I know that several people have already listened to my interview with Dr. Burt Berkson and have found him to be truly inspirational. My decision to transcribe the interview (a very time-consuming process!) began because I wanted my 92-year old Mom to be able to hear it. I knew she would love it: She has been a fan of using innovative treatments, ever since she was 11 years old, when her own mother’s life was saved by going to Germany in the 1920s to receive a treatment -– radiation –- which was not yet available in the US. Since my Mom is now hard of hearing, I knew it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for her to listen to it. Hence, the transcript that follows.
I hope that others of you who are hard of hearing, as well as those without good computer speakers -- and others, who would simply rather read than listen -- will enjoy the printed version this terrific interview!
Hello, this is Julia Schopick, for HonestMedicine.com. Today, I am honored to have as my guest one of the few people in this world I consider to be a true visionary: Dr. Burt Berkson.
Dr. Berkson’s story, which you’ll hear today, is also the incredible story of how the pharmaceutical industry has kept one very valuable, inexpensive (non-income producing) treatment from becoming standard of care, even though it has cured many patients with some of the most life-threatening conditions for over 30 years.
This treatment is alpha lipoic acid, an antioxidant therapy that Dr. Berkson has been using successfully since the mid-1970s -- first to treat people with terminal liver disease; and then, in ensuing years, also to treat people with many other diseases and conditions, including diabetic neuropathy, several autoimmune diseases, and the very deadly pancreatic cancer -– the cancer that is considered to be one of the most hopeless.
You’ll notice that I haven't started out by listing Dr. Berkson’s credentials. Frankly, that’s because he has so many. Reading them would take too much time away from our interview. Instead, I am posting them on HonestMedicine.com.
Suffice it to say that Dr. Berkson has both an MD degree and a PhD –- the PhD degree came first. In addition, for 23 years he was the principal FDA investigator for the intravenous use of alpha lipoic acid. He is also the expert consultant to the Centers for Disease Control on alpha lipoic acid and liver poisoning. Dr. Berkson has published scientific papers in medical journals throughout Europe, and is an active scientific writer, researcher, and speaker. He is the author of 4 books, including The Alpha Lipoic Acid Breakthrough. I’ll have links to all his books on the website at the end of this transcript.
Today, Dr. Berkson has a very busy nutritional and integrative medicine practice in Las Cruces, NM, where patients come to him from all over the world. He is also an adjunct professor of applied biology at New Mexico State University.
JULIA SCHOPICK – Welcome, Dr. Berkson. The dramatic story of how you first used Alpha Lipoic Acid when you were a young medical resident is the stuff movies are made of. Hearing and reading about your experience was a paradigm-shifting event for me because it taught me, very sadly, that the medical establishment is NOT in the business of saving lives. Can you please tell us the story?
DR. BERKSON: I was a resident in internal medicine in a teaching hospital in Cleveland Ohio, and one day the chief of medicine came by and said, I am very upset with you.” And I said “Why?”. (I thought he was kidding.) And he said, “You have no deaths on your service. Most people have seen several deaths by now and you haven't seen any.” And I told him that I really try to keep people alive. He said, “It’s very unusual. I’m going to give you two people who will surely die. They have acute and fulminant liver disease. They ate poisonous mushrooms, and the expert on liver disease said we cannot get a transplant for them, and nothing can save them. So I want you to go upstairs, watch them die, take notes and present this to grand medical rounds.”
And I went upstairs and I looked at these two very sick people. And as a medical doctor, especially in internal medicine, you're supposed to follow the orders of the chief, just like a private would follow the orders of a sergeant. But I had six years of education above my medical training, for a masters and a PhD in microbiology and cell biology, and I was always looking for new things. So I called Washington and spoke to the head of the National Institutes of Health in Internal Medicine, Dr. Fred Bartter, and I asked him, “Is there anything in the world that he knew of that might regenerate a liver?” And he said he was studying alpha lipoic acid because he knew it would reverse diabetic neuropathy and other complications of diabetes. But when he gave it to people, it seemed to regenerate their organs. It seemed to stimulate their stem cells and to start growing and regenerating new organ tissue.
He sent the lipoic acid to me. I picked it up at the Cleveland airport about three hours later. The commercial pilot handed it to me. I ran back to the hospital and injected it into these two people for a period of two weeks. And in two weeks, they regenerated their livers fully. And they’re still alive and well, in their 80s, thirty some years later.
