Wellness & Holistic Health Terms Defined

Defining holistic terms to help us navigate the (oftentimes) confusing world of wellness


The understanding that the 100 choices you make throughout your day to nourish, improve, and protect your body are healthcare.

The practice of making natural (toxin-free and nutrient-rich) choices in every part of your life, but also realizing that there are occasions when you need pharmaceuticals, radiation, surgery, junk food, too much wine, and a day on the couch.

The belief that you deserve a system and a culture that supports you in this practice, and the will to keep fighting for it until you get it.

The dedication to continuous self-improvement; understanding that you will make bad choices, but forgiving yourself, and starting over the next day.




This term has commonly been used to reference treatments that fall outside of conventional medicine norms, but the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) specifically uses it to refer to a “non-mainstream practice used in place of conventional medicine.”


Autoimmune disease, a subset of chronic disease, occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly identifies healthy cells as dangerous and attacks them. These difficult-to-diagnose types of diseases can affect almost any part of the body and the causes are unknown, but may be related to genetics and/or environmental factors.

There are more than 80 such diseases, including thyroid disorders, type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Conventional treatments are focused on reducing inflammation— a classic sign of the disease— and suppressing the immune system. Integrative medicine and non-conventional care focuses on figuring out the underlying cause and optimizing the immune system. Autoimmune diseases are relatively common and more women are affected than men.


Originating in India, Ayurvedic medicine is an ancient mind-body healing system. Ayurveda means “the science of life” in Sanskrit. Practitioners believe that the elements of space, air, fire, water, and earth are present in each person’s body. The combinations of the elements form three energy types (doshas): vata, pitta, and kapha. Practitioners use treatments to bring the body’s doshas into balance. Ayurvedic practices include use of herbs, meditation, diet, lifestyle, and exercise recommendations. Also referenced to as: Ayurvedic medicine.



A non-communicable condition with specific signs and symptoms that is persistent or long-lasting. Chronic diseases can’t be prevented by vaccines. However, these types of diseases can be caused by health risk behaviors, including lack of exercise, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and too much alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are four main types: cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes. The most common chronic diseases in the U.S. are arthritis, cancer, heart disease, obesity, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, according to the CDC.

Yes, it’s confusing to see different parameters for the term (this 2016 study from Frontiers in Public Health is a helpful explainer) when it comes to nailing down the definition and importance of chronic disease. Here at WellBe, we’re using the term to encompass all of the above and anything that is “continuing or occurring again and again for a long time,” per Merriam-Webster’s definition of “chronic.”


The combination of a non-mainstream approach with conventional medicine. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), the 10 most common complementary approaches among adults are: natural products, deep breathing, yoga/tai chi/qigong, chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, massage, special diets, homeopathy, progressive relaxation, and guided imagery.


The practice of treating symptoms and disease with pharmaceuticals, surgery, or radiation. Also referenced to as: allopathic medicine, modern medicine, Western medicine.



A science-based system of medicine that focuses on finding the underlying cause of disease with a systems-oriented approach to address the whole person. Doctors work in partnership with patients to tailor treatments based on patients’ unique health history, physiology, and lifestyle. Functional medicine doctors use specific lab tests to identify issues and incorporate the latest research on how environment and lifestyle influence disease. Similar to integrative healthcare, functional medicine combines conventional treatments with complementary therapies.



The POV that your health is influenced by all aspects of your well-being, including physical, mental, environmental, social, and spiritual factors. Integrative health brings together conventional healthcare with evidence-based complementary therapies. The goal is to get to the root cause of illness and find the least invasive intervention to address immediate needs and long-term health goals. This approach sees health as a life-long commitment involving equal care by patient and providers. Also referenced to as: holistic health.


The treatments and therapies used in an integrative health approach.



Here at WellBe, we’re using this adjective to describe foods and products that are minimally processed without potentially harmful chemicals. When it comes to what we eat, that means choosing foods that are are as close to what nature made as possible and therefore rich in nutrients. Under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the term indicates that nothing artificial or synthetic has been added that wouldn’t normally be found in the food, but it’s not subject to government controls.


This system is based on individuals’ inherent self-healing abilities and the healing power of nature. It uses modern, traditional, scientific, and evidence-based methods. Naturopathic physicians look for the underlying cause of illness and take into account the patient’s mind, body, and spiritual health. Naturopaths work with patients on lifestyle changes and use treatments including nutritional counseling, herbs, detoxification, and psychological counseling. Naturopathic physicians are specially trained in accredited four-year medical schools, but only 19 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands offer licensure or certification for naturopathic doctors. Also referred to as: naturopathic medicine, natural medicine.



A food or product created without the use of potentially harmful synthetic chemicals or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has specific regulations for use of the term “organic” for food and on products. The USDA organic label is one of few regulatory labels in the U.S., but comes with controversy (the process is arduous and can be costly for small farmers) and may lead to fraud (the $11,000 fine is low for big companies).



A system of medicine originating in ancient China that’s used to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease. Practitioners believe the body’s vital energy, or qi, is key to maintaining health and wellness and that qi flows along channels, or meridians, throughout the body. These meridians balance the function of the mind, body, and spirit. Disease arises when qi is blocked and the body’s natural balance is disrupted. TCM treatments aim to restore the body’s balance. These methods include acupuncture, herbs, qi gong, acupressure, and massage. Also referenced to as: TCM.



According to Merriam-Webster, wellness is “the quality or state of being in good health especially as an actively sought goal.” At WellBe, we support that and add that wellness is about being in good health in all aspects of your life in order the thrive and avoid chronic disease. This includes (but isn’t limited to) your physical, emotional, interpersonal, mental, social, and spiritual health. Wellness isn’t just about taking good care of yourself, it’s also about taking good care of the people and world around you. Also referenced to as: prevention.

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