Interview by Sarah Clark, LAc
Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Gibran Ramos, ND, LAc about how autoimmune disease originates in the body and about the way the body can heal from it. This is what he had to say.
Sarah: Gibran, how did you decide to become a healer?
Gibran: At birth I had the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck something like five times. My mom was a special ed teacher at the time. The obstetrician whisked me away and wouldn’t actually let my mom hold me for four days. I was blue. They said I likely had brain damage, maybe cerebral palsy. Eventually my mom got to take me home and decided to be proactive about doing things to help my brain develop at a normal rate. So she would have me crawl up and down ramps. She tied pieces of fabric to my hands.This was the early 70’s. Not many people did this sort of thing. But my mom studied it and did everything she could to help me. So, that was the beginning of my journey into natural healing.
Sarah: Did you have developmental challenges?
Gibran: I don’t remember ever having any cognitive or physical challenges. But my mom had multiple chemical sensitivities. She did a lot of reading on how to go about getting treatment to reduce the chemical sensitivity she dealt with. When we were young, it would be hard to eat out. She’d bring this list of sensitivities with her to the restaurant and ask, “Do you have corn starch? Do you have MSG?” The list would go on and on. Sometimes she just wouldn’t eat. In Anchorage, where I grew up, there was a medical doctor who was very alternative, probably more alternative than most naturopaths. He was very extreme. In fact, the medical board eventually kicked him out of Alaska. He did chelation therapy with my mom. He used homeopathics, UV light for her blood, lots and lots of different therapies. And now she’s doing great. My mom originally got into alternative medicine and reading about it because of suffering from depression. She started taking vitamins and felt way better, and her healing took off from there. She’s so knowledgeable about alternative healing. There was one point when I asked her a question about naturopathic healing and she didn’t know the answer. I was shocked. But that was three years into my medical education. And everything else she knew about. So, she was my inspiration. When I was growing up we went to a chiropractor for most of our care. We used homeopathics in our household. I drank barley greens, which taste like freshly cut grass, from a very early age. Now I look back on that and think, wow, most of my patients won’t even touch barley greens.
Sarah: It sounds like your mom suffered from autoimmune disease and rejected conventional treatment. Can you briefly explain autoimmune disease and how it’s treated in conventional medicine?
Gibran: I kind of geek out on medicine in general. And the way I look at the body is by asking how do I bring it back into balance? And so an autoimmune condition means the immune system is over reacting to whatever antigen or pathogen is going on in the person’s world, both externally and internally. Eventually that person’s immune system starts attacking their own body. That’s when you have an autoimmune condition. And the issue with autoimmune disease and the way it’s treated in conventional medicine is that the idea of balance is not there. It’s suppressed. So that the person’s own immune system doesn’t work. And when that happens you actually get more diseases. For example, cancers will increase with suppression of the immune system, because the immune system then can’t identify cancer cells.
Sarah: Can you say more about how our immunity gets suppressed?
Gibran: For instance, people will sometimes take a steroid in early autoimmune disease processes–like Rheumatoid Arthritis–and that steroid does decrease inflammation but it also stops the function of the immune system in that area and generally systemically as well. And there are many biological agents that suppress the immune system. Like Methotrexate. It’s used commonly in RA to suppress immune function. A patient of mine was on Methotrexate and she got sick all the time on it. She felt like she had the flu all the time. She got gastritis and couldn’t eat anymore. This isn’t healing. Your body is getting worse. It’s degenerating. So we got her off the Methotrexate, and we have her at a point now where the rheumatologist, when she comes in, says “Wow, you’re an atypical case”. Because her joints aren’t red and angry, and she doesn’t have much pain. It’s just a low level autoimmune process now, and I do attribute that to stopping the suppression and bringing the body back into balance.
Sarah: What about suppression of the immune system just in everyday living? Is that a concern?
Gibran: Yes! People often suppress immune function by taking substances to treat symptoms. Nyquil is a great example. So, you’re having a sore throat and nasal discharge. Everything is stuffed up. Now the mucus that the body produces is actually a natural part of healing. It’s taking the bacteria from inside the respiratory tract and trying to get it out of the body. But what do we do? We suppress it by treating it. But what we have to figure out is why we’re having that symptom. That symptom is part of a disease process, and when we address that process instead of the symptom, that’s when healing occurs in the body.
Sarah: Can you talk more specifically about how you help patients with autoimmune disease?
Gibran: Therapeutically, we do a very good history and intake. We look at labs and sometimes run additional labs. We look at where the body is out of balance. And then we use different therapeutics. I use biotherapeutic drainage–which is based in homeopathy and anthroposophic medicine–and Five Element acupuncture to restore balance within my patients.
Sarah: Can you give me a sense for what kinds of autoimmune diseases you most often work with?
Gibran: I work a lot with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, hashimotos thyroiditis, which can lead to low thyroid function. I work with people who are on immunosuppressants from organ transplants. I work a lot with people who just get sick all the time. That’s not an autoimmune disease but it’s an immune dysfunction. If you’re getting sick more than three times a year, then it’s something to look into.
Sarah: How often do you see that food sensitivities are contributing to autoimmune processes?
Gibran: I had a patient come in recently with rheumatoid arthritis. We tested her and found out that she was sensitive to night shades. So it was very simple. We took out night shades. The rheumatoid arthritis went away completely within three months. She was shocked. She owns a restaurant that uses a lot of night shades. But the other day she said to me, “I am so thankful that I found you. Because I didn’t know what I was going to do. I love to hike. I love to run. I couldn’t do those things because my feet hurt so much in the morning. My hands were completely swollen every morning.” And I said, “Well we’re just assessing well, and we’re addressing the process that occurs in the body.” And that’s an example of how a food sensitivity can lead to autoimmune disease in the body. Because it’s a constant cause of inflammation in the body that throws the immune system out of balance.
Sarah: Can you say more about biotherapeutic drainage?
Gibran: Biotherapeutic drainage is a modality that uses the idea of making sure the emunctories, or the three major routes of elimination, work well in the body. Those emunctories are kidneys, lungs, and liver (which goes with the digestive tract). The question I ask my patients is, “How long can you go without breathing?” That’s how important removing the carbon dioxide is from the body. People often forget that that is one of the major ways of eliminating toxicity in the body. So what happens when the toxicity accumulates is that it leads to immune imbalance or inflammation. The toxicity comes from air, food, and water. You breathe it in, eat it, drink it. And, more importantly, it comes from the internal world. People often forget about that. So, an example is in the breaking breaking down of female hormones. Those are toxic if they’re not eliminated properly. Many foods we eat, when those are broken down they turn into toxins and we need to eliminate those. That’s why we poop. That’s why we pee. We need to get rid of that. So biotherapeutic drainage supports that process in the body to make sure it happens in the proper and most efficient manner.
Sarah: What do you do when you’re not practicing medicine?
Gibran: On the weekends, I’m a cycling geek. I love everything about bikes. A couple of autumns ago I did cyclocross racing. You can often find me riding around the west hills on the weekend, and then at night reading about biking gear.