(NOTE: One of the people whom Dr. Berkson saved by "not following orders," Eunice Goostree, wrote a very personal review of The Alpha Lipoic Acid Breakthrough on Amazon.com.)
I was all excited. Washington was all excited. But the chiefs were not happy with me.
JULIA SCHOPICK – They were actually angry at you?
DR. BERKSON: Well, they seemed to be angry. They said, “We told the families that these people were going to die, that there was no hope. And now they’re alive and well. You know, it makes us look bad. And you did something without asking us for permission.” And I said, “You told me that these people were my responsibility, so I did what I thought was correct.”
I said, “Do you want to know what I did?”
JULIA SCHOPICK: They were not even curious?
DR. BERKSON: They said: “This is not an approved drug. And it’s not on our formulary. And you did not follow orders like a good internal medicine doctor.”
I was sort of depressed by this. You know, it was very different from what I had seen as a professor of biology. You know, when I discovered something new in biology, everybody would pat me on the back and give me awards. In medicine, it seemed to me that if you discovered something new, you were sort of thought of as an outlaw.
JULIA SCHOPICK – If I had not heard this story -- I heard you speak at NOHA so long ago, and of course, I read your book -– it’s too depressing.
DR. BERKSON: Well, anyway, more people came in, and I was told I should not do this again. They'd also eaten poisonous mushrooms, which really destroys the liver, and there’s not much you can do for these folks, except a transplant or, in this case, lipoic acid.
And the National Institutes of Health started supporting my work. I think because of that, the people at the hospital I was at had to go along with what I was doing, and eventually Dr. Bartter and I published a paper on 79 people with so-called terminal liver disease, and 75 of them regenerated their livers, with just intravenous lipoic acid.
There was no interest in the United States; almost nothing.
JULIA SCHOPICK – Where was your article published?
DR. BERKSON: My first short note was in the New England Journal of Medicine.
And they weren’t really interested in a big study. My own personal opinion was that it was because there was no large pharmaceutical company sponsoring the work. There was no one to take out ads in the magazines (i.e., the medical journals), or to buy reprints from them.
But, Dr. Bartter and I were invited to Europe to be visiting scientists at the Max Planck Institute and we published it in Europe.
JULIA SCHOPICK – Was that in the Medischinik – I can never pronounce that.
DR. BERKSON – The Mediscinice Klinik? No, that was my paper on hepatitis C. That’s the German journal of Internal Medicine.
DR. BERKSON: This was in the proceedings of the conference on liver disease and mushroom poisoning.
JULIA SCHOPICK – There was a symposium where you were the chief speaker on this topic.
DR. BERKSON: After we had 4 patients with such remarkable results, Dr. Bartter and several other doctors flew into Cleveland and set up a national conference on organ regeneration. I was the lead speaker. I don’t think the older doctors liked that very much.
JULIA SCHOPICK – This must have just been the biggest shock! I know that Dr. Bartter was very, very disappointed that there was no more interest. You really do think that this lack of interest was because the pharmaceutical companies weren’t interested in going with it and doing more investigation?
DR. BERKSON: I’m not criticizing the pharmaceutical companies. I think this is just business. It’s just the way things are done. If somebody wants to get a drug approved by the FDA, they have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to do this. Even if the research has already been done in prestigious hospitals in Asia or in Europe, they still have to do them all over again in the United States. And if a drug has a patent that’s owned by the Germans, an American company cannot control that patent. Or if the drug is a natural product, there’s difficulty getting a valid patent on it. They're not willing to spend all that money to get this approved by the FDA. Would YOU? I mean, if you were a multi-millionaire, would you spend all this money to get a drug approved?
JULIA SCHOPICK – Well, to me, it’s just as shocking as it was to you that the chiefs were upset with you because, I guess, my question comes in because I know from talking with you before and reading your book that alpha lipoic acid is used in Germany and Europe and this is, to me, puzzling that -- it’s upsetting, more than puzzling. I do get it, though.
DR. BERKSON: Well, the problem here is that no one has found a way to make big money on it. So, even though it’s efficacious, it’s a losing endeavor for any corporation to promote this.
