The real goal of treating patients is to find what’s impairing their ability to heal or develop. This is what Allen Lewis, MD, greatly believes, striving for optimal wellness for his patients as he treats children and adults with Autism, PANS/PANDAS, Lyme & Behavior Disorders. In this episode, he sits down with Timothy J. Hayes, Psy.D, to talk about his holistic approach to health. Dr. Allen is the Founder of Sancta Familia Center for Integrative Medicine, where they use the science of sound for treatment. He shares how sound can help develop reactive pathways that stimulate the brain and then goes deep into how certain medical conditions trigger mental wellness issues. Join Dr. Allen in this conversation as he reveals more!
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A Holistic Approach To Health For Behavioral Disorders With Allen Lewis, MD
Dr. Allen Lewis, MD, has years of medical practice experience using both traditional and integrative medicine approaches. He is the Founder of the Sancta Familia Center for Integrative Medicine in 2011 in Columbus, Ohio. He specializes in treating children and adults with learning, mood, developmental, behavioral, and immune, infectious disorders, including autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit disorder with and without hyperactivity, PANS/PANDAS, and Lyme disease. Dr. Lewis was also named the Clinical Director for Advanced Brain Technologies, founders and creators of The Listening Program.
Dr. Lewis, thank you so much for joining us. It’s a pleasure to meet you.
Thank you very much for having me. I’m glad to be here.
I was hoping you could start us off by telling us a little bit about how you got started in the specific work you’re doing and what drives your passion for it.
Interestingly, when I went to med school, I knew I wanted to be a doctor, but I didn’t know I wanted to be a pediatrician until it was time to do my residency training. When I look back, everything that I had written for application to med school and things showed that I did want to do pediatrics. It was wanting to help children and families. I did general practice for about eight years before my son was diagnosed with autism. At that point, things changed. We were told at that time that there’s not a lot that could be done. We would just expect that he wasn’t going to develop normally.
That same day he was diagnosed, the National Institute of Health came out with their report on educating children with autism. They describe the success of doing Applied Behavioral Analysis with Lovaas Training. I was left with, “What do I do to help that work better?” We had been told that the autistic symptoms were present because of the diagnosis.
This is the way I look at any patient. They have a biologically impaired brain, but they have some biology that’s off-kilter that we need to find and need to address. My real goal for anybody who comes to me, especially the kids, is trying to find what’s impairing their ability to develop normally. We want them to be optimally well in life and development. Over twenty-some years and doing integrative functional medicine, I’ve found several things that can be helpful to help what was thought to be unable to be treated.
I’m assuming that the kinds of factors you’re talking about that might prevent them from developing optimally are not just that they’re missing certain medications in the psychotropic role.
No. At some point, tongue in cheek, you can say that depression is a Prozac deficiency. Let’s be real. It has a physiologic effect on the brain. What was wrong with the brain potentially or other things that medicine potentially could help? Can we do that another way? That’s the way I look at it. What is the body crying out for that it needs when it comes to a natural substance? In the journey, there are so many things to cover. The thing that was the unifying theme for me and helped me go from that interventional pharmaceutical paradigm to more of the integrative functional realm was looking at biochemical imbalances.
A specific auditory program helps the body deal with stress so much better.
One of the first conferences I went to help with autism used to be called Defeat Autism Now! or DAN! Conferences, we learned about GI health and several things. Learning about biochemical imbalances from the folks at the Pfeiffer Treatment Center in Chicago, which is unfortunately no longer, was one of the things that helped me. They said, “We found that kids on the spectrum have a significant zinc deficiency, have a commonly high copper and have something called Pyrrole disorder.”
These were all new terms to me to some degree. When I started going back to my general practice and looking for these things, they were there and even more interesting as I started to intervene with these abnormalities, I saw improvement. That was okay. Eventually, we learned about GI health and down the road, many other things.
I don’t just treat kids with autism. We treat kids with PANS/PANDAS, Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome, which is under-recognized, chronic Lyme disease. Acute Lyme disease can trigger that too. We also see problems with mold and mold toxicity and any of the other functional issues that can go on with chronic illnesses that go on in anybody in society. You come to see us, the goal is, “What are your symptoms?” What does that point to? What organ system? It’s not one thing. It could be out of balance or back to, “What does the body need? What does it want? Can we find it out?” Detoxification, stress reduction, calming of the nervous system, talk therapy, all of those things.
