An Interview with Dr. Alan Goldhamer

Submitted on February 22, 2016 - 9:51am

By Mark Huberman

This interview originally appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of Health Science magazine, the member magazine of the National Health Association, of which interviewer Mark Huberman is the president.

Dr. Alan Goldhamer is the founder of TrueNorth Health Center in Santa Rosa, California, which provides medical and chiropractic services, psychotherapy and counseling, and massage and body work. TrueNorth has become one of the premier training facilities for doctors wishing to gain certification in the supervision of therapeutic fasting. The British Medical Journal recently published a report by TrueNorth on the successful treatment of lymphoma cancer with fasting and a vegan, SOS-free diet. Future research is planned through the Center’s nonprofit arm, the TrueNorth Health Foundation. After completing his chiropractic education at Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Oregon, Dr. Goldhamer became licensed as an osteopathic physician in Australia. He is the author of The Health Promoting Cookbook and co-author of The Pleasure Trap: Mastering the Hidden Force That Undermines Health & Happiness.

MH: Nearly everyone that discovers the hygienic way of life has a story about their journey. What is yours? Was there a health crisis? Was there a particular book that inspired you?
AG: Originally, my interest in health was motivated by a desire to beat Dr. Doug Lisle (pictured left) in basketball. Back in elementary school he was not yet “Dr. Lisle,” he was just Doug. Unfortunately, he adopted the same health-promoting diet as I did, and my efforts failed. He still beats me handily in basketball—but it did get me interested in improved health.
When was your first NHA/ANHS conference and what brought you there?
It was 40 years ago. I had decided to pursue a career in health care and was interested in learning more about the use of fasting.

Was there a particular speaker or NHA leader who influenced you?
I was impressed with Dr. Alec Burton and his presentations on hygienic philosophy and fasting.

What role did the NHA play in your professional development?
My exposure to the thinking of the doctors was very helpful, and I’d say even critical, in convincing Dr. Burton to allow me to come to Australia to train.

What made you want to go to chiropractic college?
The late Dr. Gerald Benesh convinced me that it was necessary to gain training as a primary care doctor in order to have the basic skills needed to properly advise patients on how to manage their health.

Is that where you met your wife, Dr. Jennifer Marano?
Yes. Jennifer transferred to the school I was attending, and I fell in love with her shortly thereafter! (Pictured right)

You had the extraordinary fortune of studying under the late Dr. Gerald Benesh and then under Dr. Alec Burton. Is that right?
Yes, I was incredibly fortunate. Both men were highly instrumental in my education.

What did you learn from Dr. Benesh?
Dr. Benesh taught me that the greatest threat to my ability to practice was well-intentioned but ignorant doctors and government officials.

What about Dr. Burton?
Dr. Burton taught me how to get sick people well and help healthy people stay that way.

What led you and your wife to start your first fasting institute, the Center for Conservative Therapy, in Penngrove, California, and who were your first professional colleagues?
I had the intention of starting a healthcare facility from the time I was attending high school with Dr. Lisle. He joined Jennifer and me shortly after he completed his training as a psychologist. Our first intern, and eventually first staff doctor, was Alec Isabeau, who joined us almost 30 years ago.

When did you move to your current location in Santa Rosa, California, and how did that come about?
We searched nationwide for the best place to live and set up a facility. We took many things into account, such as weather, air quality, water access, safety, access for patients, cost of property, medical-legal considerations, and acceptance of alternative medicine. The best place in the country turned out to be Santa Rosa.

Why did you change the name to the “TrueNorth Health Center”?
One of our patients who owned a very successful marketing company donated his services to help us come up with the most appropriate name for our facility. There are many directions one can travel to try to attain health, but one direction is more effective and efficient than the others: True North. This is the direction we try to guide our patients.

You have gone through a number of expansions. Tell us about the latest?
We recently gained control of five buildings adjacent to our 26,000-square- foot main facility. This allowed us to transfer most of our medical and administrative offices to these new buildings and remodel the vacated spaces into patient rooms. This has dramatically increased our capacity to our present 59 private patient rooms. We also have a dozen of our staff living in an adjacent apartment building that we have taken over.

You have an extraordinary large staff, several of whom have been with you for a very long time. Tell me about some of them.

  • Dr. Doug Lisle has been with us from day one and is the principal author of The Pleasure Trap. He is an outstanding clinical psychologist and dynamic speaker, and is currently working on a new book involving the critical issue of esteem.
  • Dr. Alec Isabeau has been with us 30 years, and is our sports medicine expert and is an outstanding diagnostician.
  • Dr. Erwin Linzner joined us over 15 years ago, and is an excellent chiropractor and experienced fasting supervisor.
  • Dr. Gracie Yuen joined us many years ago after completing her training with Dr. David Scott. She provides chiropractic services and fasting supervision.
  • Dr. Peter Sultana was a medical intern while attending Case Western Medical School and has been with us ever since. He has supervised more water-only fasts than any other medical doctor.
  • Dr. Michael Klaper brought his 40 years of medical experience to TrueNorth about six years ago. He supervises our intern training program, provides outstanding diagnostic acumen, and also provides phone consultation services. He also lectures throughout the country.
  • Dr. Anthony Lim is our newest medical doctor. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School as well as Stanford University. In addition to fasting supervision, Dr. Lim will be taking an active role in our expanding research program.
  • Dr Csilla Veress is our first naturopathic physician. Dr. Veress also provides acupuncture services and nutritional medicine, including the use of amino acid therapy in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and other neurotransmitter-related conditions.

Tell me about some of the other non-physician staff members and what they offer?

