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A Flexitarian Approach To Healthcare

In the question of medicine, most people are dimly aware that there is a spectrum of thought surrounding it (i.e. there is more than one option) and allopathic medicine, or mainstream medicine, is the dominant polarity. They know that some natural remedies work but mainstream medicine is always warning that drugs are better tested, more controlled, and more reliable than natural cures. And so exists the basic spectrum of medicine. On one hand we have the dominant paradigm of allopathic medicine, which sees the body as a complex interface of individual parts. When one part shows signs of sickness or malfunctioning, allopathic medicine uses artifical drugs to alter the symptoms so they go away. The doctor is the healer and the patient is dependent on the doctor and his technology. The natural system of medicine sees the body as a powerful healer in of itself, and uses chemical components found in nature to aid the body in recovering for itself.

What makes this polarity interesting is how allopathic medicine borrows from mother nature and then on the other hand questions the veracity of all the health claims related to natural products. It is believed that only 1% of the plants in the world have been tested for medicinal properties, and yet 25% of our prescription drugs have derived from plants 1). The plan is simple. Find plants that have healing properties. Indentify a chemical or combination of chemicals found in the plant that is causing the healing effect. Study it in the lab and tinker with it until you create something that still has the healing benefits but is technically different from nature's design. Now you can patent it as your drug and market it to people who have that specific illness.

Medical Cannabis Highlights The Dichotomy Between Holistic Medicine and Allopathic Medicine

This story is clearly being played out in the rush to have medical cannabis in the United States. Over 22 states have allowed provisions for medical cannabis to be prescribed by doctors for ailments like AIDS, cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, or anything with intense pain. The states are noticing that the best effects are coming from patients who use the actual plant, whether it be vaporized THC or Cannabadiol oils or some other aspect of the cannabis plant. Patients are reporting that the use of Marinol, a synthetic THC compound trademarked by Solvay Pharmaceuticals, has more unpleasant side effects than smoking it 2). It is more powerful than ingesting the plant itself and many users prefer to titrate their dose by inhalation rather than a pill 3). Most of the states are issuing the actual plant in edible or vaporizing form, but the pharmaceutical position of cannabis-in-a-pill continues to creep into the picture.

Doctors Are Spread Too Thin

The current medical system is designed to keep you uninformed about your health. Doctors spend years to learn about each and every known ailment and disease that has been inflicted upon man, and yet only 30% of medical universities even offer education on nutrition 4). And yet, nutrition is the daily activity that keeps our lives moving. Nutrition and its cousins in lifestyle factors amount for 90% of our health, and yet the doctor can only give information that they are educated on, which is mostly disease.

Take a look at the list of causes of preventable death in this country 5). Heart disease and cancer top the list and they are largely preventable, if not at the very least reducable, by lifestyle choices and nutrition. Medical doctors are not trained to handle people's concerns about lifestyle choices and nutrition other than in simple bullet points. Don't smoke. Eat your fruits and vegetables. Don't eat fast food too often.

Also in consideration is the fact that we have a shortage of doctors that is not improving as time goes on (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/02/08/conquering-the-doctor-shortage/5307965/)) 6) 7). Well, we have doctors who cannot educate the people on the basic substenance that dictates almost all of our health? What are we to do?

Flexitarian Medicine: Holistic and Allopathic Medicine Can Work Together

While there is a shortage in MDs, there is an increase in Naturopathic physicians (NDs) as evidenced by the rise of universities offering this degree out of nowhere in the last 20 years 8). America sees the discprenacy in having MDs who are well versed in disease but not well versed in how to prevent disease and they are searching out medical help on the other end of the spectrum. Naturopathic physicians are trained in biochemistry, anatomy, cardiology, pathology, microbiology, pharmacology, and many other subjects that a medical doctor is trained in, but the focus is spread more towards non invasive therapies used for treatment 9). Rather than seeing the human body as a collection of separate parts, Naturopathic medicine treats the whole person and considers mental health, emotional turbulance, environmental factors, social factors, and even allows the patient to have a spiritual life. MDs certainly allow their patients to believe what they will, but they cannot really work with the spirituality the patient brings to the table. The principles of naturopathy also coincide with recently mentioned goals of modern medicine to focus on prevention. Indeed, prevention is one of the seven pillars of naturopathy. They also advocate the ND as a teacher of the patient, who can learn from the wisdom of the ND and make decisions that empower them towards health.

