Conference explores alternative medical approaches

A symposium sponsored by the Aspen Center for Integrated Health under way at the Aspen Institute has drawn a number of top experts in the field of alternative medicine for an exploration of a complete mind-body approach to healing.

The Aspen Masters Conference on Integrative Medicine, which concludes today with a panel discussion on the evidence of the success of integrative medicine, is designed to provide a comprehensive overview of the how conventional practices can be combined with techniques from alternative medicine to provide truly effective healing rather than just disease treatment.

Among the speakers at the conference are Dr. Woodson Merrell, executive director of the Continuum Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, and Dr. George Lewith, director of the Complementary Medicine Research Unit at the University of Southampton Medical School in Great Britain and the leader of today’s panel discussion at 3:30 p.m. in the Koch building on The Aspen Institute campus.

Retired local physician Dr. Harold Whitcomb, an Aspen resident for over 40 years and a former practitioner of alternative as well as conventional medicine, said he found the conference to be an outstanding overview of the state of alternative medicine.

“I’ve found that the speakers they’ve invited are quite good – very well informed,” Whitcomb said.

Although he was trained in internal medicine, Whitcomb – or Dr. Whit, as many in the community know him – has performed a variety of medical roles since arriving in Aspen in 1959, including serving as the town’s chief medical examiner. And while he often prescribed homeopathic remedies during his practice, Whitcomb said that alternative medicine now far outshines its role in his day.

“It’s much better than it used to be,” he said. “But I think people feel even more that there needs to be an emphasis and focus on spirituality. I think there’s a lot of interest in that component.”

The ever-increasing role of technology in medicine has only increased patients’ need for the healing process to address spirituality, Whitcomb said.

“It doesn’t feel complete if someone puts you in a machine and takes a picture and makes a diagnosis,” Whitcomb said. “There’s something missing unless they actually lay hands on you.”

While there are a number of alternative approaches available to health-care professionals, many physicians are afraid to incorporate new techniques into their practice, according to Dr. Jay Lombard, who delivered a lecture on brain wellness Tuesday.

“We fear what we don’t know, and that’s what’s so great about this conference – it opens that door a little bit more,” Lombard said.

Lombard’s lecture Tuesday focused on how neurotransmitters in the brain can affect the rest of the body, and the relationship between psychology and biology.

“How is it that feelings like hope and belief can affect the body?” Lombard asked those in attendance. “We know that they can, but how? What is the relationship of phenomenological experience to our biology?”

Among the topics discussed so far at the five-day conference were cardiovascular diseases, chronic pain, women’s health, and allergies. Along with the lecture series, the conference also features smaller discussion groups with more in-depth analysis of specific subjects.

While today’s lectures are open to the public, a $50 attendance fee does apply.

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