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Research on Whole Person Health

Introduction and Explanation of Need

Complementary health approaches include a broad range of practices and interventions that may have originated outside of conventional medical care. Complementary approaches can be classified by their primary therapeutic input, which may be nutritional (e.g., special diets, dietary supplements, botanicals, probiotics, and microbial-based therapies), psychological (e.g., meditation, hypnosis, music therapies, relaxation therapies), physical (e.g., acupuncture, massage, manual therapies, devices related to these approaches), a combination of psychological and physical (e.g., yoga, tai chi, dance therapies, some forms of art therapies), or a combination of nutritional, psychological, and physical (e.g., Ayurveda, naturopathy, traditional Chinese medicine). The term integrative health care refers to conventional and complementary approaches used together in a coordinated way. Research on whole person health in the complementary and integrative spheres emphasizes research on multicomponent interventions that aim to improve health in multiple interconnected domains: biological (including multiple organs and systems), behavioral, social, and environmental.

As a relatively new concept, research on whole person health is different from reduction-based research, which mostly focuses on a single intervention’s impact on one or at most a few physiological systems as separate processes. Understanding how multiple physiological systems interconnect and interact is one of the key challenges for the success of research on whole person health. Complementary and integrative health approaches often are multicomponent interventions or engage multiple therapeutic systems. Their complexity and heterogeneity may require innovative study designs to fully investigate their fundamental science and therapeutic effects. Furthermore, sophisticated analytic tools and methods may need to be developed to encompass the double complexity of multiple system outcomes and their relationships with multicomponent interventions.

What Does Success Look Like?

  • Expanded research investigating the interaction of multiple physiological systems.
  • New methodologies to study multicomponent interventions in an integrative approach or systems science approach.
  • New research methods, approaches, and resources to enable integration of multicomponent therapies with multisystem outcomes.


  • Support inclusion of additional systems outcome measures in ongoing research projects as secondary outcomes to build preliminary data for future multisystem studies.
  • Encourage development and testing of multicomponent interventions, building on the success of single-component interventions.
  • Support research to develop and validate measures and composite indices of multisystem outcomes for whole person health.
  • Expand development of protocolized multicomponent treatment interventions that are reproducible and can be rigorously tested in clinical trials.