There’s no better person to have on New Frontiers to talk about the underlying mechanisms that activate an immune response than Dr. Tom O’Bryan, a foremost expert in understanding wheat sensitivity and the development of autoimmune conditions and cognitive dysfunction. What a pleasure to talk to! Settle in: this is a great, fun, and informative podcast covering all the way back to Tom’s first exposure to EMF in 1978 to the hundreds of pounds of toxins we are all exposed to daily. We cover brain health (of course!) and Tom shares which labs he uses and why, how to interpret them, and the interventions he’s using to help fix his patients’ brains. Clinicians: you’re sure to grasp great insight to share with your patients, and we (practitioners or not!) can all learn A TON about food sensitivity and autoimmunity with this master teacher and clinician. Would appreciate you sharing, commenting, and rating – wherever you listen to New Frontiers! Thank you! ~DrKF
Best Tests and Treatment for Remediating Environmental Impacts and Optimizing Brain Health with Dr. Tom O’Bryan
Dr. Tom O’Bryan is a foremost expert in understanding wheat sensitivity and the development of autoimmune conditions and cognitive dysfunction. He is part of the teaching faculty at IFM and the National University of Health Sciences and he’s trained and certified tens of thousands of clinicians around the world in the advanced understanding of food sensitivities and autoimmunity. His new book You Can Fix Your Brain: Just One hour a Week to the Best Memory, Productivity, and Sleep You’ve Ever Had, focuses on the brain health and in this episode of New Frontiers, Dr. O’Bryan talks with Dr. Kara Fitzgerald about the different labs he’s using, how he’s interpreting them, what kind of interventions he’s using to fix patients’ brains.
In this episode of New Frontiers, you’ll learn about:
- Neural Zoomer Plus test: how it measures 46 different biomarkers of inflammation in the brain
- Importance of shifting how we engage with our environment to protect neurochemistry
- Dangers of aggregate exposure to environmental toxins/the bioaccumulation of toxins
- Environmental factors at play in the etiology of Hashimoto’s disease
- Why background antibodies within normal limits may not actually be a bad thing
- Phthalate exposure in utero and effect on IQ
- Cautions and considerations around vaccines
- Autoimmunity-brain health connection
- BPA interactions with the thyroid
- How autoimmune mechanisms arise from food-related disorders
- O’Bryan’s preferred tests for immune system competence and food-related disorders
- Testing to help identify mechanisms years before there’s obvious tissue damage (“predictive autoimmunity”)
- Necessity of running multiple tests for toxic exposures because they lodge so deeply in tissue
- Gut involvement in brain dysfunction
- Importance of eating a variety of prebiotic foods to optimize gut health
- Electromagnetic pollution, nervous system impact, and “neurological switching”
- Musculoskeletal problems as root cause of cognitive dysfunction and other body-wide symptoms
- O’Bryan’s preferred core supplements
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Hi, everybody. It’s Dr. Kara Fitzgerald and we are here at New Frontiers in Functional Medicine where I am interviewing the best minds in functional medicine, and today of course is no exception. I’m really excited to be chatting with Dr. Tom O’Bryan. I’ve known you my entire career actually, I think. You’ve been an inspiration and a mentor to me and just so many. A little background on Dr. O’Bryan. He’s considered a Sherlock Holmes for chronic disease and teaches that recognizing and addressing the underlying mechanisms that activate an immune response is the map to the highway towards better health. He holds faculty positions at IFM as well as National University of Health Sciences. He’s trained and certified tens of thousands of clinicians around the world in advanced understanding of wheat sensitivity and the development of individual autoimmune diseases. His most recent book, You Can Fix Your Brain: Just One hour a Week to the Best Memory, Productivity, and Sleep You’ve Ever Had was published through Rodale in 2018. And he’s gotten rave reviews for that amazing work.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: In fact, we’ll drill down into it today a little bit and we’ll also talk about what Tom’s been up to recently. Again, we’re going to be focusing on this for the clinician, so I’ll be pinging Dr. O’Bryan on different labs he’s using, how he’s interpreting them, what kind of interventions he’s using to fix our patients’ brains. Dr. O’Bryan welcome to New Frontiers.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Thank you so much. It’s always a pleasure to be with you.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Folks, you might hear just a little bit of wind in the background so I’m just going to ask Tom what he’s up to, why we might be hearing that.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Well, my wife and I are having a second honeymoon and we’re back in Costa Rica where we came originally. And I was just thinking about this. I sat right here. We were here for six weeks. I can work anywhere if I have internet. My wife had this desire her entire life to get dark, to get tan, so she was serious about this. I mean she was out in the sun right there and her iPhone alarm every 12 minutes and she’d turn an eighth, and then turn an eighth, and turn an eighth. So I’m sitting here looking at my beautiful wife and I read 93 research papers on the blood-brain barrier in six weeks.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Wow.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: And this is our honeymoon and I went back and eight months later, and I called a lab, and I said, “Did you know this, or this, or this, or this?”
