I think like a gardener now. Of late I find myself talking more and more about soil and ecology of gardens with my patients with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and other immune disorders. It has been more than ten years since my clinical and research work took me away from my rose garden in Blairstown, New Jersey. But the garden keeps returning.
I do many of my office visits on a microscope now. A drop of a patient's blood spread out in a thin film on a microscopic slide fascinates me as much as my rose garden used to. In my rose garden, there was the rich, humid top soil enriched with compost spread over sandy ground. The rose bushes need frequent watering and thrive on sandy soil that drains excess water quickly. Working the soil also involved looking at ants, spiders, earth worms, and the like, as well as various types of molds. I often thought about what that soil would look like if I were to suspend a pinch of it in salt water, smear a drop of that fluid on a slide, and look at it with my high-resolution microscope. Any soil is a rich microcosm of life, and well-composted and well-watered soil carries a riot of microbial life, though invisible to the eye. In my hospital work, I looked at thousands of slide smears of microbial cultures. I saw how microbes grow in enriched culture media. I imagined well the microscopic images of the soil suspenson of my garden: a sea of life, a raucous communal dance of microbes.
The images of fields of overgrown weeds rise before my mind’s eye when I examine blood slides. On the video screen attached to my microscope, I observe deformed and clumped red blood cells, dead and dying immune cells, cellular debris, and crystals. I see fields of blood teaming with microbes, round and plump cocci; slim, long, and curved bacilli; clusters of black and white yeast and yeast-like primordial (primitive) microbes, sometimes sprouting their legs like spiders; and, at times, wobbly parasites that move with jerky motions. The crystals in the blood indicate excess acidity which, of course, further favors the growth of microbes. Clusters of microbes create zones of congealed plasma (the fluid part of blood), then form soft microscopic curdles, just as a culture turns milk into curdles of yogurt. The toxins from those microbes also cause plasma to curdle, just as drops of lemon juice squeezed into milk cause it to curdle. The soft microclots float in the blood, become enlarged because of ther sticky surface, are banged around, and get compacted into layers of solidified plasma with trapped microbes and dead cells. We call such bodies microplaques. Next, microclots and microplaques clog tiny blood vessels anywhere and everywhere in the body. The microclots and microplaques also irritate the walls of larger arteries, causing spasms and shutting off blood supply to the tissues.
How do lily white roses rise out of dark-brown soil? I often wondered. Why doesn't the dirt soil my crimson-red flowers as it does my jeans? Why don't the molds in the soil chew up the roots of rose bushes as they do the fruit left too long in the kitchen? Those and other questions never ceased to arise and amaze me. Such is the wonderment of rose blossoms! I recognized that the soil gives life to the flowers through the mediation of soil microbes. The earth worms and ants help by turning the soil so that the microbes can 'breathe' easier. But it's the soil's microbial flora which digests the compost and "cooks" the meal for my rose plants. Each player in the soil ecology has to play its role before the dark, damp roots in dirt can turn out a celebration of colors.
Another thing my garden taught me is how fickle life was for my rose bushes. The weed in my garden seemed to have some irrepressible grudge against them, and were forever stronger than the flower plants. Even when I was away for as little as a few weeks, the weeds rose their heads and grew luxuriantly. And, just outside my garden there was always the great brawl of weeds, forever fighting their way into the rose patch. Why can't my roses be hardier than the weed? I would mutter on my return. The genes of the weed, I understood, were stronger, those of my roses, ever so much weaker.
Life is an eternal drama of predation. The characters among predators in this unending play change, and so do those among the preys, but the essential story line remains the same. A predator cannot survive without the prey. That is self-evident. Neither can a prey last long without the predator. That is not always obvious. Plants are usually seen as the prey (fodder) for animals. But plants are also predators. Roots of plants grow by sucking life out of the soup of life made by microbes in the soil. The soil microbes, in turn, prey on the rock in the soil and leach its minerals to cook the soup of life which the roots suck up. But microbes cannot break down hard rock without oxygen and water. That is where the root structures come back into the picture, providing the reservoir of oxygen and water for the microbes. Thus, plants need microbes, and the microbes need the plants to create the web of life. That interdependence is the essence of soil ecology.
The ecology of a healthy rose plant has three major features: (1) ample oxygen supply to and efficient oxygen utilization in the plant cells; (2) relative alkaline state of plant juices; and (3) absence of dead cells and debris. Weeds overgrow in a rose garden when it faces three major hazards: (1) inadequate supply and utilization of oxygen; (2) accelerated oxidation (breakdown); and (3) excess soil and plant acidity. So it is that the health of a rose plant may not be examined without an examination of the health of the soil and its microbes.
