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 would love to see more physicians that think like you do!
As a massage therapist for the past 10 years, I have seen a lot of chronic pain patients and migraine clients that have fallen through the cracks into the zone of, "take these pain pills and go home" or "there is nothing that we can do for you" or "there's nothing MORE we can do for you". When I would ask them if they had been back to their physicians to tell them that what the doc prescribed wasn't working, most of the time (85 - 90%) they say "no, what's the point? They'll just give me more pain pills" or more of X, Y, or Z (or all three!).
The simple fact of the matter is that if you start at the very basic components of feeling well: how are you feeling today? What EXACTLY are you feeling today? How did you sleep last night (and over the past few months)? What's your diet been like lately? How's your work going? (stress indicator); and then move on to what medications they are on and who all they have been to see... it all starts to emerge as something wrong. Some were eventually labeled with a fibromyalgia tag, when it was obviously just extreme stress (most fibro. symptoms for clinical diagnosis were missing). Others were just in so much pain that, eventually, they were just given painkillers and anti-depressants.
A few had lost hope but were trying to give just one more thing a chance to help them. Others were still semi-hopeful that they would eventually find someone to help them (good for them!).
I think one thing that is the most disturbing is that when I ask them, "did your doctor ask you about X (sleep, stress, job, diet, exercise, etc..), alot (but not all) of these kinds of patients say no. If the physicians could just talk to the patients long enough to get a real sense of what's going on with them. Regular, frequent follow-ups help alot too so that you can see if they are better or the same. Perhaps at least a patient phone followup by a staff member to ask them very specific questions (chosen by their physician) related to their case.
In any case, thank you from the thousands of patients who will be impacted by what you are advocating!
Adonna Pruette, LMBT, NCTMB
P.S. To anyone who suffers that read this - don't give up hope. Keep looking for a treatment and a doctor who will listen. Ask around to your friends to find the docs that really put a lot of effort and time into difficult cases. Research alternative therapies at the NIH website or online. Don't give up hope!
Hello, i was diagnosed with RA about 1 and a half years ago, i have never taken any conventional drugs for this autoimmune disease, but i am suffering with my feet, i am searching for the answer, i am on Primal Defense HSO Probiotics for the last week(symptoms actually feel worse at this point). I am at the gym on the bike and weights regularly, i live a dairy,meat and gluten free life, i eat mostly veg and fruit, lots of homemade lentil soup,oatmeal for breakfast, i only drink water, occasionally grape juice.. I need to find the answer to why i have this autimmune disease, my husband died about 10yrs ago, and this caused me serious trauma as it was suicide, i am only 45 yrs old, i am beginning to think or wonder if this could be a knock on effect of wot happened to my husband, as i know i have never really gotten over wot he did, however, i dont know wot to do about it or where to turn, i didnt think i lived in constant misery, i am christian and have two grown teenagers who are healthy and happy and doing well.. So if you have any suggestions that could help me, i would be eternally grateful.