Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Nature Cure on the Slopes

Jacob Schor ND
Fellow of the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology 
I’m on vacation, sitting in a cedar cabin named Hilda Hut, a short helicopter ride from a roadside parking lot, not too far from Nakusp, British Columbia. A dozen friends are with me who have been telling the same jokes for the last decade. It’s about 12 degrees (Fahrenheit) outside and has been snowing off and on for the last few days – actually last few months. There’s a considerable quantity of snow on the ground, I’ve heard something in the range of 220 cm on the ground by the hut (no idea what that is in feet, it’s a lot). The first story of the hut is only accessible by a tunnel.
We spend our days ski touring, something of a Canadian pastime. In the states, we usually go cross-country skiing or downhill skiing. Ski touring, as we are doing it, seems to be a Canadian variation on the Swiss tradition. With the aide of synthetic seal skins adhered to the bases of our skis, we walk uphill in a single line, playing follow the leader for the better part of the day. When we’ve reached a suitable spot, we ski down. I’d guess that we spend 96% of our time on the uphill trek, climbing approximately 5,000 feet per day, some days more, some days less. To put it another way, we only ski downhill about 5,000 feet per day. That would be a short morning at Mary Jane, our local ski hill outside of Denver!
When I told colleagues at the recent Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians (OncANP) annual conference in Arizona that this was where I planned to head after the conference, I was met with curious reactions, mostly incomprehension. I guess most people think that vacation time should be spent on a beach doing nothing.

There is little that I can think of that is more rejuvenating than spending long days outside in the mountains. After all, our professional forbearers considered this a primary therapy – with a bit of hydrotherapy thrown in. Climbing uphill with skis and boots on your feet, then finding yourself sweat soaked above treeline in a howling wind (stripped down to a single layer of damp long underwear) beats any hydrotherapy technique that I’ve experienced in a clinic.
These long days of slowly trudging uphill give me time to think about many things. Coming from the OncANP conference, with our focus on biochemical mechanisms, drug targets of action, highly refined supplements, the various intravenous therapies and other interventions we now use in cancer patients, I have to wonder about the shift our medical profession has undergone. Though I wholly support these new advances in our profession, I wonder if we are losing sight of our most basic strategies that awaken the healing force within our patients. Mountains, cold, fresh air, spring water, exhausting exercise…. When was the last time that we prescribed such a regime to our patients?
I wonder what Lust, Priessnitz or Kneipp would think about our modern methods of therapy. The adjunctive therapies we read about in the old books make our modern adjunctive referrals seem whimpy. Our modern soothing therapies, the sort that are accompanied with gentle music in the background, are not what our ancestors had in mind when they talked about stimulating the healing force of nature. Sure these modern interventions provide a soothing respite from stress, but I can’t imagine Priessnitz suggesting hot stones.
The older therapies trigger deeper adaptive responses in the body, responses that are fundamental to all life forms, reactions designed to conserve energy and repair injury. I’m thinking about this partly because I’ve been reading research coming out of the University of Southern California by Valter Longo and finding it fascinating. Longo’s most recent paper (that came out in early February) tells us that fasting will make cancer chemotherapy more effective while almost completely eliminating side effects – interesting reading.
I treasure the range of paradigms of healing that our profession now encompasses, from all that cool new science at OncANP’s conference, to nature cure in the snow over the course of a short week.
I’ve got another couple of weeks of uphill trudging to think about these things. In the meantime there’s a wood fired hot tub calling me. 

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