In this episode, we discuss:
- Danenberg’s cancer diagnosis
- A Functional Medicine approach to cancer treatment
- How your gut health is linked to your dental health
- How to get certified in biological nutritional dentistry
Hey, everybody, this is Chris Kresser. Welcome to another episode of Revolution Health Radio. This week, I’m excited to welcome back Dr. Alvin Danenberg as a guest on the show. Dr. Al is a periodontist and was in private practice for 44 years. He incorporated ancestral nutrition and lifestyle with his leading-edge laser protocol to treat periodontal disease.
In September 2018, he retired from the practice of treating individual patients, but he still consults with patients by phone, Skype, or Zoom regarding nutrition, lifestyle, oral and overall health, and the importance of a healthy gut. Dr. Al is also an ADAPT Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner and I’m looking forward to talking to Dr. Al about the relationships between nutrition, the gut, and periodontal and tooth health, as well as a program that is sponsored by the International Academy for Biological Dentistry and Medicine for dentists and hygienists to become certified as biological nutritional dental professionals. This is a growing movement in the field of dentistry to look at the health of the teeth as being something that involves more than just brushing them and flossing regularly, which, of course, many of you are already aware of. But in the conventional dental profession, there’s actually very little focus on the nutritional impacts for dental health.
And Al also is recently in remission from cancer and used some unconventional, holistic protocols to get there that I am very curious about. I’ve been following Al’s progress for the past several months and would love to chat with him a little bit about that. So, without further delay, I bring you Dr. Al Danenberg.
Chris Kresser: Dr. Al Danenberg, welcome back to the show. It’s such a pleasure to have you on.
Al Danenberg: Oh my God. Thank you. It’s a great opportunity. I appreciate it.
Dr. Danenberg’s Cancer Diagnosis
Chris Kresser: So, originally, we were slated to talk about a new program that you’re involved with, sponsored by the International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine, for dental health professionals to become certified in biological dentistry, where we actually pay attention to nutrition and other aspects of health, like gut health, and how they affect the oral microbiome and, of course, the health of our teeth and our gums. And I still very much do want to touch on that because I think that’s a critical area of health that’s often underlooked or even actively discouraged or criticized in the mainstream dental profession.
But before we do that, I mean, I’ve known you for some time. For those of you who didn’t hear the first show and don’t know, you’re an ADAPT Trained Functional Medicine Practitioner. So we met through that. And then we’ve been in touch over the past couple of years. And you were diagnosed with cancer. And the prognosis was not good when you were initially diagnosed. And yet here we are having this conversation. And you definitely didn’t take a conventional route in what you chose to do with treatment. So maybe we could start just by [having you tell] us a little bit about the diagnosis, and then we can dive into what you ended up doing for treatment, how you arrived at that, and what some of the experiences were along the way.
Al Danenberg: Absolutely. So kind of starting when I got an idea that I had a problem was in April of 2018. Which at that point, I really can, I was 71 years old. [I] considered myself a poster boy, a senior poster boy, for primal lifestyle because I had been on the Paleo Diet/lifestyle program for the previous five years or so. Very, very healthy. I just felt great. So I was speaking at Paleo f(x) in Austin, Texas, [in] April 2018. And while I’m traveling, I usually carry my luggage bag on my shoulder, and this time my shoulder was just getting sore and I couldn’t understand why.
And I got to the meeting, I did my talk, I left the meeting, I came home, and everything was great, except the soreness didn’t really go away. And a week or two later, it went to my back, and several weeks later, it went to my chest. I just didn’t understand. And I’m kind of a hardhead, so it took a little while before I finally saw my medical doctor who is a friend and I’ve seen him as a patient for 30-plus years. So in August of 2018, I finally [saw] him. He looks at me, certainly confirms the fact that I have soreness, yeah. Okay. So he does some specific but the general type of blood work. [Complete blood count] (CBC) and some blood chemistry. He also did a C-reactive protein [test], which is not part of all that routine, and all the chemistries and all the blood work actually came back within the normal ranges, conventional normal ranges. But the C-reactive protein for me, normally, years before, it was less than 0.5. It came back as something like 4.55 something.
