Keystone Reflections

From Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO, 2013 Speaker Selection Committee Chair

It has been a week since the AANP conference in Keystone finished and I am just now finding ways to think about it.

Several recent research papers that I've read for the Natural Medicine Journal influence my thoughts and how I'm thinking about the conference. The underlying message from these studies is that it is often not the obvious factors at play that impact our lives and our health. Take Estruch et al's evaluation earlier this year of the PREDIMED data. This was that big Mediterranean Diet study that compared people on a Mediterranean Diet told to eat extra virgin olive oil or nuts who were compared against a group of people told to follow a low fat diet. The low fat group didn't pay much attention to their directions and ate nearly as much olive oil as the experimental group, only they ate pretty much your garden variety olive oil, not the extra virgin stuff the experimental group got for free and enjoyed. Extra virgin versus standard olive oil. One would think this would not make much difference but it did, enough to reduce risk of cardiac events by 30%. It wasn't the types of fats in the olive oil. It was that little bit of stuff that extra virgin has in it that made the difference.

Then there's this brand new study that's in the news about walnuts and longevity. Technically the study isn't about longevity, it is about an association between walnut consumption and reduced risk of mortality. Though if longevity isn't the flip side of mortality, tell me what is?

Anyway Marta Guasch-Ferré and colleagues analyzed data from this same cohort of Spaniards from the PREDIMED trial and reported in mid-July that those people eating 3 or more one ounce servings of walnuts a week had a 64% reduced risk of dying during the nearly 5 years the study lasted. While all nuts appeared to be beneficial, walnuts had by far the most effect. Why? The theory is that walnuts are one of the few nuts that we eat with the skin still on. The thought is that some phytonutrient in the nut skin is responsible for the impact.

Here we've been thinking it is all about the fats we consume. Instead it's the little tiny things found in extra virgin olive oil and walnut skins. Who would have thought this?

Thus in my mind I've been going over the AANP conference, thinking about the little things, the tiny things, the ones we don't think to notice, that made it the best AANP conference I've ever been to.

Granted the continuing education lectures were good, and I may for the first time in years purchase a few of them. I want to watch Matt Baral do his amazing lecture again. I may also get a copy of Mark Davis's poop lecture, just so a dozen years from now I can share a copy with people and say 'remember when he was just starting?' I think he's a young doctor who is going somewhere. But it's the little things that I'm searching for in my mind, the things that really made a difference.

I confess it was a sheer joy after a summer in Denver to sleep with our windows and balcony door wide open, snug under a down quilt. It was seeing a coyote early one morning down by the river. I think of the wild roses still wet from nighttime rain as I walked the dog all too early one morning. It was something that happened during the herb walks that I have yet to find words for. What would the proper term be for a group of naturopaths touching plants? You know that whole lexicon of curious terms used to describe collections of the same animal? A judgment of owls I think is an example, or is crows? Well, I think the term should be 'a charm of naturopaths.'

There is something magic about our profession that we often fail to admit to. The memory of the conference that sticks out the most was during the "President's Reception." While everyone else was apparently taking advantage of their free drink tickets while wearing their cheap party store cowboy hats, I sat by the lake at a table with Jim Lemkin, Charlie Cropley and Ruth Adele. Somehow we started sharing our individual stories of how we ended up at naturopathic school. These are too personal to share in a public forum like this but there was a common denominator to each of our stories. The realization that this was our profession occurred in an instant, in some of our cases before we knew the profession or schools even existed. We were all individually struck by our own epiphanies, we had suddenly reached a cross road in our lives and in a moment saw a lifelong path open before us. While my sample size is small, n=4 only, I suspect that this experience is not uncommon, but rather is more common that we would guess. Though we talk of evidence based medicine and clinical trials, there is still something magical about who we are or is it what we do. For most of us this is still without question a calling and these stories only reinforced that image for me.

I recall speaking with a colleague briefly in the hotel lobby one morning. She had to stop me and say, "Jacob, waking up here this morning, my heart sings."

While magic may pervade the whole world, I can't help but feel that there is an inverse association between magic and concrete. The more urban a setting, the more concrete, glass and steel, the harder it is for us to find the magic in nature that powers our mission. Being in the heart of the Colorado Rockies brought us closer to that thing that called us to be naturopaths in the first place.

Was it the occasional butterfly or the hummingbird that shared our space? I'm not sure which tiny things made the difference, but this past conference for me was magical.

So I again wish to thank all of you for coming and also the AANP board that in 2011 agreed to select Keystone as our venue and to Rebecca Takemoto and her company for sharing my vision of where we would feel most at home.