Event Review: 7th Annual Alternative Therapies Symposium, Medicine and the Planet: The Coming Age of Ecological Medicine

By Heather Berg

April 3, 2003--The ¡°7th Annual Alternative Therapies Symposium, Medicine and the Planet: The Coming Age of Ecological Medicine¡± took place in Seattle this past week. The conference was designed to ¡°explore the relationship between our health and our environment,¡± and to ¡°explore the principles of ecological medicine, what a green hospital might look like, what CAM interventions exist for diagnosing and addressing environmentally caused illnesses, and the role of consciousness in creating a medicine that protects and enhances all life.¡± The majority of the attendees were medical doctors already practicing integrative medicine or looking to integrate it into their practices. One MD from Minnesota attended to learn how to respond to increasingly frequent questions from her patients about the use of therapeutic herbs and possible interactions. When one patient asked her, ¡°How much echinacea should I give my baby?¡± she knew it was time to do something.

There were many excellent speakers, ranging from scientists and doctors to poets who presented their unique and views on the link between humanity and the planet. We're seeing increasing examples of strange occurrences in nature¡ªtransgender frogs for example¡ªand an apparent increase in cancers and ¡°modern¡± diseases, so it is exciting to see how nature can become part of the solution.

True to the Conference theme, John Todd, PhD presented the encouraging topic ¡°Planetary Healing and Human Health: The Promise of Ecological Design.¡± The summary says it best, ¡°For more than three billion years, the evolution of life on this planet has created the extraordinary biological richness whose legacy comprises the Earth today. With the health of the planet under siege ¡­it has become imperative that the language of nature be decoded ¡­ employed to forge design principles, blueprints and technologies that will heal the planet and permit a symbiotic relationship between humanity and the rest of the world.¡±

Dr. Todd presented two encouraging examples of how these ¡°blueprints¡± are currently being applied. First, the audience saw open sewage running through canals in a populous Chinese city. The situation looked dire until the next slide revealed lush walkways with pedestrians along the same canals months later. The secret was harnessing the purifying power of specific plants which filter out heavy metals, bacteria, and viral contamination. In another example, he showed piles of smelly toxic waste in Bellingham, Washington, that were cleaned up by growing mushrooms.

Dr. Todd learned this strategy from another conference speaker, Paul Stamets, author of Mycomedicines. Paul¡¯s presentation on the healing properties of mushrooms and his efforts to protect these symbiotic mysteries, was both beautiful and brilliant. Even NASA has noticed Paul and wants to discuss the potential to grow fungus on Mars.

The Conference was concluded by Dr. Andrew Weil, known for his PBS presentations and his program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. In the wake of recent reports about increases in obesity and diabetes, it would be difficult to argue that nutrition did not affect our health.

Dr. Weil shared a story on just how tough it is to create nutritional change, but encouraged the audience to keep up the fight. When he suggested dietary changes at the cafeteria serving his clinic--so that the food would be nutritious and reflect the principles of the program, he ran into the bottom line reality of the mega-food service company contracted to serve up the food. Organic food, a larger salad bar and one special menu a day was just too much money.

While he was a student in Medical School, he had a full half hour devoted to nutrition¡ªthe subject was hospital diets. Adding nutrition to the medical school program proved to be a challenge too, because it would require a trade off from another subject and the professors were already trying to cram massive amounts of information into a finite number of hours. In fact, he knew just how clearly it would be a challenge when it took him 5 years to get a one-hour course on tobacco addiction through the system.

So how do you effect change in the medical school programs? The answer is by getting the Deans of influential schools to ask for it; and this is, in fact, already happening. The ¡°exclusive¡± Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine will represent one fifth of the medical colleges in the US when it reaches 25 members. Currently there are 16 members from Institutions like Harvard, Duke, the University of Arizona and recently, the University of Washington. A partial list is at www.bravewell.org/stratinit/consortium.asp

The conference was organized by Innovision Communications, a division of Inner Doorway and Partners including Bastyr University, the Canadian Complementary Medical Association, American College for the Advancement of Medicine and the American Holistic Medical Association. Exhibitors included Douglas Labs, Integrative Therapeutics, Amazon Herbs and US Biotek.

For more information, visit www.alternative-therapies.com.

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