JULIA SCHOPICK – Ah, now we’ve come to something where I really think that this is just the missing link. And that is this: OK, we understand pharmaceutical companies, right? But how about the doctors? I mean, you told me some stories where people went back to their doctors after their doctors had said, “You're a goner, you have six months to live, you need a transplant,” etc. These patients came to you, and their livers regenerated. And I believe you told me that the doctors weren’t even interested in what they had done. Is that the case?
DR. BERKSON: Well, I can give you a specific story. A woman from the San Francisco area was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and metastases to her liver. She went to a large university medical center. They told her that nothing could be done. But she had a friend who was a biologist who had read some of my work. And she and her friend flew out to New Mexico (where Dr. Berkson practices), and her friend actually had to help her walk into the office, she was so weak and cachectic – (NOTE: Cachexia is a condition of starvation, often associated with cancer.) We started her on intravenous alpha lipoic acid four days a week, and I also gave her low dose naltrexone, which modulates the immune system (at bedtime). I saw her first in December.
By May, there was no sign of cancer. The tumor in the pancreas was gone, and the metasteses in the liver had disappeared. This will be appearing in an upcoming publication in Integrative Cancer Therapies in the next several months.
JULIA SCHOPICK – I know you have another study in that publication and the person is alive 8 years later.
DR. BERKSON: Yes. But in this case, the cancers disappeared within five or six months. I was amazed. But she couldn't stay in New Mexico forever. She had to go home. And when she went home, there weren’t any doctors in her area who would even consider giving it to her. I don’t know if they just didn’t want to learn about this, or if they were afraid of being different.
JULIA SCHOPICK – So, what did they say? Weren’t they shocked that she looked so well? You said she was almost dying of starvation when she came in to see you.
DR. BERKSON: Oh, I think they were amazed. In fact, her doctor called me and we talked for a long time, and I said that she could do this and the patient could continue the treatment in San Francisco. And she said, “You know, I really would not want to do anything different because the medical boards might look down on me. I’m not an oncologist, and if I treat the cancer, the oncology people might get angry about it. So I can’t do it.”
JULIA SCHOPICK – See, I think this is the missing link. If the doctors would start saying, “Hey, we’re not just going to do. . . ” You know, the standard of care is just fine if it’s working. But this is very troubling. I don’t think that anyone has said, “OK. We understand that the drug companies do what they do. They are in business to just make a profit.” But, the doctors don’t seem to be fighting it, correct?
DR. BERKSON – Well, you know, my son’s a doctor. And he said that, if I wasn’t his father, he would look very differently on his profession. He said that, all through medical school, he was stroked, and told how smart he was, and how brilliant he was, and how he was one of the chosen people. And, if he actually believed this, he would think he knew absolutely everything after he graduated. He wouldn't have anything to learn from anybody else. But this isn’t just in medicine. Imagine in plumbing. If a young person comes along with a new idea, do you think the journeyman plumbers would listen to a young person just starting out?
JULIA SCHOPICK – No, I agree with you that they wouldn't. It’s just so DANGEROUS in medicine.
DR. BERKSON: But that’s human nature. Who ever told you that medical doctors are any smarter than the general population? They're just people. Many are very smart, and many are very ignorant.
JULIA SCHOPICK – But doesn't it upset you? If there are other treatments for a condition, that’s one thing. But, for instance, if you have something like hepatitis, and the person is in the last stage of liver disease, and they get the ALA, it turns them around and then the doctors say, “Oh, it couldn't have worked.” That’s what they do, right?
DR. BERKSON: Yes, some do. Many are that way because they consider themselves the experts in gastroenterology or hepatology. And really, these folks don’t get a lot of peer education. Most of their work is TRAINING. In medicine they talk about training. In biology, we talk about education. And there is a big difference. When I started medical school in Chicago many, many years ago, I remember, I used to ask questions, and the anatomy professor took me aside. He said, “You know, we give you information and you memorize it, and you give it back to us. And if you do this, and you pass the test, in four years, you're a medical doctor. We tell you what to do, and you do things just like we do it.” Do you remember “watch one, do one, teach one”? It’s training; it’s technical. It’s not like a biological education. It’s a very different type of thing.
I didn’t like this idea, and I didn’t want to be a medical doctor at that time. I didn’t want the responsibility; I was very immature. I always wanted to be a professor and I quit medical school and went to the University of Illinois. I went on for a PhD and became a professor at Rutgers University. But medicine is training, and if people are trained, they’ll all do the same thing in the same way.
