A tribute to Theron Randolph, MD, the father of environmental medicine who passed away in 1995 at the age of 89. New York Times obituary.
Several years ago, I was researching the topic of Tourette syndrome (TS) for a family whose son had the condition. I stumbled across an interesting passage in a book on allergy. Theron Randolph, M.D., (1906 – 1995) had reported that when adult patients with Tourette’s were in an environmentally pure setting, and fasted for a few days, their TS symptoms disappeared. When certain foods were gradually reintroduced into their diets, symptoms returned. Further, he had noted that some patients had no reaction to particular organic fruits yet reacted with symptoms to the same fruits grown with pesticides. Dr. Randolph proposed that individuals with TS might also be hypersensitive to certain chemicals.
Help for others with Tourette syndrome
A family contact ACN that they were anxious to explore the idea of reactions to foods and chemicals for their son’s severe tic disorder that had been diagnosed as Tourette’s. They found their way to an environmental physician’s office. Tests revealed that the child was sensitive to some foods (and other allergens) and hypersensitive to chemicals. The allergies were treated, and the TS symptoms went away.
A young boy who for years had jerked and winced, screamed and cried, repeatedly hit himself, and engaged in frightening compulsive behaviors recaptured the joy of a calm body and a peaceful mind.
I doubt these parents ever got around to thanking Dr. Randolph for the role he had played in healing their son, but he didn’t really need to hear from them. By this time, he was a prolific writer, had helped form the Society for Clinical Ecology (renamed the American Academy for Environmental Medicine), and was instrumental in the Human Ecology Action League. He also had the support and gratitude of thousands of patients and physicians.
Kicked out of Northwestern University faculty
Back in the late 1940s, however, a letter of appreciation might have been welcome. That’s when Dr. Randolph was booted from the faculty of Northwestern University and Wesley Hospital because he was considered “dangerous to medical students.” Dr. Randolph had graduated from the University of Michigan medical school in 1933. Prior to that he had been at Hillsdale College where he was senior class president, president of the honor society, and president of his fraternity.
So when did this “dangerous” side of him emerge? It apparently started in the early 1940s, when he developed an interest in food allergy. He subsequently connected food allergy to several medical conditions — this was a radical concept. He also developed a habit that dumbfounded his peers: he listened to his patients. The account of how this habit resulted in his discovery of chemical sensitivity has become a classic in the field. It is told here by for The Environmental Physician by Kendall Gerdes, MD, who learned the story as a student physician under Dr. Randolph:
His patient was a physician’s wife from Michigan with severe migraine and multiple other symptoms. She had been to many physicians; none had been able to help her. Dr. Randolph did not know if he could help her either — so they agreed that he would listen to what she could tell him of what was happening to her. He would not charge for his listening, but he hoped to learn something from her story that might be useful for other patients. So he listened, for more than a year of appointments, more than 50 pages of single-spaced typewritten notes. Then there came a day when he could sit down with her and go over all those notes. Ted Randolph explained, “I read about two-thirds of the way through, and suddenly I could see that every time she had the headaches, she had been exposed to petrochemicals. Then it was easy to set up a test and to prove it.”
When Dr. Randolph later proposed avoidance therapy for those who had become sensitized to chemicals in the environment, the idea met with great resistance. Gradually, his therapy recommendations gained wider acceptance, and they are now recognized as part of mainstream medicine.
Dr. Randolph followed a simple approach to medicine: he made deliberate and careful observations, then he reported them. Even when faced with opposition, he stood by his findings. We are all the beneficiaries of his tenacity.