So he said, “Obviously, there’s some kind of systemic inflammation. We don’t know if it’s acute or chronic. We don’t know where it’s coming from. So let’s do an MRI [magnetic resonance imaging].” And he does an MRI and he calls me after the results, and he mentions to me, “Do you want to come into the office or do you want to talk on the phone?” I said, “Billy, how bad could it be? Let’s talk about it.” So he started a joke and he said, “Did you fall down some steps? Did somebody beat you up?” I said no. And he said, “Well, the MRI shows that you have a vertebral compression fracture, you have a hairline fracture in your pelvis, and you have a couple broken ribs.”
Chris Kresser: Wow.
Al Danenberg: Yeah.
Chris Kresser: That must have been a shock.
Al Danenberg: And that was causing the pain. A real shock. And that was causing the pain that was traveling to my chest. So he said, “I think you have one of three diagnoses, either lymphoma, leukemia, or multiple myeloma.” That blew me away.
Chris Kresser: Yes, I can imagine.
Al Danenberg: Because here I am thinking I am a healthy guy. I don’t want to open any of these three doors. Give me another choice.
Chris Kresser: Right.
Al Danenberg: And he said, “Let’s get an oncologist in.” And we did, and he did a whole bunch of other tests including a PET scan, which, as you know, a [positron emission tomography] (PET) scan is a [computed tomography] (CT) scan throughout [the] entire body and it looks at different sections in three-dimensional view. And in a PET scan, they inject a liquid radioactive glucose so that if there’s cancer, it’s getting eaten up by the cancer cells and kind of glows on the X-ray. So it does that. There was also a soft tissue mass on the side of my spine. They did a CT biopsy of that, and more chemistry, specific cancer chemistry blood work. And the bottom line was, I have a diagnosis of [immunoglobulin A] (IGA) kappa light chain multiple myeloma. Big long name. It is a cancer of plasma cells. Certain antibodies, IGA antibodies, are being produced in a very abnormal non-functional way in significant numbers.
And in addition to this diagnosis, I was also diagnosed with innumerable lytic lesions of my bone throughout my skeleton. And there are so many different types of multiple myeloma, but one of the ways to diagnose it is to determine how many holes in the bone you have. So maybe one lytic lesion, three lytic lesions. The radiologist found so many, they couldn’t count them. And the big problem was that these lesions in the bone, like severe osteoporosis, [are] making my bones very fragile. And that’s why I had these cracks and broken bones, because my bone structure couldn’t support the weight of my body in twisting or whatever.
So, in this timeframe, and this [was] the middle of September 2018, my wife and my adult children [were] in the office, and he says that, “If you do nothing, your prognosis is three to six months to live.” And everybody at that moment, of course, [was] quiet. And so [I asked] a simple question. I said, “Well, what?” And he [said], “The disease is incurable.” So I said, “Well, what do I need to do? Or what do you recommend?” And his recommendation [was] immediately starting a cocktail of chemotherapy drugs. As you know, these are extremely caustic, somewhat archaic methods to treat cancer because it doesn’t really treat cancer; it just kills everything and destroys my immune system. And then they kind of rebuild it synthetically, hopefully, and all along, my quality of life would probably decline. I would go in remission and then things would be better and then eventually go out of remission.
I’d have signs and symptoms again of this aggressive cancer, but they’d have to use a different chemotherapy cocktail, which would be more aggressive because the previous would not work any longer. So I would go through this in and out of remission for a period of years, and then all along my quality of life would be declining until no drugs would work. And stem cells probably would not work for me. And at that point, I would succumb to the manifestations of multiple myeloma.
Chris Kresser: And what was the likelihood that that would even work and give you those extra years? Was he confident in that? Or was that a …
Al Danenberg: Yeah, he felt confident that the chemotherapy certainly [would] put me in remission, but he didn’t know how long. And it would certainly extend my life maybe five years. But the whole point in my philosophy is, I didn’t mind if I was going to die knowing it’s an incurable disease. I didn’t care that I was going to die. I cared that my quality of life was not going to be compromised. I wanted to live as best as I could and then just drop dead. I mean, this is my philosophy.
So, when we had this discussion, he agreed with me, since he felt it’s not curable. And yes, he agreed that more than likely, the quality of my life would be decreasing. So, at that point, I was having severe pain in my sternum because of the fractures in the ribs and I couldn’t really breathe well. And he recommended some radiation therapy just to treat the lesions that were creating pressure in that area. And I did that, and that resolved that, so I could breathe comfortably. But I did not accept any chemotherapy and I started to do some research, some independent research. As a matter of fact, I went to several Functional Medicine guys, and you know I contacted you for your opinions as well as some other people I know.
