Holistic medicines can offer us a lot of benefits. There are holistic and natural medicines to suit all needs and practically all ailments.
Holistic therapies are ones which concentrate upon the whole person - mind, body and even soul.
This page takes a look at some of the problems thrown up by conventional medicine and then goes on to explore some of the best natural cures around. Some will provide cures for some people seeking better health and some will provide effective palliation. Most natural remedies are well suited to green living and an eco-friendly lifestyle. Most natural therapies are also greener because they place fewer demands upon the planet's resources.
Holistic medicines include massage; even small babies can benefit. Picture thanks to Valentinapowers.
Is modern medicine green?
The answer has to be no – not very!
Holistic medicines can offer many real alternatives, which may suit people trying to adopt a green living approach.
First, a little about modern medicine.
Here are some of the ways that modern medicine fails to be green. And some reasons why most conventional medicine fails to be environmentally friendly.
Modern conventional medical treatments often involve the use of many toxic drugs. Some of these have environmental effects. Even the contraceptive pill has been blamed for contaminating water supplies and causing problems in the reproductive cycles of fish.
Hospitals and drug companies use huge amounts of energy, generating an enormous amount of carbon-dioxide (a greenhouse gas). This might seem facile, but if fewer people actually needed these services the planet would be under less stress from greenhouse gases.
If more people used greener, holistic medicines as a first option, at least for non-life-threatening complaints, this might be a realistic goal. Most types of alternative medicine are far less energy dependent.
The energy issues of hospitals are being addressed to some extent by government agencies and health organisations as the frightening facts about climate change become clearer.
But even such a new hospital as the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, England is predicted to be using above the maximum recommended energy of 55 giga-joules per 100 square metres per year. This hospital has been designed with close attention to environmental issues, even down to the choice of linoleum covering the floors. Even so, it fails this basic environmental test.
Some modern medical treatments can cause a large number of health problems (iatrogenic diseases). Many drugs used in treatments have unpleasant side-effects which sometimes create a need for other treatments, causing an escalating cycle of drug use.
One of the most recent problems in UK hospitals has been the spread of MRSA, a potentially fatal bug. Other viruses and superbugs are also believed to be the result of the constant use of antibiotics.
Holistic medicines don't normally include pills. The best natural cures are usually more subtle and sustainable. Picture thanks to Rodrigo Senna
And then there are the drugs which turn out to be not so harmless as once thought. There are people who have been dependent on valium for more than twenty years because their doctors prescribed it in the belief that it was non-habit forming.
So it makes sense to explore some of the alternatives.
Certainly holistic medicines and all the various types of alternative medicine cannot do everything, but there are many effective remedies and treatments available. Many of them are certainly greener than conventional medicine. And many of them are very effective.
A good many people find their way to holistic therapies because conventional medicine has failed them in some way. There are whole swathes of complaints where chemical medicine quite clearly does nothave the answer - auto-immune diseases and allergies for example. But holistic medicines can treat a wide spectrum of disorders, well beyond the boundaries of those complaints where conventional medicine fails.
Here is a brief outline of some of the commoner types of alternative medicine with some details of what makes them green.
Holistic medicines can provide a real and effective alternative to conventional medicine in many cases.
However, do use the excellent diagnostic facilities offered by doctors and hospitals and seek advice from them too. Sometimes conventional treatment may be the best route. The best natural remedies available may still not be able to succeed in every case, so it is best to take a pragmatic view and use whatever modern medicine can offer when natural and holistic options fail or fall short.
Always consult a qualified physician first before embarking upon any types of alternative medicine or alternative treatment plan.
Here are some of the commoner holistic medicines, many of which can play some part in home treatment of minor ailments.
I've arranged them alphabetically. The details are brief over-views. See also the natural health resources page for a few links to practitioners and other sources of knowledge. There are also some book reviews which you might find helpful.
Acupuncture is a very ancient holistic medicine from China. The body is believed to have energy meridians (or pathways) running through it.
These meridians can become blocked so that the energy, or “chi”, does not flow properly. Acupuncture seeks to release the energy and restore the proper flow by inserting tiny needles at very precise points on the surface of the body. Acupressure does a similar thing but simply uses pressure and massage to achieve the same effect.
Acupuncturists also use moxibustion, a kind of applied herbalism, to aid cure. This involves the burning of selected herbs close to acupuncture points on the body.
These therapies are also green because they make very few demands upon the environment - practically only the manufacture of needles!
Reflexology and Shiatsu massage also use similar principles to acupuncture, as does Do-in.
Reflexology concentrates on meridian end points on the feet. Reflexologists learn to massage these points in such a way as to stimulate the organs of the body so that the body heals itself more effectively.
