The Ten Deadliest Mythical Diseases, Part 2

One result of mythical diseases is inappropriate medical treatment. (courtesy Frenkieb/flickr)

The second half of my top 10 mythical disease list is sure to stir up some contention, as I will be taking on some sacred cows of both the mainstream and alternative medical communities. Regardless of the controversy that it might cause, addressing these myths directly will help us — both doctor and patient — to arrive at more accurate understandings of the health problems that we encounter and struggle with.

Why do I call these “mythical” diseases? Because they exist only to wrongly describe a phenomenon which we insufficiently understand. Sort of like Zeus chucking thunderbolts about the heavens until we discovered that lightning is only an electrical discharge. Once we knew of lightning’s true origins, we became more able to protect ourselves from it, rather than scurrying about in fear of an unhappy god.

The same thing applies with these diseases. So long as we ascribe them to poorly-fitting taxonomies, we will be unable to create effective solutions. If we throw away our distorting glasses, seeing them anew, we can investigate and apply new solutions. My first item on the second half of my top 10 is a perfect example. (I’ve waited for years to write that sentence.)

6. Chronic Lyme disease. If I ever met a disease that wasn’t, this is it. Chronic Lyme has as many possible symptoms as fibromyalgia. What makes it particularly difficult to uproot is that chronic Lyme is bolstered, in the opinion of many, by the fact that the sufferer has already experienced a documented illness. The argument that the the Lyme bacteria hides itself within its host is derived from the same argument in the 1980s which postulated that HIV was actually a form of syphillis, a chronic spirochete infection eventually invading the host’s brain and nervous system. However, with syphillis, the patient continues to show signs of active infection, whereas none are found in the chronic Lyme patient.

What better fits the available evidence is that many of the symptoms of chronic Lyme can be traced to gastrointestinal dysfunction induced by the antibiotics used to treat acute Lyme. It is not unusual for a GI tract, denuded by an antibiotic of its beneficial bacteria, to create a constellation of symptoms difficult for many doctors to categorize, from neurological to immunological alterations. This theory does not fit all of the cases of chronic Lyme, but many of those cases that I have seen have been resolved by restoring normal gut function.

7. Celiac disease. Speaking of gut dysfunction, if I had a nickel for every patient who walked in my door having been told that they have celiac disease by their mainstream primary care doctor, I’d be a rich man. The fact of the matter is that what is often mistakenly diagnosed as celiac disease is usually simple gut dysfunction or leaky gut syndrome. There’s no need for a life spent in fear of wheat. Simply fix the underlying problem and move on.

8. Osteopenia. This isn’t a disease, and never has been. It is only a radiological finding indicating mild decreased density of the  bone. That decreased density does not indicate that the individual is in any imminent risk of a fracture; it only means that the person may, at some point down the road, and not necessarily, develop osteoporosis.

Osteopenia is a normal feature of aging. It did not become a disease until the bisphosphonates like Fosamax hit the market, and they tried to enlarge the population of potential Fosamax recipients by reclassifying osteopenia as a disease that needed to be treated.

Fortunately, since all of the lawsuits hit as a result of Fosamax & Friends causing bone death instead of bone strength, I’ve been seeing a lot fewer patients in my office carrying the weight of this imaginary disease.

9. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. This is just another way of a doctor saying “I don’t know what’s wrong with you except you appear to be very, very tired.” Like fibromyalgia, it’s a wastebasket diagnosis that stands in place for many other disorders, from subclinical hypothyroidism to hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysfunction to Vit. B deficiency. If a doctor tells you that you suffer from CFS, just go find another doctor who is willing to dig a little deeper. I really dislike this diagnosis, because it unnecessarily burdens people with what they believe to be an incurable disease.

10. Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disorder. The only reason we have GERD on such a wide scale is because of that little purple pill. Until then, it was heartburn, and readily fixed by not eating junk, not eating too late, not drinking too much alcohol and keeping your gut healthy. And before the purple pill, cider vinegar and baking soda seemed to take care of most cases of GERD. Yes, there are a few people with valves in their GI tract that aren’t working properly; however, the vast majority of GERD is not GERD at all but just crummy eating habits.

Frankly, it says everything to me that the medical “cure” for this “disease” is to inhibit the proper functioning of the stomach, impairing both your digestion and your immune system in the process. If you have to fix a problem by breaking something else, you probably don’t know what you’re doing.

I could go on, and I may do so in another post. But I hope that in reading this list over, you’ve recognized the common denominator in all of them. These “diseases” are actually dysfunctions that stem from either improper medical intervention or inappropriate lifestyle choices. And that concept is what lies at the heart of much of my approach to treatment. The sooner we learn that we control our diseases — not the other way around — the sooner we can become healthy.