Over the past 30 years, healthcare professionals have had to respond to the growing interest in nutrition and alternative healthcare. Patients are asking for and seeking alternative therapies in huge numbers. This growing interest in favor of alternative therapies was obvious at the Second Annual Nutrition and Health Conference held in Tucson, Arizona, on March 6-9, 2005. This conference was sponsored by the University of Arizona's Program in Integrative Medicine (PIM) and the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons. Course directors were Andrew Weil, MD (University of Arizona) and Fredi Kronenberg, PhD (Columbia University).
Twelve hundred people attended the Public Forum portion of the conference, which included opening remarks from Andrew Weil, MD, founder of PIM and a nationally recognized author and authority on integrative medicine, a term he originally coined to denote the integration of so-called complementary and alternative medicine into modern conventional medical practice.
The conference was well attended by doctors, pharmacists, nurses, registered dietitians, dietetic technicians, clinic directors, and numerous other health care providers.
Accreditation was given for all those professionals attending.
Dr. Weil described the PIM curriculum, which includes the following modalities: botanical medicine, nutrition and diet, spirituality, homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, motivational interviewing, clinical conditions, leadership program, mind-body medicine, energy medicine, manual medicine, healing environment, philosophy of medicine, medicine and culture, and the art of medicine. The discussion then shifted to the dramatic change in human bodies and the direction of food and diet in the United States and the world.
Dr. Weil's remarks focused on the food produced in the United States and how the systems for food refinement and processing lead to dramatic changes in bodies by changing how the food is directed into bodies. According to Dr. Weil, nearly all the obesity, diabetes, and narrowing of time between sickness and decline, come as a direct result of influences from the food industry. Dr. Weil believes that medicine must influence social change and become the cornerstone and a key player in the movement for better health and healthcare.
His remarks included the obesity problem and its signal to a bad diet, which then leads to an increase of preventable diseases. The discussion focused on refined and processed foods being the main culprit to the increasing obesity problem and the increase in infectious diseases. He also discussed new research on trans-fats and how this research has shown that trans-fats intake has increased type-2 diabetes and inflammatory disorders such as arthritis. Water was discussed for its benefits to prevent inflammation and its aid in digestion. In his discussion, another food/disease indicator included the increase of dairy consumption and prostate cancer and increases in breast cancer, chronic infections, and stress on the digestive tract.
This overview of the current state of nutrition leads to a bigger discussion about the supplementary need for new direction in the education of healthcare professionals and medical schools so that all patients can benefit. Throughout his remarks, Dr. Weil indicated that it was the responsibility of both government and the individual to take charge of making sure that high quality, natural food is accessible to everyone. His remarks created a clear understanding of the role of food and how many modern foods can actually cause more harm than good. He stressed that it is time for people to move from being victims of food to making healthy choices for greater preventative health care. This can only occur through education.
One session of particular interest was "The Role of Herbs in the Diet," presented by Tieraona Low Dog, MD. Dr. Low Dog focused on the role of whole herbs versus isolated fractions in a few specific herbs. She discussed the role of synergy (the increased activity of an herb based on the additive effects of the herb's constituents), potentiation (the increased effect of the herb by providing an additional herb simultaneously), stabilization (the process of ensuring that herbal constituents do not change or degrade), and how herbal preparations influence health.
Dr. Low Dog explained that once understood, these herbs would become the foundation for better health. The first herb she discussed was turmeric (Curcuma longa L., Zingiberaceae). Turmeric has antioxidant, antimutagenic, antimicrobial, hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory, and choleretic activities. Other herbs discussed were chamomile (Matricaria recutita L., Asteraceae), tea (Camellia sinensis L., Theaceae), and red clover (Trifolium pratense L., Fabaceae). Dr. Low Dog discussed the flavones in each of these herbs and how they can provide relief for many common disorders. Chamomile can be useful for colic and dysmenorrhea and has anti-inflammatory activity. Tea provides antioxidant benefits and has been associated with slowing of aggressive breast tumors. She also spoke of the potential benefits of the isoflavones in red clover in the treatment of certain cancers.
So much information is still being discovered on many herbs that it is a challenge to educate the public with accurate information that can be used for health benefits. Herbs continue to offer a rich source of biologically active compounds and, of course, when consumed as part of a wholesome diet, can become a source of medicinal compounds that may be used to relieve symptoms or even to prevent or treat disease.
The conference also showcased the University of Arizona's Online Education Courses for continuing education for healthcare professionals. One example is a Botanical and Health Series. These on-line courses include Botanical Foundations, Botanical and Women's Health, and Botanical and the Gastrointestinal System course. These programs can be viewed at www.integrativemedicine.arizona.edu.
In many of the lectures the current state of nutritional education for health care professionals was discussed. Medical doctors typically receive either substandard training or in some cases receive no training. One reoccurring theme addressed the need for the medical profession to act socially and politically as a force to counteract commercial pressures in hospitals, schools, medical centers, and the fast food and conventional food industries.
Costs of our current health care systems were given so attendees could view the impact of the current systems on health and the dollars involved (see sidebar).
The overall objectives of the program were well covered. Participants came away with key understandings of the nutritional values of antioxidants, micronutrients, protective phytochemicals, use of dietary change and its role in therapeutic intervention, interaction between genes and diet, health implications for various cultural and racial groups, and recognition of the social, political, and behavioral aspects of diet and health.
Sidebar: Food and Health Facts • Total estimated cost of obesity in 2000: $117 billion • Dollars Spent by Consumers in 2003 on natural products: $42.5 billion • Percentage of overweight Americans: 66r> • Percentage of cancer patients using at least one form of alternative therapy: 64.5r> • Average length of conventional-medicine office visits: 7-15 minutes • Average length of alternative medicine treatment: 50 minutes to 2 hours • Number of consumers using herbal remedies instead of prescriptions: 22.8 million