In recent years, holistic care has become an increasingly well-known and discussed topic. Often, it is positioned as ‘at odds’ with Western medicine (an assumption we’ll unpack later), but for now, let’s just say that holistic health definitely has room to grow in the current US healthcare system. By that we mean, almost all traditional healthcare offered in the US falls under a ‘western medicine’ approach. So what counts as western medicine? And what falls under holistic care? Can these two systems be intertwined? (Spoiler: yes!).
Given the lack of understanding of root causes behind certain health issues – especially reproductive health problems – it’s well worth looking into the benefits and drawbacks of Western medicine, and how a focus on holistic health can help us develop a more inclusive system with a wider variety of options for individuals diagnosed with difficult to tackle health concerns. In this article we’ll be sure to go over:
- What is Western medicine
- What is holistic care
- Types of holistic care professionals
- How to incorporate holistic care
- Allara’s model of holistic health
- Research on holistic care
What is Western medicine?
Like we touched on earlier, Western medicine is the system you are probably most familiar with if you grew up in the United States. This type of medicine places heavy evidence on studies yielding scientific evidence to both diagnose and treat health conditions. Even within the US healthcare system, though, there are differences between practitioners and programs. Specifically, there are two types of medical professional doctors: DOs and MDs.
DOs and MDs
MDs are the type of physicians which you may be most familiar with: this stands for medical doctor and they are allopathic doctors. This means they “treat and diagnose conditions using conventional medical tools like x-rays, prescription drugs, and surgery.” This type is sometimes offhandedly called mainstream or conventional medicine (although it’s worth noting that for much of human history and for the rest of the world, this way of practicing medicine is relatively new!).
On the other hand, we have DOs: this title stands for doctor of osteopathic medicine. These doctors have the exact same standard of training as MDs, and are qualified to perform surgery and prescribe medicines, with the difference being an increased emphasis on “the whole picture.”
In a nutshell, MDs will focus on your symptoms and make a diagnosis based on them (as well as any potential tests and blood work). This approach is very targeted. On the other hand, DOs are trained to see the body as an “integrated whole” and so they may make more lifestyle recommendations compared to MDs, and offer more preventative means by which to take control of your health. Neither of these is definitively more ‘right’ than the other, but more a matter of personal preference and what method of care aligns most with your values.
It’s also worth noting whether your MD or DO will have more of an emphasis on holistic solutions and holistic health in general is difficult to predict. Oftentimes, it comes down to the individual physician’s care philosophy.
How popular are DOs
Both DOs and MDs attend medical school, with around 75% of medical students entering allopathic medicine (on the MD track) and 25% opting for osteopathic medicine (the DO track). As you might expect given these statistics, around 19% of doctors visits are to DOs, and 81% of visits are to MDs, though where you live, what practices are in-network on your insurance plan, and several other factors may influence whether you visit an MD or a DO. It’s also worth pointing out that how conventional or holistic the approach your doctor decides to take will also vary depending on a number of factors, such as the individual practitioner, what health issue you struggle with, and the most effective treatments available for your specific problem (and how holistic solutions and Western medicine solutions may intertwine and interact).
Where Western medicine comes from
What we now know as Western medicine is thought to have roots in the Western world, in particular Greece. Hippocrates was known as “the father of Western medicine,” since he created medical terms (such as ‘symptoms’) and classified diseases, as well as outlined how he thought physicians should act, and the way they should manage their patients’ health. Interestingly, it wasn’t until the Renaissance that his ideas were revitalized and really took hold.
What is holistic care?
The term ‘holistic care’ is not regulated or defined by the US government, but the generally accepted definition is something along the lines of: “a form of healing that considers the whole person – body, mind, spirit, and emotions – in the quest for optimal health and wellness.” In other words: to feel at your best in your body, you should also take care of your mental, emotional, and spiritual health. This generally means being kind to yourself, moving your body regularly, feeding it what it needs for you to take on the tasks of the day, getting enough sleep, and leading a fulfilled life in which you have quality relationships. This is the approach that Allara takes toward tackling reproductive health problems: by pairing patients with MDs, Registered Dietitians, and a supportive community, Allara strives to offer nutritional, medicinal, and emotional support in one place.
Professional providers in holistic care
Though Allara partners with MDs and DOs to provide holistic healthcare, there are other providers who fall under the umbrella of holistic medicine.
