IHPA Q&A: Joseph Pizzorno, ND

Linking toxins to the diabetes epidemic

Collaboration is an important way that IHPC moves forward in its mission to eliminate barriers to health. To advance that mission, we work in partnership with many experts and health care professionals around the United States. IHPC is pleased to note that one of these partners, Joseph Pizzorno, ND, is taking on an expanded role as co-chair of the Environmental and Health Committee.

Dr. Pizzorno is a naturopathic physician, educator, researcher and expert spokesperson, as well as the founding president of Bastyr University. He is also an author or co-author of 12 books including the Textbook of Natural Medicine and the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine and is one of the world’s leading authorities on science-based natural medicine. Under his leadership, Bastyr became the first accredited multidisciplinary university of natural medicine and the first NIH-funded center for alternative medicine research. He retired from Bastyr in 2000 and has since served on President Clinton’s White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy and the George W. Bush administration’s Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee.

IHPC recently had a conversation with Dr. Pizzorno about natural medicine, the group’s overall mission as well as the agenda for the Environmental and Health Committee:

IHPC: You have been at the forefront of integrative medicine for more than four decades. Are you satisfied with the progress you have seen?

Pizzorno: We have made dramatic progress in awareness of natural medicine. When I graduated in 1975, natural medicine was only licensed in six states and practicing was a felony in some states. Now, 22 states allow the practice of natural medicine and that is a dramatic increase.

Clearly conventional medicine has had lots of successes over the years, obviously in areas like infection and acute care. But for everyday health and chronic disease the natural model works best. We now know that optimal medicine is integrating the best of both conventional and natural medicine. That is why IHPC is so important–because it brings together health professionals from all fields to develop better medicine.

I think it is an incredible time to be in natural medicine. What we have accomplished is being recognized, and we have changed the dialogue of what medicine should look like. We are at the forefront of this change, so it’s a pretty exciting.

IHPC: You are now working with the Environmental and Health Committee. Are people connecting the dots between chronic health issues and environmental toxins?

Pizzorno: I have been involved with the committee since it was created to respond to the water contamination issues in Flint, Michigan. We formed the committed and offered guidance to the city of Flint about lead toxicity and ways to use natural medicines to facilitate excretion. It proved to be a fairly frustrating situation. Even though we had a good committee and local influence, we couldn’t get the powers that be interested.

IHPC: It sounds like a difficult task. Explain the new work you are doing with the committee.

Pizzorno: We are now working on the growing diabetes epidemic in most of the world.  Fifty years ago diabetes affected less than one percent. Now it is projected that 30 percent of the U.S. population will get it in their lifetime. That is a dramatic increase. Why?

Most people would say it is because we are eating more sugar. And that is true we eat too much sugar. But the diabetes epidemic doesn’t correlate with sugar consumption, which has been fairly stable. Then people say it is because of obesity. And it’s clear obese people do have far more diabetes, especially morbidly obese women who have a 50 percent higher risk than men. But if you look at obesity, those at the bottom 10 percent of environmental toxin load don’t have increased risk for diabetes. Even if someone is morbidly obese, if they don’t have high levels of toxins, they don’t have significantly increased risk for diabetes.

IHPC: What is the committee doing with this?

Pizzorno: About a year ago, I brought a hypothesis to the committee that the diabetes epidemic is due to environmental toxins. I developed a three phase research protocol to see if it is a correct hypothesis. So that is what we are working on. In the first phase, we will take 10 early stage diabetes patients and measure not only insulin and blood sugar levels, but also several measures of toxin load. We will teach those with a high-toxin load how to avoid these toxins, and then re-measure after three months. We will then determine if there is a correlation between decreasing toxin load and improving blood sugar regulation.

Assuming Phase I is successful, Phase II will take on diabetes with an aggressive program of toxin avoidance and sophisticated detoxification protocols to help the patients get rid of toxins over a six-month period. If this shows promising results, we will go to Phase III, which is to propose a large, controlled National Institutes of Health study that will take about one year.

IHPC: In general, what do you see as some of the biggest challenges still facing natural medicine today?

Pizzorno: Getting the resources we need to research foundational concepts. The problem is, the money comes from the federal government, which is dominated by pharmaceutical companies and their priorities.

The money is there to promote the drug and medicine model, but for most health problems is not a curative system.  And there is really no group that makes large amounts of money from our medicine. You might say, well, there are successful supplement companies, but the challenge is even the largest is far smaller than the typical pharmaceutical company, and they don’t have the resources to subsidize the research that is needed.

IHPC: Are there still issues in formatting of research to provide solid answers and deliverables?

Pizzorno: I think at this point we know that the research can be done. We know what to do and how to do it–it’s just a matter of getting the resources to get the research done.