NMHNZ Conference 2019 – Takeaways

Last weekend, I attended the annual Naturopaths and Medical Herbalists of New Zealand (NMHNZ) conference. This year, the theme was Enhancing Immunity: Mind, Body & Naturopathy. It was held in Wellington which also gave me a good excuse to travel out of Auckland and see Wellington! 😋

Here are some of my main takeaways summarized from back to front as I’m writing this mostly from memory and in my spare time travelling back from Wellington

Maca Masterclass – using Maca to treat complex and chronic condition
by Dr Corin Storkey (PhD ) Medicinal Chemistry

  • Maca has been heralded in Peru for its medicinal uses for centuries. For maintaining general health as well as for treating acute and chronic diseases/disorders. From mental health to fertility and mood to cancer!
  • Maca is also known as “brain food” in Peru
  • Dr Corin personally experienced its healing benefits he successfully treated his chronic fatigue syndrome with Maca
  • There are 3 main colours of Maca – yellow, red and black and each has more benefits for various conditions. For example, Red is traditionally used more for feminine issues such as hormonal regulation and PMS while black for manly ones related to testosterone but the restriction is not exclusive and both sexes can benefit from taking either.
  • Traditional Peruvian farming practices call for letting the plant grow 1-3 years before harvesting, then resting the soil for 10 years!
  • After harvesting, the root undergoes a thorough (and ritualistic) preparation before consuming to maximize its medicinal benefits and minimize potential harms
    • First, they would sun-dry it for 3 months! Until the root is as hard as a brick
    • Then BOIL them before consuming
    • Turns out this ancient method of traditional preparation holds much wisdom that science today is only catching up on – this way of heat treating and drying allows for the most availability of beneficial compounds macamides which have been attributed to Maca’s amazing healing properties.
  • SO if you are taking Maca that hasn’t been properly prepared such as heat treated and dried, be careful as you might be exposed to anti-nutrients and even mould that can cause allergies. You also won’t be getting the most of the beneficial compounds macamides
  • The sustainability of Maca in the world is an issue now – demand exceeds supply
    • This sacred plant has also been stolen and now grown outside Peru in countries like China.
    • Different growing conditions (such as soil mineral content from not letting the land rest) might affect the amount of macamides in the maca
  • Follow Seleno Health and www.themacaexperts.com (sit still in development) for more!

Olive Leaf: Not all extracts are created equal
by Ian Breakspear (MHerbMed, BNat)

  • Over the counter (OTC) Olive leaf extracts were tested against practitioner only products
  • Turns out OTC ones had more Oleuropein than practitioner ones! While the opposite is true for hydroxytyrosol
  • Probably because the OTC companies like comvita used fresh leaves vs. dried ones for the practitioner only brands
  • This brings more confusion and scepticism about the unregulated supplement industry
  • As practitioners, we really need to question these companies about the validity of their products’ quality claims

The critical role of the intestinal epithelial as the unsung hero in modulating te dynamics of the gut-immune interface
by Dr Christine Houghton (PhD, BSC, RNut)

  • Dr. Christine presents a new paradigm of about the gut-immune interface affecting our health:
    • Perhaps more important than the microorganisms we always hear about are the gut epithelial cells
    • These cells are the main regulators of gut barrier function and its underlying immune defences
    • they also indirectly regulate immune function
    • They are essentially the gatekeepers and ‘commanders’ of the soldiers that protect us from outside invaders and their onslaught
    • Everyday, this one-cell thin line of defence engages in perpetual warfare against the pro-inflammatory conditions created by what we put into our mouths as well as maintain and restore gut homeostasis after these battles
    • Therefore it is crucial for us to create an environment that supports their healthy function through a holistic diet and lifestyle
Many things affect intestinal junction integrity, not just Gluten!

