The current pandemic is making my book especially relevant. Millions of people face disability from the postviral CFS and fibromyalgia symptoms that COVID has been causing, a condition that’s being called “Long Hauler Syndrome.” And the lessons I’ve learned from over 35 years of experience effectively treating postviral CFS can be a timely source of help to these people.
As part of my series about authors who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D.
Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., is the author of 10 books including the best-selling From Fatigued to Fantastic! (Penguin/Avery 2021) and the popular free smartphone app Cures A-Z. He is the lead author of 7 studies on effective treatment for fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Dr. Teitelbaum appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and FoxNewsHealth. His website: Vitality101.com
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was the first child in my family born in the United States. My mother had survived Auschwitz and my father had been a major player in the Underground, smuggling Jews out of Nazi Germany. He would rarely talk about this. I only know because people he saved came over and told me after he died.
I grew up in a mixed Hasidic/modern Orthodox community, with about half of the population being concentration camp survivors.
I was also very, very empathic, and felt other people’s pain. Both physically and emotionally. This was a challenge in my household and community. But I knew from as far back as I can remember that I wanted to help heal their pain. In my generation that meant growing up to be a doctor.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?
John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath made me aware that the injustices my community had gone through happened elsewhere. When my mother would occasionally slip back into her concentration camp experience, she would often ask “How could the world have just stood back and let that happen?” But I realized injustice and suffering were still happening. Day in and day out. And even we were guilty of largely ignoring it, despite what we had gone through. I decided then and there that I wasn’t going to be just another person who would ignore pain in other people’s lives.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Having gone to college in the 70s, my hair and beard were both long and scraggly. Even when I went to medical school. I remember starting my cardiology rotation examining an elderly man with heart disease. When I walked out of the room the professor commented “When he asked you who you were and you said you were the doctor, I thought he was going to have a heart attack!” There was nothing mean intended by his remark. Simply truth. I learned that most people don’t look further than another’s physical appearance when judging what they hear them say. So, I was fine with cutting my hair if that’s what it took to make me appear authentic enough for people to allow me to help them.
Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?
Six million Americans and over 50 million people worldwide suffer needlessly from chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. One-third suffer from chronic pain and another third from severe fatigue. My personal experience of recovering from these conditions taught me that this kind of suffering is unnecessary, and it left me determined to make effective treatment available for everyone. Particularly when our healthcare system largely leaves these people ignored.
Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
In 1975, I came down with a nasty viral infection that I call the “Drop Dead Flu.” Months later, despite the best efforts of my professors, I was still nonfunctional. I could not work, had to drop out of medical school, and found myself homeless and sleeping in parks. But it was as if the Universe had put a “Holistic Homeless Medical School” sign on my park bench. Herbalists, chiropractors, naturopaths, holistic M.D.s., energy medicine workers, and others seemed to wander by during my journey. Each taught me a piece of what I needed to learn to recover. And if they had a pizza with them, then I would even eat that day. I eventually recovered enough that I was able to return to medical school.
What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
After having recently opened a general internal medicine practice in the early 1980s, I found that people came to see me from all over the country. And practically every one of them would describe the same symptoms. Exhaustion combined with the inability to sleep, brain fog, and widespread pain. And they had heard from others with similar symptoms that I’d been able to help them. That was before there was even a name for CFS or fibromyalgia. I organized my information, published my first two studies showing my approach to be dramatically helpful, and wrote the first edition of my book From Fatigued to Fantastic.
The current pandemic is making my book especially relevant. Millions of people face disability from the postviral CFS and fibromyalgia symptoms that COVID has been causing, a condition that’s being called “Long-Hauler Syndrome.” And the lessons I’ve learned from over 35 years of experience effectively treating postviral CFS can be a timely source of help to these people.
Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I’ve treated and helped thousands in my practice. In addition, I lecture worldwide and will usually stay afterward to take questions from the audience until everyone’s questions have been answered. Which often means being out in the parking lot past midnight. But I remember one young man who stayed and stood patiently until everyone had their questions answered. “Do you remember me?” he asked. I answered no. He said, “Two years ago when you were out in this parking lot answering questions, I was the guy in the wheelchair.” There’s nothing more gratifying for physicians than knowing they’ve helped a patient get their life back!
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- Physicians should stop dismissing chronic fatigue syndrome as being “all in a person’s head.” It’s unfair to a patient when their doctor tells them, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you, so your problem must be mental.” Did you know that Multiple Sclerosis used to be called “Hysterical Paralysis”? When I was in medical school, lupus went from being a neurosis to a real illness. CFS and fibromyalgia are now going through the same phase. What do they all have in common? They’re immune illnesses that predominantly affect women. And to understand how the medical system views women, just look up the medical definition of the word “hysteria.” It comes from the Latin word “Hystero,” which means uterus.
- Remove FDA constraints on promoting natural therapies. Society would benefit by learning to use all of the tools in the healthcare tool kit. Currently, because of extensive financial and political power, lobbyists for the AMA and the pharmaceutical industry have effectively constrained the market against natural therapies. Removing FDA regulatory restrictions on what we can say to the public about research on natural therapies would lead, in many cases, to wider availability of cheaper and effective treatment options.
- Break the pharmaceutical industry’s grip on Congress. Through hefty investments in Washington lobbying, the pharmaceutical industry has gained far too much sway over Congress. For instance, when an amendment to one bill was proposed that would have loosened the FDA constraints on promoting research on natural therapies, all but 12 senators voted against it. Or consider that most other countries that have national health insurance are able to negotiate steep discounts when purchasing drugs for their citizens, sometimes at 90% or more discounts. Yet our Congress voted down an effort to allow Medicare that same right, leaving beneficiaries to pay whatever prices the pharmaceutical industry sets.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Always act based on what you believe to be best for yourself and others, even when you know it’s going to invite criticism and regardless of whether others follow your lead. And always tell the truth with kindness and without judgment, even it’s not what someone wants to hear.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- “Follow your Bliss” instead of trying to gain approval.
- Learn to say “no” to things that feel bad.
- Use your mind as a tool but trust your intuition as a guide.
- Feelings are the language of intuition.
- That nobody has thought of an idea yet doesn’t mean a new idea isn’t true.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Follow your Bliss!” is a quote by Dr. Joseph Campbell, famed cultural anthropologist, that summed up a millennia of truth. It means that there is no one path, no one truth, no single right or wrong. But rather, there are as many viewpoints as there are people. So, my goal is to learn what is authentic for me and not to impose that on others. And by living my bliss joyfully, I get to inspire others with whom it resonates, to do the same.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.
Bill or Melinda Gates. Bill and Melinda are remarkable human beings who truly want to help humankind. But I suspect they don’t fully realize that many medical experts they consult with are likely over-reliant on pharmaceutical industry solutions when sometimes natural and inexpensive therapies could be a better fit. I would love to have a seat at the table to represent that viewpoint.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Visit my website at vitality101.com. I also recommend picking up a copy of my new book release From Fatigued to Fantastic. It’s a great resource for anyone with CFS, fibromyalgia, fatigue, or pain. Or even those concerned about COVID Long-Hauler syndrome.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
You are most welcome!