It is possible to view the human body as a complex organism which is more than the sum of its parts and only partially understandable in its functions. Medical scientists can never repair the body with the confidence with which a motor mechanic may fix a car. This is because the mechanic has a complete work manual for the car setting out the function of every nut and bolt. Medical doctors do not enjoy the luxury of having the manufacturer’s work manual for each and every human body. The marvellous textbooks on anatomy, physiology and pathology will never have all the answers.
It is obvious however that there is an essential difference between fixing a machine and repairing the human body. The human body is capable of repairing itself. After a motor accident the bodywork of a car will require the attention of a panel beater but the driver’s bruises will go away by themselves. The body heals (which means ‘makes whole’) itself of bruises and broken skin, colds and flu, headaches, ulcers and numerous other conditions.
When the body does not appear to be doing a satisfactory job of healing itself, one goes to the doctor for help and is treated accordingly. But when the body is capable of healing itself but for some reason is not doing so, would it not make sense first to try to persuade or stimulate it to get on with the job of healing? A stimulus to the body to persuade it to heal itself is generally applied to the whole person and has been aptly described by Dr Eric Ledermann as an holistic stimulus.
Many alternative medical approaches are based on the concept of the holistic stimulus. As this aims to treat the whole person the holistic doctor will need to know a great deal about the patient’s life as well as all the details of the illness itself. Here are some examples of ways in which an holistic stimulus may be applied.
In HOMEOPATHY the principle is to prescribe a medicine which not only suits the symptoms of the illness but also the general physical and mental characteristics of the patient. The classical homeopathic physician will take a very detailed history from the patient asking him or her about all systems of the body, their likes and dislikes with regard to diet, their sleeping habits and their personality. This gives the doctor subtle information about how the whole body is functioning. He or she is then in a position to prescribe a homeopathic remedy which may be able to stimulate the body to heal itself. A successful prescription, being aimed at the whole human being as well as at the illness, will result in the person feeling better in himself as well as in an improvement of the illness.
The remedies themselves are derived from a large variety of natural sources and are given in minuscule doses. If these same medicines were to be given in larger doses they would cause the symptoms that with minute doses they cure. Hence the central principle of homeopathy being ‘let likes be cured by likes’.
In ACUPUNCTURE the central principle is that there is an energy called Chi which circulates all round the surface of the body on invisible lines called meridians. If the movement of this energy is harmonious, the person is healthy. In an ill person the acupuncturist can detect abnormalities in the flow of Chi along the meridians by careful questioning and a subtle examination of the pulse. Along these meridians, which can be compared to train lines, are the acupuncture points, which can be compared to stations. The acupuncturist places very fine needles into carefully selected points on the skin to harmonise the flow of Chi and thus allow the body to heal itself. The application of acupuncture needles can be seen as a type of holistic stimulus leading to increased general health of the patient as well as an improvement of the specific illness.
Homeopathy and acupuncture are two of the best-known forms of therapeutics based on the concept of an holistic stimulus, but there are many others. Massage in its many forms can have a powerful positive effect on the whole person and this may include an improvement in their illness. Osteopathy and Chiropractic in helping to create a healthier spine and joints may also benefit the whole individual. There are many other examples of this type of holistic stimulus and what they each have in common is that the patient is still a passive recipient of treatment. He or she is not necessarily encouraged to participate actively in the application of the holistic stimulus.
Holistic Approach with an active patient:
The patient plays an active role in applying the holistic stimulus to himself or herself.
Here the role of the doctor is to help the patient find ways in which he or she can help himself or herself become healthier generally, in addition to alleviating or eradicating illness.
In REMEDIAL DIETETICS a change in one’s eating habits can act as a powerful, holistic stimulus to health. This is because the food we eat is not only fuel for the body but also the raw material out of which the body must regenerate itself. Thus a healthier diet or even a short, medically supervised fast on fruit and vegetable juices can result in major changes in health and amelioration of symptoms. In this way changes in diet become the treatment or remedy but it is essential that the diet be carefully tailored to suit the needs of the individual.
