12 mins read

Holistic, Functional and Integrative Medicine: An Overview


medically reviewed by Dr Godmi Tresa

Dr. Bhavya

Updated on October 25, 2023

We curious humans keep asking for reasons for everything that comes across us.

But, when we experience discomfort or illness, we often prioritise relief over logical thinking. We may quickly turn to medication in hopes of a speedy recovery rather than considering the underlying causes of our symptoms.

Think for a minute!

  • Did we question ourselves as to what made us unhealthy in the first place? 
  • Did we change anything in our daily life routine that confused our bodies?
  • Wait, do our body cells have an innate brain to do that?

When it comes to our physical well-being, many of us do not consider the same factors as we do when selecting clothing or cosmetics, often scrutinising and deliberating over even minor details.

Keeping well, inside out, is essential to keep our body running on its own. 

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Unravelling the Essence of Wellness

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The National Wellness Institute defines wellness as - “The active process where one becomes aware and makes choices toward a more successful existence.”

Researchers have concluded that wellness is:

  • A conscious, self-directed and evolving process.
  • A multidimensional and holistic method, adapting to a good lifestyle, mental and spiritual well-being, and environment.
  • Positive and affirming.

In the hustle and bustle of seeking a speedy recovery from illness, have you ever paused to reflect on the crucial factors that can contribute to your long-term well-being? 

We all indeed desire to bounce back swiftly when we fall ill, but amidst the flurry of remedies, have we overlooked the vital aspects of our lives that hold the key to everlasting vitality? 

Prepare to embark on a journey that unveils the often-forgotten secrets to achieving optimal health and staying in the vibrant pink of well-being for a lifetime.

Why must you address your physical, occupational, social, intellectual, spiritual and emotional wellness to prepare for your daily challenges?

The answer is straightforward.

An illness or physical discomfort can set you back in multiple ways, affecting not only the specific part of your body but also all the above dimensions of your life.

So do we need to address these at the time?

Addressing your body’s needs and losses from all dimensions can be seen in complementary and alternative medicine.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

In today’s world, people are becoming more aware of health and healthcare through social media and public discussions. As a result, there is a growing acceptance of complementary and alternative healthcare and medical practices (CAM) as a mainstream healthcare system. 

CAM includes various medical systems, procedures, and products not considered part of conventional medicine.

survey was conducted to understand why people are using alternative medicines, reported;

 “Most people who use alternative medicine are well-educated and may not be satisfied with conventional medicine. They choose alternative options because they feel these align better with their values, beliefs, and approach to health and life.

Different Types of CAMs

CAM practice is considered under five major groups -

  1. Alternative medical systems
  2. Mind-body interventions
  3. Biologically-based treatments
  4. Manipulative and body-based methods
  5. Energy therapies

Alternative Medicine: 

Alternative medicine is a broad term, including various medical modalities. Alternative practices rely upon the body’s ability to heal itself. This is stimulated by energy alignment, herbal supplementation, and other balancing techniques.

Mind-Body Interventions: 

These methods use techniques involving the mind and body to heal the body. 

  • Biologically derived therapies:

This type of therapy uses natural products or supplements that work similarly to the body’s processes. These products help boost the body’s immune system and make it stronger.

  • Manipulative and Body-Based Methods:

Some physical therapies and massages are practised to manipulate certain parts of the body to heal them. These include treatments for pain, stress, anxiety and depression.

  • Energy Therapies: 

The therapy method uses the belief that the body has an energy that controls its functioning. Techniques like acupuncture and yoga are used to work with specific energy points called ‘chakras’ in the body.

The philosophy of complementary and alternative medicine includes holistic care, which focuses on treating one as a whole person.

What are Holistic Medicine, Integrative Medicine, and Functional Medicine?

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Today, people often use terms like holistic, integrative, and functional medicine. These terms have become popular because relying solely on modern medicine to regain health is no longer the only approach.