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Wow.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: And eight months later. The Neural Zoomer Plus test came out, looks at 46 different biomarkers of inflammation in the brain. I hope we get into that one today because it’s such a great tool. I am not associated with that lab in any way whatsoever, but I just thought they had great technology and they’d be receptive to this. And so this is where I was sitting and that was almost four years ago now and we’re back here in Costa Rica now.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yeah, I can actually see it reflected on your porch window there. I can see a palm tree swaying in the breeze and that really exquisite pool. I’m jealous needless to say. It’s quite cold out today in Connecticut. I think you can see the window behind my back. It is pretty cold out. All right. Well, I appreciate you bringing that up and I know, Tom. If somebody, I think you’re one of the most impressive full-text guys that I have come across in all of functional medicine, and I know that when you say you read something, you really do a deep dive. In fact, you tape it up on your ceiling if need be I know to just sort of internalize the content. I want to talk about that. I’m sure that it’s an important assay that you’ve developed with Vibrant. So drawing on that information what are the biggest factors impacting brain health today?
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Oh, let’s just get right into it. And it’s great to start there. Let’s just start with that. Marvelous. And we have the same bodies as our ancestors thousands of years ago. We have the same functioning kidneys and gallbladder and surfaces on our joints and the enzymes we’re producing, cardiac function. It’s all the same. And what did our immune systems have to protect our ancestors from? Bugs, parasites, viruses, mold, fungus, and bacteria. There was nothing else for them. What about bisphenol A? There was no bisphenol A. What about mercury? Well, what about perchloroethylene? What about benzene? You pump gas? Can you smell the gas? You’re smelling benzene.
And if you’re smelling it, it’s going right up to your brain and it’s a neurotoxic and triggering inflammation while you’re smelling it. Well, I feel fine. It’s not so bad. Of course, of course. So it’s not going to knock you out, but is it harmless. No, it’s not. So when we have a base understanding like that, we start teaching our patients to look for the little things. As an example, Mrs. Patient, when you pump gas, can you sometimes smell the gas? Yes, you’re smelling benzene and benzene is a neurotoxin. You have to pump gas, but you’re standing downwind. Walk around to the other side of the hose and now you’re standing up wind and you don’t smell it. Or put the automatic fill on and just walk away.
We have to shift our paradigm in how we engage with our environment but in order to do that, we have to understand why we need to shift our paradigm. So pediatrics came out with a policy statement a while ago and as you know a policy statement is not an author. A policy statement comes from the board, the American Academy of Pediatrics. And they said that the Toxic Substance Control Act which is the governing regulations at the federal level for all chemicals introduced into our environment, the TSCA failed miserably to protect our children.
This is a policy statement for the American Academy of Pediatrics and it’s 247 pounds of chemicals manufactured or imported into the United States per person, per day. 247 pounds every single day of the year which means that’s the exposure in our environment is a primary reason. We’ve all heard that newborn children in America have at least 200 chemicals in their bloodstream that aren’t supposed to be there, and many of them are neural toxins. It’s because mom is a walking pollution dump. I’m sorry to say it that way, but we accumulate these chemicals and how did the TSCA allow all this to happen? You have to prove that the amount of benzene you smell when you’re pumping gas is toxic to humans. You can’t prove that.
Now, there’s no evidence that the amount of benzene that you inhale when you’re pumping gas is toxic to humans, or that the amount of phthalates in nail-polish that gets into your bloodstream is toxic to humans. Now, there’s no evidence that the amount of phthalates that permeate into your bloodstream when you apply nail polish is toxic to humans. That’s true. There is no evidence for any of that or the amount of mercury that you breathe in the air in the 24-hour period is toxic to humans. But this stuff is accumulative.
Now, give me 20 years of a woman putting nail polish on, the standard toxic nail polish plus all of the other exposures, 247 pounds per person per day and now we understand why these children are born with so many chemicals in their bloodstream at birth that aren’t supposed to be there. I’ll give you an example, if I may, because this puts it in perspective. They took 346 pregnant women in Chicago, 8th month of pregnancy. They measured five phthalates in their urine. Just five. One of them was BPA, but they measured five out of the hundreds that were exposed to.
They then followed the offspring of those pregnancies after birth and when those children turned seven years old, they did Wechsler IQ tests on them. And there’s not much, Kara in medicine that’s all or every, but this was every. They took the mother’s results and they divided into quartiles, the lowest, the next, the third and the highest quartile. Every child whose mother was in the highest quartile of phthalates in urine, in pregnancy compared to the children whose mothers were in the lowest quartile, every child in the highest quartile, their IQ was 6.7 to 7.4 points lower. Every child.
Now, one point difference is noticeable in a person, but seven points is a difference between a child working really hard getting straight A’s and a child working really hard getting straight C’s. They’re working really hard, but they just don’t have the neural network. They can’t deal with it. They are not going to do well. That kid doesn’t have a chance to excel in life because mom was in the highest quartile of phthalates in her urine during the eighth month of pregnancy. So you see stuff like that and that’s just five of the hundreds of…
Then one more thing for everyone who’s listening. Go to Google and type in phthalates and neurogenesis, and look at the studies how phthalates inhibit neurogenesis. Just look at the studies and then you can see the correlation. So our message is every woman of childbearing age should be tested for toxic overload before she gets pregnant and educated on how to detox for six months to a year to prepare for baby so that baby has the best chance in the world of having excelling intelligence. Because that’s what we need to save the planet is the next generation to be much smarter than us, because we’re the ones that have blown it so bad. We’re the ones that have allowed this to occur.
