Read an Excerpt
Let Food Be Your Medicine
Dietary Changes Proven to Prevent or Reverse Disease
By Don Colbert
WORTHY PUBLISHINGCopyright © 2016 Don Colbert, M.D.
All rights reserved.
Chapter One marks the beginning of Section One and the search for answers. It details my own journey, how I almost died and how I was forced to go on my own journey to healing. This is the same path that I take my patients on, only now it's faster and cheaper! This journey is the foundation to my belief that food can be my medicine and medicine can be my food!
Don Colbert, MD
DOWN BUT NOT OUT
IT WAS NO BIG DEAL. The year was 1983, I was in my third year of medical school, and I was fit as a fiddle. I had to run a three-mile race at my medical school as part of our fitness program.
The weather was not the best that day. It was in the high 90s with very high humidity. Not too unusual for Oklahoma summers, so the race went forward as scheduled.
If I finished the race with a good time, it would exempt me from running the race again until next year, and as a third-year medical student, I didn't have much free time. I figured I'd tail my avid-runner classmate, finish the race with a good speed, and be done with it. It was no big deal.
The race began and we went around the baseball stadium multiple times. On the last lap, about seventy-five yards from the finish line, something happened to my legs. I became extremely short of breath and my heart started to beat faster than I'd ever felt it. My legs suddenly were in excruciating pain, very weak, difficult to control, and I literally willed myself over the finish line.
Mary, my wife, was there at the race that day. She told me later, "It looked like your legs were broken or like you'd been hit by a car. You seemed to have no control over your legs."
When I crossed that finish line I collapsed to the ground, foaming at the mouth, heart pounding, and gasping for air. The coach pulled me over to the sprinklers and hosed me off, but it didn't help. I didn't know it at the time, but my thigh muscles had experienced great trauma due to heat stroke. Quite literally, my thigh muscles burst! This released myoglobin (muscle proteins) into my bloodstream.
Across the street was the City of Faith hospital. They placed me in the back of a station wagon and drove me to the emergency entrance. All the doctors and nurses were outside looking at a massive storm that was approaching. They glanced at me as I was wheeled inside. I was soaking wet, but not from sweat. It looked like I was simply overheated, but the water was from the hosing my coach had given me. I was hot and dry on the inside. The nurse took my temperature and screamed for the doctor ... I was 108 degrees and still cooking!
She knew, as I did (though I admit I wasn't thinking very clearly at the time), that body temperatures of 107 degrees or greater cause cell damage and internal organs can shut down. This can be deadly.
She screamed for the ER doctor. I stammered, "Put IVs in both arms."
They did, and the strangest thing happened. When those IV fluids started infusing in my veins, my skin pores opened and the perspiration squirted up like a miniature sprinkler system all over my body. Mary saw it as well. She said, "The water shot out one to two inches all over your body. It freaked me out."
Eventually, my mini-sprinklers closed down and my body began to absorb the IV liquids. The doctors figured I had simply overexerted myself and as a result had suffered heat exhaustion, and for that reason they sent me home. I wasn't home long before I had to go to the bathroom. My urine was the color of coffee!
At this point, I was very worried!
Back to the hospital we went and this time I was diagnosed with a heat stroke, massive rhabdomyolysis, and acute kidney failure. My ruptured thigh muscles released the muscle protein myoglobin, which was toxic to my kidneys, and all of it was trying to filter through my kidneys — thus the acute kidney failure. My CPK levels that monitored a muscle enzyme were the highest the hospital staff had ever seen.
As the muscles broke down my legs swelled, which caused extreme pain, and then the muscles shrank. All the while the healthcare staff kept me on a maximum flow of IV fluids so my kidneys wouldn't shut down, but my legs continued to shrink smaller and smaller. My once muscular thighs appeared smaller than my arms! As a male, that was both discouraging and embarrassing.
Appearance, however, wasn't the worst of the problem. The doctors didn't think I would ever walk again.
After doing a biopsy of my thigh muscles, where they took a sample of leg muscle from my skin layer all the way down to the bone, the report came back a few days later. Instead of telling me directly they talked to my wife, Mary, first. "He is never going to walk again," they explained. "His muscles are necrosed, or dead, completely ... every layer, all the way to the bone."
She instructed them not to tell me right away because she knew I was in a delicate place emotionally and she felt that bad news would destroy my hope. Later she told me, "You are such a type-A personality, I could not see you living in a wheelchair all your life."
But the doctors told me anyway. Mary was livid and she told them, "You are all fired!"
"Mary," I argued, "You can't fire them; they are my professors."
That was true. Because I was in medical school, my doctors were also my teachers.
Mary and I argued and she stormed out of the room. In the elevator, on her way down, everything changed.
