Interdisciplinary Learning at Integrative Healthcare Symposium

Integrative practitioners from around the country gathered for education and connection

By Deirdre Shevlin Bell

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The Integrative Healthcare Symposium annual conference, held in New York City February 25-27, 2016, brought together integrative healthcare experts and innovators from around the country for 3 days of presentations and continuing medical education (CME). Practitioners across disciplines gathered to connect and learn about the latest advances in the field, and to help shape the future of integrative medicine. 
 
Presenters included integrative medicine thought leaders, including Mark Hyman, MD; Aviva Romm, MD; Jeffrey Bland, PhD, CNS, FACN, FACB; and David Perlmutter, MD, FACN, ABIHM. Topics ranged from ancient practices like Ayurveda to futuristic fields like technology in medicine. 

Conference Highlights 

Early intervention for autism prevention

Amid the alarming rise of autism in America—cases have ballooned from 1 in 166 in 2004 to 1 in 68 in 2014—Liz Lipski, PhD, CNN, CNS, CFM, LDN, sees promise in addressing parents’ toxic load and nutritional deficiencies as early as possible. Lipski, an integrative and holistic nutrition educator and clinician who is a faculty member of the Institute for Functional Medicine, emphasizes the importance of starting off a pregnancy with a strong foundation. “In fertility clinics it’s pregnancy at all costs, not starting with the basics of health. We’re starting with the leaves and branches of the tree, and not the roots,” she said. Detoxification before pregnancy (never during), a clean and balanced diet, identification and elimination of food sensitivities, and specific supplements can reduce autism risk. Once baby is born, breastfeeding, probiotics, nutritional counseling, prudent use of antibiotics, minimized use of acetaminophen, candida treatment, and modified vaccination schedule are all approaches with which Lipski has seen success. 
 
Lipski points out that these interventions are effective not only for autism prevention, but for many other conditions—and overall health optimization—as well. “Autism is a lens,” said Lipski, “but we could easily apply this to any other illness.” 

Food-caused pain and inflammation

The United States consumes 90 percent of the world’s supply of hydrocodone, according to Hal Blatman, MD, DAAPM, ABIHM, who gave a talk called “Food Pain and the Dietary Effects of Inflammation.” It’s not because we’re drug addicts or our physicians are more loose with prescriptions, he asserts. Instead, it’s because the food we eat is more inflammatory than in the rest of the world, and that inflammation results in pain. In his own life and in his practice, Blatman has seen the striking effect an anti-inflammatory diet can have on pain relief. His recommendations: don’t eat fake foods like aspartame and trans fats; don’t eat inflammatory foods (eg, white sugar, white flour, white/red potatoes); and learn to feed the beneficial gut flora and starve the bad. Pain is epidemic, but if we teach our patients to facilitate the healing their bodies need to do, they will experience pain relief and overall health improvement.

Eat Fat, Get Thin

Mark Hyman, MD, director, Cleveland Clinic for Functional Medicine and chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine accepted the Leadership Award and presented a keynote speech, “The Slippery Science of Fat: Separating Fat from Fiction.” The story of fat is a very complicated and confusing one, and Hyman outlined all the ways we’ve gotten it wrong over the years—from the lopsided Food Pyramid to the food industry’s massive, and massively damaging, low-fat food campaign.  
 
But the tide is shifting, Hyman says. Research is now showing that dietary fats (not including trans fats) are not linked to heart disease. On the other hand, there is a clear and significant connection between sugar and heart disease and obesity. Hyman recommends a diet focused on vegetables, fruits, and high-quality fats for weight loss, cardiovascular disease prevention, and overall health. “Food is information,” he noted. “When you change the input, you change the output.”

The new frontier of technology in healthcare

The Visionary Award was presented to Daniel Kraft, MD, who then spoke on the future of technology in health. The now-ubiquitous activity-tracking wristband is paving the way for technologies that monitor and provide data on all aspects of health. Think wearable devices that measure minerals in sweat, breath monitors that track hydration, and mental health apps that monitor people’s phones and alert loved ones to concerning behaviors. 
 
The future of technology in healthcare seems to be a nearly endless production of data, which raises concerns not only about privacy, but also about the usefulness of the data. “Think of a car,” Kraft said. “It has 400+ sensors, but we don’t care about the raw data from any of those sensors. We care about when the check engine light goes on.” New technologies will need to adapt to the way we use information in order for them to be practical. 
 
Other burgeoning areas of the field include artificial intelligence, genomics, robotics, and virtual medicine.

Lessons in women’s fatigue

Almost half of all women report fatigue to their healthcare practitioners. In her presentation Beyond Adrenal Fatigue: Using the Functional Medicine Matrix to Crack the Energy Code for Fatigued Women Patients, Aviva Romm, MD, CPM, pointed out that fatigue is sometimes a function of the busy and overstressed lives many women lead. On the other hand, it can be a symptom of another medical condition, so it’s important not to brush it off. For instance, sudden-onset fatigue can be a symptom of a heart attack in women and ongoing physical fatigue can signal multiple sclerosis. Asking the right questions, doing a good physical exam and history, and ordering the right tests based on those findings, can help get to the root cause of the fatigue. Romm explained how the Functional Medicine Matrix provides a framework for getting deeper into diagnosis. “Much of what functional medicine is built on is the principles of herbal medicine and naturopathic medicine. But one thing that has been missing is an architecture,” said Romm. 

Self-care through Ayurveda

In her session on Ayurveda for Lifestyle Health and Self-care, Nancy Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, introduced attendees to the concept of Ayurveda and dosha-specific strategies for self-care. Citing the modern, hectic lifestyle to which so many are accustomed, Carlson highlighted the need for counteracting external stimuli with basic Ayurvedic practices that encourage balance. While Ayurveda is most effective with an individualized approach, certain principles can help to bring any dosha into balance, Carlson noted. “Ayurveda is all about digestion, for all the dosha types. Eat local, fresh foods, with the seasons. Integrate culinary spices to help kindle the digestive fire. Massage your body with oils, drink hot lemon water (except pitta) in the morning to ignite the fire for the day. Eat your largest meal in the afternoon to keep an even flow of energy throughout the day.” Carlson also pointed to research that is now occurring that validates traditional Ayurvedic theories. 

Looking Ahead

Whether they went for CME, networking, professional growth, or personal curiosity, the attendees Integrative Healthcare Symposium found a wealth of expert speakers presenting on important and interesting topics. For more information about this conference and future ones, visit www.ihsymposium.com.

About the Author

Deirdre Shevlin Bell directs content for Natural Medicine Journal. She is a content strategist and copywriter whose company DSB Communications helps natural health and sustainability organizations tell their stories.