And I tried to put together things that made sense to me. Things that I could research by looking up pubmed.gov and other medical resources to figure out what is being done around the world that’s just not mainstream, but it’s being duplicated and it made sense to me. And then I found a Functional Medicine guy in Charlotte, North Carolina, [who] I contacted and he put me on a million supplements. I was taking 40 to 60 capsules a day of this stuff and created an unconventional cancer protocol, a variety of things. And [I’ve] tweaked that all along until today, but I created some methods to help my body heal. Not cure cancer, just to help my body’s immune system to become so functional, because it wasn’t at that point, so that I could heal my body naturally. And that’s where I went.
Chris Kresser: That’s an amazing story. And I know there’s much more to it than I want to get into. But I want to just pause and ask a couple of questions.
Al Danenberg: Sure.
Chris Kresser: And reflect a little bit. This has come up, I’ve been treating people for over 10 years, and I’ve actually [had] a number of people in your situation who were extremely healthy, way healthier, not only than the average person their age, but I would just say, than the average person period, in the population. And they end up with a diagnosis of cancer, which is always a shock for the same reason that you said. Like, they’re doing everything right, and they feel great; they don’t even have any significant symptoms that they’re aware of, and it just really comes out of the blue.
So I’m just curious on your take, and since you have been personally affected by this, how have you worked with that both, like, emotionally and [psychologically]? Because I could imagine that there’s a sense of like, oh, I’ve done something wrong or I must have gone off track somewhere. How have you worked with that emotionally and psychologically? And what’s your take on cancer as a disease given that what we’re saying here is true? It certainly does seem to affect people who are otherwise very healthy.
Al Danenberg: Well, I am a little geeky. So I tried to do some research, actually, to find out why a healthy guy like me, this dentist that’s been in practice at that point for 44 years, I mean, a long time, could get this kind of disease, especially if I was eating and living this very healthy lifestyle for the previous five or six years. One thing I learned very quickly is that if you’re eating healthy for five or six years, it doesn’t really take care of the other 30-plus [or] 50-plus years that I didn’t do that. So that’s number one I learned rapidly.
But the other thing is that I found a study that actually was published in 2014. A Brazilian study, but it looked at a cohort of male dentists my age, so it was male dentists the age of 55 to 75, compared to the male population of 55 to 75. And it found that there was a significant increased risk and prevalence of cancer, especially multiple myeloma, of these dentists in that age group. So the article, unfortunately, didn’t suggest why that was, but then I started to think what in my life when I was a dental student could really be so different from the general male population. And two things that are very obvious now pop into my mind. First of all, my disease, my cancer, is a malignancy of plasma cells.
So plasma cells are very susceptible to low-dose ionizing radiation. Well, low-dose ionizing radiation [is used for] dental X-rays. And in the dental clinic when I was in school, and this is way back; so in the early 1970s, the clinic environment was kind of unique. We had four dental students who literally worked among themselves with a central X-ray head machine in the center of us. So we had, like, four modules that surrounded an X-ray machine. And all of us used that X-ray machine. There were about 120 dental students in the dental school. So there were lots of dental X-ray machines all around the clinic going on and off at times. And you’d never know when an X-ray is on or off other than the red light because you can’t hear it or smell it or feel it. And I have no idea how much X-ray exposure I had over the course of four years in dental school and two years of graduate school that just stimulated or caused one plasma cell to become malignant. And everybody has hundreds of thousands of malignant cells every day in their lives. But malignant cells do two wonderful things.
One, they stimulate the immune system to send out macrophages and gobble them up. Or malignant cells have some inner internal chemistry that actually causes [them] to kill [themselves by apoptosis. So, normally, malignant cells don’t multiply, or if they do, they don’t multiply for long because they are removed by the immune system where they die themselves. But it only takes one malignant cell that does not do what it’s supposed to do; it doesn’t die and isn’t eaten up by the immune system to start duplicating itself. And I believe that the ionizing radiation was one factor. The other factor was in dental school then, and sadly enough in dental schools around the United States today, dental students are taught to place mercury restorations and mercury fillings called dental amalgams and we mixed mercury, free mercury, which is so much fun to play with, because it’s a metal but it looks like a liquid and it’s little balls of this silvery stuff. And we played with it like kids play with Play-Doh today.
