Holistic Health – Alternative Medicine for Healthy Living
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Time to read 7 min
Holism is an approach to health care that considers every part of a patient’s lifestyle, habits, nutrition, activity, and community support to develop a comprehensive treatment plan. It assesses spiritual, emotional, social, and physical wellness to reduce risk factors that cause disease as well as improve current health status. Holistic healthcare is highly individualized due to its thorough assessment process.
The holistic approach treats the whole person, building health from the bottom up rather than trying to resolve specific symptoms or ailments. Holistic health care postulates that symptoms are made up of interdependent parts and should not be viewed separately. When the parts of a whole person are viewed together, patterns emerge, leading to a systematic explanation of the manifestation of symptoms.
Inflammation, for example, is a highly complex issue. In a traditional medical approach, the provider would focus on the use of pharmacological tactics, like recommending an anti-inflammatory drug. Practitioners of naturopathic medicine view inflammation through a different lens. A holistic health practitioner would look at diet, stress levels, mental wellness, physical activity, ways of reducing pain, and more as possible sources of inflammation, treating the origin of the ailment rather than mitigating symptoms. Typically, this leads to higher levels of wellness.
A salient quote from the British Association of Holistic Medicine and Healthcare states:
“...nothing can be fully understood unless one sees the whole system of which it is part – and the whole is always more than the sum of its parts.” (4)
Holistic care providers employ many tools to support the different types of wellness this approach prioritizes, and may recommend a combination of them in your treatment plan.
The emotional angle tackles things like stress and depression, which can suppress proper immune function and decrease the patient’s enjoyment of life. This may look like:
The spiritual component prioritizes a sense of purpose, connection, and expression and can be achieved via:
The social factor refers to your support system. A sense of community supports social well-being and boosts subjective satisfaction with life. Your family and friends are the core unit of your support circle and are there to fall back on when you are going through a tough time. Holistic health studies show that having support improves subjective feelings of happiness. Some social activities that strengthen your circle are:
This is the most diverse category in Holistic Medicine. Physical therapies can address chronic pain, blood/lymphatic flow, nutrition, digestion, and energy balance in the body. Some common therapies include:
There are many holistic forms of healthcare across culture groups and schools of thought. Below are some types of holistic healthcare and how they view restoring health and well-being. Some of these medical systems are actually an approach to life rather than focusing fully on disease pathology.
This is true “Eastern” medicine. This traditional holistic approach focuses on ancient healing traditions based on energy balance, called Qi. Qi is related to maintaining the proper balance of yin and yang energies in the body and is similar to Ayurveda. When one side of yin or yang takes over, problems like inflammation or sickness occur. It is only by restoring that balance that the cause can be fixed.
Mind-Body Medicine tackles internal turmoil by allowing you to reconnect with yourself and decrease stressors. Modalities of health and healing through Mind-Body Medicine are meditation, breathwork, yoga, and mindfulness. Western medicine has cures for every physical ailment but fails to confront stress, which can be a considerable driver of mental health issues. Cortisol is the hormone released when you are stressed, and it can be a non-physical underlying cause of inflammation, flu-like symptoms, or depression. By reconnecting with yourself, sorting your priorities, and establishing inner peace, patients can see improvements in chronic pain, inflammatory digestive problems, and even addiction.
By focusing on sensations, somatic medicine helps people experiencing chronic physical symptoms due to the manifestation of stored emotions and trauma. By uncovering, observing, and working through your trauma, you are able to move past something that makes you feel “stuck” or unsafe. This approach is similar to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy but is more intuitive than scientific. Trauma can cause trust issues, intimacy issues, migraine headaches, PTSD, increased muscle tension/chronic pain, anxiety, depression, the accumulation of cortisol in the body, and low self-worth. The basis of somatic therapy is noticing physical feelings related to trauma, establishing a feeling of safety, and ultimately decreasing the body’s physical response to the underlying issue.
Preventative medicine comes in many forms but can be principally divided into primary, secondary, and tertiary preventive measures. Most healthcare practitioners will use a mix of these types of measures.