And I take it back to the Toxic Substance Control Act where those senators and representatives got paid off to pass legislation that has no teeth. There’s no teeth. In over 30 years that legislation which is still the governing legislation has only regulated five chemicals or classes of chemicals. In 30 years, that’s how ineffective it is. That’s why manufacturers do not have to prove chemicals are safe. They don’t have to do safety studies. They don’t have to accumulate data about others who have looked at safety of their compounds. They don’t have to do any of that. The public has to pay for any research to prove something is not safe.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Tom, thanks for that intro. It’s terrifying and yet we’re seeing it manifest everywhere. So I just wanted to sort of add a couple of thoughts I had while you were sharing. The first thought was I was at a laboratory for a long time as you know, a clinical lab and we released an organic toxin panel and as we were validating and involving the assay of course everybody is collecting their urine and donating their blood in the lab. This one guy, this one analytical chemist, his wife had just put a plug in like Febreze plug in or something in their house. So this extremely common thing that you can smell wafting out of the grocery store whenever you sort of venture near that aisle if you go in a regular grocery store.
And he was just dumping massive organotoxins into his urine. It was a night-and-day proposition and then they removed the Febreze and we tested and it had dropped considerably although there was still some there. I’ve seen that time and again being in a lab that ran this panel. Just water bottle exposure for somebody who’s trying to do right by what they’re drinking and is consuming water encased in plastic. And the other thought that I had that I wanted to throw out was looking at epigenetics, there was a twin study one developed breast cancer and they were attributing it… So they’re identical twins, genetics are identical and they were wondering why this one twin develop breast cancer, and of course its environment and they’re looking at epigenetics. And the only distinguishing factor apparently of this child was the fact that they painted her toenails every day of her life to tell the difference between her and her sibling. They were scratching their heads as to what could have been the cause, but boy that stuck out for me.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: And so I started with our ancestors and our bodies are the same as our ancestors. We don’t have a defense mechanism against all of these chemicals that we are exposed to. This is a paradigm shift that if everyone who’s listening to this will take one hour a week to look into this a little bit so that you’re not overwhelmed because we’re all busy in life. But if you allocate one hour a week to this in six months, you’ve got this and it’s just so overwhelming that you realize I have to make sure all of my patients understand the critical importance of having a detox lifestyle.
Not just once a year. But all the time it needs to be a priority because the phthalates that are leeching out of the plastic blinds on your windows, the formaldehyde that’s leeching out of the carpet, the flame-retardant chemicals coming out of the blankets on your bed. All of these different things that we’ve just taken for granted for convenience, we do not have an immune system that’s designed to deal with this stuff. Bugs, parasites, viruses, mold, fungus and bacteria. That’s it.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yeah. It’s eloquently stated although as always when we’re on this topic, it’s overwhelming. It’s gut-wrenching. It’s so depressing because you’re right. Our system has no clue, I mean that’s why they’re persistent organic pollutants. What does our body do with them? They’re Greek.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Right. And that’s why I always say on stage. Don’t ever say vaccines cause autism. You sound like a nutcase. If that were true, everyone that got a vaccine would develop autism. That’s not true. But it’s accurate to say vaccines may take somebody over the edge of toxicity where they can’t deal with the adjuvant and then you can develop some symptoms from that. That’s rational, but it’s a toxicity level.
And, of course, we know Professor Schoenfeld in Betrayal. We interviewed Professor Shoenfeld then because his book had just come out vaccines and autoimmunity and he said, “We’re very much in favor of vaccines. They save millions of lives.” However, if a person carries the gene HLA, DRB1. They are a very high risk of having a sensitivity reaction to the adjuvant in the vaccine. So in those people, caution is advised. But it’s taking them over the threshold where their body can’t handle the assault because there’s so many toxins in their body or the genetics that they have that limit their ability to deal with these toxins. So it’s a paradigm shift for everyone if they can take an hour a week to just look at a little more about this.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: We started this with me asking what are the big biggest factors impacting brain health today. So toxins it sounds like given that we’ve just devoted a significant chunk of time on the overarching absolute number one variable in your book.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Yes.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Okay. And mechanistically, so now I’m going to ask you about autoimmunity and brain health. Connect the dots. Mechanistically, what’s going on with these toxins?
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: There are a number of mechanisms. A common one is that the toxin the immune system can’t destroy it. Our detox pathways don’t break it down. The toxin binds to our tissue. The easy one to understand is BPA and thyroid. Just Google BPA and thyroid and look at all the studies that BPA binds on to your thyroid. You’ve formed a neoepitope, a new compound and the immune system recognizes this foreign compound. So it goes after that compound to destroy. You make antibodies to the neoepitope. When you make antibodies to the neoepitope, you damage that thyroid cell that the BPA is bound to.
When you damage the thyroid cell, you increase thyroid antibodies to get rid of that debris, to get those old damaged thyroid cells out of there. When you increase the antibodies going after the neoepitope to get rid of the debris, that’s fine. But you’re exposed to BPA every day. And if your genetics are allowing it to bind your thyroid, you make more neoepitopes, you make more antibodies to the neoepitope, you make more antibodies to thyroid to get rid of the damaged thyroid cell. And here comes Hashimoto’s.
So just Google BPA and thyroid and look at the different studies that talk about the mechanism. You can take that same concept and take it to the brain. You can take it to the joints. You can take it to any tissue in the body. That neoepitope formation is a common initiating factor in the development of antibodies to self. Another one is molecular mimicry. I remember really clearly. Professor Alan Ebringer. We interviewed him for Betrayal. Because 1978, January 1978, my first genetics class, my very first genetics class, the professor came in one day and he’s holding up this paper and he’s just so excited when he comes holding up the paper that this graduate student at King’s College in London had just published on molecular mimicry. And it was the association of Klebsiella pneumoniae with ankylosing spondylitis.