And we use the mercury to drop into a powder and mix it so that it formed this slush called a dental amalgam we placed into teeth. And then we had excess mercury that we had to squeeze out of this amalgam with a cheesecloth and those little beads of mercury, we threw on the floor; everybody did it. And so mercury vaporizes. No one knew or understood at that time, I don’t believe, that mercury was so toxic. The dental schools all over the country were probably the most toxic environment that an individual could go into. So the mercury in my hands for six continuous years, or in the environment in the air I was breathing, and/or the X-rays just caused one plasma cell to become malignant, divide and multiply, and then eventually overwhelm my body 40 some years later. And that’s, the important message to take, I think, is that we do damage to our guts, and put all kinds of toxic chemicals in. But it’s not going to result in a manifestation of a clinical disease in a year or 10 years. It could take decades and no one really can say what caused it because it’s so far removed from the initial insult. But it’s the continuous insult that creates the problem. And I believe that that’s the case.
So that’s how I figured that out. But emotionally I am not a religious person, but I am very spiritual. And this is very controversial, of course, but I believe that we are here on this earth in a physical body more than once, and I believe that we have lessons to learn. And I believe eventually because I am quite healthy now. I believe this was part of my destination on this earth this time around to not only become healthier, but to get the word out to people that there are ways to deal with life-threatening diseases and you need to do some research and kind of get your head together. And emotion has a lot to do with it. Stress. I even sent you an article years ago of stress affecting the gut microbiome, the gut epithelial barrier. And this woman who has been seriously stressed in her life had all kinds of ugly lesions in her mouth, but no other signs of the source of the disease.
Yet she was completely removed from the stress for four months. And no other treatment was done, and her mouth completely healed because the epithelial barrier in the gut healed itself because stress causes leaky gut. And if you eliminate stress, the gut tissues, of course, fortunately, they repair every five to seven days. If there’s no irritant continuously, you have a new epithelium in a week. So if you’re not putting junk in your body, that’s why changing the diet changes your health rapidly because the epithelial layer heals so quickly and the microbiome accommodates very quickly.
Dr. Al Danenberg is a periodontist, ADAPT Trained Practitioner, and expert on the relationship between nutrition, the gut, and periodontal and tooth health. He’s also recently in remission from cancer after utilizing some unconventional, holistic protocols during treatment. In this episode of RHR, we discuss his approach to his cancer treatment and we talk about biological nutritional dentistry.
A Functional Medicine Approach to Cancer Treatment
Chris Kresser: Yeah, it’s, I mean, there [are] so many things I want to follow up on in there. And I know, I’m aware, we also have a limited amount of time. So I want to shift gears and talk a little bit about your protocol. Just even from a 30,000-foot view, what were the main elements that you ended up on? I saw how that kind of shifted over time, but maybe just start with your thought process and what you ended up choosing to do.
Al Danenberg: Everything I was reading and researching from a variety of people, and a variety of articles that were not working with one another, discussed that cancer is a disease of metabolic and mitochondrial dysfunction, not a disease of genetic dysfunction, although genetics play[s] a role. As we all know, epigenetics is everything. And the metabolism and the fact of the way we receive our nutrients and the kind of foods that we’re eating, and the chemicals we’re ingesting and breathing and touching have a huge effect on the gut microbiome. So the diet was a critical element, and I did significant research to figure out what I wanted to do. And we can go into that in a moment.
Another element was, of course, the gut microbiome. I needed to not only make sure my gut microbiome was at peak health, but I needed to make sure that I was actually supporting the mucosal layer and the epithelial barrier of that gut. And I designed, with a lot of help, supplements to literally take to do that. The other thing was I wanted to enhance my immune system, and certainly the healthy diet and a nutrient dense anti-inflammatory diet, as well as a healthy gut microbiome, enhances the immune system phenomenally. But there were other factors that I did some research [on] and kind of figured out might work for me. And it consisted of some herbal products, extracts, I can go into the details in a moment. And then the other thing was my bone, of course, metabolism was out of kilter because of all these holes.