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The Tide Turns Against the Hunter Immune Cell
In health, the human tissue and body organ ecosystems have much in common with the ecology of the rose bushes. They have three major requirements: (1) ample oxygen supply to and efficient oxygen utilization in tissues; (2) an alkaline state of blood; and (3) an absence of dead tissue and cellular debris. In fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and related chronic immune disorders, the tissue ecology faces three major hazards: (1) inadequate supply and utilization of oxygen; (2) accelerated oxidation (breakdown); and (3) excess tissue and blood acidity. In health, three ecologic conditions favor the hunter immune cells of blood in their war against microbes: (1) an ample oxygen supply; (2) an alkaline state; and (3) hate acidity; and (3) are hampered by excess tissue debris. In chronic disease, the opposite three ecologic conditions turn the odds against the immune cells and in favor of the microbes. Specifically, the microbes multiply rapidly when: (1) the oxygen level drops; (2) acidity builds up; and (3) cellula debris accumulates.
The basic facts of human ecology give us a clear understanding of how health is preserved and how disease begins. And how the immune cells win when they do and how the microbes prevail when they do. For example, a common problem I see is that of children living on sugar and antibiotics, and suffering from one ear or throat infection after another. Sugar overload and antibiotic abuse create the set of ecologic conditions which turn the tide against the hunter immune cell. The ecologic balance shifts from the one that favors the immune cells killing the microbes to that which weakens the immune cells and strengthens the hands of microbes. The result: the microbes turn into the predator and the immune cells become the prey. That is exactly what I see in the blood of such children with my high-resolution microscope.
Learn to think like gardeners when you think of your health, I advise my patients when I show them on the video screen the state of their blood ecosystem. I explain to them how the damage to the blood ecosystem comes from the damage to their bowel ecosystems, and also polluted blood the detox ecosystem in the liver. This is how many of my conversations go:
"How do you think your bowel ecosystem gets battered?" I ask a patient.
"Is it the antibiotics?" he responds with a question.
"Yes. And what else?" I continue.
"Sugar?" he asks.
"Yes. And what else?"
"That too. What else?"
"Yes. And what else?"
"Of course. What else?"
"Overgrowth of yeast?"
"Yes. What else?"
"That too. What else?"
"I give up," he says with a smile.
"And molecules of anger and hostility," I reply with a smile and continue to explain.
"And all other types of aging-oxidant molecules. All such substances contribute to what my colleague, Omar Ali, M.D., and I call oxidative coagulopathy, a state in which microclot and microplaque formation impairs optimal delivery and utilization of oxygen, increases blood acidity, and worsens overall oxidative stress. Thus, the oxidative plate of the body becomes superheated. Which body organ then becomes the spokesorgan of the body and shows up as a "disease" to be diagnosed by doctors is a matter of genes."
Those plants thrive in sandy soil when watered well. How neat! I marvelled when I first recognized the clever ways of the rose bushes. The plants want to be overhydrated but not water-logged. That is what I do for myself: overhydrate myself for some hours of the morning. I take a shower every morning to give myself a wash. Why not flush the inside as well? That is also what I advise my patients.
"My rose bushes have a message for you," I tell a patient.
"A message from rose bushes? What?" he asks, surprised.
"Overhydrate yourself for some hours during the day," I recommend.
"What would that do?"
"For one thing, excess water will wash away excess acidity. It will also wash away toxins."
"That seems too simple," he protests.
"Water energizes tissues as coffee depletes them."
"Water produces energy? But that's not what anyone ever told me." He expresses doubt.
"Nerve cells and neurotransmitters are like buds. They simply do not bloom without water. That's not a clever analogy. That's a simple fact of life."
It pleases me to see that images of my rose garden ecology work well for most of my patients. They understand well those simple and basic ecologic concepts of the bowel and blood health.
Late last night, I read a report about a healthy young man who suffered a sudden stroke. The cause of the stroke was established to be an uncommon and severe immune disorder called AAS (antiphospholipid antibody syndrome). As for the treatment of AAS, the author emphasized therapy with warfarin, a blood thinner drug. Other therapies for this syndrome include steroids and some other drugs that suppress the immune system.
There was not one word in the entire article about the cause of the acute immune injury which triggered AAS. Not one word about how the bowel ecosystem might have been injured. Not one word about what changes in the blood ecosystem might have caused stroke in that young man. Not one word about the damage to the bowel ecosystem that might have led to the changes in the blood ecology. Not one word about food sensitivities and mold allergy that lead to immune disorders, such as antiphospholipid antibody syndrome. Not one word about mercury, lead, or aluminum overload that might exist in that young man. Not one word about history of chemical exposures. And, of course, not one word about his nutritional status. I was not surprised by any of that. Mainstream doctors seldom, if ever, show any interest in nutritional or environmental causes of illness. Indeed, they readily dismiss such considerations as quackery.
