What is holistic health?
It occurs to me, after writing this column for several years, that I have never really defined holistic health.
Allopathic medical practice can be described in just five words: “a pill for every ill.” Medications are important; we all use pharmaceuticals at various times in our lives. Medications and surgeries save (or more accurately prolong) lives, no question about it. I can easily point to several episodes in my life where medical treatment spared someone I love, so we do not eschew solid medical treatment. A person who embraces a more holistic model does not cancel her health insurance and go live on an herb farm.
Allopathic concept is often used in natural medicines, sometimes appropriately but more often, as an alternative to spendy or dangerous drugs. I call this “natural allopathy,” and the definition “a pill for every ill” applies here as well. Depressed? Take St. John’s Wort. In pain? Use boswellia. High cholesterol? Use red yeast rice or inositol hexaniacinate.
Natural therapies are generally safe and effective when used properly, but substituting a natural product for a synthetic one does not constitute a holistic health practice. Therefore, doctors who sell supplements as a replacement to drugs may be using safer products but this alone does not constitute a holistic practice.
A holistic health worldview starts with the premise that the body will usually heal itself if it is brought back into balance. Your doctor will start your health program with good food. Only invite natural products into your body. Believe me: science has never done it better than nature. You and your holistic practitioner work together to get your diet and lifestyle in order (plenty of clean water, sleep, exercise, etc). Because this can be a time-consuming (i.e., expensive) process, she will often recommend that you work with a nutrition counselor to help you break years of pathological eating habits.
Next, a holistic practitioner works to balance the endocrine system (adrenals, thyroid, pancreas, etc). This can often be done with food and/or other natural treatments but sometimes medications are necessary for a short period of time.
A holistic practitioner introduces non-invasive, non-drug treatments when appropriate, like acupuncture, massage, water therapy, herbs, amino acids, fatty acids, and so on.
And then, when all else fails, drugs may be used to correct conditions that are unresponsive to natural therapies. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 85% of all health conditions would not exist if we made simple lifestyle and dietary changes. This is where the discussion about national healthcare policies needs to start.
Carol is a certified lifestyle educator at the offices of Dr. Alan Gruning in Ft. Myers. She owns the Island Nutrition Center on Sanibel. She can be reached at 472-4499.