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The Deeper Reasons Behind Why People Get Sick

From a conversation recorded in Jan 2016 by Hilda Labrada Gore. Dr. Tom Cowan is a holistic doctor who is extremely skeptical of current conventional, and even holistic, medical practices. Find out why you should be, too! Learn about the role of nutrition in your health and what Tom recommends for those seeking to improve their health.

I’m a holistic physician. The word “holism” means that I try to take a more comprehensive view of the human being and health and disease. I think that probably is the more formal definition. For me, it means that I try to look at what I would call deeper reasons behind why people get sick and then why they get well.

I was in some ways groomed to be a doctor as an early child, in teenage years. On the other hand, I was, from the word go, very skeptical of the many doctor friends that my parents had. They exposed me to lots of doctors and, every once in a while, I would go and spend time in their office or in the hospital and I would drive them crazy because there was something in me that just didn’t buy it. The thing that I didn’t buy was what I called the superficiality of their conclusions.

I can give you an example. One of the things I routinely tell my patients – and this gets into, in some ways, what my definition of what a holistic doctor is – is the job of a doctor to distinguish the therapy and the disease and not confuse the two. The simplest example I use is let’s say you get a splinter in your finger and don’t take it out. What happens next is you get pus around the splinter. Then you go to the doctor and you say, “Look, I have pus in my finger,” and he says, “The pus is the disease. Let’s give you an antibiotic and get rid of it.” That’s obviously, let’s use the word, silly because the pus is the therapy for the splinter and the only solution for this problem, because the splinter is the disease and the pus is the therapy, is to take the splinter out and then the pus, miraculously, will go away on its own.

That’s a stupid example and probably even doctors don’t make that mistake, but let’s take another example. Routinely, in medical offices around the country and the world, you see people who smoke; those people are putting splinters in their lungs. They go to the doctor because they have “bronchitis,” which means they’re coughing up mucus and debris. They go to the doctor and he says, “You have bronchitis; you have to take this antibiotic.” The reality is the mucus and coughing and fever and etc. are the pus; they are the way to get the debris out of your lungs. If you make that philosophical mistake, meaning you’re confused between the therapy and the disease, and you keep giving people antibiotics for the splinters in their lungs, what happens is they do that twice a year for 20 years, which is the usual history of smokers, and then they get lung cancer. What is lung cancer? This is a little simplistic I would admit, but lung cancer is a bag of debris in your lungs. Why is it there? Because somebody stopped you from getting it up and out. Who? The doctor. Why did he do that? Because he’s confused between the therapy and the disease. That’s why all natural medicines, or what I would call any rational approach, to me, it’s not really holistic; it’s just sensible. A sensible approach is to help the person get the debris out of their lungs and then say, “Don’t put any more debris in your lungs.”

Whenever you ask a doctor why you have such and such, they say genetics, stress, or I don’t know. “Why do I have lupus? Why do I have rheumatoid arthritis? Why do I have cancer? Why do I have pus in my lungs?” “I don’t know. It’s stress.” I don’t know what they mean by stress, so I ignore that; it’s not good to have a miserable life I would say. But the reality is, most of these things are reactions of the body, which are therapeutic reactions, and only a silly person would base their career on stopping therapeutic reactions. Unfortunately, that silliness extends to 99% of medical practice; they get rid of the effect, not the cause.

The way you can tell that somebody is dealing with effect and not cause is just imagine if you treated the splinter with antibiotics. What would happen is the splinter wouldn’t go away and then it would happen again – pus would start again and again and again. Maybe the body would wallow off and say, “Forget it. If this guy is going to keep doing it, I’m just going to make a cyst around it so it’ll be there forever,” so then you get a tumor essentially. Anytime you see a disease that becomes chronic, meaning ongoing, that means somebody messed around with the therapeutic attempt. If you have rheumatoid arthritis or if you have asthma and they stopped the reaction, then it becomes chronic just like the pus in the splinter. An absolute telltale sign that you’re not dealing with the problem, you’re dealing with the reaction is if that situation becomes chronic.

I would ask all of your listeners go to the doctor and say with any condition, not a cold but rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, arthritis, asthma, eczema and say, “This medicine that you’re going to give me, is this going to cure me so that in whatever weeks, months, days, years, I will no longer have eczema or whatever?” I can guarantee that answer will be, “No, that can’t happen.” Why can’t it happen? It can’t happen because, if you’re treating the pus, of course it can’t happen; that’s never going to happen.

The tragedy of medicine, as I often say, is not that we can’t cure everything because that’s hard and maybe complicated and I get it, I can’t either; it’s hard. The tragedy is, A, we don’t try, B, we laugh at people who do try. If you go and say, “What can I do differently? What can I eat differently? What can I move differently? What can I think differently so I don’t have asthma anymore?” they will laugh you out of the office. “That’s ridiculous; you can’t eat or do anything. You have a spasm in your lungs, we don’t know why. Take this anti-spasm stuff. It’ll work as long as it’s there, then it’ll get worse so we give you more and you’re fine.”