And if you carry the gene, HLA-B27, you’re at higher risk of the antibodies which are fighting Klebsiella going after tissue that kind of looks like the protein structure Klebsiella and you develop ankylosing spondylitis. That was the first study that my professor had ever heard of and he brought it and so excited. And I remembered that over the years, and when I went to meet Professor Alan Ebringer, he’s just a wonderful Kris Kringle kind of a guy, but now he’s got, I don’t know how many, 20, 30 papers on molecular mimicry and rheumatoid molecular mimicry and MS, bacterial infections as initiating trigger in the development of the autoimmune mechanism that eventually manifests as these autoimmune diseases. So it’s molecular mimicry and neoepitopes are two of the common mechanisms that initiate this autoimmune mechanism years before you’ve killed off enough tissue to have dysfunction and an eventual diagnosis.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Okay. All right. We’re going to be seeing that with a lot of variables, not just some of the classic organotoxins you mentioned but obviously…
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Oh, bacteria, viruses, chemicals, foods. That’s one of the basic premises behind wheat-related disorders and why are there so many different auto-immune mechanisms associated with wheat-related disorders and you put them on a thorough gluten-free diet and antibodies start to diminish. That’s a common mechanism as to why autoimmune mechanisms can occur from food-related disorders.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: All right. Let me think what I want to ask you next. I was going to talk to you later on about labs. I know you do antibody testing and we’ve dialogue before about reference ranges. We can look at trends. So think going back to the quartile reference, we can look at somebody who might be in the third quartile and think of them as perhaps slightly higher than the rest of the population or quintiles, I should say the third would be a little bit higher.
So given what you’ve described, I’m going to infer that if you’re looking at a panel of antibodies, you’re going to be concerned about things, findings that are just a little bit above, say, one standard deviation or half the population. Are you going to be interpreting these things pretty sensitively? Why don’t you just talk to me about labs, these antibody labs in general and how you’re using them and how you’re interpreting them since I’m stumbling out with that question.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: You bet. The first screening tool that we look at and when looking at test results for antibodies, is the immune system competent or not? So we always look at total IGA, total IGG, total IGM. And if the totals are low, it’s very difficult to get accurate interpretations out of a test for antibodies. Their immune system is not able to get the job done. And then you have to ask why and where’s that coming from. But if the totals are adequate, then we can assume if it’s a good lab then the results are accurate.
I don’t want to wait until someone has such tissue damage, ongoing tissue damage that’s occurred for enough years that they present with symptoms. I would like to show them if I can, here’s the mechanism that’s going on for you now. If this mechanism continues and when you have elevated antibodies to myelin basic protein as an example, if you have elevated antibodies and they’re substantially elevated, they’re never neutral. If they’re elevated, they’re not passive is the right word. They’re not passive. They’re killing off myelin more than you’re reproducing. That’s a definition of an elevated level of antibodies. There’s more than… Why is there a normal reference range for TPO antibodies? Why is it ever normal to have some?
I asked our friend, Terry Wahls about that and she was eloquent in her explanation that we have to get rid of old and damaged tissue. And if you’re getting rid of by antibodies about the same amount as you’re making, you’re in the reference range. You’re normal. There’s no symptoms, there’s no evidence of thyroid dysfunction. But if you’re elevated, you’re killing off more cells than you’re making.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: That’s interesting.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: And eventually, that accumulative killing off more cells than you’re making mechanism is going to reduce thyroid function to a degree where you start getting symptoms or reduce neurological function to a degree where you start getting symptoms. So it just depends on what antibodies you’re talking about. So Mrs. Patient, if you’ve got elevated antibodies that tells us that your immune system is killing off more cells than you’re making. So the question is why is your immune system going after myelin? And that’s where docs in their training, they learn about molecular mimicry or neoepitopes or food sensitivities that may be associated and you just go down the checklist. Is it this one? Is it this one? Is it this one?
And you can find which ones are likely contributing to this exaggerated immune response. And you get that antigen out of there and sometimes, and depending on the thoroughness, the antibodies go down in six months to a year. Then the patient says, “Well, am I okay now? Can I eat wheat now?” And the answer is, “No, I’ve never seen that happen but you can try.” And then in six months we’ll do the antibody test again and you’ll see. So that’s the concept and we call that… I didn’t call it that, but Professor Schoenfeld actually called it predictive autoimmunity that you’re looking to identify the mechanisms years in advance. That’s the whole basis of where Cyrex Lab was formed. That was the reason to form Cyrex in 2010 and now Vibrant and now other labs that are doing antibody testing is to help people identify mechanisms years before there’s so much damage that it’s obvious.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Let me ask you this then. Background antibodies, just going back to what Terry said to you, that are within normal limits, may not actually be a bad thing?
