Holistic, Integrative, and Functional Medicine? What Is The Difference?

Although holistic, integrative, and functional medicine have similarities and overlap in several areas, there are a few factors that make each discipline somewhat unique. Before understanding what each of these approaches mean, it is important to understand what model is predominantly being used in our current medical system. — Conventional Medicine or Western Medicine.


Conventional Medicine



Conventional Medicine is a model of medicine with a strong emphasis on looking at disorders by diagnosis. This usually involves looking at a collection of symptoms rather than the cause of the disease. Treatment relies heavily on the use of medications, invasive procedures, and surgery. The body is viewed as a series of organ systems, which are typically segregated from one another. Assessment, treatment and many practitioners(think an eye doctor, foot doctor, dentist, etc.) are conceptualized by the individual organ which the problem has been reduced to.



Holistic Medicine



Holistic Medicine is a model which strives to consider the whole body in an approach to health. Treatment is focused on the mind, body, and spirit, because they are all interconnected. The ultimate goal is to bring the mind, body and spirit into coherence and balance. Holistic medicine is a beautiful concept, but many believe it is too vague to be a defined model or approach to healthcare. A good conventional practitioner can be holistic, however you have to be able to see the big picture and connect the dots. Holistic has now become more of a description of someone's style rather than a distinct approach to healthcare. A practitioner may practice in a “holistic” style, but is not addressing the metabolic abnormalities. A nutritionist may similarly have a “holistic” practice, but may not address the mind/body components.


Integrative Medicine



Integrative medicine is a medical discipline which takes into account the whole person (body, mind & spirit), including all aspects of one’s lifestyle. The practitioner works to treat the whole person, rather than just the disease. With this model, conventional medicine may be integrated with non-conventional or alternative remedies (such as herbs, massage therapy, naturopathy, homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture etc.). This medical practice also focuses on the nutritional and exercise habits. Integrative medicine physicians and dietitians believe poor lifestyle choices are the root cause of many modern chronic diseases. Integrative medicine may or may not be applied at identifying the root cause of the illness (since root cause resolution is not a prerequisite to practicing this model of healthcare). The most effective Integrative medicine practitioners will be seeking the root cause of the illness — which is where functional medicine comes into play.


Functional Medicine



Functional medicine is a highly personalized approach to healthcare which involves understanding the prevention, management and root causes of complex chronic disease. Functional medicine involves an analysis of an individual’s genetic makeup, and offers a comprehensive approach to healthcare. It utilizes the most current scientific knowledge regarding how our genetics, environment and lifestyle interact as a whole system to diagnose and treat diseases based on patterns of dysfunction and imbalance. Functional medicine is built on the foundation of conventional medicine, is holistic in how it views patients and the problems, includes the core concepts of naturopathic medicine within its system, and incorporates the open-mindedness of integrative medicine when determining the most effective modality needed to get the patient well. This discipline takes into account the personalization of healthcare, making each patient’s care plan distinct and unique. Every aspect of a patient’s medical history is reviewed in detail. Understanding the biochemical data, individuality of a patient can lead to the underlying causes of disease and furthermore, the prevention of additional health risks in the future.


Conclusion: What's the point?

Although conventional, holistic, integrative, and functional medicine have similarities, there are many important distinctions to make note of.


In a nutshell…

  • Conventional medicine makes a diagnosis and then determines which drugs or surgery will best treat the condition.

  • Holistic medicine considers the whole body in an approach to health, but may be too vague to find or treat a specific condition.

  • Integrative medicine takes into account the whole person (body, mind & spirit), including all aspects of one’s lifestyle.

  • Functional medicine strives to determine the root cause of each and every disease.

All practices focus on treating the patient, but their approaches are different.


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