This is a tale of two people, intimately related, both ill, with different diseases but from the same cause. Names and identifying features have been changed to protect their anonymity.
Martina lived in a small village in central Europe. She had had chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) for many years when she came to see me and was barely coping with her role as a housewife and mother of two young children. She was only 32 years old but struggled to get through the day, collapsing in a heap on the sofa by 4:00 p.m. and never feeling well or clear-headed.
In the course of taking her medical history, I asked a question one should always ask about a patient’s symptoms: “Have you noticed anything that makes you better and anything that makes you worse?”
“My first pregnancy was almost like a cure!” Martina replied. “Before it, I had had years of being unable to get out of bed, almost unable to function. Then for nine months, my body had some energy, and my mind was so much clearer! After the birth I slowly got worse again, but I never went back to anything like as bad as I had been before.”
“And how is the child of that first pregnancy?” I asked, with considerable trepidation.
“Oh, Lana’s not strong,” she replied. “She had cancer when she was three. She’s been through surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The pediatric oncologist says she is cured. The cancer is gone, but she is small for her age, and pale, and her school is only 10 minutes’ walk away but we have to drive her there. She just doesn’t have the energy to walk. She is nine now, but she’s the size of a five-year-old and very skinny.”
Eventually, I discovered that Martina’s CFS had begun rather abruptly, some years before Lana was conceived, and that no fewer than 14 other people in her small village, almost all of them women, had become ill with very similar symptoms in the same week.
It emerged that the village was by a river, and that an accidental spill had occurred at a factory located about a mile (two kilometers) upstream. The prevailing wind also blew from the factory toward the village.
The factory manufactured chemicals, but Martina wasn’t sure which kind. Apparently, hundreds of farm animals had died in the fields just below the factory. And as yet none of the other people in the village who had become ill had recovered.
My understanding is that whatever chemicals from the industrial accident contaminating the air, water and soil of the village had led to the symptoms that Martina and the other residents experienced. And these substances, still not cleared from Martina’s system owing to her poor detoxification capacity, had “detoxed” through the placenta into her daughter Lana. This is not the kind of “detox” that we ever want to happen.
Although just the hormones of pregnancy could have improved Martina’s CFS symptoms, that was unlikely because she experienced no such improvement in her second pregnancy. And I have seen many families where a disease linked with toxicity, such as autism with evidence of heavy metals like mercury or aluminum present in the child, occurs in the first child and not in subsequent children.
The first child takes the worst hit of whatever industrial pollutants (including metal dental fillings) the mother has on board. After this “placental detox,” the subsequent children seem to be safer. This is why pre-conception care is so vital; detox before you conceive, so you don’t detox into your baby.
CFS has many causes, and in most of the cases I see, chemical toxicity is just one of several contributory factors. Stress, viral infections, genetic predisposition, sleep deprivation, poor nutrition and electro-sensitivity are all potential tributaries emptying into the final common pathway that leads to the constellation of symptoms we call CFS/ myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).
The genetic component is important; people vary greatly in their capacity to detoxify (break down and remove) industrial toxins, which is why some but not all of the villagers became ill. This is a perfect example of biochemical individuality.
It was difficult to help Martina make a full recovery; she could not rest, and rest is essential to get better from CFS. But she did bring Lana to see me and made it clear that Lana, not herself, was the priority patient.
Despite having heard Martina’s description of Lana, it was still shocking to meet her and particularly difficult to accept that she was nine years old. She was bright and cheerful but weak, floppy and tiny. She looked anemic, and a blood test confirmed this; she had a very low iron level and in fact was startlingly deficient in every single mineral and vitamin that I tested.
Her diet was poor, lacking in fruit and vegetables, but she was also dealing with the lasting damage that chemotherapy can do to the gut. This meant that even on a really good diet, she might still not absorb her nutrients optimally—we had to do some gut repair. Furthermore, post-chemo fatigue can cause sugar cravings, and we had to break that vicious circle.
I put Lana on a greatly improved diet with lots of fruit and veggies and gave her nutritional supplements, all in liquid form for easier absorption, plus probiotics and several herbs and nutrients specifically to heal up the gut lining, including slippery elm, aloe vera, marshmallow (the herb, not the confectionary!), glutamine, glucosamine and cabbage juice.
A year later, Lana had grown 4 inches (10 cm), filled out and almost looked her age. She was no longer pale, and most importantly she was no longer weak or tired. She was not only walking to school, she was playing sports for the first time in her life. Her energy level was normal.
Even I was surprised at the speed and the extent of her improvement. And it was just basic nutritional medicine; no rocket science involved.
As well as illustrating what industrial pollution can do to us, this case raises the important question, “What constitutes recovery?” Before she’d seen me, every time Martina took Lana to her six-monthly check-up with her pediatric oncologist, she asked what could be done to bring back Lana’s vigor. In each case, the oncologist had just shrugged. Martina was given to understand that she should be grateful her daughter was alive, and not expect her to grow tall and strong as well.
At the oncology review they had shortly after I saw the transformed, 4-inch-taller Lana, Martina was greatly looking forward to showing the oncologist how much her daughter had improved. She told him all about the nutritional treatments, and he could see for himself the dramatic changes.
But he wasn’t interested. His job was to treat cancer, and he’d done it successfully. His job wasn’t to enquire into its causes or to wonder how he could help take Lana from cancer-free-but-still-exhausted-and-anemic to cancer-free and really healthy. Or even to wonder how that had in fact happened. Which is odd, because the essence of the medical outlook is, surely, to be curious.