Dr. Bernhoft's Story
Welcome to my practice. I have come a long way since my days as a budding academician at UCSF. We change the face of medical practice, by doing a lot of things differently. For one thing, we take patient symptoms seriously, no matter how “weird” they may sound. I, Dr. Bernhoft, come by that naturally, in part because my uncle, who taught Internal Medicine at one of the UCLA hospitals always said “listen, and the patient will tell you what is wrong.” That may seem like a no-brainer to you, as a patient, but many doctors prefer to spend money on tests rather than taking the time to hear what the patient has to say (let alone examine the patient).
But there’s another reason. My mother always used to say, in jest, “no gynecologist should be allowed to operate until he has had a hysterectomy.” In a way, this center is a memorial to her joke. Because my family and I have been sick, have had “weird” symptoms, and know what it’s like to bounce around the medical system not getting useful help.
Allow me to introduce myself. I, Robin A. Bernhoft, MD (FACS, FAAEM, DABEM, etc), graduated from Harvard College with an honors degree in British History, then got my MD degree at Washington University in St. Louis, one of America’s best medical schools, where I graduated near the top of my class. I completed seven years of general surgery residency at UC San Francisco, and a fellowship in liver and pancreatic surgery in London, at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith Hospital. In the process of all that, I published twenty-four medical and surgical research and clinical papers in peer-reviewed journals, plus a number of abstracts. I’ve published four more peer-reviewed papers in the last three years.
After completing my fellowship, I went into private practice in the Seattle area, and joined the Clinical Faculty at the University of Washington. I had a very busy private practice, but had to quit operating after I developed skin rashes caused by all approved forms of soap. The skin on my hands and arms broke down and the open sores not only looked nasty but also became a source of potential infection to my patients (and to myself, since we had a number of AIDS patients in our practice).
In retrospect, I became sensitive (for a while) to soaps, foods, dust, pollen, chemicals and pretty much everything else, because I lack a liver enzyme that clears solvents, petrochemicals, heavy metals, herbicides and pesticides, among other things, and these built up in my system and produced the sensitivity. In retrospect, my policy of leaving disinfectants on my skin during 600 operations a year was not a good idea. It did keep my infection rate low, but it also caused me to absorb (and not excrete) enough toxic chemicals to poison me. That’s why I got the skin reactions, and that is why I began having respiratory “allergies” soon after I had to quit surgery. When they got bad enough to wake me up in the middle of the night fighting for air, I went to see a friend who had referred patients to me when he was in Family Practice. He had become sick and got well after retraining in Environmental Medicine. I thought he might be able to help.
I discovered that environmental medicine offers hope to people with many types of illness, and began retraining in that specialty. It turns out that I was not the Lone Ranger: the National Institutes for Environmental Health Sciences has been studying the role of environment in disease since 1980. In 2000 the Center for Disease Control published their Gene-Environment Interaction Fact Sheet which stated:
“Virtually all human diseases result from the interaction of genetic susceptibility and modifiable environmental factors.”
Before I got a good enough handle on gene-environment interaction to treat myself successfully, I developed severe GI problems. These began with esophageal reflux (significant enough to give me mild asthma, neither of which – reflux or asthma – is still present) but soon evolved into almost daily cramps, diarrhea and loss of appetite. My weight went from 187 in April 2004, to 155 in August of that year. (I am six feet one in height.)
I don’t recommend cramps and diarrhea as a weight loss strategy. I was well aware that people who lose 8 or 10 pounds every month soon end up dead, so I got VERY SERIOUS about changing my life. I started by avoiding irritating foods and inhalants, eliminating toxic factors in my home, continuing my lifelong exercise regimen, getting in the sauna every day and sweating out horrible smelling chemicals, eating organic food, drinking clean water and repleting vitamin and mineral cofactors for various liver detoxification enzymes. I also began LDA which cleared all my food and respiratory allergies. In eight or ten months I regained my health and half the weight I had lost. I currently run 10-15 miles a week, do karate and body surf. (Not bad for 67 years of age.) I’ve got my life back, and feel like I did at 40 or 45. I am no longer a “bubble boy.” I can go out in public without getting headaches and nausea from perfumes, cigarette smoke, pumping gas, etc.
Meanwhile, my wife was developing her own problems.