"I was not only angry at the doctors, I was reeling from the multiple blows," explains Mary. "From a no-big-deal race just a few days earlier to acute kidney failure to Don being wheelchair bound and then to possibly not finishing medical school, everything was spiraling down so quickly!"
Taking a deep breath, she began to pray. "That's when I heard the voice of the Lord speak so clearly to my heart," she says. "In my heart, I heard, 'He will run and not be weary; he will walk and not faint.'"
She pushed the elevator button back to my floor and came walking in with a resolute look on her face. She declared to me and everyone else in the room, "Man has said you wouldn't walk, but God has said you will."
That got my faith and hope back up. I knew somehow I would walk again and somehow I would finish medical school. I've always said faith and hope are critical as people walk through health issues. Now it was my turn to not only believe, but to also walk it out.
Eventually, I was released from the hospital. They sent me home in a wheelchair. My legs were dreadfully skinny. There was very little muscle on my bones. I couldn't even support my own weight and had to use my arms and wheelchair to get around.
As I meditated on the word of faith, I began to take a few steps and then a few more. It hurt severely but, bit by bit, I began to walk. Weeks later I walked back into that hospital. All the doctors and nurses clapped and were amazed. They had said I would never walk again, that the tissue was dead; but the muscles began to grow and to heal. I was, quite literally, a walking miracle.
After finishing medical school, we moved to central Florida, where I began my residency program in family practice, which was three years of working with other doctors before I could open my own private practice. Then in 1987, I started my solo practice in family medicine.
THE LAST STRAW
Running my own private practice meant that I was on call every single night, that I worked extremely hard, and that I had to start paying off my college debts. I had also bought a new car and a new home and opened a new office.
I loved practicing medicine. I had always wanted to be a doctor, to help people, and this was my chance. What's more, I was not wheelchair bound. I was walking and healthy. It was a dream come true. And though it was intense, I was loving it!
As I had studied nutrition and psychology while in medical school, it seemed natural for me to help my patients with their health, above and beyond prescribing medicines.
Losing weight was, and still is, a big need among many of my patients. I was doing a lot of diet counseling classes with patients. They would come in and I'd show them how to shop, how to cook, and how to go out to eat in restaurants (using the restaurants' own menus) and eat healthy. I would even take them to the grocery stores and show them healthy choices. It was the late 1980s and we were having tremendous success with the weight loss program.
Once a week, we had a group meeting. It was a great source of accountability and training. We were getting great results, and word spread rapidly through word of mouth.
One of my overweight patients, who had gone on the diet, was scheduled for arthroscopic knee surgery. I told her to go off the diet beforehand, but she chose not to. It was no big deal, as it was an easy outpatient-type surgery.
Three days following the knee surgery, while straining during a bowel movement, she suffered a massive stroke. She lived, and when she came out of the hospital, her husband sued the orthopedist, the hospital, the anesthesiologist ... and me!
I didn't know much about lawsuits at the time, but she was suing me for $500,000, which was the limit of my malpractice insurance. I had only been in business for a year, which meant I had staff expenses, rent, setup costs, student loans, my own mortgage, and a car payment. I learned later the reason I was targeted was because I had a big insurance policy.
So we barreled ahead. Business was picking up speed, and that's what we needed. A local news reporter called and asked if she could film what I was doing with our weight loss program and interview me.
This was great news! All of central Florida would hear about us. More buzz and more awareness; it was perfect.
The reporter came to our regular weekly gathering of patients; some had lost twenty pounds, others had lost as many as seventy. They filmed as we discussed menus and talked about what foods we could order at restaurants. Then the reporter spoke up and said, while the cameras rolled, "Tell me about the patient who was on your diet and had a stroke."
The curtain lifted. It was then that I knew I had been set up!
It turned out that the attorney of the stroke patient was friends with the reporter. He probably figured the fastest way to get me to settle was to threaten to sabotage my business. They had no case against me, and he knew it, but that didn't stop him from lying and cheating.
The threat was out: They were going to "follow" my story — more like advertise my going-out-of-business story — if I didn't get my malpractice insurance company to pay up. Can you imagine trying to grow a business in a city where everyone thinks you almost killed one of your patients? That could really wipe out my new practice. It would totally cut the legs out from under me after being in practice for only one year.
I had been betrayed. I told Mary, "I'm going to lose everything." I didn't sleep for days. I fought depression on a daily basis. To say that I was stressed out would be putting it mildly! My prior heatstroke had nearly destroyed my leg muscles and now the lawsuit was a major emotional blow to my psyche.
Oddly, my business actually grew throughout this time, but I felt it was all hanging by a thread.
