What You Should Eat: Why Every Diet Book Is Wrong.

Right before I got diagnosed with colon cancer, I wrote a book on our guts, called Tending Your Internal Garden. In it, I found some pretty exciting things (like you have thousands of unique species living inside you right now). 

But science marches on, and now we have research that shows why diet books and diet experts don’t agree. They are all right, and they are all wrong.

Why? Because you’re unique.

No, seriously. This isn’t a “feel good” moment.

This is an “Oops, that means they don’t know” moment. 

Yep. All the diet experts out there cannot tell you what the best diet is for you because you have a unique ecosystem. Your responses to food are your own. You literally can make yourself sick eating like they tell you to if you ignore yourself. Just because it worked for “buns of steel” diet-guru-of-the-week does not mean it will work for you.

Here’s the TED video detailing how they found this out, with some suggestions about tracking your own blood sugar response (not something most people are going to do). 

But the question on my mind is this: how long until they figure out that all of our drug reactions are unique as well? Will that be an Aha! moment for modern medicine, the moment we realize that the framework of “managing patients” and “following algorithms” is just an icing on what is guesswork based on nothing? Will we start the movement toward individualized care as being not only the only sane model, but the only scientific one as well? I can dream. 

Reversing Diabetes Without Drugs

It can seem with any chronic illness that the road is one way. You can slow the progression using drugs, but there is no way to go back. This feels particularly true with patients who have diabetes. Yet a new study shows that isn’t the case. 

The researchers in this study used a novel new approach called diet, foregoing the usual drugs. They found that diabetes patients, many of whom had been diabetic for years, were able to reverse their diabetes by using a low-calorie diet and dropping about thirty pounds. 

The numbers the researchers saw in these patients were similar to those seen in weight-loss surgery patients. Surgical practices advertise that they can reverse diabetes, but it usually involves a major surgery and the subsequent loss of over a hundred pounds. 

What happened in the low-calorie diet was that diabetic patients were able to reset their insulin levels and increase their body’s ability to process sugar. The question is why this study needed to be done at all. Shouldn’t diet be the first treatment for diabetes? But doctors reach first for drugs now, even in the U.K. You didn’t honestly think this kind of study would ever be done in the U.S., did you? Here’s more for the geeks among us, and here’s the original study abstract for your doctor.


The Truth About the Outback Vision Protocol

Here’s the question: if something is amazingly successful, why does it need to saturate the airwaves with advertising?

That’s the problem with the Outback Vision Protocol, which was first sent to me by a patient. The extremely long infomercial-style presentation promised me that two marvelous supplements would cure very serious vision problems. My hearty presenter informed me that these supplements, with the addition of kangaroo meat, are what a keen-eyed group of soldiers use for superhuman vision. They cured his wife’s eye problems and they could cure mine. 

Some of you already can see what’s coming. But if you’re one of the millions of people dealing with macular degeneration, you might keep reading and pull out your credit card. So let me save you the time. (Read more here). 

At long last, the supplements were revealed to me. They were (drumroll please) lutein and zeaxanthin. If I seem underwhelmed, I am. These are not mysterious or new. They’ve been around for decades. In fact, they’ve even been tested for exactly the sort of use that the presenter is making on his infomercial. AREDS 2 tested the use of lutein and zeaxanthin for macular degeneration because researchers saw enough possible benefit. The study was done, and the results are already back. 

“In the AREDS2 trial, adding DHA/EPA or lutein/zeaxanthin to the original formulation (containing beta-carotene) had no additional overall effect on the risk of advanced AMD.” 

So, yes, some supplementation can help with worsening macular degeneration risk, but it’s unsexy stuff  from AREDS 1 like:

  • 500 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C
  • 400 international units of vitamin E
  • 15 mg beta-carotene
  • 80 mg zinc as zinc oxide
  • 2 mg copper as cupric oxide

These were the original ingredients in AREDS 1, which did show benefit in preventing advancing macular degeneration. The Outback people say that AREDS supports their claims, but no one running the AREDS trials would support claiming that any supplement would reverse eye degeneration. 

I ask myself, if the study has already been done, why is this David Riley pushing supplements that don’t work? Well, to begin with, he’s not David Riley. It says so on his extensive disclaimer page. Another ad campaign features another name with the same protocol: Bill Campbell’s Outback Vision Protocol. We’ve got pages of fake reviews of the protocol by reviewers like “Jrhonest” who claims to write an honest review but just repastes the same information of the other fake reviews. The only place to get real reviews of the Protocol are on sites like Amazon that work hard to prevent the kind of spamming Campbell has done elsewhere. What does Amazon say? (The book has been pulled from Amazon because of terrible reviews, so the link now goes to German.) Save your money. 

