Integrative approach to health
What is health?
According to the literature, the word 'health' comes from the Old English word hale, meaning ‘wholeness, being whole, sound or well’. Nowadays, the definition of good health has been narrowed down to not feeling ill, but health goes beyond the sheer lack of ailments and is regarded as
which is reflected in:
- energy, vitality, stamina, enthusiasm, passion for life, happiness, healthy libido
- good appetite and desire for whole foods
- rare or no cravings for processed foods, refined sugar, starches
- freedom of addictions - alcohol, cigarettes, gambling, sex, sugar, etc.
- bright look in the eye, clear voice and skin
- absence of persistent aches and pains
- smooth digestion and elimination - free of belching, bloating, constipation, cramps, diarrhoea, flatulence
- rare infections - colds, cold sores, tonsillitis, cystitis, etc.
- mental sharpness and stamina, concentration
- balanced emotions, gratitude, joy, love, compassion, empathy, etc.
The integrative approach
In the integrative approach we look at the whole person including the body, mind and spirit, as opposed to focusing solely on the disease. It also means using various treatment modalities, both natural and conventional. Optimal health can only be achieved through respecting one's uniqueness without doing any harm, as stipulated in the principles of Naturopathic Medicine:
Symptoms vs underlying causes
Disease is the body's response to the underlying causes in order to naturally regain balance. For example, fever is the body's way to initiate the healing process and destroy pathogens. Insulin resistance may protect cells from excess glucose and as a result - increased inflammation. Recurring pain, acne or chronic fatigue are all messages sent by our bodies as a sign of long term imbalances that require attention. Depression can be a sign to save one's energy resources, and to give the body a break. By suppressing the symptoms not only is the root cause neglected, but the problem runs deeper and more issues develop in a vicious cycle - many of which appear unrelated. Therefore, only by addressing and removing the root cause can a person get better.
Why chronic conditions require the integrative approach
In today's hustle and bustle of everyday life people want quick solutions- hence medicine is constantly evolving giving us instantly working remedies. This is pretty amazing for acute situations like a heart attack or a broken leg. There is another side of the story though, and it's called chronic conditions. We have an outbreak of anemia, cancer, cardiovascular disease, mental ailments, tiredness, autoimmune conditions, hormonal problems, obesity, diabetes, eating disorders, not to mention bloating, constipation or PMS which have become a well tolerated norm. Science is evolving and yet chronic disorders are on the rise. Medicine's focus has moved away from promoting preventive measures to a mere suppression of symptoms. However, there are various reasons why doctors' hand are tied, which include litigation, pharma companies, our demands to see instant results, short consultation time, and limited scientific evidence that food and lifestyle changes actually work. As a result, we have stopped listening to our bodies and have little interest in actively participating in the recovery process.
The integrative approach aims to marry both, conventional medicine and natural therapies, giving the power to the person, and at the same time allowing them to get better quicker.
Epigenetics - it's not about your genes but how they're exposed
Epigenetics plays a big role in integrative medicine. We now know that the fate of our health is not set in stone as previously thought. In a nutshell, the science of epigenetics talks about how genes can be switched on and off through environmental influences which include the microbiome, food, surroundings, social interactions, happiness, etc. Regardless of what the genes code for, plenty can be done to enjoy a perfectly good health, and this brings plenty of hope to the future of medicine.
What about science?
Science is extremely important but there is more to health that what clinical trials have shown us to date. Although certain things haven't been scientifically proven, it doesn't mean they don't exist. Science is relatively young compared with millions of years of human evolution. There are simply too many variables in nature to carry out studies in all possible circumstances, especially when they don't bring financial profits. Health is not black and white. Instead, it's a dynamic inter-relation of complex processes which requires an open minded approach based not only on science but also empirical experience of both, the person and the clinician.
Take home message
The aim of the integrative approach to health is to bring the person to a place where they can enjoy the things they love and live their life to the fullest. The key to success is not only to remove what's not working for you but to add plenty of what's good for you - the right people, foods, job, surroundings, etc. This is what health is all about.