What is Integrative Medicine?

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) at the National Institutes of Health defines integrative medicine as an approach that “combines mainstream medical therapies and CAM therapies for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness.”

The Canadian Integrative Medicine Association (CIMA) considers the following as Integrative Therapies.

Whole medical systems are built upon complete systems of theory and practice. Often, these systems have evolved apart from and earlier than the conventional medical approach used in North America. Examples of whole medical systems that have developed in Western cultures include homeopathic medicine, naturopathic medicine. Examples of systems that have developed in non-Western cultures include Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Ayurveda.

  • Naturopathic Medicine is a whole medical system that originated in Europe. Naturopathy aims to support the body’s ability to heal itself through the use of dietary and lifestyle changes together with CAM therapies such as herbs, massage, and joint manipulation.
  • Homeopathic Medicine is a whole medical system that originated in Europe. Homeopathy seeks to stimulate the body’s ability to heal itself by giving very small doses of highly diluted substances that in larger doses would produce illness or symptoms (an approach called “like cures like”).
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine is a whole medical system that originated in China. It is based on the concept that disease results from disruption in the flow of qi (energy) and imbalance in the forces of yin (feminine energy) and yang (masculine energy). Practices such as herbs, meditation, massage, and acupuncture seek to aid healing by restoring the yin-yang balance and the flow of qi.
  • Ayurveda is a whole medical system that originated in India. It aims to integrate the body, mind, and spirit to prevent and treat disease. Therapies used include diet, herbs, massage, and yoga.
Mind-body medicine uses a variety of techniques designed to enhance the mind’s capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms. Some techniques that were considered CAM in the past have become mainstream (for example, patient support groups and cognitive-behavioral therapy). Other mind-body techniques are still considered CAM, including meditation, prayer, mental healing, and therapies that use creative outlets such as art, music, or dance.

Meditation is a conscious mental process using certain techniques—such as focusing attention or maintaining a specific posture—to suspend the stream of thoughts and relax the body and mind.

Biologically based practices in CAM use substances found in nature, such as herbs, foods, and vitamins. Some examples include dietary supplements, herbal products, and the use of other so-called natural but as yet scientifically unproven therapies (for example, using shark cartilage to treat cancer).
Manipulative and body-based practices in CAM are based on manipulation and/or movement of one or more parts of the body. Some examples include chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, and massage.

  • Manipulation is the application of controlled force to a joint, moving it beyond the normal range of motion in an effort to aid in restoring health. Manipulation may be performed as a part of other therapies or whole medical systems, including chiropractic medicine, massage, and osteopathy.
  • Osteopathy is a type of manipulation practiced by osteopathic physicians. It focuses on total body health by treating and strengthening the musculoskeletal framework, which includes the joints, muscles and spine. Its aim is to positively affect the body’s nervous, circulatory and lymphatic systems. Osteopaths do not simply concentrate on treating the problem area, but use manual techniques to balance all the systems of the body, to provide overall good health and wellbeing.
  • Massage is the pressing, rubbing, and moving muscles and other soft tissues of the body, primarily by using the hands and fingers. The aim is to increase the flow of blood and oxygen to the massaged area.
Energy therapies involve the use of energy fields. They are of two types:

  • Biofield therapies are intended to affect energy fields that purportedly surround and penetrate the human body. The existence of such fields has not yet been scientifically proven. Some forms of energy therapy manipulate biofields by applying pressure and/or manipulating the body by placing the hands in, or through, these fields. Examples include Qi Gong, Reiki, and Therapeutic Touch.
    • Qi Gong is a component of Traditional Chinese Medicine that combines movement, meditation, and controlled breathing. The intent is to improve blood flow and the flow of qi (energy).
    • Reiki is a therapy in which practitioners seek to transmit a universal energy to a person, either from a distance or by placing their hands on or near that person. The intent is to heal the spirit and thus the body.
    • Therapeutic Touch is a therapy in which practitioners pass their hands over another person’s body with the intent to use their own perceived healing energy to identify energy imbalances and promote health.

Bioelectromagnetic-based therapies involve the unconventional use of electromagnetic fields, such as pulsed fields, magnetic fields, or alternating-current or direct-current fields.