It should come as no surprise to anyone who has spent time on this blog, or to anyone who had read Don’t Die Early, that I believe most of today’s modern diseases are the product of our unfavorable lifestyle decisions and, in fact, result from the small set of root causes, like poorly controlled glucose levels and rampant inflammation.
It’s also no secret, either, that I think most mainstream clinicians are too inclined to wait for diseases to manifest instead of focusing on prevention. (See my rant on preventive cardiac care for an example of how misguided standard clinical guidelines can be.)
Fortunately for all of us, there are some great physicians out there who see the bigger picture. They think like scientists and look beyond the symptoms to identify root cause instead of just writing a prescription and moving on.
One such physician is Dr. Bill Wilson, founder of the CARB Syndrome Project. The CARB Syndrome is Dr. Wilson’s name for an array of neurological maladies induced by overconsumption of high glycemic foods. As Dr. Wilson points out, the average person’s sugar intake 100 years ago was one pound per year. Today it’s 150 pounds per year. The human body, especially the brain, cannot withstand that glucose assault without being harmed. This harm manifests itself as “depression, ADHD, autism, eating disorders, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, PTSD, bipolar II, anxiety disorders and others.” In other words, many of the disease that have become household words today.
According to Dr. Wilson, he developed the CARB Syndrome model by “working in my own clinic, measuring the body composition and focusing on the brain dysfunction symptoms of more than 18,000 patients,” and in doing so, he discovered what he refers to as “a new disease model” in which sugar is “frying our brains.”
Intrigued by Dr. Wilson’s CARB Syndrome and his thirty-some years experience, I approached him and asked for an interview. He was gracious enough to agree.
Interview with Dr. Bill Wilson
Don’t Die Early: There have been a number of news articles in recent months reporting that Americans are actually growing less healthy, despite medical advancement and increased spending on healthcare. Does this agree with what you’ve seen in your thirty years as a practicing family physician? Are we becoming unhealthier as a nation?
Dr. Wilson: This is clearly the case when it comes to common chronic diseases. We have made great advances in treating infectious diseases, orthopedic surgery, cancer treatments and other areas. We have also improved our ability to treat the complications of diseases like obesity, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. Unfortunately the incidence of these conditions continues to increase at an epidemic rate despite our best efforts. When I entered medical practice, there was no such thing as a teenager with type II diabetes and now it is common. Yes, I agree that on average, most American’s are less healthy than their parents or grandparents, even though they may end up living longer. You simply cannot have quality of life unless you are healthy. I see many patients today who spend the last decades of their lives in misery because of their chronic medical conditions.
Don’t Die Early: One physician I interviewed while writing Don’t Die Early told me that even though there are some very caring practitioners out there, the medical industry itself isn’t about making people well—it’s about keeping patients “healthy enough so that they can continue working and buying medical goods and services.” What has your experience shown in this regard? Has medicine become an industry that thwarts practitioners who truly want to help make patients well?
Dr. Wilson:The simple answer to your question is “yes”. I am not big on conspiracy theories so I tend to avoid finger pointing. I simply believe that our healthcare industry has evolved in a way that is not consistent with keeping people healthy. Let me give you an example. Do you know how much insurance companies will pay me to prevent a patient from developing diabetes? The answer is zero. They will only pay me to “manage” diabetes once a patient comes down with the condition. Using this logic, physicians should have donuts in their waiting rooms! And of course mainstream medicine is primarily focused on using drugs, even when these drugs have been shown to offer no health benefits. The “standard of care” in medicine is determined by a group of experts sitting around in a room drinking coffee and eating donuts. All of them receive money from pharmaceutical companies. Enough said.
Don’t Die Early: A family practitioner confided in me that she learned very quickly to mentally categorize her patients into two groups: those who are willing to make lifestyle changes to become healthier and those who live unhealthy lifestyles and believe it’s their doctor’s job to fix whatever goes wrong. What is your opinion on the attitudes of today’s typical patient? Are patients becoming more, or less, proactive in their overall health?
Dr. Wilson: Great question. I agree that there is a group of patients who simply don’t want to get well because they get a lot of secondary gain from being sick. In my opinion, the vast majority of patients do want to be healthy, but they are victims of bad medical advice. If you tell an obese patient to exercise more and eat less (the standard of care), over time the patient will fail to lose much weight because this advice is flawed. I have found that if you give patients advice that really works when they follow it, compliance skyrockets.
Don’t Die Early: You and I have talked about how most people, practitioners included, view today’s myriad assortment of diseases as entirely separate, each with its own specialists, methods of treatment, and culture and how this fractionalized view of disease blinds us to the root causes that are the real problem. Can you elaborate on this?
Dr. Wilson: In medicine physicians like to treat diseases. That is what we are trained to do. Diseases are simply a form of altered physiology where a normal process runs amok. As a scientist, I want to break things down to their basic pathology. For example, numerous studies have tied obesity to depression. As a scientist I demand that we figure out the underlying pathology of exactly how they are connected. In my opinion modern medicine has tossed science out the window. The primary goal is to find a label to apply to a patient. Once you have a label, you prescribe the approved drug for that label. I hate to tell you, but you don’t need seven years of post-college education to practice this type of medicine. A monkey could do it just as well.