Somehow, last night that troubled me. How long will such travesty in medicine persist? I wondered. How long will we continue to ignore the essential issues of nutrition and environment? And of battered bowel, blood, and liver ecosystems? How long will the sick pay a price for our silly notions of diseases and drugs? How long will we physicians continue to hide our ignorance of real issues behind the hollow, meaningless diagnostic labels? How long will we deny the battering of the bowel ecosystems of children who live on sugar and antibiotics? And the devastated blood and liver ecosystems? And epidemics of underactive thyroid glands? And spreading malady of incapacitating chronic fatigue? And murderous pain of fibromyalgia? And disabling Gulf war syndrome? And paralyzing multiple sclerosis? And, of course, strokes in young men with antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, just as it happened in the case report I read?
The journal which carried the AAS article also included articles about the following: (1) shingles infection after transplantation, failure of treatment who received multiple blood platelet transfusions, side effects of interferon therapy, failed treatment for anemia of chronic disease, coagulopathy in chronic liver disease, a case of severe immune reaction in a patient given heparin for coronary angiography (he developed antibodies to heparin), and many others. I scanned through the articles to see if there was any mention of nutrient, herbal, oxygenative, or other restorative therapies in any one of them. I did not expect to find any, and I didn't.
How long and how severely will the medical thinking of our young physicians be damaged by the disease doctors of drug medicine? I wondered how many of the young men and women doctors who will read that article will ever see the grave injustice done to them by such articles. How long will those university internists celebrate their diagnostic skills as they diagnose ASS and many other immune disorders, while the real underlying health issues of their patients are ignored? The new millennium is upon us but we doctors remain incarcerated in obsolete nineteenth-century one-disease-one-diagnosis-one-drug model of medical thinking.
My rose garden also taught me some other things. A rose garden is about maintenance. It is about natural support, and not about pesticides. And above all, roses do not bloom well unless there is sunshine. Chronically ill persons and patients need to understand those things. Healing is a spontaneous phenomenon and must be seen as a reflection of that Presence which surrounds and permeates each of us at all times.
The more work I do for the sick, the more I think like a gardener and less like a doctor. In acute illness, the diagnosis must be made promptly, treatment begun quickly, and the progress monitored closely. A physician simply cannot do less. Acutely sick patients require potent, fast-acting drugs which block abnormal reactions in the body which interfere with healing. Common examples are beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, immune suppressants, enzyme inhibitors and others. But is that one-disease-one-diagnosis-one-drug approach to sickness also right for chronic disorders? The answer clearly is no. Because the chronic disorders are caused by nutritional, environmental, immune, and degenerative factors. Such disorders require therapies which restore abnormal metabolic pathways. My recognition of that fundamental difference between the acute and chronic illness-between an interruptive and restorative approach-is what led me to think more like a gardener and less like a doctor.
"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."
Max Plank, Nobel Prize winning physicist
I see one serious problem with Mr. Planck's view. There are simply too many young doctors in the world today. Hopefully, they will have long lives. Many of them graduated only recently from their medical schools and their whole life's work is ahead of them. It is hard to accept Mr. Planck's prescription for dealing with doctors who vehemently deny simple facts of oxygen, oxygenation, oxidation, and acidity which have profound significance for the sick. I do not think Mr. Planck foresaw the epidemics of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder. I wonder if he would have taken the same view if he were to be a doctor to thousands of patients with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, immune disorders, and cancer. I wonder if Mr. Planck would have shown such detachment and indifference to those who deny simple scientific truths if he had seen even one-tenth of as much human misery caused by misguided zeal of drug doctors and surgeons who are quick with their knives. It is hard to be impressed by the knowledge of drug doctors who have little understanding, if any, of the integrity of the major body organ ecosystems in health and how damage to those diverse, dynamic, and delicate ecosystems leads to disabling chronic disease.
The human antioxidant, enzyme, and immune defenses are plants rooted in the soil of the contents of the bowel.
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Recommended additional reading:
The Canary and Chronic Fatigue, Majid Ali, M.D., Life Span Press, 1995, Chapter 10
RDA: Rats, Drugs and Assumptions, Majid Ali, M.D. Life Span Press, 1995, Chapter 8
Recommended reading for advanced and professional readers
1. Ali M, Oxidative Regression to Primordial Cellular Ecology J Integrative Medicine 1998;2:4-56
2. Ali M, Ali O. AA oxidopathy: The core pathogenic mechanism of ischemic heart disease J Integrative Medicine 1997;1:13-145
3. Ali, M, Oxidative Menopausal Dysfunction (OMD-II) Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) or Receptor Restoration Therapy (RRT)? J Integrative Medicine 1998;3:125-139