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Correct.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Okay. That’s pretty interesting. That’s a strong statement. I mean, we’ve certainly had plenty of patients come to our practice with antibody testing that they’ve obtained elsewhere and they’re really anxious about those background antibodies.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Yes. Our opinion and my experience has been so far, if they’re in a normal range, this is how the normal range gets determined that a history of people who did not develop any symptoms, did not develop any disease with that level of antibody. So that’s the reference range. But when you’re outside that range, you’re a much higher risk of causing tissue damage.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: I want to just ask you another question. I’m going a little bit to the left and then we’re going to circle back and I want to talk about how you’re recommending interventions when you’re moving to that list. So we’re going to come back there. And then I’m going to also nail you down on the labs that you’re running as well because people will want to know that. I’m sure that you’ve seen the recent publication showing that anti-nuclear antibody incidents is just like rising meteorically.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: A great example, great example.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Talk about that.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Yeah. Just pull up the studies. Just Google mercury and nucleus of the cells, and you see that mercury deposits in the nucleus of your cells as do other toxins. So why is your immune system attacking the nucleus in your cells? Well, what’s in there that your immune system is trying to protect you from? So anyone that has elevated A&A antibodies, I’m going on a deep dive as to food sensitivities, chemical sensitivities, mold sensitivities. So we look peripherally to see what else is your immune system trying to fight? And that’s where we begin our attack.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: It’s no great surprise to you that we’re seeing this incredible jump in it?
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: No. It’s consistent with the premise of the amount of environmental toxins that we’re being exposed to. They get deposited very deep in your tissue. Who’s that osteopath? Buttar? or what’s his name? I’m sorry. I’m not remembering his name. 15, 18 years ago. This osteopath, his child was given a vaccine and had a severe reaction. And so he devoted his career after that to reversing this child’s autism and what are the mechanisms of autism. And so I heard him speaking one time about heavy metals in the brain and he would say, he’d run the tests on these children and at the time, he was doing provocative tests on these kids and they come back normal.
And he said sometimes you had to do the test two, three, four times while you were working with the child over a number of months before they’d start to show positive, because this these toxins were buried so deep in the tissue. You just couldn’t get them out in a provocative test to identify. But he’d start his detox protocols and his nutrition protocols, whatever else he was doing and it would take three tests. Two, three tests before they started showing… And then it just floods out of their tissue. Not aggressively, but over time.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: He was cautious as to how he was chelating and pulling that stuff out. But that introduced me to the concept that toxins can get buried deep in the tissue so they’re not easy to measure. And that’s consistent with the ANA antibodies going up. I tie those two together.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Well, and they did actually show that in teens in particular, there was quite the rise. Okay. Well, I think you’ve already touched on it. So just let me ask you if you want to add anything else about gut involvement. You mentioned Klebsiella, but I know you’re thinking a lot about gut here.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Oh my goodness, yes. I think it’s the most important tissue in our body to focus on, on any chronic health complaint in the brain. For every message from the brain going down to the gut, there are nine from the gut going up to the brain. We now know that melatonin levels are controlled or modulated by your microbiota, serotonin levels, modulated by it. Neurotransmitters are modulated by your microbiota. So we want a diverse microbiome and the studies keep flooding out about different families of the microbiome and their impact on systemic function.
My world, I’m just on the introductory level trying to understand this stuff and I’m shot-gunning if you will with patients. I teach them to rebuild their microbiome that that’s a primary focus in beginning a change in lifestyle is that they’re eating prebiotic foods, root vegetables, every day, two other prebiotic foods every day, fermented vegetables every day and I supplement them for a couple of months, while they’re transitioning into a lifestyle where they’re feeding their microbiome every day that that becomes a priority for them in their family knowing that I’m going to have so many systemic benefits for that person as they’re changing, increasing the diversity of a healthy microbiome.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Okay. Well said. Thanks. So toxins, numero uno and then right there is gut and rebuilding a gut. I’m assuming obviously since we have loads of, “tough” gut patients, you’re doing a 5R with them in some capacity and cleaning things up before you’re loading them up with prebiotics. Or I would imagine you could probably toggle through both things based on how they tolerate?
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Yes. Both you and I when we started our careers, I think I was a few years before you, but we were using lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium when patients thought we were speaking Greek and they say that they go to their family doctor or their internist who would say bacteria. Well, that’s not good for you, it’s not safe. But we were shot-gunning and still we shotgun to some degree. But now I’m so much more emphasizing the dietary lifestyle. And Mrs. Patient, I want you to buy every root vegetable in the store. Always buy organic, but buy a couple of rutabagas, and turnips, and parsnips, and radishes and carrots and sweet potatoes.
Not too many white potatoes because of glycemic index thing. But get all the other root vegetables and every day you have one of those root vegetables, and they’ll say, “Well, I don’t know how to cook a turnip.” And I said, “Well, neither do I.” They start laughing and they say, “This is what I do with a turnip. I dice it, I slice an onion, peel some garlic, a little coconut oil or avocado oil and I throw it in there and soften it up a little bit, and I put some peanut sauce on it or some sweet Thai chili sauce or whatever I’m using and I eat it.”
What about parsnips? I dice them up and I slice an onion and add a little garlic. I do that with all of them. You just want to get them down there. We’ve all been to restaurants where they serve thinly sliced peels of radish on your salad and it looks really pretty and they’re eating them raw. Eat them raw. There’s nothing wrong with that, but get root vegetables every day because root vegetables are the fibers that feed the probiotics in your gut. And you don’t want to eat just one because you don’t want to just build up one family or a couple of families of probiotics, you want to rebuild the whole world, the whole milieu. And so you use as many different types of fiber as you can by alternating the root vegetables every day.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: It’s amazing to me the more sophisticated we get and our ability to evaluate what’s going on and are looking at the microbiome and understanding its impact, the closer we become to food. Isn’t it? It’s so fascinating. Chew your food.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Mark has said it so well, as we all have, food is medicine. I mean, one of his books is Food As Medicine, right?
