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Glossary of Integrative Medicine Terms



Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine (AIHM)

The Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine (AIHM) provides fellowship training, courses, conferences, and professional membership to integrative medicine practitioners in the U.S. and internationally. AIHM was officially formed in 1978 and is headquartered in La Jolla, California. AIHM offers a fellowship in Integrative Health & Medicine, available to clinicians who have completed post-graduate training and who hold an active license. The fellowship has been certified by the American Board of Integrative Medicine since 2015.

American Board of Integrative Medicine (ABOIM)

The Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine (AIHM) provides fellowship training, courses, conferences, and professional membership to integrative medicine practitioners in the U.S. and internationally. AIHM was officially formed in 1978 and is headquartered in La Jolla, California. AIHM offers a fellowship in Integrative Health & Medicine, available to clinicians who have completed post-graduate training and who hold an active license. The fellowship has been certified by the American Board of Integrative Medicine since 2015.

For more information, visit ABPS


American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS)

The American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS) is one of three major organizations in the U.S. which provide official accreditation to medical specialties. The organization establishes eligibility requirements and testing standards for both allopathic and osteopathic physicians to become board certified. In 2014, ABPS gave accreditation to the [[American Board of Integrative Medicine (ABOIM)]], making integrative medicine one of twenty medical specialties officially recognized by ABPS.

For a detailed explanation of board certification for integrative medicine, see Dr. Falcone’s post, Is Integrative Medicine Legitimate?


Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine

Part of the University of Arizona, The Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine offers educational programs, training, and a residency fellowship in integrative medicine. The center was founded in 1994 by integrative medicine pioneer Dr. Andrew Weil, who remains on faculty as a Professor of Medicine and Public Health.


Ayurveda is an ancient Indian system of medicine that dates back over 5,000 years. It's based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. The primary focus of Ayurveda is to promote good health, rather than fight disease. Treatment approaches in Ayurveda include diet, herbal remedies, massage therapy, yoga, and meditation. The practice also emphasizes the importance of a personalized approach to health, considering an individual's unique constitution, life forces, and body energies.




Biofeedback is a technique used to learn to control bodily functions that are typically involuntary, like heart rate, muscle tension, blood pressure, and skin temperature. It involves using sensors that provide information about these bodily functions. The patient, through various mental exercises and real-time feedback, learns to influence and control these functions. Biofeedback is used for various conditions including chronic pain, migraine, high blood pressure, tension headaches, and urinary incontinence.

Brain-Gut Connection

The brain-gut connection refers to a growing body of research showing that, just as the brain sends signals to the gut via the body’s central nervous system, the gut can also send signals to the brain. It does this via what is known as the enteric nervous system (ENS), which is made up of approximately 100 million nerve cells in and around the body’s gastrointestinal tract. The vagus nerve, the longest in the body, supplies a large portion of the gastrointestinal tract and is responsible for delivering information from the gut to the brain, according to recent research. Together, these nerve connections, sometimes referred to as the body’s “second brain,” are capable of delivering information to the brain “such as whether the stomach is bloated or whether there is infection in the GI tract or insufficient blood flow…” This brain-gut connection helps explain how integrative approaches to health and wellness, including changes to your diet, can impact and improve conditions like depression traditionally thought to originate in the brain.



Functional Medicine

Functional medicine shares many similarities with integrative medicine, but with a slightly greater emphasis toward investigating and resolving root causes of disease, and away from integrative medicine’s “whole person” approach that takes into account the body, mind, and spirit. But both functional medicine and integrative medicine have the same goals of crafting personalized plans to allow patients to achieve their most optimal, vibrant health.


Also, see integrative medicine.




Healthspan is the word Dignity Integrative uses to describe the combination of a healthy life with a long life. Using healthspan as a goal distinguishes the practice of integrative medicine from the traditional medical goal of extending lifespan, with little regard to whether that longer life includes mental and physical wellbeing. 

To learn more about healthspan, read Dr. Angelo Falcone’s post, What is healthspan and how do you achieve it?

Hormone imbalance

A hormone imbalance occurs when there is too much or too little of one of the chemicals in your bloodstream which regulate important bodily functions Examples of hormones include testosterone, estrogen, insulin, adrenaline, or cortisol. The prime way of discovering a hormone imbalance is through blood tests which can detect these hormones. Hormone imbalances can usually be treated with medication, but in some cases an integrative approach that combines attention to diet, sleep, movement, and mental resilience can provide the same benefits with fewer side effects.




Insomnia includes a range of sleep-related difficulties, including trouble falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, waking up too early, and sleep that isn’t restful. Insomnia can be acute (lasting a few days or weeks), transient (lasting a short time, but not recurring), or chronic (lasting at least three days a week for a month). There are several prescription medications and non-prescription supplements available to treat insomnia, but as these can actually further disrupt sleep patterns they are recommended only after non-pharmacological strategies. 

To learn more, read Dr. Angelo Falcone’s post, How to treat insomnia without medication.

Institute for Functional Medicine

A nonprofit with offices in Washington, DC, and Santa Fe, NM, the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) has a three-pronged mission: education and training for functional medicine practitioners; research and partnerships to advance clinical care; and direct to consumer advocacy to improve patient wellbeing. Founded in 1991, IFM is one of the leading institutions guiding the development and practice of functional and integrative medicine.

Integrative medicine (also called Functional Medicine)

Integrative medicine is evidence-based, healing-oriented medicine that takes into account the whole person, including all aspects of lifestyle. Dignity Integrative’s approach is to form a partnership between the practitioner and the patient which combines traditional medical evaluation with a focus on four underlying aspects of health and wellness: sleep, food, movement, and mental resilience.



