There have definitely been shifts in medicine recently – for the better! Gone are the days of treating patients like a page in a textbook and recent times have seen a resurgence of holistic treatments – treatments that might have previously been seen as ‘wacky’ or ‘unscientific’. I’m talking meditation, nutrition and lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, there’s previously been a stigma that these approaches don’t work or that there’s no scientific backing behind their success. But now, as more and more research comes to light about the very obvious effects of holistic practices, suddenly it’s not quite so hoo-ha anymore.
Let’s rewind a little. I specifically labelled this shift in thinking as a ‘resurgence’ because historically (in ancient cultures) holistic practices were the normal way to approach both life and your health. It was a ‘whole body’ view that took into account every aspect of your life. Somewhere along the line, we started treating symptoms like a multiple choice question in an exam – completely irrespective of the individual person and the root cause. Unfortunately, this kind of treatment is a band-aid and often causes more harm than good. What I mean by that, is that not only do you never address the real issue, but you’re treating the symptoms… and sometimes unsuccessfully so.
The human body doesn’t work in isolation, many things affect our health – things like stress, diet, mental health and our social connections. So, it’s great to see some doctors take this into account when treating patients and embracing the idea of treating the person, not the symptom. In fact, many medical conditions have been completely reversed or cured by taking this kind of approach – pretty amazing, right!
I need to set one thing straight – I’m not underplaying the phenomenal power of medicine that we have today. The fact that we can study the human body in such detail is extraordinary and it honestly blows my mind the things that we can test and discover. However, I also want to applaud those who take into account a holistic approach and acknowledge new research and even older cultural traditions.
How effective is our current method of diagnosis?
Medical treatment most often starts with analysing symptoms in order to come to a diagnosis. Doctors tend to look at a patient as collection of symptoms and label that as a specific diagnosis, lumping that person in with everyone else with that label.
The thing is, while all these people may be suffering from similar symptoms, the cause could be any number of things and differ for each person. So, surely they should be treated differently? Yet often they aren’t, and instead all of these people will be prescribed the same medication as a ‘band-aid’ which may not even be effective and could come with some nasty side-effects. Eek!
“Somewhere along the line, we started treating symptoms like a multiple choice question in an exam”
Functional medicine doctor, Mark Hyman, even goes as far as calling this the “myth of diagnosis”, and while this may seem radical, and most definitely not always true, in my opinion it speaks to the issue that people (patients and doctors) can often latch onto the label of a disease or condition that may not provide any value at all.
The case for individuality
There’s a term known as bio individuality and while it may seem obvious, we’re actually all different and have a different susceptibility to medical conditions and diseases. This is where treating the person and not a diagnosis is important, because what works for one may not work for another.
The current research on genomics is fascinating and we’re seeing more and more how our genes play a role in health and disease. Perhaps more importantly, we’re seeing how lifestyle factors can actually change our genetic capabilities. Yep, lifestyle changes! And no I’m not talking about the DNA molecule itself, but rather how the genes interact, through expression, activation and other biological processes.
Holistic treatments that have been proven to have a significant effect
Diet changes have been shown multiple times to be effective treatments for conditions such as diabetes, autoimmune conditions and even psychiatric conditions like depression, anxiety, ADHD and Alzheimer’s. As a nutritionist, I’m constantly amazed by the power of food and I could go on about it for days!
To give you a touch of info, your gut health is directly affected by your diet and can have an affect on your moods and mental capabilities (yep, the gut-brain connection). Additionally, there’s research to show that bad blood sugar control (caused by overeating and sugar consumption) has been linked to a host of diseases that go far beyond diabetes.
Defining what is the right way to eat will vary depending on who you are and what your goals are (you know… bio individuality!), but the important thing to understand is that diet has a huge effect on your overall health and wellbeing.
But, it doesn’t stop there…
Stress, Meditation and Mindfulness
Although meditation is thousands of years old, scientific research on its effects is only in the budding stages, but there are some serious correlations being reported.
Back in the day, meditation and mindfulness practices were a normal part of life. But the way humanity and medicine has evolved (what I mean by this is treating medical symptoms in isolation) has seen the importance of such practices be disregarded.
Research has proved meditation practices to be beneficial in all sorts of ways. Not just for the somewhat obvious effects on stress and anxiety, but also depression, weight control, productivity, cognitive function, and even in treatment for some life-altering conditions such as Tourettes and Alzheimer’s Disease! As I mentioned, research is still in the initial stages, but nonetheless, most diseases if not caused by stress, are worsened by it so it never hurts to explore meditation practice for yourself.
Turns out, some of our ancient cultures knew what was right all along! The most important thing to remember is that health and disease are holistic and should be individual. I urge everyone not to underestimate the power of non-typical treatments, as scientific research appears to be on the brink of discovering a whole lot more about this topic.