JULIA SCHOPICK – I think you went back to medical school partly because your wife had been having miscarriages and you went to the top doctors in the field. And what did you find?
DR. BERKSON: This was back in the 70s. My wife had several miscarriages, and I still did not want to be a medical doctor. She had had 5 miscarriages, and at that point, I thought that, if a person was the head of a department at the University of Chicago or Harvard or Stanford, they really knew more than anybody else. We went to doctors like this and she’d have these miscarriages in the 4th to the 6th month, in the 2nd trimester. Their answer was always, “These babies are normal; just get her pregnant again. Maybe next time she’ll be able to carry the baby.”
I went to the medical library, and read some of the journals in obstetrics and I saw that there was a doctor in India by the name of Shirodkar, and he said that when people had normal babies with second trimester miscarriages, it was usual that, when they had a D and C on one of the first miscarriages, the cervix was injured or lacerated, so when the baby got to a certain size, the cervix couldn't hold that baby. (Here is a 1973 paper in the Canadian Medical Association Journal about Dr. Shirodkar’s technique.)
So, I went back to her doctor at this so-called prestigious university, and told him about it. He looked at me, and he said, “You're a microbiologist. I don’t tell you how to practice your field. Don’t tell me how to practice gynecology.” I said, “Here’s the article. Why don’t you read it?” He said, “I’m the head of the department. I know what I’m doing. Just get her pregnant again.”
So, I looked all around the United States for a medical doctor who had studied with Dr. Shirodkar, and found Martin Clyman in New York. Ann became pregnant again, and I took her to Dr. Clyman’s office, and he said, definitely, put a little stitch in there -– a little ligature, a simple little circular stitch. And she had a normal baby. And then she had another one, right afterwards.
So, I started losing faith in many people in the medical profession. And I thought, I don’t want to be a medical doctor, but it might be a good idea for me to have an MD, in addition to my PhD. It would help me at the university, it would give me more power at the university. And also, I could be an ombudsman for family members, if they had to deal with medical doctors. That’s why I picked up the MD. And I never thought that I would ever stop being a professor. It was after that experience with alpha lipoic acid in Cleveland that drove me into the medical profession.
JULIA SCHOPICK – I've been thinking about your experience with the alpha lipoic acid and the response of your higher ups, and it occurred to me that, say you had just been medical resident Burt Berkson, and you found this alpha lipoic acid, and you didn’t have any connections at NIH, you probably would have lost your job. It was the fact that NIH was involved, correct?
DR. BERKSON: Exactly. I think I would have been fired if Dr. Bartter didn’t come in and protect me by supporting my work.
JULIA SCHOPICK – As I think you expressed it, they “had to put up with” you.
DR. BERKSON: I think so. And as time went on, I saw that I could never be an internal medicine doctor. I couldn't do things exactly like everybody else. I had to think, and tailor treatments to each patient, rather than just follow an algorithm.
JULIA SCHOPICK – And this led you to the kind of medicine you practice now, which is not in an institution, correct?
DR. BERKSON: Exactly. I left, and took my family as far away from academic medicine as possible. Became a country doctor not far from Lubbock, Texas.
JULIA SCHOPICK – I believe your wife did not enjoy it there.
DR. BERKSON: No, she didn’t. But it was fun for me. I became like a cowboy. My kids thought they were a cowboy and a cowgirl. They had a lot of fun, and had a wonderful education. The schools in this area were really strong on reading, writing and arithmetic, and sports. And most of the kids graduated and went to college, unlike in lots of cities in America, where they spend a tremendous amount of money on education and most of the kids never do anything with their lives. It was really an experience to see a school system that had very low funding but very strong parent support where the kids really grow up and become good citizens.
JULIA SCHOPICK – So you would have stayed there, if it had worked out differently?
DR. BERKSON: No. I was there for 7 years, though. One day my wife said, “I’d like to go back to Chicago or El Paso or Albuquerque. I’m taking the kids and leaving. You can stay here and continue practicing, or you can come with us.” I had privileges at two hospitals, one a big regional hospital where I had privileges in internal medicine, pediatrics and gynecology. I did everything. And when I left, the hospital administrator said, “You'll never get these kinds of privileges again.” But I didn’t care.
