For most people, the diagnosis of chronic disease is a blow to their daily lives. Health professionals and concerned people work to fill the gap and let those suffering live better lives. Pamela Wirth is joined by the Executive Director of Epidemic Answers, Beth Lambert to discuss living with chronic illness. Beth looks back at her experiences as a parent, and her observation of the impact of autism on families. She discusses total load, the effect of the environment, and gives a few simple pointers to help live healthier. Tune in for more great insights to encourage you to wellness.
I have Beth Lambert from Epidemic Answers. She has been instrumental in my own journey in healing with my own family and how a diagnosis is certainly not a case for permanence. She is an author, educator and former healthcare consultant. She has monitored and documented escalating rates of childhood chronic conditions for decades, which is super incredible.
Her first book, A Compromised Generation, was very impactful for me in learning how everything is not permanent from when you get a diagnosis, and certainly something that can be undone with a lot of work. The book provides a thorough analysis of the origins of the modern health crisis, documents, and how modifications to environmental lifestyle can make a profound change in health as well as full disease reversal, which was certainly the case in our experience.
She is also a co-author of Brain Under Attack: A Resource for Parents and Caregivers of Children with PANS, PANDAS, and Autoimmune Encephalitis. She's also the Founder and Executive Director of Epidemic Answers. It's a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to re-establishing vibrant health in our children. It’s crazy important.
She's also the creator and executive producer of the Documenting Hope project, which is a multi-year prospective research study and media project that examines the cumulative impact of environmental stressors on health and their mitigation through personalized and systems-based treatment approaches, which is very important.
She's also the mother of three children and very passionate about raising awareness about the connection of our daily choices, human health and planetary health. Beth, thank you so much for being here. If it were not for A Compromised Generation, I never would have known the diagnosis that we had received that we have had to take care of our son for the rest of our lives could be reversed through changes in our environment and our food. Thank you so much for your brave journey and for helping educate all of us. Welcome.
Thank you. I'm happy to be here with you. I'm so happy to hear that book had an impact because that was the point. That was why I wrote it. I wanted to wake people up to the fact that there's more we can do for our kids. Oftentimes, we are given the genetic determinism like, “They are born this way. This is the way they are going to be,” or in the case of PANS and PANDAS, we don't know what the heck is going on and that's not true. A lot of times, the clinicians that we work with are not educated as to what's going on. They don't know yet. It was not part of their training. I'm glad that it was helpful to you.
Tell us a little bit about your journey. How did you get into all of this? What did that look like?
It started when I became a parent and I was around a lot of other parents who had young children. I started slowly waking up to something was off. You know when you get that gut instinct that something is not right here. I would be around other baby playgroups, toddlers or things like that. I would see a lot of GERD and a lot of eczemas. GERD being the reflux that babies get.
A lot of parents would be like, “We have 7, 10, 12 stools a day,” and then the behavioral stuff starts emerging. All of a sudden people with young children are getting autism diagnoses. It's this experience where you are like, “Something is not right here.” In my own children, I saw some issues as well. I clued into what was going on and looked for reasons, rationales or why is this happening. That's where I decided to dig deeper and I started writing and researching for the book to better understand what was contributing to all of these symptoms, diagnoses, my kids, and the peer group around me.
Do you have a medical background?
No. I was in healthcare consulting. I had done a lot of work for pharmaceutical companies and medical device companies. I had that perspective. I was very well-versed in doing medical research, but that was important for me to leverage that. When I was doing research for my own book, I would call physicians and would be fluent in the language. As I was doing my research, I could jump onto PubMed which is where you do all your medical research and was fluent in that. I did not have formalized medical training, but I had enough, facility with the information that I could ask good questions and dig a little bit more, and understand what was happening a little bit more.
My background is more in problem-solving and data analysis. What I found with the doctors was I would digest a lot of information and then present it to the doctors and start asking questions like, “Why is it possible?” I found that some doctors were open to this and some doctors were not, and then it was through the book that it started to make sense. For me, it was a deep dive into inflammation and what causes inflammation, and how to reduce inflammation. It's been an incredible journey. Tell us a little bit about some of the projects that you are doing now and some of the research that you are doing. Anywhere that you need help or anywhere that you are starting to see some major progression.
