While there are many over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that work to treat the common cold, premenstrual syndrome, insomnia and many other illnesses, most conventional medications simply mask symptoms and may inhibit the body's natural ability to heal itself, according to Dworkin (1999). However, herbs and vitamins have a tendency to be gentler on the body and often enhance the body's natural recovery process. For this reason, many people are swapping their OTC medicines for holistic medicines.
Dr. Samuel Hahnemann discovered holistic medicine in the early 1800's. The doctor believed that medicine practiced during this time was barbaric and sought alternatives, experimenting on his family and friends. Hahnemann discovered that large dosages of herbs increased symptoms so he decreased the dosage and discovered that the symptoms decreased and usually ceased (Smith, p. 10).
Upon his discovery, the popularity of holistic medicine was incredible, particularly because most patients resisted modern techniques of medicine. This pattern is happening again today, as people are once again turning to holistic medicine because the "promise of allopathic medicine has lost its luster"(Smith, p. 10).
Today many people demand alternatives to conventional medicine, and are seeking for better alternatives for treating conditions that can be only palliated with toxic substances through modern medicine. For these people holistic medicine offers a choice (Gareth, 2002). When correctly prescribed, holistic remedies stimulate the body's natural immune defenses, acting rapidly without side effects.
Holistic medicine assumes that disease occurs when the body's defenses are affected by stress or other factors. The goal of holistic medicine is to strengthen the entire body, mind and soul, allowing the body can cure the illness itself. Holistic medicine does not directly destroy illnesses or their cause or mask the symptoms of disease.
Holistic medicine has been a controversial subject for many years. As with every debate, there are two different sides (Woolf, 2001). Opponents argue that if holistic medicine really worked, it would be more widely accepted and many illnesses and ailments would have been cured a long time age. Therefore, opponents say that herbs and medications are often used inappropriately without proper training and understanding of the potential side effects or dangers and without real proof that they work.
Proponents argue that holistic medicine offers a more natural way to heal the body in a world full of chemicals, preservatives and synthetics. In many cases, holistic medicine is used to supplement more traditional treatments, rather than serving as the only treatment. Proponents also say that, during the process of treatment, patients come to understand the cause of his or her illness, learns to take responsibility for his or her individual health, and uses different tools to improve his or her own physical health, energy and mental clarity (Vaidya, 2001).
For example, a holistic doctor treated a five-year-old girl with a homeopathic medicine that primarily focused on the energy level. According to the doctor (Vaidya, 2001), "Her mother brought her in with a history of acute bronchial asthma. She had had recurring symptoms of asthma following each cold for the last six months. Her conventional treatment consisted of inhalers and steroids, which did not cure her symptoms. When I examined Jessica, she had difficulty breathing due to excess mucus in her throat, which she was not able to cough up. Her lungs were filled with mucus and she had a rattling sound in her chest. She was not able to sleep at night and had to sit up to breathe."
The doctors recognized that her symptoms matched the homeopathic remedy called Antimony Tartaricum. After administering two doses of this remedy, her symptoms improved.
According to the doctor (Vaidya, 2001), "The next morning her mother reported that Jessica had slept through the night for the first time in two weeks and coughed only occasionally. Her breathing had improved almost 90%. Her mother had not administered any inhaler treatment that night. She continued to improve with an occasional dose of the homeopathic remedy in a low potency. Her mother was surprised to see her progress in such a short time. We will continue different remedies to improve her immune system. We also recommended some dietary changes and vitamins for her symptoms. This case is a good example of how treatment on the energetic level causes improvement in physical symptoms."
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (AMA), a 1998 survey of the nation's 125 medical schools revealed that nearly two-thirds of traditional United States medical schools teach alternative therapies, such as holistic medicine, acupuncture, herbal remedies and mind-body medicine.
A separate AMA report revealed that practice of holistic medicine is highly effective in treating millions of Americans suffering from a variety of chronic conditions, including arthritis, heart disease and menopause. For this reason, nearly half of the American population uses some type of alternative therapy on a regular basis while making 629 million visits per year to alternative practitioners, nearly double the number of the combined visits to all general physicians.
According to Dr. Norman Houze, a doctor of chiropractic medicine and holistic health, here are many differences between traditional medicine and holistic medicine. Traditional medicine compartmentalizes the body and its parts, with many doctors specializing in a certain area. It also focuses on crisis care, or on handling life-threatening diseases and emergencies. Holistic medicine seeks to improve and restore health before crises develop. Holistic health restoration techniques include:
chiropractic clinical nutrition energy medicine (acupuncture, reiki, homeopathy, reflexology) herbology exercise and fitness physiology massage therapy rehabilitation technologies
Basically, herbal medicine is different than traditional medicine in that it is based on a belief that nature will cure disease more effectively than technology. While technology has been proven to cure many diseases, "science has proven to be an incomplete picture of the healing process" (Ten most commonly asked questions 1998).
One example of the difference between what is prescribed by a traditional doctor rather than an alternative doctor would be seen in the treatment of an ear infection of a small child. A conventional doctor would most likely prescribe an antibiotic, which may harm the child's developing immune system. An alternative practitioner would be more likely to prescribe warm drops of mullein garlic oil to be put in the ear (Ten most commonly asked questions, 1998).
Holistic medicine appeals to many people because it is patient-based rather than physician based. This means that traditional medicine is perceived by some to think that the doctors' opinion is more important that what the patient desires. Holistic medicine is centered around the patients' needs and wants (Holistic Medicine, 1982, p. 78).
For example the medical approach to cancer uses physically invasive procedures that am to remove, kill, or transform the cancerous cells, based upon a scientific understanding of disease. On the other hand, the holistic alternative to cancer involves non-invasive procedures that focus on "restoring the health of the human energy fields, based upon a human energy field understanding of disease (Weston 2002)."
Holistic care involves the field of study known as energy medicine. An element of energy medicine can be seen in "acupuncture, acupressure, homeopathy, herbal medicine, fresh fruits and vegetables, food supplements, aromatherapy, music therapy, dance therapy, some massotherapy and chiropractic, physical exercise, the martial arts, tai chi, qigong, yoga, meditation, compassionate love, emotional release therapy, touch healing, prayer, and most of the other approaches (Weston 2002)." Basically, holistic medicine aims to restore the human energy fields to health that then signals the body's biological cells to return to good health.
According to Weston (2002), a primary care physician referred a late stage colon cancer patient to him in 1996. The Cleveland Clinic Foundation had just told the woman that there was nothing more they could medically do to help her. After six weeks of holistic treatment, an MRI revealed that her cancer cells had diminished…