We use a specific auditory program that helps the body deal with stress so much better. In kids with autism, it’s improving cognitive function. I’ve seen kids that have significantly better language and socialization. When I talked to families that are new to autism, I explained that one of the core deficits we see is this difficulty with social, emotional connectedness, communication and imaginative play.
I explained that these kids don’t recognize that we’re covering them with lots of language and cues about these things. They’re just not able to see or perceive them. Some of what we’re doing is, “Let’s open up their mind to something to be aware of something they weren’t aware of before.” That starts to restore development. There are so many things to talk about. That’s one of the ways I look at it. “What can we do to help any individual be well?”
At what point did you get connected with the listening program?
That came on years ago. I corresponded with Alex Doman from Advanced Brain. He told me about The Listening Program and I was overwhelmed with all the different options I had. I’m like, “That’s nice. I’m interested in that.” We started using it and I was shocked. I have been trying to do this idea where I’m helping the kids learn better and trying to make sure they’re getting the right therapy. Are they getting a good occupational speech therapist? Do they have good behavioral therapy? Are we helping them achieve better in that case?
We added in the listening program and the kids made significant gains. I had a 26-year-old young man with autism who was aggressive, sound sensitive, minimally verbal, very difficult for the family to manage. Within 6 months to 1 year of TLP and doing all the biological things we do, he eventually potty-trained. He’s gone on from there.
TLP stands for The Listening Program. Advanced Brain Technologies with Alex Doman is the creators of The Listening Program. It’s a subscription to a specific type of science-based sound that you listen to two or more times a day and it stimulates the brain in different ways.
A core piece of the music of The Listening Program is the bone-conducting headset. It’s vibratory. That vibration transmits through the entire frame. Our first experience with sound is in utero and it is vibration. Not only it’s stimulating the brain from the auditory standpoint, bone and air conduction, but it sends some other signal to the rest of the body that seems to be calming. I haven’t done that research. That’s just my theory, but it sure seems that way because we’ve had kids that have PANS/PANDAS. That is a person that typically had an infection.
There’s a post-infectious auto-immune response to that infection that triggers a specific set of symptoms in the brain. Those are anxiety or separation anxiety, OCD. You can have an abrupt change in academic skills and end up with ADHD kind of symptoms. You can have physical tics and explosive anger. Getting them treated with the right medical treatment and integrative treatment can be helpful.
Until their neurologic state improves, there’s still going to be stress intolerant. We’ve seen a number of the kid’s TLP helped return the brain to improve stress hours. Something separate from the auto-immune attack of the brain, but that auto-immune attack of the brain made them more sensitive to something that we’ve seen TLP help.
What’s the proposed mechanism for TLP helping brain development?
That’s the science for Alex and the rest to explain.
It’s various levels of stimulation. There’s a binaural sound and specific tones that resonate with different parts of the brain and stimulate either the hormones or the neurotransmitters.
You’re giving the brain a specific stimulus it needs. In a certain way, the science of sound is to help develop reactive pathways or normal neural pathways that then go on to better function. It could be as simple as acoustic sensitivity, sound sensitivity, but it’s far more than that. It’s not being able to tolerate sound. We need to process the sound.
My daughter, unfortunately, is deaf one ear, post-viral infection. When we were first starting to treat her, we tried aids, but eventually, it became clear that we could return her auditory sensitivity to normal, but she lost her word processing. She was functionally deaf in that ear. That was one of the first times I understood that it’s not just sound. It’s the processing of language. It’s the same thing as dyslexia. It’s not just the camera of the eye working. The visual cortex has to be able to translate that image into something that the brain understands. It’s far more complex than an image.
You’ve talked about how certain medical conditions can trigger what looks like mental wellness issues. Besides PANS or PANDAS, are there others that you routinely see that have a base in either the gut health or imbalances with copper and zinc?
It’s a long list. If I started with the biochemical imbalances, which I learned at Pfeiffer, we have zinc deficiency which can affect memory, explosive anger, GI function and skin health, high copper, which tends to be pro-oxidant. When you hear that word, you’re talking about greater inflammation and problems with mitochondrial function. Mitochondria are the energy factories of the cell. We want those to work. Those kids tend to be hyper and can be explosive.
