Glossary of Holistic Health Terms
Acupressure: A ancient method of
healing related to acupuncture (see below). Acupressure and acupuncture
practitioners stimulate the same anatomical points and meridians on the
surface of the skin as part of their approach to healing. However,
acupressure practitioners use their fingers, rather than needles, to
create the stimulation. Acupressure practitioners may also include
other bodywork and energy therapies in their approach to healing.
Acupuncture: A method of healing developed in China at least 2,000 years ago. Today,
acupuncture describes a family of procedures involving stimulation of
anatomical points on the body by a variety of techniques. American
practices of acupuncture incorporate medical traditions from China, Japan,
Korea, and other countries. The acupuncture technique that has been most
studied scientifically involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid,
metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical
Aromatherapy: Involves the use of essential oils (extracts or essences) from flowers,
herbs, and trees to promote health and well-being. Often incorporated as
part of the holistic approach to healing.
An alternative medical system that has been practiced primarily in the
Indian subcontinent for 5,000 years. Ayurveda includes diet and herbal
remedies and emphasizes the use of body, mind, and spirit in disease
prevention and treatment.
Chiropractic: An alternative medical system. It focuses on the relationship
between bodily structure (primarily that of the spine) and function, and
how that relationship affects the preservation and restoration of health.
Chiropractors use manipulative therapy as an integral treatment tool.
Complementary and alternative medicine
(CAM): A group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices,
and products that are not presently considered an integral part of conventional
medicine. Complementary medicine is used together with
conventional medicine, and alternative medicine is used in place of
conventional medicine. Some health care providers practice both CAM and
Conventional medicine: A whole
medical system practiced by holders of M.D. (medical doctor) or D.O.
(doctor of osteopathy) degrees and by their allied health professionals,
such as physical therapists, psychologists, and registered nurses. Other
terms for conventional medicine include allopathy; Western, mainstream,
and orthodox medicine; and biomedicine.
Dietary supplements.: A dietary supplement is a product (other
than tobacco) taken by mouth that contains a "dietary ingredient" intended
to supplement the diet. Dietary ingredients may include vitamins,
minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and substances such as
enzymes, organ tissues, and metabolites. Dietary supplements come in many
forms, including extracts, concentrates, tablets, capsules, gel caps,
liquids, and powders. They have special requirements for labeling. Under DSHEA, dietary supplements are considered foods, not drugs.
Electromagnetic fields (EMFs, also
called electric and magnetic fields): Invisible lines of force that
surround all electrical devices. The Earth also produces EMFs; electric
fields are produced when there is thunderstorm activity, and magnetic
fields are believed to be produced by electric currents flowing at the
Essential oils: Concentrated
liquids containing aromatic compounds extracted from plants (e.g.,
lavender); used in aromatherapy applications.
Fibromyalgia: A complex chronic
condition having multiple symptoms, including muscle pain, fatigue, and
tenderness in precise, localized areas, particularly in the neck, spine,
shoulders, and hips. People with this syndrome may also experience sleep
disturbances, morning stiffness, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, and
medicine: An alternative medical system. In homeopathic
medicine, there is a belief that "like cures like," meaning that small,
highly diluted quantities of medicinal substances are given to cure
symptoms, when the same substances given at higher or more concentrated
doses would actually cause those symptoms.
Massage Therapy: A form of
body manipulation in which practitioners manipulate muscle and connective tissue to enhance function
of those tissues and promote relaxation and well-being.
Meridian: A traditional Chinese
medicine term for each of the 20 pathways throughout the body for the flow
of qi (see below), or vital energy, accessed through acupuncture points.
The concept of meridians is incorporated into many therapies used in the
holistic approach to health.
medicine (or naturopathy): An alternative medical system.
Naturopathic medicine proposes that there is a healing power in the body
that establishes, maintains, and restores health. Practitioners work with
the patient with a goal of supporting this power, through treatments such
as nutrition and lifestyle counseling, dietary supplements, medicinal
plants, exercise, homeopathy, and treatments from traditional Chinese
medicine: A form of conventional medicine that, in part,
emphasizes diseases arising in the musculoskeletal system. There is an
underlying belief that all of the body's systems work together, and
disturbances in one system may affect function elsewhere in the body. Some
osteopathic physicians practice osteopathic manipulation, a full-body
system of hands-on techniques to alleviate pain, restore function, and
promote health and well-being.
Parasympathetic nervous system:
That part of the autonomic nervous system that creates what
some call the "rest and digest" response. This system's responses oppose
those of the sympathetic nervous system (see definition, below). For example, it causes
heart rate and breathing rate to slow down, the blood vessels to dilate
(improving blood flow), and activity to increase in many parts of the
Placebo: An inactive pill or sham
procedure given to a participant in a research study as part of a test of
the effects of another substance or treatment. Scientists use placebos to
get a true picture of how the substance or treatment under investigation
affects participants. In recent years, the definition of placebo has been
expanded to include such things as aspects of interactions between
patients and their health care providers that may affect their
expectations and the study's outcomes.
Qi ("chee") is a Chinese term for vital
energy or life force. In traditional Chinese medicine, qi
is believed to regulate a person's spiritual, emotional, mental, and
physical balance, and to be influenced by the opposing forces of yin and
yang. The concept of qi, or some similar vital force, is incorporated into
many therapies used in the holistic approach to health.
Qi gong ("chee-GUNG"): A
component of traditional Chinese medicine that combines movement,
meditation, and regulation of breathing to enhance the flow of qi (an
ancient term given to what is believed to be vital energy) in the body,
improve blood circulation, and enhance immune function.
Reflexology: A therapeutic
approach in which pressure is applied to specific reflex points on the
feet, hands, and ears. Reflexology assumes that the entire body is a
mapped onto these reflex points. As a result, the pressure applied
is believed to affect more distant, internal organs.
Reiki ("RAY-kee"): A Japanese
word representing Universal Life Energy. Reiki is based on the belief that
when spiritual energy is channeled through a Reiki practitioner, the
patient's spirit is healed, which in turn heals the physical body.
Sympathetic nervous system: The
part of the autonomic nervous system that helps mobilize the
body for action. When a person is under stress, it produces the
fight-or-flight response. For example, heart rate and breathing rate go up, the blood vessels narrow (restricting the flow of blood), and
Therapeutic Touch: A healing
approach derived from
an ancient technique called laying-on of hands. It is based on the premise
that it is the healing force of the therapist that affects the patient's
recovery; healing is promoted when the body's energies are in balance;
and, by passing their hands over the patient, healers can identify energy
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM):
The current name for an ancient system of health care from China. TCM
is based on a concept of balanced qi (pronounced "chee"), or vital energy,
that is believed to flow throughout the body. Qi is proposed to regulate a
person's spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical balance and to be
influenced by the opposing forces of yin (negative energy) and yang
(positive energy). Disease is proposed to result from the flow of qi being
disrupted and yin and yang becoming imbalanced. Among the components of
TCM are herbal and nutritional therapy, restorative physical exercises,
meditation, acupuncture, and remedial massage.
Yoga: A spiritual practice
that developed in India thousands of years ago. Yoga combines specialized
breathing exercises, and meditation in an effort to integrate mind, body,
and spirit. Yoga has been shown to alleviate stress and
may be useful in the treatment of certain physical conditions such as