If you have been reading our blog, you have probably visited our website and navigated through what it is that we do. On the home page, you can read “A Holistic Cancer Treatment Center”, which refers to An Oasis of Healing’s approach to cancer treatment. But what does this “holistic” approach, in fact, mean? What is the difference between “integrative” holistic medicine and “conventional” allopathic medicine?
As per the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, “holistic medicine is a term used to describe therapies that attempt to treat the patient as a whole person… instead of treating an illness, as in orthodox allopathy, holistic medicine looks at an individual’s overall physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing before recommending treatment.” Furthermore, it is important to highlight that “a practitioner with a holistic approach treats the symptoms of illness as well as looks for the underlying cause of the illness” and “attempts to prevent illness by placing a greater emphasis on optimizing health1.”
In holistic medicine, the person is seen as a whole entity, with all the body’s systems considered interdependent parts, and the different dimensions of the individual are explored in a comprehensive way. It emphasizes the study of all aspects of a person’s health, treating physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, and even evaluating the social and economic influences on health status1,2.
Another important point mentioned in the definition above is that holistic medicine does not focus solely on the symptoms but tries to identify and heal the underlying causes of the “dis-ease”. As Herbert Shelton, a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from the early 1900s said “The so-called symptoms of disease are manifestations of an inherent principle of the organism to restore healthy function and to resist offending agents and influences.”
This matches the philosophy of our founder, Dr Thomas Lodi, in that “health is the natural condition of all creatures and is the consequence of each performing its function in the niche or habitat out of which its role emerged.” This also means that our natural state is that of health and dis-ease results from imbalances in the body, or per Dr Lodi’s words “The absence of health or what is called “disease” is simply the body trying to restore its optimal functioning.”
Origin of Holistic Medicine
Holistic medicine dates back thousands of years, rooted in the traditions of the most ancient medical systems, such as Chinese and Indian traditional medicine, practiced for more than 5,000 years.
In ancient Greece, 4th century B.C., the great philosopher Socrates challenged many of the beliefs of his time. Among those, the concept that one can treat just one part of the body or one dimension of the person. According to Socrates, that would not bring favorable results: “Just as you ought not to attempt to cure eyes without head or head without body, so you should not treat body without soul.”
Hippocrates, often called the ‘Father of Modern Medicine’, considered the existence of many factors contributing to health or disease, being quoted as saying that “it’s far more important to know what person the disease has than what disease the person has.” He was also a firm believer in the importance of gut health and eating a balanced diet for healing and a healthy life; “all disease starts in the gut” and “Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food.”
Many health systems and therapy modalities, sometimes called “traditional”, natural, or alternative, fall under the umbrella of holistic medicine, promoting those same principles of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health1. Therefore, holistic is an all-encompassing term for many alternative and complementary medicine practices and therapies whose goal is to achieve health and wellness through the treatment and prevention of dis-ease. Some of these practices include:
- Naturopathic medicine
- Traditional Chinese medicine
- Ayurvedic medicine
- Herbal medicine
- Nutritional therapies
- Integrated Functional Medicine
- Chiropractic and osteopathic care
- Stress reduction
- Massage therapy
- Mindfulness meditation
- Yoga and Tai Chi
Main similarities between conventional and integrative medicine3
Integrative and conventional medicine have some very important points in common:
- Practiced only by licensed medical professionals
- Utilize advanced diagnostic tests
- May use prescription medications
Main differences between conventional and holistic integrative medicine3
- Very good at addressing acute and urgent medical conditions (Acute are those cases that require “immediate and early specialist management” of a “wide range of medical conditions” and that usually “present in hospital as emergencies” 4)
- Efficient response and extreme effectiveness at diagnosing and treatment these acute conditions such as broken bones, heart attacks, physical trauma and sudden illnesses
- Does not tend to address underlying cause of long lasting or recurring symptoms (chronic medical conditions)
- Focused on the symptoms: “treating”, reducing or eradicating symptoms
- Frequent use of over the counter and prescription medication to treat symptoms of imbalance in the body, without further analyzing what is causing those symptoms (For example, treating high cholesterol and high blood sugar with medication to lower these “symptoms” without even addressing the patient’s diet)
Holistic Integrative medicine
- Focus is not on symptoms but in identifying and addressing the underlying cause of the symptom
- Usually does not prescribe medication to “treat” symptoms, because those symptoms are the body’s response to something that is out of balance, and therefore it is necessary to restore balance. Medication could impede the body’s natural response to the real cause of the symptom
- Focus on the real cause to be able to address and heal it, preventing the progression and worsening of the symptoms
- Provides the best support for the body to initiate its natural healing process (Innately the body, if provided with the right environment: nutrition, sleep, exercise, etc. – has the ability to appropriately respond to ailments)
- Investigate and address the sources or triggers that may be causing the symptoms: unbalanced nutrition, chronic stress, psycho emotional factors, poor sleep, exposure to environmental toxicants and harmful chemicals, pathogens, etc.
- Use of herbal or natural supplements (rarely uses prescription medication)
- More individualized and personalized approach than conventional medicine
- Focus on optimal health and prevention of “dis-ease”
- Patient has the leading role in their health and healing journey
This Table, adapted from MSD MANUALS gives a great comparison between Conventional and Integrative medicine:
Differences Between Conventional and Integrative Medicine5
Holistic Integrative Cancer Treatment at An Oasis of Healing
With holistic principles as our guideline, at An Oasis of Healing, we use an integrative approach, incorporating the best practices of both alternative and conventional medicine. We take advantage of the most recent discoveries and cutting-edge technologies of conventional medicine, combining them with scientifically based and time-proven natural healing modalities. We also incorporate nutritionally dense foods and high-quality nutritional supplementation in conjunction with a unique educational and training program. It is our intention to inspire our patients and all of those who encounter us, to regain their birthright – health.
- The Free Dictionary [Internet]. “holistic medicine”. Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. The Gale Group, Inc.. 2008. https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/holistic+medicine, accessed May 27, 2022.
- The Free Dictionary [Internet]. “holistic medicine”. Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary. Farlex. 2012. https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/holistic+medicine, accessed May 27, 2022.
- Morrison JA. The Morrison Center. Notable Differences Between the Practice of Conventional Medicine and Integrative/Functional Medicine. February 9, 2015. https://www.morrisonhealth.com/notable-differences-between-practice-conventional-and-integrative-medicine/, accessed May 27, 2022.
- The Free Dictionary [Internet]. “Acute Medicine”. Segen’s Medical Dictionary, Farlex, Inc., 2011 [cited 29 May. 2022]. Available from: https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Acute+Medicine
- MSD MANUAL. Professional Version. Differences Between Conventional and Integrative Medicine. https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/multimedia/table/differences-between-conventional-and-integrative-medicine, accessed May 31, 2022.
Vanessa Pinto graduated with a degree in Biology and Masters in Ecology from Lisbon University. After graduating, she underwent a series of professional and personal growth experiences, including being an officer in the Portuguese Army, working in countries as diverse as Iceland and Costa Rica. Vanessa became certified as a Yoga and Meditation teacher in rural India.
Being a compassionate person by nature, Vanessa is able to bring her connectedness when working with others while enhancing the importance and practicality of a pragmatic evidence-based approach to facilitating lasting and permanent change. Vanessa is a certified health coach whose specialties are nutrition, exercise, and mind/ body connection. She works both in Portugal, Thailand and USA, where she develops her work closely with people diagnosed with cancer, mainly in the areas of nutrition, movement and health education.