So, before all of you ask me to write a book on vision loss, I’ve already started. Here’s a sneak preview: do you know what helps vision? Exercise. NOT eye exercises. Exercise for your body. Study after study supports getting out and moving more. 


How turmeric and diet can help NF1 patients.

A new study, brought to my attention by another patient, shows wonderful news for both children and adults with NF1. We finally have evidence that this genetic disease can be seriously improved through dietary intervention. It also gives evidence that supplements added to a bad diet won’t help much.

The study followed NF1 patients for six months, on either the Mediterranean or Western diets. Neither diet impacted the rate of neurofibromas. Then the researchers added 1200 mg (three capsules worth) of turmeric to the diets. Adding turmeric to the western diet did nothing. But adding it to the Mediterranean diet caused a slowing in the buildup of neurofibromas.

Having a diet and a single supplement slow the progression of a genetic disease is wonderful. It means that the disease is not genetic in its symptoms, but epigenetic. Epigenetics is the study of how the body turns off and on genes. The diet and the supplement were able to turn off the progression of neurofibromas.

But what is truly startling is that several of the patients experienced a reversal of existing neurofibromas! That’s not just epigenetic, that’s a switching on of other genes that are significantly repairing previous damage. It opens the door to moving NF1 away from the genetic category, into a metabolic disorder that should be addressed from birth.

In my book, Helping Your NF1 Child: A Parent’s Guide To Neurofibromatosis, I argue for this outlook on the illness. But I did not expect to have this kind of evidence that dietary and lifestyle interventions could reverse the disease.

Here’s the full study available for online reading. It is small and preliminary, but very exciting! We need more studies. 

Why Colon Cancer Won’t Be 100% Cured By A Mouse Study.

As someone who’s had colon cancer, I was excited by the Newsmax headline that trumpeted. “3-Step Treatment Cures Colorectal Cancer in Mice” (yes, I use a variety of news sources, NPR to Newsmax). But when they said that this new treatment was 100% cure, I got suspicious. 

When I get suspicious, I go digging. The Newsmax story didn’t give me enough specifics to find the original medical article, but I found it eventually. The original title is a mind-numbing, “Curative Multicycle Radioimmunotherapy Monitored by Quantitative SPECT/CT-Based Theranostics, Using Bispecific Antibody Pretargeting Strategy in Colorectal Cancer.” It makes me wonder if I missed the class in medical school on how to write the most boring headlines imaginable. 

The most exciting word of the headline is “curative.” These mice were cured. But these mice didn’t get colon cancer the normal way (bad lifestyle choices and poor genetics). They had human colon cancer cells xenografted onto them. If that sounds Dr. Frankensteinish, it is. You get a specifically bred mouse that won’t reject the human cells, then you graft on separately grown cancer cells. The result may or not be relevant to even cancer growth in regular mice. A lot of cancer research has moved away from these mice because regular mice give us a better sense of regular cancer growth. But the xenograft can use human cells, that may or may not give us a better sense of how human cancers would respond to a treatment.  

So maybe this is a cure for colon cancer? Well…maybe. How many mice were treated? Ten. How many got better? Ten, but they only assessed nine of the mice under a microscope. The abstract didn’t mention what happened to the tenth mouse. 

Before I sign up for this particular treatment, I think I’ll at least wait for the bigger mouse trial. Call me a skeptic, but I like at least a hundred xenografted Frankenstein mice in my studies before I think about it. Not to mention a primate trial, small experimental human trials on metastatic patients, and finally a large-scale trial of human patients. In other words, we’re years from having this news really be news you can use. 

Dr. Sarno, All THE RAGE, and Chronic Back Pain.

Today, for those of us in the chronic back pain field, Dr. Sarno is a bit of a legend. He has a perpetually best-selling book, multiple celebrity endorsements, and an established place in the NY medical community. When I wrote my own book on chronic back pain, I looked at him as a leader in the field. 

But the movie All The Rage brings that idea into a sharp contrast with the reality of Dr. Sarno’s ideas being largely ignored by his colleagues. Not just ignored, disregarded as foolish. In a world where we cut, inject, and numb with our strongest painkillers, Dr. Sarno’s solution of the mind has no place. His results were disregarded as placebo, and his colleagues did not refer their patients to him because they did not believe what he was doing could work.

