Monday, August 2, 2010

Holism in Action - Public Health Versus Personal Health - What's the Difference?

Consumers of health care often face the difficult task of deciding for themselves what to do with "expert" advice. Mainstream medicine has moved toward setting the standard of evidence-based practice. The advantages of evidence-based health care would seem obvious - increasing the choices of effective and safe treatments for any given condition.

The disadvantages are less obvious, but they exist. What happens if the evidence indicates that people generally, or even a subgroup of people who have a specific diagnosis such as diabetes, fare better or worse on a particular therapy. For example, in general, for the public health, eating whole grain foods is better than eating processed foods from which fiber and vitamins were removed.

Then you have your own personal situation. You could launch on a campaign of eating only 100% whole wheat bread, pastas, and even pizzas. It could benefit your nutritional status. You'd consume a lot more fiber and B vitamins. Those are generally good for you.

But, in holistic medicine, providers and consumers individualize the treatments.  What happens if you are intolerant of wheat and related products?  What if you have celiac disease (gluten intolerance, where gluten is found in wheat, rye, and barley-containing foods)? What if you have a wheat allergy of one mechanism or another? Eating whole wheat foods will make you sicker in a variety of ways, perhaps even causing poor absorption and assimilation of the very nutrients that would benefit you, but that can't get into your particular body's cells properly.

In the latter cases, eating whole grain rice, for example, might be the best course of action to get the health benefits of a "whole grain" approach without stirring up a food intolerance or allergies.

This is a simple but common example of how general public health recommendations can benefit the population at large, on average, but not necessarily you personally. The individual must always weigh and balance what is right for him or her. Many different types of holistic medicine include the individual's unique situation in choosing the specific treatment program.

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