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Yeah, absolutely. So moving away from a capsule of probiotics and just supporting our patients and building their own. So you’re thinking about EMF toxicity and I’m sure you’ve got some thoughts on 5G, the role that this particular exposure is playing into this whole conversation autoimmunity, brain health, etc.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Yeah. It was 1979. The first study I saw that kids who live within a quarter mile of high powered tension wires had a much higher incidence of leukemia. And actually it was my first week in my education. My very first week and there was a sign in the hall, Dr. Sheldon Deal, Mr. Arizona was going to be speaking on campus that week and I said, “Oh, a bodybuilder. All right. This is a healthy guy. I’ll go listen to what he has to say.” And so he had a color television in the room, turned it on, kept the volume off, walked over to his briefcase, pulled out a bar magnet the size of an iPhone, walked up to the color television and the picture went upside down.
He walked away and it went right side up. He walked back, it went upside down. And he walked away, it went right side up. They’ve since fixed all that in television. But back then he would say, “That’s what electromagnetic pollution does to your brain and your nervous system. It switches you.” It’s called neurological switching for people to say right when they mean left. They write the number three backwards. They do A instead of E, and they get them reversed. And all those little things that we’ve seen our patients sometimes, it’s neurological switching.
And back then, 1978, he was talking about batteries in watches on our wrists. But that was a fairly new thing, batteries and watches. Now, we take it for granted, all this stuff we wear in our bodies and all the Bluetooth. But it has an impact. And by itself, it’s not going to take you down but if you include all of the other environmental toxins that we’re exposed to, in the book “You can Fix Your Brain”, I talk about health as a pyramid that we have to think of it like a pyramid. And a pyramid has four sides to it. There’s a base. That’s musculoskeletal. That’s the home of chiropractic, and naturopathy, and osteopathy, and massage, and pillows, and exercise, and bones and muscles, and all of that.
Structural problems can cause any symptom in the body. I’m not saying that flippantly. It really can. Then one side is biochemistry. What we eat, we drink, we breathe and we’re all experts at that to some degree. One side is spiritual emotional, stinking-thinking. And then the fourth side is electromagnetic. We have to look at all four sides of pollution or stress that may be coming into our bodies for the patient that’s in front of us that it’s not always just biochemistry. So looking at diet, nutrition. It’s not always just emotional or spiritual. It’s not always just electromagnetic. It’s not just chiropractic or the spine and you adjust a spine and everything gets well.
Sometimes it does. Sometimes it does the most dramatic things you’d never believe but not always. It’s four sides that I see that we all have to look at. Electromagnetic is one of those and is just ridiculous. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be that way. It’s challenging to not get into discussion with someone who believes electromagnetics are not a problem. How can they not be a problem? There are hundreds and hundreds of studies that say sometimes it’s a problem.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: It’s fascinating to me, you’re such a good storyteller. Of course that original introduction to the potential back when you were a student would make this very sticky and you would be mindful of it just way back in the day. I mean god, wristwatch batteries. That seemed so benign compared to what we’re inundated with now. I mean-
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: There was a second talk. A couple of weeks later, Dr. Karpal Singh, an MD was coming from Los Angeles and I was in Chicago to talk about electro acupuncture by Voll. And this was 1978. He talked about this instrument that had a probe on the hand measuring electromagnetic current, had a patient come in, 44 year-old woman recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. He did a scan and he said, “Well, ma’am. Yes, you have diabetes. You had a very severe fever, a viral fever when you were a child, a young child and you almost died and the virus settled in your pancreas. You’ve had blood sugar problems your whole life and eventually it moved into type 2 diabetes.”
She said, “Well, you’re exactly right. I did have blood sugar problems my whole life but I was never sick as a child. I’ve never gotten that really sick.” “Yes, you did.” “No, I didn’t. I’m sorry, doctor, I didn’t.” He says, “Is your mother alive?” “Yes. Here, call her. Hi, mom. I’m at the doctor’s office. I’m fine. But he says I was really sick when I was a child. I was never really sick.” “Oh, honey, you almost died. Your fever was over 105 and the doctor was out of town. We put you in ice baths when she was like two years old.”
I just sat there and said, “What? 42 years later, this guy identified what happened to that woman by a probe on the hand.” This is my first month or so in my education. I said, “What?” Now, that just opened me up immediately to the whole world between Dr. Deal and Dr. Singh, that that opened me up to this world of electromagnetics that for some people, it’s what takes them over the edge. I think that’s a healthy way to hold the world of electromagnetics.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Right. Got it. I’d love to hear about how you address it with patients. I want to in our final time together, and we might be able to factor it in. But what you’re thinking about like how you’re working somebody up, the antibody tests, you can go ahead and mention brands. Are you doing stool testing? And what’s your general thinking about working with folks? And then I want you to talk about your main interventions as much as you can. And then on the website, you guys we’re going to just… We’ll link to all sorts of stuff so that you… You already know Dr. O’Bryan’s website and all of that, but just all of these for you to be able to do a drill down and be trained by him, we’ll link to all of that. But okay, go ahead.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Mrs. Patient, your immune system is the armed forces in your body. It’s there to protect you. There’s an army, an air force, marines, a coast guard, IgA, IgG, IgE, IgM, there are different branches of the armed forces designed to protect you. So docs, we can’t just do IGG testing and come to conclusions because if you do IgG testing for 90 foods and it comes back they’re okay with wheat. Are they okay with wheat? No. Well, we know is that the air force hasn’t been called out. What about IgA? Well, I didn’t check it. What about IgE? Well, I didn’t check it.