So I needed to figure out what I could do in a natural way to improve my bone metabolism. And then the mitochondria, which is a huge factor in cancer, I needed to help the dysfunctional mitochondria that was throughout my body to become healthier, and I did that with some research into pulsed electromagnetic field therapy and got involved with that. And then other things, of course, trying to reduce stress. It’s not easy to reduce stress when you realize you only have months to live. But from an attitudinal standpoint, my wife is a phenomenal support pillar in my life as well as my children, my adult kids. And of course, friends and that is helpful, but my immediate family was extremely supportive. And it helped me emotionally. And I did some exercise as best as I could because my bones were so fragile. And of course, I did things that would help me just in general deal with the life issues that I had. So what I feel was the most critical is, or are, the diet and the microbiome, and so I was on a Paleo diet.
And once I was diagnosed, I immediately went to a Paleo autoimmune diet, leaning toward the ketogenic diet. And so that’s what I did, starting when my diagnosis was made in September 2018. As far as the gut microbiome, I’m big on spore-based probiotics, oligosaccharide prebiotics and a few other things to help with the mucous membrane. And then, like I said, I looked into some herbal products for my immune system. And I was now, or I am now taking ashwagandha. I need to think in terms of what I’m doing, right?
Chris Kresser: Yeah, there’s been a lot.
Al Danenberg: Yeah.
Chris Kresser: So I have a question for you, too. You have medical training. You’re also like me, kind of a research geek.
Al Danenberg: Right.
Chris Kresser: And so you were able to kind of do this research relatively autonomously and put together this protocol because of your training and background. For folks who are listening who might be affected by cancer themselves or have a friend or family member that’s affected, did you come across, were there any resources you came across that were kind of more layperson friendly for people who are seeking out this kind of information but may not have medical training?
Al Danenberg: Well, I think it’s scary to Google cancer treatment and read everybody’s articles on cancer treatment.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, it’s overwhelming.
Al Danenberg: Yeah, it’s overwhelming and it’s contradictory. So that’s not where I wanted to go. But I did go to pubmed.gov. Now pubmed.gov, it can get very geeky and difficult, but you’re reading abstracts. And most of, you just put in words, keywords. So I put in multiple myeloma, alternative treatment, those types of things. And then I’m seeing hundreds and hundreds of articles that are being published all around the world. I’m looking for the most recent stuff. Because number one, I want to see what’s really going on now.
And the most recent research always summarizes all the other research and to get to the point where they were. So I’m reading these abstracts and trying to decipher them, and they are in English that I can understand. And most people, I think, can understand the abstracts. I did seek some individuals that were dealing with cancer from a Functional Medicine standpoint, but they were only treating it, which is amazing, they were only treating it with supplements. They didn’t even discuss nutrition, which just blew me away. There are so many Functional guys and gals out there that are only prescribing supplements just like an allopathic physician writes prescription medications. But they didn’t really delve into the diet, which is amazing.
Let me give you a little side note here. When I go to my cancer clinic and I go there every two to four weeks, in the infusion clinics where they’re actually getting chemotherapy, one day, the nurses were passing around chocolate chip cookies. I mean, this is glucose, sugar, and they have cancer, one of the worst things you’re doing. Plus they’re not even talking about nutrition because when I had my diagnosis, I had to talk to a dietitian about eating. And all they’re concerned with is making sure you eat calories; it doesn’t matter what you eat. It’s just putting calories in your body. And I kind of argued with her. My wife was in the room and she, my wife, doesn’t like when I argue about things. I’m a very stubborn guy. And I said, “What are you talking about? You’re only talking about carbs? Give me a break here. We need to talk about a nutritional program.” I was teaching her and she was the dietician.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, that reminds me of some of the dietitians I’ve worked with [who] tell me about the American Dietetic Association conferences they’ve attended, or the American Diabetes Association conference they attended. They’re sponsored by Nestlé and Coca-Cola and all these companies, and they’ve literally just got junk food out on the tables. And not ironically. It’s like something you’d see in a Saturday Night Live skit. But it’s absolutely ironic and just the way that the system is set up.
Al Danenberg: It is. It’s sad. It’s very sad.
Chris Kresser: So you put together all these protocols and when did you first start to get a sense, subjectively or objectively, in terms of follow-up testing and visits to an oncologist, that it was working?
Al Danenberg: Well, here’s the interesting thing. I was seeing him every two weeks at that point, and other than the pain I had in my chest, there wasn’t anything going on that was really a problem. So once I had the radiation to stop the pain because I really couldn’t breathe, then I was doing my healthy Paleo autoimmune diet and I was following some of the, I did all these supplements originally. But I was following what I just mentioned to you, and my chemistries, all the chemistries for my cancer stayed stable. They were not getting worse. He expected me to get worse.
