Issue 144 June 2017
What is integrative medicine and the PACIM congress?
Last month we celebrated our first Pan African Congress of Integrative Medicine (PACIM) at Spier Estate, Stellenbosch. Prior to the conference I interviewed Dr Bernard Brom, who officially retired during this symposium as chair of SASIM (South African Society of Integrative Medicine). On behalf of Natural Medicine we would like to thank Dr Bernard Brom for his substantial contributions to integrative medicine. An abstract of the interview follows.
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Congratulations to Dr David Nye as new chair of SASIM. The symposium was a big success, was well attended, and received supportive media coverage.
We realised during the final ceremony of the congress that the founding fathers of the South African Complementary Medical Association (SACMA), with its mouthpiece The Complementary Medicine Journal, forerunner of this magazine, were all present! What a beautiful reunion and we managed to snap a few pictures. Most of these pioneers are still on our Experts Panel today.
A brief look at the start of SASIM and DR Bromís vision for the conference.
Daleen: It was about 1995, when you published the first Complementary Medicine Journal.
Dr Brom: Was it then?
Daleen: Yes, I think it was, because I came in on the second Complementary Medicine Journal and we started working together then, and I remember doctors were very slow to come around. It must have been a very difficult situation that they were in because how do you suddenly start using homeopathy and stop giving people drugs. Most medical practitioners risked losing their patients back then.
Dr Brom: Yes. I mean that was an interesting time, because it was round about that time that part of the reason the Journal was started was because just before then a group of doctors came together to form the South African Complementary Medical Association. And those were the first few doctors that had ventured into this, as we used to call it in the beginning, alternative medicine.
Daleen: You were such a pioneer. You really led that group of doctors. I remember the conferences we used to go to and we pulled in 300 to 500 people, and a kind of camaraderie developed, an excitement around medicine in South Africa.
Dr Brom: It was interesting because in the early days most medical doctors that were journeying into this so-called alternative medicine were practising in either acupuncture, homeopathy, Ayurverdic medicine, anthroposophical medicine . . . so, they were kind of medical doctors AND homeopaths, medical doctors AND acupuncturists. There was this kind of distinction in this kind of way which slowly only started to shift for me personally because I had not called myself a homeopath or an acupuncturist: I called myself a medical doctor using a lot of complementary medicines. And so I came to the meetings of SACMA saying, ĎLook guys we need to change the name because, actually, medical doctors are now expanding the paradigm of medicine to include lifestyle management and how to support health and we should change our name to integrative medicineí.
Daleen: Right, because youíre not opposed to conventional medicine; you are integrating complementary medicine, modalities and therapies into an allopathic practice and using both of them. So, you had a group of doctors interested in looking at both sides and then called yourself integrative medical practitioners. Is that when SASIM was formed?
Dr Brom: What happened was, we realised, even the word complementary, Ďalternativeí, was a really bad word for medical doctors to be using because we were still treating people. The whole concept of complementary was because we were using natural medicines to complement our practice of medicine. It suddenly occurred to me one day that actually I wasnít doing that because I had stopped using drugs. I was using natural medicines to complement what the body was doing to heal itself. So the whole concept had shifted because we werenít just complementing our practice of medicine. We were complementing the bodyís natural healing capacity. And that was a major, major shift for me because that wasnít the idea that was started in SACMA where we were complementing our practice of medicine. I was saying, ĎHang on! What needs to happen here is that we are complementing the bodyís natural healing capacity.í
Daleen: Itís not about the practice; itís about the patient.
Dr Brom: Also it fits in a way into the conventional model because the conventional model treats disease and we were supporting health. So thatís how the whole concept of integrative medicine came about. That we were integrating the conventional practice of medicine, lifestyle medicine, and supporting health medicine. So thatís what I call the three arms of integrative medicine: conventional medicine in which medical doctors are trained to make a diagnosis of disease and how to treat a disease with drugs, at the same time they are specialists in lifestyle management medicine and know how to support health medicine because the only thing that can heal ill health, is the bodyís health. Only health can heal. Drugs donít heal and even natural medicines donít heal: They are supporting the bodyís natural ability to heal itself.
Daleen: Itís just another pill for ill philosophy if you grab a natural product and you use it with the intention that it needs to work like a drug which it does not.
Dr Brom: And thatís the big mistake that everybody makes: Doctors who use natural medicine are using it instead of drugs. No theyíre not: theyíre using natural medicine to support health. Theyíre using drugs to treat disease and they will use both (if itís appropriate); but when a patient comes in it depends in a way what the patient wants. If the patient wants more health, then theyíll have to look at lifestyle because drugs donít give them more health: drugs treat disease.
