I attended the Institute of Functional Medicine’s Nutrition Conference this year. It was held in San Francisco in May 2014, and since the speakers were many of the scholars I have been following for years and the conference was held so close to home, I could not pass up this opportunity to see these physicians and leaders speak in person! It was a wonderful experience, and as always, I came away with more ideas on how to educate patients about maintaining health (there is always more to LEARN)!
(Click here to learn more about ‘What is Functional Medicine?’)
Here are highlights of some of the sessions I attended:
- “Food Rules: A Candid Conversation with Michael Pollan“
Dr. Mark Hyman, Chairman of IFM, leading authority on Functional Medicine (FM) and best-selling author in this field, interviewed Michael Pollan, food activist, journalism professor and author of In Defense of Food, Omnivore’s Dilemma and Cooked. Michael Pollan started the discussion by quoting Wendell Berry – “People are fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health, and are treated by the health industry, which pays no attention to food“. Berry’s words such as these and others on agrarian agriculture lead Pollan from a career as an editor of one of the best magazines in the US (I think – Harper’s Magazine), to author and educator in the politics of our food culture. Pollan discussed the food politics in the US, which results in a lack of a health-oriented food policy, likening the sugar industry of today to the tobacco industry of the 1950’s. He discussed that this current administration is silent about the food industry (except for Let’s Move!), has no ‘food policy’, citing such examples of “incoherent policies” as subsidizing the sugar industry while also subsidizing insulin pumps, and our soybean and corn “monoculture”. Pollan discussed the food industry’s ability to make Americans think they are eating healthy by what he terms as ‘Nutritionism’ – where processed food is marketed as ‘healthy’ because of added nutrients (‘fortified with Vitamin D’, for example) – but as he points out – “real food cannot change its nutrients”! Pollan and Hyman also discussed that the ‘health care crisis’ of today is the “catastrophe of the American diet”, with Hyman noting “we have outsourced our cooking to corporations”, which I think is an excellent way to think about what has happened to the American diet! Hyman also discussed specifically how high-fructose corn syrup damages our intestines, leading to ‘leaky-gut syndrome’1 occurring very frequently in our population, causing a multitude of chronic health issues. Pollan believes that any ‘food policy’ by our government has to be towards health, since it is of “huge economic value” to reduce Type 2 diabetes. He also mentioned that in the US, “40% of hospitals have ‘fast food'” today! He also believes that “industrial agriculture is unsustainable”, that we need to look at “the real cost of food production” and that it is possible to feed all the people in the world via small, sustainable, organic, local farming with its built-in, natural resiliency to change. Pollan mentioned that even Mexico now is moving towards having a ‘food policy’ (such as limiting food marketing to children, eliminating junk foods from schools since they promote disease, and putting taxes on soda and junk food). Pollan is also known for a set of Food Rules, and here is the most famous and best one:
Eat (real) food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
- “Medical Nutrition Therapy in the 21st Century: The Future of Personalized Nutrition, presented by Jeffrey Bland, PhD. Bland is the biochemist and research scientist at the forefront of Functional Medicine, being a co-founder of the IFM, Metagenics, Inc., and Bastyr University, and the founder of Functional Medicine Update aka Synthesis. Bland initially reviewed the categories of nutrients: 1) Essential Nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids, 2) Conditionally Essential Nutrients, such as CoQ10 and Lipoic Acid, 3) Spice‐Derived Phytochemicals, such as beta-carotene, lycopene, curcumin, and lutein, 4) Accessory Nutrients, such as probiotics, prebiotics and fibers, and 5) Replacement of Insufficient Metabolites such as galactose and pyruvate. Although research-based and quite technical, Bland’s talk was about how modern nutritional research is showing how these various nutrients affect our genetic expression and cellular function, and that there are many mechanisms which can influence our physiology. This science is now known as NutriGenomics. Bland summarized by saying that “medical nutrition therapeutics requires the design and implementation of a dietary program that is personalized to the patient’s genetic characteristics, environment, health status, and lifestyle”. To do this, since “no two people are identical with regard to how they respond to their diet” and “there is considerably more variation in nutrient needs among individuals than is indicated by the RDIs” (Recommended Daily Intake), those practicing FM should:
• Evaluate the type, amount and form of plant‐based foods in the diet.
