Medical herbalist Nicola Parker explains the meaning of Holistic medicine.
Nicola looks at the underlying causes of illness not just the symptoms.
One of the things I’ve noticed within the natural health industry, is the frequent merging of terms that mean very different things. I’m often called the naturopath, the homeopath or the nutritionist by people who come to seek my aid. I cannot lay claim to any of these titles, because I’m trained as a medical herbalist, a discipline that is quite different to these other practices. Yet, it’s easy to understand why these titles would get thrown in together.
We are all considered practitioners of holistic medicine, a term that is also easily misunderstood. Holistic medicine does not mean the same as natural medicine or herbal medicine. Quite the contrary, it is quite possible to visit a GP who takes a holistic approach to treating their patients. In fact, holistic medicine can be used by any health professional who likes to step back and take a wider look at the picture of a person’s health, regardless of their chosen discipline. Holistic medicine, means just that, to treat the whole.
To simplify biology, we are taught about the different systems of the body at school. The digestive system, the circulatory system, the nervous system, etc. This is incredibly helpful in piecing together how the body works, but none of these systems act independently of each other.
Have you ever felt sick with nerves or had to visit the loo frequently when anxious about something? That’s your nervous system and digestive system acting together. When you get out of breath and you feel your heart pounding after exercise, that’s your circulation and your lungs working together. Feeling run down when you’re stressed, a skin problem that gets worse when you eat the wrong foods, indigestion when you’re feeling anxious, these are all examples of body systems working together.
It would make sense then, to delve deeper into the causes of a reaction, rather than just covering up the symptoms. This is the difference between a holistic approach to health and a symptomatic approach.
If you visit your GP with joint or muscle pain and they give you a pain killer, they are treating your symptoms. If they identify a weakness and refer you to a physiotherapist, they are looking at the wider issue and approaching the matter more holistically. If you go to your doctor and she gives you laxatives for constipation, she is treating your symptoms, but if you leave with advice about fibre and water consumption to avoid constipation, then you’ve been treated holistically.
My preference is to address issues holistically when possible and this leads to new and interesting methods of managing common health issues.
Skin problems, I almost always treat by focusing on digestion. The skin is covered in strains of bacteria that protect it. This is why acne can be treated with antibiotics. The antibiotics destroy the P. acnes bacteria, which causes the infection and swelling of spots. When taking a holistic approach to skin health, I generally recommend probiotics to promote the health of good bacteria that keep our skin protected from the bad bacteria that can aggravate all types of skin problems. I find this approach much more effective than creams and topical treatments alone.
When supporting energy levels, it’s essential to look at and manage the effects of long-term stress and how this can address any feelings of burnout, rather than just relying on caffeine and sugar to keep us stimulated. Herbal adaptogens like rhodiola can help to reduce the physiological response to stress and are key in restoring energy function.
For blood pressure and cholesterol management, working on dietary intake of sugar, salt, caffeine and fibre rich foods can help to keep the heart healthy. I regularly use herbs that help with stress and anxiety for high blood pressure because a high pressure life or anxious temperament can be contributing factors.
If you’re looking at your health and feel like you’re currently just putting a sticking plaster over the symptoms without addressing the underlying causes, it could be worth seeking out a holistic health practitioner. Check with your doctor, a herbalist or your local holistic health clinic and ask about more in depth approaches to managing your health.
For more information or to request an appointment with Nicola, contact her clinic on 01524 413733.