The patient: “Stephanie,” a 40-year-old nurse and avid cyclist.

Why she came to see me: Stephanie was clearly keyed up when she walked into my office for the first time. While originally from Hawaii—where my natural health center is based—she’d spent the last decade working at a hospital in Portland, Oregon. Shortly after returning to Oahu a year earlier, her body, as she put it, “went haywire.” High stress was overwhelming her from morning to night. A rash had been breaking out on her face intermittently; the rest of her body felt relentlessly itchy, even her ears. Her eyelids were often swollen. She’d also been struck by either a cold or the flu every two to three months. And while she’d suffered from asthma and allergies for as long as she could recall, they had reached unbearable levels upon her return to the islands. In short, she was exhausted, anxious, itchy, constantly coughing—and incredibly frustrated.

How I evaluated her: I began our work together by striving to get a complete picture of Stephanie’s medical history and lifestyle.

Stephanie had worked as a nurse in Honolulu for several years before a chance encounter with a fellow cyclist compelled her to try out a new life in Portland. There, she enjoyed a respite from the asthma and allergies she’d been diagnosed with in her teens, in part by leading a healthy lifestyle with her partner. When she and her partner amicably split, she wanted to be closer to her family and friends in Hawaii. She secured a work transfer, scored a great apartment and came home to start anew.

But the stress of relocating—no matter that she was returning “home”—seemed to have upset her “entire system,” she said. Her asthma returned with a vengeance, as did her allergies. Her new primary care physician prescribed at least a year’s worth of nasal steroids, inhalers and oral prednisone (a corticosteroid medication commonly used to treat allergies, skin diseases, immune system disorders and more). They proved to be ineffective: Her symptoms only seemed to worsen, and she loathed the idea of relying on a series of medications to merely make it through the day. She had also seen an allergist, who provided “symptomatic relief” but not a cure.

Lastly, Stephanie had seen a dermatologist, who was concerned she may have an autoimmune condition such as lupus. To this end, the dermatologist had done a biopsy of the skin on her forehead. (Fortunately, the pathology report only revealed what appeared to be an allergic response.)

Meanwhile, Stephanie claimed she was getting sicker and sicker—so much so she frequently canceled on friends, called in sick to work, relied upon her mother for assistance and tried to find relief for her consistently-itchy skin and asthma attacks by watching Netflix and eating take-out and ice cream inside her air-conditioned apartment—dietary “snags” she tried to undo with copious glasses of lemon-infused water and short sessions on her apartment complex’s indoor bike. “I came back to Hawaii to enjoy the beautiful outdoors and restart my life,” she said unpityingly, just factually. “And now I’m too uncomfortable and afraid to spend time outdoors. This is no life at all.”

To get to the bottom of Stephanie’s litany of symptoms, I did a full physical exam. This was followed by a blood test that would evaluate for food allergies and her levels of copper and zinc. I also ordered a stool culture to assess for yeast, bacteria and parasites.

What my evaluation revealed: Stephanie’s results demonstrated that she was allergic to a number of foods and compounds, many of which she regularly consumed. These included gluten, dairy, beef, MSG, several food colorings and that lemon she ingested daily.

Her blood test demonstrated that she had a surplus of copper relative to zinc, which can contribute to inflammation and anxiety. She also had low vitamin D levels, which arrived as no surprise, given that she’d spent 10 years in rainy Portland and had willfully sequestered herself inside in Hawaii. (As I told Stephanie, low vitamin D levels impact immunity and the body’s ability to fight off infection. It can also exacerbate anxiety and contribute to the health and metabolism of skin.) Finally, her stool culture revealed an imbalance in her intestinal flora: too much yeast, too little “friendly” gut bacteria and a slight overgrowth of a potentially-pathogenic flora. In sum, the foods Stephanie was consuming and the products she was using—from sausage on her pizza to her favorite face wash—were triggering a full-body inflammatory response, leaving her with aggravated asthmatic symptoms, anxiety and atopic dermatitis.

Note that Stephanie did not change her diet when she came back to Hawaii.She simply couldn’t tolerate certain foods and chemicals anymore. Probably her detoxification systems were overwhelmed, and she most likely had leaky gut leading to excess allergy, increased systemic inflammation and an overwhelmed liver. The stress of the move was probably her tipping point.

