- Antibiotics 3
- Too Many Antibiotics. Acne, vaginitis 3
- Toxic Food Constituents 3
- One Man’s Meat Is Another Man’s Poison 3
- Goiter 4
- Gut Health 5
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is Incurable isn’t it? 5
- Gas and Bloating 5
- Indigestion 6
- Ulcerative Colitis is Incurable, Isn’t It? 6
- It’s a virus Doc! 7
- Kidney Health 8
- Does he really need dialysis? 8
- No More Kidney Stones 9
- Liver Health 9
- The Case That Introduced Me to Naturopathic Medicine 9
- When in doubt, detoxify the liver 10
- Detoxifying Before Ready 11
- Impotence or Toxicity? 11
- Healthy Aging 11
- My 4-Generation Story 11
- Use It or Lose It 11
- Junk Diet 12
- Junk Food in Junk Health Out 12
- Metals 13
- Arsenic 13
- Pop Quiz - Heart Disease 13
- Lead 15
- “Normal” Tremor of Aging May Actually Be Toxicity 15
- Ted Got Sick Every Summer 15
- Doctor, I am going blind! 16
- Mercury 17
- Doctor, I am afraid I am losing my mind 17
- Alzheimer’s Disease? 18
- Pesticides 19
- The Cases that Made Me Aware of Toxins 19
- Dr. Rae’s Case 19
- Prescription Drugs 20
- Osteoarthritis 20
- Sauna 21
- Some people are simply ornery 21
- Smoking 22
- A Lucky Man 22
- Solvents 23
- Losing Weight Makes Me Sick 23
- A Very Sick Boat Builder 24
- Stress 25
- Chronic Stress and Low DHEA 25
- Mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer (kudos to Kenneth Pelletier, PhD) 25
- Toxin Overload 27
- The Case That Introduced Me to Naturopathic Medicine 27
- Patients Know what is Most Important 27
- There is no substitute for nutritionally dense, low toxin foods 28
- Wheat 29
- Two Years of Diarrhea 29
- A Mysterious Depression 30
- Rheumatoid Arthritis—Water Fast Challenge Test 30
Too Many Antibiotics. Acne, vaginitis
Even before she related her symptoms, I had a good idea about why Jacqueline was in my office. When she walked in, I immediately noticed the scars on her face. Yes, she told me, she had had severe acne which had lasted through adolescence into adulthood and had been treated for years with the antibiotic tetracycline. She was tired all the time, suffered from chronic vaginal yeast infections, seemed to get the flu whenever it was around and craved sweets. She knew the frequent courses of antibiotics she was taking were destroying the normal balance of healthy bacteria in her vagina and had tried eating yogurt and using yogurt douches, but it didn’t seem to help.
Jacqueline was correct in believing that the antibiotics had upset her normal balance of natural bacterial flora in her intestines. Equally important, however, the yeast (Candida albicans) which had overgrown her intestine as well as her vagina was also directly inhibiting her immune system. The yeast overgrowth causes problems in several ways, one of the most important being that chemicals released by the yeast cells depress the activity of the white cells our immune system uses to fight invaders.
Unfortunately, the commercial yogurt she was using to try to prevent this did not have the important Lactobacillus acidophilus culture. Most yogurts do not use lactobacilli but other cultures chosen because they work better for food processing. Jacqueline learned to always check the label to determine which culture(s) had been used.
Her therapy? Jacqueline stopped the tetracycline, and we began treating her acne with natural approaches instead. To eliminate the yeast, I prescribed garlic which has been shown to be more effective than nystatin, the drug at that time most frequently prescribed for Candida. She decreased her sugar consumption (in addition to sugar’s immune-suppressing effects, sugar is candida’s favorite food), and we reinocculated both her intestines and vagina with an active form of lactobacilli. We also help her eliminate the candida in her vagina by using a tampon saturated with a 40% solution of tea tree oil. Intestinal candida are quite persistent, but, after a few months, she started to notice increased resistance to infections, fewer and shorter periods of vaginal discomfort, and a growing sense of vitality.
The message: prolonged antibiotic use, candidal overgrowth and excess sugar consumption equals immune dysfunction. We do need antibiotics, but don’t forget they truly are toxic both directly and with many unrecognized indirect damaging effects.
Toxic Food Constituents
One Man’s Meat Is Another Man’s Poison
As I have commented many times in this book, humans have incredibly diverse physiology. The old adage, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison” is most certainly true. This is especially the case with foods which may have many benefits, but also have constituents that must be detoxified. I first discovered I had a problem with garlic when I was a 4th year naturopathic medical student in 1975. In order to be licensed as a naturopathic doctor in Washington State, we had to pass the same Basic Sciences examination as the medical doctors. At that time, Washington State had a strange provision in healthcare licensing laws that if you failed the test you could not take it again for 6 months. So most of us would take the test in a different state that had reciprocity so that if we failed the test, we could take it again in a different state. So several of us decided to drive to Nevada to take their Basic Sciences test. On the long drive to break up the tedium of driving studying for the test I read a study showing that taking garlic oil pills improved memory recall—just what I needed for a tough test! So I took a bunch of garlic oil pills the day before the test. The next day I woke up with such severe nausea I could barely function. I thought I must have gotten food poisoning from one of the restaurants on the road. Nonetheless, after all the effort to get there I still took the test. Happily, being smart and having studied very hard I still passed, though I could hardly see straight I was so sick. I recovered quickly and had no problems driving home the next day. A few weeks later after receiving the good news of having passed, I celebrated by going to my favorite Italian restaurant and ordered my favorite naughty dinner—Fettuccini Alfredo. It was quite garlicy, but I didn’t think much of it at that time. Well, the next day I woke up even more nauseated than I was when taking the test. Hmmm… So decided to do a simple uncontrolled study and was easily able to reproduce my reaction to garlic—I was severely reacting to raw garlic, although when heavily cooked it was not as bad. I then did a food allergy test but found no antibodies to garlic. This was a surprise as I was obviously reacting.
As I was now paying more attention to how foods were affecting my health, I started noticing I was reacting to the sulfites that are used as preservatives in foods (congestion, excessive mucous and digestive upset) as well. I then made the connection: I was having trouble detoxifying sulfur compounds, such as allicin in garlic and the bisulfite preservatives. Avoiding these foods and taking supplemental molybdenum dramatically improved my health.
The message: There is huge variation in individual capacity to detoxify. Just because a specific molecule might not be generally considered toxic, does not mean it is not toxic to everyone.
George came to my office complaining of chronic tiredness. He couldn’t understand it since he ate a very good vegetarian diet, exercised regularly, had a low stress job and good family environment. Further questions revealed no clues to his problem. However, during the physical examination, I noticed a slight swelling of his thyroid, a condition called goiter. At this point, I asked more detailed questions about George’s diet and discovered that he was eating over a pound of raw cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli every day! Upon becoming a vegetarian three years earlier, he had discovered a real taste for these foods and now couldn’t eat a meal without them.
While these are certainly very healthful foods, especially considering their support for liver detoxification, they also contain substances called goitrogens. Goitrogens bind iodine so that it can’t be used by the thyroid, which results in low thyroid hormone levels. The thyroid becomes enlarged because the pituitary over secretes hormones (TSH) trying to stimulate the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormones (T4). While goiter was very common in eighteenth century, iodination of table salt has resulted in dramatic lowering of the incidence of this condition. Unfortunately, several factors have ganged up to decrease the average person’s consumption by 50%. In the Canadian corporate wellness program I designed we found that 71% were low in iodine. Perhaps if he had been consuming plenty of iodine this would not have been such a problem for him.
George’s therapy was simple: less cabbage, more foods rich in iodine (kelp, sea vegetables, and seafood), and supplementation with iodine (500 g per day). It took several weeks, but finally George noticed a gradual improvement in his energy.
The message: Too much of anything, no matter how healthful, can cause an imbalance. Many foods have potentially toxic constituents that need to be detoxified. This is why we have so many great detoxification enzymes in our liver.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is Incurable isn’t it?
As a third year naturopathic student back in the early 70s I was quite eager to learn all that I could. At the time, political oppression of natural medicine was so bad that we were technically not able to even draw patient’s blood. Nonetheless, on laboratory stood by us and our patients and accepted our samples. I am forever grateful to Stan Blank for his courage and was very pleased he was one of the first special people to be honored with an honorary degree from Bastyr University. As I wanted to learn as much as possible about lab test interpretation and to develop skills to run appropriate tests in my office, I would spend an afternoon with Stan every week. I would perform lab tests under his supervision and at the end of the day we’d discus the results we had seen and what they told us about the patients.
One day a woman came in with the autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a supposedly incurable condition, was referred to the lab by Dr. Bastyr. After we had run the test confirming her condition (smart clinicians always confirm a patient’s diagnosis—depending on other’s diagnosis is a recipe for poor patient care) Stan said to me, now watch her case because in a few months you will see Dr. Bastyr cure her as he has so many others in the past. While the 35 year old woman was in the lab for her blood draw, I quizzed her about why she was seeing a naturopathic doctor for her serious disease. Her answer was quite surprising as she told me she knew nothing about naturopathic medicine. She worked as an insurance actuary. When she was diagnosed by her family doctor with this devastating disease, she—quite intelligently—went through their corporate records to see which doctors had best outcomes with SLE. The ONLY doctor in all their records who actually cured the disease was Dr. Bastyr, so she went to see him. She assiduously followed his guidance and when she came back for repeat lab tests just 4 months later, all her clinical symptoms were gone and her lab tests back to normal! As a young student taking a big risk joining an “unacceptable” profession seeing our medicine work so well for this woman was a huge psychological boost and affirmation I was on the right track.
What did Dr. Bastyr do for her? He detoxified her gut, restored normal gut flora and optimized her nutrition. A toxic gut increases inflammation and the wrong bacteria in the gut can cause the production of antibodies that cross react with normal tissues. Much of “autoimmune” disease is simply due to unhealthy bacteria in the gut.
The message: no matter how supposedly “incurable” a disease, removing the causes and supporting the body’s innate healing processes can achieve remarkable results.
