“Holistic” medicine, or Integrative medicine practices, addresses the whole person – body, mind and spirit – in the quest to achieve optimal health and wellness. According to the holistic medicine philosophy, one can achieve optimal health by gaining proper balance in life. Holistic and Alternative Medicine are more patient-centered. Not all holistic practitioners spend an hour with their patients the way a Naturopathic Physician does, nevertheless, they focus on the patient as a whole, including their stress level, diet, and lifestyle habits. Our first principle is to do no harm, and our objective is to locate the root cause and not just treat the symptoms. We believe in more natural and safe methods of healing, and only use pharmaceuticals when absolutely necessary.
Integrative medicine combines mainstream medical therapies and CAM therapies for which there is some high quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness. (National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2002).
Doctors and clients are bonding within the philosophy of integrative medicine and its holistic approach, which is designed to treat the whole person; not only the physical symptoms, but also psychological, social and spiritual aspects of health and illness. Integrated medicine can offer very significant benefits for improving and maintaing health and wellbeing. CAM practitioners can offer an awareness and commitment to support the mind/body connection by guiding through resources, techniques and natural remedies to support the healing of self. There is an individual responsibility to health that is empowering and necessary for creating and maintaing optimal health. The ultimate goal is to bring the mind, body and energy system back into balance through alternative therapies such as massage, meditation, soothing herbs, energy healing and therapies that use creative outlets such as art, music and dance.
Esther Sternberg, MD, A national Institutes of Health Senior Scientist and author of The balance within: The science connecting health and emotions says “Patients want to be considered whole human beings in the context of their world. Physicians and academic researchers finally have the science to understand the connection between the brain and immune system, emotions and disease, all of that can now finally understand in terms of sophisticated biology. It is no longer fringe. Medical students are being taught to think in an integrated way about the patient and ultimately, that will improve the management of illness at all levels”.
Alternative medical schemes are built on complete systems of theory and practice, and some techniques which were considered complementary and alternative therapies in the past have been developed in Western cultures as mainstream practice such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and patient group counselling, along with biological based therapies with the use of substances found in nature, herbs, foods and vitamin are used as dietary supplements and herbal products. Some of these dietary supplements have been incorporated into conventional medicine including folic acid for prevention of neural tube defects and cholecalciferol when serum vitamin D levels are below normal for the prevention of osteoporosis.
Alternative therapies play an important part in holistic health and healing, however, when making decisions about health and wellness care it is wise to explore both the conventional route and complementary alternative to see if either/both these medical system can best help you. Below are a list of pros and cons of conventional medicine and complementary modalities, as well as how they specifically relate to the individual client.
Advantages of Integrated Medicine
A major benefit of alternative medicine is that the techniques and remedies are generally safe and nature. When used properly, they can cause few ill effects for most people. For instance, certain supplements and herbs have been proven as effective as pharmaceuticals for conditions such as anxiety, depression and pain without the negative side effects.
Some types of complementary therapies are easily incorporated as part of health lifestyle maintenance. People enjoy regular massage, sipping on dandelion tea for digestion or use an energy technique when feeling stressed or tired.
As interest and demand for natural holistic health care grows, more research into the potential benefits of alternative medicine is being done. Once there is enough supportive research, CAM gains acceptance from the medical world. Massage, acupuncture, physical therapy and chiropractics are examples of alternative medical techniques.
Mainstream medicine is in some way much more limited than alternative medicine, so integrating the two can help to truly heal mind, body and soul. The emphasis is more on the person than the disease, healing inside out rather than having symptoms suppressed or offending body parts operated on. These may be sometimes necessary, but most likely no where near as often as it is currently happening today.
Be aware of red-flags of quackery such as ‘miracle cure-all’, ‘money-back guarantee’, ‘time-tested’, ‘meaningless medical jargon’, ‘satisfaction guarantee’, ‘personal testimonials’ and scare tactics are signs of unreliable nutritional/medical information. Such ridiculous claims on health and wellness reinforce the stigmatism on Complementary and Alternative therapies Industry. Unfortunately there are always going to be unethical practitioners promoting dishonest representations so it’s important to ask your practitioner about their qualifications, educational background and continuing educational practice.
Some individuals may attempt to treat any serious illness or disorder with alternative therapies when conventional medicine would be best for primary care. Alternative and holistic healing modalities can complement medical care, however, a general practitioner should be the main support care.
An individual approaching holistic and complementary medicine with the modern medicine mindset is a common mistake. Alternative medicine is not about pooping pills, suppressing symptoms (although sometimes it can be a part of it), treating a body part and entrusting your total health care to someone else. Addressing only physical imbalances without addressing issues of the mind and spirit only bring about partial benefits at best. It is not the philosophy of holistic modalities.
In order to realise the full benefits of alternative medicine, time and energy must be committed to achieve lifestyle habits, which can be challenging, even with the best intentions. It often takes a very serious illness or health scare to get people to make a shift, and even that is not always enough incentive.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. (2016). The RACGP Curriculum for Australian General Practice 2016. Retrieved from http://curriculum.racgp.org.au/statements/integrative-medicine/
Webmd. (2016). What is Integrated Medicine? Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/alternative-medicine-integrative-medicine#1