Shiatsu is similar but the massage given is generally on the back and legs of the patient.
Do-in is a collection of simple self-massage techniques which improve and maintain the efficiency of your body and its regulatory systems. It is a great aid to health and relaxation and many of the techniques are very easy to learn.
Aromatherapy has gathered a good following in the last twenty years or so. Many people still associate it mainly with massage oils but aromatherapists use an array of powerful healing agents based on essential oils. Essential oils are oils distilled from aromatic plants and herbs with therapeutic properties.
Aromatherapy is not new. People have been using a variety of methods for extracting essential oils from plants for at least a thousand years. The ancient Egyptians used cedarwood and cinnamon oils for embalming and in the twelfth century the abbess Hildegard distilled lavender oils.
In the twentieth century aromatherapy was coined as a word by Maurice Gattefosse. He cured a bad burn by plunging the affected arm into a vat of lavender oil. It healed without a scar. He went on to develop and organise the therapy we know today.
There are many useful essential oils which should only be used by a qualified practitioner. Some oils have toxic constituents and many are very potent in their undiluted state. Some oils should not be put on the skin.
It is possible to use aromatherapy oils safely at home, particularly for minor complaints and for scenting and freshening rooms. Safe oils to use include lavender, geranium and rose.
If you use aromatherapy oils at home make sure that you have a good book on the subject and always take advice if you are in the slightest doubt.
Picture above: Many herbs are used in aromatherapy. Herb planters are a good way to grow some herbs at home.
Naturopathy has been around since the 19th century but it is based on very ancient ideas about diet and lifestyle. The basic idea is that cure can come about through adhering to good dietary principles and adopting a healthy lifestyle.
Naturopaths also often advocate water treatment or hydro-therapy as a useful aid to promote cure.
Modern naturopaths will use vitamin and mineral supplements too. Fresh air and simple exercises also feature in treatments.
Naturopathy is green because it uses simple, natural, organic wholefoods and lifestyle choices to promote cure.
Nutritional Medicine is a modern scientifically based approach to using nutrition in treatment. Many doctors now use nutritional medicine to help bring about cure. Like naturopaths, they select and monitor dietary changes for their patients.
They also use a lot of carefully selected vitamins and minerals and enzymes.
They recognise that many diseases are brought about by poor lifestyle choices and nutritional deficiencies and they seek to bring the body back to a state of balance.
Nutritional medicine is green for the same reason as naturopathy; people are encouraged to improve their diet and lifestyle choices.
In the UK you can be trained in using nutritional therapy without being a medical doctor.
Homoeopathy has a distinguished history. It has been around since the early 19th century and was extensively used in Europe and America before the use of modern antibiotics eclipsed it to some extent.
It is based upon the principle that “like cures like” – i.e. that a tiny amount of a drug that produces similar symptoms to those of the complaint being treated will help the body to create its own cure.
It is a very safe holistic medicine, as the amounts of active substances involved are absolutely minuscule.
The substances used are mainly simple – like sulphur, for example.
These two facts alone make for a greener, more holistic medicine. For example, one remedy - Apis - is based upon the sting of a bee. In order to prepare thousands upon thousands of remedies, only one actual bee is needed. How efficient is that? (Apis is the remedy of choice for inflamed swellings, much like those produced by a bee sting.)
Also, it works by stimulating the body’s own healing powers, which tends to make for a lasting cure.
Conventional medicine, by contrast often tends to involve many patients in greater and greater use of drugs to maintain them in a state of approximate health.
Many doctors believe that homoeopathy works because of the placebo effect. A non-medical pill is given and it is the belief of the patient that they are receiving a valuable drug which somehow inspires them to get better. However, as homoeopathy often works for tiny babies and animals, the case is not yet closed.
Many people find homoeopathy extraordinarily effective and obviously the placebo effect may be responsible for some of the improvements.
Homoeopaths often take a very detailed case history and encourage the patient to speak freely about many aspects of their lives; this in itself can be very therapeutic.
Many conventional doctors have very limited time available for each patient. The time allotted in minutes can often be measured in single figures!
Most homoeopaths will also give dietary and lifestyle advice.
You can find out more in the UK by contacting The Society of Homoeopaths.
There are lots more alternative therapies which can claim to be greener than conventional medicine. Many of them work very well when given a decent try out. I will continue to add further examples of holistic medicine for you to consider.
Of the holistic medicines described above, many such as homoeopathy, herbalism and do-in can be used to some extent at home for simple everyday complaints.
Be sure to consult a qualified practitioner and your doctor for any condition which persists or anything that you are unsure about.