Gas and Bloating
Gas and bloating had troubled Helen most of her life. She’d seen her family doctor several times and all he could recommend were antacids. They had helped some, but the problems continued. In addition, she couldn’t understand why she was tired all the time and having trouble losing weight; she ate a healthful, whole-foods diet, although she tended to eat too much. Further questioning revealed that as a child, she had suffered from asthma and eczema, but had supposedly “grown out of them.”
Helen’s problem was immediately obvious to me. Gas and bloating are common symptoms of low hydrochloric acid in the stomach, and low stomach acidity is found in about 80% of children with asthma. I began her on a simple program of taking tablets of hydrochloric acid with meals, starting with one a meal and every day increasing by one a meal until her symptoms improved. Four tablets a meal did the job. Not only did her gas and bloating improve, but she also began feeling more energetic and, to her great surprise, she lost some of her excess weight.
She felt more energetic because she was finally absorbing the critical nutrients she needed. For the same reason, she was having less trouble with her appetite because she was losing her cravings for difficult-to-absorb nutrients such as zinc, which some researchers believe is one of the key nutrients the body uses to regulate the appetite. Interestingly, zinc is a critical nutrient for the enzyme that produces hydrochloric acid in the stomach and is commonly deficient in those suffering from asthma and eczema. Her use of antacids was one of the worst things she could have done; it actually made the problem worse by neutralizing what little hydrochloric acid she had left.
The message: A healthful diet does little good if we can’t digest and absorb all the nutrients it contains. Once again, we see that drugs can have unexpected negative effects in our body.
Intermittent episodes of indigestion brought Maria, a 45-year-old Mexican-American mother of three, to my office. She described the indigestion as an upper abdominal fullness associated with gurgling noises and gas. The discomfort came one to several hours after meals, lasted for several hours, and then gradually disappeared. Occasionally, it was associated with diarrhea. Over the prior few months the symptoms had become more frequent and were lasting longer. Other than being substantially overweight, she had no other health problems. Maria had not made any changes in her diet, and the antacids her family doctor had recommended had not helped. Her symptoms and nationality led me to suspect lactose intolerance, a condition in which people are unable to digest the milk sugar in dairy products. Maria doubted that this was the problem, saying that she had eaten dairy products all her life. However, because she was desperate, she agreed to take my advice. She was quite surprised when all of her symptoms disappeared after four days of scrupulously avoiding all dairy products. But just to be sure, after a week she drank a glass of milk and suffered the worst symptoms she had ever had!
Although mother’s milk is a natural food for infants, lactose intolerance is very common in adults, especially those of African, Mexican, or Mediterranean descent. Once we leave infancy, most people’s intestinal cells stop producing the lactase enzyme needed to digest milk sugar. Sometimes, people continue to produce lactase into their adult lives, but then lose it later in life. This can be difficult to recognize because people don’t expect foods they normally eat to suddenly become a problem.
The message: As people age, their digestive systems do not work as well, resulting in marginal foods becoming a problem.
Ulcerative Colitis is Incurable, Isn’t It?
18-year old Sally was very worried. Her ulcerative colitis which had been first diagnosed when she was 14 years old, and was getting worse, despite treatment. She had just seen her gastroenterologist who was recommending she switch to the most powerful drugs he had available, but had been delaying prescribing as patients experience so many side effects. But worse, he said her case was so bad that she would likely need a colostomy within just a few years. She came to me hoping for an alternative medicine miracle. Careful case history revealed that as a child she had suffered from recurrent urinary tract infections and was started on daily antibiotics at age 8. By age 11 she was having a lot of intestinal upset and eventually was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease. The cause was clear to me: disruption of her health gut bacteria with whatever would grow there after all the antibiotics causing chronic gut inflammation and eventually leaky gut.
I started her on my usually successful protocol for this condition: improve diet food quality, stop eating wheat and dairy products, supplement with digestive aids and reseed her gut with healthy bacteria using a multi-strain product I have found quite effective. She was a very compliant patient, but experienced only modest improvement—about 30% reduction in symptoms and still needed the prescribed drugs. Being in the modern age of the internet with so much health information available online, she started researching her condition and learned about fecal transplants. She asked what I thought I told her I thought it was a great idea, but the legal situation for my prescribing it was unclear so I was hesitant to perform the procedure. She decided to do the transplant on her own using her father’s stools. After must 1 treatment her symptoms quickly started to improve and after repeating once more a month later all her symptoms were gone and she no longer needed drugs! As I write this, she has been symptom clear for 4 years. Her last comment to me, “Now my farts now smell like my dad’s!” Very, very interesting. Even though I prescribed to her the best probiotic I had available, there is no substitute for her normal flora. (BTW, I have since learned we should have used her mom’s stools as female and male flora are different. However, since she responded so well I did not recommend she try her mom’s as why mess with success.)
The message: The gut heals incredibly rapidly if we stop what is causing the damage and promote healing.
It’s a virus Doc!
John was sick all the time, feeling like he always had the flu. He had recently read an article about “hidden infections” and thought an undiagnosed viral infection was causing his problems. His regular family MD had dismissed his idea as a fad and wouldn’t test him. He came to me, not because he believed in natural medicine, but rather because of my reputation for listening to patients and being willing to run laboratory tests they wanted (these days people can get most any lab test they want, but regulations used to be much more restrictive). As he came into my office his problem was quite obvious as this 5’8” man weighed about 275 pound. His first words were, “Doc, I know I am overweight, but I think my chronic fever, tiredness and achiness is really due to one of those hidden virus infections. I want you to run every test and I am willing to pay for it.” I believe strongly that every patient is their own best doctor, so my role was to be as good a resource as possible. So I was happy to run the tests he requested, though I told him that we don’t have tests for everything. I drew several vials of blood and sent them to the lab to run every infection test they had. He was quite disappointed when we got back the results and every infection test was negative for acute or chronic infection. He did have a few positive antibodies, but they were for past infections that had been resolved.
When I suggested a simple urine test in my office for a gut toxicity, he was skeptical but receptive. His Indican test (a urine test that measures toxins that come from the gut) was a strong plus 4 indicating a lot of gut toxicity. I explained to him how endotoxins from the gut can cause all the symptoms he was experiencing and that he likely had ME. A toxic gut releases many of the exactly same inflammatory molecules as released when we have a viral infection. I also told him that his toxic gut was far worse for his health than being overweight. This surprised him and changed the conversation from him assuming I would, like other doctors, simply be telling him to lose weight. Instead he saw me as an unbiased resource working with him to feel healthier.
He enthusiastically immediately started on the gut detoxification program described here. Every 2 weeks we reran his Indican test and as his toxicity decreased, so too did his symptoms. After 6 months, his Indican test was normal and essentially all his symptoms were gone. He had also lost 20 pounds. Very happy patient who then kept on eating more healthfully and slowly came down to a healthier 225 pounds where he stabilized.
I never once told him to lose weight. Rather I taught him how to be healthy. Most people would be surprised to hear that the normally strong relationship between being obese and diabetes disappears when the person has a low level of toxicity. And, overweight who regularly exercise do not have the expected increase in heart disease. I am not saying that obesity is good for you! But rather that the toxicity and lack of exercise that typically cause the obesity are the problem. Decreasing toxins and engaging in healthy behaviors are more important than what the scale says.
(As an aside, one of the challenges in medicine is the constant fads. Back in the 80s, “hidden infections” were the rage and a number of chronically ill patients came to see me to help them diagnosed which one they had. With only 2 exceptions, every one of them was suffering from an unhealthy diet and lifestyle, not a hidden infection.)
The message: a toxic gut is worse than being overweight.
Does he really need dialysis? (This case is from Chapter 5 and needs to acknowledge Kerry Bone as source)
At age 61, Charles presented with declining kidney function, elevated blood pressure (controlled by several drugs), and Type II diabetes (controlled by diet). Although his loss of kidney function could have been caused by his diabetes (loss of blood sugar control damages the small blood vessels, such as those critical for kidney function), his medical specialist believed that some type of autoimmune activity was also damaging his glomeruli. Testing showed a high degree of fibrosis around his glomeruli (a very bad sign) leading to a diagnosis of aterionephrosclerosis (a term not used in the US, but indicative of damage and blockage of the arteries leading into the kidneys). His glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) was a very poor 35. (If you look at Figure xx above, you will see this corresponds to the kidney function of a 90 year old man.) As would be expected, his plasma creatinine (which is a waste product of muscle metabolism) was elevated as well since the kidneys are responsible for excretion. His nephrologist predicted he would need to go on dialysis within 18-24 months.
The intervention was composed of 3 parts: diet, supplements and herbs. The main dietary change was to increase intake of nitrates to dilate the blood vessels (green leafy vegetables and beetroot juice) and decrease inflammation (chocolate, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and garlic). The primary supplements were fish oils, turmeric and anthocyanins to decrease inflammation. The main herbal medicines were ginger, gotu kola and Ginkgo biloba to improve microcirculation.
Five months later, he went back to his nephrologist for reevaluation. His creatinine had decreased by 33% and his eGFR had improved to 51! (Such results are simply unheard of in conventional medicine where kidney failure is considered always progressive.) Eighteen months later, he was NOT on dialysis as his dGFR and risen to 74—in the normal range and more like a 50 year old.
The message: Our bodies have a tremendous ability to heal—if we just give them a chance. Virtually that chance means getting out the toxins and getting in the nutrients as needed for each unique individual.
No More Kidney Stones
Jamie was 40 year old male emergency room physician. He wants to enter space medicine, but with a kidney stone attack every 4-6 months he knew he would fail the physical. He also knew his medicine had nothing to offer him so he decided to take a risk. A simple physical and basic history revealed an otherwise healthy male. Fortunately for him, I had just finished creating a new lecture, entitled, “Diet Induced Acidosis.” In doing the research I had stumbled upon some remarkable studies showing that kidney stone are almost entirely due to a diet that was causing acid toxins to increase in the body. I summarized the research for him which he found quite encouraging so I then put him on a protocol to decrease the load of acid toxins in the body. (For those interested in the connection, the excessive acidity from the diet causes the kidneys to break down bone to neutralize it. The excessive calcium in the urine combined with the kidneys conserving citric acid which is alkalinizing but needed to solubilize calcium in the urine. Different mechanism for urate stones, but same cause.)
