Catching Up with Dr. David Brownstein

Catching Up with Dr. David Brownstein

Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP – Women’s International Pharmacy


Dr. David Brownstein is a family practice physician practicing in the Detroit area. He is the author of 13 books and a highly sought-after speaker. This month, I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at the Association for the Advancement of Restorative Medicine conference in Blaine, Washington.

Desiccated Thyroid and Iodine in Autoimmune Disease

During Dr. Brownstein’s presentation, he focused on the use of desiccated thyroid and iodine in patients with autoimmune thyroid disease. Desiccated thyroid is a porcine-derived thyroid hormone replacement medication containing a full complement of thyroid hormones. He shared that when he was in medical school, he was taught desiccated thyroid and iodine were not to be used in patients with autoimmune thyroid disease. Iodine was even blamed as a cause of the disease! However, when he investigated further on his own, he found practitioners had used desiccated thyroid and iodine with great success over 100 years ago. He now thinks that thyroid autoimmuneity actually arises from a scarcity of iodine in the body.

Two of Dr. Brownstein’s books focus specifically on iodine and thyroid health: Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can’t Live Without It and Overcoming Thyroid Disorders. In his books, Dr. Brownstein describes two of the major autoimmune thyroid diseases which involve inflammation of the thyroid gland: Grave’s Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Grave’s Disease is associated with hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid activity) and Hashimoto’s Disease is associated with both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism (too little thyroid activity). Dr. Brownstein believes that autoimmune thyroid disease is becoming epidemic, and routinely tests each new patient for thyroid antibodies associated with these diseases. He estimates that as many as 15-20% of the population are now positive for autoimmune thyroid disease.

Are We Getting Enough Iodine?

In the first part of the 20th century, it was discovered that some parts of the country are naturally low in iodine. Iodine was added to salt in an effort to prevent widespread iodine deficiency in the U.S. However, the amount of iodine in iodized salt may fall short in meeting our body’s iodine needs. Dr. Brownstein states the amount of iodine needed by the body is much higher than the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA). In addition, over the last several decades, our exposure to bromine, chlorine, and fluoride has skyrocketed. Bromine is used as a disinfectant, in fire retardants and as an anti-caking agent in flour. Chlorine is added to our drinking water as a disinfectant. Fluoride has also been added to drinking water to decrease the incidence of tooth decay. Dr. Brownstein describes how these substances compete with iodine in the body and make it difficult for iodine to perform its necessary functions.

What Does Iodine Do in the Body?

Iodine is necessary to form distinct thyroid hormones. It is also needed to create a substance called iodolactone. Iodolactone is a key regulator of cell growth and programmed cell death. This regulator is needed to prevent excessive cell growth (including cancer) in the thyroid gland. Dr. Brownstein proposes thyroid antibodies (substances in the body that can attack the thyroid gland) form when there is damage to the thyroid gland. Iodolactone works with fish oils in a way that can protect the thyroid gland from damage. Iodine also has a number of other important functions in the body unrelated to thyroid.

Thyroid Support and Monitoring

Some patients may need desiccated thyroid in addition to iodine to support their thyroid function. However, the test most practitioners rely on to determine if thyroid hormone supplementation is needed may appear abnormal during the first few months of iodine use and then drop back down to normal levels. This test is called the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) test. Dr. Brownstein recommends also testing T3 and T4 levels and thyroid antibodies in addition to taking a patient’s basal body temperature and symptoms into account. Dr. Brownstein further suggests supplementing cofactors like selenium and magnesium, and antioxidants such as vitamin C.

This brief summary of Dr. Brownstein’s presentation and his books just touches the surface of how important iodine and thyroid are to our health. Dr. Brownstein shares a great deal more of his knowledge in his books and I would recommend reading them. The more we can understand about how our bodies work, the better we can direct our efforts to regaining or keeping our health.

Catching Up with Dr. David Brownstein2017-12-14T16:09:35-05:00

Lead Toxicity and Disease

Lead Toxicity and Disease

Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP – Women’s International Pharmacy

As soon as Dr. Joseph Hickey of Hilton Head, South Carolina begins to speak, you feel fortunate, because you are hearing from the kind of physician who has become a rarity. He is a “people person,” tender and compassionate, as well as a scientist and scholar. Hickey is a keen observer of life who uses his skills to help patients and inspire other physicians and practitioners to look a little deeper.