She started having spasms in her left foot when she walked any distance, and her left hand slowed down (which made it impossible for her to play classical piano). A neurologist colleague diagnosed her as having “atypical Parkinson’s”. (She really had none of the criteria for making the diagnosis, but he said “what else am I gonna call it?”)
I had read enough about Parkinson’s to know that her diagnosis was far from certain, as she really didn’t have any of the main criteria for making the diagnosis. I also knew that mercury can cause odd neurological symptoms like my wife’s, and she had 21 “silver” (52% mercury) fillings in her mouth, each of which outgases 2 to 28 micrograms of mercury per surface per day, according to the World Health Organization, of which 80% gets absorbed and goes to the brain, heart, thyroid, kidneys, liver and peripheral nerves, among other places. (See my recently – published literature review on mercury.
So I took her to a dentist outside Austin, TX, who spent 8 ½ hours replacing the mercury fillings and cleaning up a lot of bad dental work.
Within a week, she improved almost to normal.
Unfortunately, within a couple weeks of our return to our then-home in Everett, WA, she regressed somewhat. Her gait stopped rolling normally and her hand slowed slightly. She remained substantially better than pre-dentistry, but not as good as she had been the first week or two post op.
We began to suspect our local environment after her symptoms were temporarily relieved on trips to the Washington coast and the Oregon desert. We gutted our house, removing 2500+ s.f. of new carpet and floor laminate and discarded our foam furniture (all of which outgas neurotoxins like toluene and various ketones), obtained charcoal/HEPA air cleaners and began debulking her body Hg burden with DMSA and sauna.
These maneuvers worked to some extent, but it became clear that the thousands of tons of toluene and methylethylketone put into the air by Boeing and other Seattle-area manufacturers aggravated her condition. So we moved to Ojai.
The air in Ojai is far cleaner than the air in Puget Sound, and she has improved a fair amount since our arrival in July, 2006 (regressing somewhat during the smoky parts of the Day fire). Her detox (for lead and mercury) continued for the next two years with intravenous chelation and she has made a gratifying recovery. She is not completely normal, but is way better than she was a couple of years ago, aside from having developed new symptoms from the Parkinson’s drug she was given (common side effect).
Our son Andrew became severely autistic after a number of immunizations at age 6. I did not catch the link until he was 16, but two years of chelation and various nutritional therapies have restored him to about 95% of normality.
These personal and family experiences led me to open my first office, in Ojai, and over the past several years we have had many gratifying responses to our approach. I love giving people their lives back. We have seen so many people resume normal life after having failed to improve despite the attentions of a series of MDs, or at least recover a greatly improved quality of life. That makes this type of medicine fun.
My family and I are not the only canaries in the coal mine. Increasingly, evidence suggests that human illness is both more complicated than we thought, yet also simpler. It turns out that our genes are not destiny, merely suggestions. “The genes cock the gun but the environment pulls the trigger.” The expression of genetic information is influenced by lifestyle, diet and various environmental factors. Many toxic environmental factors can be successfully removed. Many defective genes can work better with the proper cofactors or with upgrading of backup enzymes. When these things happen, diseases can be improved, sometimes eliminated altogether. While it is not possible to cure everyone, it is possible to improve or eliminate many “untreatable” chronic conditions. Seventy five percent of America’s health care bill is consumed throwing pills at the symptoms of chronic disease – but money is better spent going after causes, as they do in Europe and Japan.
Our plan is to address underlying causes using a wide range of approaches.
All of us in the Bernhoft Center stress detective work, trying to help patients figure out which factors might have put them on the road to illness. We do a detailed history and physical, use the lab to help determine which factors may be causing symptoms, and work with the patient to create an individualized plan to restore the body’s normal physiology and biochemistry.
We don’t just throw pills at symptoms.
This involves a lot of teaching, helping people learn to change damaging aspects of their lifestyle, diet and environment. We can’t do that for you, the patient, but we can help you make it happen. We have a lot of reading material in our waiting room. If you have any questions, please ask. No question is “dumb.” You are the one who will be in charge of recovering and maintaining your health, following our advice. And everyone is different, so what works for one may not work for another person with a different situation, or different genetics. So we individualize treatment.
We look forward to providing you with the knowledge and means you need to allow your body to heal itself!