LOW DOSE NALTREXONE
JULIA SCHOPICK – Tell me how you started working with low dose naltrexone and alpha lipoic acid together?
DR. BERKSON: Let me tell you how I found low dose naltrexone. A man came into my office about 12 years ago. I’d worked for the Department of Defense as an internal medicine doctor out at White Sands Missile Range. I’d been there for several years and I thought, “I’m going to open a small practice close by in Las Cruces, New Mexico, do what I think is right, not argue with anyone, or fight with anyone at the universities, and just try to do a good job. One day, a man came in with a walker. He could hardly even move. He was about 70 years old. I asked him what was wrong, and he told me that he had just been to MD Anderson Cancer Hospital, and they told him he had metastatic prostatic cancer -- metastatic to his bones. But he also had lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. They told him he only had a few months to live. Nothing could be done. So I asked him, “Why are you in MY office?” He said he had a wife with dementia and a son with a mental disability, and he had to have them placed in a nursing home before he died. I asked what I could do for him. He said he really needed some narcotics to handle the pain. I said I’d be glad to write that prescription for him.
Then he asked me if I’d ever heard of Dr. Bernard Bihari in New York. This was 12 years ago. I said no, I never heard of him. He told me that he had heard that Dr. Bihari was curing cancer. I said, “I don’t know why you're in my office, or MD Anderson or the Mayo Clinic. I don’t see any great results for curing cancer from any of these places. I don’t know how to cure cancer. They treat cancer at MD Anderson and at the Mayo Clinic, but I haven't seen any great results with complicated cancers. So why don’t you go up and see him?” So he said, “Well, he’s just in a little office in New York. What does he know?” And I told him the story of when I was at a university hospital with alpha lipoic acid, which was really effective at regenerating livers and many other organs, too, and they just didn’t want to hear about it. They were in the liver transplant business. So I said, “Maybe if he was at a big medical center like Sloan Kettering or MD Anderson, and he discovered a simple cure for cancer, they'd probably throw him out, because it would put them out of business.” So he went up and saw Dr. Bihari. And I didn’t see him for 3 years.
Three years later, he walked in, without his walker, a normal guy. I said, “John, how are you doing?” And he said, “You know, the wind’s blowing, my nose is stuffed. I really need something for these allergies.” I said, “No, John, what about the cancer?” “Oh, Dr. Bihari cured that” – in a very relaxed way. I said, “What about the lupus and rheumatoid arthritis?” “Oh, he cured that, too.” I said, “What did he use”? He said, “Did you ever hear of naltrexone?” I said, “Sure, it’s something I've given to heroin addicts, because it occupies their opiate receptors. When they shoot up, they don’t feel the heroin.” He said, “Well, Dr. Bihari found that if you take a tiny amount of naltrexone, a very low dose, and you take it at bedtime, it sort of tweaks the opiate receptors in the brain and on the immune cells and by morning, it modulates the immune system to reverse autoimmune disease and it seems to stop many cases of terminal cancer from growing.”
I was very skeptical. But my wife had two aunts who had lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. They were actually on chemotherapy drugs, like methotrexate, and steroids like prednisone, that swelled them up. And the methotrexate was killing their bone marrow, affecting their heart. And they weren’t getting any better. So, I asked them if they wanted to try this low dose naltrexone. They said, “Sure.” In one month, they were completely normal, off all drugs, and just taking this $12 a month prescription.
Then we had maybe 100 patients who were rheumatology patients with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, dermatomyositis. I would say that within one month, 95% of them are off all medications and feeling normal.
But I never force anybody to do these things. I ask them, “What do you want to do? Do you want to stick with the rheumatologist?” (Actually, I tell them always to stick with their rheumatologist or their oncologist.) “But do you want to try something a little different?” Many of them say, “No, I’m really happy with what I’m doing.” And I say, “That’s fine.” I would never want to force anything on anyone, and I don’t want anybody to force anything on me. Almost all of these patients we treated with autoimmune disease got better.
Then, a man walks in with pancreatic cancer, a young man in his 40s. He told me he was an MD Anderson patient. He had biopsy-proven pancreatic cancer, with metastases to the liver. He had a young son, and a very pretty young wife, and he said he couldn't die. MD Anderson had told him that he would die within a few months. I asked him if he wanted to try this. He said, “Of course.” Within 3 months he went back to work. He’s in his 8th year now, and there's no sign of cancer. I published that in 2006 in Integrative Cancer Therapies. (See a clearer copy here.) He is still alive.
