For those of you following along in this blog series, we’ve been exploring, one “CURED Tip” at a time, the interventions employed by people who experienced “spontaneous healing” as reported by Harvard doctor, researcher, and new Whole Health Medicine Institute faculty Jeffrey Rediger, MD, MDiv in his new book CURED: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. Just to review, CURED Tip #1 was about shutting off the physiological stress response and activating the self-healing relaxation response. CURED Tip #2 was about creating the hormonal soil of love through “positivity resonance” moments of connection, even with strangers. (Read more about CURED Tips 1 & 2 in my blog here.) CURED Tip #3 was about seeking out a master healer, while CURED Tip #4 focused on pilgrimages to sacred sites reputed to facilitate seemingly miraculous healings. (Read more about CURED Tips 3 & 4 in my blog here.) CURED Tips 5 and 6 are about healing trauma and the importance of grounded hope and positive belief (Read CURED Tips 5 & 6 here.) In today’s blog, we’ll be addressing how health outliers optimized their chance for cure by changing their diet, reducing inflammation, and healing their identities.
CURED Tip #7 Radical Diet Changes
Similar to what Kelly Turner found in her Radical Remission research, Dr. Rediger found that many health outliers, but not all, radically changed their diets to include more nutrient-dense foods, incorporating more fresh veggies and fruits, and often eliminating inflammation-inducing foods or other foods agreed upon to be harmful to human bodies, such as processed foods, sugar, and foods loaded with chemicals. Some people have reported extraordinary results from a raw, vegan diet. Others swear by Paleo and say that veganism leaves them far too weak. Some have tried a rigidly keto diet. Most agree that nutrient-density is more important than exactly what you do or don’t eat. So many modern humans are literally malnourished, even if they’re eating 4000 calories per day. While no single disease-fighting diet seemed to apply, he resonated with the simple dietary advice of Michael Pollan. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Detox cleanses seem to help many, but not all. For some, cleansing can be a cover for eating disorders. For others, it’s just what the doctor ordered to reset the system so the body can better absorb nutrient-dense foods. If you choose to cleanse, make sure it’s a nutritional cleanse—green juices, veggie or bone broths, vegan soups, raw vegetables, and such. Fasting without nutrition for extended periods of time has never been scientifically proven to improve your chances of being a health outlier. That said, always come back to trusting your intuition and eating (or not eating) intuitively.
CURED Tip #8 Reduce Inflammation
Jeff found that health outliers, particularly those with autoimmune conditions like Juniper Stein’s ankylosing spondylitis, took measures to “shut down the disease superhighway”—the body’s own over-stimulated immune system, also known as “inflammation.” In Juniper’s case, this included aggressive yoga, Rolfing, micro-dosing cannabis, an anti-inflammatory diet, and radical lifestyle changes aimed at stress reduction. We know that inflammation creates the soil that promotes disease. While acute inflammation is a necessary part of the healing process after you’ve been injured and your body is trying to heal itself, inflammation bumped into overdrive does the opposite. Chronic inflammation can be caused by untreated acute inflammation, an unhealthy diet, emotional stress, environmental toxins, smoking, alcohol, and a variety of other vague causes. However, left to flourish, chronic inflammation causes the conditions for other diseases to blossom, especially hard-to-treat autoimmune conditions and allergies.
So what reduces chronic inflammation? Eliminating and treating what causes it and helping restore the body to homeostasis—things like an anti-inflammatory diet, exercise, yoga, weight loss if you’re obese, giving up bad habits like smoking and drinking, and engaging in stress reduction behaviors and lifestyle changes.
CURED Tip #9 Healing Your Identity
Throughout the time I read his book, Jeff and I texted and spoke on the phone as I reflected on parts I was reading. When I got to the Healing Your Identity chapter, Jeff confessed that this was what he believed was most responsible for spontaneous healings, that health outliers invariable wrote a new story of who they are in the world and what is possible for their lives. Their old, limited simple stories shattered, sometimes in one fell swoop of insight and expanded consciousness, like they had been wearing a mask that inaccurately represented who they thought they were, and it fell off and smashed into 100 pieces. These health outliers routinely wrote new stories about who they were, more limitless stories, stories that opened entire new universes of possibility.