Recently, I participated in a discussion with Dr. Hickey about the health issues caused by lead, mercury, and cadmium. He neatly linked up obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and atrial fibrillation to an underlying toxicity caused by heavy metals. Hickey offers specific warnings about lead. Lead tends to be sequestered in the bone, replacing calcium; it stores there for decades, releasing slowly.

Then he began to speak about toxemia of pregnancy. The blood pressure is extremely high and blood vessels are constricted, leading to an inability to get blood to the fetus. Both the baby’s and the mother’s lives are threatened. Few in the medical industry try to understand how this is happening. The term “idiopathic” is frequently used, indicating that they have no idea what the underlying cause may be.

Dr. Hickey proposes that we look to lead toxicity as the underlying cause of toxemia of pregnancy. Lead has been identified as a cause of hypertension. Lead blocks the production of nitric oxide (NO), which serves to relax our blood vessels. During pregnancy, the fetus depends on the calcium in the bones of the mother to start to form its own skeleton. As the mother’s bones are breaking down, the lead is now displaced and free to attach to other organs. In the case of hypertension, the vascular blood system is affected.

In general, we know about this tendency for bone structure to weaken in the pregnant female. As evidence of this, many find themselves with new dental problems during pregnancy. But we didn’t know the consequences of releasing stored lead.

Magnesium is often used for toxemia of pregnancy because it is able to produce a relaxation of the blood vessels. Dr. Hickey warns that the treatment is temporary because the underlying lead toxicity problem is not resolved simply by using magnesium.

At this point in the discussion, I shared some observations about all the menopausal women who start to lose their bone mass and become increasingly osteoporotic. Dr. Hickey responded that bioidentical hormone supplementation can play a huge role here. When women take steps to keep their declining hormone levels up, they are able to forestall the breakdown of bone. But, when bones do break down, the lead will not only cause many of the so-called “age-related” illnesses already mentioned above; lead can also be absorbed into the brain, becoming the underlying cause of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

In fact, Dr. Hickey went on, whenever the bone structure is interfered with, lead can be released and cause its damage. Declined mental functioning, a well-known aftermath of open heart surgery to perform bypasses, has been blamed on low oxygen from diminished blood flow during the surgery. Dr. Hickey feels it is more likely to be the lead released from cutting the sternum bone. Consider then the consequences of such surgical procedures as hip and knee replacements or dental implants.

Lead vs. Gadolinium

Let’s detour for a moment to discuss another bone-loving metal called gadolinium. This metal is used routinely in the contrast medium during MRI procedures. MRIs provide excellent pictures of the internal organs; however, it is now observed that gadolinium does not entirely leave the body after the procedure. Like lead, this metal stores in bones, only to be released to cause further damage as bones are damaged.

Unlike lead, gadolinium produces its own symptoms, such as skin disorders and runaway production of fibroblast cells, leading to thickening such as the disease scleroderma. Women who are concerned about or being treated for breast cancer, for example, may be exposed to multiple MRI scans and should be aware of the increasing amounts of gadolinium that may be stored in their bodies. General awareness of this potential is not yet widely recognized by the medical community.

Testing for Lead Toxicity

Where did the lead come from? Most of us are aware that both paints and gasoline used to be lead-based. Fortunately, society has moved away from these major sources of lead toxicity. Nonetheless, lead stores in the bones for decades, so many of us now reaching menopause will have significant levels.

How do we find out how much lead we have? Dr. Hickey said that a test using an X-ray of shin bones has been developed and will define how much lead has accumulated. This test is only available on a limited basis. In his office, he uses a measure of heavy metals in the urine both before and after giving a chelating agent to his patient, monitoring the increased amounts released into the urine by the chelator. Chelation, or a sequestering and elimination of heavy metals, can help diminish our body stores.

An even simpler way to determine if lead is an issue, Dr. Hickey says, is to measure the waist-to-hip circumference. If the waist measurement is larger, this is an indicator of metabolic syndrome and an indicator that lead is an issue. Another big clue is increasing blood pressures.