In the past year we have had the medical realization that our strongest painkillers are not more effective than lesser, over-the-counter medication. They are also addictive, creating a crisis that kills patients and robs others of their health. Our surgeries are not as effective as advertised, leaving half of those going under the knife still in agony. We have no better solutions, and Dr. Sarno seems all the wiser for seeing the obvious well before the rest of his colleagues.

Is Dr. Sarno’s mind-over-pain the answer? No. But it is half the answer. The half that has been silenced, ignored, and ridiculed. Today we know that a patient’s emotional state before a surgery has as much effect on the pain after the surgery as the best surgical team. We know that chronic pain can appear and continue with or without any visible mechanical problem. And we know that the mind, when used properly, can be more effective at pain management than our most powerful drugs.

All The Rage captures the profoundly personal journey of chronic pain, detailing one family’s issues with chronic pain and their encounters with the enigmatic Dr. Sarno. Through them, we see his own journey, his progression from traditionalist to staunch pioneer in the pain field. All The Rage captures the beginning, the middle, and the end of Dr. Sarno’s career seen through the lens of a filmmaker forced to cross the fourth wall from objective observer to unwilling participant. In so doing, the film becomes as much autobiographical as biographical, giving us an intimate portrait of the true effect of chronic pain on a family. We see the origin, the arc, and the possible resolution of a lifelong dance with pain. By the end, the viewer wants to see more of the family’s journey, but hopes for their sake that no sequel is ever necessary.

If you have experienced chronic pain and wondered if perhaps there was an emotional aspect, Dr. Sarno is here on the screen to squinch up his bushy eyebrows and tell you, “Of course there is a direct relationship.” All the more helpful, now that he has left his practice and gone to that medical classroom in the sky. He passed away in June, 2017, leaving his books, his legacy, and this movie to catalogue his passing. While they did not appreciate him in his life, the medical community may yet learn to use what he left us to help solve the puzzle of intractable pain.


All The Rage (Saved by Sarno) from rumur on Vimeo.

A 200% Increase In Powassan Virus In Maine?

Is your inner anxiety not yet up to “impending catastrophe?” Are you not watching enough political media to make your blood boil? Here’s a new threat, possibly lurking in your backyard, Powassan virus!

The earliest mention of Powassan Virus in online medical journals is from 1959,  when it was first named after a town in Ontario where it was found. That 1959 medical article mentions that Powassan had probably been around for decades. So why are we hearing so much about it now?

Well, we’ve just had two cases of Powassan in Maine. By just, I mean that we just had two more cases. Two earlier cases this year were reported in a Bangor Daily article back in April. Those were from around Portland, and these two new ones are from the midcoast region. Bringing our total for the year to four cases.

At the same time, we’re counting hundreds of Lyme cases, so why do we care so much about Powassan? Well, according to the CDC, Maine only had two Powassan cases IN THE PAST TEN YEARS. So the four this year brings our total up to a headline causing,

“Two hundred percent increase in Powassan in Maine!”

Is Powassan a true terror? Yes and no. It’s not new to Maine, and previous surveys have found it widely spread (but not very common) among Maine’s tick populations. We had another notable outbreak at the turn of the Millenium, four cases that included both Maine and Vermont. Checking residents, between 1% and 4% of Mainers likely have antibodies to Powassan.

But Powassan is scary because it’s viral and we don’t have a good treatment. Arguably, we don’t have great treatments for Lyme either, but that’s a whole different issue (a bit more on that later). 

If you get Powassan, you very likely won’t get symptoms. If you do get symptoms, they feel like the flu and you’ll likely recover. But if you get symptoms and your body doesn’t kick it, there’s very little modern medicine can do for you besides support you. Just like any number of other viruses. 

If it starts to feel vaguely familiar, it should. Powassan is a flavivirus. Yes, like Zika virus. Different subspecies, same family. Powassan’s flaviviral branch includes Russian spring-summer encephalitis, Central European encephalitis, Omsk hemorrhagic fever, Kyasanur Forest disease, and Powassan. Just reading through its close family members, you should get the sense that Powassan is likely coming from a more northern branch of the flavivirus family than Zika.  

Also notice that every one of these viruses has a pretty scary sounding name. Omsk hemorrhagic fever sounds like a reason to never, ever visit Omsk, which Dostoevsky immortalized as “a hateful hellhole” but which likely influenced all his writing since he was imprisoned there. (They now have a museum for him.) 

