There is no doubt that today more and more people are turning to integrative medicine and alternative modalities for their health concerns and disease prevention. This popular movement, winning one out of every two American consumers as converts, may seem to some like a new idea or a “health revolution.” In reality, it is a return to a period in time, over 400 years ago, when health was seen from a more whole person, integrated and even spiritual perspective.
Until the early 1600’s, the realm of human health was believed to represent a person’s spiritual state. If one was healthy, that meant they bore no demons. If one was sick, that meant they needed to purge sickness, which was seen as a “possession” or a spiritual incorrectness that had to be remedied. The prevailing church of the day, ruled by the Vatican, exerted a huge influence over the medical community and how people viewed the cause and cure of their disease.
In 1612, Rene Descartes, a powerful, influential physician and scientist, declared “I think, therefore I am.” He held that the mind and body were two separate, unrelated parts of a human being. Descartes led the political movement to separate the body from the soul, a separation in which he and his peers literally brokered a deal with the Vatican, which was reluctant to give up control over its flock. However, the “scientific revolution” was gripping the culture and the church knew it was prudent to agree. Thus, the division of the mind and body began and the practice of medicine started down the slippery slope to where we find ourselves today.
Since this division set up a medical system that treated only physical health, it became considered, by the mass majority, that this form of medicine was the only legitimate form of healthcare. However, over the course of the past 50 years people have grown sicker and increasingly dissatisfied with the medical system. This led to an increase in the use of “untried” remedies and treatments, which offered success and often cures for varied ailments. This “alternative medicine” attempts to address the whole person rather than just the physical body. Because of the success of alternative medicine, and the resultant popularity, we are currently experiencing a renaissance of the “whole-person” body, mind and spirit approach to healing.
Today, thanks to the internet, we have more information about every aspect of health than ever before. Still, there exists confusion between allopathic medicine and integrative medicine regarding how their treatment approaches differ and how one can discern what is right for their particular need or condition. By comparing and contrasting both approaches individuals can be empowered with information to make an educated decision about how they would like to address their personal healthcare and what forms they would like to incorporate.
Often called modern medicine, conventional or traditional, allopathic medicine defines health as the absence of disease, disorder or problem. This is most often attained by administering drugs or surgery that produce the opposite effect of the problem.
In allopathic medicine, the main cause of illness is considered to be viruses or bacteria. Scientific tests are used to diagnose before drugs or surgery are prescribed. Furthermore, the emphasis here is more on “attacking the problem,” which is seen as an invader or enemy outside the self, rather than exploring the cause and effect of the problem and working to identify what needs to be changed or altered to bring about the return of health.
On the opposite spectrum, alternative, natural, complementary or holistic medicine addresses the problem or condition from a focus of identifying what particular choices or behaviors the individual might be making that are leading to the expression of symptoms collectively called their “disease or diagnosis.”
In contrast, because integrative medicine bridges the gap between traditional and alternative medicine, an integrative physician or practitioner would evaluate not only the patient’s physical health, but also the other aspects of their life that may be influencing their health. Scientific evidence and ancient teachings have proven that there are multiple components to health that make up a whole person, therefore, illness cannot be cured or wellness realized without taking multiple aspects into account.
For example, a traditional allopathic approach to a sore throat could include a drug substance or over the counter aspirin and possibly a cough and sore throat medicine. The integrative medical practitioner trained to stimulate the body’s healing potential, may prescribe nutritional changes, herbs, aromatherapy, gargling with various natural extracts, vitamins, garlic, broths, vegetable juice or extracts, calcium sources or homeopathic remedies.
The options we are offered today through Integrative Medicine invite us to become more proactive and better informed as health care consumers. This empowers us to take greater control over our health outcomes and longevity. That’s a prescription for good health we can all live with.
For more whole health discussions like this, listen to my weekly radio show Living Above The Drama available on iHeartRadio.