  • Becka Kelley is TrueNorth’s assistant director. She is currently in a Ph.D. program for psychology, and is most interested in the issues of patient diet and lifestyle compliance and what we can do to support a patient’s ability to stay “True North.”
  • Chef Ramses Bravo and his staff provide delicious, health-promoting food that is vegan and SOS-free (free from all added sugar, including refined carbohydrates, oil and salt) His staff, including Mauricio, Patty, Johnny, Griselda, and Kristina, keep our patients and staff well fed.
  • David Goldman is a registered dietician and runs our fitness training program, utilizing our newly donated fitness center.
  • Randy Frary is our new facilities manager, and with our housekeeping staff, Auggie, Maria, Armando, Lorena, and Sara, keeps the facility immaculate. They also take care of our patients’ personal laundry and provide all manner of assistance.
  • Our hi-tech handyman Gar takes care of plumbing, electrical, and carpentry, as well as our network services and security cameras for the facility and our patients.
  • Our administrative staff, Carolyn, Graceann, Kelly, Joan, Hilary, and Laura, handle phones, scheduling, billing, and concierge services.
  • We also have a wonder group of instructors, including cooking teachers Katie Mae and Cathy Fisher (the copy editor of Health Science and TrueNorth’s electronic newsletter). Yoga and relaxation instructors are Alese, Mary, and Tam.
  • We also have a research staff headed by our new director of research, Toshia Myers, Ph.D., who is helping us move our research agenda forward rapidly. We have also been assisted by our consultants, Jeff Novick, R.D. and Jim Lennon, who have been instrumental in the development of our soon-to-be-launched website, fasting.org.

What is the advantage to having medical doctors on staff?
Having the best and brightest medical doctors allows us to help patients with a wide variety of challenges more effectively and efficiently, and most of all, safely.

You and Dr. Lisle authored the groundbreaking book The Pleasure Trap. When did it come out and what is its premise?
It was published in 2006. The book offers insights into the factors that make us susceptible to dietary and lifestyle excesses, and presents ways to restore the biological processes designed by nature to keep us running at maximum efficiency and vitality. When people eat foods that contain chemicals, mainly sugar and oil, the brain becomes artificially stimulated by dopamine secretions, which leads to overeating, obesity, and the diseases of dietary excess. The “pleasure trap” is largely why people are fat and sick, and it is an addiction that is exceedingly difficult to escape. We use fasting, in part, to help patients escape the pleasure trap.

Do you and/or Dr. Lisle have another book in the works?
Dr. Lisle is working on a new book about self-esteem that I know will be outstanding!

Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of TrueNorth is the internship opportunities that are offered to graduate students and physicians to become proficient in fasting supervision. Who is eligible, how does the program work, and how many interns do you take per year?
We are currently training about 30 doctors per year—M.D., N.D., D.C., D.O., and N.P.—in one-, three-, and twelve-month programs. Our internship/residency programs allow doctors to learn how to use nutritional medicine, including fasting, to help people get well. For many doctors this is the first time they have actually seen people recover their health. Several hundred interns have trained at TrueNorth over the years.

Why is an internship so important?
For many doctors, this is their only chance to learn how to use this approach.

Why don’t most folks who intern with you open fasting institutes of their own?
There are still major roadblocks to opening and running a facility. First, it is very expensive to develop a facility, to maintain the staff, and to attract the volume of patients needed to make it sustainable. Second, there are still medical and legal challenges to overcome. However, times are changing and new facilities may come on line in the future.

Most people probably think of TrueNorth as a fasting institute; but do people come to the center who do not fast?
In addition to medically supervised water-only fasting, or modified fasting on juices, many of our patients come to work with one or more of our doctors for assessment or treatment. Others come to take a break and get taken care of. People come to eat healthy food and be with other like-minded patients while attending lectures, cooking classes, and fitness training. Some business people also stay with us because our rates are lower than the hotels in town, and they get all their meals included.

Speaking of fasting, the most famous book ever written on the subject is unquestionably Dr. Herbert Shelton’s Fasting Can Save Your Life. Was he right, and is it really true?
He certainly was right, and it is true!

What actually happens during a fast, and why do most non-hygienists confuse fasting with starving?
Fasting is the period of time after you stop eating where you live on your reserves. Starvation is the period beyond this, where you keep going and burn vital tissues, and eventually die. We promote and practice fasting, not starvation.

What about juice fasting? Can this be an alternative form of “detoxing” for people who lack the time or resources to undertake a water fast? What are its limitations?
Juicing is a form of modified eating. It may be helpful in some circumstances, but it is not fasting. Water fasting introduces a unique physiological adaptation that is quite unique. Changes occur more effectively and efficiently in water fasting then during modified approaches.

In your 31-plus years, how many patients have water fasted under your care?
Believe it or not, we have supervised the fasting of over 15,000 patients!

What conditions respond positively to fasting, and are there some conditions that simply will not respond?
The conditions caused or made worse by dietary excess respond the most consistently to medically supervised water-only fasting. They include cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and a host of autoimmune disorders. Patients who do not respond well to fasting include those with undue fear of fasting, wasting disorders (where deficiency or depletion are predominate), and conditions where kidney disease or arrhythmia might make fasting problematic. We always try to appropriately phase medications off before beginning fasting, with a few exceptions of certain replacement therapies.

I know that a particular interest and priority of yours has been documenting not only the efficacy of fasting but also its safety; you have conducted several studies attesting to both. How many studies have you conducted and what do they show?
We have a number of publications. A landmark study, “Medically Supervised Water-only Fasting in the Treatment of Hypertension,” conducted with the help of Dr. T Colin Campbell of Cornell University, involved fasting 174 consecutive patients with high blood pressure. We demonstrated the largest effects of any study ever conducted, with an average reduction of over 60 points in those patients with stage 3 hypertension. A second study of moderate-high blood pressure conducted a year later was equally impressive. We have also published case reports in peer-reviewed journals on the use of fasting to treat subacute appendicitis, which also showed impressive results.

Lots of folks within the progressive health movement talk about the benefits of a whole-foods, plant-based diet, but you are most famous, for coining the term “vegan SOS,” which stands for a vegan diet without added salt, oil or sugar? Why should we avoid these three common staples of the American diet?
I suggest reading The Pleasure Trap for a comprehensive answer to this important question. The short answer is that these chemicals artificially stimulate dopamine, leading to an addictive response which results in overeating and the development of obesity and the diseases of dietary excess.

What are your thoughts about the abundance of salt and sugar substitutes?
I do not recommend them. In addition to their own individual chemical challenges to the body, they foster an unhealthy dependence on highly adulterated foods. These processed substitutes do not facilitate “taste neuroadaptation,” meaning that as long as someone is consuming them, health-promoting foods will not taste good and so people will avoid eating them.

Are there any good oils? What about olive oil, which is so widely championed by advocates of the Mediterranean diet?
No. I do not recommend any. All oils are highly processed and concentrated food by-products. They have an unnaturally high caloric density that will result in a host of chemical challenges and, inevitably, result in overconsumption. I recommend avoiding all oils except for the engine of your car.

