This unorthodox M.D. believes too much modern medical care merely rescues people from disaster. With a careful diet and supplements, she's helping people to become truly healthy.
So, it was with some surprise....and a little hesitating...that Barbara Solomon, M. D., an internist from the Baltimore area whose approach to medicine is anything but orthodox, found herself speaking to doctors and students of the John Hopkins School of Medicine on the subject which the organizer of her lecture, a graduate student at the John Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, aptly called "new to the Hopkins community"...nutritional therapy.
"I've been interested in nutrition since I was a child," the energetic Dr. Solomon told the group of over 300 who had gathered for her lecture. "My aunt was a so-called health food 'faddist.' My father was a doctor (and surgeon). And they were in constant debate...my aunt for treating diseases with good diet and supplements, my father for the conventional methods." She paused, and added with a smile, "Sometimes it seems as if my whole career has been nothing more than an attempt to find out which one of them was right...but I think my aunt is right about some things."
That career has included earning an M.D. from George Washington University in 1960, and a master's degree in biochemistry from the University of California in 1954. It was her knowledge of biochemistry...and the experience of curing her own migraine headaches through a change in diet...that first led Dr. Solomon to make nutrition the mainstay of her practice.
"While I was doing my residency at George Washington, I had terrible migraine headaches," Dr. Solomon told her audience. "I would have them three or four times a week. They were really putting a dent in my effectiveness. At the time, I was working with terminal cancer patients, most of whom were nauseated, vomiting and rapidly losing weight. What a situation that was! They were vomiting, I was vomiting. Well, at that time a friend of mine recommended I take a course in modeling for a change of pace. I took her advice, and after listening to a presentation on diet, I thought it would be a good idea to improve mine, especially since it had consisted solely of hospital food for the previous four years. So I followed the same diet of my modeling teacher, who ate only fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish. I not only stopped eating beef, but gave up poultry too....for good measure. Within a week I stopped having migraines! Not only that, whenever I ate beef, they came back. Was I excited and relieved! Then I had the thought, 'If eliminating these meats from my diet cured my headaches and nausea, perhaps doing the same to my cancer patient's diets might help rid them of the same symptoms." Translating that thought into action, Dr. Solomon removed both beef and poultry from the diets of some of her cancer patients. "They stopped feeling nauseated, they stopped vomiting, they started to gain weight. Often they stopped having pain. I was, to say the least, very pleased."
An article by Dr. Solomon in the May, 1969 issue of the Maryland State Medical Journal reported similar experiences with three terminal cancer patients. With two of these patients, however, she eliminated not only beef and poultry from their diets, but all solid food. Fed nothing but fresh fruit or vegetable juices, the patients quickly stopped vomiting. Dr. Solomon then put them on progressively heartier diets until they could eat...and tolerate, normal meals which offered eggs, cheese, nuts and seafood as main sources of protein. "The improvement in these patients, and other cancer patients I have treated who are not mentioned in this study, was dramatic. In fact, sometimes their tumors actually regressed. Other doctors couldn't seem to get it into their heads that it was the patient's diet that was causing this to happen. They often insisted that the original diagnosis had been wrong!"
To this day, Dr. Solomon eats no other meat than fish. And at lunch after the lecture, I sat next to Dr. Solomon as she ate a tuna fish salad, or at least tried to. Because between bites, a crowd of medical students, doctors, health professionals and health seeks besieged her with questions about nutrition.
"Is too much vitamin C toxic?...My uncle is constipated, should he take bran?....Dr. Solomon, is vitamin E good for varicose veins?"
In a rare lull, when the consultation room turned back into a cafeteria, I asked Dr. Solomon if she was always showered with questions about nutrition when she appeared in public. "Always. Almost everyone knows that diet is important for health, but very few can get specific information about their own diet from a doctor, information they feel safe with. Nutrition is the basic dimension, and I can't see why doctors remain so ignorant about it's importance. In fact, most doctors' knowledge of nutrition lags about 20 years behind their knowledge of biochemistry. But even though I treat patients mainly with nutritional therapy, there's nothing I can do for them that any other doctor can't do just as well...unless they change their dietary habits...stop eating white sugar and white flour, start taking the nutritional supplements I suggest. The first thing I tell patients when they come into my office is, 'You are responsible for how you feel. If you eat unbalanced meals, you'll feel unbalanced."
