March 24, 2019. Accessed May 21, 2020.(Image Only)

  9. Home. Richmond Integrative & Functional Medicine. Published April 25, 2020. Accessed May 21, 2020.

Thank you for reading

xo Kimberly

#alternativemedicine #holistic #functionalmedicine #integrativemedicine #integratedmedicine #westernmedicine #traditionalmedicine #health #healthylifestyle #headaches

bottom of page