How I addressed her problem: To restore Stephanie to the health she’d enjoyed for most of her life, we began with dietary treatment, as it was inarguable that she needed to eliminate any and all potential allergens. In addition to ridding herself of the foods mentioned above—gluten, dairy, lemon, beef, MSG and any food that contained food colorings (to be on the safe side)—I asked her to toss or donate her facial and body care products and start fresh with organic items that were comprised of natural ingredients. (Even the toothpaste she’d begun buying in Hawaii contained a dye that has been linked to hypersensitivity.) I also advised her to be especially careful of tartrazine. Also known as FD&C Yellow #5—and found in many brands of that ice cream she loved—it’s been shown to result in hives, swelling, skin rashes and asthma.

Additionally, I prescribed Stephanie a set of dietary supplements to help decrease her allergic reactivity. These included…

  • Quercetin, a flavonoid that has potent anti-inflammatory capacities
  • Zinc, to help lower her copper levels
  • Vitamin A to naturally support her immune system and mucous membranes.
  • Vitamins B5 and B1, which organically promote adrenal health and the breakdown of histamine
  • SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine), a sulfur-based compound, to support hormone and cell function (and, thus, overall health).

I further suggested she take a probiotic to re-establish a healthy ratio of intestinal flora, and weekly acupuncture sessions to help her strengthen her qi (or life force).

Perhaps the biggest step I asked Stephanie to take was to sign up for intravenous (IV) nutrient therapy. Presently gaining a great deal of attention for its rapidity and efficacy, intravenous nutrient therapy is favored in hospitals and beyond to treat patients whose immune systems have been compromised. Administered directly into the blood, the nutrients used in these therapeutic cocktails bypass the intestines, which allows for direct and immediate access to cells. What’s more, high doses of nutrients that would not be tolerated if ingested can be used, thereby accelerating the healing process and providing profound biochemical shifts that foster healthy change. An example is magnesium—an IV of high dose magnesium doesn’t cause diarrhea but taking it orally could have this side effect. Also, glutathione, which is not very stable when taken orally but IV administration allows for therapeutic doses to be administered. 

Now used in a variety of settings, the therapy has been shown to be beneficial in a variety of ways, including detoxification, sports recovery (such as pre and post marathon running, or high intense sports like Iron Man competitions), inflammatory conditions, allergies, supportive cancer care, eczema, chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmune conditions, chronic tick infections and chronic viral conditions. I personally use it for jet lag and any time I’m in a weakened immune state and I feel like I’m about to come down with a cold. IV nutrient therapy is also used to “pre-condition” patients before surgery or an intense sports event. And it’s recommended to expedite healing after a stressful occurrence, such as chemotherapy. I have found IV nutrient therapy has been key towards helping many of my patients restore homeostasis (balance in the body).

In Stephanie’s case, the IV bag she would receive during treatments would include high doses of Vitamin C and magnesium with cofactor minerals and B-complex vitamins. This therapy has been shown to be particularly effective against asthma attacks and other disorders. I also added intravenous glutathione. While naturally produced in the body, high doses of this powerful antioxidant help shield the body from free radical damage and clear toxins like heavy metals from the blood and liver.

The patient’s progress: Six weeks later, Stephanie was a changed woman. She’d found the dietary changes I’d recommended easier than imagined, exchanging traditional pizza for pies made with gluten-free cauliflower crusts, antioxidant-rich vegetables and dairy-free “cheese”…and swapping milk-heavy ice cream for dairy-free Coconut Bliss. While she still suffered from the occasional bout of atopic dermatitis, her skin was otherwise glowing, thanks in large part to the synthetic-free skincare brand she’d discovered.

Her real breakthrough—as we both noted—arrived with the sixth intravenous glutathione therapy I gave her. At that point, we’d increased her dosage of glutathionefrom 200mg to 2,000mg, which made a tremendous difference in terms of her symptoms. (In traditional naturopathic medicine, treating the liver is the golden chalice to healing from allergies and asthma, and glutathione is famed for its impact on this fundamental organ.) Her eyes had stopped swelling, the rash on her face had completely disappeared and her asthma attacks were far less frequent and destabilizing.

“I feel like my old self again, only even better than before,” she said, stating that her fatigue was gone and her vitality had announced itself again. The first thing she planned to do with all that energy? To get outdoors on her bike, of course, and savor the paradise she’d missed.

Click here to buy Dr. Laurie Steelsmith’s books, Natural Choices for Women’s Health, Great Sex, Naturally and Growing Younger Every Day: The Three Essential Steps for Creating Youthful Hormone Balance at Any Age.