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To cure what's ailing you, look at alternative remedies

By SHERYL YOUNG
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 11, 2002

CARROLLWOOD -- Here's to your health!

Everyone's raised a glass at one time or another to this familiar toast, and we all hope to stay well.

While we commonly reach for the quick fix when we fall ill, alternative health care is fast gaining popularity. By some estimates, patients spent $35-billion on nonconventional treatments last year, and most of them were not covered by insurance.

Why not?

Traditional doctors, the pharmaceutical industry and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration tell us people have died fooling around with these remedies.

They don't tell us that in 2000 out of 100,000,000 people who took them, there were 50 to 100 deaths, most attributable to the unsupervised use of certain weight-loss herbs. In the same year, some $111-billion was spent on normal prescription drugs, with 140,000 people losing their lives to the wrong medication, or improper use of it. Patients spend another $177-billion a year trying to conquer the side effects of these prescriptions.

So why the hesitancy about holistic methods?

I, too, was a skeptic until I had a couple of ailments that were solved by natural regimens after regular medicine failed me.

The last was pretty serious. "I don't know what to do for you," my physician had admitted. After watching me unintentionally lose 20 pounds in just a few months, sending me for test after test that came back normal, and treating me for nausea, weakness, chills, digestive problems and extreme fatigue for nearly a year, we were both at wit's end.

A friend had experienced something similar and suggested I might have an ailment called candida. She encouraged me to explore nonchemical remedies, which she believed had restored her health. I went to see Abby Sayler, a nutrition consultant who operates Abby's Health & Nutrition at 14374 N Dale Mabry. Sayler sent me to an alternative care physician, who would diagnose me with tests my doctor hadn't done. Because of my skepticism, I saw two practitioners. A regimen of antifungal herbs, vitamins, minerals and a special diet put me on the road to wellness.

Now before conventional doctors out there get angry, let's clarify that most reliable physicians in the alternative field hold advanced degrees, and many are trained in conventional medicine. They don't make you sit cross-legged, recite chants or do voodoo, and they have nothing against conventional medicine.

In fact, the doctors I saw blend both. "Don't knock modern medical science," Sayler says. "It's what's helped us conquer many old killer diseases. And if a truck ran me over, I'd want a trauma center, not an herbologist. But prescription medication is simply not the best solution for everything, and many concerned physicians are exploring other avenues for their patients."

Sayler has a bachelor's in zoology from the University of Marland and a master's in medical and biological illustration from the University of Michigan. To earn her degrees, she went through regular medical training in physiology, histology, parasitology, endocrinology and gross anatomy. Whew! Now working toward further certification in nutrition, she believes health care professionals pick up training in natural remedies more quickly than other people because of their previous medical education.

At her store, Sayler schedules free Tuesday evening seminars on issues that include candida, women's health, ADD/ADHD and gastro-esophageal reflux disease. A session on gastrointestinal disease ("Gerds") will take place this Tuesday, with a Women's Health session planned on Aug. 20.

I attended her seminar on candida to refresh my memory. I learned, among other things, that candida is an overgrowth of a yeast fungus that can cause malabsorption, or "leaky gut" -- where molecules from food get into your bloodstream instead of being digested. Everyone has some candida. It's part of our chemical balance. But it can go wild after something weakens our immune system, such as cancer treatment or AIDS, exposure to many environmental chemicals, or long-term use of wide-range antibiotics.

That's right: Antibiotics, while killing bad bacteria, often kill off the natural balance of intestinal flora, or good bacteria, that helps ward off diseases. This lowers our immunities and makes us more susceptible to further sickness.

But if more people knew about microscopic organisms known as probiotics, Sayler says, they could avoid antibiotics.

Studies show that many other ailments -- anxiety, acne, ulcers and even ADD and ADHD in children -- can be at least partly remedied by simply cutting out sugar, wheat, high starch and dairy products. All these things produce yeast in our system, and yeast blocks proper digestion and absorption of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. The overgrowth of yeast can create so many toxins that messages sent to the brain become crossed and the body begins attacking itselfby developing allergies and illnesses, instead of preserving itself.

Yes, a simple wheat allergy and dairyor sugar intolerance may cause your child's hyperactivity.

Why doesn't your doctor find this in tests?

Doctors are educated to diagnose and locate a problem and normalize it, often with the use of prescription drugs.

A broken bone is one thing: It will usually heal when cast. But a persistent sinus or ear infection (a very common sign of yeast overgrowth) will recur after you have finished your medication,because the symptoms are gone but the root problem has not been uncovered.

Even the regular battery of tried and true laboratory blood tests will come back normal, as mine did, because they cannot detect things like candida or its toxins. Granted, not all children with ADD/ADHD have been misdiagnosed, and not all people with my symptoms have candida. But it is indeed quite common and can make you miserable.

Should we resort only to salves, potions and herbs of the jungle?

Of course not. Before a person considers natural remedies, life-threatening diseases must be checked for. It is good to do the regular battery of tests -- X-rays and MRIs, for example -- if a doctor suspects something.

But I'm convinced this extra available avenue is a good thing, and I might not be here today without it. I've gained most of my needed weight back and am free of candida.

My faith in God also played a big part in my recovery. That faith enabled me to get out of bed every day, no matter how awful I felt, and even when everyone thought my condition was all in my head. Prayer does help! On that point, more and more, alternative and conventional doctors agree.

* * *

-- Sheryl Young is a freelance writer based in Carrollwood's Cedar Creek neighborhood.

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