What is the value of holistic healthcare and natural medicine? What are the benefits natural medicine has to offer that allopathic (western) medicine doesn’t?
The Aha! Moment
My nephew sprained his ankle a couple days ago and I happened to be visiting, so I said to him, “Why don’t you let me put a poultice on it?”
“What would that do?” he asked.
I responded, “It would help reduce swelling and move out old blood, encouraging it to heal faster.”
Sounds like a good response, right? I thought that was a no-brainer! But the next morning, it still hurt with weight, and when I asked him if I could put some more poultice on for him, he declined. He still had pain, so according to allopathic thinking, it hadn’t worked.
That’s when I realized that I had neglected to share three foundational truths with him:
- I had forgotten to establish the true value of holistic healthcare.
- I had forgotten to establish the benefits of natural medicine.
- I had neglected to outline the differences between natural medicine and allopathic medicine.
True Value of Holistic Healthcare
The true value of holistic healthcare is in the way it works to engage the body’s capacity to heal.
A wise teacher of mine once said, “The body isn’t designed to heal, it’s designed to survive” — which means that, if you do nothing to induce and promote healing, the body will only heal to the point of minimal functioning for survival, and then move on.
Holistic medicine seeks to engage in the healing process so that the body’s intelligence is awakened. It puts resources into motion so a different process of growth and strengthening can begin to take root.
Benefits of Holistic Healthcare
Holistic healthcare takes into account a person’s body, emotions, mental health and spirit in the occurrence of illness and the process of healing. This means that when we treat a patient with a holistic approach, their life is often enriched in many ways. They’re not just recovering from illness: they’re growing into a richer human experience.
One benefit of using acupuncture and natural medicine for healthcare is that they are non-harmful to the body’s internal organs. Medications, by and large, introduce some toxicity to your organs, and require a good amount of processing to metabolize. In this processing, the internal organs get taxed and “burnt” a little bit, which contributes to aging.
While it is true that there are plenty of toxic herbal substances as well, the whole approach of natural medicine is to be aware of the level of toxicity of the medicine and to “do just enough.” There is an awareness of whether a substance or acupuncture treatment is intended to add to the body’s strength, or take away from the strength of the problem.
A core principle is to do just enough weakening of the problem to allow you to focus on strengthening the body’s ability to heal. When this principle is followed, the body and the person end up stronger, instead of weaker, in the long run.
A holistic approach to healthcare also builds awareness in the person. It makes them slow down and pay attention to what they’re feeling.
We usually rush from one activity to another, never really taking in the experience of how our body is feeling. With holistic healthcare, we are given the opportunity to unmask our symptoms and make choices that will lead to feeling better, having more energy and getting stronger and more present in our life.
Differences from Western Medicine
The allopathic approach focuses on combating illness and disease. The basic idea is to find out exactly what’s wrong and eliminate the problematic factor: the virus, the bacteria, the inflammation, the pain. To fight against it until it goes away.
The natural approach focuses on balancing the whole environment in which the illness or disease came about. It takes into account all of the factors at play, and “shifts the tide” to promote health and healing so that the problem resolves.
With an allopathic approach there is often a faster resolution of the problem — but there are unseen repercussions. If you have a headache, you might take acetaminophen. It acts in the bloodstream and the pain goes away – yippee!
But alas, there is a price: the toxic aspects of the medicine have to be metabolized out of the body by the liver and the kidneys, and doing this taxes them a little bit. You don’t really feel the effects of this at the time, but it saps your longevity. In other words, at the far end of your lifespan, your quality of life is reduced. That is the true price of a “quick fix” in medicine.
With the natural approach, we take into account that the blood circulates through the whole body. The blood that moves through the head and limbs also goes in and passes through the internal organs. We look at a person with a headache and think, “There’s a problem in the head — I wonder if there’s an unseen problem in the feet, or perhaps in the liver?” Then we try to balance the body in order to affect a resolution of the symptom.
Rather than fighting where there’s an obvious problem, we help the body where it’s weak, and the problem is inconspicuous. In the end, the issue is resolved by making the person stronger rather than by making the problem weaker.
Often western medicine is criticized as using medications to mask symptoms. Alleviating symptoms becomes a problem when the symptom is really a signal from the body of a bigger problem. Ultimately, natural medicine is an approach that adds to the strength of all your systems — immune, circulatory, nervous, endocrine, — to raise your health above illness. In this way it is truly healthcare, rather than illness management.
Tom Eddins, L.Ac. has been a faculty member and clinic supervisor at Jung Tao School since 2007, and maintains a private clinical practice in Boone, North Carolina.