It's important for people who are embarking on a healing journey to put into context that the body didn't snap overnight and develop whatever chronic condition they have.
I run a non-profit organization that they started several years ago called Epidemic Answers. The purpose of Epidemic Answers is to help support parents as they are waking up to what's happening to their children in terms of understanding the environmental factors that contribute to symptoms and diagnoses, but also in terms of helping them find the path forward, and how to do some of the healing and recovery work. Epidemic Answers is always doing educational programming and trying to provide connectivity to different clinicians, trying to connect parents to different practitioners who do this kind of work. We have a practitioner directory. We train health coaches so that health coaches can help families who need education and support in making lifestyle changes and diet changes, etc.
The other important thing that Epidemic Answers does is it runs a research program called Documenting Hope. Documenting Hope was an initiative that was started a number of years ago because we were out there talking to parents, and we knew that the environment was a major factor in why we are seeing escalating rates of chronic health and developmental conditions in children.
People kept saying things like, “There is not enough evidence to support that.” We knew that was not true. There's plenty of evidence out there. It's just that people had not pulled it together yet in the right or meaningful way. We decided to begin raising money and doing our own independent research. We now have two IRB-approved research studies under the title of the Documenting Hope project. The first research study is a study called CHIRP. It's an online survey that’s compliant and private.
It is the most comprehensive environmental health survey that's ever been done on children. We ask parents to participate in this study so we can learn what their family is eating, what kinds of things they are exposed to, and what's the medical history of the child, so we can correlate those things with health symptoms and health diagnoses.
The CHIRP study has been running since 2018, and we are seeing all kinds of interesting data coming out of that study. It's still ongoing and parents can still participate in it, and the more parents we get to participate, the better understanding we have about what are those things in and around our environment that are impacting our children's health. We need to do a better job of understanding that. That's why we decided to do the science on our own.
The second study we have is called the FLIGHT study. That study is a longitudinal study, meaning it's overtime where we are taking a small group of children who have a chronic health condition or developmental condition. We are giving them essentially what amounts to a very structured healing program over eighteen months.
We are working with a series of local clinicians near each family. We are doing a deep dive on each child and doing the most comprehensive workup you can imagine in terms of understanding what the root causes are for this particular child. Our FLIGHT study hopes to enroll fourteen children over multiple years. It's a multi-year study. We have our first child enrolled, which is very exciting.
It's a momentous occasion for us. This is a four-year-old child who has autism spectrum disorder. They live in Northern Virginia and we are recruiting two more families in Northern Virginia. The families who participate in this study will receive free healthcare and free access to diagnostic laboratory tests. The boutique ones get at the comprehensiveness of what's going on in a body. They will also get free healing support with practitioners, supplements, and whatever it is that they need as a bio-individual.
That study will also be documented on film. We are working with a production company, called Earth Conscious Films and a director named Rob Herring. He's going to be coming in and telling the story of the families who are enrolled in our program. The reason why we were doing this, including a filming component, is because we want to share with the world how healing happens. I have been documenting stories of recoveries just like yours in your book. I have been documenting that for many years and having these incredibly inspiring stories of hope.
Now, what we are doing is we are literally trying to recreate those incredible stories of hope and then documenting it scientifically. People can't say anymore, “It's an anecdote or maybe your son did not have that, to begin with. Maybe your daughter's diagnosis was wrong.” Whatever it is, we want to say, “No. This is what's happening. They get a diagnosis because their bodies are out of balance.” This program is trying to re-establish that balance. Hopefully, what we intend to see will be the lifting of the symptoms and the diagnosis.
If we captured it on film, it's an easier story to tell to the public. No one is going to sit through and look at our go through PubMed and read our published peer-reviewed literature on these case studies. They are going to want to see the story. That's important to us that we merged science and the media because we feel like these are our kids. We don't have time to wait the requisite 20 or 30 years from the science to go from bench to bedside. We want to bring it directly to parents as soon as we can, which is why we are doing the film portion.
