Alternative, Complementary or Integrative – What is in a Name?

global cancer researcher prof dan burke on the benefits of salvestrols

Dr Brom discusses natural products as alternative, complementary and integrative.

The term ‘alternative medicine’ was a useful term a decade ago, but serves no purpose today when the movement is much more towards some kind of integrative process. The term alternative medicine is no longer used by any of my integrative colleagues and will generally only be referred to as such on the Internet or in old publications. Integration is not alternative or even complementary, which is becoming a less popular term. Integration is about integrating a much broader philosophy of medicine that encompasses lifestyle changes, optimising health, dealing with the underlying dysfunctional systems within the body and managing the disease if present.

Integrative doctors will use many approaches along the way that they have learned from many different sources including acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal medicine and other techniques that a particular integrative doctor may be interested in. The key issue is around supporting health rather than merely treating the disease with drugs and/or surgery.

Integration is about supporting lifestyle in a much more aggressive way. I am sure that most conventional doctors will agree they just don’t have enough time to deal with lifestyle, even though most of the chronic ill health, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, seen today is driven by poor lifestyle choices.

The focus on disease by most conventional medical doctors has allowed for short consultation, the use of multiple drugs to treat symptoms and attempts to quick fix the problem. The patient’s voice and needs are often not taken into account. Patients often end up with two to six different drugs despite the fact that there is very little science to this kind of combination, especially in each unique person. Side effects are often incorrectly blamed on the disease.


I recently read on an online forum that ‘antibiotics treat disease’. That’s an interesting statement. To my knowledge and training, antibiotics kill bacteria only. The body’s innate intelligence stimulates the healing process, which does the healing. If the latter is no longer functioning normally, then no amount of antibiotic will heal. Antibiotics have a place, but integrative doctors may or may not use them depending on the needs of the system and whether the body can cope on its own.


Textbooks of biochemistry or physiology do not refer to synthetic drugs sustaining and supporting physiological and biochemical functions. When you look at liver detox, you will discover, perhaps to your doctor’s surprise, that what the liver requires in phase 1 of detox is folic acid, vitamin B3, B6, B12, A, C, D3, E, and that for phase 2 of detox it requires a range of amino acid, NAC and this is also where the cruciferous vegetables contribute. Milk thistle contributes to phase 1.

What the body requires to support health can be easily read about in any medical textbook.

Natural products support the natural movement of physiological functions. These natural products are even called essential fatty acids, essential amino acids and essential vitamins. However, in today’s world most people are deficient in a range of nutrients – their body systems become compromised and slowly more and more dysfunctional. Ill health is the consequence of major nutritional deficiencies, serious toxic exposure, stress, lack of exercise, poor sleep patterns and only a small part from gene expression.

The methylation pathway is another important detox pathway requiring folic acid, B12 and B6 to function normally and (again) not drugs. Detoxification is what the body does to heal itself in a most natural way, provided of course it has the nutrients it needs to do so.

The second answer to the question: ‘Where is the science for natural products?’ is in the textbooks on integrative and functional medicine, written mainly by medical professionals and supported by their medical schools with thousands of references, and the many peer-reviewed journals of integrative, natural and functional medicine, yearly conferences and congresses conducted around the world, and the experience of thousands of integrative doctors globally. The Internet also has some really good sites with reliable information.


In an integrative practice, symptomatic drug treatment and certainly antibiotics and even vaccines may have their place. It is all about appropriateness and listening to patients’ needs carefully. In my experience, healing will happen if the body’s functions are optimised, stress is reduced, food choices are made wisely, exercise is appropriate and the limits of drug medicine are recognised.

Lifestyle changes could change the face of medicine and make a huge dent in the incidence of many chronic diseases. It is not that more and stronger drugs are required, nor better surgical techniques and clever diagnostic tools, but education of doctors and their patients about the effects that simple lifestyle changes could really make. Adding nutritional supplements to optimise health would be the cherry on the top.

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Alternative, Complementary or Integrative – What is in a Name?

Dr Bernard Brom
About The Author
- MB CHB (UCT), CEDH (HOMEOPATHY, FRANCE), DIP ACUP (SINGAPORE), Former Chairman of the South African Society of Integrative Medicine(SASIM), he started his practice in 1976 using holistic approaches incorporating natural medicines, homeopathy, herbal medicine, nutritional medicine and life style management. He also is an expert in the use of low energy lasers and biopuncture-like techniques. He is now retired to teach medical professionals integrative medicine and write his books.