Don’t Die Early: You established the CARB Syndrome Project to bring attention to the damaging neurological effects of Standard American Diet. What first made you realize that more than just genetics and random chance are responsible for today’s growing rates of Alzheimer’s, ADHD, anxiety disorders, and other neurological maladies?
Dr. Wilson: There is one advantage of being old—you learn from the wisdom of time. When I went to school (when God was a baby), there was one fat kid in every class and one kid who couldn’t learn because he had some type of “problem”. If you talk to teachers today, the majority of the kids are obese or overweight and half the class is taking stimulants or other medications for ADHD or other disorders. As a scientist, I demand that we find an explanation for this sudden change. The CARB syndrome concept is my humble attempt to find an explanation. I crafted the model after listening to my patients over the years. They taught me everything I know and now I try to repay them by giving them the tools they will need to regain their health.
Don’t Die Early: How responsive are people to the concept that many of today’s “diseases” are really the effect of lifestyle decisions and therefore preventable?
Dr. Wilson: I have found that patients are very receptive to this idea. When most physicians are confronted with a patient with type II diabetes, they mumble a few words about dietary changes and then move on to prescribe medications that will only make things worse over time. When I inform patients that a few simple dietary changes can reverse their diabetes and return them to a normal state of health, most patients are ecstatic. Our modern diet is directly responsible for most chronic diseases. It’s a simple but powerful message.
Don’t Die Early: Tell us more about the CARB Syndrome Project and how it ties multiple maladies together under some common root causes.
Dr. Wilson: Years ago when I was confronted with the emerging obesity epidemic, I decided to measure the body composition of all my patients. After all, obesity is defined as excessive body fat, so to me it made sense to measure the parameter that defines the disease. I immediately noticed that patients with excessive body fat, regardless of their size or weight, always seem to have brain dysfunction symptoms. Those with a normal body composition rarely had these symptoms. These are the very symptoms that qualify a person for the diagnoses you have listed. Over several decades I realized that the same dietary elements that lead to obesity—excessive fructose mainly from sugar and HFCS and high glycemic carbohydrates mainly from grains, also lead to brain dysfunction.
Don’t Die Early: I’m sure the CARB Syndrome Project has inspired many people to improve their lifestyle. What success stories are you most proud of?
Dr. Wilson: For many years I practiced in a small town in Northern Minnesota. I treated a young woman who was not doing well. All of her family members were obese and she was struggling in school because of brain dysfunction. At one point she was thinking about taking her own life because of her misery. I outlined the CARB syndrome model to her and gave her a road map to health. I told her how to eat and I recommended that she take a few supplements. Later I closed my practice and moved to the Boston area. Several years ago my elderly father became quite ill and I flew to Minneapolis to spend time with him while he was in the hospital. As it turns out, this young woman was at the hospital visiting a relative. She came up to me and told me that I had saved her life. She completed her education and is now a schoolteacher. She has been following all my recommendations and her life has taken a totally new direction. I have hundreds of similar stories. I love helping people regain their health.
Don’t Die Early: Dr. William Davis talks in his book Wheat Belly about damaging neurological effects from wheat. Noted neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter is authoring a book entitled Grain Brain, that promises to warn not only against the consumption of grains, but of all the “sugars and carbohydrates that we’ve come to love and over consume.” As a practitioner, do you perceive an increased awareness among your fellow physicians that today’s foods cause significantly more harm than just gaining a few extra pounds or are most physician still not looking beyond weight gain?
Dr. Wilson: Unfortunately the situation is not good. Most physicians don’t even address dietary issues beyond telling patients to eat less. At the hospital where I work, the diet that they feed patients is simply atrocious. I tell family members to bring in home cooked meals so they don’t have to eat the toxic hospital food. It seems that people outside of medicine (like you) are the only ones who see the elephant in the room. This is definitely not a good situation.
Don’t Die Early: Every statistic I’ve seen shows autism and ADHD sharply on the rise. Some argue that autism and ADHD are no more common today than 50 years ago, it’s just that we’re merely better at recognizing them. What is your opinion of this argument?
Dr. Wilson: Again, it sometimes pays to be old. You need to remember that I was there many years ago and these diseases were much less common. I have a very good memory so I know that we were not simply “missing” these diseases. They simply did not exist.
Don’t Die Early: Between news headlines, magazine articles, and advertisements, the layperson is literally bombarded with health and nutritional advice on a daily basis. I wrote Don’t Die Early as a guide for making sense of this confusing, conflicting medical and nutrition advice and to help the reader understand the root causes of disease. How do you help your patients make sense of it all?
Dr. Wilson: Like you, I try to give them good information. I spend a lot of time surveying the medical literature to find information that might be valuable to my patients. I am also an empirical scientist—I place a great deal of value on observing what happens to my patients when they try different approaches to improve their health. As a practicing physician, I am a slave to results. I use the CARB syndrome disease model because it gives me better results. Show me another model that works better and I will use it.
Thank you, Dr. Wilson, for taking the time to answer my questions and for dedicating your practice to meaningful, preventive health.