Instead, people are returning to traditional practices, like those passed down by their ancestors or traditions, to strengthen themselves and fight against diseases.

However, it’s important to note that the general population uses these terms—holistic, integrative, and functional—interchangeably. They get used mainly for scientific explanations and understanding.

In reality, these terms have distinct scientific differences. Let’s explore what each of them means and how they differ.

Holistic Medicine

The word “holistic” means that everything is connected and cannot be understood by looking at its parts alone. 

In medicine, the holistic approach focuses on treating the whole person, not just the disease. It considers mental and social factors rather than just the symptoms of an illness.

This means that it considers all aspects of a person to improve their health. 

WHO defined health as “a complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity.”

Some examples of holistic medicine that one could commonly practise include:

  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Homoeopathy
  • Indian systems of medicine like Ayurveda
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Chiropractic practise
  • Massage therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Integrated functional medicine

Holistic medicine explains that the whole body is interconnected and seeks to discover the internal problems that lead to a specific disease condition.

The Holistic Approach at Nirva

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Dr Neethu, Ayurveda Consultant at Nirva Health, points out as an example that if someone suffers from loose stools, the first approach will not be to stop the symptom. The course will go on from checking for how good the individual’s gut health was before looking for personal character, habits and mental health.

Personalisation is an added point in a holistic outlook towards a disease.

Integrative Medicine

It can often be considered an East-West approach. As technologies improve in the healthcare system, they give more evidence towards the cause and prognosis of a condition.

The majority of consultants use this method to treat patients.

An approach is considered integrative when a medical practitioner integrates conventional methods to treat a condition.

Integrative medicine combines various therapies to treat different health conditions. 

For example, if someone is experiencing loose stools, the treatment may involve using medications to stop the symptoms and providing necessary nutrients through IV therapy. 

Additionally, the focus is on improving gut health and digestion through approaches like yoga, relaxation techniques, and the principles of Ayurveda, which is an ancient healing system.

The goal is to address the individual’s well-being and promote healing from within.

Functional Medicine

Functional medicine is a newer approach that aims to understand the root cause of a disease or condition. Instead of just treating the symptoms, functional medicine practitioners look at the bigger picture and try to identify the underlying issues.

The practitioners of this medicine also do not look at the symptoms but the cause. 

Functional medical practitioners use modern research and genetics to uproot the real reason which differs one individual from another.

Functional medicine also heavily emphasises lifestyle changes to fix health problems, such as diet, exercise, sleep patterns, stress levels, and other aspects of life.

Let’s return to the example of the loose stool patient and see what a functional medicine approach will be.

The reason for the loose stool may be bad mental health and piled-up toxicity. The process will improve the function of all the organs and systems in the body.

A functional medicine doctor collaborates closely with each patient, working hand in hand to find a healthy balance and heal the body.

Difference Between Holistic, Integrative, and Functional Medicine

There is no hard and fast difference between the three. The methods differ from the conventional Western practice but go hand in hand with all the traditional approaches.

All these types tend to heal the individual from within by approaching the person rather than the symptoms.

Although, to an extent, they differ in their adaptation to modern technology.

  • Holistic medicine uses traditional practices to heal the body, mind and soul.
  • An integrative practice approaches using modern methods and drugs and treating the cause using traditional methods.
  • A functional medicine practitioner will have a very tight-knotted scientific explanation based on research works. This proof is used to treat the cause using holistic methods.

Methods and Therapies

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, had quoted,

 “The greatest medicine of all is teaching people how not to need it.”

Since time immemorial, the way of dealing with illness has been to teach how not to need it. But as conventional medicine has come into action, people started using the shortcut method to feel good - synthetic pills and syrups.

Hippocrates also quoted that going against the natural process of our body is a sure-shot method of accumulating toxins over a while. These then come out as symptoms to show as a disease.

Thus, treating this should also be with the rhythm of nature.

