Is Serious Healing Really Possible?

May 17, 2024

The human body possesses an extraordinary capacity to heal. That is something we all learn as children as we watch our cuts and scratches heal.  From mending broken bones to fighting off infections, our bodies are equipped with a myriad physiological mechanisms that enable recovery and, usually, a full restoration of our capabilities.   

But this basic capability is something we seem to forget as adults.  When the sniffles come, we’re off to the doctor to get some pill or potion to work its magic.  We seem to have little faith in our own resilience.

Of course, when we are faced with complex conditions like multiple sclerosis, or such frightening disorders as Alzheimer’s disease or even autism, the concept of self-healing might seem truly improbable.  Indeed, this morning I read a comment that touched on this theme in The National, Abu Dhabi’s daily newspaper.  This piece was about the worry that we expats feel when illness strikes our loved ones far away.  In this case, the author was writing about the guilt and despair she felt when learning of her father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.  She wrote: 

There are drugs to help slow the progression of certain symptoms, but to date there is no cure.  Alzheimer’s remains a death sentence, played out one terrible degree at a time.

It is true that there is no pharmaceutical treatment for Alzheimer’s, or multiple sclerosis, or autism, or almost any of the myriad auto immune and chronic illnesses that might beset us.  But that does not mean there is not a cure.  It does not mean that our bodies cannot - sometimes - right themselves.   I am not a physician and I would never suggest that healing from complex illness is guaranteed or in anyway easy.   However, pioneering scientists and clinicians have compiled real evidence that the body has at least some ability to sooth the symptoms of these challenging conditions - when provided with the right resources and support.  No, the healing won’t usually happen quickly or without careful physician support.  And, the healing may be partial, a ‘remission’ if you will.  But healing can and does happen.  And, it seems to happen largely with lifestyle change.  Truly.  This healthy lifestyle change that I am constantly harping on isn’t just about preventing illness.  It can also be used to reverse illness. 

In this blog, I’d like to share some of the evidence suggesting that reversal of such complex diseases - like multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and autism - can occur. 

But before jumping into that discussion, let’s briefly outline the nature of the conditions we'll be looking at:

  •  Multiple Sclerosis (MS):  MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, leading to a wide range of symptoms including fatigue, muscle weakness, and difficulties with coordination and balance.  There are at least four different types of MS, each with its unique progression and prognosis.  Learn more here
  •  Alzheimer's Disease: Alzheimer’s is a significant and progressive neurological disorder that causes memory loss, cognitive decline, and changes in behaviour, eventually interfering with daily tasks and activities.  Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death among adults in the US and is itself considered a fatal disease.  Death often comes as a consequence of some related or resulting condition like pneumonia, or perhaps, malnutrition which itself results from a patient's inability to swallow.
  •  Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Autism is the short-hand term for an array of developmental disorders that impact communication, social interaction, and behaviour.  These disorders have a wide spectrum of symptoms and varying degrees of severity. While many people diagnosed as ‘on the spectrum,’ are exceptionally talented in certain areas, it seems that the majority of individuals diagnosed with the disease will be unable to hold jobs or live independently.  At this time, within the conventional medical community, there is little understanding of why or how autism emerges or how to effect a cure, although there are significant and impactful therapies. 

So . . .  what is the evidence that these illnesses can be healed or at least soothed?    

Re Multiple Sclerosis. Much of the evidence for healing multiple sclerosis has been generated in the lab of Dr. Terry Wahls, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.  Dr. Wahls was herself stricken with multiple sclerosis years ago.  Determined not to succumb, Dr. Wahls combined her many years of clinical practice, her research expertise, and her appreciation of the power of food and nutrition to formulate a lifestyle protocol, now referred to as the Wahls protocol, that allowed her to rise up from the wheelchair she had been in for four years and to return to an active professional life.  This Wahls Protocol, a dietary and lifestyle approach, focuses on first nourishing the body with nutrient-dense foods and, second, addressing underlying metabolic and nutritional imbalances.

Re Alzheimer’s. Dr. Dale Bredesen, a leading expert in neurodegenerative diseases and author of The End of Alzheimer's, challenges the conventional wisdom that Alzheimer's disease is irreversible.  Dr. Bredesen was the founding President and, for many years, the CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in California. His laboratory research, conducted over 30 years, has focused on the mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative diseases and has led to the first successful reversals of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease.  Documentation of these reversals was first made public in 2014 and, then again, in 2016. Dr. Bredesen is a prodigious innovator in medicine, having authored over 220 scholarly publications and case studies, and having devised over 30 patented tools and products. Bredesen’s research has identified multiple factors contributing to cognitive decline, including inflammation, nutrient deficiencies, and insulin resistance. By addressing these underlying factors with personalized interventions, Bredesen proposes a novel approach to reversing cognitive decline and promoting brain health.

