So, what is holistic medicine?
An alternative approach to health care and prevention of disease which integrates the body as a whole, including mind and spirit, rather than separate systems. Saunders Comprehensive Veterinary Dictionary
Holistic Health – Holistic Health is actually an approach to life. Rather than focusing on illness or specific parts of the body, this ancient approach to health considers the whole person and how he or she interacts with his or her environment. It emphasizes the connection of mind, body, and spirit.
AHHA President, Suzan Walte
Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine – A heterogeneous group of preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic philosophies and practices. The theoretical bases and techniques of CAVM may diverge from veterinary medicine routinely taught in North American veterinary medical schools or may differ from current scientific knowledge, or both.
AVMA Guidelines 2001
Understanding the Terms
The above definitions demonstrate the varied ideas the word “holistic” invokes. The terms can be confusing. Holistic medicine is a philosophy of how to maintain or regain health. The main idea is that the entire individual (body, mind, and spirit) must be taken into consideration and the underlying imbalance is treated rather than just treating symptoms.
Many people think that homeopathic and holistic are equivalent. If fact, “homeopathic” refers to a specific modality that uses the treatment principle “like cures like.” While homeopathy is holistic, not all holistic modalities are homeopathic.
The word “allopathic” has come to mean conventional medicine while that word was coined by the homeopaths to refer to any intervention that does not use the homeopathic treatment principle. So, since Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses things like cooling herbs for “heat” conditions, it is holistic but technically is also allopathic.
The term “complementary medicine” highlights the idea that many holistic treatments can work hand in hand with conventional medicine, but it gives the connotation that Western medicine is primary. “Alternative medicine” conveys the idea that many of these treatments are not accepted by mainstream medicine.
Integrative is the word that best describes how I practice holistic medicine. In this paradigm, both Western and alternative treatments are applied as the individual case indicates. Holistic-Integrative veterinary medicine indicates that the underlying philosophy of practice takes into consideration the body, mind, and spirit of the patient.
The foundational concept for holistic medicine is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Any illness is a dysfunction of the whole patient, not an isolated event. We concentrate on strengthening the body vs. fighting disease. In this way we treat the individual patient, not the disease. Therefore, we are often more concerned about what kind of patient has a disease vs. what kind of disease a patient has. We treat the underlying causes of disease vs. treating symptoms alone.
Holistic medicine takes into account that the body is equipped with its own pharmacy. Evidence of this is seen in the placebo effect. According to the mechanisms of the placebo effect, 30% of patients will get better if they take a sugar pill… no matter what their problem is. We consider it to be a case of “mind over matter” but what does that really mean? To me it means that the body can heal itself if the right conditions are created. As a holistic vet, I try to create the right conditions for the body to heal itself.
The Body Can Heal Itself
The placebo effect can be quite strong as seen in the case of Mr. Wright. He had been diagnosed with advanced Lymphoma and given a new drug called krebiozen. Immediately he gained weight and his tumors shrank. He later read a newspaper report that said krebiozen was not as good as first though and he started to lose weight and the tumors began to grow. His doctors decided to use give him glorified placebo injections calling them a “new improved batch of krebiozen.” Mr. Wright once again gained weight and his tumors shrank. Unfortunately, he didn’t learn his lesson the first time and he read a new report that said the AMA declares that krebiozen is worthless against cancer. On cue, Mr. Wright’s tumors grew and he died shortly thereafter.
A Dr. Wolf studied the placebo effect in the 1940’s while measuring stomach muscle contractions. He found that if he gave placebo ipecac, he could get a disturbed wave pattern. If he gave placebo atropine, he could get a calmed wave pattern. One particularly good responder, Tom, would actually get nauseated from atropine if told it was ipecac and his stomach was soothed by ipecac if told it was atropine. The placebo effect can overpower the biochemical effects of drugs.
Holistic medicine sees wellness as a dynamic balance. It honors homeostasis and simply nudges the body back to normal. With holistic medicine we see optimal health as something more than simply the absence of sickness. It is a vitality that resists sickness.
Most holistic modalities believe in some kind of energy system. In Japan it is called “Ki.” In China it is known as “Qi.” In India it goes by “Prana.” The homeopaths call it the “Vital Force” and the chiropractors call it the “Innate Intelligence.” Holistic medicine is guided by the belief that there is a difference between animate and inanimate objects, that there is a vital energy that is responsible for life and well-being.
Have you experienced healing that could not be explained from a conventional point of view?