Then a fellow came in with B-cell lymphoma from a prestigious hospital in Chicago. They had tried all sorts of things with him. Nothing seemed to work. They told him the lymphoma would kill him unless he received more chemotherapy. We put him on this program. He had softball size tumors in his neck and his groin. We did a PET scan; it showed that these tumors existed and were active. Within 6 months, there was no sign of the cancer. We did another PET scan, and there was no sign of disease. We published that in 2007 in Integrative Cancer Therapies.
JULIA SCHOPICK – Did you get any interest from the oncology community?
DR. BERKSON - Zero
JULIA SCHOPICK – Did any patients take the study to their doctor and say, “I want to try this.”?
DR. BERKSON: Several did, and they were told, “This is investigational. It’s only with a few people. I think you should do what's been proven to be effective.”
JULIA SCHOPICK – But chemotherapy is NOT proven to be effective.
DR. BERKSON: I believe that, and you believe that. And maybe even the oncologists believe that.
JULIA SCHOPICK – Did you know that they did a survey of a lot of oncologists, and they said that they wouldn't take chemotherapy?
DR. BERKSON: Most of the oncologists I know would not take it.There’s an interesting story. Do you know Hugh Reardon? He was a good friend of mine. He had an international conference every few years. I used to speak at his conference. He had patients who had various forms of cancer that he was treating with intravenous vitamin C, and he added intravenous alpha lipoic acid. He was getting very good results. He was a professor, I won't say at which medical school. And the oncologists went to the dean of the school and said, “You know, he’s not an oncologist. He has no right to treat cancer at our institution.” And they actually stopped him from doing it.
JULIA SCHOPICK – Even though he was having such good results?
DR. BERKSON: They didn’t care. This is a story that Hugh related to me. The oncologist that had him stop the work was actually diagnosed with a very serious form of cancer, and people suggested to him that he’d better go to Hugh because Hugh could probably handle it. But he said no, he wanted chemotherapy. He died very soon afterwards.
JULIA SCHOPICK – I had thought that the punchline would be that he went to Hugh.
DR. BERKSON - No, like I say, many people are trained, rather than educated. Like my son was told, “You know everything there is to know about your field. You're board certified. That means you know everything. Anyone who tells you anything different doesn't know what they're talking about.”
JULIA SCHOPICK – I could understand that, if they had great success. I’m especially amazed with the kinds of conditions we've been talking about: terminal liver disease, cancer (especially pancreatic), rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, where there really aren't any good treatments. Multiple sclerosis. You know that I wrote an article about four anecdotal treatments that aren't so anecdotal after all. Three of the treatments I featured were ALA, LDN and the Ketogenic Diet. In the case of LDN, the doctors would rather prescribe $2000 a month prescriptions for drugs that make these people sicker.
DR. BERKSON: In 2007, I was invited by the National Cancer Institute to fly to Washington and give them a teaching session on what I’m doing with autoimmune disease and cancer. I was very surprised that it was very well received. (NOTE: Dr. Berkson received a standing ovation!) Dr. Maira Gironi from Italy flew in, and she said she is having magnificent results reversing MS with just a little bit of low dose naltrexone at bedtime. But you hear nothing about it because there are no very wealthy corporation promoting it.
JULIA SCHOPICK – Around the time that Dr. Gironi spoke at one of the conferences here recently, I did a big search of the public relations that came from the conference. I searched on Dr. Gironi’s name, as well as the names of her co-investigators (I forget their names). It turned out that had done several studies, individually and together. Several of these studies were funded by Pharma; the other one, not funded by Pharma, was on LDN. Of course, as you and I know, the LDN study turned out to be much more paradigm-shifting; much more interesting. Guess which ones got the publicity?
DR. BERKSON - The ones that didn’t work.
JULIA SCHOPICK – The ones that were funded by the pharmaceutical companies!
DR. BERKSON - Of course.
JULIA SCHOPICK – Obviously. And I will give links to the public relations that followed, so that everyone can see it. The PR came from the pharmaceutical companies that had funded the studies. (See the article, “Pharmaceutical News by Press Release? [OR: Low Dose Naltrexone Study Doesn't Make the News]”)
DR. BERKSON: This is all a given.