Who were some of your top mentors through this whole process? We don't get anywhere without tons of amazing people around us. Who has been some of your saviors?
It's a simple equation. It's almost formulaic. If you have symptoms, remove your stressors.
I have a lot of mentors who were in books. I started this journey by following Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride and the Gut and Psychology Syndrome. I read a lot of Mark Hyman who writes a lot about functional medicine. After I did my academic reading and followed these authors, I started meeting people. Doctors who were doing this work and parents who had already recovered their kids.
One of the people I met was Patricia Lemer, who was the author of Outsmarting Autism. She also wrote another book on vision, autism and developmental conditions. She was a big mentor for me. I'm learning about all the pieces that you need to address when you are healing children. I have respected and admired Julie Matthews who focuses on nutrition as a bio-individual.
There are so many mentors like that who are clinicians and different integrative physicians. There are so many now out there doing this work. When I started several years ago, there were very few integrative physicians who were taking a holistic, whole-body or integrative type approach to things like autism or ADHD.
Now for parents, it's so much easier to find one of these clinicians because there are so many more that have been trained, and that's so encouraging. It's heading in the right direction. The next thing we need as a society is to figure out how to get these things paid for because so much of this work is not accessible to people because it's not covered by insurance. Sometimes these physicians are very expensive or the lab tests are very expensive. That's a barrier that we still need to overcome.
Do you find that there's a certain amount of time that it takes to start to see changes and improvements? For us, it was almost a year and we had been told from the beginning, “Be patient, stay the course, and trust that it is not fast.” Do you see some things like that or anything that's a particular trend?
I think some families will see instant transformation overnight because they took a major trigger out of their child's life or something that was causing inflammation. Sometimes parents will take wheat and dairy out of their child's diet, and then all of a sudden they start speaking the next day. I have absolutely talked to parents whose experience was that.
Another one is people who start a glutamate-free diet. They see transformations easily. Those are the signal that some of this was bothering your child but usually, that does not result in long-term lasting healing. What you described taking about a year is very common and very typical. I do think that it's important for people who are embarking on a healing journey to put into context that the body did not snap overnight just develop whatever chronic or developmental condition that their child has. It developed over time.
It literally starts in preconception. It's a cumulative effect and then in utero, there are all these impasses. In the neonatal and infant years, all these stressors that are making the body vulnerable add up. If you imagine that these things are adding up over time, it takes that same amount of time or more to unwind all of those things.
Healing oftentimes happens. People describe it like layers of an onion. Sometimes you take the biggest stressors off like wheat and dairy. Maybe it's some toxins in the environment or mold is one of those big stressors. You take that off and it can make a big impact, but to get the body into a state of resilience when it can tolerate more stressors takes time. That's true for anyone. The human body needs to sort itself out. It needs to work through whatever it needs to work through, and that is not overnight. As you said, if somebody is giving you the advice to stay the course and be patient, that's sage advice.
You do a lot of work with kids. Do you hear a lot of stories from the parents and from other siblings that are potentially older or adults? I would imagine that some of this has some positive effects on adult life too. As you are making changes for your kids, you probably make changes for yourself too. Have you gotten any feedback like that?
Usually, the best-case scenarios or the best stories you heard about the outcomes are families that went all in together. There are some families who are trying to manage their child's diagnosis by making diet changes for just the child that has a diagnosis. There are two other kids in the house or another sibling, and that sibling does not make any changes.
It's so hard for that individual child if they are eating gluten-free for instance, and everybody else is not, or a family with a child with diabetes and that child has a special diet but everybody else does not. When the whole family goes in, the reason to make these changes are to improve the health of that individual child. If the whole family goes in, those benefits are going to hit the whole family.
You hear parents who are working on their child with autism and the depression lists for mom, and the anxiety lists for dad and dad drops 40 pounds. His hemoglobin A1C is down into the normal range. These things are part of what happens, and that's the beauty of it. I feel like, on a spiritual level, our kids came into this world to show us something.