Flavored vinegars have become quite the rage within the whole-foods, plant-based diet world as an alternative to oil in salad dressings. Any concerns about their general use?
I prefer the flavor of the actual vegetables; but if you are able to handle these high-acid products, I suggest consuming them in moderation.

Do folks that follow a broad-spectrum, vegan, SOS-free diet need supplements? If so, which ones?
Yes. I recommend 1,000 mcg of methylcobalamin (B12) once a day. If testing indicated a deficiency that was not correctable with diet or sunshine, I would consider other supplements on an individual basis. But we always prefer to obtain our nutrients from a health-promoting vegan, SOS-free diet.

Are you an advocate of consuming organic foods whenever possible?
Yes. I believe that organically grown foods can minimize exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Additionally, we should support farmers who use health-promoting practices, which are not only beneficial to people but also our planet.

Tell me about the TrueNorth Kitchen and Chef Ramses Bravo, and how he and his culinary creations help folks stay on the straight and narrow?
Not only does our outstanding chef (pictured right) provide delicious food for our patients and staff, but we also have a walk-in deli service for our patients in the community. All foods are prepared without salt, oil, and sugar.

Is it affordable to stay at TrueNorth?
TrueNorth remains remarkably affordable. Our rates for a private room with a shared bathroom start at $149 a night. This includes a private room, all fasting supervision or meals, our educational program three times a day, twice-daily visits with the doctors (during morning and evening rounds), personal laundry service, and free phone and Wi-Fi.

Will health insurance cover any of the costs?
The medical exam, personal treatments, and laboratory testing are covered by Medicare and private insurances.

You recently created the TrueNorth Foundation. What are its goals?
The TrueNorth Health Foundation is our 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is public education and research. Our most recent paper was published by the British Medical Journal. In the case report, we detail the resolution of a patient with stage 3 follicular lymphoma (lymph cancer) who has undertaken a 21-day water-only fast followed by a vegan, SOS-free diet. You can view this article on our website at healthpromoting.com/learning-center/articles. We will also be releasing a major study on fasting safety, as well as a number of papers evaluating outcomes of data we and Dr. Scott have collected that we have analyzed. We recently formed a collaboration with Dr. Luigi Fontana and the folks at the Buck Institute, and expect to begin recruiting for a research project that will evaluate the effect of fasting in reversing biomarkers associated with aging, cancer formation, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune disease, and changes in the microbiome.

We have been friends and colleagues in the NHA for a very long time, and I know the reputation you enjoy (like mine) of being very strict when it comes to adherence to the natural hygiene diet? Are you as diligent as they say?
Fortunately, I eat 20 of my 21 meals a week at the TrueNorth Health Center, so there is very little opportunity for temptation. When I was 16 I decided to do an experiment, where I adopted a vegan diet and avoided any drugs and highly processed foods. I am 41 years into this experiment, and so far it seems to be working.

Finally, I know that there is much more to a healthy and productive life than diet, and I would like you to share with your readers what you and Jennifer do to keep balance in your life with all of the demands that TrueNorth imposes?
I play full-court basketball three mornings and one evening a week, and I hike with Jennifer regularly. I also do a daily meditation practice. I believe that stress is like Christmas: it is better to give then to receive, and I try to be generous!

Thanks for your years of contributions to the NHA and the Natural Hygiene health movement that it continues to lead.
Thank you, Mark, for all that you do as well.


An Interview with Erwin Linzner, D.C.

Submitted on July 6, 2015 - 11:37am

By Mark Huberman

This interview originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Health Science magazine, the member magazine of the National Health Association, of which interviewer Mark Huberman is the president.

Dr. Erwin Linzner completed his undergraduate training at the California State University, Los Angeles. He then went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude and as class valedictorian from Western States Chiropractic College. Dr. Linzner worked as an accountant and computer programmer prior to becoming a doctor. In 1994 he became affiliated with the TrueNorth Health Center. Dr. Linzner understands the importance of addressing the entire individual, physical as well as emotional, in guiding his patients in their process of healing. He incorporates soft tissue manipulation in the treatment of myofascial and connective tissue disorders, and spends the time to correct joint problems in the extremities as well as the spine.

MH: When you were first introduced as a new hygienic physician to the readers of Health Science magazine way back in January of 1997, I recall that your door to Natural Hygiene came from reading Fit for Life. What was it about that book that you found thought-provoking?
EL: It was an accumulation of things. I’ve learned over the years that we always reject information at first, even if it’s true, and I did this in my twenties. I had a good friend who was eating plant-based; I’m pretty sure he was vegan. And he would make salads and baked potatoes for me when I’d visit him. Then I would go to McDonald’s afterwards. But then in my thirties, I guess I was about 34, I read the book Fit for Life, and it really made sense to me that we are designed to have an optimum diet, and if you deviate too much then things aren’t going to work as well. And that made sense to me, just like nobody puts sugar and dirt into their gas tanks; we shouldn’t be doing that either with our food. One day I said, “Okay, I’ll give this a trial for a full week,” and luckily for me I woke up after three days of plant-based eating and my energy just bounded; it was just phenomenal.

Were you having any health problems at the time?
Yes. I never had energy. I’d get up at 8AM but I didn’t feel like I was actually moving until about 11AM. And I had frequent cold, and would be out of work for two or three days. I knew something wasn’t right.

One of the great things for the NHA was that Fit for Life and its authors, Harvey and Marilyn Diamond, didn’t have an organization of their own, and so they referred people who wanted to gain more information about the program to us. Is that how you were introduced to the NHA?
That was it. I started getting literature from the NHA, about once a month, and then one day I got a flier that Dr. Alan Goldhamer was giving a talk in Santa Monica, and I became interested. Also on the program were Dr. Jennifer Marano and Dr. Alan Immerman. Dr. Goldhamer spoke about water fasting and getting people well with fasting and healthy eating. It made so much sense to me and got me excited about wanting to make a difference in people’s lives; so I decided to follow in Dr. Goldhamer’s footsteps and go to Western States Chiropractic College.

Were there there other books that you read that helped frame your thinking?
I, of course, read almost everything from Dr. Herbert Shelton, and I was particularly inspired by his book, Fasting Can Save Your Life.

