Ever wonder how some doctors can miss what's right in front of them?
This week, I'd like to tell you why conventional medicine doesn't always get it right when it comes to disease -- autoimmune diseases, especially.
If you suffer from things such as acne, allergies, asthma, arthritis or other related conditions, then you'll want to read on.
Recently, I flew to Rochester, New York, to participate in a national PBS show called SECOND OPINION.
This is a fantastic opportunity for viewers to see a living room discussion about a medical topic between specialists, general practitioners, patients, patient advocates, and odd characters like me who don't quite fit in.
We shot three shows: one on migraines, one on osteoarthritis, and the last on inflammation.
There were renowned, smart and very qualified specialists and doctors there, from whom I could learn much.
But as we sat there during the inflammation show talking about a woman who had an autoimmune disease, I felt sad and distraught.
And try as I might, I couldn't break through the basic foundational idea of conventional medicine.
That's the idea that all we have to do is NAME that disease (like some sort of medical "Jeopardy!") and then find the right treatment (the right drug or combination of drugs) to help that person.
It was frustrating.
I couldn't help them realize that there is a different way of THINKING about disease that could help us get to the real cause of the inflammation, instead of finding clever ways to shut down the inflammation.
That's sort of like taking the battery out of a smoke detector while the fire burns down the house!
You see, the producer had called me in panic the last week before the show, asking if I had a good "inflammation" patient who might be willing to come be on the show.
I immediately thought of a hard-working patient of mine who had suffered for years and traveled from doctor to doctor, getting all kinds of labels without getting help, before landing in my office.
I called him and he agreed to fly up. His story was quite amazing, but it didn't penetrate the other doctors' beliefs. I felt like they were saying, "Don't confuse me with the facts; my mind is made up."
It's sort of like what one of my teachers once said.
"Do you see what you believe or do you believe what you see?"
In the face of a paradigm-shattering medical case, these docs were hardly curious and quickly dismissive, saying this was just an anecdote.
Well, let me tell you -- medicine is not for statistics, it is for real people and this all was VERY real for the 46-year old, hard-working father of three who could once barely function.
He is now in vibrant good health.
This is not an anecdote but a giant COMPASS pointing us to where we should really be looking to find answers on how to find answers to our health problems.
The one highly trained academic doctor -- an allergist, rheumatologist, and immunologist, who was far more knowledgeable than I am in these areas -- did say one thing that SHOULD have been a thorn in his side, getting him to look in different places for answers.
When asked why he thought we are having an epidemic of allergic (60 million people), asthmatic (30 million people) and autoimmune disorders (24 million people) in the 21st century, he did note that these disorders are almost totally isolated to developed countries.
Poor countries without all of the modern amenities like running water, flush toilets, washing machines, and sterile backyards DON'T get these diseases.
And if you grew up on a farm with lots of animals, you are also less likely to have any of these inflammatory disorders.
Playing in the dirt, being dirty, and being exposed to bugs and infections somehow trains your immune system to recognize what is foreign and what is "you" -- to distinguish YOU from ME.
But here in this country, autoimmune diseases when taken all together are a HUGE health burden.
These include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, celiac disease, thyroid disease, and the many other hard-to-classify syndromes of inflammation, pain, swelling, and misery that afflict so many.
But what exactly is autoimmunity?
Your immune system is your defense against invaders. It is like your army and has to clearly distinguish friend from foe -- to know YOU from OTHER.
Autoimmunity occurs when your immune system gets confused and your own tissues get caught in friendly cross-fire.
Your body is fighting something -- an infection, a toxin, an allergen, or the stress response -- and somehow it redirects its hostile attack on your joints, your brain, your skin, or sometimes your whole body.
This whole concept is called molecular mimicry.
And it's sort of accepted by conventional doctors -- but they stop there. They don't look for the insult that is causing the problem. They don't dig to find out WHICH molecule the cells are mimicking.
As my teacher Sid Baker says, if you are standing on a tack, it takes a lot of aspirin to make it feel better.
And sometimes the treatments can make you feel worse.
Anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil, or steroids, or immune suppressants like methotrexate, or the new TNF alpha blockers like Enbrel can lead to intestinal bleeding, kidney failure, depression, psychosis, osteoporosis, muscle loss, and diabetes, not to mention overwhelming infection and cancer.
Don't get me wrong.
These drugs can help people get their lives back. But they miss the point -- the root cause of the disease.
But, there is another way to deal with this.
Now let me tell you about Sam, my patient who came to the show, and his remarkable misadventure through the medical system.
He was generally a healthy trade professional, working hard to support his family.
But then he suddenly developed a series of problems, including chronic sinus infections and prostate infections.
He took many antibiotics for these.
Then, a while later, he developed severe chest pains and went to the emergency room.
While he was there, the doctors found swollen lymph nodes and told him he had lymphoma, a form of cancer.
For 3 weeks he lived in despair until the biopsy results came back.
And guess what? He didn't have cancer.
But he did have an autoimmune disease.
Which autoimmune disease?
Well, the doctors weren't quite sure.
Yes, he had lots of abnormal blood test results -- like low white blood cell and platelet counts, high levels of auto-antibodies of all types (antibodies that attack our own tissues), high immunoglobulins (the foot soldiers of the immune system), and autoimmune thyroid disease.
But they had a hard time labeling him.
Meanwhile, Sam had also developed metabolic syndrome and weight gain (pre-diabetes) as a result of the inflammation.
This is a quote from one specialist's note:
"Whether he has lupus or Sjogren's syndrome is a bit unclear. Regardless, he merely needs observation and no therapeutic intervention at this time."