Primary prevention prevents ailments before they begin by making adjustments to patient lifestyle choices. Lifestyle adjustments can come in the form of increased exercise, stopping risky behaviors like smoking or drinking, or improved nutrition. Vaccination is another key part of the primary preventative method, protecting the patient from disease before it can start. Primary prevention also manifests in the form of education about risk factors or predispositions to disease based on genetic markers – making the patient aware that a danger exists so that they can pay more attention to their decisions. Lifestyle medicine falls under this category in that it establishes good habits that protect the patient’s health.
Secondary prevention focuses on early intervention. Early intervention starts with screening. Breast cancer, prostate cancer, and Alzheimer’s all have suggested ages at which screening should start because that is when it can be caught early enough to halt progression or prevent significant side effects. Vaccination has duality in its prevention classification because it also stops the spread of diseases within communities once they are present on an individual level.
Integrative medicine is gaining popularity in multiple countries as it combines holistic "complementary" care and traditional Western medicine. It is cross-cultural and considers the whole person. It promotes the balance that holistic health prioritizes, as well as utilizing current scientific knowledge to inform treatment decisions. Integrative health providers use a mix of complementary and alternative therapies (Eastern medicinal practices) like acupuncture, in concert with conventional medicine (Western), like prescribing a particular diet. They approach the assessment, however, precisely as a holistic doctor would, by collecting as much information as possible and recognizing symptom commonalities and how they interact across bodily systems.
A new type of physician is emerging in the United States, rivaling the Medical Doctor (M.D.) certification, which primarily teaches the Allopathic Medicine system. Allopathic medicine is the traditional “Western” approach to medicine, which addresses the physical symptoms of a disease by relying on medical imaging, surgery, and pharmacology to improve physical health. These doctors approach medicine systematically, with a targeted strategy to resolve individual symptoms rather than a broad-stroke plan to promote health and wellness. This is a stark contrast to the principles of naturopathy and homeopathy.
The newly emerging type of healthcare professional in the U.S. is the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.). This is the American holistic approach. An Osteopathic Doctor receives the same education as an Allopathic Doctor but must complete 200 more hours of holistic technique practice, which is not required at medical schools offering the M.D. program. Though Osteopathic Doctors can choose any specialty just like Allopathic Doctors can, many Osteopathic Doctors end up in primary care roles. In primary care, D.O.s can make the most significant difference for their patient population by employing preventative and holistic techniques to improve overall health and prevent or cure ailments.
The principles of Holistic Medicine teach us that our systems are interconnected. We are not machines with simple answers to our problems, but complicated and sensitive beings that need to be cared for as such. Approaching medicine in terms of energy, feelings, or movement may be right for one person and wrong for another, but it is important to understand what forms of health care are available to find what works best for you.
Holism is an approach to wellness that takes a broad view of your habits, your body, and its ailments to address the root causes of illness rather than treating individual symptoms or diseases. The ultimate goal is to restore optimal health to the body.
Holistic health is an approach that is vital because Western medicine falls short of addressing many chronic issues, such as pain, inflammation, or stress, that can cause complicated and interrelated pathologies within the body that can not be fixed by medication or surgery.
1) Recommending lifestyle changes like diet, exercise, or smoking cessation. 2) Engaging in stress-reducing practices to help with inflammation and mental health issues, like meditation or picking up a new hobby. 3) Treating chronic pain with movement therapies, acupuncture, or massage. 4) Caring for the social aspect of mental health by encouraging community involvement and the development of your support circle. 5) Use of medicinal herbs and supplements to address systemic problems.
Madeleine is a Medical Copywriter who was born in Upstate New York. She graduated from Temple University with a Bachelor of Science in Human Biology in 2019. She is a digital nomad who travels full-time.
Dr. Sanober Doctor is a dual-board certified dermatologist, & a leading expert in Integrative and holistic Dermatology. She is a proactive, compassionate medical practitioner with a thorough understanding of mind-body-spiritual wellness.