My intervention was to dramatically decrease is salt consumption to less than 2 grams a day (salt impairs the kidneys ability to excrete some acids), more Mediterranean diet with emphasis on whole vegetables and fruits (especially citrus) and supplementation with: Calcium carbonate: 0.5 g bid; Magnesium citrate: 250 mg bid; Potassium citrate: 50 mg bid. In the 3 years I followed him he never had another kidney stone. I must say it is fun to cure skeptical MDs! For his genetics, anything more than a salt is poisonous. Add to it the standard poor American diet and he gets a supposedly incurable disease.
The message: everything we put in our body has an effect on our health.
The Case That Introduced Me to Naturopathic Medicine
In 1970, I decided that I did not like the materials science PhD program I was studying at Cornell University. I decided to leave graduate school and instead look into medical research as a career. I travelled from upstate New York to Seattle and there became employed at the University of Washington School of Medicine as a research assistant in the Department of Rheumatology. I loved the laboratory and occasional clinical work and soon decided to pursue a PhD in the field. Then an event occurred which changed my life and the lives of so many others. The woman who married my roommate from college one day mentioned to me that her juvenile arthritis was now cured. I asked her how this happened as this was a supposedly incurable disease. I knew it was incurable as our lab and many others throughout the world were looking for a cure. Her response was a total surprise: “I went to a naturopathic doctor.” My response was, “Huh?” Looking back, I was pretty naïve about medicine as I did not know there were any other healing arts, not even chiropractors. Being naturally quite inquisitive and scientifically oriented, I went to this naturopathic doctor and asked what he did for my friend. His response, “I detoxified her liver, taught her how to eat and gave her some vitamins.” Another, “Huh?” from me—what did her liver have to do with her hands and knees being swollen? I then asked if I could spend a few days watching him see patients. I saw case after case of “incurable” patients being helped by the wonderful healer through what seemed much simpler, far safer and more sensible “natural” interventions. I was hooked and to my good fortune, the last naturopathic medicine school in all of North America was in Seattle. Yes, the AMA had won every battle and greatly diminished the profession—but they did not quite win the war. As my beloved Dr. John Bastyr told us as students paraphrasing Shakespeare, “No matter the obstacles they place, the truth of the medicine will out.
The message: conventional medicine with its focus on relieving the symptoms of end-stage disease appears to have ignored how dysfunction in the body is the actual problem that must be addressed. As the “old timers” said, “When in doubt, detoxify the liver.”
When in doubt, detoxify the liver
One of the challenges being a student of a healing art that was so suppressed for so long by the medical-industrial complex is that we tend to become unsure of ourselves. This is especially a problem for students who are struggling to learn a profession which has a missing generation. The AMA was so successful that when I started as a student only 7 states still licensed NDs and there was only one school left in all of North America. To keep the school going, our teachers taught for free and some even drove hundreds of miles to teach as they were sometimes the only person left who understood some types of therapies. While on the one had we students were grateful to these courageous practitioners for keeping the medicine alive despite active persecution we were also at times quite frustrated as many were not very good teachers and at times could not explain the rationale for their therapies or why they worked. This was especially true for me with my very strong background in science and commitment to research. So when one of my clinical instructors told me when confronted with a patient in the teaching clinic that if I did not know what to do with that I should start by detoxifying her liver I was quite skeptical. When I asked why and to show me the research (I really was a most difficult student) he had no response other than to assert that clinically it almost always helps. Well, I was the student and he was the teacher so I somewhat reluctantly followed his advice—which was quite fortunate for my patient.
Mary was an older woman (65 years old, which at the time I thought was REALLY old) with limited means. She had heard about natural medicine but could not afford to see a regular naturopathic doctor as they were not covered by insurance so she came to our very inexpensive teaching clinic for care. She had earlier gone to a welfare clinic but the doctors there could not find any overt disease and told her (I have heard this from way too many patients over the years) that she was just getting old and should learn to live with feeling poorly. They would be happy to prescribe her an anti-depressant. That did not sit well with her. She was experiencing tiredness, bad breath, stomach upset, stiff joints in the morning, swollen ankles, dry skin and progressive mental fogginess and knew something was wrong. I took a careful history, asked about her diet which wasn’t too bad, did a pretty complete physical, ran the basic blood and urine tests we could do for free in the clinic and—found nothing apparently wrong.
“When in doubt, detoxify the liver.” So without a good reason but following the advice of my supervisor, I put her on the liver detoxification protocol I had learned as a student: cholagogue herbs (dandelion root), lipotropic factors (B-complex), and liver packs (caster bean oil saturated washcloth over her liver covered by a cold, wet towel, covered with wool and let set until the wet towel became warm—typically 30 minutes) twice a week. Of course, I also gave her advice on how to improve her diet, to drink more water and pay more attention to foods particularly rich in fiber and, of course, a lot more fruits and vegetables. A month later she was dramatically better. I have no idea what toxins were overloading her system or where they were coming from! All I did was help clear toxins out of her liver, improve her diet and let her body do the rest. (The astute reader will notice that this is not exactly the protocol I recommend in this book. Happily, I have learned something the past 4 decades and have a much better understanding of toxins, where they come from and have many more tools for getting rid of them. In retrospect, I should have realized that as a part time cleaning lady she was periodically being exposed to chemical toxins in the product she used. Eventually, they overloaded her liver’s capacity to detoxify and then she started feeling old before her time.)
The message: When in doubt, detoxify the liver.
Detoxifying Before Ready
Impotence or Toxicity?
Charlie was drug into my office by his wife (a common occurrence as women are much more attentive to their health than we men). He was embarrassed as his primary problem was that, well, he was not taking care of his wife in bed. He had lost interest and capacity and his wife (who was also a patient of mine) was very unhappy. At only 45 years old, this should not have been a problem for him. His diet was quite good as his wife had been following my dietary guidance which he was reluctantly forced to also follow. (I suspect he regularly snuck in unhealthy fast food when at work.) Physical examination was unremarkable (doctor talk for not being able to find anything apparently abnormal) except a tender and slightly enlarged liver. When I asked about his work environment, the problem became very apparent: he was expert in fiberglass boat repair and was quite busy. While he took appropriate exposure precautions, it was clearly inadequate.
So I put him on my, at the time, standard detoxification program—and learned a hard lesion. The next week he came back to see me (this time without his wife) and was quite angry. I had started him on a detox program without first preparing his organs of detoxification (yes, it is called the “practice of medicine” for good reason). While he was willing (if reluctant) to follow my program, he was furious since when he went out for a drink with his buddies or snuck a smoke he quickly felt extremely toxic and could not partake in his favorite bad habits. Oops. We stopped the detox program and slowed things down using the protocol I describe here. Took a full 2 months before he was ready to crank up detoxification again. After 6 months of following my guidance, he was quite surprised by how much better he was feeling. His wife was happy again as well.
The Message: We must prepare the body before releasing toxins or we can easily overload the detoxification systems and feel much worse.
My 4-Generation Story
We could use this as a case history if better than as written in the text of Chapter 2.
Use It or Lose It
I had the good fortune of knowing both my grandfather and great-grandfather. Coming from hearty Italian stock, they lived simple lives, ate well, and were always physically active. They lived long into their 90s and suffered virtually no degenerative disease (except my grandfather, who developed cataracts at age 80).
I vividly remember one summer in college when my father was building a cabana for the family swimming pool. He hired some of my college buddies to help with the foundation. Specifically, he wanted them to help me and my grandfather push wheelbarrows full of concrete up a steep incline to dump into the forms. This was a challenging task. The wheelbarrows were very heavy and a misstep would result in disaster, so significant strength, endurance, agility, and coordination were required. My grandfather, at age 75, nonchalantly pushed more than a dozen loads of concrete up the slope into the foundation, while my college friends, who were larger than he was and only a quarter his age, couldn’t even manage one. I remember being so proud that day of my tough old grandfather. In retrospect, I realize I should have been appalled at the poor physical conditioning of the supposed prime of U.S. youth.
The message: Use it or lose it. Age is no deterrent to strength, endurance, coordination, or agility.
Junk Food in Junk Health Out
Sheryl was an attractive, and very determined, young woman. She came from a poor family in a rural area where all her friends and her 2 older sisters became pregnant in high school and were clearly on the same paths as their mothers to live an unhappy and difficult life. She decided to be the most she could be, graduated from high school and entered college in a tough science program. She worked hard to maintain average grades and had to spend time in a part time job to make ends meet. But now in the middle of her first quarter of senior year and after all that hard work, she just couldn’t keep up anymore. She having trouble maintaining her energy and focus and felt like she was living in a fog. Looking her over, I noticed pretty significant acne and extra weight she did not need. When questioned, she admitted they had been lifelong problems and she regularly used topical anti-acne lotions and potions and even some weight loss products from the local pharmacy. Fortunately, she was very honest with me admitting not only a poor diet and lack of exercise, but buying the cheapest food she could find including several times a week a big box of frosted donuts from the grocery store.
It was immediately obvious to me that she her problems were classic: nutritionally deficient foods contaminated with pesticides, aggravated by toxic health and beauty aids, unnecessary drugs and a sedentary lifestyle. I decided to not waste her very limited financial resources on expensive laboratory tests so she could instead spend her money on higher quality foods. As I mentioned above, she was a very determined young woman and decided if she was going to spend her hard earned money on my services, she was damn well going to do what I told her to do. Wish all my patients were so sensible!
My guidance for her was straight forward:
Stop putting all those toxic chemicals on her face and in her body. I warned her that her skin would get worse, possibly even for a couple of months, but if she stuck with my program her skin would get much better.
Stop buying the high sugar, nutrient depleted bakery products. While they were a cheap way to get calories and she felt a boast of energy from eating them, it was short lived and contributed to her declining health due to lack of nutrients, food additives and chemical contaminants.
Explained to her that she for the foods on the Dirty DozenTM list, she had to spend her precious food budget to buy them organically. I also showed her how to inexpensively balance her diet and calories by buying the Clean15TM foods. Obviously I’d have prefer her to eat everything organically, but she obviously could not afford it.