We are all sick. We are abusing the environment. We are not respecting nature and we’re not in alignment with nature. These kids came in and be like, “You can either wake up to this or you can continue to struggle. Which path do you want?” I feel eternal gratitude to this generation of kids, which is now becoming multi-generations of kids who have come in with these symptoms to wake us up. The families that accept that, everybody does better. That to me is what it's about. Thank you. These kids were supposed to deliver this message to us. When our health improves because we all make these changes, that's what they are here for.
I agree with you, and I believe this all happened to me for a reason. Here I am sharing the message. If people are going through some struggles and health challenges, do you have any particular suggestions, thoughts, websites or things to do? You mentioned a few of your mentors and their work. Anything particular in terms of a couple of things to look out for and do?
There's one concept that is profoundly helpful for readying yourself to tackle this problem or to head out on this journey. If you are a parent who's starting this, the term is total load. That's a term that was coined by one of my mentors, Patricia Lemer. She used it to apply to children with autism. It's a term that has been used in the integrative medicine and holistic world for a while. You commonly hear total body burden. That’s another way of talking about it.
I love the concept because it's a unifying way to look at what's happening to our bodies. Total load is this concept that your body can only handle so much in terms of stressors. Those are toxic stressors like emotional stressors, imbalances, and things you don't even know about like you have too much EMF exposure and electromagnetic radiation.
If your body is under too much stress, it begins to break down and express symptoms. The corollary to the total load theory is that you can do a lot to build your body's capacity to deal with all those stressors. You can build resilience through sleep, nutrition, good microbes in your gut, getting natural sunlight, and living in rhythm with nature.
I love this total load concept because it simplifies everything. It takes as many toxic stressors out of your life as possible. It could be preservatives in food, EMF or chemicals in your lotions and shampoos. Take those stressors out and then try and build your body back up through supports where you can call health supports, nutrition, sleep, sunlight, etc.
It's almost like a simple equation. It's almost formulaic. If you have symptoms, remove stressors. I like to think about it if you have allergies, yes, you are going to try and remove the allergy and if it's dust mites, pollen or what have you. If you take chemicals out of your body, in your cleaners and your personal care products, that's going to help your allergies.
Even though you are not allergic to cleaners and chemicals, when you take the chemicals out of your body, your body becomes less reactive to the allergens. That concept is a great takeaway because it gives you something to do like, “What can I do today to reduce my total load? What stressors can I take out and what can I do to support my body?” It’s like that equation.
That's the main takeaway. I would also say that we have so many resources on the Epidemic Answers website. EpidemicAnswers.org and DocumentingHope.com. We have tons of recovery stories. We have free webinars. We have almost 100 webinars where these experts have come on. I still can't believe we have gotten some of the great experts that we have.
They share their knowledge and wisdom for free because they are like you and me, they care about getting the word out and they want to help parents. I encouraged people to come and check out the resources. We have practitioners, health coaches and other kinds of things that can be helpful on the journey. My key advice is to check out some of the resources that we have on those websites.
Thank you so much, Beth. It's a pleasure to have you on and thank you so much for all the work that you are doing and helping so many people.
It’s my pleasure. I always love to talk about this stuff.
Thank you. Take care.
Beth Lambert is a children's health advocate and the Founder and Executive Director of Epidemic Answers, a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to reestablishing vibrant health in our children and ourselves through education, empowerment and prevention. Beth is also the author of A Compromised Generation: The Epidemic of Chronic Illness in America’s Children (Sentient, 2010) and co-author of Brain Under Attack (Answers Publications, 2018). Beth is a former healthcare consultant and teacher. She attended Oxford University and graduated with honors from Williams College. She holds an M.A. in American Studies, with a concentration in American Healthcare, from Fairfield University and is a member of Alpha Sigma Nu, the Jesuit Honor Society. Beth is currently also the Executive Director of Epidemic Answer's Documenting Hope Project, a collaborative science and media initiative poised to end the new childhood epidemics.