JULIA SCHOPICK – I hear you say that it’s a given. But it’s going to take people exposing it. I think that many of the people in this country would be shocked. They are not shocked about the money-making aspect. They get it. What they are shocked about is that when something works and no doctors are interested. They're not shocked that the drug companies aren't interested. They are shocked that the doctors aren't.
DR. BERKSON: You know, most doctors don’t know anything about these kinds of treatments, because there isn’t a pharmaceutical rep going into their office telling them about them.
JULIA SCHOPICK – But people are still shocked that the doctors aren't interested. For instance, with Silverlon – when it was the only thing that was able to heal my husband after 8 months of a non-healing wound.
DR. BERKSON - It was so simple.
JULIA SCHOPICK – Elegant, even. When I tell people that none of the neurosurgeons that I told about the Silverlon were the slightest bit interested, they cannot believe it. They say, “We know you to be an honest person. But are you telling the truth?”
DR. BERKSON: But you see this in all aspects of American life, of human life. Money talks. If a person does his homework and wants to do chemotherapy and radiation, that’s fine with me, especially if they know the chances that it may help them. But I think people should have a choice to do other things too, if they want.
JULIA SCHOPICK – That’s exactly how I feel.
So, as we come to the end of this interview, I’d like to say that I think it’s your sense of humor that has kept you, not only sane, but has kept you going. I mean, you give lectures all over the world. You’ve been invited to speak in Scotland, at the upcoming low dose naltrexone conference. In fact, you’ve spoken at just about every LDN conference that has been presented. I think it’s your wonderful sense of humor that keeps you from getting bitter.
DR. BERKSON - Well, there was a time I was very bitter, but it doesn't get you anywhere.
JULIA SCHOPICK – I am going to surprise you with something that attests to your sense of humor. The other day, I reread your pancreatic cancer study, and I want to read a section of it, and then we can discuss how funny it is. I almost died when I read it. This is what you wrote about one of your pancreatic cancer patients, “JA,” who responded so well to a combination of Alpha Lipoic Acid and Low Dose Naltrexone. You wrote:
"The authors say that the lack of progression of JA’s disease cannot be solely attributed to the single dose of chemotherapy that he received. It has been reported that gemcitabine’s effect on response rate and survival is disappointing."
This is perfect. It reminds me of my husband’s experience with Silverlon. We had a very similar experience: This very new, very innovative, relatively inexpensive treatment worked, when the standard-of-care treatments (i.e., repeated surgeries), only made Tim worse and worse. Do you know that the doctors really were convinced that it was the treatments they gave him 6 months earlier that “kicked in” -- on the very day we started the Silverlon?!
DR. BERKSON - I’m not surprised.
JULIA SCHOPICK – But this is, of course, what you were referring to?
DR. BERKSON: Yes.
JULIA SCHOPICK – Do you not think it’s your sense of humor that keeps you sane?
DR. BERKSON - I have a lot of interests outside of medicine. I like to go to the gym. It makes me happy. I love to go into the woods, and spend the day doing nothing, but sitting on a log, looking for mushrooms and things.
JULIA SCHOPICK – Don’t even mention mushrooms! I hope you know the difference. Well you’d know how to cure it.
DR. BERKSON - I’ve never seen sicker people than those with hepatotoxic mushroom poisoning. I eat very few wild mushrooms. And I like walking my dog, and doing all kinds of things like that. And reading books, fictional books.
JULIA SCHOPICK – You really are an “un-MD” kind of person. You really are much more like a PhD.
DR. BERKSON - I think I use my PhD more than I do my MD.
JULIA SCHOPICK – You think more like a PhD. I did a lot of reading about MDs versus PhDs. It made the MD seem more like military.
DR. BERKSON – I think medical education is a very militaristic type of program.
JULIA SCHOPICK – I have great hopes that, in this time of near-Depression in this country, that you may be the happy recipient of a lot of acclaim. I really do.
DR. BERKSON - From your mouth to God's ears.
JULIA SCHOPICK – I just know it. Pharma’s going to be very upset with this. I think we discussed earlier that Pharma is not happy with what's going to happen (i.e., the comparing of treatments with regard to their effectiveness). They're fighting it.