Finally, I asked her to find some exercise she liked. Did not care if it was simply walking or going to the free university gym a couple of weeks.
She was quite intelligent and quickly understood what I was trying to accomplish with her. She came back a month later smiling and I could already see her starting to transform. Yes, her acne was worse as I predicted, but within just 1 week she had noticed her energy improving, her thinking clearing up and after just 1 month was delighted to have lost 5 pounds. I congratulated her on her strong will and commitment to taking care of herself. Rather than spend her resources seeing me, I suggested she stay the course and not see me again for another 3 months, but to feel free to give me a call if she had any questions or needed any encouragement. Over the next year her transformation was quite remarkable. Her skin totally cleared up, she lost all of her extra 20 pounds and not only did she graduate, but her grades had improved so much she was accepted into a graduate master’s degree program. She even had a new boyfriend she liked and respected.
Yes, this all sounds pretty simple. But our remarkable bodies have a tremendous ability to heal—if we just give them a chance. And, it was not easy for her—the tough withdrawal from sugar, the embarrassing worsening of her acne, the feeling of uncertainty when her friends mocked her for “wasting money” on eating organically grown foods and taking the multivitamin I prescribed and the months it took for the full benefits to manifest. But it was worth it.
The message: you don’t need to wait until you’ve a serious disease to take care of yourself. Removing toxins and adding nutrients are critical to health and disease prevention.
Pop Quiz - Heart Disease
In April 2015 my good friend Mark Houston, MD organized a conference for healthcare professional In Sydney, Australia sponsored by BioCeuticals. What made it special is that there were only 4 speakers over 3 days. One of my frustrations with trying to teach this material to doctors is that I am typically only given 1-2 hours to lecture. So having 9 hours of lecture and workshop time with the attendees was a real treat since this allow opportunity to develop good clinical skills. It was a great conference as Mark is an incredibly skilled cardiologist, David Hass, MD is an excellent neurologist and xx from London is a wizard with the gut flora, and I, of course, covered toxicity diagnosis and treatment. Was great to be able listen to the others speak and I learned a lot.
At the last session where we gathered on the stage to have open-ended questions with the audience. Mark surprised us with a pop quiz right in front of the 250 plus attendees! Being told about a case is vastly different than interacting with a real person. So this was quite a challenge. And I got lucky and figured it out. [My deep appreciation to Mark Houston, MD for kindly allowing me to tell this patient story. For convenience and to avoid confusion, I tell the story here as if I was seeing the patient. Also, as this patient presented with heart disease, Mark ran a lot of tests to determine exactly what was happening. I will not be presenting all the information here due to length and relevancy considerations.]
Johnny was a overweight 58 year old white male attorney from Tennessee. His chief complaint was fatigue and mild shortness of breath when climbing stairs or walking up an incline. He did not have chest pain, but did notice mild memory issues, frequent upper respiratory infections, erectile dysfunction for 4 years, elevated blood pressure for 2 years, and mild heartburn. He did not smoke or drink coffee and drank only 1 glass of wine each day. He ate a good diet, exercised 4 days per week for one hour without symptoms. He was working to lose weight so was eating a lots of rice and chicken. His drugs were Nexium at 40 mg per day for 5 years and 5 mg per day of Cialis.
Physical exam found an elevated blood pressure of 142/92 mm Hg, an elevated heart rate of 78 beats per minute, mild glossitis (inflammation of tongue), no abnormal heart sounds and a dry scaly rash on the palms of his hands. Several of his lab tests were modestly abnormal. Especially important here is that his homocysteine was pretty high at 13.5 (normal < 8.0—), fibrinogen high at 490 (normal <380), hsCRP quite high at 8.0 (normal <1.0), HbA1c slightly elevated at 6.2 (normal <5.6), vitamin B12 was low at 142 (normal >150), and vitamin D quite low at 15 (should be at least 30), GGTP quite elevated at 82 (normal <60, optimal <30) and almost all his blood lipid measures were abnormal. Added up, these results meant much of his physiology was dysfunctional. My interpretation (in order of lab test): he was having trouble with inadequate methylation capacity, blood was too sticky, a lot of inflammation, trouble regulating his blood sugar levels, the low vitamin B12 was likely part of the reason he was having trouble detoxifying homocysteine, low vitamin D making everything worse, high toxin levels and a lot of damage to his arteries from unhealthy blood cholesterol and fats. Most conventional doctors would have prescribed statins and antihypertensive drugs. Lucky for him, he went to one of the best cardiologists in the world.
He had a lot of nutritional deficiencies, which Dr. Houston addressed aggressively but felt that something else was happening. Many of his problems became worse when he started getting serious about losing weight—by restricting caloric intake and eating mainly chicken and rice. As readers here have learned from reading this book, chicken meat and rice can be high in arsenic (both intentionally and accidently). Also, the rash on his palms is typical of arsenic toxicity. So Mark measured tested, finding blood arsenic 4 times normal and 24-hour urine 5 times normal. His symptoms that could be explained by arsenic toxicity: fatigue, heart failure, loss of memory (especially true of low vitamins D and B12 as well), diabetes, elevated blood pressure, dyslipidemia, increased fibrinogen, excessive gut fat, elevated inflammation, upper respiratory infections, elevated GGT, and the characteristic skin rash on his hands. Especially bad for his ability to get rid of arsenic is that the main way eliminate from the body is by binding to methyl groups, and his high homocysteine meant he was less able to get rid of this toxic metal.
Intervention was to stop his exposure to arsenic, optimize his nutrition with a more complete diet and supplements, and chelation with DMSA and DMPS. Within 6 months, all his symptoms were gone, all his lab tests were back to normal, his weight was still a bit high, but no longer a large amount of abdominal obesity, his blood pressure down to 116/78 without antihypertensive drugs and the patient reported feeling better than he had in the past 10 years!
The message: a long list of symptoms and abnormal lab tests does not necessarily mean your body is failing and you have to accept declining health and dependency on drugs. So much of the common health problems today are simply toxin overload from such simple a source as an unscrupulous farmer adding arsenic to the chickens he sells to produce more white meat.
“Normal” Tremor of Aging May Actually Be Toxicity
60 year old Jennifer was not diagnosed with any specific disease and considered herself healthy. Being proactive, she came to me for guidance on further improving her health and preventing disease. I immediately noticed her pretty significant tremor, which, surprisingly, she had not mentioned as a problem and thought it was simply a sign of aging. I am often surprised how so many people consider the symptoms and degeneration of aging normal. It may be normal, but not preordained!
A basic physical exam showed a slightly underweight, nervous appearing but otherwise healthy woman. Then I looked in her mouth and counted over 10 fillings. I immediately suspected that her tremor was due to progressive neurological damage caused by mercury. We ran my standard test for toxic metals: first morning urine for acute exposure and then 300 mg of DMPS and 500mg of DMSA challenge to determine body load. The results were not what I expected: while her first morning urine was normal, the challenging testing show a modest elevation of mercury but a lot of lead. We were not able to figure out any apparent current lead exposure. Most likely lead was coming from her bones as older people formed a lot of their bone when lead was still being used in gasoline and paint so levels in the environment were higher. So when women go through menopause (and men andropause) and lose bone, the metal toxins are released.
As she was clearly showing damage most likely from the lead and possibly mercury, we took a pretty assertive approach. Even though her mercury was not very high, I was able to convince her to go to an ecological dentist to remove the amalgams. As noted above, the total toxin load is the problem, not just one toxin. She also started taking my oral chelation protocol of 500 mg of NAC twice a day, 250 mg DMSA every third night and lots of fiber. Also worked with her to increase fruits and vegetables, only eat wild caught fish, and increase high-fiber lentils and beans.
The first few months she suffered some symptoms: thought her hair was falling out and she felt chronically unwell. I was able to convince her to stay the course as sometimes as detoxification starts, the levels can increase as the cells start to release their toxins. After a year, we repeated her challenge test and found much lower levels. But far more significant her tremor was gone (so much for being a normal sign of aging), her energy was up and she was feels much healthier and stronger.
The message: so much of what we have come to accept as normal with aging is simply the cumulative effects of toxicity and is often reversible with detoxification.
Ted Got Sick Every Summer
Ted worked his way through college by painting houses every summer. At the end of every summer he was always sick, although no specific disease could be found by the doctors he visited. He would become chronically fatigued, have trouble thinking clearly, and lose his appetite. Finally, on the recommendation of a friend, he came to see me at the end of one summer. After hearing his story and physically examining him (he was very thin and his liver was tender) I quickly recognized that he was probably suffering from a combination of heavy metal poisoning from the paint he was scraping off houses and solvent toxicity inhaled from the paint as it dried. (Evaporating latex paint also gives off mercury.)
We took a sample of hair from the nape of his head and sent it to a laboratory to analyze it for heavy metals. As I expected, his levels of lead and mercury were greatly elevated. Since such an elevation in head hair lead can sometimes come from direct contamination of the hair from dust in the air rather than through the blood, we repeated the test on his pubic hair since it is protected by clothing. It was also elevated. Unfortunately, at the time, no test was available for measuring solvent damage to the liver.
I put him on a program to chelate the heavy metals out of his body and improve the function of his liver. For the heavy metals, I had him greatly increase his consumption of beans, vitamin-C rich foods, pectin, and seaweed products. These foods contain compounds that bind to heavy metals, thus helping the body excrete them.
For his liver, I had him drink dandelion tea and supplement his diet with vitamins C and B complex. In addition, he took the herb milk thistle.
After a few months, his symptoms improved, and hair analysis showed that the heavy metals slowly left his body. Surprising to me, he continued to paint each summer, and each summer his heavy metal levels would go up. But not as much as they had because he continued the program to help remove these toxins from his body as quickly as possible and therefore didn’t get as sick. Nonetheless, I had quite an interesting series of lab tests as we tested him every 6 months over a 4-year period. Just looking at his tests I could determine if they were summer or winter without having to look at the sample date.
Ted was so impressed by the results and the better understanding of his body that he developed, that after graduating from the university he enrolled in Bastyr University and eventually graduated as a naturopathic doctor!
The message: Almost all older houses likely have lead in their paint. As the paint comes off as dust or is scrapped off for paining, it gets in the local environment and eventually into all creatures living nearby.