After reading the book, did you undertake a fast yourself to fully understand the experience?
At the time, my wife needed it more than I did. So I thought I’d let her be the guinea pig. So I sent her up to Dr. Goldhamer.

What a generous husband!
Well (chuckle), she had a history of smoking and was a little overweight, so I said why don’t we send you up there to clean out a bit. She was open to it, and did quite a long fast of over 20 days at Dr. Goldhamer’s first facility in Penngrove, California, called the Center for Conservative Therapy.

Was that eye-opening for her?
Oh, yes! It was eye-opening for us both. She lost weight and really looked radiant. It was just amazing. After that I did a fast as well, but only for about five days. (Dr. Linzner and Carolyn pictured at right.)

Do you remember the first NHA conference you attended?
I think it was Georgetown University back in 1994 right after I joined Alan.

Were there other hygienic physicians that you met who were influential in your thinking?
Two that impressed me a lot were Dr. Alec Burton and Dr. Keki Sidhwa. Believe it or not, on my bus ride from the airport I found myself sitting next to Dr. Sidhwa. It proved a wonderful opportunity to begin picking his brain.

How did you wind up working at TrueNorth?
After doing my fast at TrueNorth, I was really impressed with the work that Dr. Goldhamer was doing, so I said to him, “I went to your talk in Santa Monica last year, and it really motivated me to do this kind of work; so I am going to go to Chiropractic College to involve myself in the same kind of work.” To my surprise Alan said, “Great! As soon as you graduate, give me a call.” 

And you did?
Indeed I did. Of course I checked with him as things went along to make sure he was serious about it and that he would still bring me on when I graduated. And he said, “Yeah, yeah, keep working. We’re waiting for you.” Immediately after graduating, he gave me the opportunity to do an internship, and when that was completed he made me part of the staff. It was a great experience.

I know that Dr. Goldhamer still offers internship opportunities to young physicians. Why is it important to do an internship in fasting supervision?
It’s the best, and probably only, way for doctors to actually learn what works and what doesn’t. And it’s pretty phenomenal to actually see people get well from diet changes and fasting. I’ve seen some pretty miraculous recoveries.

Are there any that really stand out in your mind?
There have been many. In my first year at TrueNorth I helped care for a gentleman in his forties who was a drug addict, obese, and in congestive heart failure. When he was dropped off at the center, he was huffing and puffing just trying to get to the door. And I remember thinking, “Oh boy, this isn’t good. We are actually going to fast this guy?” I think he was referred by a medical doctor in Santa Rosa who told him that this was his last chance to get healthy. And that if we couldn’t help him, there probably wasn’t anything that could be done for him. Because of his situation, he was prepared to do whatever we asked of him. I don’t recall how long we fed him before we started fasting him, but we fasted him about 34 days. Amazingly, after breaking his fast, this guy who couldn’t walk from his car to TrueNorth’s front door ended up walking up a significant hill nearby! He then started walking 10 miles a day and truly started a new life. It was really amazing to see.

During my recent interview with Dr. Frank Sabatino, he felt there was a great place for fasting and a hygienic lifestyle in the true recovery from addiction. Do you agree?
Yes, I do. However, people recovering from addiction are often tougher to manage. But if they’re motivated and are willing to do the hard work, they’re going to get better quicker.

Over your past 18 years at True North, are there other conditions that you’ve seen respond particularly well to fasting?
I remember a young woman, maybe in her late twenties, with severe rheumatoid arthritis. She could not reach her head to do her hair. She fasted close to three weeks and had a great result. I remember how excited she was when she was able to do her own hair again.

What do you think the power of fasting is?
Fasting does a lot of things, but the one big thing it does is rejuvenate the body. During a fast you are breaking down old tissue and diseased cells that actually get rebuilt with new material. You get enzymatic induction, and you clean out your arteries. Excess fluid and salt leave your system. And your immune system strengthens; not necessarily during the fast but certainly afterwards.

Do you think that everybody needs to fast, or that everyone would benefit from fasting on some level?
Yes, I think everyone could benefit from periodic fasting. Even if you eat a really healthy diet, I think every four to five years it’s a good idea to undertake a fast to cleanse the palate, detox, and give your body a rest from digestion in a way that will allow the body to heal.

Is there a danger for people fasting themselves, and is there a limit to how many days people can go without supervision?
Fasting of any significant duration should be done under supervision by a medical professional. This is particularly the case for people on medications, because dramatic things can happen during the fasting state. However, if you are not on medication, a fast of two or three days is generally safe.

Can people get off their medication following a period of fasting and diet modification?
Absolutely! I have probably seen a thousand patients with hypertension who had normal or near normal blood pressure after fasting and no longer needed medication. I can count the number of failures on one hand. That’s pretty phenomenal. And even if they don’t get full resolution, they still see substantial improvement. The same is true for many people suffering from diabetes who were on medications.

How do you motivate people to adhere to the health program after a fast, and not slip back to hold habits and temptations once they return to their homes and jobs?
For most people it’s a process. The majority of people don’t make changes overnight. What I see is that people get better each time they come in. So they may come once a year or maybe even twice a year. The first time they give up the cigarettes and the second time they give up the beer and they eat more vegetables. For others, they just get it and they do the right things for a while. However, stresses get in the way when loved ones die and people lose jobs, for example. After those types of emotionally charged events, people can fall back into old habits of trying to get pain relief by eating crappy food.

Is that what Drs. Goldhamer and Lisle call the “Pleasure Trap”?
Yes. You feel a little better because you have some endorphin releases from the fatty foods you’re eating. But this is very short-term. The damage, however, will last for days, and if you do that for any period of time, health problems start up again.

My late father used to say that if you went to a hygienic facility or you came to an NHA conference, it would “recharge your battery.” Do you also find that to be the case at TrueNorth?
Yes—not only physically but mentally. I think one of the most important things we offer is the daily lectures. We offer people two a day, affording them a wonderful opportunity to understand the things we recommend them to do. People often deceive themselves into believing that they are eating healthy but they actually are not. I had a new patient today who started just that way. He said, “I eat pretty healthy.” But he was on hypertensive meds and he was a diabetic on medication. I told him gently, “Well, you know, the plant-based way is much better than what you’re describing.” I added, “If you were actually eating healthy you wouldn’t be taking those medications.” That seemed to get his attention, and I was able to convince him to make dietary changes during his first visit.

