According to a recent declaration by the American Holistic Medical Association, “Holistic Medicine is a new medical specialty that addresses the whole person – body/mind/spirit. Holistic physicians combine conventional and Complementary Therapies to prevent and treat disease.” This chapter addresses Holistic Medicine, the Integration of Allopathic and Complementary Medicine, as well asBarefoot Doctoring, Functional Medicine and Anthroposophic Medicine.
Physicians dating back to the ancient Greeks have espoused the concepts of Holistic Medicine. Hippocrates taught that physicians should observe their patients carefully and gather information with all their senses, including touch, smell, sight, hearing and even taste. He emphasized that herbal medicines, as well as diet and exercise, be used to treat illnesses. Proper diagnosis, simple treatments and prevention were the hallmarks of this approach.
These ancient principles of Holistic Medicine are just as valid for holistic physicians in our current age of high tech, managed care medicine. Fortunately, we are able to take advantage of the best of conventional medicine, scientific data and specific treatments, as well as Complementary techniques and modalities.
Holistic Physicians may utilize Oriental and other non-Western traditions in their treatments. The most prominent of these is Acupuncture, but may include Chinese Herbal Medicine, Massage Therapies, Shiatsu, T’ai Chi, Yoga, Energy Therapies and various mind-body disciplines and spiritual practices, adding to the range of therapeutic choices.
Herbal Medicine (Herbolgy) and Nutrition not only stand on their own merit, but also contribute directly to Western drug therapy. Many botanicals have been fully incorporated into conventional medicine, including digoxin from digitalis, quinine from Peruvian bark and aspirin from willow bark. Many conventional physicians now routinely recommend vitamin E, vitamin C and other nutritional therapies to patients. Also, scientific proof that lifestyle changes help in reversing heart disease has been documented in the work of Dr Dean Ornish.
Homeopathy is another Western medical art, which has influenced conventional medicine. For instance, the use of nitroglycerin tablets for chest pain came directly from Homeopathy. Today many Homeopathic combination remedies can be purchased in pharmacies over the counter, side-by-side with regular non-prescription drugs.
The scope of Holistic Medicine is vast. It incorporates the best of both worlds – scientifically based modern medicine and thousands of years of traditional healing systems from around the world – to support collaboration between physician and patient for health and well-being.
Integrating Allopathic and Complementary Medicine
Some doctors trained in Western – often called allopathic - medicine support patients who seek Complementary paths to healing. More time is spent with patients in order to help them heal and stay healthy, emphasizing the belief in the interconnectedness of the mind, body, environment, social interactions and personal beliefs. Patients of all ages are treated. Doctors work with and refer out when needed to find the best possible healthcare solutions.
Functional Medicine is a science-based healthcare approach that assesses and treats underlying causes of illness through individually tailored therapies. This approach is based on five principles of this healthcare:
- Biochemical Individuality Based on Genetic/Environmental Uniqueness
- Patient-Centered versus Disease-Centered
- Dynamic Balance of Internal & External Factors
- Health as a Positive Vitality – Not Merely the Absence of Disease
- Promotion of Organ Reserve Throughout the Lifespan
Biochemical individuality: Patient care presumes that each person is a unique individual with a genetic structure. The purpose of a functional medicine practitioner is to elicit and understand the patients’ uniqueness – including their life experiences – with an understanding that environment merges with genetic inheritance. Lifestyle translates into quantifiable effects on health through the body’s biochemistry and genetics.
Patient-Centered Care: The individual, not the disease, is the target of treatment. Disease is the manifestation of the breakdown of mechanisms that maintain control, resilience and balance in the person.
Dynamic Balance of Internal and External Factors: Lifestyle affects health and disease. The combination of environment on gene expression and on post-translational modification of cellular materials gives rise to symptoms of aging.
Health as a Positive Vitality: Health is not the absence of disease, but rather health is seen as positive vitality.
Organ Reserve: Much of the loss of function in older individuals is a consequence of progressive loss of organ reserve whereby stresses that we could have once accommodated now exceed our resilience and health crisis arise. As we lose organ reserve, our biological age increases, making us more susceptible to disease.
A unique specialty that is represented in the Denver Metro area is Anthroposophic Medicine. With the founding of Homeopathy by Samuel Hahnemann in the early 19th century, and of Anthroposophic Medicine by Rudolf Steiner in the early 20th century, Medicine has rediscovered some of its spiritual and holistic roots.
On one hand, Anthroposophic Medicine is thoroughly modern requiring its practitioners to be fully qualified MDs or DOs (Osteopaths) with a solid grounding in mainstream medicine. On the other hand, Anthroposophic Medicine seeks to change our modern view of the human being as a marvelous machine to a renewed holistic understanding of ourselves as fourfold beings: spirit, soul, life forces and our physical body.
The Anthroposophic physician or therapist strives to develop his or her intuitive grasp of the spiritual dynamic at work in every illness. The practitioner’s training to access insight that can serve the patient’s healing is not only a scientific endeavor, but an artistic and moral endeavor as well.
Today, Medicine is at a crossroads. Although it has successfully contributed to the diagnosis and treatment of disease for the last four decades, it has not been as successful in promoting healthy aging. The movement from disease-centered care to patient-centered care is provoking new questions relative to health and vitality across the lifespan.
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