Have you ever noticed that people take better care of their cars than they do their bodies? Cars get regular oil changes, tune ups, maintenence to prevent major issues. When it comes to their health, people wait for something to go wrong before fixing it. Essentially, our culture has become reactive instead of proactive about our health. But how can you take care of someone else, whether as a parent, a teacher, or a healthcare provider, if you cannot first take care of yourself?
This hypocrisy runs rampant in our current healthcare system. A great example of this is a personal experience I had a few years ago. My primary physician told me during a routine physical that I am obese. This one-sided diagnosis was based soley on a height/weight ratio. They didn't take into account my fitness level (muscle weighs more than fat after all), my diet, or the fact that I've had kids. Now, I am not a small woman but I can do what I need to without getting winded; I am comfortable in my own skin. The doctor in question is a small, round man that requires suspenders to keep his pants on. (I now have a different doctor.)
The United States healthcare system should incorporate more holistic, Eastern concepts. I will prove to you the value of holistic healthcare first, by explaining what holistic healthcare means and give you an overview of the treatments available. Second, I will outline and compare Western and Eastern healthcare philosophies. Third, I will explain how utilizing these options can reduce the occurence of chronic conditions using personal experiences.
Some terminology needs defining before we go any further. The term 'holistic' means it treats the entire being, not just a single organ system or joint dysfunction. It means that the mental and emotional state is taken into consideration. Somatization, a physical manifestation with emotional or psychological origins, is a concept that has been scientifically proven, accepted and subsequently ignored by the mainstream medical community. Alternative medicine is a term used to encompass most non-Western medical treatments. Complementary is the term that gets used when these alternative treatments are combined with traditional western medicine.
Although the types of complementary and alternative healthcare options available vary by country and influence, they all include dietary guidelines (which includes herbal products or supplements), exercise, different types of bodywork, and relaxation techniques. The most commonly known are acupuncture, massage therapy, chiropractics (spinal manipulation) and yoga. Yoga includes more than just the Western culture's use of exercise. Relaxation techniques include breathing exercises, guided imagery, mediation, prayer, and progressive muscle relaxation. Movement therapies include Feldenkrais method, Alexander technique, Pilates, Rolfing, Structural Integration, and Trager psychophysical integration. Tai Chi and Qi Gong are both from traditional Chinese medicine and combine movement, breathwork and focused mental stimulation. India gave birth to Ayurvedic medicine.
Both Eastern and Western healthcare philosophies discuss homeostasis, or balance but the Western healthcare system only touches on the physical aspect of homeostasis briefly, without applying it to treatment plans or diagnostics. Eastern healthcare systems address the entire person, identifying and treating the cause as well as any symptoms that are present. Eastern healthcare teaches a healthy lifestyle. Western healthcare revolves around the physical ailments. Often, it just masks or eliminates the symptoms with pharmaceuticals.
The United States healthcare system should incorporate for holistic, Eastern concepts because this will reduce the number of sufferers with chronic conditions. It is common knowledge that the human body is composed of multiple systems and other substances that function interdependently to create an intricate organism. People don't seem to draw the correlation between treating the whole body instead of just the aching joint. Countries with more holistic healthcare options have less occurrences of chronic conditions.
My daughter has seasonal allergies. The doctor told me to give her Claritin or Zyrtec daily, which worked but had side effects. The holistic approach we use now is essential oils and local honey. To get ahead of the histamine reactions, we diffuse a blend of eucalyptus and lemon essential oils while she sleeps; this combination of oils supports the respiratory system. By introducing the pollen in the form of honey, her body can learn how to process it and reduce the histamine reaction; this is focusing on the cause.
I know some people say that getting alternative healthcare treatments aren't a cost-effective option. However, insurance companies are beginning to recognize the value of, and cover or reimburse for, alternative medicine as preventative and rehabilitative care. Many practitioners offer sliding scale fees, wellness programs, &/or a discounted cash rate. Most choose their field because they wish to help people, not get rich.
I also know that some people say it isn't as scientifically proven or backed by as much research as traditional, Western medicine. Drs Swartzberg & Malden, authors of the Wellness Self-Care Handbook, acknowledge the potential benefit from alternative healthcare options of acupuncture, chiropractics and massage but caution consumers against utilizing unregulated or unlicensed practitioners. In the last decade, a plethora of research, including double-blind trials and case studies, that have been published in numerous medical journals.
Now you know more about the Eastern healthcare concepts and why integrating the holistic care into our current healthcare system will be beneficial. Western medicine is effective in treating emergencies; you can't cure a broken leg with an herb. However, medications are often overprescribed and holistic treatments are largely ignored by the mainstream consumers. As healthcare consumers, you can demand healthcare options that doesn't have a lengthy list of side effects. If you aren't willing to advocate your health, who else is?
Manifesto for a New Medicine by James S Gordon MD 1996
The Natural Physician's Healing Therapies by Mark Stengler ND 2001
The UC Berkley Wellness Self-Care Handbook by John Edward Swartzberg MD FACP & Sheldon Margen MD 1998
NCCAM.NIH.GOV National Center for Complementary and Alternative Health.