People must find it very liberating to get off of their medications.
Absolutely! You know, most people know that their medications are doing them damage. They don’t feel well when they take them, since there are almost always toxic side-effects. So they know that they’d rather not be on medication; but it’s still so hard for people to make the necessary changes.

Is that because taking drugs is so easy and offers a short-term suppression of their symptoms?
That’s right. I try to get people to realize that health is not free. You have to do a lot of work to actually be healthy. Health is not a given, and if you’re not willing to pay the price of the hard work, you’re going to be paying a different price, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, dementia, and/or a long list of very unpleasant conditions that western populations face. So which price do you want to pay? We hope that people choose the price of short-term deprivation where you’ll go through a withdrawal period while not engaging in your usual short-term pleasure seeking activities. And that process may take two or three months. But if you’re not willing to pay that price, you’re going to be paying a much bigger price: poor health.

I think when I interviewed Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, he said it was his belief that nearly all of the degenerative diseases you were just describing actually need not exist. Do you agree with him?
Oh, absolutely. It is so true. Obviously some of the cancers are not clear, and even healthy people get ill, but the vast majority would not exist if people followed our whole-foods, plant-based lifestyle. And then when people did have heart attacks, we’d be writing them up in the health journals because they’d be so rare!

Does everyone come to TrueNorth to fast or can they just come to eat and learn?
You can do both. Dr. Goldhamer has hired a wonderful chef, and his staff does such a great job of presenting healthy foods. We actually get many people that come just to eat and exercise who can’t fast due to their myriad of health conditions. We also have lots of people that come in just to eat or maybe to go on a modified juice fast because they’re still on some medication. (Pictured at right: Dr. Linzner at TrueNorth in Penngrove in 1996)

How does juice fasting differ from water fasting?
Both juice fasting and water fasting use the body’s ability to burn fat and accelerate the detox process. Water fasting, however, is a much faster process of getting people healthier. This may mean, however, that there are more symptoms, such nausea, vomiting, back pain, headaches, itching, etc. So, people who don’t want to go through the rigors of water fasting can choose to do juice fasting, which is typically less symptomatic. Also, for some patients who are on medications and/or where the doctor feels that water fasting is inappropriate, juice fasting can be a safer alternative.

How has the center changed from those early days when it was called the Center for Conservative Therapy (located in Penngrove) to TrueNorth Health Center (located in Santa Rosa)?
One of the biggest things is that we’ve brought on medical doctors. When I first came on staff, we had Dr. Ron Cridland, but he left shortly thereafter, and for a while we didn’t have any medical doctors. Today we are fortunate to have several serving the facility, and that is very helpful because we get patients with more significant health problems than we used to; and our medical doctors also have the ability to manage patients’ medications and complex conditions. We get sicker people nowadays, but often even they can get off of most of their medications despite not being able to fast.

When patients stay at TrueNorth, do you collaborate with the other physicians there, concerning their care?
We have weekly meetings, and the doctors discuss each patient’s case to see what we can do better.

Do you have a specific role at TrueNorth Health, or are you just one of the staff physicians that do everything?
I have two roles. I do the morning rounds for fasting supervision to make sure everyone is having a safe fasting experience. I also do chiropractic treatments for both our residential participants and local patients for a variety of musculoskeletal conditions.

What impact do you think documentaries like Forks Over Knives have had on this country’s health consciousness?
A lot. I’ve been on a plant-based diet for 28 years now, but when I first went vegan my family went ballistic. I remember one of my cousins saying, “You’re crazy. You’re going to get sick and die; you’re going to have protein deficiencies.” I just looked at him and chuckled. But you know, that was the mindset back then, not just by family and friends, but also the medical society, the media, and the American Dietetic Association. That’s changed a lot, and much of the credit goes to that great film and the wonderful work of the physicians profiled in it. Today, when you talk to people about getting on a plant-based diet, they usually have heard of it and more often than not even respect it.

Do you still have to defend such questions as, “Where do you get your protein?” and “Why don’t you drink milk?”
Yes, but not as often as 25 years ago. But many people still believe that protein only comes from meat and that cow’s milk is necessary for strong bones.

What do you think of the “super food” emphasis being given to greens like kale, spinach, and bok choy? Is this the wrong way to think about simply good eating?
Not at all. Dr. Joel Fuhrman talks a lot about micro-nutrient density, and he is right on. These green leafy vegetables are some the most important foods to eat because they are very high in vitamins and minerals, as well as nutrients we probably haven’t even discovered yet. So it’s very important to eat your greens.

Isn’t one of the great benefits of following a hygienic, plant-based, minimally processed diet is that you don’t have to worry about how much protein, vitamins, and minerals you are taking in?
Yes, it’s such a relief. I know if I just stick to eating whole foods that are plant-based, with maybe a little exception of B12 and vitamin D, I really don’t need to worry about anything else.

Are you optimistic that we are becoming more health conscious in America?
Oh, definitely. As I mentioned earlier, there’s been a major shift in awareness, and even fasting seems to be catching on. We’re so busy here at TrueNorth because so many people are now interested in fasting. Recently, a major national magazine had an article detailing the experience of one of their writers who came and had a wonderful experience fasting with us. That article generated quite a bit of interest and business. So we’re getting a lot of exposure, even in the mainstream media, about fasting.

Are you also getting a lot of interest from young physicians wanting to learn about fasting and your health program?
Yes we are. We’re getting medical doctors, naturopaths, and chiropractors who are coming here to learn what we do, and it’s affecting how they think about health. And that’s really how the change is going to happen in the future; it isn’t what they’re going to be teaching in medical school. What medical schools teach will only change after enough people say it’s time to change.

So tell me about the Linzner Family?
My wife Carolyn and I have an adopted son who is 32 and he’s got three kids. Carolyn is the office manager at TrueNorth.

And has she stayed disciplined with the lifestyle as well?
Pretty much. She had a little more trouble a few years ago, but she’s been very good now for a couple of years, and she has lost a lot of weight. Everyone has to make those decisions for themselves; nobody can make them for you.

What do the Linzners do for recreation when they are not admitting or caring for patients at TrueNorth?
We do some hiking and occasionally go dancing, but my favorite thing to do is play Bridge.