STRESS RELEASE is another important holistic stimulus. There is little doubt that stress is an important aggravating and even causative factor in many illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome, stomach ulcers, chronic headaches and high blood pressure. Meditation, breathing techniques, relaxation tapes and Autogenic Training – a powerful stress-releasing and stress-proofing technique – can allow people to release a lot of tension, feel more relaxed and on the path to good health. This can result specifically in great improvements in their illnesses.
Regular EXERCISE, as we all know, makes us feel fitter and more vibrant in ourselves. This can result in an improvement in many of our symptoms. Hatha Yoga is a very sophisticated form of physical education stimulating not only the heart, lungs and muscles but also the internal organs of the body. Tai Chi is a refined series of movements causing the participant to feel energised and relaxed. The Alexander Technique teaches us to use our bodies more gracefully, helps to conserve energy and reduces wear and tear. Any form of sport or exercise, even a ten minute walk every morning, can act as an holistic stimulus and have a positive impact on health.
When we take on the responsibility for doing things to make us feel better, the renewed energy and positive attitude acts as an holistic stimulus on the whole body and can actually activate the healing process.
There are many other therapies in which we can actively participate in making ourselves healthier. Many of these may be used at the same time as using holistic therapies such as homeopathy and acupuncture or conventional medication. Furthermore, different types of treatment used simultaneously may also complement each other – hence the term ‘Complementary medicine’. A sufferer from irritable bowel syndrome, for example, does not have to come off the prescribed medication to try an holistic approach. He may be prescribed a homeopathic medicine, encouraged to learn a deep relaxation technique and to eat a healthier diet all at the same time. As he begins to feel better and the symptoms of the illness improve, it will become clear to both doctor and patient that less and less medication is needed until sometimes it can be dispensed with altogether.
Mind Your Health
Most doctors and health practitioners agree that many illnesses are strongly related to our state of mind. In fact most GPs believe that up to 70% of their consultations are for psychosomatic complaints. This is not to suggest that all these patients are hypochondriacs. Many severe conditions such as stomach ulcers can be psychosomatic in origin, that is a state of mind (‘psycho’) which leads to changes in the body (‘soma’), causing disease (or ‘dis – ease’).
The good news about this relationship between mind and body is that it works both ways. If our minds are capable of making our bodies ill, then they are also able to stimulate our bodies to heal themselves. We know that people sometimes lose the will to live after the loss of their life partner. Others survive the most severe illnesses by sheer determination and have written books about how they overcame life-threatening disease by changing their lifestyles. In almost every case the person who recovered changed their very way of being by releasing pent-up emotions, by finding a more fulfilling way of doing their job or by sorting out relationship problems.
Doctors can help patients recover in these ways by listening carefully and asking questions not only about the illness but also about the achievements, disappointments, shocks and happy or unhappy relationships that form part of all of our lives. Many people have nostalgic memories of the ‘good old-fashioned GP who made housecalls in the middle of the night’ and looked after several generations of their families. These doctors are missed because in getting to know a great deal about the lives and families of their patients, they were able to see the psychological conflicts that were aggravating or causing illness. A few gentle, well-chosen words are sometimes enough to make people feel better about themselves and their lives. When this happens their bodies often feel better as well.
In spite of the wonderful advances in technological medicine that have transformed the face of modern medicine and saved millions of lives, many present day doctors have somehow found themselves in a health system whereby they do not have sufficient time to listen to the stories of their patients’ lives. The system is geared to the prescription of drugs.
The family doctor of the future will have time to listen to his or her patients. He or she will have not only the full range of medical and surgical techniques at his or her disposal but also the holistic techniques of complementary medicine. Both systems are valid. The benefits of holistic medicine – with its aim of stimulating the body to heal itself, its less invasive character and fewer side effects – will enhance and expand the therapeutic tools at his or her disposal.