What can we do? Some doctors specialize in treating heavy metals and they can be found at these organizations:

As mentioned above, protecting the bones by keeping hormones at normal levels will not “get the lead out,” but it can keep the lead sequestered as a precaution. Staying well-nourished with good food and/or supplementation will stop the lead from insinuating into the metabolic processes. Dr. Hickey says to rejoice in expensive urine from supplementation; it is a sure sign that you are protecting yourself.

Lead Toxicity and Disease2018-04-02T16:39:12-05:00

Hormones, Mood & Emotion: An Interview with Dr. Phyllis Bronson

Hormones, Mood & Emotion: An Interview with Dr. Phyllis Bronson

Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP – Women’s International Pharmacy


We had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Phyllis Bronson, a recognized expert on the influence that hormones have on moods and emotions. Dr. Bronson holds a doctorate in molecular chemistry, and she currently teaches and continues to conduct research at the University of Denver. Her doctoral thesis focused on the molecular structure of progesterone; specifically, the significant molecular difference in the fat-soluble structure of “real” progesterone and the water-soluble structure of medroxyprogesterone, and how this difference impacts a person psychologically.

Dr. Bronson’s work as a clinical biochemist enables her to continue to explore the relationships between hormones and psychology, gathering data as she works alongside practitioners while assisting them with patients. In fact, Dr. Bronson is currently working on a book with the tentative title Hormones, Mood and Emotion, Finding Balance As We Age, which intends to bring the observations she has amassed through her years of research to the general public.

One of the things we learned during our interview is Dr. Bronson’s dislike for the word “anti-aging” when it comes to describing hormone therapies. She explained that she sees the body more as a container that needs to have the appropriate quantity and proper mix of hormones and neuro-nutrients in order to create balance and optimal well-being. She added that the mistaken notions now held by mainstream medicine that women don’t need progesterone as they age, and that women who have had a hysterectomy don’t need progesterone, have left many women extremely vulnerable to anxiety, especially at a time of their lives when they may be experiencing considerable stress.

For example, Dr. Bronson told us of a woman who had a long history of seizures, and a mood that had always been overly anxious and irritable. The practitioner had prescribed a combination of estradiol and estriol daily, along with 200 mg of progesterone during only one week per month, but this was not working to produce the desired results. Dr. Bronson suspected that it was not the right formula for this patient. From her research, Dr. Bronson knew that progesterone creates calmness, so she recommended 400 mg of progesterone to be used nightly, with an additional 100 mg dose during the day. Not only did this diminish the woman’s seizures, but it gave her an overall sense of calm that had been missing her entire life! What a gift!

Dr. Bronson explained that many women in mid-life have become part of the “sandwich generation,” having to care for elderly parents and still look after their children, which can cause incredible stress. As women age, the list of stress-producing factors seems to grow, including their adult children or adult siblings, divorce, step families, career changes, and financial concerns. As the stress mounts, Dr. Bronson observed that a rapid drop in estradiol occurs.

At menopause, the production of estrogens shifts from ovarian-produced estradiol to estrone, which is produced in the fat cells from DHEA. When the available estradiol drops below about 50 pg, the first symptom many women experience is “brain fog.” The brain contains both alpha and beta receptors for estradiol, which makes it extremely sensitive to fluctuations or deficiencies. Adequate estradiol is also a limiting factor on the neural degeneration associated with Alzheimer’s disease. One of Dr. Bronson’s recommendations for maintaining healthy brain function as women age is to get the estradiol level back up to a healthy level, and maintain it.

In her book, Dr. Bronson will relate lots of stories about women and how they live, survive and thrive in their various relationships. Her philosophy is to integrate Jungian psychology while also paying attention to the biochemical changes that occur. She also observes that sometimes higher doses of progesterone, estradiol and testosterone may be needed so that “you can be happy being you” no matter what age you are. Dr. Bronson believes one of the keys to successful aging is being able to “hang out with uncertainty,” especially during such a transitional period in one’s life.

  • Bronson PJ. Last accessed: April 2018.
  • Bronson PJ, Bronson R. Moods, Emotions, and Aging: Hormones and the Mind-Body Connection. Lanham, MD. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; 2013.
Hormones, Mood & Emotion: An Interview with Dr. Phyllis Bronson2018-04-09T13:21:28-05:00

Interview with Elena McHerron

Interview with Elena McHerron

Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP – Women’s International Pharmacy

Elena McHerron just celebrated her 80th birthday. She claims that the best thing about getting old is that she has learned so much. Because she is more than willing to share what she’s learned, she describes herself as a motivator – and many of her followers agree.