Bridge!!? That doesn’t sound very vigorous.
It’s not, but its very competitive, and it exercises your mind.

It’s been great talking to you doc and catching up with you after all these years.
Good to talk to you, Mark!

An Interview with Peter Sultana, M.D.

Submitted on February 23, 2015 - 1:46pm

By Mark Huberman

This interview originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of Health Science magazine, the member magazine of the National Health Association, of which interviewer Mark Huberman is the president.

Peter Sultana, M.D. is a board-certified family physician in Santa Rosa, CA. His training includes a bachelor’s degree in Physics and Art History from Fordham University, a doctorate of Medicine from Case Western Reserve University, a diploma of specialization in Family Medicine from the University of Missouri, a certificate in Medical Aspects of Natural Family Planning from Creighton University, and a certificate in the Supervision of Therapeutic Fasting from the IAHP. He has worked in a broad spectrum of various clinical and research settings over the years, and currently runs a small family practice, and serves as a medical consultant to the participants of TrueNorth Health Center.

MH: You are a rare breed within the modern-day Natural Hygiene movement since, to my knowledge, it has only attracted a handful of medical doctors: Ron Cridland, Joel Fuhrman, Michael Klaper and, most recently, Stephan Esser. How did you as a physician arrive at this esteemed plateau?
PS: I think the concept of Natural Hygiene has probably been with me my whole life, but I wasn’t aware of it as a system. I think it was just the idea of living in harmony with nature that I grew up with. So the seeds were already there by the time I discovered Natural Hygiene in my twenties.

I was trying to eat a healthy diet and people noticed it. One day, one of my workmates said, “You know, you would really fit in well with this group of health-minded people that I know who meet once a month.” I decided to check it out, and I became part of a small group of about six people who were studying Natural Hygiene. I thought, “Yeah, this is for me.” One thing led to another, and I ended up going to NHA (National Health Association) conferences and meeting different people who worked in this field. I think the very first conference I attended was in 1989 in Miami Beach, Florida.

Were your parents vegetarians or at least health inclined?
My parents were health inclined but not vegetarian. As I grew up, I started asking questions like, “Which of these foods is healthier?” and noticed that the answers pointed toward more vegetables and less meat. Dairy and eggs were still the darlings of nutrition at the time, so it took me longer to see them for what they were.

A lot of people come to this way of living because of a health crisis. Was that the case with you?
No, however, I did notice changes as my diet got cleaner, and I definitely felt better internally. I recall having some acne on my back that dramatically cleared up when I changed how I ate. I think this occurred as a result of giving up dairy foods, which was probably one of the last things I did.

Was there one book or one hygienic physician in particular that inspired you?
Before I started going to NHA conferences, I tried to follow the advice from the people in my local hometown Natural Hygiene group, but none of them were health professionals. They had strong opinions and lots of advice, but in retrospect they had little experience and no accountability. I know they were well intentioned, but following their advice I ended up eating far too much raw food and found myself eventually declining in health.

Now that I think about it, in answer to your earlier question, I actually did have a health crisis. The irony is that contrary to the typical path you just alluded to, Natural Hygiene was actually causing my health crisis, not solving it. So I started going to NHA conferences and met more responsible people, and learned that there was a balance you had to hit between raw and cooked food. I talked to most of the doctors individually, and they gave excellent advice, particularly Dr. Ralph Cinque, whose compassion and earnestness touched me as he coached me out of the crisis. What I learned from this is that broad principles are a great starting point, but there are many factors that go into tailoring them to each individual. At this point, I began to appreciate the value of licensed health-care professionals in Natural Hygiene.

You hold a dual degree in Art History and Physics from Fordham University. That sounds like a long way from a career in medicine. Are you actually an artist?
I love art and have some talent, but few people would ever accuse me of being an artist. Growing up, I never aspired to being a doctor. My interests were in art and drama, as well as goodness, truth, beauty and God. So in college I started off by majoring in Art History. It was my way of getting a big picture of art in the world. Eventually, around sophomore year, the question came up, “Well, what are you going to do with this?” I certainly wasn’t a good enough artist nor an actor to even think about making a living with those. But I was told that architects got paid, so I started looking into that.

I needed to take some science classes, particularly physics, which I had never taken before. So I took the introductory physics class and ended up loving it. I was fascinated by the universal language and beautiful balance and symmetry of the natural world. Halfway through the semester, the chairman of the department invited me into his office and said, “You are doing extremely well with this; you would make a good physics major.” My first response was, “No thanks; I already have a major,” but later I thought about what he said and found that if I worked at it I could add a second major without giving up the first, and still graduate on time. I never really developed a strong passion for architecture, so I just finished college with that dual degree and then took a break.

That summer, I moved back home to Cleveland and found a summer job at the Cleveland Health Education Museum. It was there that I started learning more about human biology. I worked on exhibits and taught guests about them. At the end of the summer, the job was over and I needed to find another one. Just down the road, the Cleveland VA Hospital had just posted an opening for a technician. I answered it and found myself in a research project focused on using electrical impulses controlled by computer technology to restore walking in paralyzed people (see photo at right). It was a lot of fun working with this multinational, multidisciplinary group of students, surgeons, Ph.D.s, and research subjects. The project had a great goal, but after a couple of years I found myself more interested in the lives of the human research subjects I worked with. I soon began to realize that the subjects’ mobility issues were often the least of their problems, and I was drawn into taking a more holistic view in helping them. That experience, combined with several of other storyline threads, ultimately came together at the age of 25 when I found myself being called to work as a doctor.

Tell me about attending Case Western Reserve Medical School.
It was wonderful, mostly. After college I chose to live in a cultural hub of Cleveland called University Circle, a one-square-mile neighborhood of major museums, colleges, music schools, and more. The thing that drew me there initially was the famous Cleveland Art Museum, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Cleveland Institute of Art. So I was surrounded by all kinds of brilliant and broad-minded influences. I eventually came to know students and faculty at Case Western Reserve Medical School, and it started to grow on me; so it was an easy first choice for medical school. Once I was in the school, I found many of my classmates quite receptive to my perspectives on natural health. So, overall, it was a very good environment to learn and train. The hardest part was sleep deprivation. I think it took me seven years to recover from that.