Stress is a killer in many ways.
The big one, which we talked about in the practices because people come and work with us, is you can see the chemistry. The parallel disorder tends to be stress intolerant, anxious, fearful, full of rage, a person that’s very sensitive to sound and other sensory abnormalities like sound, light and touch. They also have misperceptions.
We’re starting to get into metacognition. They don’t perceive the things around them as well. It’s not full-blown paranoia, but they have misperceptions like, “I’m not here to walk.” “You are.” “You did that purposely to make me mad.” “No, I’m just a normal, messy human being.” That leads to significant problems. Those are a little harder to explain, but one tends to give you a person who’s driven and perfectionistic and the other one who’s very nurturing, kind and ready to help out.
These are absolute barriers. If I know their biochemistry challenges, then I probably also know some of their strengths and weaknesses. Why does this matter? One of my nurse practitioners saw a kid who was perceived to have PANS, tickborne and mold illness, a trifecta of things we commonly see. On history, it sounds like he had a viral disorder. He was rageful, vengeful and had many troubles. It turns out within about 1 or 2 weeks of the right vitamins, he was happy. He changed. It was a 180 turn.
You mentioned Pyrrole disorder. How was that identified?
A urine test can identify it. Getting that test has been harder as time goes. I’ve seen it so often. Most of the time, we do it clinically. When we see the constellation of symptoms, then we know. Lyme, for example, is a clinical diagnosis. Everybody’s like, “We got to have a blood test.” It is not necessarily because the testing is so hard to be not falsely negative.
We use something called the Horowitz MSIDS screening questionnaire to help us correlate a lot of different symptoms to give us a probability of Lyme disease. As much as I can, I like to make sure that our diagnosis is consistent with our history. We use our labs to confirm our clinical suspicions with the history and evaluation.
Other than a tickborne illness, are there other ways that people can get Lyme?
You can. It’s typically tick bite, but you can get it in utero. It can be passed to the fetus. There is thought that it can be passed through intimate contact as well. We had a patient who came in who was thought to have typical schizophrenia and was treated as such for about three years. Thankfully, the father was listening to the history, doing this internet research and said, “We think he has PANS and not schizophrenia.” He asked us to evaluate him.
Dad was right. He had an abrupt onset. At thirteen, he had a significant break, but it was associated with classic PANS symptoms, such that we were like, “Is what we’re seeing a hijacked brain or a primarily psychotic brain?” Interestingly enough, he had a rash on his body that was consistent with a tickborne illness called Bartonella, which causes psychosis.
It turns out that this young man had PANS and Bartonella and, with treatment, became normal. He’s a genius intellect. We were able to get that published so that others could say, “What else might it be?” It wasn’t schizophrenia. In the acute onset of schizophrenia, the differential diagnosis is a tickborne illness. If you depend on poor quality tests to make the diagnosis, you may miss it. It’s history.
You talk about choosing mental wellness. What are some of the things any of us could do to be choosing more mental wellness?
We live in a pretty stressful world and stress is a killer in many ways. As much as we can, we want to mitigate our stress and reduce our stress so that we’re not overwhelmed and stressed. That comes with a healthy lifestyle. Are we getting adequate rest and exercise? Are we eating nourishing food, which is a whole other discussion in and of itself? Is it non-toxic? Is it not allergic? What are we doing for mental rest or mental wellness, friendship, family, focus, meditation, prayer? I’m sure you can help me with this. There are some things I probably miss, but that’s choosing to live healthily.
One of them that comes to mind is this idea of a sense of purpose in life. There are several different ways to try and construct your sense of purpose. It’s unique to you, a sense of belonging to a community, some sense of love in your life, however you want to define that, in combination with the things you were listing.
I recognize that I’m more on the medical side. As much as we can, we want to work with a counselor or a psychologist, if needed, to help make sure that we are learning those other things that we need to do.
It is a challenge for a lot of people that I work with to get them to say, “Okay, but I don’t have time for that.” When you stop and look at your life, you realize you don’t have time to do the things that would make your life better. What are you filling your time with? It ends up that it’s a big set of existential choices people have to make between continuing the things that they spend their time on that are not helping them, that are inducing stress or preventing them from getting decent exercise or rest.