Luckily, I had a personal interview scheduled that evening. And that evening, over a fish dinner, Dr. Solomon told me more about her use of nutritional therapy in private practice. "The very first thing I ask every patient is to stop eating refined carbohydrates...white sugar and white flour. Now, most of the people who come to see me have already seen other doctors and have been treated with conventional methods. But they still feel lousy. When I explain to them that their problem...arthritis, diverticulosis, depression, whatever...probably has its basis in many years of wrong eating habits, and that the first step in treating their disease is to change the most damaging of these habits....eating sugar...they're usually eager, or at least they say they are eager, to modify their diet.
"So they stop eating white flour and white sugar. This change alone makes a big difference in their health. White sugar and white flour burn up vitamins and minerals without replacing them, lower immunity, foul up the digestive tract and complicate diabetes, kidney stones, osteoporosis. Also, they cause fatigue. In a week or two, they often experience a decrease in energy. Then, of course, they cheat. They binge on ice cream, or cake, or cookies. And the next day, they feel terrible. Headachy. Sluggish. Depressed. It's at this point that they begin to really understand, through their own experience, that they can actually control how they feel by what they eat. And for most of my patients, this is a real revelation, a startling discovery."
Not eating white sugar and white flour is a real boost for those with osteoporosis, a crippler of thousands of elderly women. In osteoporosis, bones lose their strength and mass, and break easily. "Eating white sugar really steals calcium from the bones, and it's calcium that gives bones their strength," Dr. Solomon told me. "So, in addition to getting the sugar out of the diet of those with osteoporosis, I give them a calcium supplement and a trace mineral supplement. also a multiple vitamin."
Arthritis is another bone disease that cripples millions. Dr. Solomon has had striking success relieving the pain of arthritic sufferers by eliminating not only white sugar from their diet, but citrus fruit and eggs as well. "There's nothing unusual about this. Over and over again arthritic patients would come to me and say, 'When I eat oranges, my joint pains are worse.' 'When I eat eggs, my arthritis flares up.' So I've experimented. I always eliminate these foods from the diets of those I see with arthritis. And by and large, they do better. Also, I've heard of quite a few doctors who are doing the same. It seems obvious to me, on the basis of my experience, that for some reason arthritics are hypersensitive to...that is, they have an 'allergy' to...citrus fruits and eggs." Along with eliminating fruits and eggs, Dr. Solomon gives arthritics mineral supplements. "Zinc, in particular, relieves bone pain," she said. She also gives a calcium supplement that contains vitamins C and D.
Psoriasis, a skin disease, is another disorder which often yields to dietary restrictions. "I have found that my psoriasis patients do much better when I take them off dairy products and anything with gluten in it. That includes wheat, oats, barley and rye."
All doctors treat diabetes at least partly with diet, and Dr. Solomon is no exception. "I give diabetics the conventional diet: no sugar, no honey, no molasses, more protein. I also substitute whole grain bread for white bread. And I give them a supplement of brewer's yeast because it has been shown that diabetics are low in chromium, and brewer's yeast is the best source." Dr. Solomon recommends a daily dose of brewer's yeast as one of the best all-around nutritional supplements. "It not only contains all the B vitamins, but is a cheap source of protein. So you're getting all three things at once."
Dr. Solomon's treatment for patients with heart conditions focuses on lowering their cholesterol and triglyceride levels. "I always prescribe a low-carbohydrate diet for my patients with heart troubles. If they must eat bread, I only allow them to eat bread, I only allow them to eat whole wheat bread. I also give my heart patients niacin, a B complex vitamin, because it is a natural vasodilator...it improves circulation. If nutrition doesn't work then I go to drugs, but only after I've tried nutrition first." But Dr. Solomon puts another aspect even before nutrition.
"I must say that over and above the physical aspects of healing there is the mental aspect...both the attitude of the patient and my attitude. If the patient has a negative attitude toward the possibility of his being healed, or if he dwells on his disease, moping and pouting in self-pity, constantly complaining, then although nutrition will of course help, it will be very difficult for that person to get better. Of course, she added with a smile, I don't have any controlled studies that actually prove this. But over and over again I have seen patients with positive attitudes quickly improve, while patients with negative attitudes continue to be sick.
"It's really fulfilling to see my patients improve, she continued. Not all of them do, of course. But many, many come back to me after three or six months of eating very little junk and taking supplements and they are, well, new people. They're alive again, not just merely living. They have purpose, energy, they are enjoying themselves instead of barely making it. So many doctors can do nothing more than keep their patients...if the disease is serious....from death's door, and often worsen or simply mask a patient's illness with drugs. But in my practice people actually become healthy. And that makes my work tremendously enjoyable."