What Is Holistic Medicine?

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Holistic medicine is gaining steam for many who favor nontraditional approaches to healing and wellness. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), more than 30% of American adults and about 12% of children use health care approaches that may have origins outside of usual Western practice. However, there's still quite a bit of confusion about what holistic medicine really means and includes.

A helpful starting point is examining the definition of holistic medicine:

"Holistic medicine takes into account the whole person. It's a form of healing that considers the mind, spirit and emotions in addition to the body."

Great! But what about the terms "complementary," "alternative" and "integrative?" Are they all the same?

The NCCIH says a non-mainstream approach is considered complementary if it's used together with conventional medicine; a non-mainstream approach is considered alternative if it's used in place of conventional medicine; and approaches that are integrative bring conventional and complementary approaches together in a coordinated way.

Researchers are currently exploring the potential benefits of integrative health in a variety of situations, including symptom management in cancer patients and survivors, chronic pain management for military personnel and Veterans, and more.

Even something as simple as meditation (which is considered a complementary approach) may provide some benefits. The NCCIH goes on to say some research suggests that practicing meditation may reduce blood pressure, symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression, and insomnia.

There can be a misconception that holistic medicine is an all-or-nothing deal. The same thing goes for modern medicine. However, almost half of people who choose complementary and alternative methods also take prescription medication—proving that many folks are willing to dip their toes in either pool.

When thinking about safety, there are some important things to note: Remember that not everyone responds in the same way to health products and practices, whether conventional or complementary. Also, be aware that "natural" doesn't always mean "safe." Consult with your doctor before starting any new treatment or programs to ensure you're choosing the right path for your health and needs.

Choosing a Complementary Health Practitioner: Tips and What You Should Know

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health suggests following these six tips for finding a complementary health practitioner you trust:

You may not know where to start! Don't stress. Check with your doctor or other health care provider if you need names of local practitioners.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. Find out as much as you can about any potential practitioner's credentials (education, training, licensing, certifications, etc.)

Collaboration is key. Ask your potential practitioner if they are willing to work together with your conventional health care providers.

Be an open book. Share your health history and conditions, and ask if the practitioner has experience working with people who have your same conditions.

Make no assumptions about insurance coverage. Contact your health insurance provider and ask what services from any given complementary practitioner are covered (if at all).

Keep everyone in the know. Tell all your health care providers about the complementary approaches you're using and about all practitioners you're seeing.

Top Probiotic-Rich Foods

Adding some probiotics—which are live microorganisms intended to have health benefits when consumed or applied to the body—to your diet can help promote healthy intestinal flora. Check out these foods full of "happy bacteria" suggested by Spectrum Health.

  • Kefir and Yogurt
  • Kombucha Tea
  • Sauerkraut
  • Pickles
  • Kimchi
  • Fermented Soy (Think tempeh, miso and natto.)

Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.

This article originally appeared in the Aug/Sept 2021 issue of West Michigan Woman.


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