San Diego While allergists are showing alarm at the increasing problem of mold, one physician believes the problem has been entirely overblown. Barnet Meltzer has been practicing holistic medicine in Del Mar since 1972. An author of four books on health and nutrition, Meltzer doesn't practice medicine in the traditional sense.
The hallmarks of Meltzer's practice are fitness, nutrition, stress management, and attitude. Expanding his practice from the boundaries of traditional medicine has taken Meltzer into the realm of advising, training, and coaching. One of his clients was Carl Lewis, whom Meltzer helped train for the 1996 Olympics. "I'm more of a lifestyle coach. Executives hire me who want to increase their productivity and avoid burnout. Professional athletes will hire me who want to improve their performance."
While recognizing mold can be a problem, Meltzer believes the environment can be controlled to some degree. "There is toxic mold probably everywhere you go. It's a question of to what degree you're talking about, in terms of infestation. Depending upon the hygiene of the home, the personal hygiene of the residents, the proximity to the beach, and the humidity of the home, there are various molds that like dark, warm, moist type of environments in which to grow.
"The thing that's challenging about this whole problem with allergy -- and this is where my approach would be different -- is that even though there is a certain amount of allergy to mold or pollen or dust or ragweed or what have you, what I have discovered is that it really depends upon the individual's immune system and lymph system and how those are functioning, which will determine what type of a reaction you will have to a mold. If you take someone whose immune system is very competitive, and their lymph system is rather clean, and they're exposed to mold and they're 'allergic' to mold, the impact on their body will be minimal to none. Take somebody who has a more compromised immune system or more clogged lymphatic system, which comes from eating the more common foods, they're going to have much more of a reaction."
Meltzer sees the problem not so much in the mold or other environmental substances as with the condition of the patient. "When you evaluate a patient, the important questions of how do they feel -- do they have fatigue, headaches, dizziness? A lot of people have developed a condition called candidiasis or candida, which is a yeast-type of mold that gets into people's bodies, lives in the digestive system, and can penetrate -- for example, women commonly know about it because they get yeast infections and things of that nature. It's a rather common condition we see, particularly people with chronic fatigue syndrome, low blood sugar hypoglycemia, allergies, and problems along those lines. The point I'm trying to get at is, as a doctor, your patient comes in and says, 'My sinuses are clogged, I have headaches, I have sore throats, I have achiness,' etcetera, and you try to figure out what's going on, and now you're concerned about their allergy to molds. But take that same patient and do a careful nutritional history, and you find out what undiagnosed food allergies are present -- which are invariably present in most people who have these reactions. And you get that part of their metabolism corrected, they come back to being exposed to molds and don't have nearly the same reaction as the person who didn't go through that internal cleansing with their diet."
In explaining how lymphatic systems get clogged, Meltzer refers to his latest book,Food Swings: Make the Life-Changing Connection Between the Foods You Eat and Your Emotional Health. "If you've read this, the most common foods that clog the lymph system are the things that most people like to eat. Dairy products, eggs, milk products, yogurt, sweets, white flour foods, refined carbohydrates -- anything that tends to be creamy, sweet, and pasty is going to cause that kind of clogging of the lymph system. If you try to take people off the dairy products and get them away from eating sweets, desserts, white bread, white pasta, white rice, white flour, white crackers, and things like that, you'll be surprised how much that becomes a real part of most peoples' dietary lifestyle. We detoxify that. We put people on a cleansing diet and nutritional detox program that we set up. I wrote a book in 1980 called The 21-Day Del Mar Diet, and it was basically broken down into a cleansing, detox, and maintenance diet. If you take this patient, who has a sensitivity to molds, and they're living at home, and they see mold in the corners of the house, in the linen, perhaps in the food or what have you, and they're suffering with fatigue, allergies, and all kinds of symptoms, if you take that same person and put them through a detoxification, you'll almost always find that the ones that have the most severe reactions have other undiagnosed food allergies going on."
Treating the causes rather than results is Meltzer's answer to mold and other allergy problems. "What the regular doctor is going to do is say, 'You've got a problem with this mold, so you've got to go on some type of a desensitization process' and whatever it is that they generally prescribe. It doesn't take that person's metabolic lifestyle into consideration. So you've got to think that stress to the lymph system is a nutritional factor, and emotional stress also plays a role, especially if they have a very stressful lifestyle. But it's very common for people to come in with these types of complaints and to be told, 'Oh my God! You've got this mold. You need to change where you live and change your home.' That's not my initial approach to the situation. I'd say that 90 percent plus of the people who have this problem don't have to move out of their homes.
