Taming the Viruses and Rebuilding the Immune System

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By: Lane M. Badger Interviews Dr. Jesse Stoff, M.D.
Literally overnight, my life was devastated. One day, I was healthy and climbing mountains in the South of France with energy to spare, and then, in just a few days, my physical condition went to ground zero. After four weeks, I knew I had something awful that just wouldn't go away. I was sick, very sick, but no one could tell me exactly what it was . . . though everyone had one suggestion or another that didn't seem to fit. I tried every remedy, every vitamin, every herbal com­bination that promised increased strength and energy, but they all failed. I spent my days crying from the pain and my nights tormented without sleep . . . without relief. My condition defied the medical experts in my area and I had to travel farther and farther afield till finally a clinic in Cam­bridge, MA, diagnosed Epstein-Barr Vi­rus, and two other viruses (HHV6, Cyto­megalovinis), rampant in my system, along with candida albicans . . . a nasty yeast infection that affected my diges­tion. My insides were a turbulent storm. I quickly lost forty pounds and I looked gaunt and haunted. I barely existed.

Help did come in small but painful doses. A wonderfully sympathetic doctor and his wife, who lived close by, sug­gested that I try shots of bee venom which, though painful, increased my stamina and my will to live. It was the first therapy that actually helped my con­dition. This, together with their support and encouragement gave me the inspira­tion to continue my struggle to find the way back to health.

Usually, all I could do was lie in bed. But sometimes during the day, I would contact individuals who I had heard were going through, or, had survived this enig­matic sickness. I would call everywhere and talk to others, comparing symptoms and strategies for getting through the day . . . and the night. I believed that I would live in a sound body again, but I didn't know how long it would take. As the months passed my list of contacts grew longer and longer. It became apparent that there were many people out there with terrible immune system problems. My story became but an echo of the scores of other tales from sufferers of this terrible and little-known illness, called simplistically Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. For my family and myself, it became an arduous journey through the darkest of Hades.

But then I met Jesse . . .

I found out about Jesse Stoff, M.D. through his book Chronic Fatigue Syn­drome: The Hidden Epidemic; (Harper Perennial, 1990). This comprehensive overview of the illness written by Jesse and a patient, convinced me that he was the right doctor. Combining homeopathy with other forms of complementary natu­ral medicine, he had a solid reputation for succeeding where others had not. His former patients sang his praises and all the ones I had talked to had returned to normal active lives. I made plans to see him.

It took a feat to get me on the plane. Supported by my five year old daughter on one side and my husband on the other, I somehow made it all the way to Jesse's office, Solstice Clinical Associates in Tucson, Arizona. As soon as I met him, I knew I would survive this horrible ill­ness. What is it in a doctor that inspires confidence and the will to heal?

In Jesse it was the thorough un­derstanding of my condi­tion and a firm and well-thought out strategy for rebuilding my health, on all levels. His sense of humor and confidence inspired me and kept me going through the worst of times - the relapses and the dark periods of doubt - and his cautious optimism guarded me from hurtling too fast into the speed­ing lane again. I am still recovering from this illness, but my health is returning after a year and a half of treatment. And that's very good news!

LILIPOH is grateful that Dr. Stoff took time off from his very busy schedule to talk about Chronic Fatigue and share with our readers his vast experience as a physician specializing in the treatment of immune dysfunction. As you read this interview, imagine him sitting at a large, old wooden desk with many drawers and compartments, covered with books, files and charts. Rock specimens and crystals sit in strategic locations throughout the room. Here he peers into the individual microcosms of his patients, and uses his vast knowledge in an alchemical way to restore them to health. Outside, the Tuc­son mountains loom in the distance. The day is bright and the future - promising.

LB: How did you become involved in Chronic Fatigue as a specialty?

JS: I went to New York Medical College, and then I did a fellowship at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital. At that time there was a serious outbreak of the Cox Sackie Virus which causes a chronic fatigue syndrome referred to as "myalgic encephalomyelitis.” It is called M.E. for short. While I was there, they had a special clinic for it. It was my first exposure to chronic viral infections. I saw firsthand how devastating this was to a life, and how well homeopathic medicine worked to stabilize and convert the situ­ation. So, I was impressed. When I got back to the United States and started a practice, Bernie Siegel, a friend of mine who was running a Chronic Fatigue sup­port group, sent me a couple of patients. I treated them . . . and they got better.

LB: What exactly is Chronic Fa­tigue Syndrome?

JS: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, by definition, occurs in people who are suffering from overwhelming levels of stress for prolonged periods of time. As a result of that stress, a chronic virus infection is able to become established in the system. Stress affects a body in such a way that the body expends energy a lot faster than it can be regenerated and the body becomes weakened and unable to effectively fight viral attack.

The official criteria for CFS has to do with recurrent low grade fevers, sore throats, swollen lymph nodes, muscle stiffness and muscle pain, headaches, migratory pains, joints, sleep disturbance, neural psychological problems, such as: problems with memory, focus and concentration. If a person meets the criteria established by the Center for Disease Control, all it tells us is that a person has a syndrome, it doesn't tell us what is wrong with the person. The question is, What disease do they have? Then one gets into a lot of special­ized testing to determine what is the cause of their chronic fatigue syndrome. It's very individual, based upon a person's history and a pattern of symptoms. Cor­rect diagnosis gives the doctor a clear and logical way of dealing with the problems.

