Unveiling the Paradigm Shift: Conventional Medicine vs. Integrative Health Approaches in Chronic Illness

In the realm of chronic health issues, the approach to treatment has evolved significantly over the years. Conventional medicine and integrative health care approaches represent two distinct paradigms, each with its unique perspective on addressing persistent health issues. In this blog post, we'll delve into the key differences between these approaches.

Conventional Medicine:

Conventional medicine, or what you typically think of when you go to the doctor, focuses on symptom management through medication, surgery, and other interventions. The approach tends to be reductionist, treating individual symptoms rather than looking at the body as a whole and addressing the root causes beneath chronic symptoms. While it has undoubtedly made significant strides in acute care, its efficacy in managing chronic conditions is sometimes limited.

Examples of clients who experienced conventional treatment before coming to me:

  • A person with chest palpitations and high (or low) pulse and digestive discomfort comes in for care and after an EKG, is prescribed beta blockers
  • A person with fatigue, poor mood and anxiety, and weight loss may be prescribed anti-anxiety medications after an evaluation
  • A person with symptoms of hair loss, cold intolerance, fatigue, and depression may be tested for TSH, which they're told is in range, and they are sent home with nothing as the levels were not high enough to offer a prescription medication
  • A person coming in with heavy periods and lower abdominal pain is diagnosed and treated with endometriosis with a laproscopic surgery, then put on birth control
  • A person coming in with intermittent upper right abdominal pain, pale stools, nausea, and jaundice are evaluated for gallbladder function and are recommended gallbladder removal surgery

Integrative Care:

Integrative care or functional medicine, on the other hand, looks at the body as a whole. It seeks to identify and address the underlying causes of chronic illnesses by considering the intricate connections between various systems in the body. Several key concepts define the integrative approach I use:

  1. Analyzing the Intersection of the Whole Body through Comprehensive Functional Lab Testing: These tests go beyond standard diagnostic procedures, providing a more detailed picture of a person's health. Tests may look at imbalances in the stool, urine, blood, nutrient levels, hormones, or even genetics. This approach enables practitioners to identify imbalances and rebalance dysfunctions that may contribute to chronic symptoms, as we believe that all parts of the body impact the other. The liver impacts gut function which impacts hormone and neurotransmitter production. So we consider all of the pieces of the puzzle to help the body heal.

  2. Gut Function: Imbalances in the gut microbiome can lead to inflammation, poor nutrient absorption, increased intestinal permeability, and contribute to other health problems. Addressing gut health through personalized interventions such as dietary changes and targeted supplements forms a cornerstone of integrative care.

  3. Environmental Factors: This includes exposure to toxins, pollutants, and other environmental stressors that cause health problems. By addressing, mitigating, and compensating for these factors, integrative care aims to create an environment conducive to healing.

  4. Food as Medicine: The approach emphasizes the healing power of food, tailoring dietary recommendations to the individual's specific needs. Food quality, food combinations, meal times, and bio-individual needs and variations are all considered when using food as a healing tool.

  5. Nutritional Deficiencies: Sometimes prioritizing food alone is not enough, especially when the body is currently struggling because it may have trouble with absorption or may use and excrete more nutrients to function than normal, so tests are used to figure out what else needs to be supplemented where nutrition and lifestyle currently isn't enough. 

  6. Pathogenic Triggers: Integrative health approaches considers the potential impact of pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, on chronic symptoms. By addressing and eliminating these triggers, practitioners aim to reduce the burden on the immune system and promote recovery.

  7. Lifestyle Changes: In order to prevent the same problems from re-ocurring, lifestyle strategies to support a healthy body are considered. This can range from utilizing movement appropriately depending on a person's healing phase to time management and prioritization to stress management and building healthy relationships and more.
  8. Mindset and Limiting Beliefs: Sometimes what holds people back from health, is actually the stories people tell themselves that keeps them victims of their past instead of empowered individuals creating their future. Healing comes with breaking through these stories to find one's inner strength and power and begin to lead with love instead of shame or guilt.