What exactly did they plan to observe? How bad he felt? Or would they just wait for him to get worse?
Then he came to me.
Given my different way of thinking, I began by asking Sam some simple questions.
Then I went hunting for toxins, allergens, and infections -- and hit pay dirt.
He had taken so many antibiotics that he was a mold and yeast factory. It was growing between his toes, on his toenails, in his crotch, and scalp.
He had H. pylori bacteria in his gut.
He had a leaky gut and reacted to many foods, including dairy and gluten.
He was exposed to toxins at his job and had high levels of mercury.
He had chronic sinus infections.
So we went to work cleaning house.
I treated his yeast with anti-fungals and the H. pylori with antibiotics, got rid of his food allergies, fixed his gut, detoxified him from metals, and cleaned up his sinuses.
And I helped heal his immune system by supporting it with nutrients. I gave him zinc, fish oil, vitamin D, herbs, probiotics and put him on a clean, whole-foods, allergy free, anti-inflammatory diet.
So what happened?
At his next follow-up visit, I asked Sam how he was doing, expecting him to say that he felt a little better.
But he said that he was fine.
I asked, "What about the fatigue?"
He said that he had great energy.
What about the bloating and gas?
What about the reflux?
What about his sinuses and chronic phlegm?
What about his memory and concentration and tingling?
And he lost 15 pounds.
Then his labs came back to normal. His white cells increased and his immune markers calmed way down.
Sam's results simply reflect the application of a new model of thinking about problems called functional medicine -- a way to get to the root of things.
If you have an autoimmune disease, here is what you need to think about and do:
1. Check for hidden infections -- yeast, viruses, bacteria, Lyme, etc. -- with the help of a doctor, and treat them.
2. Check for hidden food allergens with IgG food testing or just try The UltraSimple Diet, which is designed to eliminate most food allergens.
3. Get tested for celiac disease, which is a blood test that any doctor can do.
4. Get checked for heavy metal toxicity. Mercury and other metals can cause autoimmunity.
5. Fix your gut. For details, see my blog on irritable bowel syndrome.
6. Use nutrients such as fish oil, vitamin C, vitamin D, and probiotics to help calm your immune response naturally.
7. Exercise regularly -- it's a natural anti-inflammatory.
8. Practice deep relaxation like yoga, deep breathing, biofeedback, or massage, because stress worsens the immune response.
9. Tell your doctor about Functional Medicine and encourage him or her to get trained or buy them a "Textbook of Functional Medicine" as a holiday present - go to www.functionalmedicine.org for more information.
Give these steps a try -- and see if you don't start feeling less inflamed. As I said earlier, the answers are right in front of you.
Now I'd like to hear from you...
Have you been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease?
How is your doctor treating you?
Have you been frustrated by the medical advice that you've been given?
What steps have you taken to get to the root of the problem, and what have your results been?
Please click on the Add a Comment button below to share your thoughts.
I read your article with much interest. I am desperately searching for the answers to my husband's chronic colds. He was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis 14 years ago and has been treated with a variety of drugs over the years by a rheumatologist. He is currently on prednisone, methotrexate, and began infusions of Rituxin, a biologic drug, in January of 2009 when another biologic drug, Enbrel, seemed to stop working at controlling the arthritis. He has always been ultra-susceptible to colds or any other virus that's circulating at home or school (he's a teacher), but this past year has been the worst ever. He finally started working part-time last fall because he is always sick--always with a cold. And a simple cold will put him in bed for days or weeks. Basically, he's had a cold since mid-September of last year. He's miserable, and I'm now on my own personal journey to try to figure out what is going on. I can't begin to tell you the effects his constant illness has had on our entire family (we have two kids). I keep wondering if it's the Rituxin that is making him so super-susceptible to any cold virus. Both his GP and the rheumatologist keep saying that "it's been a bad winter. Everyone's been sick." But I know better. I've lived with him for 20 years and have seen the progression of this disease for 14 of those 20 years. He has NEVER been this sick!
So the question is: Is is the Rituxin? Is it years of prednisone? He does take large doses of Vitamin D (per his GP's instructions) but stopped taking the mega-doses of fish oil that his lipidologist had prescribed because he was having terrible stomach pain and bloating. Once he stopped the fish oil (at my request after I did some research on the Internet), four months of stomach problems disappeared almost immediately!!! Which is my point. I've learned to distrust doctors, to look further, to do my own research, and I'm beginning to believe that my husband will never be well again unless I do the same regarding his RA and the treatment for it. He's miserable; I'm miserable. And I can't imagine spending the rest of our lives like this.
I was diagnosed with Hashimotos Thyroiditis back in March and subsequently with Papillary Carcinoma in May. I had a total thyroidectomy in June and RAI ablation in October. My thyroid antibodies were high 320+ and even after my thyroidectomy they were still low 100's and climbing until I had the ablation. Ive been suffering for years with terrible allergies (to the point that I now need sinus surgery to get cleared up according to the doctors). My wbc is low and I get the feeling that I may be suffering from alot of what you were talking about in the article above. I hope to try and follow some of the guidlines and get my life back on track. Until the last year or so, I never had any health issues other than the allergies but now it seems like its one thing after the other....bowel problems, skin that feels itchy and then puffs up after I scratch (like im having an allergy to something), I had an H pylori test which came back positive in the blood but negative in the breath and stool test so they're saying that it may have been from a prior infection. Ive been on numerous antibiotics this year as well so Im pretty sure my gut is a mess from them. Any comments would be appreciated. Need to get my life back! Ive got a 3 year old and a 1 year old that need Dad back to normal.