Thinking Holistically: Something We All Need to Engage With
Well, I thought I would chat about the word holistic. It’s such an interesting word bandied around a lot. It conjures up all sorts of bizarre connotations. It’s probably because it’s often linked to some kind of new age philosophy, but it most certainly isn’t. It’s a word that I have used professionally for over 35 years.
What is a holistic dentist?
My practise in the city of Sydney is called the Sydney Holistic Dental Centre. Of course, the most common question I’m always asked is: What is the holistic dentist? And I have to say almost embarrassingly, that a holistic dentist is somebody that realises they are dealing with a whole person, even though I know that sounds like “Really?” But that actually needs to be said because we are in a health care system where we are increasingly exposed to more and more specialities.
Dentistry is a speciality in itself, focusing on the oral cavity, obviously. But even within that narrow field, there are specialists that focus on gums, they are called Periodontists. There are specialists that focus on the nerve inside a tooth, which is called an Endodontist, a root canal specialist, there are Oral Surgeons, there are Orthodontists, there are Children’s Dentists, specialists, paediatric dentists. There are specialities within the speciality. When you look at Orthopaedic surgery, for example, you’ll have people that are just focussed on a hand. They specialise in hands.
The idea that we actually are a whole person, there is a whole person sitting in front of us every time we look at them as a health practitioner, whatever your speciality is, is an important concept to remember. I think many of us I know I have been in the consulting with as a patient, this is consulting with a specialist who specialises in just a particular part of the body. You can almost feel it that they see you as nothing more than a bladder or a prostate or a lump or a heart or whatever.
Having a holistic approach, unfortunately, I am exposed to practitioners that do have that holistic approach. My own cardiologist is certainly very integrative, holistic. He doesn’t call himself holistic, but he’s a very holistic practitioner. There are many practitioners that don’t carry the word around on their professional title but do think very holistically. I’m not pretending if you don’t call yourself a holistic practitioner, you aren’t holistic. I know that.
The word holistic is something we should all take very seriously and if you don’t think you’re thinking very holistically or you’re not really clear about what holistic means, the next time you stand in front of the mirror and if you happen to stand in front of a full-length mirror, that’s even better. I want you to stop and pause and just look at yourself because before you stand is the most holistic example that you could possibly imagine because you are not just a mouth, you are not just a set of lungs.
You are not just the heart or a digestive system, joints, bones, whatever. You are a whole body, a whole person, a whole body. We need to understand how that whole system works to have a really good appreciation of how things can go wrong and how things can be made better.
On the other hand, all you are interested in is the symptomatic relief of whatever you’ve shown up at the doctor’s surgery for, then don’t worry. There’s a whole industry there to greet you with open arms. But if you’re interested in how to get better and why you are suffering from whatever disease you’ve been diagnosed with, then taking a holistic approach is an important concept.
It just so happens that a holistic is not a new age philosophy. It just happens to be the way the body works and it happens to be the way the planet works. If we want to make individual health better and if we want to make planetary health better, then for all of us to start thinking holistically is an important concept.
That’s a long way of going around saying to you that if you haven’t listened to this week’s episode, you should, because I had the pleasure of talking to Professor Frédéric Leroy. Frédéric is in Brussels and he has a background in Science, Biotechnology, meats, in Microbiology.
His main interests were in meat and in microbiology when he entered science, and I said to him in that podcast, boy, if you had to pick two very important subjects, the subject of meat and understanding our evolutionary past relationship with meat and what it means moving forward and how important it is to our evolutionary development, then you’ve certainly picked a speciality that’s important and the other one of microbiology.
Over the last 20 years, the microbiome has become a focus for us all, not just those of us in health care, but for all of us, not just for those of us eating food, but for those of us producing food, because we have taken a very adversarial approach to microbes over the last 50 or 100 years with antibiotics, with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides.
But as it turns out, microbes, be they bacteria or fungi, play a very important role in maintaining health within the body and maintaining health within the soil. And I think that’s been a really interesting eye-opener for me over the last 15 or 20 years of also becoming involved and interested in holistic land management. Thank you, Vicky and Tim, if you’re reading this.
Vicky and Tim Paultre are the co-founders of an organisation that we founded together over 10 years ago called Nourishing Australia, which was all about healthy soils, healthy plants, healthy animals, healthy food, healthy people, healthy planet. Because we are all connected. They are all connected.