Doctor, I am going blind!
As a naturopathic doctor, I tend to not see patients with serious emergencies very often. So I was a bit surprised when Jennifer called in and wanted to see me immediately for her sudden loss of vision. Obviously, this is extremely serious so I rushed her into my exam room. She was a healthy-looking 30 year old woman. For the past few days, she has been experiencing a progressively greater difficulty reading and the world was starting to look blurry. In the morning, she experienced sudden complete loss of vision in her right eye, which prompted her call. She had some pain, which is worse when she moved her eyes. She was also starting to feel quite tired and weak. As you might expect, she is quite frightened.
Her lifestyle was quite healthy, which is why she used me as her primary care physician. She ate a whole foods, organic diet and exercised regularly. Of course, I immediately performed a neurological exam, which was normal, and her eyes, which were not normal. Retinal examination revealed a blurry optic nerve which is called papilledema and can be caused by pressure in the brain or inflammation of the optic nerve—both serious conditions requiring immediate attention. She had no history of recent head trauma, which can cause delay bleeding into the skull. However, head trauma sufficient to cause intracranial bleeding can cause short term memory loss so a patient may not remember the trauma. Careful examination of her skull revealed no apparent trauma. Next I took some of her blood to test in my office for sedimentation rate and a complete blood count as I wanted to see if there indications of infection or inflammation. I noticed something called basophilic stippling on her red blood cells. This is quite a rare finding and typically is only found in a few diseases (such as thalassemia and certain kinds of anemia) and toxicity from arsenic or lead. Hmm…
I then asked her about where she lived and if anything unusual had happened. I learned she lived on a houseboat at the highly desirable end of the dock protruding into Lake Union. Turns out a new water pipe had been installed for the whole deck as the original one had corroded and was starting to leak. I then asked if any of her neighbors had complain of any problems, but none had. Nonetheless, I was now quite suspicious of lead exposure from solder used in the water pipe, especially if older types of solder had been used. I then asked if she drank tea, turns out she loved tea and would drink a dozen cups a day. The final question: “Do you empty out the tea kettle every time or do you simply keep adding water?” Of course, her answer was the latter. So she was basically concentrating lead in her tea kettle as water evaporated off. Now before you start thinking this is unlikely to be relevant to the average person, as I write this the city of Flint’s lead and carcinogen contaminated water is in the news and please remember MANY houses were built with leaded copper water pipes. If these pipes are carrying corrosive water they WILL dissolve the lead from the joints and deposit it in your body.
As her condition was so severe, I immediately had her move out of her home to live with a friend as I wanted to ensure we were removing any possible sources of lead, such as breathing it in while taking a shower with the contaminated water. We also immediately started her on an aggressive lead detoxification program (oral DMSA, NAC, fiber and saunas) with the strong admonition that if she did not start to improve within a couple of days we would have to start more aggressive, but potentially toxic, IV chelation therapy. Happily, she started to improve quite quickly and with about a week her vision was back to normal, though it took weeks before her energy was back to normal. One of the advantages of being healthy and having such a good lifestyle is that she was able to respond quickly.
The message: toxins can strike at any time from almost anywhere, even in the apparent safety of our home. Being healthy is always a big advantage.
Doctor, I am afraid I am losing my mind
Shelly, a 67 year old white woman, was quite distraught when she came to see me. Her first words were, “Doctor I am afraid I am losing my mind.” As she came from quite a distance, after the initial assessment I followed her by email and collaboration with a local doctor for follow up testing. I am going to let this patient tell her story directly from her emails to me.
April 2012. “I had the odd feeling that I was living in a fog, that things were very fuzzy and that my memory was very sporadic. I was having trouble sleeping and had a lot of muscle aches during the night. I always had a metal taste in my mouth and felt that my breath lacked freshness other than the first few minutes after brushing my teeth. My skin and scalp were always sore and especially dry.” We ran the toxic metals challenge test and found she had a very high mercury of 50.0 (normal <5.0).
November 2012. “I do know that things really improved once I started your protocol and I was happy to see the light at the end of the Mercury tunnel.” Her mercury challenge test had dropped to 12.0. Still too high, but much better.
June 2013. “With each successive test the symptoms were lessening and I was feeling more normal. Her mercury challenge test was now down to 7.3.” Clearly my protocol was getting the brain toxic mercury out of her body.
December 2013. “It was a day of celebration when I received the last test results. Being healthy is a good reward for all the patience required to do the heavy mercury lifting. Good luck with your seminars. I will always be in your debt for your help.” Her mercury challenge test was now 3.5 and all her symptoms were gone! Note that it took a full year and a half to get this nasty stuff out of her.
The message, in Shelly’s own words: “I would caution people to remember that clearing mercury out of one’s system is a long process but it is worth the effort even if it takes many years.”
In 1998 I was appointed to the Seattle/King County Board of Health, the 12th largest in the US. This made me the first naturopathic physician to be appointed to a board of health, ever. When you think about the principles of public health, they are very similar to naturopathic medicine so I took this opportunity to bring attention to important public health issues not being adequately addressed. There were 2 that I thought most important: deficiency in selenium (due to conventional agricultural using synthetic fertilizers) and mercury, primarily from “silver” fillings. Happily, we had public and research sessions on both topics. As part of the process, I recruited a particularly interesting member of the public who had quite a story to tell. He had been a very successful business man. However, when he reached his late 50s, his mental capacity started to deteriorate and within a few years was so dysfunctional he had to sell his business. His family MD diagnosed him with rapidly progressive Alzheimer’s disease. He continued to deteriorate surprisingly rapidly and soon unable to talk intelligibly and was dependent on the care of his wife. Very fortunate for him, his wife heard a lecture from now deceased Hal Huggins, DDS the pioneering dentist who was the first to blow the whistle on mercury toxicity from fillings. As you might expect Hal was widely vilified and persecuted by convention dentists and MDs. Nonetheless, they felt they had nothing to lose and so had all his fillings (he had a mouth full with 20) removed by an ecological dentist. They noticed improvement within a month and within 6 months he was much better and 2 years later when I invited him to speak, he was fully back to normal and had started a new business. (Removing “silver” fillings—which are over 50% mercury—can be very beneficial, but must be performed by an ecological dentist. Standard drilling out these fillings releases a huge amount of mercury into the body, raising blood (and presumably brain) levels taking over a year and a half to get back to where they were before removal.)
You can imaging the setting: the 12 of us on the Board of Health sitting on our raised stage listening to an articulate, apparently normal older man at the podium showing us before and after pictures and telling us his remarkable story of mercury toxicity causing his dementia. As you might expect, his presentation made quite an impression on us.
The message: mercury is highly neurotoxic—don’t put it in your body! Remember my discussion in Chapter xx how our bodies ability to get rid of toxins starts to deteriorate after about age of 50. So even though the fillings had not seemed to be a problem earlier in his life, once his ability to get rid of the mercury leaking from his teeth became impaired, the toxicity built up quickly.
The Cases that Made Me Aware of Toxins
Peter came to my office for help with his leukemia. He appeared to have been effectively treated with chemotherapy but he was wonder why at age 30 he had developed this cancer. Upon questioning, I learned he ate like everyone else (poorly) and did not take any vitamins. He did get a lot of exercise as he worked on a farm. Physical exam did not reveal anything unusual for a young man his age and a screening lab test found no abnormalities (sure wish I could go back to look at those old lab tests with the knowledge I have now). All I could offer him at the time was to simply clean up his diet and take a good quality multivitamin and mineral.
Then 2 weeks later Paul came to my office with essentially the exact same presentation. He also worked on a farm. Hmm, I wondered could there be a connection with chemical exposure as they both worked on farms using conventional fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Fortunately, I practiced near the University of Washington School of Medicine where I often frequented their excellent library and bookstore dedicated to medical students. I found a thick textbook on toxicology. Looked in the index, found the chemicals these 2 men had been spraying on the fields (I had asked them to bring me labels from the drums), dug into the relevant chapters and low and behold found that farmers were showing significantly increased risk of most of the blood cancers. Gulped a bit and spent $150 (a lot of money at that time, especially for a struggling young practitioner in an unpopular field of medicine) to buy the textbook, and then I started reading. And then there was Charlie the wooden boat builder with impotence who became interested and effective again after detoxification, Julie the overweight machinist who got very sick whenever she tried to lost weight, until we detoxified her liver, the list began growing rapidly (I will talk more about Charlie and Julie later).
The Message: those most exposed to toxins in work settings provide us early warning about what long time exposure will do to the general population.
Dr. Rae’s Case
Originally published by detoxification specialist Dr. William Rea, a leading clinician and researcher in environmental medicine, this is an interesting case study of a 41-year-old, white, female nurse who developed inexplicable severe spasming of her muscles; spasming of the blood vessels supplying her heart (causing angina) and legs (causing pain and cramping); and low levels of T lymphocytes in her blood. Dr. Rea placed her in an environmental control unit (a special totally clean room with purified air, water, and food and hard materials on all surfaces so they would not out gass) for elimination of all toxins and allergens. This resulted in alleviation of her muscle cramps and artery spasms and her T lymphocytes increased.
She was then experimentally exposed to a pesticide. All her vascular and muscle spasm problems, including angina, returned and her T-lymphocyte count decreased by 19%. Her arterial spasming reaction was so severe, Dr. Rae couldn’t even find a pulse in her legs. It took another four days on a pesticide-free diet, pure water, and a clean atmosphere for her symptoms to resolve and her T cells to return to normal. (Rea, W. J. and Hsueh-Chia, L.: Effects of pesticides on the immune system. J Nutr Med 2:399[en]410, 1991)
The message: Humans have huge variability in susceptibility to toxins like pesticides. I suspect that as a nurse she was also being exposed to high levels of solvents in her healthcare setting.
Leaning heavily on a cane, Janet a 50-year-old university professor, limped into our teaching clinic at Bastyr University. She had such a bad case of osteoarthritis that she was scheduled for a hip replacement in three weeks. Before going through the pain and expense of this highly invasive procedure, she decided to see if we had some magic herb to cure her condition. I vividly remember the look of disappointment on the student’s faces as Janet came in—they were eager for cases they could learn from, but this woman’s condition seemed to have progressed far beyond our ability to help her.