Re Autism.  Dr. Deborah Fein, a distinguished professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, has conducted groundbreaking research on early intervention and outcomes in autism spectrum disorder, highlighting the critical importance of early and intensive behavioural interventions.  Her findings suggest that with early diagnosis and lifestyle interventions, some children can experience marked progress, even ‘optimal’ outcomes, improving their functioning to such a point that they lose their diagnosis.  The American Psychological Association now recognises that somewhere between 3 and 25% of young people diagnosed with autism will lose their diagnosis.  But these reversals aren’t the result of pharmaceutical treatment.

No, all of these reversals - of Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and autism rely not on radical gene therapies or pharmaceutical concoctions but rather on changes in diet, movement, stress management, and sleep.   Of course, pharmaceutical concoctions and radical gene therapies can also be wonderful. But the healing facilitated or documented by these researchers seems to have come about through more natural methods. 

And, what specifically was important for each of these diseases or disorders? 

For MS Sufferers:  As suggested above, Dr. Wahl’s MS protocol focuses on a nutrient-dense, paleo-inspired diet that emphasises a variety of vegetables, fruits, and high-quality proteins to support mitochondrial health and reduce inflammation.   Her research has shown that this diet, combined with physical therapy, electrical stimulation of muscles, and mindfulness practices, can lead to substantial improvements in symptoms, including reduced fatigue, enhanced mobility, and improved quality of life.  Truly, Dr. Wahls' work underscores the dramatic power of diet and lifestyle changes in managing and potentially reversing the effects of autoimmune diseases.

To date, these improvement have been the subject of significant scrutiny in seven (7) separate clinical trials.  That research has produced dozens of scientific papers that are well-cited and discussed within the research community.   See here for more.

For Dementia Patients: I read Dr. Bredesen’s first paper on Alzheimer’s healing back in 2014.  Then, the results were still quite preliminary and based on only a small number of patient/subjects.   Nonetheless, 9 of the 10 individuals participating in his first clinical trial experienced a reversal of their Alzheimer’s symptoms.  Most were actually able to return to employment.  Since then, Dr. Bredesen's techniques have been further honed and better codified into the ReCODE (Reversal of Cognitive Decline) protocol.  This protocol involves a comprehensive lifestyle regimen that includes a ketogenic diet, which provides ketones as an alternative fuel for the brain, fasting periods to promote autophagy, personalised nutritional supplementation, regular physical exercise, and stress management techniques such as yoga and meditation.  Clinical application of this protocol has shown promising results, with many patients experiencing a reversal of cognitive symptoms.

For Those with Autism Spectrum Disorders.  While Dr. Fein has documented the loss of many individuals’ autism diagnoses, most of the healing driving these reversals was instigated by other practitioners, typically integrative or functional medicine physicians.  For the vast majority of these practitioners, lifestyle change is at the core of all such healing.  Indeed, I can attest to that. My own son, for example, lost his diagnosis at age 17, after almost four years of lifestyle treatment supervised by an integrative physician in the US.  The healing was dramatically impacted, I believe, by a significant shift in diet towards home-made, minimally processed foods that excluded both gluten and casein, a strong commitment to ‘detoxing’ the body from heavy metals and pesticides, lots of supplementation to both reduce inflammation in the body and rebalance hormones, and, finally, a tremendous effort to ‘destress.'  Watching my son work through this process has convinced me that, truly, minimising stress is an essential pre-requisite for healing.

And Now, It’s Time for Hope

Interestingly, now, it is not so much the healing that amazes me.   Having watched and supported my son as he healed and having experienced the consequence of the same diet and lifestyle change myself, I know that my body is infinitely healthier than it has ever been.  I have no brain fog, no metabolic disorders, no worries about weight, or sleep, or energy.  There are many bio hackers and celebrity physicians who talk about living past 100.  I can imagine that.  What does continue to amaze me, however, is how few people are aware of this healing potential.  Dr. Bredesen has reversed Alzheimer’s in thousands of patients now.  Why is his work not the subject of headlines around the world?  Why isn’t this the cause of global celebration?  Why isn’t it driving dramatic shifts in treatment protocols in hospitals, retirement communities, and government programmes around the world? 

I don't know.  

Perhaps because it’s hard.  Lifestyle change isn’t easy. When you first start, it may taste funny, and seem very inconvenient, and even feel a tad uncomfortable.  And, this type of healing isn’t something that makes people a lot of money.  The pharmaceutical companies aren’t going to get rich from us eating more broccoli.  Nor are our mainstream doctors and clinics and hospitals. 

So rather than learning about this from CNN, you're hearing about this research and the potential for healing through a community newsletter. 

I think that’s rather sad. 

But it doesn’t really matter where you hear about it.  The research is real.  All of the researchers, institutions, and publications discussed in this blog are bona fide. Indeed, they are all significant players in the academic world.  As Sally Ozonoff actually wrote in her editorial in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry more than a decade ago when discussing Debra Fein’s research:   

No, recovery won’t be possible for everyone. No, recovery is not the only outcome worth  fighting for. But it is high time we, as a scientific field, talked seriously about this as a possibility.

The potential for healing is real.  Serious science has shown this to be true.  It’s time to make the promise of healing real for more of us.  It's time for hope. 


Yours in Health & Happiness,