I have just devoured every word of Susan Blum’s book being launched today, The Immune System Recovery Plan. I fully expected to like the complimentary copy I received as a preview. What I didn’t expect was that it would become one of my bibles for healing. I have underlined, made notes in the margins and folded page corners as much as I did editing one of my own books! And now that I’ve read it through once, I plan to go back to reread sections, pull a few quotes to share with my clients, and purchase additional copies to share with the never-ending list of friends and family members I think could benefit as much as I have from reading it.
While I am not accustomed to promoting things on my blog (other than eating clean and living well), The Immune System Recovery Plan is such a well-written, easy-to-understand, incredibly user-friendly tool for healing, that I had to share it here with you. Rather than write a summary, I’ve interviewed Dr. Blum so that she can tell you in her own words why this book could be just the partner in health you’ve been looking for.
Interview with Dr. Susan Blum, MD, MPH, Blum Center for Health Founder
What is functional medicine and tell us how your journey led you to it?
Functional medicine is an emerging new medical specialty that focuses on the prevention, reversal and treatment of complex chronic illness by identifying and treating the causes of illness, instead of focusing on symptoms with prescription medications that don’t always work and can have serious side effects. To look for the cause of illness, we use specialized laboratory testing, but also detective work to look at lifestyle, including food and diet, and environment, including exposure to toxins. Just as we look at the whole person as part of the evaluation, so too, is the treatment, focusing on lifestyle medicine which includes nutrition, exercise and mind.body.spirit.
Nutritional medicine is the cornerstone to everything we do, which means using food as medicine to help reduce inflammation, heal the immune system, remove toxins, balance hormones, lower cholesterol, and any other condition the person might have.
My traditional training is in Preventive Medicine. I was always very interested in helping people prevent illness in the first place, yet in conventional medicine the focus has always been more on early detection: Get your mammogram, pap smear or colonoscopy. This is called secondary prevention. What’s primary prevention? Addressing poor nutrition and the effects of stress on the development of chronic disease. After getting my Masters in Public Health in General Prevention, and finishing my Preventive Medicine Residency at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, I realized conventional medicine didn’t have the tools to look at primary prevention the way that I wanted to.
I began exploring “outside the box”. I had heard about Functional Medicine, and after going to a 1 day seminar, I jumped in and did the 8 day immersion training. That was 12 years ago, and I remember feeling like I won the lottery because I finally found the way I wanted to practice medicine. I always loved biochemistry and I learned how to use lifestyle medicine to influence the functioning of the body on the deepest cellular level. With this understanding comes the ability to help the body function properly, which can reduce symptoms and reverse illness.
Please explain what an autoimmune disease is and common symptoms.
Your immune system is the part of your body that has the job of protecting you from invaders. These invaders are usually infections like viruses and bacteria. You have different immune organs, like lymph nodes, bone marrow, thymus, spleen and the lining of your digestive tract. Think of these organs like army bases, where the soldiers of your immune system (immune cells) are waiting to be triggered to action if there is an invader. When the system is working properly, these soldiers are trained to know who is friend and who is foe, so that they don’t attack their own. But what if they make a mistake? Friendly fire?
When your immune cells make a mistake and attack your own cells, tissues, organs in your body, this is called autoimmune, and can cause a disease if there is enough damage. During this attack, the immune cells release antibodies (bullets) or directly release irritating chemicals, both of which cause inflammation and damage in the area where this is happening. If it is in the thyroid, then you can have thyroid problems. If it is in the joints, then you can get arthritis.
Symptoms of autoimmune disease are different depending on where the problem is. For some, they are just tired, achy, feel puffy and inflamed and don’t know why. Others develop joint pain (rheumatoid arthritis) or dry mouth and eyes (Sjogrens syndrome).
The list of illness that are considered autoimmune diseases is enormous, and yet The Immune System Recovery Plan provides one singular approach to healing them all. How did you devise this system and how can one approach help heal so many different issues?
It turns out that what these diseases have in common is greater than what separates them. Mostly the separation is an illusion because it is just base on which tissues are effected. But the underlying problem, dysfunction of the immune system, specifically the loss of tolerance to “self”, is common for them all.