Daleen: And you, Bernard, are at the helm of integrative medicine and youíve been there for many, many years, and I think as retiring chair of the South African Society of Integrative Medicine you have organised this conference. Tell us about the vision you had for this conference.
Dr Brom: This is really the first integrative conference in South Africa and my idea for this conference was to try and bring in what I call integrative specialists, rather than integrative doctors (conventional GP doctors). I was also trying to attract a lot of medical doctors and health practitioners who are interested in understanding what the integrative model is all about, which is supporting health. My idea in order to attract medical doctors who werenít integrative doctors; I thought to myself that I need to bring in integrative specialists rather than integrative GPs. Because there are a lot of GPs all around the world today that are practising integrative medicine, but if you bring in an integrative GP to speak to a specialist, he isnít going to be interested.
Daleen: So, tell me about your specialists. Who do you have? This is so exciting.
Dr Brom: We have Dr Dala Akoury who is an integrative oncologist in America. Sheís also a specialist in treating addictions.
Daleen: Would she use chemotherapy and integrate that treatment protocol with complementary medicine? Or why would you call her an integrative oncologist?
Dr Brom: I think that all integrative doctors, medical doctors around the world, use a combination of natural medicines, lifestyle management and drugs as appropriate; so, an integrative oncologist would probably use chemotherapy, maybe in lower doses than they would normally use, maybe use radiotherapy, but they understand about supporting health.
Daleen: They would obviously have the information, knowledge and experience to use the correct natural products to support the body so that it doesnít contradict the drug therapy.
Dr Brom: They would have staff to help the patient through food choices, exercise programmes, because in the end, to be quite honest, lifestyle changes are much more important than any natural product or any drug. By far. If you want to support health you really have to start at the basic building blocks.
Daleen: But what if the person is sick and theyíre tired, and they have cancer and theyíre at Stage 4 and theyíve been on chemo and their liver is taxed and theyíre toxic. How would a lifestyle management programme turn it around for them? Would you be talking extra water, more sleep, more exercise, and how would they go about it? What would the programme look like, in a nutshell?
Dr Brom: Each integrative oncologist will handle it a little bit different, but all of them would still, nevertheless, put their patient on fruit juices, something easy for the body to digest, and might even do intravenous nutrients (amino acids, magnesium, vitamin C, etc.). They would use all those nutritional supports that the body would need to deal with the cancer. Iím quite big on mind-body stuff.
Daleen: So diet is one part of lifestyle management, and then itís the mind-body-soul.
Dr Brom: People just donít get it that the mind can influence the body. I mean, my hand goes up because of thought. Thought which canít be measured, which is not Ďpowerfulí, but my body responds immediately even though I donít know how to do it; I have no idea how this whole mechanism works. Thought is enormously powerful, and so itís very important to change the story that people have. Because people who have cancer have a story that is not supportive to health; itís very destructive, itís fear-based, and they have to shift the story. All that is part of proper holistic, integrative cancer management: exercise even if theyíre weak by just moving their limbs (massaging them if they canít move).
Daleen: So, touch therapy. Body work. Music, art, light, all of those beautiful modalities.
Dr Brom: And thatís whatís done in all integrative oncology centres around the world.
Daleen: I wish we could have more of that in South Africa, and I think having these speakers out here might really inspire some medical professionals to relook at their practices and talk amongst themselves and maybe join forces and have a cancer centre where they can complement and bring other practitioners on board and do this properly. We are all about encouraging people to take their power back. Natural Medicine is a vehicle to educate and inspire, and I think that is one aspect but if youíre a cancer patient then you canít self-treat. You need to understand about drug-herb interaction and about the toxicity of the body, and about cleaning the body, right? So, you need guidance; you need a professional.
Dr Brom: We know so little in a way about how cancer starts, how it develops, but the body has the intelligence. The only reason why people donít get cancers when theyíre very, very young, often, is because the body has anticancer mechanisms, major anticancer mechanisms.
Daleen: Iíve heard that we all have cancer cells all the time, theyíre just not switched on.
Dr Brom: We all have all kinds of so-called diseases starting up and the body is dealing with it all the time. Thatís what the body does. The body has very powerful healing mechanisms, and those healing mechanisms are there. Itís only when those healing mechanisms start to go downhill, that illness can start to come up. If you can increase the healing potential of the body then the disease goes down again. Itís not anything unusual to think about: The more health the less ill-health. If the person has ill-health then support health.
Daleen: Thatís a nice bumper-sticker, ĎThe more health, the less ill-healthí. Itís so lovely to see you again, Bernard. Thank you for your time, appreciated.