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Integrative Medicine
What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

Integrative Medicine Overview

Integrative medicine combines mainstream medical therapies and Complementary and Alternative therapies for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness.1

Integrative medicine is a phrase coined by Andrew Weil, MD, to signify the blending of conventional biomedicine with complementary and alternative medicine practices to return wholeness, balance, and support to the self-healing process. Integrative medicine recognizes both the wisdom traditions of diverse healing systems and the advancements in clinical practice, research, public hygiene, and technology of modern biomedicine and allopathic care.2 Dr. Andrew Weil goes on to clarify that integrative medicine as a "healing-oriented medicine that takes account of the whole person (body, mind, and spirit), including all aspects of lifestyle. It emphasizes the therapeutic relationship and makes use of all appropriate therapies, both conventional and alternative."3

There is no standard definition of Integrative Medicine and many different terms (integrative healthcare, integrated medicine, multidisciplinary care, holistic medicine) can describe the concept of melding complementary and alternative medicine with conventional medical care6.

How It Works

During the Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public in Washington, DC. in 2009, the Institute of Medicine wrote, "integrative medicine can be described as orienting the health care process to create a seamless engagement by patients and caregivers of the full range of physical, psychological, social, preventive, and therapeutic factors known to be effective and necessary for the achievement of optimal health throughout the life span. Integrative medicine envisions a health care system that focuses on efficient, evidence-based prevention, wellness, and patient-centered care that is personalized, predictive, preventive and participatory."4 Integrative Medicine also "encourages patients, doctors, and complementary practitioners to work as a team for the best possible outcome."5

Another word for integrative, “collaborative treatment is defined as care that strengthens and supports self-care in chronic illness while ensuring that effective medical…and health maintenance interventions take place.”12

Conceptual Framework

Integrative Medicine is based on understanding the whole person, not just the physical symptoms. Integrative Medicine is more than just adding up conventional and alternative therapies; it also involves figuring out what the underlying reasons are of why the client is ill and seeking the best solutions based on the client's personal beliefs and situation.

Many Integrative Medicine practitioners have several guiding principles behind their practice, and although they may vary in specifics, they all emphasize a partnership between the practitioner(s) and the client, the use of the body's innate healing response, a broad definition of health and disease that incorporates mind, body, and spirit, and openness to a broad range of modalities.

Some major principles of integrative medicine are:

  • A partnership between patient and practitioner in the healing process
  • Appropriate use of conventional and alternative methods to facilitate the body's innate healing response
  • Consideration of all factors that influence health, wellness and disease, including mind, spirit and community as well as body
  • A philosophy that neither rejects conventional medicine nor accepts alternative therapies uncritically
  • Recognition that good medicine should be based in good science, be inquiry driven, and be open to new paradigms
  • Use of natural, effective, less-invasive interventions whenever possible
  • Use of the broader concepts of promotion of health and the prevention of illness as well as the treatment of disease
  • Training of practitioners to be models of health and healing, committed to the process of self-exploration and self-development7

The Bravewell Collaboration defines its principles of integrative medicine as

  • Is patient-centered care that focuses on healing the whole person — mind, body and spirit in the context of community;
  • Educates and empowers people to be active participants in their own care, and to take responsibility for their own health and wellness;
  • Integrates the best of Western scientific medicine with a broader understanding of the nature of illness, healing and wellness;
  • Makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches and evidenced-based global medical modalities to achieve optimal health and healing;
  • Encourages healing partnerships between the provider and patient;
  • Supports the individualization of care
  • Creates a culture of wellness8

Recent History

  • 1991: The National Institutes of Health created the Office of Alternative Medicine.
  • 1993: David Eisenberg publishes his landmark study that revealed approximately 60 million Americans had used one or more complementary or alternative healing methods in the year 1990.9
  • 1998: The Office of Alternative Medicine's status was upgraded from office to center and renamed The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).10
  • 1993: Bill Moyers' "Healing and the Mind" aired and was a first introduction to many on how thoughts, emotions, and mood can impact physical health.
  • 1994: Dr. Andrew Weil founded the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine that currently offers a 1,000 hour fellowship for doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants and conducts research in integrative medicine.
  • 2001: Eisenberg, Kessler, and Van Rompay et. al. update their landmark study on complementary and alternative medicine usage in America. They found 67.6% of respondents used at least one CAM therapy in their lifetime and nearly half continued to use CAM therapies years later.11
  • 2002: A Consortium of Academic Health Centers in Integrative Medicine was created and currently includes 44 academic medical centers.
  • 2004: The Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care] was formed to promote policies and action to advance integrated health care.
  • 2009: The Institute of Medicine held a Summit on Integrative Medicine (SIM), gaining respectability with high-level evaluators.


  1. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (2007). What is CAM? Retrieved from
  2. California Institute of Integral Studies, Integrative Health Studies. (2010). Program Description: Glossary of Terms. San Francisco: California Institute of Integral Studies.
  3. Lemley, B. (n.d.) What is Integrative Medicine? Retrieved on June 25, 2010 from
  4. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. (2009). Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public: A Summary of the February 2009 Summit. Retrieved from
  5. Peters, D. & Woodham, A. (2000). The complete guide to integrative medicine. New York: Dorling Kindersley.
  6. Boon, H., Verhof, M., O'Hara, D., Findlay, B., & Majid, N. (2004). Integrative healthcare: Arriving at a working definition. Alternative Therapies, 10(5), 48-56
  7. Lemley, B. (n.d.) What is Integrative Medicine? Retrieved on June 25, 2010 from
  8. Bravewell Clinical Network. (2007). Best Practices in Integrative Medicine: A Report from the Bravewell Clinical Network. Retrieved from
  9. Eisenberg, DM, et al. "Unconventional Medicine in the United States — Prevalence, Costs, and Patterns of Use," JAMA 1993, 328:246-252
  10. Whorton, J.C. (2002). Nature cures: The history of alternative medicine in America. New York: Oxford University Press
  11. Kessler RC, Davis RB, Foster DF, Van Rompay MI, Walters EE, Wilkey SA, Kaptchuk TJ, & Eisenberg DM. (2001). Long-term trends in the use of complementary and alternative medical therapies in the United States. Annals of Internal Medicine. 135(4), 262-8
  12. Von Korff V. M. et al. 1997. “Collaborative Management of Chronic Illness.” Annuals of Internal Medicine 127(12):1097-102. Sourced on April 1, 2009 from


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