Sometimes people present to us ill because we can only tolerate so much so long. I’m not on a high horse here. I have trouble getting adequate exercise. I try to eat right and make sure my weight is okay. It will catch up to us if we live an unhealthy lifestyle. That’s all things like friendship and purpose.
Are there some other case examples that you can give of people who’ve benefited from this functional integrative approach?
Most of the kids with autism, we’ve probably seen over 5,000, do better. I’m not saying that they are fully recovered. We do have some that lose their diagnosis, maybe about 5%. In many cases, their life is much easier. They’re more engaged in school and their family. Any child with autism is worth looking at their entire holistic approach to their health because we might be able to have them speak, which makes their long-term care better. In the back of my mind with every first patient is, “Are they sleeping?” If they’re not sleeping, mom and dad aren’t sleeping. I try not to be too paternal but having been through this time with my son. There are things we’re looking for that help heal the entire family. Autism or mental illness, among other things, affects everybody.
PANS/PANDAS are tough things to live with. One of the hardest things is for parents to recognize what’s happened. In autism, most parents have some idea that something isn’t normal about their child for months before they are presented with the diagnosis. The classic onset of PANS is overnight. Within a short period, they’re not the same. They’re rageful, OCD, can’t leave the house. It’s almost like the umbilical cord is reattached to mom. They may not eat. Their physical health and wellness are threatened.
Any child with autism is worth a holistic approach to health.
In that case, anytime we restore normalcy, we’ve reduced the stress in the family. That’s the greater majority of the patients we see. The random majority remit of those patients do much better. As you start adding in other illnesses, PANS with a tickborne illness or PANS with a mold illness, that becomes a long journey to wellness.
One of my patients had all of that tickborne mold illness and PANS/PANDAS. He was on a track where his school district never changed track. It never goes from lower-functioning to higher functioning track. With the things that we did with The Listening Program, detoxification, hyperbaric oxygen and nutrient balances, they ultimately moved them to a faster track. They say that never done it in their entire career in this school. You can see that he’s more engaged. He was starting to care for all the people around him rather than being lost in his world or hyper-focused on his own needs. His true nature of nurturing came up.
I have several people I’ve worked with over the years. The parents are phenomenal points for sainthood. They keep plugging away. Occasionally, I run into somebody and their parents come in and say, “Our big issue is this person is so sensitive to any change.” Even if they’re doing homeopathic remedies, vitamin supplement changes or the tiniest change in neuro-psych med or psychiatric psychotropic med, they get violent reactions. Have you encountered that much? Is there some way to start talking about the calm-everything-down kind of approach?
I don’t know if I can say that there’s one thing that works for everybody. Fortunately, those patients for us are fewer and far between, but they exist. That’s where it’s like, “What do they need?” Unfortunately, it means that we probably have tried a few things and found them to be very reactive. What we’ll do is start stepping backward. For example, some of the herbal remedies we use can be used on the skin. It reduces their potency so much that we might be able to start with a dermal dose that eventually will go to oral. That’s a tough one. Each one of those patients is so individualized. It’s hard for me to give you a blanket answer.
When they’ve got a problem like auto-immune encephalopathy, every little change creates inflammation, which creates another rage outburst or meltdown.
I’ve been pondering about the approach to PANS and I’m not an expert, but we primarily are looking at the infection-triggered part of the illness and inflammation. We’re doing both. However, we try to hone in on what was the triggering infection or triggering insult and address it. We also do the inflammation. If it wasn’t for some of the turmeric and curcuminoid preparations that I use, we wouldn’t have the success we do.
On the one side, we’re treating infection, but we still have to calm down the autoinflammatory component. Steroids are helpful, but they have a downside too. One could use IVIG, but as we start getting into more aggressive therapy, we’re getting into higher risk. Doing nutraceuticals so things that are turmeric or curcuminoid. We can use ibuprofen too.
If we get rid of inflammatory foods, we use a specific supplement called SPM Active. That’s a resolvent. It resolves inflammation. Restoring biochemical imbalances can help the immune system not be overreactive. We need to try to get after the trigger and inflammation as gently as possible and then up our ante as we need to. Usually, we’ve had success with that.