LB: A person that suspects chronic fatigue needs special testing, but I found that many family physicians fail to order appropriate tests. In my case doctors told me I was just depressed and that it would pass. One even told me it was good not to sleep sometimes.

JS: Knowing which blood tests to do and how to interpret them is a matter of education and reading the medical jour­nals. I give lectures that are covered by medical education credits at the Univer­sity of Arizona Medical School. There are more and more articles in medical literature about this and it is beginning to become better understood. For example in New England the most common cause of Chronic Fatigue is Lyme Disease. Now with a proper diagnosis and a specific course of antibiotics, it makes it all go away.

LB: There are many people who go through a lot of tests and still show no measurable signs of virus of any kind but they are very sick. What is happening?

JS: First of all, they probably didn't get the right tests! But keep in mind that the definition for the diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue syndrome alludes to long lists of immune system dysfunctions, biochemi­cal dysfunctions, problems with the liver function, etc. There are many things that can go wrong.

LB: Do you find that certain parts of the country have more cases of CFS than others?

JS: Predominantly CFS sufferers are women on an order of eight to one - which is about the same ratio of people who get auto-immune diseases. Most sufferers are from the cities but that doesn't mean that someone from a rural or semi-rural area can't get it. Cities like LA and New York have higher concen­trations of sufferers. Overall, the num­bers of individuals with CFS are growing year by year. Statistics show that there are millions sick with this now.

LB: If a person suspects that they have this, what can they do immedi­ately to help themselves?

JS: The first thing a person can do is change their life and lifestyle. They need to modify their eating to a low stress diet avoiding red meat, alcohol, sugar, coffee, and maximize amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet. A person should look at what kind of habits they have that are getting them in trouble. Smoking is out and drugs are out! Also, what kind of internal and external stresses are in a person's life that they can change or modify. Basically, the big challenge here is either change your life or change your attitude. Environmental stresses must also be eliminated. When there is expo­sure to chemicals or toxins in the work­place and a person is sick, there is an important choice to be made. Looking at these kinds of harsh reality facts is critical if you're going to get hold of the cause of the illness and deal with it.

LB: There are many levels to this illness from people who are slightly tired all the time, to others who are bedridden and terribly sick. How many of your patients are at the moderate to severe level of illness?

JS: By the time they get to me they are all in that category.

LB: Where do you think the vi­ruses associated with CFS come from and have they been around a long time?

JS: I don't think they have been around for thousands of years but cer­tainly, for a while. Where the traditional diet of fruit and vegetables has been changed to fast foods and fertilizer, and there is a fast-paced living and drugs, there, you will find chronic fatigue. The change from agrarian-based societies to technological ones has laid the founda­tion for chronic immunological dysfunc­tions.

LB: Have there been any new breakthroughs in the field which will help speed recovery time of this long drawn-out illness?

JS: There are breakthroughs, but they are coming in the form of better understanding and better laboratory tests to pin down what is really going on in the patient. One can have a more rational approach in treatment from the point of view of biochemistry and immunology. But, there is no magic bullet yet! There are blood tests and comprehensive tests which tell the amino acid levels, fatty acid panel, neurotransmitter levels - all of which tell where the person is in terms of the neuro-endocrine system. They tell where a person is, and where their prob­lems are. It's like an individual bio­chemical blueprint! Then we can de­velop a strategy and treatment to help them reverse it.

LB: Do you find that there are a lot of similar symptom patterns in your patients?

JS: Yes, by the time I see them almost everybody's liver is in a state of shock and there is a lot of dysfunction in their T-cells, as well as other areas.

LB: What is the recovery rate?

JS: That depends on how well the person grasps hold of the illness, takes it seriously and makes the necessary lifestyle changes. If they get support biochemi­cally and psychologically, then, the vast majority of the people I've seen do return to normal function and lifestyle. But they can never go back to doing what they were doing before or they will get sick again. They need to look at a different career or through counseling or psycho­therapy learn to deal with stress in a different way.

LB: What is the most frustrating part of treating this disease!

JS: The most frustrating part is when I see somebody who I know has a reversible condition but is totally stuck in life and circumstances that they cannot make changes necessary. For example, a single mother with children who is work­ing two jobs and cannot afford to stop working to take care of herself.

LB: For you, what has been the most exciting part of your work?

JS: The most exciting part of my work has been to watch how people's lives transform as they live through this illness . . . how people move into different relationships and into different careers and how they really blossom. I have endless examples of major shifts in life and lifestyles and of incredible things that have happened as patients have got­ten out of this whole problem. You cannot go around Chronic Fatigue, the only way out of the effects of it is through it.

For those with an interest in learning more about Dr. Stoff's work, please feel free to contact his office:

Solstice Clinical Associates, 2122 North Craycroft, Suite 112, Tucson, AZ 85721. (520) 290 4516. Or call 1-800-Solstice for a copy of his book, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome -The Hidden Epidemic

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