The way that we’ve used testing in the past was very helpful, but it’s not current. You have to look at as many branches of the armed forces as you can. So that’s why I so like Vibrant America and their silicon chip technology because I read a paper from Joe Murray at Mayo. Now, as you know I’ve been in the world of celiac and wheat related disorders for over 20 years now talking about this and there are four guys I call the four horsemen in celiac disease. They published over 150 papers each. There is Alessio Fasano at Harvard, Stefano Guandalini, University Chicago, Peter Green at Columbia and Joe Murray of Mayo.
Joe Murray is the one that has leather patches on the elbows of his sport coats. He wears a bow tie. He’s got a horn-rimmed glasses. His papers are always so easy to read as a clinician because he thinks like a clinician. His team at Mayo came out in January of 2016 talking about silicon chip technology and referring to it as a new era in laboratory medicine. A new era. And they said clinically useful, currently clinically useful to be used. So I think of it like the 30-30 rule when I’m explaining it to patients or to docs. 30 years ago, it took a 30 by 30 room, floor-to-ceiling computers at MIT to generate the computing power of this phone.
We never could have guessed 30 years ago what this phone could do. The same has happened in laboratory medicine and silicon chip technology is the new technology. 97 to 99% sensitivity. 98 to 100% specificity every single time. Now, when you look at sensitivity and specificity, some labs are saying 97% sensitivity compared to standards. That’s a caveat. It’s just 97 to 99% sensitivity, period. 98 to 100% specificity, period. And Mayo has written four papers that I’ve seen on it. Now, Peter Green at Columbia has written two papers on silicon chip technology. So that’s a technology we use because it’s on the money as far as I know every single time. I’m not a lab medicine specialist. It’s like-
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: This is your antibody testing.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: These are antibody testing. So restart. So I did all that as a preface why I use these guys.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Okay.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Every patient gets a Wheat Zoomer.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: And you know what, you can give me a link to this as well. And if you want to give me a link to those papers… Actually, we’ll bug you later so you don’t have to think.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Sure. Every patient that comes to me gets a Wheat Zoomer and a Neural Zoomer Plus because you zoom in on the problem called Wheat Zoomer. It’s the most comprehensive test for a wheat related disorder that I’ve ever seen yet, anywhere in the world and I lecture all over the world on this and I haven’t seen any lab, anywhere that’s this comprehensive and is accurate. They look at 26 peptides of poorly digested wheat. And so it’s extremely comprehensive. And the Neural Zoomer Plus is the one I said earlier that… Well, actually the mindset came right here where I’m sitting.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: I read 93 research papers on the blood brain barrier. Why do I do that? I don’t care if they’re presenting with joint pain because the brain is the canary in the coal mine. And if they’ve got inflammation in their brain to a substantial degree, the Alzheimer’s Association came out last year and they said one in three elders dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. It’s one in three of us now where our brains are on fire for decades killing off cells.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: And so, the Neural Zoomer Plus is the most comprehensive test that I’ve ever seen for this and it’s 97 to 99% sensitivity and specificity looking at antibodies. So I start there. And then if I need to do a test for arthritides. I’ll look for antibodies or arthritides. I start there to see what’s my biomarker because this is what I’m going to use as my biomarker six months or a year from now when we go back to see how effective are we being in our protocols. I want to see, “Mrs. Patient, you had 11 antibodies to your brain that were elevated six months ago. Now, you’ve got three. Great. We’re on the right track. Keep up. You’re doing great.”
But I’m not going to base the determination of my success on how they feel because the underlying immune mechanisms can still be going on because you don’t feel when you’ve got elevated myelin antibodies or cerebellar antibodies or thyroid. You don’t feel it until you’ve got so much damage. So I’m going to base our success on reducing the immune response given they’ve got an adequately functioning immune system. And then once those tests come back and we identify what the immune system says is the problem in the body, then we go after it. We’re looking at food sensitivities. We’re looking at chemical sensitivities, heavy metals, but I’m pretty much focused on environmental as our initiating spot unless as a clinician, I get a hit that says, “We’ve got to look at emotional or spiritual here.” And if I get a hit for that that I’m going to recommend they see a specialist and just have a conversation to see if there are some fuel to that, that may be contributing to their immune mechanism right now.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Got it. Okay, good. That’s great. And so just give me a rough idea of some kind of baseline intervention that you might be starting with-
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Baseline intervention is food-related disorders. I haven’t found anyone yet that doesn’t come back. Well that’s not true. Since using the Wheat Zoomer, I’ve had three people come back since 2016, almost four years now, come back normal who had adequately functioning immune systems. There’s a paper that just came out by Fasano in January. Listen to the title of the paper. All disease begins in the “leaky” gut. All disease begins in the leaky gut. And Fasano, he has to be so careful in any everything he says because people are going to jump on and use that information and quote him. He’s now confident enough to say all disease begins in the leaky gut.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: That’s extraordinary.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: In that paper, he talks about the two markers that consistently will cause transient intestinal permeability. And what are they? Gluten, every time you’re exposed to wheat you get transient intestinal permeability and lipopolysaccharides. So toxins, they get into the body through the gut. So every time-
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Has he shifted his position? Now, he has not been somebody who suggests abstinence of gluten for all.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: No. As far as I know, he has not shifted because he gets quoted for everything he says. But he’s showing data about transient… You and I both have sat with him at lunch and he’s eating dinner rolls.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: You’d be surprised, wouldn’t you, in our world of who might be imbibing on a dinner roll or two.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: That’s right. That’s exactly right. When transient transitions to pathogenic intestinal permeability, now you got leaky gut. And that’s the key. And what triggers from transient to pathogenic meaning it’s not transient anymore. Your microbiome. And what kind of a microbiome you’ve developed over time. So it’s a big picture view. That’s in my book, The Autoimmune Fix and it’s also the base message in Betrayal. By the way, Betrayal is at thedr.com/betrayal. It’s free for everybody and we’ve had over 600,000 people that have watched.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Amazing. I mean, it’s an extraordinary accomplishment that docuseries. Really extraordinary, Tom. I think you set the bar with that one.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Thank you so much.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: I know you guys really worked hard on it. So we’ve covered a lot. We’ve talked about labs. We talked about diet. We talked about EMF. We’ve talked about mechanisms. Any core supplements that you’re turning to?
