The concept of holism in medicine is not new. Hippocrates, the father of Western Medicine, was a big fan of holism and most Western doctors understand there is more to health than just the physicality of the body. Holism and holistic health encompass both the internal and external factors that influence health.
Let’s drill down into what we mean by internal versus external factors.
To begin to understand what holism and holistic health means, you need to understand that the body is a system made up of multiple different systems, such as the nervous system, immune system, digestive system and cardiovascular system. These systems are interconnected in inseparable ways to make up the whole person. This is what we mean by internal factors.
On the other hand, every person has interconnected systems that are external to the body, like the social system, economic system and ecological system. We are all inherently connected to each other and also to all the other living systems: plants, animals, soil, and the environment.
By making sure we respect all these interlinking systems, and pay attention to the system that may have a chink in its chain, we are addressing the whole. When we do this, the whole person is affected. So just like anxiety can increase your blood pressure, impact your sleep and can lead you to drink more alcohol, it can have negative effects on your relationships, work productivity and your ability to take care of other things like the environment.
This negative cycle can however become a positive one. For example, you might start to meditate, or eat more fruits and vegetables. These can have a positive effect on your gut, reduce your stress levels, improve your sleep, help you make better choices about alcohol, positively affect your relationships and increase your capacity to look after other things, such as the environment or other causes you feel passionate about.
Holistic medicine is a system-based approach to health care: by looking at all the things that can be affected, we are treating all that is connected.