  9. Nervous System Regulation: Whether it was because of a difficult childhood, past trauma, the experience of living with an invisible illness with little support for years, or just from imbalances due to illness, many people end up with a dysregulated nervous system alongside of physical symptoms. They may have less capacity for incoming stressors, poor coping mechanisms, or struggle to create appropriate boundaries for themselves to allow themselves to be at their best. Bringing calm back to the nervous system through exercises like meditation or breathwork becomes a core part of the process.

  10. Stress Relief: Chronic stress is a common contributor to many health issues. Thus, finding ways to make room for self care and schedule non-negotiables for healing is something we work towards with clients.

So let's talk about the previous examples and how we approached it from an integrative lens:

  • A person with chest palpitations and high (or low) pulse and digestive discomfort comes in evaluation. We find that they are very stressed with high levels of cortisol causing high calcium and magnesium excretion and are hypothyroid. Both of which, can affect a person's heart rhythm and digestion. We work on getting stress down with the right lifestyle tools and priorities, understanding where this person is getting in their own way, supplementing with the right nutrients and adaptogens, and supporting the thyroid with the foods that it needs. Eventually, cortisol patterns stabilize, the thyroid starts functioning properly, digestion improves and the palpitations go away.
  • A person with fatigue, poor mood and anxiety, and weight loss comes in. We find that they have an overgrowth of H pylori along with other gut disturbances, affecting their ability to digestion and absorb nutrients properly causing low appetite and physical symptoms. We prioritize easy to digest and anti-inflammatory foods while we work on eliminating the overgrowth, rebuilding stomach acid, sealing the intestinal lining, and coming up with lifestyle strategies that support a more resilient gut and body. The person is able to eat food more easily, maintain a healthy weight, and mood and energy stabilizes.
  • A person with symptoms of hair loss, cold intolerance, fatigue, and depression comes in. We find elevated tpo antibodies suggesting autoimmunity activity, low cortisol levels, large amounts of aluminum and mercury, high levels of candida overgrowth, and low levels of selenium and other minerals. We focus on rebuilding the immune system by increasing mineral content, focusing on food quality and combinations, reducing exposures to aluminum and mercury, support liver function, rebalancing the gut, and reducing stress. We also work on improving adrenal dysfunction by reducing exercise intensity, getting more sunlight in the morning, making time for more rest and recovery, work on improving blood sugar stability, and using food and energizing adaptogens. We also find out this started after years of birth control use which has been proven to cause nutrient depletion, candida overgrowth, and thyroid dysfunction in susceptible individuals so we work to switching from oral contraceptives to a more natural family planning technique. After removing several stressors taxing the body, the person starts to feel better, feel more energized and hair starts to grow back.
  • A person coming in with heavy periods and lower abdominal pain. We look at the GI map and see their β-Glucuronidase is elevated and they're having trouble metabolizing excess estrogen out of their system. They also have lipopolysaccharide producing parasites and bacteria causing a lot of discomfort. We adjust their diet to better support better estrogen metabolism, support the liver with toxin reduction and the right supplements, and rebalance the gut so that these parasites and bacterial overgrowth is not a problem. Their periods become more manageable and pain goes away.
  • A person coming in with intermittent upper right abdominal pain, pale stools, nausea, and jaundice. We run a GI map and see their steatocrit and elastase levels are elevated, suggesting trouble with fat digestion, poor pancreatic digestive enzyme release, and likely poor bile production. We check for fat soluble vitamin deficiencies, focus on diet and meal schedules, optimize the gut, and use temporary supplements to improve liver, gallbladder, and pancreas health. The pain and symptoms go away. 


While conventional medicine may be the quick and easy way, it often comes with greater risks and side effects. Integrative approaches to health take more investigation, lifestyle changes, and time to work but it often comes with less long term side effects and better health outcomes long term. There is a time and place for both approaches, and sometimes a blend is what's needed.

If you or someone you know think they could benefit from a more integrative approach to their health problems, then feel free to contact me at [email protected] or schedule a complimentary first call here.