A large part of the problem of the flaviviruses is that we’re still assigning every member of the flavivirus family a new name. Think about the flu viruses. We had swine flu, avian flu, etc. and they sound much scarier than H1N1, which is another variation of the same family of viruses. All of the flaviviruses should be assigned a number so that we understand that this isn’t a total unknown, this is another member of a well known and widespread set of viruses that has been with humanity for centuries. Public health officials have started the process by labeling the four different strains of Dengue fever (another flavivirus) one through four rather than giving them all different names like the four horsemen of the Apocolypse. 

According to the CDC, “Powassan (POW) virus is transmitted to humans by infected ticks. Approximately 75 cases of POW virus disease were reported in the United States over the past 10 years.” So our four cases of POW will really make the news. Maine, home of the Whoopie pie, the lobster roll, and the obscure tickborne illness. Is this really what we want to be known for? 

So, should we just watch out for ticks to protect ourselves from Powassan? Maybe. I would argue that the flaviviruses are largely misunderstood as only vector-borne diseases. I’ve mapped this out in Zika Virus When You’re Expecting and I talk about focusing on just ticks in Why Chronic Lyme Doesn’t (And Does) Exist. Blood born diseases need to be seen as more widespread and contagious than we’d like to think. 

But, because they are much more widespread, they also may be much less deadly than they would appear from the very few serious cases that get reported. Powassan reports of serious side effects may indicate a spread of the disease in Maine. But the number of symptom-free cases of Powassan will continue to dwarf the number of serious reported cases. 

Should you worry about Powassan? No more than you would about getting a serious flu and not recovering. While this year in Maine we had four hospitalizations from Powassan, we also had 586 hospitalizations for the flu.

For the few of you heedless folk who ignore the Lyme warnings, who’ve still been frolicking in the buff in tick-infested fields, I doubt if the added threat of Powassan will convince you to change your behavior. For those of us who are already avoiding the fields and doing tick checks, don’t let the fear of more rapid transmission of Powassan panic you. Continue doing what you’ve been doing, and take care of yourself if you get sick. As a virus, all of the things you would do to help yourself get better from the flu would apply to Powassan too.   

NYT Article On Salt: A Rhythm And Weight Loss

Salt may not make you thirsty, and it may help with weight loss. 

Yep, those on the conclusions of a NYT article on Russian Cosmonaut studies. Researchers rarely get to put people in isolation and measure all their excretions (what a great job!) so they can be forgiven for missing this particular discovery. 

It turns out that the cosmonauts had twenty-eight-day cycle of salt retention, even if they were on a low salt diet. Because these were men, it’s a new discovery. If they’d been women, everyone would have said, “I knew that.” 

The men also lost weight when they ate lots of salt, and weren’t thirstier overall. Again, this seems miraculous until you remember that iodine reacts with the thyroid to stimulate thyroid function. Lots of salt, lots of thyroid function. But the reason we don’t do tons of salt is because you can’t really control thyroid function well with salt. Sometimes it becomes active (weight loss) sometimes it gets very active (panic attack) and sometimes it desensitizes the body to thyroid (weight gain despite all your best efforts). 

So, while researchers scratch their heads, here’s the take home. Turns out men have a twenty-eight-day cycle too. If he’s cranky and looks bloated, it may really be his time of the month. 

New Norwegian Study Supports The Colon Cancer Diet’s Recommendations.

A recent Norwegian study on aspirin and colon cancer patients was published in May. Unlike many other, smaller studies, they were able to survey the entire population and had automatically recorded their aspirin use from over ten years ago. Bad for personal privacy, good for medical research. 

The study combined all cancer groups, but found a significant (15%) reduction in cancer deaths directly associated with aspirin use. Stage II patients benefitted slightly more. 

 Aspirin is recommended in my book, The Colon Cancer Diet, though my personal experience with it has been that it likely increased my CEA. It’s nice to see it being supported so broadly.

A study of this size is wonderful because it doesn’t just make the alternative medical journals. Not only did the study get written up by N.D.s (article here), it appears on a conservative Texas Colon Cancer Research Center’s site.


Hopefully, the broad interest will translate into a changing of recommendations for colon cancer patients. The problem is that adding aspirin after surgery might make surgeons concerned about bleeding. So the proper time to recommend aspirin would be at the six week follow-up appointment.

Should Colon Cancer Patients Take Avemar or Fermented Wheat Germ Extract?

