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The practice of alternative medicine has brought about a spectrum of opportunities as we continue to embrace wellness as a nation. More than 30 percent of adults and 12 percent of children in America report that they use alternative or collaborative care approaches beyond conventional medicine.1 Yet sometimes it seems we aren’t clear about what to call these healthy new approaches.

As the knowledge base deepens for modern practitioners, labels are created to help guide patients to the treatments and philosophies they find to be the best fit. While integrative, holistic, and functional medicine have several differences between them, they share many similarities. Unfortunately, the labels have created some separation and even sparked debate about which alternative medicine approach is best.

Collaboration Is at the Heart of the Movement

Rather than draw lines between these modalities, it is helpful to picture them shading together as a gradient. At one end, integrative medicine leans more heavily on conventional techniques. On the other end, there is naturopathy, which supports only natural medicines. Functional medicine rests in between the two, and all three might be categorized as holistic.

In order to stabilize the terminology, the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) has defined alternative medicine as a practice used in place of conventional medicine, while complementary medicine works together with conventional methods. Integrative and functional medicine would be complementary approaches and will blend together the best of both worlds.

Keeping your options open and finding the right practitioner for you should be your main focus, not the particular label applied to their practice. Expanding the possibilities and options for optimal health is the goal of all innovative practitioners. More important than the terminology used, finding a true connection and partnership with your health care provider will open up a world of opportunities.

Let’s explore where the lines blur and these practices come together.


Naturopathy focuses exclusively on natural treatments and remedies for disease. Many of these same treatments are used in the other disciplines too. For example, a functional medicine doctor might also recommend a natural diet, vitamins, minerals, or herbal remedies.

A naturopath is knowledgeable about conventional medicine and may consider lab results as guidance for a natural treatment program. They also look to support the natural functioning of the body’s systems and promote prevention, as functional medicine does.

The philosophy of naturopathy rests on nature, healing, and respect for the body’s healing energies and abilities. This focus is paramount for naturopaths and might limit options which are solidly conventional in nature, such as taking antibiotics to treat an infection.

Holistic Medicine

Holistic medicine describes an approach to wellness, rather than a specific set of practices. It is a philosophy of care, where sickness is the result of a disharmony between the mind, the body, and the spirit. Finding true balance and treating all three areas of the whole person to achieve healing best describes the concept. Most alternative medicine doctors are holistic, in that they are aware of the interconnections of an entire person and treat them accordingly.

Holistic wellness is achieved by fostering the coherence of mind, body, and spirit. Many functional and integrative doctors incorporate these concepts into their practices, using the tools and treatments of their own discipline while supporting a holistic view of health. Additionally, there are some conventional doctors who believe in treating the whole person and may refer their patients for alternative treatments or therapies to reach beyond what medication and surgery can do.

holistic medicine

Integrative Medicine

The integration of alternative techniques with conventional medicine brings the best of both together for optimal healing. Integrative medicine doctors apply alternative methods such as supplementation, yoga, and acupuncture to treat diseases which are typically diagnosed and treated using traditional methods. By combining these ancient or innovative technologies with the conventional treatment, they support the whole-person healing process and reverse or prevent some of the resulting side effects of surgery, chemotherapy, or long-term medication.

Both integrative and functional medicine practitioners focus on treating the patient as a whole person and may use many of the same treatments. The difference is subtle and has to do with the thought process behind the diagnosis and treatment. Integrative medicine’s stronger tie to conventional care means that treatment may focus on a single system or set of disease symptoms and apply alternative methods of treatment to relieve those symptoms.

Integrative medicine shares an innovative and holistic approach with functional medicine, while remaining symptom and system oriented in its approach to treatment. Individual practitioners may lean more heavily one direction or the other, providing a spectrum of approaches with more or less conventional tendencies. Consequently, some searching might be required to find the perfect fit.

Functional Medicine

Functional medicine incorporates all possible approaches in supporting the optimal functioning of the body. Using the best testing technology of conventional medicine, your functional medicine practitioners will look deeper than the surface diagnosis and find the root cause of disease symptoms. Striving to identify issues early and return the system to perfect function is the primary focus of this practice. Crafting an individualized program of ancient and modern alternative practices, you and your doctor work together to create the ideal healing functionality within your body.

Utilizing advanced chiropractic manipulation, yoga, meditation, massage therapy, and taking advantage of the best technology and diagnostic tools, this discipline enhances the body’s own amazing regenerative abilities. All of these methodologies seek to eliminate painful or debilitating symptoms and support long-term health.

This deep partnership with the patient means you are empowered to choose your path to wellness. Your doctor is there to learn about you, your lifestyle, your genetics, and your own preferences and needs. Together you can make the best choices to treat chronic illness, foster true wellness, and promote vitality.

Health Care in Harmony

There is no doubt that many people are looking into these innovative roads to wellness. Yoga, chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation, meditation, and massage therapy were the most popular new wellness practices adopted in the U.S. in 2012.1

The first steps of learning about these life-changing methodologies is often an introductory consultation with an experienced practitioner of chiropractic functional medicine. Exploring your own preconceptions about chronic disease begins with finding a practitioner to open all the doors and provide guidance around the myriad of choices available.

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No matter how it is defined or categorized, there is a world of healthy living choices increasingly available to you. Working together rather than creating divisions should be our goal as this new movement gains momentum and wide acceptance.

Take a Step in the Right Direction

When the body functions as it should, in harmony with the mind and spirit, the results are remarkable and long-lasting and can lead you to your optimal state of vibrant health. As more and more alternative medicine centers become available, we will collectively become a stronger and healthier society.

If you are wondering where to start on this journey, contact us at Pollack Wellness Institute. Meet our doctors and our caring team and consider all of the services available to bring you back to full health. We will help you find the least invasive and most functionally effective ways to address chronic pain and lingering disease symptoms by identifying the deeper causes. Find your way to the best possible life as the healthiest you imaginable!