DR. BERKSON - Big Pharma does a lot of very important things. There are a lot of drugs that I use on my patients that are wonderful. Some of the antibiotics are very effective. Some of the blood pressure medications are wonderful drugs, and I use them every day. But some of them, I think are worthless.
JULIA SCHOPICK – You're right: Pharma has done an incredible amount of work. The problem comes, unfortunately, when they become involved in commissioning the studies that are done on their own medicines, and they literally hire the researchers and they tell them what results they want. Then they write the papers that go into the journals, and pay creditable doctors to sign their names to these articles. I’ll put up medical writer Melody Petersen’s interview on PBS, so people can read about how pharmaceutical companies often go the extra mile and lose their credibility. (Ms. Petersen's book, Our Daily Meds: How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves Into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs, is really excellent!)
DR. BERKSON: The alpha lipoic acid studies with diabetic neuropathy. This work was done in Germany originally, and they just had to repeat it over again here.
JULIA SCHOPICK – Now, why is that?
DR. BERKSON - That’s the system.
JULIA SCHOPICK – Why? We don’t trust any other country, do we?
DR. BERKSON - No, it has nothing to do with that. It’s a bureaucratic type of system. That’s City Hall, and you can't fight with City Hall.
JULIA SCHOPICK – Well, guess what? This could be a wonderful thing happening with this recession: that City Hall may have to be fought.
DR. BERKSON - I’m not so sure.
JULIA SCHOPICK – We were going to have a bet. But I would want to win that bet, because I would like to see alpha lipoic acid and low dose naltrexone and the ketogenic diet and Silverlon, and all the other treatments that are inexpensive and don’t have terrible side effects and they help people, become mainstream treatments. That’s what I would like to see.
DR. BERKSON: Julia, what I would like to see is for people to have medical freedom and to have a choice. And if somebody wants to get the full treatment with chemotherapy, that’s fine with me. But they should have a choice to do something else if they decide to do that.
JULIA SCHOPICK – Do you know who introduced the Access to Medical Treatment Act in the mid-1990s? Tom Daschle. That’s why I am so sad about him. I read his book, and he said exactly what you and I have been talking about –- that there are many treatments out there that are ignored and could help people, if they were more mainstream. This is the sad thing. I had been hopeful that his influence would bring some of that change.
Dr. Berkson, I would like to thank you for being my guest today for HonestMedicine.com. This has been one of the most interesting interviews!
DR. BERKSON - Thank you, Julia.
Dr. Berkson’s phone, email, website, and how to find his articles:
And to read his full-text papers on medical matters and in biology, google: Berkson, BM
DR. BERKSON'S BOOKS
Eunice Goostree’s review of The Alpha Lipoic Acid Breakthrough – Eunice Goostree is one of the first patients whose life was saved by Dr. Berkson's use (against his superiors' orders) of ALA in the 1970s. Her Amazon.com review of the book was written in 1999, one year after the book was published.
User’s Guide to the B-Complex Vitamins, written with Dr. Berkson’s son, Arthur Berkson, MD
Syndrome X: The Complete Nutritional Program to Prevent and Reverse Insulin Resistance, written with Jack Challem and Melissa Diane Smith
Scroll down to hear/watch Dr. Berkson’s talk at the Fourth Annual Low Dose Naltrexone Conference.
The Promise Of Low Dose Naltrexone Therapy: Potential Benefits in Cancer, Autoimmune, Neurological and Infectious Disorders, a book by medical writer Elaine A. Moore and LDN advocate SammyJo Wilkinson. This book tells the complete story of LDN; an extremely valuable resource for patients to share with their physicians; contains the history of LDN research, including that of Dr. Berkson.
www.lowdosenaltrexone.org -- This website is lovingly maintained by Dr. David Gluck, a close childhood friend of LDN pioneer, Dr. Bernard Bihari. Dr. Gluck dedicates his life to carrying on Dr. Bihari's mission of educating both the public and the medical profession about the many uses of LDN. In addition to lots of other information, this website contains audios and videos from the LDN conferences have been held every year forthe last several years. Dr. Berkson's work and videos are included here.
www.ldners.org - This website is the brainchild of SammyJo Wilkinson, MS patient and LDN patient-advocate and author. (See her book above.) She works tirelessly to raise money for LDN research, and to get the word out to the public about LDN. Read SammyJo's inspiring LDN story here.