Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gluten Sensitivity Diagnosis is Accepted

It is December 31st so a little reflection is in order. 2009 was a big year for us personally as it was the year that the dream of publishing our book reached fruition.

“The Gluten Effect” was a combined labor of love and passionate mission. As clinicians we literally stumbled upon gluten 15 years ago as we analyzed patients for food reactions. As more and more patients were discovered to be sensitive we were literally amazed at the panoply of reactions associated with these supposed “innocent” and “healthy” grains.

We were initially taken aback that no one else seemed to be discussing this. Our gluten sensitive patients, for the most part, were not celiac sufferers. But they were certainly reacting to gluten and it was affecting them from their digestive tract to their nervous system to their hormonal balance to their joints. Were we hallucinating these reactions? Was there some placebo affect occurring?

I still remember so clearly discussing gluten with a mentor of mine about 8 years ago. He is a highly respected individual in the field of functional medicine and positively brilliant. I somewhat shyly proposed that he investigate gluten and gave a brief overview what I and my team were experiencing clinically. Ever the gracious gentleman, he was polite and attentive but I could tell from his reaction that he didn’t consider gluten to be a legitimate health issue.

Yet barely three years after that meeting he spoke for the first time about gluten at a national conference. Not that I needed his blessing, but if felt good to have someone I so respected begin to see what I was seeing.

About 2 ½ years ago while in the throes of writing “The Gluten Effect” with my co-author, we began to feel like renegades as we came to the realization that despite all the scientific research that we had to hand that supported our work, most of our fellow clinicians were completely unaware of it.

We braced ourselves for some disbelief and opposition.

About that same time I spoke to a leader of a national celiac group. This individual is absolutely passionate about educating Americans about celiac disease and decreasing the amount of time that it takes to receive a diagnosis. But when I discussed gluten sensitivity with her, she really had absolutely no information about it.

A mere year later she was completely on board due to some personal experiences she had with people close to her. They were ill, not celiac, but removing gluten from their diet completely resolved their health issues. She was convinced but what ensued was some infighting with traditional MDs who worked within her organization. She even had her grant money threatened for a period of time.

The happy ending is that, fortunately, scientific research caught up with the clinical observations we were witnessing in our patients and gluten sensitivity was validated this year from many previously skeptical experts including Dr Peter Green and Dr Alessio Fasano.

So while that “war” is over there are many battles ahead. We still have a traditional medical community that thinks celiac disease is impossible unless a patient has unrelenting diarrhea and is severely underweight. These clinicians believe that an intestinal biopsy is still the gold standard for diagnosis and that without complete obliteration of the intestinal villi, gluten can’t possibly be a problem for a patient.

On the other hand, research just came out in the British Journal of Nutrition whereupon they analyzed a group of non-gluten sensitive individuals who expressed a much healthier balance of microflora (good bugs) in their intestines after a 30 day gluten-free diet than was present prior to going gluten-free.

Does this mean that gluten isn’t good for anyone? Is there something truly pro-inflammatory in these grains such that they spell ill health for all who consume them?

Or, if a truly healthy small intestine could be achieved would tolerance to gluten rise, as some researchers postulate? And is dairy the underlying culprit that causes the initial irritation thus “allowing” gluten to create its inflammatory effects?

And will all these questions be answered in the New Year?

I for one (and my team) are already diligently working on these issues and if the timing continues to occur as it has been, just about the time we feel confident in stating our findings, there will be ample scientific research to corroborate them.

I am very excited for 2010. I am anticipating meeting more of my readers as many have already come to visit our Destination Clinic from around the world this past year. We are expanding our clinic quite dramatically this year to better educate and treat all who seek better health.

As always, please let me know your thoughts and how I may help you.

To your good health in 2010!

Dr Vikki Petersen
Founder of HealthNOW Medical Center
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect

Monday, December 28, 2009

Avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup in a Gluten Free Diet

We have spoken before about healthy diets. There has been mention of what to include and what to avoid but there is a substance I neglected to mention in earlier posts and it deserves your attention.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is not only unhealthy due to its ill effects on blood sugar and insulin resistance, but during its production mercury residues occur within. It’s estimated that the average U.S. person intakes about 50 gm of HFCS per day. This would equal about 28 mcg/day of ingested mercury!

Thimerasol in injections such as vaccinations and flu shots contain about 25 mcg of mercury per injection. Thimerasol has been removed from many injections due to the concern of mercury and its neurotoxicity. To think that the average American is potentially consuming that amount daily through HFCS is frightening.

What new research points to is that the bioaccumulation of toxins is what is creating much of the toxic load from which we are suffering. Many diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, M.S., ADD and autism, to name a few, have an association with heavy metal toxicity. So while 28 mcg in and of itself doesn’t sound like a lot, when you add that to all the other toxins coming from our environment, the accumulation is overwhelming the tissues of our body,in particular our nervous systems.

I will be speaking more on this topic and other sources of avoidable toxins but in the meantime I encourage you to make this easy and healthy choice – avoid all high fructose corn syrup for you, your children and family.

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen
Founder of HealthNOW Medical Center
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Lifestyle and Diet - the Miracles of Functional Medicine

Imagine if you will that people were aware of the fact that food was their best medicine and much in the way of prevention would occur from a healthful diet and lifestyle. Imagine too that drugs were reserved for very serious conditions and even then used with the purpose of acting as a temporary measure until the true root cause was identified and treated.

