What is Holistic Health?

What is Holistic Health?

We are living in a time of mass consumption and as more people take ownership of their health, we are venturing outside what’s considered “the usual” in search of a more balanced life. If you’ve been paying attention to health trends then you have heard of the term holistic, a debated term. Holistic medicine is more of a philosophy and has an attitudinal approach to health and wellness. There has been an increase in people’s awareness of holistic medication and some will need guidance to help them on their journey

“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities”.

Due to the Covid19 pandemic, people have taken a greater interest in boosting their immunity with greater influence on oral supplements and vitamins. Another aspect to consider is the spiritual view in that as a society, our focus has been centered around productivity and technology and further away from Mother Nature. This unfortunate situation just further escalated a transition towards the holistic approach. Along with this transition, you will see a broadening in the number of practitioners and counselors within this space. Another added source of material stems from influencers on social media platforms. Social media can be a tricky or beneficial platform for patients by either adding to the skepticism and confusion or the polar opposite, an introduction into a beneficial possibility for those who have experienced therapy failure with conventional treatment or just general interest. Part of the confusion can be due to the different terminologies used and the fact that the infrastructure within the holistic space is lacking formal regulation and guidance. Although other countries have extensive clinical data backing up the science behind Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, the US is somewhat lagging, further fueling the skepticism.

Guidance requires action, but it does not guarantee safety”

Beyond what information is available online, on social media, and from Deepak Chopra, checking in with a pharmacist can guide consumers to find tailored products and practices complimenting a patient’s treatment regimen. As pharmacists, we are constantly interacting with people of varying demographics and disease states. We are accustomed to making suggestions on vitamins and supplements and understand the importance of evaluating the risk and benefit of adjunct therapy. With the increased use of bio-hacking and self-diagnostics along with health/fitness apps, patients have data outside of lab tests requiring analysis and interpretation. Those of you who are health professionals have already been advising on lifestyle modifications however it’s best to familiarize yourself with the available holistic methodologies patients might request your advice on. These categories include mind-body interventions such as yoga and meditation, biologically-based such as aromatherapy and herbal medicine, manipulative and body-based such as massage and chiropractic, and energy-based such as reiki. 

Some traditionalists feel that eastern medicine has been diluted to fit the western way of life. For instance the use of mediation apps is debated within holistic communities. Some feel it’s best to start something versus nothing, in hopes the meditator will weed through the commercialism and seek a practice leading to a greater intrinsic value beyond stress reduction. Others feel the philosophy is lost and people remain stagnant in the surface layers and don’t truly dive inward reaching transcendence. The Ayurvedic science of yoga and meditation is quite vast and detailed, it’s roots are deep-seated in sacred texts written in the Sanskrit language. To receive the benefits these texts encompass doesn’t require you to quit your job, packing your bags, and living in an ashram in India. What is vital is choosing a master/guru/teacher/trainer who understands the philosophy and can introduce it safely and effectively into a patient’s daily practice.

The future outlook of holistic medicine is a bright and effective one. Understanding its value will prepare pharmacists to have constructive conversations regarding complementary and alternative therapies with patients and providers. By guiding patients, pharmacists are supporting the public’s path to better wellbeing. As pharmacists, if you are unfamiliar with holistic practices and their availability in your community, procuring resources for the public is essential. Having websites readily available such as the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, National Ayurvedic Medical Association, American Holistic Health Association, provides people with access to more information. Keep in mind, just as there is no cookie-cutter method of treating patients with conventional medicine, the same goes for the holistic method. For instance, many varieties of yoga and meditation exist and must be tailored to each patient. Another example is if a patient has an allergy or intolerance to a certain fragrance, one has to be knowledgeable enough to provide alternate options (e.g. allergic to lavender, substitute with vetiver). Therapy protocols need to be individualized to the patient’s priorities and requests. Lastly, remind your patients to always share details of your consultation with their medical provider. It is not uncommon for patients to not fully disclose details with their provider due to poor communication or fear of dissuasion. Most providers will support the addition of complementary therapy willing there are no contraindications present. 

My final note to all healthcare professionals: people reach out to us not only seeking our medical expertise and healing capabilities but to treat them with compassion and empathy, to accept their health goals, including connecting mind, body, and spirit and lastly, to provide them with tools and knowledge to set them up for success on their path of health self-advocacy.