With the turmeric and curcumin that you administer, are they specific preparations from a pharmacy?
There are over-the-counter preparations. We use several different ones. I don’t know if I’ve already used one name. We use Enhancer, Turiva and Inflamma-bLOX. We found that there’s a chewable turmeric form that we are going to try and see if it works. Part of the challenge is not all patients can take all forms. Having been a pediatrician, we need to find liquids or chewables. Otherwise, you have to open caps or crush tabs and put them in stuff. That’s part of the challenges also, being able to make it palatable. If you like turmeric, great. If you don’t, it’s strong.
We think about winding this down. What’s an area of your practice or life experience that we haven’t even asked you about yet that you want to make sure we get in?
Back over my career, I’m very grateful that the Lord has called me to a ministry that I can help others. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do if it wasn’t for my son needing extra help and for all the parents and other people that have taught me along the way and gratefully trusted me to try things or ask me to try things. I’ve trusted them and we’ve seen big improvements. That’s one of the biggest things I would say. I’m thankful that I have a career to make a difference.
Most of the time, when we have the lens to look at, we see that whatever we see as trauma or tragedy has a brighter side to it. One of those things would be this Coronavirus and all the restrictions. It seems to have opened up telehealth for a lot of people. Are you doing any more of seeing people that can’t travel physically to where you are?
That’s problematic because I can only do telehealth in a state that I’m licensed in. I’m licensed in Ohio. We need to see people in the office. However, we’re set up because that’s what we did at Pfeiffer. We try to see people less often. It’s not like we’re going to ask you to come back in two weeks. We tried to see our patients every 4 to 6 months and manage things by phone.
The way I look at it is if we’re seeing people compliantly according to the state and something goes amiss, we can handle it over the phone because we’re planning to do what we’re supposed to do, which is see people in the office. What we do is not primary care. When we give somebody a list of things to do, we try to make it so that they can take these individual steps and give us an update via a portal message or something along those lines.
Are you one of those providers that are so busy that you aren’t taking new patients at this time?
We haven’t closed the practice. It’s how long do you want to wait? My next first appointment is sometime in the early part of 2022, but my nurse practitioners both have appointments available in 2021. My newest is quite good since he’s only been with us. He has appointments. Both my nurse practitioners care for my family and I have the utmost trust in them. People don’t need to see me to get good care here. I learned as much from my nurse practitioners as I hope that they’ve learned from me.
Do you have a series of terms, qualifications or training that you recommend people search for? They can’t get in to see you, but they’re trying to find somebody that is of a similar mindset and approach.
Pursue a career that makes a difference.
I’m a little bit of a hodgepodge of several things but The Institute for Functional Medicine, in which I’m doing my certification, has a fantastic basic program. There are other feats people use. It’s something called 84M. That’s a little different than what we do. Dr. Walsh, who founded the Pfieffer Treatment Center, has a training program that talks about biochemical imbalances through the Walsh Research Institute.
Biochemistry is very helpful, in my mind. Some integrative colleagues do not as well accept it, but functional medicine covers pretty much all the biology things that I talked about and is looking at lifestyle medicine. Those are two big things. I have books that I recommend to people. Probably one of the best books for people to read is called Healing Is Possible by Neil Nathan. It’s good.
He also wrote a book Toxic, which for me as my patient population is essential. When he told me he was going to write it and I read it, I was like, “This is the answered prayer for trying to help understand the complexity of all these different illnesses at once.” The other one I like is How Can I Get Better? That’s by Dr. Richard Horowitz. It’s about Lyme and tickborne illness. Nutrition and Mental Illness by Carl Pfeiffer was the inception of the Pfeiffer Treatment Center. That’s how it had its name. For mold illness is Break the Mold by Jill Crista. My wife’s a spiritual director, so we look at spiritual healing and forgiveness. Probably one of the most profound books in that category is Unbound by Neal Lozano. It’s truly revolutionary when you think of emotional healing and forgiveness.