What would this world be like? I have a dream. This dream involves everyone being aware of the option of sane health care. I’m not so idealistic as to dream that everyone would utilize such a product, but that they knew that it was available and the benefits of it, would be a dream come true for me and it is that dream that drives me to do what I do each and every day.

A friend of mine just visited Tokyo, Japan. He loved his visit and one of the aspects that struck him most was how incredibly clean the city was. He commented: “I’d have eaten off the subway floor!” No doubt a bit of an exaggeration but he makes his point. Add this almost unbelievable cleanliness to the fact that this city positively teems with citizens and you begin to ponder how it happens. I asked him if he saw a lot of people who were responsible for keeping the city clean. (I was thinking of Disneyland where one constantly sees an employee sweeping and cleaning.) His response was no, but rather it seemed an ingrained habit of the people to maintain cleanliness. It’s a bit amazing when you think of it.

My friend continued to say that when he returned to his home in San Francisco he was almost sickened by the dirt of the city in comparison to Tokyo.

Of course this conversation had me quickly leaping to my favorite topic of healthcare and I began to dream my favorite dream – what would happen if we could alter our culture of health along the lines of Japanese cleanliness. While it’s overwhelming to think of “cleaning up” downtown San Francisco, what if everyone suddenly got the idea of keeping their surroundings clean? How long would it take to have a clean city?

Similarly if everyone got the idea of natural healthcare and the importance of lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, how long would it take to have a healthier society? Fortunately this is not a rhetorical question. Some of my personal heroes from the field of Functional Medicine have some very exciting statistics to support my “dream”.

Listen to this from the following clinicians who posted this article a few months ago:

Rescuing Health Reform: Why Doctors Should Practice Lifestyle Medicine
September 15, 2009
Mark Hyman, MD, Dean Ornish, MD, and Mike Roizen, MD

Mark Hyman is Vice Chair of The Institute for Functional Medicine, Dean Ornish is Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and Mike Roizen is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic

Recently, at a small gathering in Martha’s Vineyard, the economist Larry Summers spoke about the nation’s narrow escape from economic depression. Dr. Summers addressed the even larger impending risks to our economy if the costs of health care are not successfully addressed now.
He was asked how we could control these costs without tackling the root causes of the problem. The chronic diseases that affect 160 million Americans account for 78% of our $2.1 trillion in annual health care costs. Lifestyle and environmental factors –our diet, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and chronic stress—are the most important underlying causes of these diseases.
But most believe that doctors don’t “do” lifestyle. Dr. Summers dismissed “lifestyle” as a community and public health issue that was already included in the current plan. He didn’t understand that physicians can and must do lifestyle medicine to effectively treat disease and dramatically reduce health care costs. Lifestyle factors leading to chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer are the domain of doctors and not merely a “public health problem.”

Lifestyle medicine is not just about preventing chronic diseases but also about treating them, often more effectively and less expensively than relying only on drugs and surgery. Nearly all the major medical societies recently joined in publishing a review of the scientific evidence for lifestyle medicine both for the prevention and TREATMENT of chronic disease. There is strong evidence that this approach works and saves money. Unfortunately, insurance doesn’t usually pay for it. No one profits from lifestyle medicine, so it is not part of medical education or practice. It should be the foundation of our health care system.

For example, the recent “EPIC” study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine studied 23,000 people’s adherence to 4 simple behaviors (not smoking, exercising 3.5 hours a week, eating a healthy diet [fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and low meat consumption], and keeping a healthy weight [BMI <30]). In those adhering, 93% of diabetes, 81% of heart attacks, 50% of strokes and 36% of all cancers were prevented.

“Prevention” therapies as written into current health care bills are public health and community based wellness initiatives, or payment for early detection of disease with mammograms, colonoscopies and other screening tests. As the Congressional Budget Office recently indicated, early detection without treating the major underlying causes of chronic diseases—our lifestyle choices—may actually add to costs.

While health insurance reform is important, it is insufficient. We must not only change who is covered but also what is covered to include personalized lifestyle medicine if we are to make current treatments more effective and less costly.

When the underlying lifestyle causes are not addressed, medications to treat chronic diseases usually have to be taken for a lifetime. If the causes are addressed, patients are usually able to reduce or stop taking these medications and often avoid surgery (under their doctor’s supervision).

Personalized lifestyle medicine is a high-science, high-touch, low-tech, low-cost treatment that is more effective for the top five chronic diseases than our current approaches. If lifestyle treatments were applied to all patients with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome (obesity), prostate cancer, and breast cancer, then net health care expenditures could be reduced by $930 billion over 5 years, according to analysts from the Cleveland Clinic. This will result in dramatically better health and quality of life.

On August 6, 2009, Senator Ron Wyden [D-OR] introduced new legislation, the “Take Back Your Health” Act (S. 1640) that includes payment for intensive lifestyle medicine as treatments, not just prevention. This legislation has bipartisan co-sponsorship by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA).

So as you can see, not only is this dream shared by others, but it’s a dream that’s validity is already substantiated by research.

Please show your support for this in any way that you see fit, and as always, let me know how I can assist you in any way.

To your good health,

Dr Vikki Petersen
Founder of HealthNOW Medical Center
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect