Highlights from the 2018 AIHM Conference

People, planet, purpose

By Keegan Sheridan, ND

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The Academy of Integrated Health and Medicine (AIHM) is an interprofessional association of integrative practitioners, representing a broad spectrum of health modalities, from conventional medicine to naturopathy and healing touch. This group convened in San Diego, CA, September 22-26 for their annual conference at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina, a familiar city yet new hotel location from previous years. Participants in attendance were an excellent representation of diversity with approximately 1,000 clinicians, researchers, and academics from around the globe and with various backgrounds gathering for an optional pre-conference day plus 4 formal conference days of advanced lectures, expert panels, workshops, and evening receptions.

The conference theme, People, Planet, Purpose, was a nod to the shared vision that unites this otherwise diverse community—a world where humanity and the planet are healthy—and their mission as an organization: to embrace all global healing traditions in order to promote the creation of health and delivery of evidence-informed comprehensive, affordable, sustainable person-centered care. In keeping with this theme, daily content began with a motivational general session before splitting into concurrent breakout tracks, roughly organized by healing modality or disease category. Each day ended as a unified group for a second general session before heading off for evening events. Over 70 exhibitors, representing natural products, services, and educational organizations, also participated at this year’s conference, with booths located in a more convenient location to previous years, on the floor immediately below the general session hall.

Sunday Content

The first official day of content began by recognizing this year’s 35 AIHM Fellowship Graduates followed by an inspiring testimonial of the journey of integrative medicine, told through the personal life story of seasoned holistic physician, Gladys McGarey, MD, MD(H).

Breakout sessions for Sunday were grouped roughly into Ayurvedic therapies, autoimmune diseases, and practice management. In the lecture, Immune Misfirings & Autoimmune Diseases, Lalitha Padmanabhan Aiyer, MD, MS, MBA, FAIHM, emphasized the need to shift from a traditionally reductionistic to a more holistic approach that considers both the intrinsic multiomic components of the individual experiencing autoimmune disease in addition to the extrinsic environmental factors that also influence disease progression. Clinical research supporting the use of traditional Ayurvedic herbs such as Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and Boswellia serrata were discussed as part of a broader integrative treatment approach.

Meeting back for general sessions in the afternoon, Tori Hudson, ND, provided a naturopathic overview and science update on natural medicine approaches to the management of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), perimenopause, and menopause. Susan Haeger, interim executive director of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium, provided the final lecture for the day, discussing the power of advocacy as a means for advancing the AIHM mission of person-centered care in the US medical system. A happy hour paired with the grand opening of the exhibit hall finished events for the day.

Monday Content

Scott Shannon, MD, kicked off content on Monday with a progressive general session lecture titled, The New Leadership Literacies. In his talk, Shannon pushed the audience to reframe current approaches to learning and problem solving, predicting that our society is on the cusp of great change and disruption. He encouraged the audience of practitioners to harness this change as an opportunity for innovation and breakthroughs in research and medicine.

Monday breakouts were roughly organized into mental health, practice management, emerging natural therapies, and physical medicine in the treatment of chronic disease. A broad and thorough science review and update on the use of medical cannabis was provided in 2 parts by Danielle Gordon, MD, ABIHM, ABOIM, CCFP, and Michael Geci, MD. Later in the day, Timothy Avery, PsyD, and Leland Ferguson, C-IAYT, RYT-200, MBA, provided evidence and practical tools for the use of yoga as a physical medicine therapy for posttraumatic stress. Clinical trials, focused on a military population, demonstrated significant improvements across mental, emotional, and physical need states. The Veterans’ Affairs Whole Health Initiative, a program utilizing similar researched-based methods, was also discussed as an illustration of a successful large-scale approach to integrative care.

General sessions in the afternoon focused on environmental medicine and climate change. Joe Pizzorno, ND, provided a practical guide to the practice of environmental medicine rooted, appropriately, in the tenants of naturopathy. The importance of identifying barriers to cure through a vast range of possible toxin exposure sources as well as an emphasis on patience in the healing process were major themes. Monday ended with Crone and Sage Circles, an opportunity to gather in a more intimate setting with seasoned leaders of holistic medical practice.

Tuesday and Wednesday Content

Tuesday’s agenda was by far the most jam-packed, with breakout sessions running from mid-morning straight through to the end of day. Content was divided into nutrition, environmental medicine, and a potpourri of presentations on topics including cancer, diabetes, and pediatrics. Mary Purdy, MS, RDN, gave an impassioned talk on the power of food to support cognitive function and slow cognitive decline. Also in the category of nutrition, Robert Ellis, DO, PhD, FACP, provided a practical introduction of how to empower patients to cook for themselves, supporting the concept of food as medicine. Denise Spector, PhD, MPH, ANP-BC, reviewed a compelling body of research demonstrating the immunologic activity of medicinal mushrooms and improved clinical outcomes among cancer patients who included mushroom extracts as part of their treatment protocols.

Mimi Guarneri, MD, FACC, ABOIM, AIHM president, provided the final conference session with an optimistic overview of where medicine has come in past decades, with a farewell reminder to attendees that they have the power to “be the change” and use their integrative medicine skills and passions to heal people and the planet.

General sessions pushed over into Wednesday morning, where science of the gut microbiome and gut-brain axis were discussed. Mimi Guarneri, MD, FACC, ABOIM, AIHM president, provided the final conference session with an optimistic overview of where medicine has come in past decades, with a farewell reminder to attendees that they have the power to “be the change” and use their integrative medicine skills and passions to heal people and the planet.

Summing Up

Celebration, joy, and fun are clearly attributes the AIHM community seeks to nurture and this desire is always most clear during the annual AIHM Gala, hosted Tuesday evening during this year’s conference. A 70s disco theme provided a relaxed filter through which attendees were able to release the technical details provided during days of continuing medical education and connect on a more social and emotional level to celebrate each other and their shared passion for integrative medicine.

The 2019 AIHM Annual Conference is scheduled for October 12-16, 2019, and will be held, once again, at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina in San Diego, CA.

About the Author

Keegan Sheridan, ND, is a naturopathic doctor and graduate of Bastyr University. Since 2006, she has worked in the natural/organic food, beverage, and dietary supplement industries, with brands such as Klaire Labs, Kashi, and SUJA, as a technical marketing expert and natural health strategist. She lives in San Diego, CA. For more information, visit: www.keegansheridan.com.