Most people see their chronic condition as just how it is; they buy what they’re being told. “I guess as long as I don’t feel the pain; I’ll just take these two Advil every day and hope for the best.” Meanwhile, those two Advil every day, we know deteriorate your kidney function significantly over the years. They deteriorate your GI function, they change your gut flora, which changes just about everything, and that’s not benign. Not only isn’t it benign, it has no chance to leading to resolution of your problem and everybody admits that. Go to the doctor and say, “Will this Advil lead to resolution of my arthritis? Meaning will there be a day when I don’t have arthritis?” No, of course not.

A lot of people have asked me through the years, “Are doctors deceiving themselves? Why wouldn’t they think this is only treating the symptom and not the root cause?” I used to try to answer that question, but now the smart Alec part of me says, “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask them?” I don’t want to speak for them. What I can tell you from my experience in medical school, and this is a wide generalization, basically they’re not interested in medicine. I would do medicine and spend five hours at night reading about traditional diets and what the Intuit did if you got a splinter in your finger because I wanted to know what are the options out there, what do people think about this, and what kind of philosophies are out there. If I said that to my fellow students, it was, “Why are you interested in this? This is irrelevant, we are learning how to dose a penicillin.”

When you go to day one of medical school, microbiology, you would think what is the role of microbes in nature. They’re scavengers, they eat debris. You don’t go to a compost pile and throw stuff like meat, that doesn’t belong in a compost pile, then you get funky bacteria and then you say, “Your compost pile has an infection.” That’s ridiculous. The stinky bacteria biodegrade the inappropriate stuff you put in the compost. It’s not an infection; it’s how nature uses microbes to break things down. You would think that this would be day one of microbiology, but it isn’t. Day one of microbiology is, “Strep causes sore throats. Here is the lifecycle of strep. Is this cyst in this spoor. Kill it with penicillin. If that doesn’t work, use Zithromax. Next one is the virus that causes chickenpox. Here’s what it looks like under a microscope, here is how to kill it. Can’t kill it? Just forget about it.” That’s it.

It may be easier to wrap your head around that than to do some deep investigation to find out what the causes of the diseases are; it may be quicker for the doctor to say, “Here’s the prescription,” than it is for him to delve into the whole of you. That may be true, but I don’t exactly agree with that because I can be very quick. I don’t need to spend an hour and a half talking about people’s feelings to say, “You have a splinter in your finger. I’m going to take that damn thing out and I guarantee your pus will go away,” finished. See you later, out splinter. I’m happy to talk about people’s feelings if they want to, but it’s not that. It’s not quicker; it’s not easier to learn. It’s easy to learn why microbes live in nature; it just takes a little bit of interest. It’s not that; it’s a manipulated system. It’s manipulated so that we create consumers of medicine. That’s what’s behind it; not that this is difficult to learn or it’s not quick. It’s just a business. You teach people to be purveyors of the business model and they’re good at it.

I have a good friend doctor who I always thought should’ve been a comedian instead of a doctor because he is a much better comedian. Whenever he gave a talk, he would start by saying, “Half of what I do is protect people from conventional doctors,” and usually it was to be a holistically minded crowd, so everybody would laugh. And then he would wait till the laughing goes away and then he would say, “And the other half is protect them from alternative doctors,” and lots of times they wouldn’t laugh so hard at that. That’s why, when you say, “Should I see a holistic doctor?” Maybe.

The trouble is the most holistic doctors, and this is a broad generalization and you always get in trouble for saying things like this, but they think the same way except use Echinacea for the pus or use homeopathy for the pus. To a certain extent, inherent in homeopathy is that it’s trying to get rid of the debris, so whether they know it or not, and I could get a lot of flak for saying this, but that’s why I hesitate to say, “First step, go see a holistic doctor,” because it’s about your conception of life; that’s what we’re talking about here. I haven’t found that many people whose conception of life is how I see it. Obviously, we all think we’re right, so that’s what I mean by being right. I don’t want to say that because that could lead you into as much trouble.

I also want to say, hopefully being a person with some common sense, if the pus is going to eat your finger to the bone and give you a bone infection, I’d give you an antibiotic. Why? Because I’m not stupid. If you’re going to die of bronchitis, which frankly, almost never happens, but if you were, I would give you an antibiotic and stop it. Here’s the thing, which does take a little explaining I must say, I don’t really think I’m doing you any favors. You could say, “Tom, what do you mean? The guy would die otherwise”. I don’t want patients to die, nobody who’s ever come to me with bronchitis has died of bronchitis, and I hope and expect it will never happen because I would be the first one to give them an antibiotic if I thought that would do it.