Autoimmune disease – bacterial involvement in inflammatory bowel disease
by John Aitken (microbiologist)

The spectacular role of the human microbiome in preventing post-prandial or metabolic endotoxemia, the number one cause of mortality worldwide
by Kiran Krishnan (research microbiologist)

  • one of my favourite speakers – I have heard Kiran multiple times on several podcasts that I follow. It’s quite surreal to actually meet him in person haha. And he flew in from the US just for this conference!
  • He has been a leading figure in the field of spore based probiotics
  • I learnt that lipopolysaccharide (LPS) induced metabolic endotoxemia is the cause of pretty many chronic diseases afflicting westernized societies
  • This is like toxins produced from bacteria in our body that travel into our blood and cause damage/disease in various parts of our body such as alzheimer’s in the brain or arthritis in the joints
  • Also linked to chronic inflammation in metabolic syndrome (probably the cause)
  • COCONUT OIL is one of the biggest pro-inflammatory types of fats! (also mentioned in another talk today)
  • Probiotics might be the key to solving this LPS induced endotoxemia – Kiran does declare his conflict of interest Megaspore biotics
  • For more info, this is a fascinating read: Understanding the Role of Spore-Based Bacteriotherapy in Metabolic Endotoxemia

Dr Jonathan Wardle (PhD) – Global policy, practice and regulatory dvelopments in the naturopathic profession: lessons for New Zealand and beyond

  • Most of the world knows Naturopathy exists but they don’t know WHAT it is or what we can contribute for public health
  • Learn to explain what you do in 3 sentences
  • Naturopathy ≠ Natural Medicine
    • we are more than just giving supplements to replace drugs (“Green allopathy”)
    • our philosophies are what make us special
  • When working with governments, have to be persistent
  • would be nice if we would integrate naturopathy into public healthcare like in hospitals as we have most to contribute in the area of chronic health and preventative medicine

Mindfulness in Practice
by A.Prof Dr Craig Hassed (PhD, MD)

  • Another one of my favourite talks that weekend, Craig spoke about 3 key concepts that are closely interrelated:
    • Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is the influence of the mind and social factors on brain function and immunity
    • Mindfulness is a form of meditation and way of living and probably the most influential mind-body technique used in health-related settings
    • Epigenetics relates to the way that psychological, lifestyle and environmental factors can influence the way our genes express themselves
  • Learning to draw connections between these three concepts can help prevent and manage chronic illness
  • For example, there is such a thing as inherited stress – such as the health issues of children of holocaust survivors. Epigenetic changes can be traced in mice as far as 14 generations down
  • So what happens to you in life can manifest as health consequences for your descendents. Similarly, your health issues can be traced to what happened to your ancestors and more importantly, how they dealt with what happened to them. Even the diets of your grandparents can contribute to the state of your health today
  • Telomere lengths! A marker of cellular aging, these can be significantly altered based on the stressors you put yourself through through, how you perceive them and how you choose to react to them
    • Ever met someone struggling with personal issues (health or otherwise) who seems much older than their actual age? That is the evidence of accelerated aging from the stress they are going through affecting their telomeres
    • Here, Mindfulness may be the true “anti-aging pill”
    • Being able to practice mindfulness and not react negatively to the stress you are going through has been shown to reduce the rate of telomere shortening, sometimes even increasing the activity of telomerase – the enzyme responsible for keeping our telomeres long!
  • Mind wandering has been associated with decreased telomere lengths and accelerated aging – often when our minds wonder, we end up ruminating on unnecessary thoughts that cause us more worry and concern
  • Pessimism has similar effects
  • Racial discrimination too but only if the individual chooses to internalize the discrimination and let it affect them
  • Eudaimonic Vs Hedonic pleasure
    • People who find happiness in the meaning of what they do (Eudaimonic) vs in pleasurable feelings of the body (hedonic) were associated with decreased inflammatory gene activity and increased anti-viral gene activity

“Learn to be comfortable, in an uncomfortable environment”

“There are certain thoughts worth giving attention to and others that aren’t. They are like trains that come and go and you are on a platform, choosing to board them or not.”

Autoimmune Diseases: The Nexus between Science and Nature Cure
by Prof Stephen Myers (ND, MD, PhD)

“All Disease Begins in The Gut.”  

