Holistic, natural, traditional, herbal, integrative, complementary and alternative, are all names of this discipline that stands apart from the conventional drug-based medicine. There are some strong opinions about which is better, on both sides of the fence. But I think this fence is imaginary, and really, holistic medicine is just another type of medicine, and all those types should be friends.
Holistic medicine does differ from conventional medicine quite a bit deep down.
1. Holistic medicine looks at a person as a whole that consists of interconnected parts. Holistic medicine practitioner looks at the whole picture and the context within which disease develops. For example, our guts influence our emotions, and our emotions influence our blood vessels, and so forth.
2. Holistic medicine tries to find and eliminate the cause of each disease. That may be diet, toxins, stress, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, parasites, and others. Healing the gut in order to improve mood and energy is an example of that.
3. Holistic medicine believes that the body can heal itself from almost any disease. Of course, there are situations where this is not possible, but for most conditions it’s true. Therefore, holistic medicine practitioners don’t heal anything, your body does. We just help it get the right tools for healing itself. Usually that’s a proper diet, reducing inflammation, managing stress, getting enough sleep, and exercising in the vast majority of cases. Various herbs, essential oils, dietary supplements, diet plans, detox, etc. can be used to help the process of healing. And each holistic health professional can use his or her own favorite tools.
4. From these three principles it naturally follows that holistic medicine is individualistic. Each person may have his or her own causes of disease, and thus the healing must be individualized.
These are the basic principles that make up holistic medicine. Conventional medicine, on the other hand, is reductionist. It is concerned with finding specific biochemical mechanisms that go wrong and fixing them with drugs. Many holistically-inclined people and even practitioners are against conventional medicine because they believe pharmaceutical drugs are synthetic, unnatural and toxic to our bodies. While this is true and many drugs do produce undesirable side effects, they also save many lives. It is thanks to drugs and conventional medicine that people can survive a heart attack or cancer today. The life span has been dramatically increased thanks to drugs and modern medical technology.
On the other hand, many conventional medical professionals feel that holistic medicine is ineffective and even fraudulent. I believe that the truth is in the middle. When conventional and holistic medicine come together, that is when miracles happen. Conventional medicine can keep you from dying, and holistic medicine can take you to the maximum potential you can achieve. Conventional medicine is concerned with managing your disease to the point that you can function, and holistic medicine can address some of the underlying causes of your disease so that your body can start healing itself and you phase out your dependence on drugs.
Conventional medicine is quick, precise, gives rapid results, and this is why it’s so good in acute and life threatening cases. Holistic medicine is slow, its effects are diffuse and hard to pinpoint, and the benefits are multifaceted. While a drug can lower your blood sugar, a holistic medical protocol lowers your blood sugar, and blood pressure, and raises your energy, and reduces arthritis pain, and improves digestion, all at the same time, but over a longer period. Therefore the two faces of medicine make a perfect combination. While you take your drugs and continue your life, work, study, etc, the holistic protocol turns the inner gears of your body and over time brings about real permanent change. This is why holistic medicine is also called complementary. It perfectly complements conventional medicine.
However, one needs to find a real holistic health practitioner. I’m not saying this to try to scare or confuse anyone, but it really takes time and effort. Here’s how some people apply holistic medicine therapies incorrectly. For example, a doctor prescribes an herb for your blood pressure or adds acupuncture session to your cancer treatment protocol. While the remedies are surely from complementary medicine sphere, they are not applied according to the holistic medicine principles. The doctor did not look at the whole picture and disease context, did not check your digestion, allergies, toxins, etc. to determine the causes of the cancer and high blood pressure. He didn’t even realize that these two could have one common cause! The doctor just used the herb and the acupuncture session much like the drugs he’s used to prescribing, in a reductionist approach—“a thing for the thing”.
The way to choose your integrative doctor or holistic health practitioner is look at two things on their website or brochure. First thing is education. Where did they get their holistic training? Did they get a certificate? Research the educational establishment where they got their certificate. Does it look legit? What are their courses like, if they even have any? Do you get a certificate if you just pay $500 and not learn a thing from these guys? The other thing that you look at is if the doctor or naturopath or whatever his or her title is mentions diet anywhere. If the website is full of ads for supplements “for blood sugar” or for “lowering cholesterol” or even for “adrenal fatigue”, then this may be a phony holistic practitioner. Diet is the primary healing tool we employ, as we are what we eat, and nutrients are the primary tools the body uses to heal itself. If the “doctor” only indicates specific remedies for specific symptoms or conditions, this is not in true spirit of holistic practice. Get out of there and find somebody else. Another thing to look out for is fear mongering tactics and pouring dirt on conventional medicine, those are a tell tale sign that the practitioner is using manipulative techniques to get clients or pageviews.