Today, Elena is active and feeling good, but that wasn’t always the case. When she was most ill, she remembers a voice in her head saying “You will be a part of the transition of medicine,” which has fueled her interest in and passion for solving health problems.

Since the early 90s, this remarkable woman has opened her home to the Candida Multi-Allergy Support Group, which helps people deal with health issues that have stymied the medical profession. Members of the support group bring food to share that must be wheat-, milk- and sugar-free.  But the most important function of the support group is simply to have somebody that believes you. So often, people suffering from health problems that are difficult to diagnose don’t have sympathetic confidants within their own family and circle of friends. They think this person might just be a complainer, or worse, it’s all in their heads. The support group validates their concerns and helps get them on a path to better health.

So, how did Elena get into health activism and become a motivator to others? It built up over many years of personal health problems, including severe PMS. The advice she was given then was to avoid salt! After the birth of her eldest daughter, she suffered with mastitis. She was hospitalized and went through many courses of antibiotics, which was likely the beginning of her yeast-related health problems. Then, after the birth of her youngest, she was hospitalized with post-partum depression. Since she was still having the same symptoms two years later, she was re-diagnosed as bipolar. She had shock treatments and lots of lithium, to no avail. Through the years, Elena collected a lot of personal experience with health-related symptoms, misdiagnoses, and less than helpful treatments.

Elena before . . . and after.

Back in 1952, Elena received a bachelor’s degree in home economics, and she began a career as a home food demonstration agent for the New York State Extension Service. While she agrees that there have been tremendous advances in food science since then (for example, there were no known health issues related to wheat and sugar back then), she is astounded at how much her interest in nutrition, coupled with the hands-on skills she learned about finding things out for herself, served her well in her search for answers to health questions over the years, and still serve her well today. Some of Elena’s personal health discoveries include the following:

  • Elena credits Dr. Steven Bock at the Rhinebeck Health Center in Rhinebeck, NY for a major turning point in her quest for wellness. Elena was in her 50s when Dr. Bock prescribed estrogen and progesterone for her (provided by Women’s International Pharmacy). She remembers asking herself, “Why didn’t somebody do this sooner?” To this day, she remains a strong advocate for bioidentical progesterone cream and plans to never stop using it herself.
  • About that time, Elena also discovered that she was allergic to wheat, and she now adheres to the principles set forth by Dr. Peter D’Adamo in Eat Right 4 Your Type. Another important discovery came after meeting Nancy Appleton, author of Lick the Sugar Habit, which helped Elena understand the real dangers of sugar.
  • As Elena continued to explore the relationships between nutrition and her health, she was exposed to Dr. William Crook’s The Yeast Connection and his other books. She wrote to Dr. Crook and began years of correspondence with him. In fact, Dr. Crook was so impressed with her observations that he invited her to join the advisory board for his International Health Foundation. Elena believes she influenced Dr. Crook to write about the importance of thyroid and adrenal hormones in his later books.
  • Elena also found Dr. Steven Langer’s discussion of the hypothyroid connection in Solved: The Riddle of Illness to be helpful in her search for answers to health questions she encountered. She credits Dr. Langer with the suggestion to first explore the possibility of low thyroid function when experiencing any type of depression.

Today, Elena is careful about nutrition, uses bioidentical hormone therapies, and takes probiotics (Dr. Crook advised her to “take as much as you can afford!”). People from all over the world seek Elena out for advice on their unexplained health issues. And, because she walks her talk, it gives her plenty of credibility. Elena says, “I listen to them and I motivate them” to explore possible solutions to their health problems. She motivates them to persevere, as she did, by sharing her wealth of knowledge and collective personal experiences. She believes that “when people overcome their problems, they become experts in solving that problem.”

Elena also writes an occasional newsletter, called Grass-Root Expressions, which is an eclectic combination of information she has gleaned from her research and contacts over the years. Elena has an extensive reference library and now also uses the internet to help people find reliable resources. Who knew, Elena muses, that when she started her degree in home economics when she was 20, it would help her be so useful to so many people today?

Interview with Elena McHerron2018-04-09T13:52:05-05:00