But ICIMH opened the doors to a broader landscape of integrative medicine research and applications around the world.
Not only were institutions across the U.S. represented, but the audience was also made up of physicians, scientists, and administrators from institutions around the globe. I stacked my conference schedule so I could learn how to design IM research, build IM business cases, and implement IM models in spaces like educational centers or the Veterans’ Administration (VA). I was exposed to research on meditation, yoga, and nutrition, as well as hands-on educational workshops in pediatric massage, acupuncture, aromatherapy, and breathing. As I walked around poster sessions, I talked to researchers working on the mechanisms of meditation, ayurvedic medicine, yoga, and more.
I would love to write about everything that I learned, but I’ll keep it short and sweet: summed up by Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, whose remarks kicked off the conference, patients and providers need to find “purpose and meaning” in their health and work.
Below are some additional takeaways from my conference experience:
Tips for Developing IM Programs, Businesses, and Education:
Aim to be patient-focused from the top-down, starting with prevention. This is a redesign that is needed across the system.
Take a page out of the VA’s book: EMPOWER patients to explore what matters most; EQUIP patients with self-care knowledge, skill building, and integrative health options; TREAT patients with clinical care by whole health clinicians.
Know your audience and what clinical or cost data will drive their decision-making.
Remember that the systematic change required for IM to be implemented in traditional healthcare systems starts at the top. For example, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) helped the VA build a healthcare organization centered around holistic care and create a strategy for consistent, repeatable service across the country.
Properly plan for the sustainability of funding mechanisms and highly labor-intensive programs. Partnering with non-profit organizations to improve the viability of ongoing IM programs, such as culinary medicine, can help.
Intertwine IM and holistic health into the curriculum of medical schools. Connect students early on to problem-based learning in the community, different types of practitioners, and educational technology.
Things I Didn’t Know About Nutrition:
The gut microbiome (the community of microorganisms that lives in our intestines) is impacted by the environment of the fetus and, later, whether an infant is fed breast milk or formula. Early interventions can have an important impact.
Alzheimer’s disease is becoming known as Type 3 Diabetes as research begins to show that brain damage can occur from insulin spikes. A diet high in sugar and processed carbs can cause insulin spikes; focus your diet around plant-based whole foods (like the Mediterranean diet).
‘Leaky gut’ or intestinal permeability (damage to the lining of the gut wall allowing food waste and toxic particles into the bloodstream) and an unbalanced microbiome (good bugs vs. bad bugs) can result in increased chronic inflammation. Both can be caused by a chromosome, Zonulin, which is activated by foods such as gluten.
Water and juice fasting (which should ONLY be done while medically supervised) can provide clinical benefit given that, during fasting, cells are regenerated, reducing autoimmunity and inflammation. This can have health prevention and promotion effects including reduced hypertension as well as improvement in musculoskeletal diseases, gastrointestinal issues, and endocrine issues.
Intermittent fast mimicking diet (FMD) has been researched in cancer patients who have shown significantly reduced fatigue one week after chemotherapy.
Emerging Science on Mind-Body Interventions (e.g., meditation, yoga, tai chi):
Mind-body modalities are multimodal interventions affecting many aspects of a person’s well-being and environment.
Tai Chi and Qigong may help stabilize the degeneration of patients with Alzheimer’s and improve the gait of patients with Parkinson’s.
Research on mind-body interventions, such as yoga and meditation, suggest both practices have the ability to reduce perceived stress but differ in the physiology of how our bodies react; researchers suggest more expert analysis is needed.
Please note: All of these reflections represent my own fellowship conference learning and should not be considered medical advice.