Very few physicians are medical doctors in the Natural Hygiene movement; most of them have been chiropractors. I’m told that one of the reasons is the fear of the medical indoctrination in drugs and cures. Chiropractic takes a more holistic approach to health and recovery. Was this a challenge for you in becoming an M.D.?
Yes, some of it was. However, I started medical school with the firm conviction of health through natural healing, and I think that helped me absorb the information from a good perspective. In the first year you’re mainly studying basic anatomy, physiology, and how the body works, and there was little conflict with that. In the second year, you start learning more about diseases where things go wrong, and there wasn’t much conflict there either. However, in the third year, we started to bring in medicines, and I could see that some of the thinking was starting to go in the wrong direction.

I was surprised to find that a lot of our teachers were extremely biased. The only reason many were teaching there was not because they were good teachers, but because they had research grants. These grants came from pharmaceutical companies, and the more they were able to bring in that money, the more they were there teaching. It was hard being taught by people whose goal was to develop a product; often, that was a conflict of interest.

But at the same time I also felt like the world was going through a change. There was a growing specialty called “Family Medicine,” and the department was filled with holistic-minded people. There were a lot of medical students that shared my interest and focus on health. We would go out together to see talks by Drs. Dean Ornish and Neal Barnard. There were student groups that were interested in alternative medicine. I was actually asked to lead the AMA “Student Group on Humanistic Medicine” (an odd name, but that’s another conversation). I accepted, and the first thing I did was to invite Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn from the Cleveland Clinic to give us a talk. My fellow students were very receptive to his message, which is still consistent with the message he is giving today. He was just as intense and captivating then as he is now. Incidentally, I also invited Dr. D.J. Scott to speak, but he declined because he, and maybe wisely so, did not feel that it was his role to teach convictions. He was happy to teach people who wanted to follow natural living, but he wasn’t going to try to convert people.

Where did you do your residency after graduation?
I did my residency training in Missouri. It was sort of on-the-job training. As a resident you are a licensed doctor and you are in charge of people’s medical care. My specialty was in Family Medicine, so my residency trained me for a broad range of things. It was surgery, medicine, geriatrics, intensive care, and neonatal units: the whole range of life and the whole range of diseases (see photo at right). In addition, I had my own practice in the outpatient clinics. At the end of my residency, we moved east to be closer to family. However, finding people to work with who could reinforce a truly health-promoting practice was challenging, so I gravitated more toward the West Coast.

Speaking of similar mindsets, how did you find your way to TrueNorth Health?
I had always been aware of Dr. Alan Goldhamer and Dr. Jennifer Marano’s project that has come to be known as TrueNorth. I was impressed with its stable and steady growth. When I graduated they invited me to do an internship with them. When I arrived, we all hit it off really well, and I was warmly welcomed by not only them, but also Drs. Isabeau, Linzner, Dina, Anderson and Kim. It was a great resonating experience to have so many people working together, teaching the same message, and reinforcing each other. I think we each became more effective in what we did that way.

On the TrueNorth website it states that you have an interest in natural approaches to fertility. Have you found that couples who have adopted the hygienic lifestyle have better success with this very challenging area?
Thank you for appreciating how challenging and heart-wrenching that can be. It is true that many families we have worked with have called us back to give us good news on achieving pregnancy; and many women have reported the resolution or improvement of problems and pains in their reproductive organs. But there are so many factors involved in healthy fertility that we can’t say in isolation what made the difference. The field of Natural Family Planning studies the natural processes of fertility, and conservatively uses technology in a way that cooperates with those processes. I try to combine teaching a hygienic lifestyle with natural procreative technologies to get the best outcomes.

I think it was Dr. Joel Fuhrman who once said that it was important to distinguish between historical hygiene and hysterical hygiene, and give some traditional hygienic thinking more thoughtful and sober analysis. I would like to ask your view on some of these areas. The first and perhaps oldest notion is that “all drugs are poisons” and, therefore, you want to avoid them like the proverbial plague. As a medical doctor you have these tools at your disposal, but is there a place for them?
I do believe all drugs are poisons, but you’re right that there is a role for them. Sometimes taking a toxic medication is less damaging than doing nothing. There is no wonder drug without side-effects; you have to weigh the risks and benefits in each situation. Lots of people have high blood pressure, but each person may have a different problem causing it. Amazingly, with the aggressive, holistic changes we promote, most of the time the blood pressure improves no matter what the cause was.

Sometimes, however, despite these changes, blood pressure remains too high to be safe, and the patient bears the risk of blowing a blood vessel in their brain and ending up with a stroke. Often they would then be better off taking a toxic medication than having a stroke. Keep in mind that the body, besides wanting to be healthy, is very aware of the reality that there are toxic things in the environment. The body is built to handle toxins. So if you put a toxic medicine in, for the most part (if you’re doing it intelligently), it can clear away a lot of the toxicity and you can live with it in a way that is safer than if you had left it alone and risked having a stroke.

Above: Dr. Sultana in the kitchen of TrueNorth Health Center when it was located in Penngrove, CA.

Another issue is the advocacy or efficacy of raw foods, and the old hygienic notion that “cooked foods are dead foods” and that the pristine diet is a raw one. You mentioned earlier that in the early stages of your journey to Natural Hygiene you focused too much on raw foods. What is your perspective on the raw food diet?
The raw food diet was probably the thing that first drew me to the Natural Hygiene community. The idea of just picking up food in its natural state and eating it is very attractive. In reality it doesn’t really work well for most people because they don’t have the capacity to digest and be satiated on food that is 100% raw. You can make the food more bioavailable by conservatively cooking it, mainly steaming or baking. But the notion that “cooked food is dead food” is really missing the forest for the trees. Is food supposed to be “alive” when you eat it? What does that mean? If that refers to enzymes that are destroyed by cooking, keep in mind that the bulk of our digestion is done by our own internal enzymes. If you try to take in food that you cannot digest with the hope that it is carrying enzymes that will do it for you, you are going to be very disappointed. Very few nutrients are destroyed through cooking our food relative to the hundreds of good nutrients that are absorbed and active.