Fortunately, I was aware of several ways to stimulate regeneration of her joint cartilage, but first, we had to decrease the rate of damage. Possibly nowhere else is the impact of an imbalance between wear-and-tear and repair-and-regeneration so graphically demonstrated as in the cartilage of the joints. Since the cartilage has a very poor blood supply, if the trauma to the joints is excessive, even a healthy repair process can’t regenerate the cartilage rapidly enough. The problem is significantly aggravated by the most common medical therapy for arthritis: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The aspirin she was taking, while it decreases the pain, also blocks the cartilage repair process, actually increasing the rate of degeneration! (I’ll describe this surprising result in more detail below.)
Our first step in helping Janet was to determine the ways in which she was overly stressing her joints. We immediately determined that muscle tension and joint misalignment were causing far too much trauma to her hips. Added to that was her history of running on hard surfaces with poor shoes. As an avid jogger, she had run 50+ miles a week for over 20 years, and it had all caught up to her. The x-rays of her hips showed that not only was there virtually no cartilage left in her hip joint but also a considerable amount of calcification around the joint. The combination of the two easily explained her pain and limited range of motion.
Our treatment program was of necessity intense: (1) Massage to loosen her muscles, spinal and joint manipulation to reestablish normal alignment, and corrective exercises to establish proper posture and joint motion. (2) Half an hour a day of diathermy (a way of applying deep heat) to the joint to increase blood supply. (3) Strict avoidance of aspirin and other NSAIDs (e.g., acetaminophen, ibuprofen, etc.), and all members of the nightshade family (i.e., potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant) since in some susceptible individuals eating these foods damages the joints. And (4) supplementation with several nutrients to stimulate joint regeneration: niacinamide (Dr. William Kaufman 50 years ago demonstrated joint regeneration, as proven by x-rays, in hundreds of osteoarthritis patients using niacinamide), glucosamine sulfate, vitamin C, and flavonoids.
Within a month, Janet no longer needed her cane. Within two months, her x-rays showed a small amount of improvement. Within three months, she took a walking tour of Europe. Then disaster struck. Against my adamant admonitions that it was too soon, she entered and ran in a 10-km marathon. Her joint pain immediately returned. At this point, she decided to get the hip replacement.
In retrospect, I realize that while we were very successful in the physical realm, we had missed dealing with the psychological -- Janet’s fanatical desire to run regardless of her pain and disability. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not against running or intense exercise at any age. I personally understand the fanaticism -- at 69 I am still an avid basketball player, despite damaged cartilage in both my knees. However, I do so with appropriate attention to strengthening my joints and limiting my playing to my rate of regeneration, i.e., I only play full-court basketball twice a week. (It is possible my wife, Lara, disagrees with this personal assessment of my ability to maintain an appropriate balance.)
The message: Drugs damage our bodies in many unexpected ways. Our bodies have a tremendous ability to regenerate, if given the right help. But this healing is impaired by so many prescription drugs.
Some people are simply ornery
Let’s be honest here, some people are plain ornery. Especially reluctant husbands drug into the doctor by their wife. Jack was a bit man. Now, I am not easily intimidated (you don’t found a medical school in a hostile environment with no money if you are timid) but my office was small, he was all but growling and took up a lot of space. His wife had brought him to see me because she was seeing his personality change and was frightened he might hurt her and their children. A normally gentle and friendly giant, he was becoming increasingly irritable and even furious and the prior day literally thrust his fist through a wall in their home. At this point I was starting to think I should call social services as the family might be in danger. However, in this case I was somewhat acquainted with the family, which is why she trusted me to see him and why I also was surprised to see this change in him. He owned a small home construction company with a few employees. They were growing and were now doing most of the work building the houses without any longer subcontracting to others. While his primary skill was carpentry, he was now also doing fine cabinetry, plumbing, electrical and painting. (The only thing the contracted out was the cement work for the foundations.) At this point in my practice I was now suspecting anyone with disease may be suffering from toxicity. The correspondence of the change in his personality and his now being exposed to solvents from the varnish used on the cabinetry, chemicals and metals released from installing copper pipes, chemicals from the drying paints was hard to miss.
He would not follow any suggestion I made. I tried to get him to stop exposure to toxins—nope. Hire someone else to do it—nope. Well you get the idea. He would not take herbs or vitamins and thought hydrotherapy was a joke. I don’t know why I thought of it, but in desperation asked if he liked saunas. Finally a smile on his face and mentioning his wife had asked him to make one for her but he had been too busy with the paying customers. He then sheepishly apologized for being so rude and admitted is was afraid for his family as he just got so mad sometimes. So he got his team together and they quickly built a nice sauna for their home (I wish at that time I had thought ahead and suggested a window to air out the toxins). He then faithfully did a 1-hour sauna, often with his wife, at the end of the day sweating profusely. And he did make a serious effort to avoid toxins and make his workplace safer. Within a week he felt noticeably better and within a month was back to his normal self.
As a carpenter he worked hard and sweated profusely as he would often primarily do the framing which meant no shading roof overhead nor much in the way of chemical toxins. But now doing less vigorous inside work he was exposed to a lot of toxins and not working physically hard enough to sweat them out.
The message: our bodies are very smart, even something as simple as sweat is used to get these unwanted metals and chemicals out of our body.
A Lucky Man
About six months before coming to see me, Lawrence, a 39-year-old attorney, had had an episode of sharp, stabbing, left chest pain immediately after concluding a successful malpractice suit. The frightening pain lasted until he sat down for several minutes. He immediately went to the local emergency room where the attending physicians could find no problem with his heart; neither his EKG nor his blood showed any abnormalities.
Over the ensuing five months he had six similar episodes, each lasting 30 to 60 seconds. There was no pattern to the attacks. Several occurred when he was sitting at his desk, while others occurred when he was walking home from work. Several visits to his family doctor produced no answers to his recurrent pain because his doctor could find no signs of heart-threatening atherosclerosis. After experiencing three attacks in the past month, Lawrence was desperate for a solution.
His diet was quite poor -- he ate lots of red meat and refined foods and very few fresh fruits and vegetable -- and he smoked one pack of cigarettes a day. He did, however, exercise religiously and was an avid tennis player. His only other health problem was gastritis (burning pain in the stomach), which he treated with antacids.
After some thought, I realized that he might be suffering from spasming of the cardiac arteries due to transient deficiencies of magnesium. Although such transient magnesium deficiency is considered rare in conventional medical circles, those of us specializing in nutritional medicine believe it is a very common cause of heart attacks. This belief is supported by several observations and research: (1) Smoking depletes magnesium. The research shows that cellular levels can be as much as 50% lower. (2) Exercise is important, but the sweating results in magnesium loss that must be replenished. (3) Putting a piece of a normal artery in a magnesium-deficient solution will cause it to spasm, and (4) giving magnesium to men having a heart attack, or immediately afterwards, decreases their mortality rate by 50%.
I deduced that Lawrence’s magnesium levels were very low because his diet was deficient in magnesium, the antacids he was taking were blocking the absorption of the little magnesium that was in his diet, and his heavy sweating during exercise was further depleting his magnesium stores. While I could have performed a sophisticated test to determine his actual magnesium status, I realized that people with such a deficiency are at high risk of sudden death from a heart attack. I immediately began him on 600 mg of magnesium (in the form of magnesium citrate) spread out in four doses throughout the day. He had no further symptoms of chest pain.
Although he has not improved his diet and lifestyle as much as I would have liked, he continued to take a maintenance dose of 400 mg once a day and never again had a heart artery spasm.
The message: Everyone know that smoking increases risk of lung cancer. But how many are aware of how this habit can cause so many diverse dysfunctions.
BTW, all 3 of these patients were from Port Townsend. Don’t know if you want to work into the story line, but once I cured one many more came to see me. After a couple of years, 20% of my patients came from Port Townsend.
Losing Weight Makes Me Sick
Wearing a Seahawks sweatshirt, Julie came to see me complaining of tiredness, bad breath, acne and depression. Although this single 35 year old woman was quite overweight, she did not come for weight loss. Her consistent experience is that she got so sick when losing weight that, despite a strong will, she simply could not lose weight and it relentlessly increased year by year. She noticed that her symptoms are worse in late winter and reported the doctors she had seen have only recommended antidepressants which don't seem to help. She had tried to lose weight using several of the widely advertised programs advertised, but they make her feel so sick that she can never stay on them for more than a few days. Her diet was standard American, in other words high in unhealthy foods and grossly deficient in fruits and vegetables. She was not taking any supplements and did not exercise at all. She worked as a machinist and wore a uniform which she kept at work and rarely washed. While not an excessive drinker, almost every night she met with her friends to talk about football first and sports in general while consuming 3-4 beers. She did not drink coffee as it kept her awake at night. Other than significant acne, unpleasantly bad breath and a tender liver, all her physical examinations were normal. Her blood tests were normal, though almost all her liver enzymes were near the top of the “normal” range and her urinary bilirubin was elevated.
Her diagnosis was clear: liver overload from solvent exposure at work seriously compounded by drinking alcohol that was depleting her glutathione stores. So not only was her liver being overloaded, but she was depleting her ability to eliminate damaging chemicals and protect her liver from toxins. Her fat stores were so saturated that whenever she tried to lose weight she’d experience a flood of toxins released as her fat stores were accessed.
I have used Julie as an illustrative case many times when teaching students as taking care of patients like her requires understanding not only what is happening with her physiology but her psychological makeup as well. After presenting a case to the students I ask them to develop a prioritized treatment plan. Their first recommendation for a case like this is invariably to stop drinking alcohol. At which point I tell them they would have likely failed with this patient. I point out to them that stopping exposure is indeed critical but they have to be more aware of the role of alcohol in her life. This is a single woman whose primary social interaction is drinking with friends almost every night. Telling her to simply stop drinking is not only not going to work, but she probably won’t even come back (yes, you can easily figure out how I learned this lesson).