And it also turns out that when you look at the research studying the different causes of autoimmune disease, they all have a lot in common. Gluten, stress, gut dysbiosis (altered gut flora) and toxins especially mercury are all associated with several different autoimmune conditions. And so for one person, mercury might trigger thyroid disease, but it is also associated with lupus and MS.
Can you share with us the basic pillars of your approach to healing?
The functional medicine approach is to look for the underlying causes of an illness, and treat the cause in a systematic way. And so my 4 pillars are:
- Using Food As Medicine: Find the foods that are triggering immune reactions and inflammation in the body, and remove them. There is lots of research looking at gluten as a trigger for autoimmune diseases separate from celiac disease, so a gluten free diet is key. But we also look at corn and soy, which are commonly genetically modified, and dairy which is inflammatory for most people.
- Understanding the Stress Connection: Must make sure the stress hormones are in balance. Cortisol and adrenaline both have a huge impact on immune function.
- Healing the Gut: Must fix the gut flora! Lots of great research on leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune disease. My program shows readers how to heal the gut.
- Supporting the Liver: Help the liver do a better job clearing out toxins. There are many studies looking at environmental triggers for autoimmunity.
Aren’t we all exposed to toxins in our food and environment, not to mention stress, that hinder our immune systems? Who did you write this book for? Who can benefit from your recovery plan?
You are correct! We cannot live in a bubble, we are all exposed to toxins, stress, tainted food. So, yes, this book is great for anyone interested in having a healthy immune system. The 4 Steps or 4 Pillars as you called them, are the steps to being healthy in general. BUT, I really did write this book to offer hope to those millions of people suffering with autoimmune diseases and have been told they have no other option than taking medication that is making them sick and not doing anything to fix their underlying foundations. The fact is, that when you treat the potential causes of the immune problem by healing these 4 foundational systems of the body, you get better.
It’s my goal to inspire people to take control of their health (hence, “eat clean live well”). You’re approach to food as medicine is music to my ears. Why is what we eat (and don’t eat) so important?
Yes, I know we think alike!
It turns out that food is much more than calories, it brings information into your body. I love this saying. Food is information. The different compounds in food travel to the deepest cellular level, and trigger a response from the cell. This can be a good response, such as resveratrol (the phytonutrient in red grapes) that activates the “longevity” genes inside the cell. Or another food, like sugar, can bind to the cell and trigger the release of irritating chemicals called inflammation. So the first impact of food is the information it brings to the cell level.
There are lots of other ways food has function, too numerous to list here. But as examples, food with soluble fiber helps remove toxins, hormones and cholesterol in the gut and helps the good bacteria grow. And cultured foods will support this too. This is why diet can be very helpful in strengthening the health of your gut.
Using food as medicine is foundational to everything. Another example of this is eating lots of greens and antioxidants to keep your liver strong and functioning well so it can remove all those toxins we are always exposed to!
It’s taken me years to pull together my wellness team, and you offer it all under one roof! Tell us about the Blum Center.
Blum Center for Health has been my dream for many years. Day after day, I was spending a lot of time explaining to people what they should eat and why, and also how to think about stress and the need to learn relaxation skills. I really wanted to be able to offer classes so they could learn the skills they needed to implement the lifestyle changes I was prescribing. Changing is hard, and most people need lots of support.
So I decided to build a Lifestyle Education Center under the same roof as the medical clinic, with a teaching kitchen for cooking classes and food education, and a meditation room to teach mind body skills. Now, everyone can get what they need in one place for diagnosis, treatment and support to make the lifestyle changes they need for their health goals.
Thank you, Dr. Blum, for sharing your knowledge and wisdom in this valuable guide and resource. If you’re interested in learning more, please check out The Blum Center for Health Facebook page, and their blog at blumcenterforhealth.com specifically geared to talking more about this great book. For those who are interested, The Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, NY offers a wealth of services (not to mention a teaching kitchen that is to-die-for!). Dr. Blum and her nurse practitioner offer in-person first visits, and follow-up visits can be conducted by phone or Skype. And of course, if Rye Brook isn’t in your backyard, Dr. Blum wrote this book for you!
Eat clean live well!