Spot The Difference: Integrative vs. Conventional Medicine

Lemon, ginger, and honey on the left with medications on the right

If you live in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, or a slew of other countries – you’re familiar with conventional medicine. Even most Asian nations that see traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as a cornerstone of their culture have adopted conventional medicine as their primary approach to healthcare, while still integrating their TCM into their practice. 

But, integrative medicine is on the rise in the United States and other nations. As of a 2004 CDC survey, 36% of Americans over the age of 18 use some form of integrative therapy, and the practice has only gotten stronger since then.  

What is Conventional Medicine?


Conventional medicine encompasses the traditional healthcare industry most of us know. You might also hear it referred to as Western or mainstream medicine. Conventional medicine involves techniques like surgeries, prescription medications, chemotherapy, and radiation. The global conventional healthcare industry is poised to reach $665 billion by 2028. Needless to say, it’s a massive industry, and for good reason. 

Conventional medicine has awarded us with some of the most beneficial and lifesaving procedures ever seen. Anesthesia, antibiotics, germ theory, and x-ray imaging are just a few examples of important conventional discoveries which have, so far, positively impacted millions of lives.

With that being said, there’s no doubt conventional medicine has some downfalls. Side effects from prescription medication, surgery or radiation do happen. There’s also no guarantee the conventional medicine approach will yield the sought-after results, despite it being the most popular choice of medicine today. 

What is Integrative Medicine?


Enter integrative medicine. 

CAM utilizes non-conventional techniques as an approach to healthcare, like acupuncture, breathwork, medical marijuana, hypnotherapy, IV drips, or homeopathy. It also incorporates techniques from other cultures’ long-standing healthcare practices, like Eastern medicine. 

Written records tell us certain types of integrative medicine have been practiced for at least 5,000 years, however, archaeological records suggest herbal medicine has been used for medicinal purposes for 60,000 years. 

The word integrative is just that: integrative. Integrative medicine integrates with conventional medicine to blend the best of both worlds. Many physicians are open to integrative techniques, some without even realizing it.

Here are a few signs to determine whether or not your physician is open to integrative medicine: 

Recommending a Diet Change


Physicians who are open to integrative solutions will typically be open to dietary changes. 

As experts learn more about the human body through modern science, we are learning that some of the dietary recommendations made to the general public over the last several decades aren’t always the unwavering truth. 

For example, dietary fats have long been avoided out of fear they cause obesity and other health problems, like high cholesterol. This isn’t entirely wrong, however, some fats are essential for the human body and why eating styles like the Mediterranean diet are growing in popularity. We once believed a diet with no fat is healthy, but we now know that at least some healthy fats are necessary in every diet. 

Physicians who use integrative solutions might recommend a specific diet, like keto or paleo. Dietary needs aren’t one-size-fits-all, and depend on your health needs, goals, genetics, and lifestyle factors. 

Prescription Medications Are The First Line of Defense

Prescription medications aren’t evil. However, they are the first line of defense for many physicians when they shouldn’t be. The water becomes even more muddied when we ponder what sort of incentives might be received if these drugs are pushed, but that’s not a primary area of concern. 

More important than that, as many as 40,000 Americans die from the side effects of prescription medication every year. It was the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and Europe in 2014, just after heart disease and cancer. Overdoses are the most common reason for prescription medication-related fatalities. 

Physicians who recommend prescription medication as the first treatment option might not be open to integrative approaches, especially if they don’t offer lifestyle changes alongside a new medication. 

Don’t be afraid to probe your physician and determine if this medication is really necessary or if it’s a precautionary measure. Precautionary measures should be avoided if at all possible, and instead you should adopt different approaches to manage your condition before introducing medication. 

A quick tip: ask your physician how they feel about prescribing antibiotics. If they indicate antibiotics should only be taken as a last resort, chances are they’re open to integrative healthcare approaches. The CDC says 1 in 3 antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary and lead to antibiotic resistance. 

Your Doctor’s Opinion on Medical Marijuana 

This one is easy. If your doctor is open to medical cannabis, they are open to integrative medicine. Medical cannabis is a fundamental part of integrative healthcare approaches for patients in legal states. Those with mental health conditions, pain disorders, GI conditions, and more have reaped the benefits of medical cannabis. 

Medical marijuana patients are often on prescription medication too, it’s not all or nothing. Your doctor might not be open to medical cannabis, and that’s okay. There are a number of physicians who keep up with cannabis research and have coached patients through using medical marijuana. 

Find the Right Doctor

Finding an integrative physician that meets your needs can be intimidating. Heally’s network of physicians combine conventional and integrative approaches to your healthcare plan. 

We’ve found the right doctors, all you have to do is contact us and book your first consultation. Be ready to share your full medical history and current list of medications. 

To find the right integrative physician for you, fill out our patient contact form. We’ll be in touch soon. 


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