  • ancient doctors like Hippocrates have long held the belief that the gut is the source of disease
  • only recently has modern science started to catch up with this belief
  • many systemic diseases like autoimmune ones are exacerbated by gut dysfunction
  • this stems from a combination of microbial dysbiosis, inflammation and leaky gut syndrome
  • not ALL proteins are broken down into amino acids in the digestive tract. If you have leaky gut, they may end up circulating in your blood and cause autoimmunity – another source of endotoxemia
  • several autoimmune diseases can be traced back to viral infections
  • The fundamentals are:
    • improve gut function
    • eat an anti-inflammatory diet
  • Stephen is a big proponent of alternate day fasting and a whole-food plant-based diet
  • Tips for Naturopaths to build relations with GPs: do a urine dipstick for every client you see. Often, simple things like chronic nephritis or nephrotic syndrome can be missed out by GPs. Write proper referral letters.
  • Professor Myers has also been working with Southern Cross University to develop a graduate program for Naturopaths!

Antibiotic resistance working group (WNF) update
by Sarah Brenchley (my tutor!)

  • Sarah gave us an update by the World Naturopathic Federation about one of the leading global public health issues today – Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)
  • this is the growing resistance of microbes to modern antibiotics, rendering even our strongest pharmaceutical drugs useless at times
  • 2016 – 490,000 people developed multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and the treatment of malaria and HIV is also starting to be affected by AMR
  • in 2013 AMR-related deaths in the US alone was 100,000, 80,000 in China
  • the annual global death toll is estimated to climb to 10 million deaths if nothing is done
  • 70% of our antibiotic exposure comes from animals injected with antibiotics!
  • Naturopathy and Herbal medicine is very well suited to address this as we have a whole arsenal of herbs with antimicrobial effects (and “anti-everything” really… )
  • practitioners should start educating clients about AMR and also not to be too quick to take antibiotics for simple or even unnecessary things like virus infections
  • the WNF have pooled lots of resources for practitioners and client education here: https://www.wnf-amr.org/
  • Practitioners should put up the poster in their clinics

The skin-gut axis. A case study.
by Sharon Erdrich MHSc (Hons), DipNat, DipHM, Dip Aroma. NZRN, PhD candidat

  • Sharon shares a compelling case report about an adult man with serious chronic eczema
  • it was a combination of weeping and flaking eczema, so bad that he used “fluffy cotton socks” to soak up the pus and blood and at time when he scratched, he would leave footprints on the floor (surrounded by the flakes of skin that fell)
  • he had spent thousands of dollars on medications and seeing multiple specialists, all of which continued to prescribe him more medications and treatments like bleach baths and UV light therapy (of which he had a severe reaction to because of drug interactions which was an oversight on the doctor’s part)
  • not one of them thought of testing for gut dysbiosis
  • Sharon’s first step was to put him on an anti-histamine diet
  • Eventually he was also tested for SIBO and did a comprehensive stool test to assess microbial dysbiosis
  • he was positive for SIBO and had very little bacteria diversity in his gut due to years of antibiotic treatments
  • dysbiotic overgrowth of bacteria was also present
  • A combination of herbal medicine, supplementation and dietary modification eventually helped to return his skin’s health
  • He can now go out in the sun and touch seawater and surf with his daughter too, something he thought was an impossible dream

Cytokine sickness behavior and use of biological response modifiers
by Paul Kern (Naturopath)