Holistic, Integrative and Functional Medicine: Therapies Used

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Traditional alternative medicine:

They include more accepted forms of therapy in today’s world.

These are -

  • Acupuncture
  • Homoeopathy
  • Ayurveda
  • Naturopathy
  • Chinese or Oriental Medicine

These therapies have been practised worldwide for centuries, and now registered practitioners under these can be found anywhere.

Body Touch

The method is based on the concept that the illness of one part of the body affects all other aspects.

The body can focus on healing the injured or diseased part if manual manipulation can bring other factors into optimum health.

Some methods are:

  • Osteopathic and chiropractic medicine
  • Body movement therapies
  • Tai chi
  • Massage
  • Yoga

Diet and Herbs

A famous quote goes, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.

Managing your diet well can help in healing your body naturally.

Many dietary and herbal therapies look out to manage the body’s nutritional balance and bring well-being to you.

The different methods included are-

  • Herbal and dietary supplements.
  • Nutritional therapy.
  • Exercise 

External Energy 

Humans are built of energy. If external energy can affect every single cell in him to make him fall sick, then the energy used wisely can manipulate it to a healthy state.

 Examples of external energy therapy are-

  • Reiki
  • Electromagnetic therapy
  • Qigong


The connection between mind, soul, and body is being proved repeatedly as modern research has improved.

Studies have recognised that the body heals better with a healthy state of mind.

Mental health is the centre of a healthy body for which the therapies may include -

  • Meditation
  • Biofeedback
  • Hypnosis


Sense organs have a direct connection to mental health. Likes and dislikes, comfort and discomfort, can affect how our body reacts to a stimulus. These can, in turn, manipulate the way our hormones are released.

 Examples of therapies incorporating the senses include:

  • Art, dance, and music
  • Visualisation and guided imagery

Benefits and Drawbacks of Alternative Medicine

All these alternative therapies have their benefits and drawbacks. 

Let us see them below so that you can make your own decisions regarding your health choices.


  • Alternative medicine concentrates on healing by balancing out every possible aspect of your life.
  • This broad spectrum of therapy is considered much safer than mainstream medicine.
  • Alternative medicine is usually a natural or healthy approach. It uses natural substances like herbs, oils etc.
  • Almost all mainstream medicine has some warning about the harmful side effects of taking it, whereas many alternative therapies don’t/have very few side effects.
  • Alternative medicine is relatively less expensive than high-tech and engineered drugs.
  • Alternative medicine allows more flexibility in treatment plans according to daily changes.
  • Alternative medicine doesn’t offer dependency treatment plans.
  • It boosts the immune system and works for overall health and well-being.


Although alternative medicine is widely accepted and preferred worldwide, its use has certain limitations and barriers. 

Some of the significant rules and obstacles of alternative medicine are:

  • Relatively long-term treatment plans and healing time.
  • Less useful in emergencies where immediate and fast recovery is necessary.
  • Lack of adequate information among the people.
  • The Food and Drug Administration does not approve many alternative drugs in certain countries.
  • Limited scientific research on alternative medicines.
  • Usually, insurance does not cover the treatments through alternative therapies and medicines.

Choosing a form of healthcare is incredibly personal. Not everything fits everyone. However, knowing that more options are available than conventional Western medicine is essential.

Which Medical Approach is Right for You Among Holistic, Integrative and Functional Medicine?

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If you think alternative medicine might be the right path, mention it to your healthcare provider.

Holistic and integrated care plans may typically fall short when approaching whole body health, as they may sometimes overlook the body’s short biochemistries, hormonal balances, and nutritional states. 

functional practitioner, on the other hand, is well-versed in the nutritional and biochemical needs of the body and can incorporate holistic and integrated care plans as well. Still, they tend to have a more modernised outlook regarding understanding and treating diseases.

It is often difficult to decide who to approach when you fall ill. Running from one physician to another, googling your way through, and seeking help makes you tired and still leave you confused.

Nirva’s Take!

