WHY A HOLISTIC APPROACH TO HEALTH?
“The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease.”~Thomas Edison
A traditional holistic approach to health is multidimensional. It consists of medical aspects of traditional knowledge that developed over generations within various societies before the era of modern medicine. It emphasizes an equilibrium of the mind, body, and environment, and its focus is on health rather than disease. Furthermore, the emphasis is on the overall condition of the individual rather than on the particular illness or disease from which an individual is suffering, and the use of food and herbs is a core part of all holistic systems of medicine.1
Traditional medicine has successfully applied this multidimensional approach for centuries, and in the late twentieth century, science began to recognize the value of herbs, a proper diet, and the interaction between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems. Now, not only is more and more research demonstrating the importance of herbs and diet to our health, it also shows how changes in human consciousness produce changes in the human body. This research reveals how our bodies respond to each of our thoughts and feelings and create cascades of biochemicals in our bodies and how each experience produces a positive or negative change in our cells.2
Likewise, science is showing us that genes determine physical characteristics such as eye color and height. However, our environment and consciousness—including our beliefs about health and aging, prayers, thoughts, intentions, and faith—contribute to our health, happiness, and longevity more than our genes. In fact, “Genes account for about 35% of longevity, while lifestyles, diet, and other environmental factors, including support systems, are the major reason people live longer,” states Blair Justice, PhD, in his book, Who Gets Sick.3
This is clearly seen in identical twins when one develops a condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or cancer and the other does not. While identical twins share the same genes, researchers in epigenetics and gene expression are discovering that environmental factors influence how each of their genes is expressed.
Such is the case with Josephine Tesauro and her identical twin. At ninety-two, Josephine had a straight back and was vibrant and healthy. She lived alone and worked a part-time job in a hospital gift shop. Josephine drove herself to work, bridge clubs, church, and the grocery store.
On the other hand, her sister, at the same age, was incontinent. She had a hip replacement, suffered from a degenerative disorder that destroyed most of her vision, and had dementia. Josephine and her sister have identical genes, and yet they have completely different health paths. This seems to be a prevalent phenomenon observed in identical twins.
In his studies, Mario F. Fraga of the Spanish National Cancer Center has observed that, early in life, identical twins’ genetic expression is indistinguishable. However, older sets of twins show significant differences in their gene expression and medical histories, and this is more noticeable in twins that have spent the most time apart,4 leading scientists to conclude that lifestyle and the environmental factors play a significant role in the development of diseases.
Additionally research in epigenetics now shows us that genes only produce potentiality, a foundation, and not a specific phenomenon. According to Gary Marcus, PhD, it is more precise to think of genes as “providers of opportunities” or “sources of options” than “as rigid dictators of destiny.”5
At the same time, researchers report that our thoughts, feelings, and external environments—such as social networks, food, and toxins—turn our genes on and off. (This is called “genetic expression.”) Therefore, the science of epigenetics supports what traditional medicine has said for thousands of years: our actions, feelings, and environment contribute to our health status. We are not victims of our genes; instead the condition of our health is in our hands. For this reason, to prevent or to heal from an illness, it is necessary to create an environment that supports our health and healing processes. And this environment must include activities that encourage an equilibrium between and within our mind and body.
Integrating with Nature
Traditional medicine has long encouraged lifestyle practices that prevent disease and guide us to live long, healthy lives. In fact, Chinese doctors used to be paid to keep their clients healthy. If a client became ill, the doctor would not be paid until the patient’s health returned. Their focus was on prevention, and the majority of healing traditions assert that the key to prevention and healing comes from awareness. The purpose of awareness is to quiet the body and mind, unify body and spirit, and find inner peace. They believe that a strong, bright spirit leads to improved health and increased longevity.
Additionally a fundamental view of traditional medicine is that a human is a part of nature. Humans are an intimate part of our environment, and we depend on it as much as we influence it. As a result, traditional medicine maintains that the microcosm of a person’s health is reflective of the macrocosm of life and the universe. For this reason, traditional medicine is highly concerned with how the environment affects our health and urges us to live in accord with nature rather than try to adapt nature to us. The focus is on how to maintain harmony within the body and between it and the outside world, and emotions and lifestyle are also considered as contributory factors in health and disease. As a result, practitioners of traditional medicine believe the first secret to longevity is to flow with the rhythm of nature, and they encourage us to live each day fully and actively. This means living lives that are rich, full of experience, and without limits to our personal nature.
For this reason, from the perspective of traditional medicine, health can be defined this way: where there is movement and flow