I finally called a friend who was an attorney and told him to settle the case, and we did. I should have never done it, and would never do it today, but I wanted to be done with the matter before it destroyed everything. I knew that being the lead news story would be bad since I had been in practice only a few years!
It was heartbreaking, but the insurance company paid the unjust lawsuit and we moved forward. Mary was such a tremendous support, but we both felt the weight of the added financial burden to our already crazy, overworked lives.
I was free. With the legal issue behind us, I was ready to move on. What I didn't know was how far away my freedom really was!
It was a normal Florida morning, almost a year after the lawsuit, with the sun peeking over the pine trees. I had a lot of work to do at the office and that day would be another busy day.
I put one leg over the side of the bed and glanced down. My leg was fiery red! My arm was just as red. So was my other arm. I made a quick dash to the bathroom mirror. My body, except for my face, was covered with a red, itchy rash.
My first thought was that it was scabies. I had treated a patient the week before who had scabies. I put on the lotion to treat scabies, and then washed it off later as prescribed, but my condition only worsened. The itch was more intense and my skin was even redder!
For weeks, I tried every lotion I could get my hands on. Nothing worked. I started wearing long-sleeved shirts and rubber gloves so that I wouldn't scare my patients away. Who wants to be treated by an itchy, red, contagious-looking doctor?
Finally, after a month, I made an appointment with a friend who was a renowned dermatologist. I needed help!
In the exam room, he checked me out, then looked at me over the top of his glasses and stated matter-of-factly, "Sorry to inform you, Don, but you have the heartbreak of psoriasis."
I stammered, "But that's impossible. My heart has never been broken and there is nobody in my family with psoriasis."
His curt answer was, "I don't care what you say, you still have it."
There being no cure for psoriasis, much less a magic pill, he flipped open his pad and wrote me a prescription for coal tar. Coal tar is an orange ointment that smells like asphalt. Not a very patient-friendly treatment for a doctor to be wearing!
I smeared on the orange ointment and returned to work. "What's that smell?" my annoyed patients asked.
I itched and I scratched as I explained to my patients what that odor was, but my reassuring "Oh, it's not contagious" was not all that helpful. Long sleeves and gloves became my staple. It was miserable, and the orange ointment stained my clothes, my car, our sheets, and our towels ... everything!
What's more, the skin would flake off, so much so that I felt like a snake shedding its skin. In my case, it was constant, from top to bottom, itching, scratching, and shedding. They say 70–90 percent of the dust in your home is made up of dead skin cells. I felt like I was solely responsible for that statistic.
The itch and rash were unbearable at times. I took no pictures, but if you ask Mary, she will be glad to tell you how bad I looked. They called me "Itchy and Scratchy" at home.
After six months of this insanity, I told my bathroom mirror, "There's got to be a better way ... surely this isn't my future!"
I certainly hoped there was an answer ... somewhere.CHAPTER 2
Chapter Two is my "aha" moment, the time when my eyes were opened to the unexpected healing and damaging properties of food. It also details my passionate search for answers. When you are, as I was, ready to do anything to get healthy again, that is when things get interesting! The answers I finally found will both surprise and encourage you.
Don Colbert, MD
LET FOOD BE YOUR MEDICINE
MY PSORIASIS RAGED ON, but I noticed that if I missed a few meals because I was busy, the itching was considerably better. Or if I drank just water or wheat grass for breakfast, I was amazed at how much less I itched. Even a dip in the ocean, the salt water, and sunlight seemed to decrease both the rash and the itching.
Conversely, when I had less sleep or was under extra stress, the rash and itching would get worse. I also noticed that when I ate certain foods, the rash would get much worse. After a big steak or bacon the next day the rash was far worse. I loved fried shrimp and would eat at those all-you-can-eat places, but the next day, I would feel like my entire body was on fire.
LOOKING FOR ANSWERS
A part of the Hippocratic Oath, which all medical doctors swear to uphold, states, "I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure." The original Hippocratic Oath states, "With regard to healing the sick, I will devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgment and means; and I will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage."
How could I have prevented my psoriasis? I asked myself that question hundreds of times. If there was an answer, I was going to find it.
It was also Hippocrates who said, "Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food."
If food should be my medicine and medicine should be my food, then perhaps what I ate or didn't eat could play a part in the treatment of my psoriasis. I wondered, but didn't have answers.
I admit, it took me a while to begin connecting the dots, but if diet, lifestyle, and nutrition played a part, I would figure it out. Scratching myself to death was not a pleasant choice. I simply had to find answers! The coal tar ointment would barely hold the itching in check, but it did nothing to cure the rash.
Excerpted from Let Food Be Your Medicine by Don Colbert. Copyright © 2016 Don Colbert, M.D.. Excerpted by permission of WORTHY PUBLISHING.
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