Her treatment was a bit complex as I had to focus on stopping the influx of toxins while restoring her ability to detoxify all in the context of supporting what was important to her life. Guidance on weight loss was furthest from our minds as she had much more important issues to address. Easiest was working with her on ways to decrease exposure to solvents and other toxins in her work environment. Improving ventilation, washing her clothing every day, being more conscious of when she was being exposed to chemicals and ways to avoid were obvious and she readily complied. Dealing with the, for her, excessive alcohol consumption was a bit trickier. I described to her how the alcohol was adding to liver overload and depleting critical glutathione. I then gave her 2 options: preferred would be for her to drink dealcoholized beer but if she was not willing to do this, then take supplements to increase glutathione production. She chose the latter. Yes, that was not optimal, but my role as a naturopathic physician is to work with patients where they are rather than where I think they should be. So we started with her very gently. In addition to decreasing toxic load at work we greatly increased her dietary fiber—starting at 3 grams twice a day to 5 grams three times a day after the 2 weeks it took her gut to adapt to the higher fiber. I also prescribed a good quality multivitamin and mineral supplement and 500 mg of NAC twice a day. When I saw her again 2 weeks later she was quite pleased by how well she felt and I was able to talk her into swapping 1 of her beers with the dealcoholized version. I told her how alcohol-free beer actually increases glutathione levels. I then had her come back to see me one a month to monitor progress, answer questions she would invariably have and encourage her to keep on the program, tweaking as needed. 6 months later, all her symptoms were gone and she was down to only 1 of the beers with her friends being of the alcohol version. And, to her great delight, she had lost 20 pounds. Note that we did not put her on a weight loss program. Rather, we worked together to decrease her toxic load and improve her lifestyle (I also got her to start walking regularly and eat more real, healthy foods). Remember my discussion on how these chemical toxins are being called “obesogens” by the researchers. Simply getting the chemicals out of her body allowed healthier processes to be reestablished and her weight started to melt away. As you might expect, she was a very satisfied patient.
A Very Sick Boat Builder
Seattle claims to have one of the highest per capita rates of boat ownership in the world. As might be expected, there are many boat builders in the area. Jack was a wooden boat builder in Port Townsend, Washington. Although a young man, he was becoming progressively debilitated, a problem that he noted was far worse in the winter. He had become so weak, he was having problems getting out of bed in the morning to do his work. At the urging of friends he took the two-hour trip to Seattle to seek my help. As usual, he had seen several medical doctors, and none could provide an effective therapy for his ailments because they could find no recognizable disease. By the time he came to see me, he was very weak, felt like he had the flu all the time, and was desperate because he had a wife and young children to support. A bit of detective work quickly pinpointed the cause of his problems.
Wooden boat builders are exposed to a very toxic environment, especially solvents in varnishes and heavy metals in special paints used to keep barnacles from growing on the bottom of the boat. While this was not much of a problem for him in the summer, in the winter he would close all the doors and windows in his workshop to keep the heat in. As might be expected, this also kept the toxins in, despite the vents. Since his workshop had been approved by OSHA, he assumed the chemicals he worked with weren’t a problem. Not only was he not using a mask, he wasn’t even wearing gloves most of the time, and his living space was right next-door and smelled of solvents!
On examination, I found that he had an enlarged and very sensitive liver. His hands were discolored as was his complexion, which appeared waxen. I immediately put him on an intensive detoxification program. First, we eliminated all toxin exposure: He stopped working for one week, moved his family several blocks away from his workshop, added a heater, opened all doors and windows in the workshop, and began using both gloves and a chemical mask.
Next, we stimulated his detoxification processes. For one week Jack went on a modified fast, consuming only raw and cooked fruits and vegetables. To this he added large dosages of vitamin C and B-complex. Finally, he took two herbs for detoxification, Chionanthus virginicus (fringe tree) and Chelidonium majus (tetterwort). These herbs have been traditionally used by naturopathic doctors for detoxification of the liver. They are both powerful cholagogues, meaning that they help eliminate bile from the liver while stimulating its detoxification actions. (Since I’ve not been able to find any modern research supporting the clinical use of these herbs, I now use other herbs for this purpose, such as Silybum marianum, which has more documentation.)
Jack had a good constitution and responded rapidly to the therapy. Within a few weeks he was back to his normal energetic self. By improving the ventilation in his workshop and having him rigorously limit contact exposure while strongly supporting his detoxification systmes he was able to continue building his beautiful wooden boats.
The message: The chemical solvents in our home and work environments progressively damage our health in direct proportion to exposure and our genetic susceptibilities and nutritional deficiencies.
Chronic Stress and Low DHEA
Sean took good care of himself: He ate well (he had been a health-conscious vegetarian for 25 years), exercised regularly, drank alcohol rarely, and had never smoked. However, at 45, he was chronically tired, losing muscle mass, slowly gaining fat weight, losing his sex drive, and having problems with allergies, both to foods and the environment. Every spring he suffered from hay fever severe enough to require antihistamines, and every fall he developed a severe respiratory infection, which often progressed to pneumonia.
Further questioning and a physical examination revealed little wrong with him, except a very high level of job stress, which had plagued him for almost 20 years. Realizing that long-term stress can result in the adrenal glands producing stress hormones such as cortisol instead of DHEA (which is a precursor for testosterone and other important functions), I decided to check his 24-hour urinary excretion of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Sean’s was only 3 mg, far below the normal range of 5 to 20 mg per day.
I helped him develop better ways of reducing his stress and prescribed 5 mg of DHEA twice a day. The results were remarkable: His environmental allergies cleared (although he continued to have to avoid his food allergens), he lost 10 pounds of fat, his immune system improved so much he didn’t have even one cold for over a year, his muscle mass increased, and he experienced a modest increase in libido.
The message: Chronic stress devastates the normal metabolic processes of the body.
Mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer (kudos to Kenneth Pelletier, PhD)
Early in my practice, a 25-year-old nurse, Adrian, came to see me. She was obviously quite upset, breaking into tears as she related that her sister had just had her kidney removed, and she had the same condition. A few months before, her older sister had been found to have dangerously high blood pressure. Her medical workup revealed a rare, but serious, condition: renal artery stenosis.
A small number of women, aged 20 to 30, for no known reason (although it is more common in cigarette smokers), grow fibrous tissue around the large arteries supplying blood to their kidneys. This results in contraction of the arteries, causing a progressive decrease in blood supply to the kidneys -- a serious problem, because the kidneys play a major role in regulating blood pressure.
Normally, when blood pressure drops too low, the kidneys receive too little oxygen. This causes them to secrete the enzyme renin, which activates a polypeptide called angiotensin. Its activation results in constriction of the blood vessels, stimulation of the adrenals to secrete a hormone (aldosterone), which promotes the reabsorption of salt and water by the kidneys, and increased strength of contraction of the heart. The end result is an increase in the amount of blood in the body and elevation of blood pressure. More blood flows to the kidneys (as well as the rest of the body) relieving their hypoxia. Normally, this system works effectively, maintaining our blood pressure in a range that ensures proper functioning of the organs of the body. However, for these patients, the feedback system becomes dysfunctional. In order for the kidneys to have an adequate supply of blood through their constricted blood vessels, the rest of the body has to have too much. The result is an elevation of blood pressure, often to dangerously high levels. Unfortunately, this condition is relentlessly progressive and thought to be hereditary. The primary method of treatment at the time was major surgery to either remove the kidney with the damaged artery or to transplant a major artery from another organ to the kidney. Adrian’s sister had her kidney removed.
After her sister’s operation (which was successful), Adrian went to her family doctor, who found her blood pressure to also be greatly elevated, just like her sister’s. He advised her that she had the same condition and would need to be scheduled for surgery before her kidney was too badly damaged to be saved. Distraught, she decided to seek a second opinion.
Looking at her, I was surprised to hear of her problem; she appeared quite healthy and a few questions revealed a healthy lifestyle. But physical examination did indeed show a seriously elevated blood pressure.
Twenty years ago, the best way of diagnosing renal artery stenosis was by placing a stethoscope on the abdomen over the kidneys and listening for a sound described as a bruit, and by measuring the amount of renin in the blood and/or the amount of aldosterone in the urine. Despite careful listening over her kidneys, I could not hear a bruit. However, as only about 50% of those with renal artery stenosis have a bruit, I decided to perform the expensive test on her urine. A few days later, she brought in the urine, which she had collected over a 24-hour period. I again took her blood pressure, just to be sure -- it was still very high and scheduled her to come back in a week when I would have the results.
Her urine test came back normal.
While the urine test wasn’t perfectly reliable, the probability of both the physical and the laboratory exams providing false negatives was very small. This caused me to consider other causes of her hypertension.
While a student, I had been quite interested in the research documenting the remarkable impact of belief and stress on many aspects of health. In particular, I had been greatly influenced by the work of Hans Selye, M.D., whose book, Stress of Life, I continue to recommend to students. Hypertension is one of the conditions commonly caused by fear and stress.
I invited Adrian back to my office and gave her the results and my interpretation that her fear and stress were the real causes of her high blood pressure, not renal artery stenosis. I’ll never forget the sudden look of surprise and then relief that crossed her face and as the meaning of my words sank in, her shoulders visibly dropped. I recommended that she read Selye’s book and referred her to a counselor friend of mine for a stress reduction program. Within a week, her blood pressure was back to normal. Over the ensuing several months, I regularly rechecked her blood pressure and it continued to remain normal.
The message: Fear and an out-of-control imagination can seriously damage our health.
The Case That Introduced Me to Naturopathic Medicine
When I first came to Seattle, I got a job working as a research associate in the Department of Rheumatology of the University of Washington School of Medicine. I really enjoyed research and couldn’t imagine a much better job than working together with M.D.s and Ph.D.s looking for a cure for rheumatoid arthritis. I started looking into doctor programs in medical research.
Then came an event that changed my life forever. The woman who married my college roommate was cured of her juvenile rheumatoid arthritis by someone called a naturopathic doctor. I was stunned! How could this unknown practitioner “cure” my friend of an incurable disease from which she had suffered for over a decade? I “knew” rheumatoid arthritis was incurable since tens of millions of dollars were being spent nationwide looking for a cure for this disease, which afflicts 1-3% of the population.
