Holistic medicine is easy to define yet hard to grasp because it has become an umbrella term for a multitude of healing practices. Historically, its relationship with conventional medicine is both ambivalent and complicated, which can only add to the confusion if you are uninitiated. In order to make heads or tails of this notion and understand its place and legitimacy in the realm of modern medicine, we should start with the easy part and explain the term.
The origin of the term
The origin of the word holistic comes from the Greek word holos, which simply translates as “whole”. Holism is a phenomenon defined as a naturally occurring tendency to form wholes which are greater than the sum of their parts. Quite simply, a holistic approach considers an individual as a whole, which stands in contrast to medicine’s supposed reductive, sequential approach. It is all about the “macro” structure – about one’s body, mind, emotions, environment, and history, all folded up into one intricate embodied web of causes and consequences.
Such an approach to treating unhealthy individuals has its roots in ancient medical practices of India (Ayurveda) and traditional Chinese medicine. Its rise to popularity in the Western world came in the mid-1970s and it became particularly trendy in the mid-1990s. Throughout this time, the scientific consensus remained pretty skeptical of the holistic approach and alternative medicine as a whole.
However, the tides seem to be changing. The acceptance of the holistic approach began, among other things, with the claim that the placebo effect of such practices reaps beneficial results for the ailing. Over the last several decades, this recognition has gone a step further. Established medical experts and institutions have become more open-minded about the practices of alternative medicine and they have even gone as far to coin a new term for an approach that marries the two fields: the integrative medicine.
Integrative medicine essentially addresses the range of factors that affect the patient’s overall well-being, and while it prioritizes established medical practice, it also looks beyond standardized prescriptions and surgery. In essence, the approach posits that one should try everything as long as it doesn’t present an additional danger to one’s health.
Contrary to some beliefs, holistic medicine does not promote anything extreme or dangerous. Its practices actually overlap with the findings of regular medicine when it comes to the approach to certain healthy habits. Scientific evidence is undeniable and it appears to be mounting every day – proper nutrition, balanced diet, acupuncture, and massage directly impact our life expectancy, overall mood, and health.
In addition, the FDA has approved several treatments with natural compounds. For example, they have greenlit the treatment of epilepsy with CBD and patients seem to be responding well. Of course, the tendency of the population to turn to unrefined organic medicines can be ascribed to their positive effects, but it can also be attributed to the overall distrust in the faceless corporate giants of pharmacy.
Keeping an open mind
This change of perspective is not limited to several groups of people and medical professionals. As a matter of fact, the mindset of the general public is changing. As global population numbers continue to rise, doctors are swamped with patients and the time they can dedicate to individuals is dwindling. Since we live in the times of overwhelming pollution and hectic lifestyles that instill bad habits, people are looking for alternative solutions and comprehensive doctrines to improve their health.
Interestingly enough, acupuncture is the one discipline that broke the ice or, if you will, the glass wall between conventional medicine and holistic practices. Circa thirty years ago, pretty much all renowned medical professionals dismissed acupuncture and its perceived effects. However, concrete medical observation of its effects became quite promising and consistent, so skepticism was replaced with tentative curiosity.
Today, this discipline finds its roots and solid foundations in both traditional Chinese medicine and modern science. Furthermore, it became quite obvious that idiosyncratic dietary changes based on the lifestyle of the individual and their medical chart can reduce chronic pain and help with the allergic symptoms. Again, this proves once more that medicine should dismiss the “general approach” to treating population and concentrate on the individual, “holistically”.
For the simple reason that holistic practice, in its broadest sense, offers sound and logical methodology in its approach to treating conditions, people have been turning to it for answers. At the very least, this shift in the attitude of general population must have influenced the scientific community to reconsider the benefits and legitimacy of alternative medicine and holistic approach, but scientific research has discovered that there is more to it than meets the eye.