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What is Holistic Health?

By Jessica Hobby
Updated Feb 28, 2024
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Holistic health is an approach to health that is concerned with the body as a whole, as opposed to traditional health, which concentrates on illnesses and wellness in specific areas of the body. Subscribers to the holistic approach to health believe that maximum health is obtained when the mind, body and soul are all functioning in the best way possible and are in sync with the environment. The human body is composed of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. If any of these areas are not working to their full potential, it will affect all of the other areas.

The holistic concept of health and medicine has been around for centuries. Philosophers such as Socrates and Hippocrates spoke of how many factors contributed to a person’s health. Similarly, ancient Chinese and Indian healing traditions followed the same mind, body and soul principles as holistic medicine. However, the word “holistic” was not regularly used until Western societies begin to take interest in alternative medicine in the 1970s.

Holistic health is not a treatment, but instead, a lifestyle composed of multiple types of practices that promote the well-being of the mind, body and soul. Although a holistic approach may be taken with illnesses, which would be the practice of holistic medicine, holistic health practitioners are very concerned with preventive maintenance of a person’s body. They wish to treat any possible symptoms, but are more concerned with the underlying cause of a health issue to prevent reoccurence.

Types of therapies or treatments that are used to maximize holistic health are herbal medicine, homeopathy, naturopathic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, nutrition, chiropractic, stress reductions, psychotherapy and massage. In addition to therapy and treatment, another facet of holistic health is the choices an individual makes on a daily basis. People make choices that ultimately affect their personal well-being.

Some choices people make that can affect their holistic health negatively are deciding to use drugs, smoke cigarettes, consume large amounts of alcohol and engage in unprotected sexual activity. Sugar, caffeine, a bad attitude, high stress and poor self-esteem are also believed to have negative impacts on a person’s health. Things that have a negative effect on a person’s health open up that person to illness. Conversely, eating a nutritious diet, getting adequate rest, getting adequate exercise and avoiding sugar, caffeine, drugs, cigarettes, alcohol and unprotected sex is believed to maximize one’s holistic health and to keep them free of illness.

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Discussion Comments

By Mykol — On Jan 14, 2012

@myharley - I agree with finding a balance between the two. Have you ever watched the Dr. Oz show? He seems to really have a good balance between holistic health practices and traditional medicine.

Every time I have watched one of his shows, he shows you natural ways you can treat many of the things people go to the doctor for. He also focuses a lot on health and nutrition as ways to stay healthy for the long term.

I do know that most doctors don't get a lot of nutrition training when they are in medical school.

Some of this seems to be changing for the better. At least they are becoming more aware of how important it is to treat the whole person and not just the symptoms people are complaining of when they show up in their office.

By myharley — On Jan 13, 2012

I think there needs to be a balance between alternative holistic health treatment and 'traditional' medicine.

There are some people who are really on the extreme end of this and have bad things to say about doctors and prescription drugs. I have a co-worker who will only go to the doctor in case of an emergency.

Taking this kind of approach would scare me. I think you could easily avoid the doctor and not get the help you need. Sometimes they wait until it is almost too late to see a doctor, when they could have had the matter taken care of at the very beginning.

I know when I go to the doctor, I feel they are interested in my health and are there to help me get better. I don't see anything wrong with focusing on nutrition and alternative treatment, as long as you keep it in balance.

By julies — On Jan 13, 2012

@LisaLou - Have you ever used any chiropractic services? About the only holistic health treatment I am aware of that is covered by my insurance is visiting my chiropractor.

Even then, I have to make sure the one I am seeing is on their list of approved providers. They also limit how many times they will cover this service in a year. Most of the time you can go once a month and they will pay for these visits.

I know some people have had some bad experiences using a chiropractor, but there are a lot of exceptionally good ones out there. Mine has helped me tremendously with back and shoulder issues.

She is also interested in the whole picture of my health. Instead of just treating the symptoms I am having, she tries to figure out the cause of them. This way I can hopefully prevent them from coming back all the time.

By LisaLou — On Jan 12, 2012

I have been interested in holistic health therapy for a long time. My first response is to always look at alternative medicine options.

The most frustrating thing about this is that most of these services are not covered under insurance. I think a therapeutic massage can do as much good as taking pain medication, yet this is always an out-of-pocket expense.

A good massage therapist will be able to help with a lot of symptoms. Once when I was getting a massage and she was working on my feet, she asked me if I recently had a urinary tract infection.

I had not told her that I was currently taking a mediation for this. I was simply amazed that she was able to tell this simply by working on my feet.

Many people are becoming more aware of natural holistic health alternatives, but there is still a long way to go when it comes to the insurance companies paying for any of it.

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