What is Holistic Medicine, and Why Should I Care?

What is Holistic Medicine, and Why Should I Care?

Holistic medicine is a broad term that describes a variety of approaches to medical care that focus on a patient’s overall health, rather than just the treatment of a specific disease. While holistic medicine does incorporate traditional Western medical practices, it also embraces a range of alternative and non-Western treatments that promote lifelong health and wellness. 

According to WebMD, holistic medicine emphasizes the interconnected nature of a patient’s health. It reflects the belief that if one aspect of the patient’s body or mind isn’t working properly, then other aspects of their health will also suffer. In addition to conventional, Western allopathic treatments, a holistic medicine practitioner might also prescribe an alternative or naturopathic treatment, such as acupuncture for back pain or ginger for a cold. They might also look into other aspects of the patient’s life to determine if there are any other factors that might be influencing their health.

  • 65 to 80 percent of the world population uses holistic, naturopathic medicine as their primary form of healthcare, according to World Health Organization (WHO) statistics cited by Disabled World.
  • In the US, roughly 38 percent of adults and 12 percent of children have received some form of complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) in their lifetimes, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
  • According to the same set of statistics, the use of CAM is more common among women and those with higher incomes and higher education levels
  • The Greek physician Hippocrates, often considered the “Founder of Medicine,” practiced holistic medicine. His school of medicine included the holistic practices of “health promotion, interventions on trauma care, and mental care and art therapy interventions,” according to an article from the Journal of Medical Ethics and History of Medicine

Many people hear the terms “holistic medicine” and “alternative therapies” and assume that practitioners are superstitious or unscientific. That couldn’t be further from the truth. While holistic medicine does address the patient’s emotional and spiritual well-being, it is not a rejection of conventional Western medical practices. Instead, it’s meant to integrate traditional forms of treatment with alternative therapies and practices that help address the root causes of the patient’s health issues.

While many in the Western, allopathic medical community tended to view holistic medicine with skepticism in the past, attitudes have been changing gradually over the past two decades, according to Encyclopedia.com. In the early 2000s, health insurance companies  began to cover certain types of alternative and complementary treatments, and doctors became increasingly likely to refer patients to holistic and alternative medical practitioners, including chiropractors. 

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Instead of isolating the patient’s immediate symptoms and treating only those, holistic medicine attempts to evaluate what habits or issues might be contributing to the health issue at hand. Holistic medicine addresses the patient’s emotional, mental, and spiritual health, as well as their day-to-day routinetheir diet, and any seemingly unrelated physical symptoms that might contribute to the health problem.

Holistic Medicine Around the World

  • 88% of World Health Organization (WHO) member states acknowledge some use of traditional and complementary medicine; these states have “policies, laws, regulations, programs and offices” that address complimentary medicine, according to WHO data
  • 80% of African populations use some form of herbal medicineaccording to a WHO analysis document
  • Out of the 11 Southeast Asian nations in WHO, 10 had policies and institutions in place to regulate alternative and integrative medicine, the most out of any geographic group of member-states. Because many Southeast Asian countries have strong traditions of complementary and alternative medicine, their governments had the most robust system for regulating alternative care.

Holistic healthcare practices can save you money. 

According to Holistic Family Practicenon-invasive, non-toxic approaches to healthcare lower health-related costs, especially for patients with the greatest disease burden. According to the same statistics, fifty-five percent of patients reported anywhere from a slight to a substantial drop in their reliance on conventional medical care once they began seeing an integrative therapy specialist. In the U.S. especially, holistic medicine’s emphasis on preventative care can have huge cost-saving potential. 

According to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the U.S. has some of the highest healthcare costs in the world. We spent $3.5 trillion on healthcare in 2017, or $11,000 per person, and that number is only expected to rise. With more and more American families facing exorbitant medical bills, an emphasis on prevention and holistic health is one way to avoid expensive health issues before they come up.

According to Holistic Family Practice, patients of holistic health providers were more likely to have obtained common preventative services such as pap smears; after one year under the care of a holistic or alternative care doctor, patients were 3.1% less likely to experience a cardiovascular disease event and 16.9% less likely to develop Metabolic Syndrome. That translated to $1,138 in savings to the patient.

Preventative care could save your life.

Because of holistic medicine’s emphasis on prevention and detection, and its focus on your overall health, the approach could help you avoid a health issue before it becomes life-threatening. Since patients of holistic health practitioners are more likely to receive pap smears, for example, they’re more likely to get an early diagnosis if the pap smear has concerning results. While it’s hard to back up hypotheticals with hard science, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that increasing the use of preventative services by 90% could save $3.7 billion annually and countless lives.

Science-Backed Alternative Health Treatments to Incorporate in Your Holistic Health Routine

  • Meditation
    Meditation comprises a broad set of mental exercises, from mindfulness to the repetition of a mantra, that contribute to a “heightened level of spiritual awareness,” according to Merriam Webster. The practice has a variety of health benefits, both emotional and physical. The practice has been demonstrated to reduce stress, help control anxietylengthen your attention span, improve sleephelp control pain and decrease blood pressure, among other benefits, according to an article by HealthlineAn ancient practice that has been incorporated into multiple faith traditions, written references to meditation date as far back as 1500 BCE in India, and the third and sixth centuries BCE in China, according to an article in Positive PsychologyBy devoting as little as ten minutes a day to the practice, you can begin to reap the psychological, interpersonal and physical benefits related to meditation. You can learn more about the benefits of meditation here.
  • Acupuncture and Chiropractic Care

Many skeptics of alternative medicine have difficulty dismissing two science-backed ancient alternative medical practices: acupuncture and chiropractic. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, “Studies have shown that spinal manipulation can provide mild-to-moderate relief from low-back pain and appears to be as effective as conventional medical treatments.” The report went on to explain the pain-management benefits of acupuncture, which were impressive: “NIH-supported researchers found that acupuncture significantly reduced pain associated with osteoarthritis of the knee when used as a complement to conventional therapy … Acupuncture provides relief for vomiting and nausea from chemotherapy, shows possible effect for tension headaches, and that acupuncture and simulated acupuncture can both provide relief for those suffering from low-back pain.”

These are just a few examples of science-backed holistic medical practices that can provide relief for a variety of symptoms. From naturopathy to homeopathy to traditional Chinese medicine, there is a rich and varied body of knowledge that could be integrated into your healthcare plan in order to address your overall health, rather than your immediate symptoms. If you’d like to see a specialist in holistic medicine, you can find one using this search tool.

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