Every bit of that is affected by things that go on. Frédéric was very interesting because we talked a lot about a more holistic approach to the food issues that we face globally. I know veganism and vegetarianism have been promoted on a massive scale. I spoke recently to Belinda Fettke, who gave us some insight into how some of these public health messages are generated.
But in Frédéric’s case, I thought it was a really interesting conversation because we talked about The Great Reset. Now, what does that mean? The Great Reset has come out of The World Economic Forum in Davos. The world’s richest leaders in industry and government meet in Davos and thrash out how the world can be a better place.
I didn’t actually talk to Frédéric about this, but one of my all-time favourite authors and actually I would love to have him on my podcast, Dutch historian Rutger Bregman, appeared at the Davos Forum, which was looking for better solutions to planetary problems. If I’m not mistaken, I think he said, “Listen, you’ve flown in here with 1500 jets, private jets concerned about environmental problems. The world would be a much better place if you all paid your fair share of taxation. That’s it. Just pay more tax.”
I thought that was really good. I want to have him on. He’s written two fabulous books called Humankind and also Utopia for Realists. I’m drawn to both of those. I’ve read them both. I thought they were fabulous reads. I digress. What concerned me is this to any regular listener of my podcast, you will know that I have been concerned about public health messages for some time.
Public Health Messages
In fact, it’s been a journey that I’ve been on for over 30 years. When I’m particularly focussed on nutrition when I look at the food pyramid and when I explore how the food pyramid in the late 70s and early 80s eventually accepted by the FDA in America and globally in 1992 three when I looked at how that was formulated, it is very obvious that the US Department of Agriculture and vested interests have played a significant role in that.
That morphed in the 2000s into my plate. In Australia, it takes the form of the Australian Healthy Eating Guidelines. If you want to go back and look at the Healthy Bite I did on public health messages, it will go a long way to explain that. As I have said, the chemical, food and pharmaceutical industries have played a significant role in formulating public health policy.
What became very interesting in the conversation I had with Frédéric Leroy is that it’s gone a little bit further than that now. The World Economic Forum has got very involved in food and food security and food production. Hence we are seeing this push towards eating more vegetables to even veganism, eliminating meat products or restricting them in our diet, and that raises all sorts of issues.
When I look at not just the chemical, food, and pharmaceutical industries, but now those that are at Davos in the World Economic Forum, which includes industries right across the board, I get even more concerned. We talk about top-down management and it was so interesting for me to hear Frédéric talking about a holistic approach to this, to talk about his concerns for this top-down management, which is now cutting right across many industries, not just the chemical, food, and pharmaceutical industries, but across many industries. Then I become very concerned.
This dovetails into another podcast that I have done with one of my all-time heroes and I look up to him for inspirationist Allan Savory, who’s written the textbook, if you like, on holistic land management. You should go back and listen to that. It was one of the very first guests I had on my podcast for a very good reason.
He said if you are looking for the change to come from above, be careful because you may be waiting a long time. I’m concerned that we may be seeing changes occurring before our very eyes because what he’s saying is organisations are very slow to accept information. They are very slow too, they have a lot of ego and self-interest involved and they also lack common sense and humanity.
He says the change must come from the ground up. This was echoed in the conversation I had with Frédéric, who said top down is just not a great way to approach global problems. We have to engage also from the bottom up. That’s not to say top-down doesn’t have an important role to play.
Again, referencing Allan Savory, those big decisions that are made from the top down should, in fact, every decision we make should have a holistic context. How will the decision we make impact human health? How will the decision we make impact environmental health? And how will that affect generations ahead to enjoy both good individual and planetary health?
That is the holistic context and whether organisations are making it at the top down — the Davos, the chemical, food, and pharmaceutical industry, or governments or from the bottom up. That is the holistic context that we need to be engaged with as individuals and we have power, as I said in that podcast, by how we spend our money. I thought it was a really interesting conversation, reinforcing the importance of a holistic approach, understanding that it’s complex, it’s not straightforward.
I asked Frédéric whether he thought regenerative agriculture, which I am a huge fan of, is scalable and I won’t spoil the answer that he gave. But he did make the point that it was a complex problem that involved complex solutions, it involved having an overriding holistic context. Notice this word. Holistic, holistic, holistic. No, not a new age philosophy. Just something we all need to be engaged with. I hope this finds you well. Until next time.
This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.