Health consumers are confronted with lots of choices when considering how to maintain or improve their health. Many of these options might be considered “alternative” to traditional western medicine, or could be thought of as “holistic.” Holistic health care is sometimes described as care that addresses body, mind, and spirit, and seeks a healthy balance. For the interested consumer, evaluating strategies which they might not find at their local doctor’s office or hospital can be challenging.
The spectrum of holistic strategies is very wide. The most commonly used in the US are manual therapies such as chiropractic and massage, supplements such as herbs and nutrients, stress management tools like meditation, and traditional healing tools which may be thousands of years old like acupuncture. Surveys have shown that Americans utilize such approaches in large numbers. They may find out about such options from friends, relatives, the internet or their usual health care providers.
Research into the effectiveness of holistic therapies is being funded and overseen by the National Institutes of Health, and careful reviews are being written and made available online by other health professionals. Still navigating the world of holistic therapies can be difficult and confusing.
Here are some things to consider if you are contemplating something new.
- It is always prudent to consult your usual health care provider when contemplating nontraditional strategies. Although most holistic approaches to health care are safe, there may be risks such as combining herbs with medication. At the very least, it is good to keep your health care provider in the loop – you might also educate them in the process!
- Doctors are trained to “first do no harm.” This principle applies to any therapy. It is up to you to communicate about your experience to your provider, holistic or traditional. Trust your experience – can you tell that the therapy is helping? If so, that’s great. If not, perhaps it is not for you.
- Finally, there is no substitute for living well. Eating nutritious food in moderate quantities, getting more physical activity, working on your relationships, and cultivating a positive attitude are all very powerful and holistic strategies.