"Molds are like secondary invaders. Like scavengers, they're opportunistic invaders. They grow in unfavorable circumstances. That's how you get a mold. It's not so much the mold as much as the fact that the immune system is somewhat compromised, and they are more vulnerable to the mold. Let's say you go to a party with your spouse and some friends, and there's a youngster there with a cold or the flu, and one of you gets the flu but the others don't. So one of you says, 'Oh gosh, I was at the party and little Jeremy had the flu, and that's why I got it.' Well, not really. It's really about the interaction between the host, being the person, and the agent, being the mold or bacteria, that determines the outcome of the situation. So clearly, the most compelling situation is a powerful immune system and a low aggressiveness of mold. The worst situation would be an aggressive mold and a weak immune system."
Nowhere is Meltzer's distrust of traditional medicine more apparent than in his description of a typical allergy patient. "I want to be clear that it isn't one of these things where people are victims of being exposed to a mold. That's not my take on the situation. My impression of what's happening after being in practice this many years is that you have to take a look at a person's immune system and their chemical balance in general -- the areas that most doctors don't deal with. The traditional doctor, with all due respect to their work, doesn't deal with a person's metabolism, their body chemistries, and their immune systems. They just don't. Let's say a patient comes in and has a problem with dust and tests positive for dust; the allergist will most likely set up a set of shots or a desensitization program to help deal with that particular problem." It's the particularity of treatment that especially irks Meltzer. "If you are going to look at how to deal with this mold situation, to look at it without looking at the person's immune system, in my opinion you would be missing the boat in terms of the reality of what's going on here. Yes, if you have a compromised immune system and your lymphatic system is clogged and you're sensitive to mold, you're going to have a heck of a reaction to it. But, if your immune system is competitive and your lymphatic system is clean, mold probably won't have much of an impact on you. That's why I'm not going to take a patient out of their home and move them someplace else, because there's going to be exposure to a variety of environmental toxins, because...we don't live in a world where we are free of environmental toxins; that's just not what's going on. There's air pollution, water pollution, and food pollution, no matter where you go. Mold is a problem, particularly in homes where there is a lot of carpeting and air movement is limited."
Meltzer continually returns to the theme of the immune system being more important than the environment. "You can get an acute allergic reaction to a variety of environmental toxins. If you have ten people walk into a room and ten of those people get a violent reaction to the mold, that would be on the level of something like tear gas, where everybody's being infected. But that's not my experience with patients. It's possible, but it would have to be a pretty toxic mold. If someone reads this, I don't want them to get the idea that there's a plague out there, and this plague is so powerful that there's no way to withstand it. There are some toxic molds, and the more toxic it is, the less forgiving your immune system is going to be. Even during the plague, not everybody got the plague. But with the majority of people having these reactions who came in to see me, I would evaluate them and determine from my perspective that they probably had some excessive amount of toxins or free radicals in a negative way in their body, their lymphatic system was probably stagnant, and their immune system was not as competitive as it needed to be. Is it possible that a person who is perfectly healthy with a good immune system could be exposed to a toxic mold and have symptoms? Yes. But people with a tendency to be allergenic, which means that their glandular system and immune systems are not in the best place, they would tend to have more lingering effects from that.
"The medical community doesn't seem to hook up a person's symptoms with their lifestyle. For example, they ask, 'What are your symptoms?' It'll be dizziness, nausea, light-headedness, what have you -- then you'll go through your medical routine. They deal with the physical body, but they don't go into a person's emotional history and their stress and nutritional history. It's a disconnected process. When a traditional doctor talks about preventive medicine, they're not talking about primary preventive medicine. Primary preventive medicine is giving people a program."
At this point, Meltzer pulls out a copy of his book Ten Rules of High-Performance Living. "It's very specific." He rattles off the steps. "Simplify your life, lighten up your life, take charge of your life, here's what you'd eat, here's what you'd want to do for exercise, challenging you to define your spirituality, challenging you to define your passions in life, challenging you to find what's real for you and makes you happy. That's primary prevention. Secondary prevention is doing breast screenings, breast mammograms, pap smears, chest X-rays -- you're testing and screening. You're not doing anything at the primary level to prevent what you're going to find in a screening. Tertiary prevention is vaccinations and immunizations and things like that. Sure, regular doctors do secondary and tertiary and prevention, but they don't do primary preventive medicine. Primary preventive medicine is like being a lifestyle coach. You want to help people balance their life, get fulfillment in their relationships, in their work, get their immune system worked up to a place where they can prevent disease. It's not medical assistance based on a crisis and symptoms, where you come in for a problem and here's what you take for it. 'Here's the medication and here are your surgical alternatives.' They don't deal with the person. They deal with people's parts and their ailments. In preventive medicine you give people tools to change their life around. In traditional medicine, you just show up. You get X-rays and injections, but you don't really have to do anything. In preventive medicine, people have to take responsibility for their lives. That's not part of medical school, and medical doctors as a whole aren't that way to begin with. Their lifestyles are highly out of balance. You can't expect conventionally trained doctoring people to teach people how to be balanced when they themselves are not balanced. It's not a realistic process."