Updated May 7, 2013
I and my young family were committed to healthy living. After all, my husband, Jeff and I had been vegetarians for 10 years, though we still consumed dairy products. So I was surprised when I developed a painful, burning redness in my ears.
Doctors were puzzled by my symptoms, but finally, I received a diagnosis – relapsing polychondritis. This rare auto-immune disease, commonly known as RP, is related to arthritis and lupus. Little is known about RP, other than the symptoms its victims exhibit – namely, inflammation of cartilage throughout the body. The cartilage of the ears, nose, throat, ribs and joints can be affected, with redness, inflammation and a painful burning sensation. In many cases, RP is debilitating, and life threatening, particularly when it moves into the respiratory system.
RP is another of the medical community’s incurable diseases, a “disease with unknown cause.” Doctors offered me little hope of relief, other than treating me with prednisone and telling me to stay out of the sun. In my sunny California climate, staying out of the sun meant missing out on a lot of family fun, and the medication offered questionable results and the risks of a whole host of side effects. I wondered what the rest of my life would be like, relying on medication and waiting for the next episode to hit.
About a year later, while recovering from another painful flare-up, I began to read one of Dr. McDougall’s books, which I’d been given as a gift. Originally, I thought he would have nothing new to teach me, as I was a longtime vegetarian. But when I read about my condition and the links between dairy products and autoimmune diseases, I took notice. After discussing it with my husband, Jeff, the Nelsons decided that very day to eliminate eggs and dairy products.
Just one month after adopting the McDougall plan, I went for a checkup with my doctor. For the first time since my diagnosis, the anti-nuclear antibodies (known as SED) in my blood, which signal the degree of RP activity, weren’t present. After three months and three blood tests where my SED rate was normal (sed rate reflects degree of inflammation like a fever), my doctor declared the RP “in remission.” Today, more than six years later, I have had no more recurrences of RP.
I don’t think I’m just “in remission,” but am “cured” — as long as I don’t eat dairy, eggs, meat, chicken or fish. Switching to a diet devoid of animal proteins saved my life. Now I lead a full life independent of medications. For me, the change was a simple choice. To me it seemed far more inconvenient to live life on dangerous medications and in pain than to make some changes in my diet. And trying a dietary change was a lot less radical than many of the powerful drugs people often must take to get only temporary relief.
I now share my story and the success with a vegan diet with anyone who will listen. I also share this information I have gathered with doctors who treat RP across the country, and work with an RP support group. Helping others find relief from this “incurable” disease is important for me to help prevent others from the unnecessary suffering I experienced.
Over the past few months I have provided case examples (along with supporting scientific literature) for two autoimmune diseases, lupus (Vanessa) and rheumatoid arthritis (Jean Brown) and many more will follow. Relapsing polychondritis is another disease from this same family, where the body seems to attack itself. I have always asked myself, “Why would the body attack itself? – How stupid!” The answer is not simple, but I do now know this involves immune reactions where proteins (mostly animal proteins) pass through the gut wall into the blood stream, where they cause our own bodies to make antibodies against these foreign invaders. Unfortunately, these antibodies are not just specific to the food proteins, but attack similar looking proteins in our tissues – like our cartilage, joint tissues, skin, kidneys, and most other tissues. Doctors name the disease based upon identification of signs and symptoms that are similar. For example, if the primary area of attack is the cartilage tissues of the ears, nose, and ribs, then we call it relapsing polychondritis. If the damaged organs are primarily kidney tissues, then we call it glomerulonephritis. If it attacks the joints, then we call it rheumatoid arthritis; the skin, joints and kidneys, then we call it lupus.
The patient and doctor may feel better because they now have a name for the disease, but the truth is there is no real benefit to the patient other than a thinly veiled peace of mind. Naming the disease does not help a doctor determine the cause, or cure the disease. Essentially the same armament of never-curing, sometimes symptom-relieving, side-effect-filled, expensive, drugs is used (steroids, cancer drugs, immune-suppressants, and NSAID). The patient stays sick and the disease progresses, largely unchecked.
I believe these diseases are caused by factors in our environment and food is our strongest contact with our environment. So logically, here is where we in the medical business should look for cause and cure. But almost no doctors have this insight, and instead, they are looking for a solution in the highly profitable businesses of pharmaceuticals – which so far, has not come – and likely never will.
Over the past 26 years of medical practice I have seen hundreds of people greatly benefited, and often cured, of various autoimmune diseases by a change to a low-fat, plant-based diet (no animal products, no added oils) – and never anyone harmed by this cost-free, dietary approach. The scientific literature supports my beliefs (you can look at some of this evidence on my web site www.drmcdougall.com, under “Diet: Only hope for arthritis” and under “Common Diseases” section). I get very little support from my colleagues and I used to care – I wanted to be a respected doctor. I’m too seasoned (old) to care about their feelings any more. They are wrong and they must be held accountable for the suffering they are causing their patients.
Here is an interesting interchange I had with a well-intentioned doctor concerning a previous “Star McDougaller,” Vanessa, with lupus and kidney complications, who was greatly benefited by our diet (you can find this case on my web site):
Letter to Dr. McDougall: “What a crock. As a physician, you must have a passing acquaintance with the scientific method. How can you claim that your carbohydrate-based diet “cured” her lupus?” … “Your ideas are sort of interesting, but I can’t really see them for the smoke. Until you provide nonanecdotal and scientifically sound evidence to support your claims, you are a snake oil salesman in my opinion.”
My response to him, and all the rest of my colleagues, who are unwilling to look at scientific evidence (beyond what the young, attractive, drug salesladies provide in their offices daily) was (and will continue to be):
“Show me the evidence that allows organizations like the Lupus Foundation of America to claim diet has nothing to do with the cause and cure of Lupus. Show me or shut up!
If they (and you) are wrong, how many thousands of people have they harmed? (If I am wrong, who has been harmed, and how? Diverted from all those miraculous drug therapies, you think?)
There is a vast difference between recommending a diet that cuts the food bill of a patient by 40% and cures constipation every time, and a drug treatment that makes a person’s hair fall out and vomit for years (and sometimes kills) and never cures.
You are obviously another ignorant MD, bought by the drug companies, that refuses to learn. Have you bothered to read the few studies I cited to support a diet trial by patients — or do you condemn without reading the evidence like most drug-company-educated doctors who know everything?
I have given you sufficient evidence for someone to try the harmless approach that I have seen work over and over again — an approach supported by available evidence — as insufficient as you may see it. No doubt, if there was money to be made, there would be a ton of evidence.
So either put up your evidence that diet has nothing to do with Lupus or apologize.
John McDougall, MD
So, I guess you can safely say I am not politically correct (or tactful). But, I am fed up with people suffering and dying because most of my colleagues are unwilling to put their patient’s welfare first.
I would be happy to print any comments you might have about this subject, especially from those who disagree with my position and are willing to make a scientifically backed case for not offering a healthy diet as one of the first options for people with our most common chronic diseases, including autoimmune diseases, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and intestinal diseases from indigestion to constipation – to name a few causes of daily suffering.