Holistic medicine is a more complete and balanced approach to healthcare. It is based on the principle that the human body is a self-healing organism, and that illness may result from any failure of this self-healing process. The holistic practitioner, therefore, focuses on the whole person—not just the symptoms or disease being treated. This includes exploring the patient’s current state of mind, diet, exercise habits, lifestyle, and even their social environment. The aim is to identify any areas of stress, toxicity, or blocked energy that may be interfering with the body’s self-healing process. Different types of holistic practitioners may use different techniques and tools. These can include herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage, dietary and nutrition advice, lifestyle coaching, and other techniques that the patient may not identify as “medical”. This “whole person” approach is sometimes called “complementary” healthcare—because it is meant to be used in addition to conventional “modern” medical care. However, it is generally preferred over the term “alternative” care—which has sometimes been used to describe therapies and medicines that are not accepted by the mainstream medical community.
How does holistic medicine differ from modern medicine?
Holistic approaches to healthcare are often thought of as being “alternative”, or something that goes beyond “modern” medical care. But these terms are not precisely defined, and the practices they describe vary widely. Therefore, it is helpful to understand what modern medicine is—and how holistic approaches differ from it. Modern medicine (also known as “conventional” or “allopathic” care) focuses on suppressing or removing symptoms of disease and preventing future illness. This is often done with drugs or surgery—though many modern medical practitioners also use other tools such as lifestyle advice or biological therapies (such as vaccines or gene therapy). Modern medicine has advanced our understanding of human health and disease and has made significant strides in improving human life expectancy. It has proven especially useful in treating acute infections and injuries, as well as chronic conditions such as cancer. Modern medicine is also useful in managing conditions with a clearly defined, measurable biological cause—such as diabetes.
Benefits of holistic medicine
- More complete care - Holistic medicine treats the whole person—including their lifestyle and environment. This can help identify and address causes of disease that may not show up in standard medical tests. - Better management of chronic conditions - Certain chronic conditions such as asthma, allergies, and digestive disorders respond better to holistic care than to modern medicine. In these cases, the holistic practitioner is more likely to be able to identify and address the underlying causes of the disease. - Complementary care - Most holistic therapies work well as “complementary” care for a modern medical diagnosis. They may help manage symptoms and side effects of modern therapies, reduce stress, and improve quality of life, or address other factors impacting disease progression.
Limitations of holistic medicine
- No cure - Some modern diseases may never be “cured” via holistic therapies. Other conditions may require specific treatments or may not be treatable by any means. - No standard protocols - No two people are exactly alike, and there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for any health concern. This can make the holistic approach more challenging—especially if the practitioner does not specialize in the patient’s specific condition. - Long-term commitment - Many holistic therapies require a long-term commitment by the patient and may take time to produce results. This can be difficult for patients who are seeking a quick fix to a sudden health problem. - Some negative effects - Any intervention in the body—even a healing one—can have side effects. This can be uncomfortable for the patient, and can also lead to an increased risk of other health problems.
Who should receive holistic care?
While the holistic approach is not appropriate for all conditions or situations, it is often helpful for managing chronic diseases and minimizing side effects. Some individuals may benefit particularly from holistic approaches. They include: - Those with chronic conditions - Chronic diseases often involve long-term, complex interactions between the body and the environment. This means that the best way to manage these conditions is not just to treat the disease, but to also address the other factors in the patient’s life that may be impacting the disease. - Individuals with multiple conditions - A common approach in modern medicine is to focus on treating one disease at a time. But many people suffer from more than one chronic condition and treating each one in isolation may be inefficient and ineffective. - Individuals taking multiple medicines - The more drugs that a person takes, the more side effects they are likely to experience. This can affect a person’s quality of life and may impact disease progression.
When should patients receive holistic care?
In many cases, the best time to begin a holistic approach is at the start of a modern medical treatment plan—before it becomes too complicated. This gives the patient an opportunity to manage factors that may interfere with the effectiveness of their modern treatment. It also allows them to look after their general health and well-being in between conventional appointments. For example, if a patient is taking anti-cancer drugs, they should also be managing other risk factors such as their diet and stress levels. This can help reduce the side effects of the drug and improve their chance of success.
Holistic medicine is a more complete and balanced approach to healthcare. It is based on the principle that the human body is a self-healing organism, and that illness may result from any failure of this self-healing process. The holistic practitioner, therefore, focuses on the whole person—not just the symptoms or disease being treated. A more complete approach to care can treat the whole person, including their lifestyle and environment. This can help identify and address causes of disease that may not show up in standard medical tests. It can also better manage chronic conditions and minimize the side effects of modern medicine. Anyone who is hoping to improve their health and well-being would do well to explore holistic approaches to care.