  • Cytokines are substances secreted by immune cells that produce the effects of our immune system such as allergic reactions, inflammation and even dampening down the inflammatory response
  • there are T-helper 1, 2 and 3 cells
    • TH1 – proinflammatory, therefor anti-allergy
    • TH2 – pro allergy, therefore anti-inflammatory
    • TH3 – induces tolerance and helps to down regulate TH1 & TH2 activity
    • Autoimmunity as well as many chronic diseases happen when either one of these T-helper cells get dysfunctional and start secreting too much or too little cytokines
  • Sometimes, even depression and/or metabolic syndrome may be linked to dysfunctional immune system and cytokine sickness, not necessarily just diet or psychosocial factors
  • For every pro-inflammatory cytokine secreted, there is always an anti-inflammatory cytokine to balance its effects
  • Natural Biological response modifiers (BRMs) like beta-glucans in mushrooms can help bring balance to the immune system – often their pharmaceutical forms are potent treatments of autoimmunity but only for treating symptoms, not addressing the root cause of the problems and can have side effects (personal experience)
  • Combination of polysaccharides and glycoproteins stimulate both the pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines – immunomodulators
  • Bigger the molecule the better – higher molecular weight. E.g. Lentinan in Shiitake has a triple helix structure
  • However for mushrooms, there is considerable debate over which part of the mushroom should be used to extract these compounds – the fruiting bodies or the mycelium (see picture below). The answer is that it differs for different species.
  • Aloe vera, shiitake, maitake and reishi are some medicinal sources of BRMs
  • Read more about glucans here: Glucans as Biological Response Modifiers
Image source: https://www.slideshare.net/glopezsez/growing-edible-mushrooms-indoors

Vitamin C, diet and immunity
by Prof Margreet Vissers PhD

This was the first keynote speech of the conference and a great one to kickstart the weekend.

  • vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin that we cannot produce thus we have to obtain it from our diet – therefore it is an essential vitamin
  • prolonged deficiency will cause scurvy
  • however suboptimal intake has been associated with increased risks of chronic disease
  • Vitamin C’s main job, besides being an antioxidant to quench free radical activity, is as a cofactor for many enzymatic reactions such as the formation of collagen, hormones, carnitine and DNA and as such plays a major role in all tissues, wound healing, hormones, mood, vitality, etc
  • adequate intake to avoid deficiency is 45 mg/day
  • however to prevent chronic disease, it is recommended to have 200 mg/day
    • this is roughly equivalent to 2 kiwifruits a day
  • this figure is recommended to saturate blood levels at around 80-100 μmol/L
  • anymore than 100 μmol/L and our body just excretes the excess in urine
  • if you are already low in vitamin C, it will take longer for your body to reach saturation levels if you start supplementing (see her study here)
  • benefits of reaching blood saturation levels
    • decreased risks of sickness (acute and chronic)
    • improved mood
    • reduced fatigue, improved vigor
  • Regarding serious acute illness like septic shock or pneumonia, vitamin C stores can be used up very quickly and the body’s demands for it increases significantly
    • for example, in animals such as goats that can make vitamin C in their bodies, levels of vitamin C production can increase up to 100-fold in times of sickness
    • thus the usual supplementation of 200 mg/day is grossly inadequate
    • in fact, to reach blood saturation, levels of up to 6000-7000 mg/day is required
    • this is quite impossible to obtain orally – only intravenously
  • some cancers respond well to intravenous vitamin C
  • Recommendations: try to get from your diet by including at least 1 serving of high vitamin C foods a day such as kiwifruit, oranges, broccoli (lightly cooked), berries, etc.

Personal opinion:

  • sometimes I feel we can get too reductionist in our thinking and get a little myopic when we discover something as wonderful as vitamin C that seems to be a ‘panacea’ for everything
  • evolutionarily, there must be a reason we evolved to stop making vitamin C naturally
  • I also wonder why there is a ‘saturation point’ in our vitamin C levels, after which we just pee the excess out
  • maybe we did not need so much vitamin C thousands of years ago when the environment we lived in was still so pristine and unadulterated unlike today
  • still, our body has its own ways of dealing with toxins/oxidative damage such as glutathione – so I wonder if trying to boost our own endogenous ‘vitamin Cs’ is a better option rather than super-mega-high doses of vitamin C intravenously


Attending conferences are such educational experiences and great opportunities to network with like-minded individuals. If I had the means I would certainly attend every conference available and relevant to my trade.

Much appreciation also goes to the many naturopaths and individuals in the association who have dedicated their time towards organizing this event – many of whom did so on a voluntary basis!

I hope this post has been educational for you. I feel like there was so much more that I learnt over those two days but somehow can’t remember! Anyways, a blogpost like this can never match the full conference experience. It’s probably more like a snapshot of it.

Final words: this is a cool picture to illustrate what you are putting into yourself!

I am already looking forward to next year’s conference! 😀

Stay healthy,


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