Leaky gut

Leaky gut, also referred to as intestinal permeability, refers to instances when cracks, holes, or weaknesses in the intestinal lining allow partially digested food, toxins, and or other bacteria to penetrate the tissues underneath. This may lead to inflammation or changes in the gut bacteria and lead to problems in the digestive tract or elsewhere in the body. Traditional medicine typically doesn’t recognize “leaky gut” as an end diagnosis but rather treats intestinal permeability as a condition requiring further testing or examination.



Methylation (or Methylation Cycle)

The methylation cycle can be thought of as the body’s on/off switch for your genes. The goal is to keep harmful genes methylated and therefore inactive in our systems (this is one of the pathways Dignity Integrative checks during our initial, baseline testing). 


Methylation itself is a biochemical process whereby a methyl group (CH3) adds itself to another molecule—such as proteins in your DNA—thereby inhibiting its function. Conversely, demethylation is the removal of the CH3 from a molecule, thereby activating it. This cycle of activating or inhibiting genes regulates nearly every function in the body, including cardiovascular, neurological, reproductive, and liver functions. Research has shown that the methylation cycle can be influenced by diet, especially the addition of vitamins such as B12, folate, choline, and betaine, and also that your body’s methylation cycle changes as you age, altering your ability to regulate basic functions and even fight disease.


The microbiome refers to all living organisms present inside your body, both symbiotic and pathogenic, including all bacteria, achaea (similar to bacteria), viruses, and fungi. Recent estimates are that there are as many as 100 trillion microbes in the gut (compared to approximately 37 trillion human cells). Most of the organisms which make up our microbiome are essential to regulating health, producing vitamins, maintaining our immune system, fighting pathogens, and protecting us from disease-causing bacteria. The majority of the microbiome can be found in our intensitinal system, which is why an integrative medicine approach to health must include a focus on nutrition.

For more, read How the Microbiome Affects Your Overall Health

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

MBSR is a structured program that uses mindfulness meditation to alleviate suffering associated with physical, psychosomatic, and psychiatric disorders. The program, developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, teaches participants how to focus awareness on body sensations, thoughts, and emotions in a nonjudgmental way. It is widely used for stress management and a variety of other conditions.

Mitochondrial function

The mitochondria are organelles (mini-organs inside cells), which are responsible for a number of metabolic processes. They are most well known for helping your body turn food into energy, but they also play an important role in helping to decide whether and when cells die, a process known as apoptosis. Activities like fasting and appropriate nutrition or supplements can improve both the state and numbers of mitochondria. Exercise is also a known mitochondrial booster.  


Proper mitochondrial function is one of the baseline tests Dignity Integrative performs as part of a patient’s overall evaluation and is now recognized as integral to preventing a range of diseases, from cancer to heart disease.




Naturopathy is a form of alternative medicine that employs an array of practices branded as "natural" or "self-healing," including homeopathy, herbalism, and acupuncture, as well as diet and lifestyle counseling. Naturopaths advocate a holistic approach to patient care, and may recommend interventions that are also common in conventional medicine, like dietary changes, physical exercise, and stress reduction techniques.

Nutrient deficiencies

A variety of nutrients (vitamins and minerals), help your body function at the cellular level, such as calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, and Vitamins A, B, C, and D. Different nutrients support different organ functions, and thus certain nutrient deficiencies can be contributing factors to a range of adverse health effects and chronic diseases. Nutrient deficiencies can be uncovered with blood tests and corrected for either with changes to diet or by taking vitamin supplements.


Osteopathic Medicine

Osteopathic medicine is a branch of medical practice in the United States that emphasizes the treatment and prevention of illness and injury through osteopathic manipulation—a hands-on approach to ensuring the body's musculoskeletal structure is balanced and functioning optimally. DOs (Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine) are fully licensed physicians who practice in all areas of medicine and emphasize a whole-person approach to treatment.



This is the study of the use of plant extracts for medicinal purposes. Also known as herbal medicine, phytotherapy is based on the use of plants or plant extracts to treat various medical conditions. This practice acknowledges the medicinal and therapeutic properties of plants and uses them in treatments for various ailments.


Probiotics refer to various types of beneficial bacteria or yeasts that live in your gut, and which help your body digest food, create vitamins, break down and absorb medication, and fight off “bad” bacteria. Prebiotics are food sources for those bacteria, such as fiber. We ingest probiotics most regularly through fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, or tempeh. Probiotics, together with trillions of other living organisms in your body, collectively make up your microbiome.



Sarcopenia is the medical term for loss of muscle mass as we age. When this happens, not only do we lose the ability to perform normal daily physical functions, but we become less able to maintain insulin sensitivity. Sarcopenia is believed to have multiple contributing causes, including hormonal changes, inflammatory pathway activation, declines in activity, chronic illness, fatty infiltration, and poor nutrition. Many of these can be slowed or even reversed with changes to our diet and through exercise.


To learn more about sarcopenia, read Move or Die: Exercising As We Age.


Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

TCM is an ancient system of health and wellness that’s been used in China for thousands of years. TCM practitioners use various mind and body practices (like acupuncture and tai chi) as well as herbal products to address health problems. It's based on the belief that a vital force of life, known as Qi, surges through the body. Any imbalance to Qi can cause disease and illness. TCM aims to create harmony and a healthy flow of Qi.

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