Everything, from our willpower to gardening plants, is medicine.

Ancient scholars have said that everything available in this universe is medicine. The only challenge is to know how and when to use it.

Similarly, we have to know which medical group to approach.

Health is a complex word defined as an overall better feeling about life. Attaining it needs day-to-day strict and fastened rules with enough forbearance. 

But, we fall ill, sometimes suddenly, sometimes for a long time.

Which alternative therapy can you approach according to the condition?


Read on to learn a few examples!


The technique uses thin needles to balance the body’s energy, known as Qi, and keep it flowing smoothly. This helps activate the body’s natural healing ability.

  • Joint pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Migraines
  • Cancer-related symptoms
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Hot flashes
  • Fatigue

Chinese Herbal Therapy

Traditional Chinese medical texts contain thousands of herbs, minerals and other extracts and their intended uses. Certified Chinese herbalists use these.

Chinese herbal therapy may help relieve:

Chiropractic Therapy

Chiropractic doctors perform soft tissue adjustments and manipulate your spine and joints. Chiropractic therapy may help relieve:

  • Back and neck pain
  • Pelvic pain
  • Shoulder, elbow and wrist pain
  • Knee, hip or ankle pain
  • Other musculoskeletal problems

Culinary Medicine

Culinary medicine combines the science of food, nutrition, and medicine. It also teaches how to cook healthy meals. Culinary therapy can be beneficial for improving and managing common chronic diseases. Some of these conditions include:

  • Diabetes.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Obesity
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

Holistic Psychotherapy

This speciality utilises evidence-based therapies to enhance mood, reduce anxiety, address post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and alleviate other related symptoms. Some of the therapies commonly used in this field include:

  • Traditional talk therapy
  • Hypnosis
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy using breathing and relaxation
  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Trauma-focused Therapy

Massage Therapy

You will find this practice integrated with various fields of medicine, including Ayurveda, naturopathy, Chinese traditional medicine, and more. It involves the manipulation of soft tissues and body movements to enhance health and well-being.

It can help improve physical as well as mental discomfort.

Massage therapists can use different techniques to relieve:

  • Muscle pain and tightness
  • Respiratory conditions (such as sinus pressure)
  • Congestive chest symptoms
  • Neurological and muscular disorders (such as headaches and low back pain)
  • Digestive disorders (such as constipation)
  • Post-operative pain and lymphedema

Yoga and Tai Chi

Yoga and tai chi combine specific postures and movements with breathing to unify your mind and body. 

They may help:

  • Reduce stress and pain
  • Enhance immune response
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve posture and body alignment
  • Increase muscle strength
  • Provide a sense of joy and well-being

Approach at Nirva Health

Our experts at Nirva Health deal with different conditions using functional and holistic techniques. Along with this, integrated methods are adopted.

Let’s see an example of GERD,

 At Nirva, our experts focus on finding the root cause. According to our Ayurveda and Yoga experts, it’s the imbalance of digestive fire and gut health.

  • First, all the necessary diagnostic investigations are carried out according to the stage of the disease. After this is evaluated and checked for complications, the symptoms are checked in alignment with the body’s characteristics. 
  • Body characteristic becomes a critical evaluation criterion in the science of Ayurveda. The character bioenergy Pitta is the most vulnerable to gut issues, especially gastritis.
  • Later, other symptoms present in the individual beforehand, and the current symptoms are related to any other underlying factors in him. 
  • Such factors may be stress from social or personal life, occupation etc. 
  • The condition becomes manageable through the recommended diet, lifestyle modifications, yoga, herbal supplements, and home remedies.
  • Timely follow-up is done through further appointments. 

Our way of medicine will give you relief from your ill health and help you boost your self-confidence. Our approach in holistic medicine will walk you step by step towards a happy recovery. This will take you far away from regular pills.

Our Yoga experts will host personalised sessions to help you deal with all aspects of ill health.

A wise man ought to realise that health is his most valuable possession.”


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