Providers of a holistic care model may include medical doctors (MDs), doctors of osteopathy (DOs), naturopathic doctors, chiropractors, and homeopathic doctors. We’ve already gone over MDs and DOs, so let’s touch on the last three for just a moment to understand how they differ.
Naturopathic physicians, also called naturopathic doctors (ND), or doctors of naturopathic medicine (NMD) usually attend an accredited, 4-year graduate school. They study nutrition, psychology, and herbal medicine, as well as the traditional sciences. Since not all states require naturopathic doctors to become licensed, it’s best that you do your research and check if your state requires naturopathic doctors to become licensed, and check what graduate school they have attended, so you can understand the standard of care you are receiving.
Potentially the most well-known of the holistic care medical professions, chiropractors care for the patient’s neuromusculoskeletal system: this means all the bones, nerves, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Chiropractors believe in the benefits of spinal adjustment and they also study nutrition, psychology, homeopathy, and herbal medicine.
Homeopathy is the medical system based on a belief that the body is capable of curing itself, through using natural substances to stimulate the healing process. Originating in Germany, it is not popular in the US on a wide scale, and not tightly regulated by the FDA, so it’s best to exercise caution and only consider homeopathy alongside consultation with your primary care physician.
Incorporating holistic care
To gain the most evidence-based benefits from holistic care, the optimal choice is to work with an MD or DO who emphasizes holistic treatment options. This way you know your physician is certified and licensed to an extremely high standard, and you can work with them to find evidence-based, holistic care options that work with traditional medicine to get you the best possible results.
This is why Allara offers a holistic care model led by US. licensed MDs, Registered Nurses, and Registered Dietitians: to combine the benefits of Western medicine (proven, targeted solutions) with the help holistic care can offer (comprehensive, evidence-based solutions that have stood the test of time). Let’s go over an example of holistic care and Western medicine working together:
Holistic health in action: an example
A patient with PCOS who struggles with symptoms such as excess hair growth, acne, and unexplained weight gain, may meet with an Allara MD to discuss how overall she can improve symptoms that really bother her.
This patient is not interested in having children in the near future, and she also doesn’t want to massively change her lifestyle: she just wants to feel back to her normal self, before these symptoms started to take over her life. An Allara MD might suggest pairing birth control (aimed at reducing acne and excess hair growth) with aerobic exercise 3 times a week (to combat risk of pre-diabetes and help with symptoms of anxiety). In this discussion, since the patient doesn’t want to change too much too fast, she asks for more easy ways she can reduce symptoms. Here, holistic supplements such as magnesium and zinc can be easy additions to a daily routine that help control symptoms, while taking up therapy (to improve one’s mental health) and not working overtime at work (to reduce stress) can all add up to cumulative positive changes.
This patient then may meet with a Registered Dietitian offered by Allara to understand the role of diet, in particular eating more of certain foods and reducing others, and how this can give her more energy, reduce unwanted symptoms, and lend a more proactive approach to maintaining a healthy relationship with food.
While Western medicine’s targeted solution may take care of physical symptoms in this example, it’s worth pointing out that holistic care focuses on solutions geared toward mind, body, and spirit, as well.
Research on holistic care
Holistic care can be life-changing in the best way for some individuals. For instance, the following are all excellent examples of science-backed, effective holistic care remedies:
- Great for promoting heart health, protective against diabetes and heart disease, and offering amazing benefits for those with mental health problems (such as anxiety and depression), this is a well-known holistic remedy
- Massage therapy
- Studies conducted revealed massage therapy helped reduce migraines, reduce back pain, alleviate symptoms of depression, and assist with joint pain.
- Medicinal plants
- Green tea (linked to improved brain function, lowered risk for diabetes, and lowered risk for cardiovascular disease) and flax-seed oil (associated with anti-inflammatory benefits, lowering blood pressure, and antioxidant activity) are just two plant-derived substances offering massive health benefits.
To sum up, holistic health and Western medicine can definitely be combined to create powerful, flexible treatment plans for patients. Whether its small steps, such as adding supplements your body needs more of, getting outside and in nature more, adding more creative activities to your calendar to boost fulfillment levels, or replacing some foods with more nutritionally dense favorites, holistic health can be another great resource to get you feeling like your best health again.
Allara provides personalized treatment that takes the guesswork out of managing PCOS, and offers a customized, holistic plan of attack that merges nutrition, medication. supplementation, and ongoing, expert support to begin healing your body.