Dr. Doris Rapp, a renowned advocate for environmental medicine, was recently featured on Oprah. This followed on the heels of an appearance on the Maury Povich show and the publication of her latest book, Is This Your Child’s World?
As a result, families and educators are gradually getting the message: foods, adverse chemicals, and allergens can affect the functioning of the central nervous system. An elementary school guidance counselor caught the Oprah show a few weeks ago and approached me, “Sheila, you’ve been talking about this for years but I never really got it. When I saw Dr. Rapp’s videos of children being tested and treated, I realized those were my kids — the ones I have to restrain when they get out of control. Teachers need to see this!”
I first heard Doris Rapp speak in Chicago about six years ago. Peter Radetsky described her well in his new book, Allergic to the Twentieth Century: “She’s a robust sixty-eight-year-old with a handsome, craggy face, a forthright, authoritative manner, and ice blue eyes. The hackneyed expression `tough love’ pops into my mind. She understands and she cares, but you better not mess with her.” He goes on to describe how despite that image, she’s been messed with plenty. Though she’s authored forty scientific articles, seven books, and received a distinguished alumni award from the university where she taught, she’s also the subject of heated controversy.
Radetsky chronicles how Rapp’s interest in environmental medicine began in 1975 while a practicing pediatric allergist in New York. She had attended a meeting on food-allergy and decided the speakers who suggested that allergens and foods could trigger all kinds of symptoms were “quacks.” But she was curious enough to check it out. She flew to Texas and then Alabama to spend a few days in offices of environmental physicians. What she saw changed her approach to treating allergies. According to Radetsky, when she tried to convince her colleagues, she was ostracized, even by those who had been her friends for years. She was told she could no longer use her clinical title on writings without prior approval, nor work in the hospital allergy clinic. Hoping to silence her critics she conducted double-blind studies (that medical journals would not print) and videotaped countless testing sessions to document the adverse effects of environmental factors in susceptible people.
I saw some of those videos during her presentation in Chicago and they were riveting: images of a child with a diagnosis of Tourette syndrome (TS) reacting to molds, of youngsters having severe reactions to sugar or an extract of corn before receiving neutralizing doses that quickly calmed them down, videos on school air quality and toxic carpet fumes. But as Rapp ended her lecture, I glimpsed something from my front row vantage point that made an equally lasting impression. While this “tough love” physician complained that conventional doctors refused to believe her videos, claiming they were either staged or the children were simply cranky or tired, her eyes welled with tears — just for a flash. In that moment, I sensed the pain she’s experienced from years of frustration and political slander, a pain perhaps balanced by her relentless dedication and obvious integrity.
There are several hundred members in the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, and many other physicians who practice some form of this discipline. In that sense, Doris Rapp is not alone. But she is the most public. Her voice is now gaining strength from those experiencing multiple chemical sensitivities and Gulf War Syndrome.
The lack of interest in environmental medicine by neurologists, psychologists, and psychiatrists has troubled me for years. I’ve wondered how people who consider themselves experts in Tourette syndrome, for example, can read numerous reports of recovery from this condition at the hands of environmental physicians and not have even a spark of curiosity. I’m puzzled how these authorities can speak against this approach when they are almost completely uneducated on the topic. And when they insist to families that diet, nutrition, and allergies have no effect on TS whatsoever, don’t they have just a twinge of self-doubt?
Consider this. A group of environmental physicians claim to have an explanation for the “mysterious waxing and waning” of many TS symptoms — a phenomenon that has forever baffled the TS community. They also have a treatment that really works for at least a subgroup of TS sufferers. Since no one else can make that claim, isn’t it significant? Doesn’t it warrant looking into? Isn’t it worth a few days out of the office to knock on the doors of these practitioners — as Dr. Rapp did — to find out what they’re doing?
Doris Rapp claims to have retired, yet she told me this week she’s working to open a clinic that will focus on education and research. Tourette syndrome is one of the conditions she wants to study.
We’re watching you, Dr. Rapp. Watching — and counting on you.