Holistic Health

According to the WHO health is defined as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. Hence, it depends on intrinsic/personal and extrinsic/social influences. Interdisciplinary fields like psychosomatics, somatopsychology or nutritional medicine demonstrate a growing holistic approach in modern medical care. Endocannabinoid medicine that acts at the interface of body and mind could play a pivotal role in the treatment of many inflammatory and psychological diseases in the future.

Since 1946 the World Health Organization (WHO) takes a holistic view on their definition of health and describes it as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”1. According to newer concepts the human being (generalized) is a structured, outwardly open system whose parts stand in a reciprocal relation to one other, to the entirety and to the outside world. The influencing factors in this system are:

  • the self/ person (defined as unity of body and mind, meaning physical and psychological factors)
  • the social environment (family, friends, colleagues, community, culture)
  • the natural environment (water, soil, air, climate and as a consequence: food)
  • the artificial environment (technology and sciences, habitation, physical and chemical influences like e.g. radiation or pollutants, but also therapeutic products)
  • extrasensory faculties / spirituality (religion, faith – likely to be closely related to psychological and social factors; manifests e.g. in the placebo effect).

In his work “Encomium Artis Medicae” Erasmus of Rotterdam as early as  in 1518 described medicine as activity that deals with the human being as a whole, similar to the view in theology2. Indeed, in archaic cultures the shaman (or medicine man, curandero, healer) is both committed to the physical-mental well-being of each individual as well as to social cohesion and the implementation of religious rituals and traditions in his village / tribe.

Whereas some holistic concepts (such energy healing, homeopathy) remain controversial, holistic concepts like psychosomatics (deals with the influence of the mind on physiological processes), somatopsychology (deals with the influence of physical ailments on the mind), or nutritional medicine (deals with nutrition in the prevention, cure and progression of diseases) cannot seriously be questioned nowadays.

Today, it is well known that e.g. inflammatory conditions or the lack of certain micronutrients like magnesium or vitamin B12 can cause depressive episodes. On the other hand, psychosocial stressors (e.g. unhappy marriage, harassment in the workplace) increase the risk for several physical diseases (e.g. cardiovascular diseases, cancer).

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) also plays an interdisciplinary role for medical and humanistic fields and natural sciences, since it acts at the interface of the nervous and the immune system. Socio-politically cannabinoid medicine is a highly controversial topic and provides novel opportunities in the intervention of psychological as well physical diseases. Scientists nowadays metaphorically describe the ECS as “microcosm of psychoneuroimmunology or body-and-mind-medicine”, respectively3.

“First the word – then the plant – and lastly the knife!”

- Asclepius

Legend suggests that this was the maxim given by the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius. Along with medical treatment, which also included a deep psychological analysis of patients’ dreams and life events, measures for relaxation and serenity were also taken (i.e. cultural events, music, physical activity), in order to give the patient a holistic chance to heal. Should medical care recollect its own basic principles again about 3000 years later? New interdisciplinary and unconventional therapeutic approaches may indicate just that4.​

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[1] http://www.who.int/about/mission/en/

[2] Christian Hick: Ethik, medizinische (Neuzeit). In: Werner E. Gerabek, Bernhard D. Haage, Gundolf Keil, Wolfgang Wegner (Hrsg.): Enzyklopädie Medizingeschichte. De Gruyter, Berlin/ New York 2005, ISBN 3-11-015714-4

[3] McPartland JM, Guy GW, Di Marzo V. Care and Feeding of the Endocannabinoid System: A Systematic Review of Potential Clinical Interventions that Upregulate the Endocannabinoid System. Romanovsky AA, ed. PLoS One. 2014;9(3):e89566. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0089566

[4] Jungaberle H, Thal S, Zeuch A, et al. Positive psychology in the investigation of psychedelics and entactogens: A critical review. Neuropharmacology. June 2018. doi:10.1016/j.neuropharm.2018.06.034