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Chronic disease: start by healing the gut

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Maggie (not her real name) was 40 when she came to see me, having suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for eight years.

She was in pain all the time unless she took her prescribed medications. Although they worked, she found the side-effects intolerable, especially the headache, tummy ache, dizziness and mouth ulcers.

So she oscillated between the pain and the side-effects, and she was very miserable. Many joints were sore at any one time, but the most disabling were the thumbs, the fingers and one hip. 

Maggie worked as a landscape designer but was now unable to do much actual gardening. (She had been an organic gardener from the start, so had not had contact with herbicides; we could cross them off the list of suspects). Maggie’s rheumatology consultant had measured her level of rheumatoid factor, a key antibody in rheumatoid arthritis, and it was sky high. 

I asked her whether there were times when the joint pains got better or worse. She couldn’t think of any, but her partner Kate could. “You always get worse when it rains!” she said. 

“It sounds daft, I know,” said Maggie, “but I’m in agony by the end of a wet day. Not after a brief shower, but when it’s been pouring all day.”

I learned two important things from her admission: first, symptoms caused by molds always get worse in wet weather. Molds love moisture; they thrive in it. Second, always bring a partner/friend/parent/adult child with you to a consultation; they will remember things about your health that you forget. (They can also take notes for you.) 

It turned out that Maggie had had a lot of contact with compost heaps and had also spent a lot of time sweeping up wet leaves in the autumn. These are both sources of outdoor molds. She later remembered that all her joints were at their worst in the autumn—when the mold count is highest. 

There were also apparently little patches of black mold in her bathroom, a common hazard in a room that always gets steamed up, particularly if you don’t have the window open, an extractor fan going and a heat source in the room in the winter.

Molds produce toxins called mycotoxins that can be as nasty as synthetic chemicals. We measured Maggie’s mycotoxin levels via a urine test sent to Great Plains Lab in the US (greatplainslaboratory.com). The test result showed many mycotoxins in Maggie’s urine, and at high levels. 

I told her to delegate all leaf sweeping and compost heap-turning to colleagues and ask someone else to clean the bathroom and remove the mold with Borax. A stool test showed that Maggie had some unfriendly fellow travelers in her gut microbiome, including yeasts and the bacteria Klebsiella and Pseudomonas. 

Overgrowth of Klebsiella in the gut is known to be associated with ankylosing spondylitis, another autoimmune disease of the joints and connective tissue, but I have often found Klebsiella in the stool tests of patients with arthritis, too. 

When this result came back, I quizzed Maggie again about her bowel habits—she said at the first consultation that it was 100 percent fine—but it turned out she was actually constipated most of the time. She simply thought it was normal to only move her bowels every two or three days. 

Healing begins in the intestines

My first remedy was my recipe for Dark Green Soup, which helps constipation enormously. Start as you would for any vegetable soup, frying onions and garlic in coconut oil, olive oil or butter. Add other vegetables you like—leeks, zucchini, carrots—and then two minutes before the end of cooking, add a large quantity of dark leafy greens such as spinach, bok choy, arugula, parsley, watercress, lettuce—these salad leaves are great in soup, too. 

Chard, kale and broccoli are a bit tougher than the others, so you might want to add them 10 minutes before the end of cooking, rather than two, or you could just steam them for five minutes before throwing them in the pot. 

Then, when it’s cooled a bit, whizz the soup up until it’s totally blended. It should be dark green. Constipated people often need less salad and more cooked greens. Freeze the soup in small batches so you can have a bowl of soup before dinner every evening.  

This sorted out Maggie’s constipation, but we still had to treat the bad bugs in her gut and  the molds that were still in her system. There is cross talk between the yeasts in the gut and the molds in the air—they are both single-celled fungi. So as well as encouraging Maggie to avoid sources of molds in the atmosphere, we used antifungal herbs to treat the molds in her gut. 

Some of the best are grapefruit seed extract, artemisia, black walnut, berberine, goldenseal, oregano and caprylic acid (from coconut). The wonderful thing is these herbs also combat unfriendly bacteria, not just fungi. 

A repeat stool test after six months showed the bacteria gone and the yeasts almost gone. Repeating the urine test showed a large reduction in the level of mycotoxins as well. 

I also gave Maggie lots of different probiotics in rotation to get maximum benefit. She did as much detoxification as her busy life allowed—Maggie and Kate had two school-age children—including colonic hydrotherapy, vegetable juicing and of course Epsom salts baths, which gave her considerable pain relief. 

Maggie’s joints improved a great deal, and her rheumatoid factor level went down to normal. But we did not have a cure. Her thumbs and fingers were almost pain-free, other joints that had been “threatening” stopped twinging, and her hip was now good enough so that she could manage without drugs. 

Nevertheless, the distortion of her hip joint architecture was permanent. Maggie will one day need a hip replacement, a brilliant and almost entirely successful operation. But prevention would, of course, have been better than cure. Maggie said: “I wish I’d found ecological medicine eight years ago.” 

I gave Maggie several natural anti-inflammatories, including fish oils and evening primrose oil (taken at separate times of day for maximum benefit), vitamin D, curcumin/turmeric and boswellia. Boswellia can be taken orally and also rubbed onto sore joints directly in the form of frankincense essential oil.
It smells amazing!

I made no radical changes to Maggie’s diet, other than introducing the Dark Green Soup, because her diet was already fine and, crucially, sugar free. Radical dietary changes do help some people with arthritis, but not all. When Maggie consulted me, she had already tried cutting out the usual arthritis culprits—meat, wheat, dairy, citrus and tomatoes—for a whole year, with no benefit. 

Nevertheless, this case history does demonstrate a key point: for treating almost any health problem, other than, say, a broken leg, begin with the gut. Healing begins in the intestines. 

I was lucky that Maggie was not on opiate painkillers; if she had been, withdrawing from those would have made my job, and her healing journey, incomparably harder. 

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