Wonder cures: Could alternative medicine be the answer

When traditional medicine couldn't cure them, these women found relief in alternative medicine.

By Nancy Ripton

Wonder cures:  Could alternative medicine be the answer
Illustration by Clare Mallison/www.agoodson.com
In the past few decades, doctors have learned to inject cow surfactant into tiny lungs to save newborn lives and used lasers to help restore eyesight. But while traditional medicine excels at treating specific ailments, it can fail drastically when it comes to getting 
to the root of a problem, and even more so when it comes to prevention and holistic healing.

“Modern medicine ignores the person and treats the illness,” says Steven Ray Ozanich, author of The Great Pain Deception. As a result, people suffering from debilitating illnesses are now seeking out treatments that combine conventional medicine with emotional healing and alternative practices. Here’s my personal story and those of two other women who looked beyond traditional medicine for a cure for their ills.

My story
Conventional diagnosis: Unexplained infertility
Alternative diagnosis: A parasite

I figured if I stopped using birth control before I was fully prepared to take on parenthood that I would be relaxed, and that getting pregnant would be a breeze. I was wrong.

Over the next year and a half, I moved from “not really trying” to panicking that I would never have a child. I booked an appointment with a fertility specialist. Three to five times per month (for the next five months) I trekked to the clinic for blood tests and ultrasounds at specific times in my cycle. Each time, my results came back normal. The fertility doctor recommended I take hormones, but I was uncomfortable taking drugs for something that the doctor couldn’t pinpoint. Why inject my body with hormones when my hormone levels appeared just fine?

Could infertility be caused by a parasite?
Years ago, I met Charles Poliquin—one of the world’s premier strength coaches, one of the smartest people I have ever met and an amazing journalistic resource. Speaking with him after a seminar, I mentioned my fertility problem. At the time, Poliquin’s work consisted primarily of training professional athletes, but he also treated women for infertility as a side venture. Poliquin found that many of the women travelled frequently and picked up parasites while overseas. “The body protects its offspring,” says Poliquin. Nutrients taken away by parasites may leave insufficient reserves for a growing baby.

Since I had travelled extensively through South and Central America, Russia and Eastern Europe, Poliquin suggested I get a comprehensive stool analysis with parasitology from a laboratory called Doctor’s Data in Chicago. To be analyzed, you must FedEx three days’ worth of stool samples.

There are up to 35,000 different bacterial species in a normal human gut. The micro-environment is always changing and can easily be thrown off balance. “The gut is so central to our health,” says David Quig, PhD, vice-president of scientific support at Doctor’s Data. “Gut problems aren’t isolated to the gut. Various changes in the gastrointestinal tract can influence hormonal balance and possibly even fertility levels, for example.”

It turned out I had picked up a parasite in my travels, one known as Blastocystis hominis, which resides in the large intestine and causes nutrient deficiencies. The side-effect was infertility.

My lab results came with a list of antiparasitic drugs (recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S.) shown to be effective in treating B. hominis. When I went to get a prescription, my doctor reluctantly gave me a 10-day cycle of one of the suggested antibiotics. (I was told that doctors in Canada don’t usually treat B. hominis unless noticeable changes—such as vision problems—arise.)

After cleansing my body of B. hominis, I became pregnant right away, and have since had two more children, all conceived on the first try. Fertility problems don’t always mean you’re completely infertile. If you aren’t in perfect health, your body may not be capable of carrying a fetus for nine months; sometimes improving your overall health means improving your chances of conceiving, too.

Kim's story
Conventional diagnosis: Menopause
Alternative diagnosis: Adrenal fatigue

Kim, a mother of three and vice-president of marketing at a busy firm, is as high-energy as they come. “I’ve always been extremely busy, yet I felt I knew where my line in the sand was,” she says. But in January 2010, at the age of 47, her health dramatically changed.

“I was body-slammed into menopause,” she says. Kim had stopped menstruating. She had begun to experience hot flashes, chronic pain and a constant pressure in the bones of her face that she likened to wearing a lead mask. Kim also stopped sleeping. “I became desperate for even an hour or two of sleep a night,” she says. On the advice of her family doctor, she turned to sleeping pills. When those stopped working, her doctor switched her to another brand.

“My doctor sent me for a blood test which showed that I had stopped producing estrogen,” she says. On his advice, she started hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to deal with the menopausal symptoms, and found some success with it at first. “For a while, the estrogen helped reduce my soaked night sweats to mild perspiration,” says Kim. The leaden feeling in her face was somewhat reduced. Eventually, however, the symptoms returned and the chronic pain throughout her body got worse.

Kim also started getting sick more often, and in January 2012 she developed pneumonia while on a trip to Hawaii. It completely flattened her, leaving her unable even to walk. “I came home in a wheelchair and didn’t leave my house for five weeks,” says Kim. When she finally went back to work, she felt like a robot, and was able to accomplish 20 percent of 
what she could before. “I felt myself slipping away.”

Finding regenerative medicine
In March 2012, a friend referred Kim to Dr. Kristy Prouse, an ob-gyn at the Institute for Hormonal Health in Oakville, ON. Dr. Prouse specializes in anti-aging and regenerative medicine,  with a focus on hormonal health.

Kim was diagnosed with Stage 3/4 adrenal fatigue (hypocortisolism) and estrogen and progesterone deficiency. Adrenal fatigue is a disruption of cortisol levels caused by emotional and physical stress, as well as stressors caused by infections, inflammation, food sensitivities and environmental toxins.

“Disruption to energy levels and sleep, exaggerated PMS symptoms, depression, anxiety, irritability, gastrointestinal issues and weight issues are classic signs of adrenal fatigue,” says Dr. Prouse.

“I remember Dr. Prouse saying, ‘I know you’re in pain right now.’ This was crucial for me, because it was the first time I felt someone understood where I was at and how acute the situation was,” says Kim. Unfortunately, Dr. Prouse couldn’t offer the quick fix Kim had been hoping for. Instead, Kim was prescribed IV therapy, to help replenish vitamins and nutrients missing in her system. “Most people [with her stage of adrenal fatigue] are on IV for three months, and many don’t feel a shift in the right direction until after six weeks,” says Kim. “It was so deflating. I wanted a magic bullet.”

Casting her doubts aside, Kim decided to start the program. She went off hormone replacement therapy but continued with the sleeping pills and started once-per-week vitamin IV therapies that lasted 30 minutes each.

“The first five weeks felt like forever, but things slowly started to improve,” says Kim. In June 2012, Kim stopped taking sleeping pills. She still experienced hot flashes, but her head began to clear and she started to feel more like herself again.

After eight weeks of IV therapy, Kim was sleeping three to four hours per night—a great improvement over the 1.5 to two hours she had been getting. By August 2012, Kim’s periods resumed and everything started to level out. It turns out she had not been “body-slammed” into menopause. Ever since, Kim has had normal periods and the hot flashes, chronic pain and aching face mask that caused her so much stress are gone.

“I’m sleeping like a teenager again,” says Kim, who now gets as much as 10 to 11 hours of sleep per night. Her energy levels are high and she’s finally thinking clearly and crisply, like before.

Unlike prescription drugs, the IV therapies were a temporary fix. Once her body returned to normal, Kim stopped the monthly treatments, and she only returns for a top-up when her body signals that it’s getting run down. In September 2013, Kim went for a therapy boost after a spate of business travel left her exhausted. Her last treatment was in March 2014 after a period of ongoing work stress.

“It turns out I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was at controlling and managing my stress,” says Kim, adding that she has now learned to pull back a bit and slow down.

“It’s in my nature to always want to push things to the brink,” says Kim. “Well, I found my brink and went over it. I don’t want to do that again.”

Christine's story
Conventional diagnosis: Herniated disc
Alternative diagnosis: Tension myositis syndrome

Six years ago, Christine bent over and her life changed. She was at work, trying to drag her chair closer to a table, when an excruciating wave of pain shot through her lower back. The 26-year-old had always been in great health and had never experienced back pain.

The pain worsened and, after a week of bed rest, she went to the emergency room. An MRI scan showed she had a herniated disc. Christine was told to take two more weeks of rest.

After a month, she was moving around again, but the shooting back pains returned. “I would have four or five episodes of really bad pain each year,” recalls Christine. Most would last for a few days to two weeks, but some would last for up to a month. Doctors prescribed pain meds. She got pregnant and ballooned to 200 pounds. Losing the post-pregnancy weight didn’t pan out. Her doctor told her to stop exercising because of her back.

In 2009, against her doctor’s recommendations, Christine started working out. She lost 55 pounds in 15 months, but the back pain continued. (The excruciating pain was always from little things, not the exercise.) The pain persisted into 2011, after the birth of her second child. “I’d bend over to tie my shoe and my back would give out,” says Christine. “I got to a point where I was afraid to move at all.” Christine was at her wit’s end.

Finding out about TMS
Christine started to believe that back surgery was her only option. Then, in December 2011, she received an email from a coworker asking her to keep an open mind and to read the book Healing Back Pain. In it, Dr. John Sarno, MD, describes tension myositis syndrome (TMS) as a mind-body syndrome in which repressed emotions (usually from childhood) reveal themselves through physical pain. Dr. Sarno believes TMS is the cause of most back pain and several other ailments, including carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and stomach disorders.

“My immediate reaction was that I don’t have TMS,” says Christine. “I have real pain.” But as she read on, Christine saw herself on every page. “Most people are incapable of accepting that pain is caused not by a structural abnormality or an injury, but by the unconscious mind at work,” says Dr. Sarno. “No one wants to admit there’s something wrong with their emotions or mind."

Dr. Sarno is a professor of rehabilitation medicine at New York University’s School of Medicine and has been fighting critics his entire life. Now, at age 91, he’s receiving praise from celebrities such as Dr. Mehmet Oz (who describes him as “brilliant”) and Howard Stern (who calls him a “saint”).

“Accepting the diagnosis [of TMS] is the number one step to recovery,” says Dr. Sarno. “It’s often all that’s necessary for a full recovery.” The knowledge that the pain is coming from your emotions can often heal. “Within two weeks of reading the book, I was running around the mall without fear of what would happen to my back,” says Christine. She began exercising again and continued to read up on TMS to better understand the mind-body connection when it came to her pain.

It has been two years since Christine first picked up Dr. Sarno’s book, and her extreme pain has almost disappeared. Her last bad episode happened more than a year ago, when she went through a particularly rough emotional patch.

“Now, if I start to feel pain somewhere in my body, I believe it’s TMS and I can push through it and it goes away,” says Christine.

But remember, not all pain is TMS. “A medical doctor needs to screen you and rule out any serious physical cause of pain,” says Steven Ray Ozanich. If you think you may have TMS, read one of the above-mentioned books or Dr. Sarno’s more recent The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders, and then visit your doctor.

And as with any potentially serious health issue such as the ones mentioned in these stories, always make sure to get assessed by a medical professional before pursuing alternative treatments.

For more on alternative medicine, find out how natural remedies can cure the common cold.
                                               
This story was originally titled "Wonder Cures" in the August 2014 issue.
           
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