A flexitarian position would be to recognize our own responsibility in our health and therefore use NDs as a baseline of health. The honest Naturopathic physician recognizes his or her place in the spectrum of medicine and naturopathy simply does not compete with the emergency care of allopathic medicine. One could seek help for minor illnesses and chronic diseases caused by lifestyle factors by going through the Naturopath, and then visit the medical doctor for emergencies. In this way both types of doctors are utilized and for what they are most geared for. When you go to the doctor for simple, non life threatening decisions, their common response is to prescribe a drug for the symptoms you are having. The most common two are antibiotics and steriods. Truthfully, these drugs do tend to supress the symptoms but are they solving the problem in the first place? All illness have root causes and it would be wise to solve the problem at its root before it mushrooms out of control.

The Classic Example Of Treating Only The Symptom and How it Backfires

A great example is a yeast infection. We all have yeast in our bodies in addition to billions of beneficial bacteria in our gut that support the digestion process. When a doctor prescribes antibiotics, the drug kills off most of your good bacteria as well as the bad bacteria. The typical result is a yeast infection. When a person then goes back to the doctor, what does the doctor do? Prescribe another drug, this time Diflucan. Diflucan is an anti fungal drug designed to kill yeast, and for its part it does a pretty good job. However, the truth of the matter was that the body had its natural flora eliminated by the previous medication, and now this new medication is merely killing off the excess yeast. The source problem still remains, an imbalance of gut flora. There has been a rise in reports of systemic candida infections most likely as the result of improper prescribing of antibiotics without a plan to balance gut flora 10). Another concern is just as bacteria are mutating and making various anti bacterial drugs obsolete, Diflucan and other anti fungal drugs are running into the same problem. Once the patient shows they have a drug resistant case of candida, the problem remains unsolved and now has almost reached emergency levels 11)

The Analytical, Newtonian Paradigm Is King of Emergency Medicine

The truly great thing about our allopathic medicine is the very thing that makes it bothersome in non emergency situations. It is based on deep studies of what chemicals affect the body and how we can use that knowledge to our medical advantage. Nowhere can this advantage be more thoroughly seen when someone is in a car accident or some other emergency situation and needs medical help immediately. Allopathic doctors work in an almost transhuman like atmosphere, with machines connecting to the patient in various functions, measuring vital signs and controlling fluid intake with IV bags. But it works.

So why don't we pair these two polarities for the functions that they work best in? Holistic Naturopathic care for chronic, non emergency cases and simple problems. Allopathic MDs for the heavy duty healthcare.

The medical establishment is likely to ridicule this position but it makes the most logical sense. Like it or not, nature provides us with tons of remedies to everyday illnesses. We don't need emergency medicine to alter our symptoms that are not life or death. We need to understand the causes of the symptoms and work towards correcting the errors we find therein. Fortunately for Flexitarian thinkers, there are other dimensions then the treat-the-part vs. treat-the-whole person.

Holistic Healthcare...In a Completely Different World

Believe it or not, we can extend a dimension of healthcare into other worlds or cultures and see what we can learn from that expansion.

Incredibly, much of Asia has had a system of medicine that can be called holistic, or a system that attempts to treat the whole person as a connection of integrated systems, rather than just integrated parts. They have been practicing for thousands of years, and some of their practices are just now seeping into the West. Accupuncture is probably the most widely known form of Chinese medicine that is practiced abroad. It stimulates the body's peripheral nervous system with micro injuries to specific areas of the skin. The micro injuries increase blood flow to the area, increase the body's natural painkillers, and stimulates the body's natural ability to heal itself by alerting it to a troublesome spot on the body 12)

Today we see to two distinct forms of Chinese medicine being taught and practiced in the West. One is the Five Elements Theory, which is more intuitional and holistic. Many ailments that occur are resolved through the understanding of the Five Elements Theory and how it appleis to the body. All of the body's systems are interconnected, so when the kidney begins to show problems, practicioners of the Five Elements Theory consider treating the kidney in relation to the other organs that influence it. The Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is very much formed in the style of western allopathic medicine so as to be familiar and more acceptable to those from the western paradigm.

Another holistic practice coming from China that has thousands of years of tradition is that of Qigong and Tai Chi. While closely related but distinct, each of these practice has been shown helpful for the elderly with high blood pressure, balance, and psychological improvements 13). The simple explanation for these modalities is that they are moving meditations. Qigong is more on the meditation end of the spectrum while Tai Chi gets closer to a martial art.

Which brings up an entire can of worms that this author dare not try to squeeze into this topic; the practice of meditation. It was vitually absent in the western traditions but the East discovered it early and they have plenty of wisdom in the art and science of meditation. That will be covered in another article.

People have to be prepared to investigate other forms of healthcare as practiced in other countries. Without knowing the rich history of holistic treatment, one might scoff at the holistic movement in the west. Now we know that billions of people have practiced it with some success, it does encourage us to take a stronger second look.