What do I mean I’m not doing them any favors? That’s not solving the problem. There’s actually a word, which I didn’t make this up, of how I think about that and it’s called the protective use of force. If somebody’s going to shoot you, you kick the gun out of their hand even if it breaks their wrist. Why? Because, interestingly, not only does that prevent you from getting shot and killed, which is a good thing, it prevents them from doing harm to themselves because it’s not good to shoot another human being. They get a broken arm, that’s not great either, but it’s better than going to prison for the rest of your life or even living with the thought that you shot and killed somebody who probably didn’t deserve it. It’s really a win-win for both of you, so it’s, in some ways, not violent, if you want to use that word; it’s just protection.

I’m okay with protection; I’m okay with taking a tumor out of somebody’s breast if that protects them. However, I do not think that that has solved their problem of cancer. The popular cancer is not a breast disease; it’s a person disease. You have a problem, that person has an issue with their forming cancer in their body. Whether it’s an immune system or a metabolic, we could get into that, it’s a whole different subject, but that’s not a breast lump disease and anybody who says, “Now we’ve solved that problem,” is naive and that’s what the oncologists say. They might say, “We have to kill some cancer cells,” but that’s not the disease either; they’re wrong. That’s not the disease. The disease is the soil from which cancer grows. If you don’t change the soil, you’re going to get cancer again. And that happens every day. That’s all they do – they kill the plant but they leave the soil. In fact, they make the soil worse because they poison the soil so that the next nasty plant happens. The US announced a war on cancer in 1972 with Nixon, “We’re going to spend whatever it takes.” I happen to know the numbers: In the US, in 1972, 1 million Americans died of cancer. Trillions of dollars later, the biggest institutions in the world devoted to cancer research, cancer care, do you know what the death rate in 2012 was? 1.5 million. So it got worse. There’s more people so it’s not exactly apples to apples, there’s more older people maybe, so I’m not saying it’s exactly equivalent numbers. But this business of, “We’ve solved cancer…”

They have not eliminated the root of cancer nor do they even acknowledge there is a root of it. Which is why another saying is the sophistication of medicine is amazing. They can take your eyeball out and put a new eyeball in. If you asked them, “Why does my eyeball not work?” they don’t have a clue. Another one of my favorite sayings, which makes my wife cringe, is the only thing I remember from medical school is day one, a guy gets up and he says, “Just remember: The dumbest kidney is smarter than the smartest nephrologist,” that’s a kidney doctor, because any dumb kidney, even a failing kidney, you can eat a carrot and it can decide which part of that carrot to absorb and which part to excrete. Any dumb kidney can do that. You ask a nephrologist to do it, they don’t have a clue.” They put you on dialysis, it gives you dementia from aluminum poisoning in the mixture, and then you die yellow and sick in a year because they can’t figure out how to be a dumb kidney.

A mailing list of nephrologists can be found under Internal Medicine Physicians.

How we can be proactive about what our health is? Everybody, independently, on their own, should try to convince themselves of what I’m about to say, if this true or not? It’s a rock-bottom, core belief that I have that pre-civilized people, Western civilized people, did not get cancer, heart disease, or any of the chronic diseases that over 100 million Americans get. Even the ones that lived long lives. That is very controversial in certain circles, but after studying this for literally 40 years, I am 100% convinced that there have been healthy, long-lived, pre-civilized Native Americans, Inuit, Africans, New Zealand Maori etc. – that’s the work of Weston Price – who never had chronic disease. Again, that is the key. It’s like having the answers to the trust before you get the test because, if I say, “You should do this,” if this is contradicting what traditional people did, it’s probably wrong. I use that as a guidepost.

If somebody asks me, “What time should I go to bed?” Nobody does, but if they did, I would say, “Go to bed when it gets dark.” Why? That’s what traditional people did and they didn’t have your problems like cancer or heart disease, and they woke up when it got light and they were good. There’s a lot of physiology behind why that’s better for you, but I already know the answer to that question because I know what they did. Why did they do that? Because they didn’t have lights and they didn’t want to bother staying up at night. That’s the answer to the question. There’s a lot of interest in this because of the paleo movement, millions of copies of books, The Ancestral Diet Movement, the Weston A. Price Foundation. We believe, all of those people, were healthy, indigenous people didn’t get sick. To me, it’s proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

My name is Tom; they nicknamed me Doubting Thomas when I was young. As parting advice, I would say just don’t believe anybody. Don’t believe me, don’t believe your doctor; look into it for yourself. Figure out what you think is right, figure out what works for you. Even if somebody says, “Eat this vegetable,” if you get a stomachache when you eat it, don’t eat it period.

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