• Make sure that vegetables and fruits are providing adequate amounts of all the major phytochemical families.
• Use specific phytochemical concentrates including herbs and spices to amplify specific influences on genetic expression for the management of imbalanced physiology.
Bland also just had a new book published, Disease Delusion: Conquering the Causes of Chronic Illness for a Healthier, Longer, and Happier Life. This is finally a book for the layperson describing all that Functional Medicine is today, including what current nutritional research tells us to date. Basically, FM treats all chronic illness by combining the latest research in genetic science, systems biology and nutrition, with laboratory testing and nutritional, lifestyle and environmental factor analysis, and then using a patient-centered approach, offers nutrition, lifestyle and natural medicine treatment options. It can be quite amazing how diet and nutrition tailored to the individual, using NutriGenomics along with lifestyle adjustments can influence the health of the individual with great success!
I will write a book review soon of Bland’s book summarizing the approach of Functional Medicine to treat chronic illness (it will be posted on this blog and linked here).
- “Nourishing the Whole Self: The Food & Spirit Clinical Approach to Patient Transformation“, presented by Deanna Minich, PhD. This dynamic woman has a PhD in Nutrition, is the author of several books2 and has created a system of connecting the Ayurvedic Chakra system to ‘Food and Spirit’, via the modern Functional Medicine outlook of diet and lifestyle. Her approach especially resonates with me, since it is similar to my approach of integrating the dietary and nutritional approach of Traditional Chinese Medicine with Functional Medicine. She discussed the ‘elements of health’ and how to integrate it via her ‘therapeutic elements’ of Food & Spirit. She used the analogy that combining ‘good energy’ (from food, people or experiences) and ‘quality matter’ (from whole food and supplements) combine to give us ‘optimal health and well-being’. She has a toolkit of an assessment questionnaire, workbook and affirmation cards (I really love these!) to help patients with a personalized diet and lifestyle plan to maintain health. For more information see Food & Spirit. Dr. Minich also recently organized an online Functional Medicine “Detox Summit”, which includes many of the same speakers as the Nutrition Conference held in SF.
- Nutrition Controversies: What’s the ‘Right’ Diet?
This was a set of research-based presentations of three common modern diets. The panel consisted of both research scientists and clinicians. It was initially discussed by the moderator that answering this question is inherently very difficult from evidence-based scientific studies due to several reasons – but mainly due to the difficulty of defining a diet, getting participants in studies to achieve adherence to a diet, and probably most importantly, food and diets are not homogeneous, but rather are very diverse, or heterogeneous. He also pointed out that researchers have made the mistake thinking “there is a single healthy diet that’s right for everyone”. The presenters were:
• Mediterranean Diet, by Mimi Guarneri, MD, a cardiologist and author ofThe Heart Speaks
• Paleolithic Diet, by Loren Cordain, PhD, nutrition professor and researcher and founder of the Paleo Diet,
• Plant-Based Diet, by Joel Fuhrman, MD, a family physician and author of several books, including Super Immunity and The End of Diabetes
The excellent moderator was Christopher Gardner, PhD, a nutrition researcher and Professor of Medicine at Stanford University, who realized that the best way to summarize ‘the right diet’ from these researched, varied diets was to highlight what these researchers and physicians are in agreement on! It is:
1) Added sugar in our diets is out of control
2) Eat lots of vegetables
3) Eat low glycemic fruits
4) Reduce consumption of potatoes (more dangerous when more insulin resistance)
5) No trans-fat (often added to processed foods)
6) No processed foods
Recipes from the IFM Conference:
I have recipes from Rebecca Katz, Chef and author of Longevity Kitchen, and other contributors, plus these were also provided:
Smoothie Recipes at IFM Booth
1 ‘Leaky-gut syndrome’, or intestinal dysbiosis or intestinal permeability is caused by inflammation and resulting damage to the intestinal walls from several possible factors: an inflammatory diet (such as excess carbohydrates or sugar, processed foods, or allergens such as gluten or dairy, etc.), medications (antibiotics, corticosteroids, antacids), viral infections, parasites, stress (increased cortisol), environmental toxins, yeast or bacterial overgrowth, hormone deficiencies, and autoimmune disease processes.
2 As I am writing this, I realize I already have one of her books in my office, for perusal and for sale both! An A to Z Guide to Food Additives: Never Eat What You Can’t Pronounce.