I decided to visit this doctor and ask him what he had done. He offhandedly remarked, “Oh, I just detoxified her liver.” Weird! But the more we talked, the more I came to appreciate a different way of thinking about patients and disease. After spending several days in his office watching him improve the health of many “in curable” patients I came to understand that the root cause of many chronic conditions is an overburdened, undernourished toxic liver.
The message: Our bodies have a tremendous ability to heal, if we just give them a chance. Our modern diet and environment soon overload our detoxification capacity which we then call disease—but that is the late stage of a process that can begin decades earlier.
Patients Know what is Most Important
Doctor’s priorities are often different from the patient’s. This was powerfully brought home to me by a patient whom I thought I had failed, but who herself thought I was a great doctor! Mildred came to see me for severe rheumatoid arthritis which she had suffered from for 30 years. She was fortunate as there was not much distortion of her joints, but the analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs were no longer controlling (we naturopaths would say “suppressing”) her symptoms and side effects were becoming a serious problem for her. After talking with her for a while, it was clear to me that she was very toxic from not only all the drugs but a lifestyle that paid no attention to the many toxins she was being exposed to. I put her on an earlier version of the 8-week detoxification program I will be guiding you through in this book and, of course, helped her improve her diet. Over 2 months of the program, she improved 75% and decreased her use of drugs over 50%. I considered myself a failure as I was not able to cure her arthritis. She was so grateful for of how much I had helped improve her health and decrease her disease burden that her drug dosages were so low that she didn’t have side effects anymore.
The message: So much of disease is simply the manifestation of toxic overload.
There is no substitute for nutritionally dense, low toxin foods
I have so many stories about patients who benefited dramatically from “nature cure.” This is an old-time foundational concept in naturopathic medicine. Nature cure is about living your life in a way that optimizes health and avoids as much as possible anything that damages health. It all starts with food. Unfortunately, modern agriculture as so damaged food—decreasing nutrient content and contaminating with poisons—that this foundation of health has become seriously undermined. Fortunately, health-promoting food is available to us from the dedicated organic farmers. Sally was a dedicated young mother with two beautiful little girls aged 4 and 6. She came to me exhausted and “at the end of her rope.” She had seen her family MD several time, but to no avail. Watching her girls bounce around my office and terrorize my patients in the waiting (a term I hate as means to me I am not keeping up and my patients are having to waste time waiting for me) room I had a good idea of the problem. My first question was, “How much sugar are you feeding your girls?” Her “None!” surprised me, but on further questioning I learned she was apparently doing everything right for her family—avoiding junk food, having everyone take a good multivitamin and mineral supplement and providing them a loving home environment. I then asked where she was buying food as the study I mention elsewhere had just been published where researchers in Seattle measured the toxin levels in children whose mother’s bought food from Puget Consumers Coop—our local health food store chain where I have been a member since 1970 (and I can tell you those early organically grown foods did not look very nice)—and compared them to those buying food from the regular grocery store. The organophosphate pesticide levels in the children eating conventionally grown foods was 9 times higher! That is the only toxin they measured—you can be sure all the others were elevated as well. I suggested to her that rather than engage in expensive testing to see if she had an unrecognized disease—her physical exam was normal—we should start with the basics: properly grown healthy foods rich in nutrients and low in toxins. When she objected that organic foods are more expensive, I asked her how that compared to the money she was spending seeing doctors who weren’t helping her. She got the message. She came back a month later for follow up beaming—she had religiously followed my advice and within just 1 week noticed a difference. Not only was she feeling more energetic, she was also sleeping better and the acne she normally had with her menstrual cycle and thought was normal had clearly improved. Her girls were again with her, but this time instead of hyperactively harassing my patients they were as they should be: cute, energetic darlings.
The message: It really is often that simple—our bodies evolved to be healthy, if just given a chance.
Two Years of Diarrhea
A case I saw in the teaching clinic when I was a young medical student at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine had a huge impact on my clinical thinking. Charlotte brought her four-year-old son Michael into the clinic and laid him on my examining table. While his older brothers bounced around the examining room, Michael lay listlessly on the table—very uncharacteristic of a young child! Michael had suffered from diarrhea and debility for three years. His mother had taken him to countless doctors, specialists, and hospitals and spent thousands of dollars, yet his diarrhea and debility continued. I saw a passive child with dark circles under his eyes, a sallow complexion, a protruding belly, bowed legs, and what looked and felt like a ricketic rosary (lumps at the ends of his ribs)—a very rare indication of severe vitamin D deficiency. As I listened to the mother tell us her son’s very troubling health history, I was feeling quite intimidated—how could natural medicine be effective after all these doctors had failed!?
I, and this child, had the great fortune of having Dr. John Bastyr supervising in clinic that shift. (Dr. Bastyr, who died at the age of 83, was a wonderful healer and physician who inspired several generations of naturopathic doctors-to-be. He had such a powerful impact on us that when I and my colleagues decided to start a new naturopathic school in 1978, we named it in his honor to provide a guiding spirit for the institution. My vision leading the creation of the then named John Bastyr College of Naturopathic Medicine was to create physician-healers. I wanted to strain the students to be both technically proficient in diagnosis and treatment as well as skilled in facilitating with each patient their belief in the ability to heal.)
After examining Michael and asking his mother about their family and their diet, Dr. Bastyr quickly recognized the cause of his problems. He turned to me and said, “The problem is obvious.” My response, “Huh?” (I am sure I was more articulate than that, but it was certainly what I was thinking.) His response, it’s their religion.” Another “Huh?” from me. At which point I was on the receiving end of his favorite critique of students, “Joe, you need to study more.” He recognized they were very devote Mormons and carefully followed the dictate to store 2 years of food. They stored a lot of grains, which they regularly rotated to keep them fresh. Turns out Michael’s mother had introduced grains into his diet before his digestive system had matured enough to digest them properly. He told Charlotte to stop feeding her son all grains, not just wheat, but also rye, barley, oats, corn, and rice. In addition, he told her to have him drink three times a day a full glass with equal amounts of raw carrot juice and raw goat’s milk (one of Dr. Bastyr’s famous concoctions for restoring health in particularly debilitated patients) for one week and then to bring him back for re-evaluation.
One week later, Michael had dramatically improved. His diarrhea had stopped, and he was bouncing off the walls, just like his brothers. Unfortunately, over the next year, Charlotte would, despite my admonitions to the contrary, periodically try feeding him grains, and each time he would again develop diarrhea.
The message: Wheat intolerance causes serious chronic damage to the body. While only 1-2% have celiac disease—which is all that conventional medical recognizes—toxic reaction to wheat is very common, affecting half the population.
A Mysterious Depression
Ed earned his living as a psychological counselor. He was so good at it that I often referred patients to him. One of the reasons he was so good was his own personal history of episodes of depression, one of which had been so bad he was hospitalized. Several days of intensive psychotherapy were required before he was functional enough to leave the hospital. Through constant counseling, he was able to live a normal life but continued to suffer from bouts of severe depression.
Ed consulted me to see if I could find a nutritional reason for his problem. Careful history taking and physical examination revealed a relatively good diet (he was also taking an excellent multivitamin and mineral supplement) and no apparent physical problems. I was mystified, but I had been seeing so many patients get better by stopping wheat consumption I decided to give it a try with him as well. I instructed him in how to perform the food challenge test we discussed in this chapter, and had him avoid wheat and all other grains for four days. On the morning of the fifth day, he ate one piece of bread, with stunning results.
About a half hour after eating the bread, Ed described his reaction as similar to an experience he had had as a youth when smoking very strong marijuana. For a period of over an hour, he became so “high” that he started hallucinating and became so hyperactive he described it as “clinical mania.” After two hours of this, he “crashed,” and became so depressed he couldn’t get out of bed until the next day. This extreme reaction was such a surprise to him, that he repeated the challenge test a week later with the same, though less intense results. As might be expected, he religiously avoided wheat thereafter!
The message: Food reactions can powerfully influence our mental and emotional function. For several reasons, wheat appears to be one of the worst offenders.
Rheumatoid Arthritis—Water Fast Challenge Test
Jane was 32 and had been recently diagnosed as having the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis. While her morning pain and stiffness weren’t too bad and easily relieved by two aspirin, she was quite distraught. Her mother and all her aunts suffered from severe forms of the disease and several were so bad that their hands were quite deformed. She was not willing to accept her family physician’s prognosis of having to live with a disease which would relentlessly progress despite multiple drugs.
Fortunately, she came to see me before her disease had progressed very far. I explained to her that I thought her joint inflammation was being caused by a combination of a leaky gut due to food allergies and toxic bacteria in her gut and an over-reactive inflammatory system. While she had never heard of such an explanation for rheumatoid arthritis, she was desperate enough to try anything (this desperation was common in most of my patient whom had been failed by conventional medicine). I immediately started her on a water fast for four days. We then reintroduced foods, one each day, looking for those which caused a reaction. She was lucky as her joints flared up within a few hours after she ate a food to which she was reactive (I say she was lucky because often the reaction to a food is so delayed–as long as three days in some people–it can be very difficult to make the connection). As is typical of most people, her problem foods were primarily wheat and dairy products.
I then helped her design a diet which not only avoided all grains (she had to also avoid rye, oats, corn and rice since those with allergies to wheat also tend to be allergic to the other grains) and dairy products, but also decreased her meat and fat consumption. Basically, her diet now consisted of fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds. I also had her take 1 gram of eicosapentaenoic acid from fish oils, 1,000 iu of vitamin E and 2,000 mg of vitamin C.
By the end of her fast, her symptoms had already decreased 50%. After one month of carefully following her diet and supplement prescription, she had no further pain in her joints. After three months, all her lab tests had returned to normal!
Not all of my rheumatoid arthritis patients respond so well. I still vividly remember with great sadness a 55 year old woman who had had the disease for over 20 years. Her hands were so deformed she could hardly hold a pen, and she was having chronic stomach problems from all the aspirin she was taking. Although I applied exactly the same therapy, all we could accomplish was to decrease her dosage of aspirin. Sometimes diseases do progress past the body’s ability to heal.
The message: The body has a tremendous ability to heal even “incurable” diseases if given a chance. But don’t wait too long. The earlier the underlying problem is corrected, the better the outcome.