It’s great to know that there are more and more people doing things like that. The Journey’s Dream group has gotten access too. Some of its founders have been developing The Optimal Being Program, which is right in line with that. I would use the same words to describe it as you use to describe Unbound. It’s a very solid, practical, effective and efficient tool for improving the quality of your life and relationships. People can find out more about that at JourneysDream.org. I greatly appreciate your willingness to share with us and sharing the resources. I look forward to reading a couple of those books you mentioned and following your work.
Thank you very much. I’ll be looking at The Optimal Being program.
Dr. Allen Lewis, MD, has years of medical practice experience using both traditional and integrative medicine approaches. He was the Founder of the Sancta Familia Center for Integrative Medicine in 2011 in Columbus, Ohio. He specializes in treating children and adults with learning, mood, developmental, behavioral, and immune/infectious disorders, including autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit disorder with and without hyperactivity, PANS/PANDAS, and Lyme disease. Dr. Lewis was also named the Clinical Director for Advanced Brain Technologies, founders and creators of The Listening Program.
His medical career was directed down a different path when his child was diagnosed with autism at age two. Without a functional framework in traditional medicine for treatment of his child’s autism and associated medical problems, Dr. Lewis began to explore integrative, holistic, and functional medicine therapies. Dietary intervention, targeted nutrient supplementation, and approaching treatment with a more integrative or functional framework proved to be effective in helping his child and many of his patients. In response to seeing such profound effects with these treatments, Dr. Lewis continues to explore other integrative modalities and was certified by the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine in 2002 and re-certified in 2010.
- Sancta Familia Center For Integrative Medicine
- Dr. Lewis – LinkedIn
- Advanced Brain Technologies
- The Listening Program
- The Institute for Functional Medicine
- Healing Is Possible
- How Can I Get Better?
- Nutrition and Mental Illness
- Break the Mold
- Journey’s Dream
- The Optimal Being Program
About Allen Lewis, MD
Allen T. Lewis, MD has over 30 years of medical practice experience using both traditional and integrative medicine approaches. He is the founder of the Sancta Familia Center for Integrative Medicine (2011) in Columbus, Ohio, where he specializes in treating children and adults with learning, mood, developmental, behavioral and immune/infectious disorders, including ASD, ADD/ADHD, PANS/PANDAS and Lyme Disease. Dr. Lewis was also recently named the Clinical Director for Advanced Brain Technologies, founders and creators of The Listening Program®.
He attended the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, Washington and completed his pediatric residency training at Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was board certified in Pediatrics in 1993 and completed re-certification in 2000 and 2007. Before founding Sancta Familia, he practiced general pediatrics for ten years in Salt Lake City, Utah and Billings, Montana, and served for seven years as Medical Director of the Pfeiffer Treatment Center in Warrenville, Illinois, where he treated children and adults with learning, mood, and behavioral problems with targeted nutrient therapy.
His medical career was directed down a different path when his child was diagnosed with autism at age two. Without a functional framework in traditional medicine for treatment of his child’s autism and associated medical problems, Dr. Lewis began to explore integrative, holistic, and functional medicine therapies. Dietary intervention, targeted nutrient supplementation, and approaching treatment with a more integrative/functional framework proved to be effective in helping his child, as well as many of his patients. In response to seeing such profound effects with these treatments, Dr. Lewis continued to explore other integrative medicine modalities and was certified by the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine in 2002 and re-certified in 2010.
Dr. Lewis became Medical Director of the Pfeiffer Treatment Center in 2003. In this role he was able to concentrate on the treatment of children and adults with learning, mood, and behavioral problems, such as autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, bipolar disease, mood disorders, and behavior disorder. Additionally, he participated in research resulting in two publications on oxidative stress/damage in children with autism and one publication regarding a clinical diagnosis commonly referred to as pyrrole disorder. The more integrative approach to the evaluation and management of learning, behavior, and mood problems he developed at the Pfeiffer Treatment Center facilitated a more predictable, effective, and reproducible approach to the treatment of patients with these medical conditions. He has spoken nationally and internationally regarding the targeted nutrient management of the learning, mood, and behavioral problems listed above and was invited to author an article for the Autism Society of America member publication Advocate.
Dr. Lewis has been recognized as a leading physician by PANDASnetwork.org and is devoted to bringing hope and healing to patients and their families affected by PANS/PANDAS, in addition to the many other conditions his practice treats.
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