Conventional vs. Holistic Medicine
Conventional vs. Holistic Medicine: This is a blog topic that’s been in the back of my mind for some time, and I’ve decided to finally sit down and write it. We often pit one against the other, but is there a place for both? And if so, when is one preferable over the other? Well since you asked, here’s my two cents. . . 🙂
And before I get started, let’s make sure we all understand exactly what I’m referring to here. Conventional medicine is defined as:
A system in which medical doctors and other healthcare professionals (such as nurses, pharmacists, and therapists) treat symptoms and diseases using drugs, radiation, or surgery. Also called allopathic medicine, biomedicine, mainstream medicine, orthodox medicine, and Western medicine. (National Cancer Institute)
Holistic medicine, on the other hand, is defined as:
A form of healing that considers the whole person (or horse!) — body, mind, spirit, and emotions — in the quest for optimal health and wellness. According to the holistic medicine philosophy, one can achieve optimal health — the primary goal of holistic medicine practice — by gaining proper balance in life. (Web MD)
Being that this blog is titled, The Naturally Healthy Horse, one might think I’d be completely in favor of holistic medicine while opposed to all facets of conventional medicine. This is not exactly the case, but let me explain. . .
I believe that many medical perspectives may hold a piece of the puzzle when it comes to health. Some of us are quick to shun certain conventional medicines or treatments, but the truth is that some of these very same treatments have saved lives or at least made an incredible difference in them.
Take for example, antibiotics. We can all probably think of an instance when they made a big difference for us (or our horse). And of course there are drugs such as statins or cancer treatments which have definitely saved lives.
Though probably not life-threatening, I’d like to give a personal example:
I suffered from horrible migraine headaches for many years. The kind that make you vomit and send you to bed for the rest of the day. They lasted for hours and at times, I could think of no suffering worse than these headaches. They were misdiagnosed as ‘sinus’ headaches for many years, but finally, when I was in my twenties, my doctor recognized them for what they were and prescribed a migraine medication.
The first drug (Imitrex) didn’t even put a dent in them. And it caused me to have a rapid heartbeat, which honestly, scared me to death. Then, I was prescribed what I considered to be a miracle drug–Maxalt. It took the migraines away! I couldn’t believe I had suffered for so long when this medication was available. Sure, it had a few uncomfortable side effects (tightening in the throat, increased need to urinate, fatigue) but I could deal with that.
I never dreamed there would be a day when I wouldn’t need my miracle drug any longer, but that day came nearly ten years later when, after doing quite a bit of research, I discovered that gluten could be responsible for migraines. I went gluten free 2 1/2 years ago and haven’t looked back since. Some people wonder how I do it, but it’s a small price to pay for my health! I haven’t taken Maxalt since. It may sound too good to be true (and I’m not saying that everyone’s migraines are gluten-related), but it happened. And it’s still happening for me.
I guess my biggest hangup with conventional medicine is our dependency on it–and our belief (as a Western society) that this is the only way. It’s definitely not. Holistic medicine (which includes dietary treatment) seeks to get to the root cause of illness. In my case, it was gluten (or at least gluten was definitely a trigger). Sometimes, you have to find your own answers, like I did. But there are a growing number of doctors and veterinarians who are shifting towards holistic medicine. I consider this a wonderful thing!
In our modern society, we’ve created our own imbalances for the most part–from what we eat, to the jobs we have (where we sit in a chair or perform the same task all day), to the emotional stressors of everyday life (think traffic jams, etc.) It’s no wonder that urgent care facilities are cropping up in every corner of every city. We want quick fixes to the problems that our dysfunctional patterns have created.
The same goes for our horses. I get that it’s easy to want to seek quick fixes for our horses, too–especially when they are in pain. People with performance horses are notorious for this. It’s one of the reasons I refused to work at shows when I was doing equine acupressure professionally. Acupressure is not a quick fix. (And if you think hock injections or bute before a show is a quick fix, you’re sadly mistaken as well. The damage has already been done, and you’re merely masking it for a while.)
But, if your horse is severely ill or injured, conventional medicine may be your best bet. It is well-suited to acute conditions. Take colic surgery for example, this procedure has saved many horses, including one of my own. And as for conventional medicines, I wouldn’t hesitate to give my horse antibiotics for a bacterial infection or even a few doses of bute for an injury. But I will not over-rely on these medicines.
Building a firm foundation of health is where holistic medicine shines bright. It works best in preventing dis-ease, but that’s not to say it can’t work when imbalance has already occurred. It can and does work for many equine conditions–ulcers, arthritis, nutritional deficiencies, some types of colic, etc. Read just about any post on my blog, and you will find more examples!
And sometimes, a combination of conventional and holistic medicine can work wonderfully. Such is the case with parasite control.
As much as we’d love them to, our horses don’t live completely natural lives. For instance, your horse probably grazes in the general area where he poops and this is what perpetuates the internal parasite problem. It’s also why chemical dewormers were developed.
Are chemical dewormers completely evil? I don’t think so. Are they overused? Definitely. This, again, goes back to our dependence on conventional medicine. Oh look! This drug kills worms. Let’s give it to Sundance every other month because we surely don’t want him to have worms!
Do you see how this could be a problem?
The parasites aren’t dumb–they’ve figured ways to persist despite our overuse of chemical dewormers, and now they’re becoming resistant to many of the drugs. It’s just like the strains of bacteria which are referred to as ‘super bugs’–they’ve figured out a way to survive despite all the antibiotics being thrown at them.
While I would prefer to only give my horses natural or herbal dewormers, I know that these may not work as well when a horse already has a heavy parasite load. So in this case, a chemical dewormer may be the only thing that works. But I can also give herbal dewormers at other times during the year and pick up manure as a preventative measure. I’d also like to mention that having a 100% worm-free horse isn’t going to happen. All horses have parasites–we just need to keep the numbers in a healthy range.
So . . . if I haven’t made myself clear yet, I am completely in favor of using holistic medicine whenever I can. My goal is to create balance for myself, my family, and my animals. But that being said, I believe there is a time for conventional medicine as well. They both have their place. But . . . the more we strive to create a natural lifestyle and employ holistic medical approaches for both ourselves and our horses, I think we’ll find that our need for conventional medicine will be less and less. At least that’s how it has worked for me!
Feel free to tell about your own experiences with conventional and/or holistic medicine in the comments. 🙂