Dr. Quave, an anthropologist by training, described CAM as a complex, holistic healing that goes beyond the biomedical framework. CAM focuses on complex mixtures of synergistic compounds that is different from the Western approach of singular compounds with one particular mechanism of treatment. The dynamic interactions of CAM parallel the winding roads and timely experiences that led each panelist to their current career. From the witnessing the cancer of a parent to sitting in a Buddhist monastery as a teenager, the desire to broaden the use of CAM in Western culture has been prominent throughout their work.
Although culture is changing to accept CAM, it has been difficult to measure efficacy; Dr. Eisen emphasized how much Western culture values quantitative measures, but we also need to incorporate other forms of measurement to capture qualitative changes that may not be evident at a direct molecular level. Dr. Quave’s work looks at complex systems that necessitate understandings of interactions beyond the medicine-pathogen interaction. Her most recent work on chestnut leaves and reducing skin inflammation encapsulates this complexity: timing of harvest, method of application, part of plant, and frequency of use can completely alter a treatment’s efficacy. The following step of explaining how the treatment works is no less complicated. Chestnut leaves do not act to kill the bacteria or alter the host response, but instead they disarm the bacteria. Beyond the microbiological level, Dr. Negi’s work on Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) is an ideal model of integrated forms of measurement; CBCT’s efficacy has been shown through decreased immune response to stress, decreased cortisol reactivity, fMRI, and increased hopefulness. Yes, hopefulness. Not a molecule that can be measured, but a construct that means more to immediate well-being than a hormonal test.
The second part of the conference focused on the question of science versus religion. The consensus of the panelists was the challenge of holistic medicine in the context of certain religions. Dr. Kim discussed how he had trouble prescribing meditation as a treatment as it interfered with certain Christian principles. Dr. Negi, described the importance of language; when he mentions meditation, there is a certain connotation of that word with Eastern cultures. Categorization of meditation as an Eastern practice is a barrier for treatment in a Georgia, a state where Christianity is highly prevalent.
Another large component to the conversation about science and religion was the debate of evolution vs. creationism. Dr. Eisen described the push back of certain Southern areas to include science in the discussion of creationism. He suggested to approach the subject as “science doesn’t exist in a vacuum.” Science is not exclusively about molecules and chemicals but should encompass concepts of ethics and care. Dr. Quave expanded on Dr. Eisen’s point of how science and religion are not separate entities. She provided an example of her research in the Amazon by describing the use of hallucinogenic plants in healing practices. They used these drinks to communicate with plants and animals, as that was their way to interact with the world around them. Dr. Quave said this practice demonstrated that religious traditions are a way we view our world and also, coincide with science.
In addition, while these tribes and their consumption of hallucinogens might seem strange to us in the Western world, our practices are equally foreign to those in the Amazon. Dr. Eisen stated that the Western way of medical care is based on Christianity. In the realm of care-giving, particularly for physicians, one must be appreciative of different cultures. When thinking of Eastern medicine, it is easy to categorize items such as monks and meditation as those people over there. However, the Western way of medicine as a biochemical science is foreign to those not in the West.
Therefore, Dr. Kim discussed how CAM is a prime example of how we can become more accepting of other forms of medicine. It is an integrative medicine that allows a society to form a community and prepare the world for change. Instead of dissociating ourselves from 'those people over there', we can learn and engage with others to better understand how to care.
The panel ended with how this discussion of Eastern medicine could apply to the lives of Emory students. All of the panelists emphasized how important it is to eat well. A rich diet, full of phytochemicals and phytonutrients, can help the body. Dr. Quave emphasized trying different cuisines, since the various spices used in such dishes are medicinal. Dr. Negi described how the practice of managing emotions and controlling the impulse of instant gratification helps health in the long-run. He also described the purpose of self-compassion as a way to manage one’s mental health.
Overall, the conference highlighted the emerging field of CAM. While there is still some resistance to considering CAM as a form of treatment in the West, an open mind into different cultures can help healthcare professionals provide better care. All the panelists highlighted the necessity to combine our Western way of qualitative treatment with Eastern, or other, medical traditions. This is an important lesson for physicians and patients alike.