So many products have no medical research, it’s hard to say no to one that does. Avemar is sold widely and used by many practitioners, so why would I not recommend it? I don’t, and here’s why. 


Patented back in 1998, fermented wheat germ extract (Avemar) was supposedly Dr.Hidvégi’s life work. He based it on Dr. Gyorgi’s idea that compounds like it might balance blood sugars. So how did we get from balancing blood sugars to curing cancer?

The company isn’t saying, but I suspect that this particular extract tastes terrible. The initial studies talked about basically a paste you had to eat. They’ve added more water and an orange flavor, but that usually is a sign of something fairly unpalatable. 

But there are studies. We’ve got test tube studies, rat studies, and an open label human trial for colon cancer patients. Overall, the results are all very positive. An article by another enthusiastic practitioner pushing the product for all cancers brought it to my attention. 

Let’s skip the other studies and move right into the human trial. The open-label trial showed that the product lowers recurrence and metastasis. So sign me up, right?

Not necessarily. The open label trial started with this selection process: “Patients were asked if they prefer to take MSC (Avemar), and thus enrolled in the MSC cohort. Those patients who refused to take the preparation formed the control cohort.” In other words, those who wanted to try anything to get better took the product, while those who couldn’t be bothered didn’t. The researchers note that there were more advanced cancers in the study group, as well as that the control group was older. Both groups got other treatments, including radiation and chemotherapy, and there wasn’t any difference in outcomes between the two groups due to those treatments. Those taking the product took nine mg of it, once a day in water, for months. The effect was startling: “MSC decreased the risk of death among colorectal cancer patients by nearly 70%.”

A 70% reduction is astounding, especially if we’re talking about metastatic patients who made up almost a quarter of those taking the product.

So…where are our follow-up studies? The initial open-label study was published in 2003, and we’ve seen many other test-tube studies since. But these are in other areas, things like Lupus or Rheumatoid Arthritis. Avemar is still being discussed as an addition to chemotherapy because it may help with side effects, but there hasn’t been another study published on a human colon cancer trial since. The initial study was funded by a grant from the Hungarian government, so maybe that grant wasn’t renewed? My suspicion is that a second study did not show as significant a benefit, and they never published it. Instead, they did what every drug manufacturer does. Look for other possible uses for your drug rather than trying to find a new one. 

So, since Dr. Hidvégi is listed as a co-author for several of the Avemar studies, I thought I would look more closely at his life’s work. Interestingly, he seems to have spent much of his career working in the grain industry, switching over to working in the supplement field in 1990. His first patented product was called Esterin (an alfalfa based extract), which supposedly lowered cholesterol. 

Now, there’s a lot of research on alfalfa saponins and lowered cholesterol. It stretches farther back than Dr. Hidvégi. But even in 2014 we’re still looking at rat studies. That didn’t stop Dr. Hidvégi from patenting his compound, exclusively marketing it through a single U.S. company as Cholestaid or on Amazon as Cholestsorb. It’s not available anymore, and a lawsuit in 2004 details how GNC repackaged it for years

Here’s the updated history, then, of Dr. Dr. Hidvégi. He started his own company to sell a patented product, Avemar, after failing to sell another patented product Esterin. With Esterin he made the mistake of reselling it to many supplement companies, but now he’s figured out that exclusivity is the key. 

All of this is interesting, but is it relevant? Yes. Because now we come to cost. A thirty day supply of Avemar will cost around $200. That’s an absurd price, unless you’re a drug manufacturer, which is where Avemar is going with the current research. Rather than focus on the retail crowd, Dr. Hidvégi is angling his product to be included in with chemotherapy. Given that chemo tends to run $1500 a treatment, a $200 add-on makes a lot of sense. 

But in terms of cancer patients, a $200 price tag means trading food for Avemar. And that price tag does not meet the minimum requirements for matching the one human trial. The trial subjects took nine mg of Avemar a day, while the daily dose given for $200 is 5.5 mg. So to match the only human trial, patients would need to double their dosage at $400 a month. 

Even that dosage might not be enough. Japanese researchers found a benefit from Avemar, but at a dose in rates of one mg for every two pounds of body weight. To afford that, a 100 pound patient would need ten standard packets a day at a cost of $2000 (maybe less. They sell it cheaper in bulk). 

If Avemar were priced affordably, I would consider it. The side-effect picture is very mild, and -especially for metastatic patients- the open label results were very hopeful. But given the cost, and the lack of any further studies despite drug-level prices, I’d have to pass on Avemar.