So does conservative cooking preserve or destroy the enzymes?
Mostly it preserves the nutrients, some are destroyed, some only become bioavailable by cooking, and most are retained. You can conclude by physical examination and blood tests just how much nutrients a person is getting. Someone on a mix of raw and cooked whole foods can actually have a much better nutrient profile than someone on a purely raw diet. Cooking can destroy some nutrients and deliver other nutrients. Most people need both to thrive.

A powerful notion among hygienic physicians is that the body has a pretty remarkable ability to cleanse, repair and restore itself? Is that the case?
The body does indeed have a remarkable ability to do so. However, I am concerned that in our 21st century we are hitting the limit on that. I do not think the body is equipped to keep up with the amount of chemicals and toxic exposures that it’s being hit with these days. The early hygienists were right; the body was able to recover and handle toxicities if they were reasonably managed. Now we are living in a soup of toxic pollution, and the body doesn’t keep up as well. Dr. William Esser, one of the early hygienists, had one of the longest careers in supervising people through healthy transformations and fasting. He had a huge amount of wisdom built up over the years, and one of the observations that he made toward the end of his career was that people weren’t getting as well with fasting. He was not seeing as many of the dramatic recoveries that he used to back when he first started doing this. He recognized, wisely so, that the world had changed and the old principles written back then aren’t so simple anymore. We can no longer think that all you have to do is eat some healthy food and do a little fasting, and you will recover. There is a lot of damage that has been done, and the body is at the edges of its ability to try to undo it. Yes, people still get amazing improvements, but there are some injuries that cannot be undone. This is why our message of prevention is so important.

Above: Dr. Sultana in 2014, at far left, with his fellow TrueNorth clinicians in Santa Rosa, CA.

What conditions do you see that still respond well to fasting and a hygienic diet?
Organ damage can be difficult. For example, if the kidney, which is a major detoxifying organ, has been damaged, there is little room for improvement. It can reach a level of tissue damage and scarring that is final. At that point, the high blood pressure is not going to turn around. But in general, the body’s organ systems are very resilient. If you remove the toxins, the body recovers and the symptoms decrease: the blood pressure goes down, the sinuses clear out, the aches and pains clear up, and there is an overall rejuvenation that occurs. As for particular conditions, hypertension and diabetes are two of the easier, measurable things we see that turn around. While fibromyalgia is not as measurable, the subjective reports of healing are very exciting.

Do most people fast who come to TrueNorth?
I think maybe 50% to 60% do a fast. More than fasting, TrueNorth is an environment to take time out of life to cleanse, get empowered, and then resume life with a touched-up or, in some cases, much overhauled daily routine, particularly a food routine. Fasting may not be part of a stay at TrueNorth, but everyone cleanses. It turns out that many people think they are living a healthy, whole-food, plant-based diet when in fact they are not. When they come here, they find the diet is much more cleansing that they were even aware of, and it takes their health up a level.

Isn’t it fascinating that this is essentially the kind of superior nutrition that Dr. Shelton, Dr. Esser, Dr. Benesh, Dr. Gross, Dr. Scott, and their many colleagues advocated 50 years ago?
It is fascinating. And it tells you that we have a natural instinct for what’s right for our body. They knew it; they didn’t need the science. Dr. Shelton ridiculed “science” because the scientific community had betrayed its role. We don’t need so many studies to tell us what good healthy living is; we knew what it was years ago. While it is great to have so many studies coming out affirming this, it does seem silly to hear the news that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables actually prevents cancer. So I think it is important to listen to those instincts and think them through clearly, and not just write them off as unproven teaching. Shelton and the other teachers were right. They had the right instincts, and what they taught followed from that.

Above: Dr. Sultana with his wife and children.

So tell me about the Sultana family.
Well, that could be a very long story, as our family spans the globe. But here at home is my lovely wife, Constance, whom I have known since I was 18 years old. She has nourished my life more than any vegetable you could name. We have two kids at home, Michael, age 17, who is just finishing up high school this year, questioning everything, and is currently tackling the big question of what to do next; and Valerie, age 9, who is currently mentoring me in sensing the joy in every moment.

Do you have your own heroes in the Natural Hygiene movement? You mentioned Dr. Cinque and Dr. Esser. Are there others who inspired you along the way?
Dr. Cinque was a great connection because he was very humane and caring. Dr. Scott was always wonderful to learn from; and since he and I were both in Cleveland, he was always available for questions. He would share with me his own observations on physiology and healing. Also around that time a young Dr. John McDougall came to speak at my town hall, and he got my wheels turning. At NHA conferences it was always inspiring to talk to Drs. Goldhamer, Fuhrman, Sabatino, and the Burtons. At one conference, I had the great fortune of meeting Dr. Michael Klaper, who at the time was a “lone ranger” professor of health through nutrition, and has since brought his wisdom and experience to TrueNorth. And of course there was Dr. Ron Cridland. He was the medical doctor who was working at TrueNorth when I first looked into working there. He was incredibly generous and forthcoming in his advice on how to set up a practice in affiliation with TrueNorth. I can’t say enough about his role in getting me started.

Above: Peter Sultana in his college years, chatting with Dr. D.J. Scott.

What is your role at TrueNorth? Do you see all of the patients, and do you have your own private practice?
I keep an office now in the TrueNorth building, and serve as a medical consultant to the program participants. For many years I did see each one, coordinating their program, care, fasting, medications, and diet from start to finish. But TrueNorth has grown, and there are now so many people that come through every year that more doctors are needed. Fortunately, more doctors have come in the last few years, namely Drs. Klaper and Lorn, and more recently Dr. Veress. But we are just the medical layer. As you know, the underlying backbone of the TrueNorth program has always been the chiropractic staff of Drs. Goldhamer, Linzner, Isabeau, and Yuen. They see all of the patients day-in and day-out, guide them in their healing process and, when needed, help them with traditional drugless treatments. 

Do you and your TrueNorth colleagues group-consult about patients?
All the time. One of the best things about having all of us working under one roof, and with the same patients, is that we get to meet formally at least once a week to go over every single patient. Throughout the week we keep the conversation going informally as we bounce around ideas and remind each other of the overall patient goals of function, relief, empowerment, and healing.

Dr. Sultana, I think if Dr. Shelton were reading this interview he would be smiling right now. Thanks for your great contributions to the Natural Hygiene movement and your support of the NHA over the years. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience and perspective.
You’re welcome, I hope it is helpful.