Dr. Patricia Kaine, the one described in CURED Tip #3 who was healed after seeing the faith healer and physician Dr. Issam Nemeh, said that she had to “surrender to a new way of seeing and experiencing myself.” Nearly every patient he interviewed confided in Jeff that they sincerely engaged in an intensive process of self-discovery, or self-reassessment, one that helped them align and make possible a path to healing. In essence, they all underwent a hero’s or heroine’s journey of massive transformation. They saw themselves and the world in a fundamentally new light, one that did not cage them in but opened new portals of potential, not just in health but in every aspect of their being.
In the chapter “Healing Your Identity,” he tells the story of Mirae Bunnell, who grew up in a strict Mormon family and was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease after a lifetime of an undiagnosed illness. Then a tumor started growing in her neck while she was finally getting treated for the Lyme. She couldn’t believe her bad luck. Here she had finally been accurately diagnosed and was getting what she hoped would be curative treatment—and now she had what turned out to be cancer. A biopsy revealed metastatic melanoma, a typically fatal cancer that was unresectable because of its location, so doctors started chemotherapy to shrink the tumor enough for a palliative surgery not believed to be capable of curing her. She realized as she faced the likelihood of death that the story she had been telling herself about her life had been so firmly anchored that it left no room for something fresh and new. Early on, she had resisted the strict rules of her Mormon family. She had always been kind of the black sheep, running away from home when she was fourteen and getting pregnant at sixteen. She knew she was a rebel, but she didn’t believe she deserved to get punished the way she had been taught she would if she didn’t follow all those commandments.
“Why me?” Mirae said. “Sure, I wanted to do things my own way most of my life. But I’m the nicest person I know. I’m considerate. I’m kind. I put everyone else first. If there was a dead animal on the side of the road, I’d stop and bury it if I could. The world is a better place with me in it. I’m a good person. Why was God doing this to me?” Then she realized, with intense regret, that the story she had been telling herself about who she was was all wrong, and now she was out of time to rewrite it. During the chemo that was meant only to make her tumor resectable, not to cure her, she had a vision that allowed her to see herself clearly for the first time. She had been cast early on as the bad girl, the rebel, but she wasn’t any of those things. She was simply playing the role she had been given in her family, playing out the scapegoat they all needed. She was imperfect, but she was perfectly imperfect—just right, actually. “Whatever those dreams or visions were, they were so healing for me,” she said. “Instead of feeling I had done wrong, I realized I was perfect. Perfectly flawed, perfectly suited to own human experience.” When we can see ourselves with a new lens and rewrite our stories of self, spontaneous healing just might be a side effect.
When we rewrite our stories, we can interrupt habits of thought and behavior run by the brain’s Default Mode Network (DMN), the collection of brain structures that make up your identity neurologically, the ruts and highways of neural pathways that are your self of sense on autopilot. When the DMN fires, “you” get rutted in thick grooves, and it’s hard to change. But healing trauma or having a spiritual experience that changes the foundation of “you” can rewrite those neural pathways through neuroplasticity, and “you” can fundamentally and neurologically transform, and when you do, you too, like Mirae, might become a health outlier. Mirae’s transformative experience, beautifully detailed in CURED, changed her sense of who she was and allowed her to embark upon a healing journey that led to what seems to be a cure, a case of “spontaneous remission” that got written up as a case study in a medical journal.
Join The Whole Health Medicine Institute Class of 2020
In the Whole Health Medicine Institute program that I founded, which is enrolling for the Class of 2020 now, we teach doctors and others who are interested how to help patients optimize their likelihood of becoming “health outliers.” Health outliers are those who have better than expected outcomes from “incurable” or “terminal” illnesses, those who shock their doctors and defy the statistics by getting well when typical doctors think they shouldn’t, people with physical or mental illness who conventional medicine has given up on or deemed to be beyond help, people we treat with chronic medication, give up on because we don’t know how to help, or write off as “terminal.”
The problem is that most doctors—and therefore, most patients—are not doing everything within their power to optimize their chances of becoming one of those health outliers. Those of at the Whole Health Medicine Institute, including Jeff Rediger, MD, who is new to our faculty this year, are trying to educate and help transform both health care providers and the patients who are ready to implement these transformational changes for themselves.
In the next blog reviewing CURED, we’ll be focusing on CURED Tips #10 & 11 about how health outliers refused to be defined by their illnesses and healed their fear of death. If you’re just visiting the blog here, make sure you’re on my mailing list, so you don’t miss the next installment in this series about spontaneous healing. Sign up here.
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