One thing that is not considered here is that the Chinese is only one form of medicine from outside western culture. What other cultures can we learn new health methods from? A one dimensional approach won't care that much, but a flexitarian approach will be waiting to experience a deeper, more precise reality of health.

Another Dimension of Health: Physical Structure (The Skeletal System)

The question of treat the symptom vs treat the whole person is pretty well known polarity, but the following is less known and actually has more potential to add depth and dimension to our healthcare services. Enter the question of sound physical structure.

Look at the way a building is formed. The structure is adequately designed to hold the building up from its inception until the time comes to raze the building for a bigger, newer building in its place. The architects spent their careers studying what makes building structures sound, what makes them unsound, and built accordingly.

Our physical bodies could use the focus architects have placed on sound building techniques to learn how the human body should properly be formed for superior function. Consider back pain. Almost every American will feel structural discomfort from regular activities or poor posture at some point in their lives. We as a nation spend around $50 billion on treating the low back pain 14).

How is the back pain treated? It depends on a number of factors, but for sake of argument let us say you have back pain because of poor posture. You have slouched on the couch so much that your back is starting to form a structure that is not natural to its function. (This is not an unlikely scenario). How does allopathic medicine today treat the problem? A comment on proper posture to the patient and a drug prescription for the pain (to treat the symptom).

The reality is that we could use a full lecture as to why our posture is important to us. We could use a real education on how our spine is arranged and how it needs to be maintained unless we want structural problems in our old age. We need a doctor who is going to know and understand the physical structure of human body and when it get's out of alignment, they can actually help put it closer to alignment.

Chiropractors As The Yin Polarity

Ah, you know what I am speaking of? The dreaded chiropractor, of course. Despite decades of disapproval and attacks against chiropractors, people continue to get chiropractic adjustments because they see results. The backlash against chiropractic practice is ongoing, as seen at various skeptical organizations who only support the allopathic model 15). They consistently post stories in an attempt to move people away from chiropractic medicine. Nevertheless, chiropractic medicine is licensed and regulated in the United and other countries. It is officially seen as a viable treatment for muscular and skeletal disfunction 16).

In the event that swinging all the way over to the opposite polarity caused some motion sickness, there is no reason to grab the puke bucket because we already have a wonderful Flexitarian third position in existence. It is called Osteopathic Medicine.

Allopathic medicine treats the symptom and chiropractic medicine adjusts the muscular skeletal system to address the cause of the symptom. Fortunately for those who think chiropractic medicine is quakery, Osteopathic medicine steps in and occupies both the Medical Doctor role and the chiropractic role. How so?

Osteopathic Doctors Are Flexitarians Merges of Chiropractors and MDs

The osteopathic physician (i.e. a doctor of osteopathy or DO) receives all of the same training as the medical doctor. All of the same classes on anatomy, physiology, pathology, it's all there 17). In addition to receiving the same training as a medical doctor, they are also taught Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine as a supplemental therapy for their patients. The practice of OMM is not considerd chiropractic, a fact well learned if you refer to a DO as doing chiropractic medicine. Chiropractic focuses mainly on the back while OMM is able to work with more aspects of the whole body.

There you have it. DOs and MDs work side by side in hospitals across the United States and Canada. While only a minority practice OMM, the option for finding a DO practicioner who can work with the natural structure of the body is a huge Flexitarian option in the question of health care.

Look what the cat brought home

Recent movements in healthcare are starting to show Flexitarian positions. One study in 1995 showed that 4 out of 5 famiy MDs were interested in learning alternative therapies to practice on their patients, including accupuncture 18). Today you can see a practice called Integrative Medicine which is the ultimate in Flexitarian healthcare. It allows physicians to basically be the physicians they always were but to add alternative therapies that they find effective.

More Dimensions Then You Previously Realized

Isn't it cool to add such depth to what is usually a one dimensional topic? Some people distrust the medical profession and simply don't see a doctor. This is a travesty and anyone who holds this position would be advised to explore the many different vectors of thought as it pertains to human health.

The farther you want to go out on this topic, the more dimensions you can add. Massage is an important therapy for muscular disorders that greatly surpasses drugs as a treatment. Nutritional gurus offer detoxifying short term diets of each of our major organs. The practice of colonics practically lives in the underground but considering people are carrying anywhere from 1-10 pounds of fecal material, I can see why people continue to get treatments. The list goes on and on.

What does the future hold for our healthcare in the United States? If we have learned anything on this journey, it is that a deep, multidimensional look at the issue can cover way more bases than a one dimensional approach ever could. The future of medicine is a spectrum of diverse practioners who serve you in a variety of ways to meet a variety of needs. Should we continue the Flexitarian trend, indeed the future of healthcare is bright.


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