Holistic Medicine is not focussed on curing a particular disease. Instead, it aims to improve the health level of the body, mind and soul by suggesting the best ways of carrying on with your life. With a proper perspective about its potential and its limitations, it can serve as an important compliment for better health and happy life.
Holistic medicine aims to improve the overall well being of the whole body and mind of the individual instead of just focussing on the treatment of an existing ailment which the modern allopathic medicine usually tries to achieve.
Holistic Medicine vs. Modern Allopathic Medicine
Comparing the two, one can say that holistic medicine proactively strives for good health, whereas modern medicine is largely reactive responding to disturbances in particular parts of the body. Another major difference between the two is that while modern allopathic medicine treats a part of the body as an independent entity, the holistic medicine does not do so and instead treats the whole body including mind, emotions and social health as a single unit.
Modern contemporary medicine waits for a disease to occur, then looks at the part of the body that is affected and then finds a way to solve the problem. In comparison, holistic medicine looks at the factors that can make the body weak or disturb its health, and prescribes ways and means to improve the strength and health of the body. It does not mean that it has no remedies for diseases that afflict the body. It has medicines for diseases too, but that is not its primary focus.
Another major difference between the two is that while allopathic medicine often attempts to treat the disease by attacking the external agents like bacteria and other micro-organisms that infect the body, holistic medicine treats the body by improving its capabilities to deal with external agents.
The Holistic Medicine Systems of the World
Suzan Walter, the President of the American Holistic Health Association (AHHA) in 'The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Body-Mind Disciplines' acknowledges that the tradition of holistic medicine was prevalent in the ancient civilizations of India and China even 5000 years ago. Part of these systems are still preserved in the form of traditional Chinese medicine and India's 'Ayurveda' both of which place their primary emphasis on balancing the different forces in the body, primarily by a wise selection of food, a disciplined lifestyle and purity of mind, while simultaneously using herbs, exercise and meditation to improve health.
The need for treating the body as a unit was emphasized in ancient West as long back as in 4th century B.C. by Socrates, who highlighted the dangers involved in treating different parts of the body separately. The term holism was introduced by Jan Christian Smuts in 1926, and the concept of 'holistic medicine' which has largely been sidelined since the beginning of twentieth century in view of the great strides made by the modern medicine, begun to be recognized again in the 1970s as an alternative to modern medicine.
Other major medicine systems that can be considered holistic are herbal medicine, homeopathy, naturopathic medicine, nutritional therapies, chiropractic, stress reduction, psychotherapy and massage. Importantly, none of them consider their systems to all effective alone, and hence it is acceptable for the prescriptions from various medicine systems to be applied together.
Aims of Holistic Medicine
The primary aim of holistic medicine is to gain overall well being of the whole body and mind. To achieve this aim, a lot of emphasis is placed on the substances consumed as well as the life-style pursued. The ancient medicine systems placed a lot of emphasis on identifying the best food for the individual. They advocated vegetarian food, which contains more antioxidants and fibres, and use of herbs in the normal diet. It is no coincidence that many of the spices used in Asian food like TURMERIC or Indian saffron spice has significant anti-cancer properties which have been identified only now but has been protecting the Asian people for several millennia.
One major feature of Holistic Medicine is the significance placed upon the mind. Holistic medicine appreciates the role of mind and emotion on the physical well being of the body. Thus it usually also advocates developing appropriate philosophies and value systems as well as an overall mental and emotional outlook that promotes harmony and peace, factors which actually promote physical well being too.
Limitations of Holistic Medicine
Perhaps due to the lack of adequate emphasis in recent times, and largely as a result of being overshadowed by the spectacular success and achievements of modern allopathic medicine and surgery, the holistic medicine has suffered from lack of acceptance, and resources. One major reason for this is the fact that inherently, its results are less spectacular than the modern medical and surgical interventions that treat a disease.
Another reason is that many of the ancient practices got distorted over the years, did not follow adequate objective research and documentation and gradually got partly lost and partly discredited. The concept of modern holistic medicine is gradually being accepted as an entity, but it still does not have enough takers to make it an alternative way of seeking good health.
A Compliment of Modern Medicine
Holistic medicine is not exactly an alternative of modern medicine. In fact since its primary aim is totally different from that of modern allopathic medicine, it would be better to treat it as complimentary medicine. While the contemporary medicine and surgery have developed great expertise in treating ailments, holistic medicine systems helps in improving the overall health in the manner it was defined by the WHO in its Alma Ata declaration of 1978, as "a state of physical, mental and social well being, and not just an absence of disease."