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Yeah. Spore probiotics. That’s one that I’m using in the first two months with everyone while they’re transitioning to a food selection lifestyle that’s more focused on feeding their microbiome. “Mrs. Patient, for a couple of months, I’d like you to take this capsule. Take one every couple three days and if everything feels good, then take one every two days. And if anything feels good, take one every day.” “Well, what do you mean it feels good?” “Well, some people get a little bloated, a little gas if they take too much too quickly. So just transition it in there. But do it for a couple of months and then you’re done.”
Now, I personally take it every day and I will for the rest of my life. Some days, I forget. But I will take it. But I’m not asking you to do that just for two months while you’re transitioning your lifestyle to eat more root vegetables and other prebiotic foods. So I’ll use spore probiotics. And that’s just a given. Aside from that, the other one that we give to almost everyone is gluten digesting enzymes because we now know if they come back positive on a Wheat Zoomer, it’s impossible to live gluten-free.
Peter Green, one of the four horsemen published in gastroenterology in March of this last year, he had 804 users take testing equipment into restaurants all over the country. Gluten-free restaurants and ordered from a gluten-free menu. When the waitress walked away, they pulled out their testing equipment. When the food was delivered, they tested the food. 54% of gluten-free pizzas are not gluten-free. 52% of gluten-free pasta is not gluten-free. And 32% of everything on the menu looking at 5,624 different foods is not gluten-free.
32% of everything on a gluten-free menu is not gluten-free. So we educate patients to take one capsule before you start eating because it will digest all of the gluten in a slice of whole wheat bread. Now, I don’t tell patients that or else they’re going to eat the bread and take two capsules. But for the clinicians to know, it’ll digest all the gluten up to a slice of whole wheat bread.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: So it’ll minimize the damage. It won’t turn it off entirely, but it should calm it a little bit.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Exactly.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Okay. All right. Listen, we could talk all day but I know you have a lot to do. You have to go and maybe you’re going to run in the ocean or something like that. But I can see it’s just so beautiful there. I thank you so much for taking the time and I just appreciate your hard work in this world and translating it, and putting it out there for all of us, and all just the regular folk who really hunger for this.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan: Thanks so much. I mean, what you’re doing is so great and people watching this. I hope that our clinicians will just allocate an hour a week and look into this world of environmental pollutants. I’ll send you the article from pediatrics, the policies, and you read that. It’s 27 trillion pounds per year not including pharmaceuticals or petroleum products. Now, take 27 trillion pounds and divide it by 350 million people in the US. That’s 247 pounds per person per day. Five 50-pound bags and it’s just, “What?” Every single day. Every single day.
If you spend a little time looking at that, you can understand what’s the fuel on the fire causing so much inflammation in our world today, and why are all the degenerative diseases just rising the way they are. This is a primary. So thank you very much for the opportunity to send that message out. Thank you.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald: Absolutely. All right.
And that wraps up another amazing conversation with a great mind in functional medicine. I am so glad that you could join me. None of this would be possible, through the years, without our generous, wonderful sponsors, including Integrative Therapeutics, Metagenics, and Biotics. These are companies that I trust, and I use with my patients, every single day. Visit them at IntegativePro.com, BioticsResearch.com, and Metagenics.com. Please tell them that I sent you and thank them for making New Frontiers in Functional Medicine possible.
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Dr. O’Bryan is considered a ‘Sherlock Holmes’ for chronic disease and teaches that recognizing and addressing the underlying mechanisms that activate an immune response is the map to the highway towards better health. He holds teaching Faculty positions with the Institute for Functional Medicine and the National University of Health Sciences. He has trained and certified tens of thousands of practitioners around the world in advanced understanding of the impact of wheat sensitivity and the development of individual autoimmune diseases. Dr. O’Bryan’s most recent book, You Can Fix Your Brain: Just 1 Hour a Week to the Best Memory, Productivity, and Sleep You’ve Ever Had, was published through Rodale Books in September 2018, to global accolades. This best seller offers a step-by-step approach to better cognitive function, from nutrition to environment to toxicity, ultimately creating better long-term memory and a sharper mind.
Dr. O’Bryan website: www.thedr.com
All Disease Begins in the Leaky Gut (NIH/PubMed article) Alessio Fasano, January 2020
DrKF FxMed Resources
Clinician Professional Development: DrKF FxMed Clinic Immersion