If I didn’t do chemo, that basically meant to him I was not doing anything [and], therefore, I would be dead in three to six months. I was doing extremely well. I was feeling extremely well. He was kind of impressed. He even, and he’s a phenomenal oncologist but conventional, he even asked me to bring in the medical research, just copies of what I was finding on PubMed that created my protocols. So he was very interested in what I was doing, because he was seeing thousands of patients [with cancer], but no one had the results that I had and no one was doing what I was doing. So every time I was going in to see him, every two weeks we did some blood work, and it was always good. It showed that I had cancer, there’s no question. But it was stable. It was not getting worse as he expected it would.
Now, the unfortunate thing that I never had control over was the fragile bone structure. So I had a series of pathological fractures that were debilitating, but I recovered. Until April 2019. [In] April 2019, I [had] outlived my prognosis by twice and I was standing in my bathroom brushing and flossing my teeth and I kind of know what I’m doing in this regard. So I’m brushing and flossing my teeth. My feet are planted on the ground. I knew what pathological fractures are because I had several, but I didn’t know what that really meant physically as far as what I just, you’ll see what I did. But I twisted my body to the left just 90 degrees to throw the used dental floss in the trash can, and as soon as I twisted, my right femur snapped in half, and I collapsed and crashed to the floor.
Chris Kresser: Wow.
Al Danenberg: At that time, I broke or bruised or whatever, damaged several ribs and split my right humerus in half. Now I am in excruciating pain. The worst pain you can imagine times 10. I’m screaming for my wife. She comes in, obviously, this is not a good scenario. She calls [Emergency Medical Services] (EMS). They come, they get me, they get me to the hospital, they prepare me, they put me on all kinds of drugs, you know narcotics. They get me prepped for surgery for my right leg because they had to fix my right femur, because I would have perforated the femoral artery and I would have bled to death. They didn’t fix my right humerus at that time.
I was in a deep, deep state of depression, lots of narcotics, like I said, and I was ready to die. And I knew that I had lived longer than my prognosis and this was the time. So, actually, they sent me to a hospice hospital to die. Now, this is [at] the end of April, I mean, I’m sorry, it’s August. August 2019. September, the first week of September, there is a hurricane that is coming into Charleston. It’s moving like one mile an hour, but it has winds of 187 miles an hour. It’s a pretty strong hurricane. And so the hospice hospital was ordered to evacuate and they didn’t have a place to evacuate me [to].
My wife is an RN and she scrambles and gets a hospital bed into the house. And they evacuate me to the house, and here I am, in the house hospital bed in hospice. [I] can’t really move, can’t do anything. I have a catheter. I have to use a bedpan. It is amazingly demoralizing. And life is at the pits, and again, I’m ready to die. Now my wife gives me a little bit of tough love over the next several days. And she basically says, “You know, you’re not a victim. You are a survivor. You’ve done extremely well until this accident in the bathroom. You need to get your head together and get yourself back in order.” So I had stopped my protocols while this accident and the healing had occurred, and then I got back on my protocols. She got a physical therapist into the house to help me do what I needed to do. Eventually, [I] got the catheter out. I started to move with a walker and I really was doing well. And I revived.
And a month later in October, I went to my oncologist. It was difficult, but I went to my oncologist. We’re talking about what’s going on and he [mentions] some new drugs that were just approved by the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] (FDA). These are immunotherapy drugs, [which have] nothing to do with chemotherapy. They are human-based monoclonal antibodies that help kill the malignant plasma cells and some of the cells that are causing the holes in my bone. So I started those at that time in October 2019 and have continued along the way with that. So I got back to all my protocols and then the extra immunotherapies that were part of my protocol, and I was doing fantastically well. So in May of 2020, my oncologist wanted to get a new PET scan to see where I was. So I had the PET scan originally in April 2018. I mean, September 2018, with my diagnosis. Another one [in] June of 2019 that showed just lots and lots of cancer.
So this one I took on May 8, 2020, and that evening, my oncologist calls me at home and he says, “I want you to get your wife on speakerphone.” And I said sure, and he reads the report and the report says no signs of active cancer cells throughout your entire body. Now I’m saying, “George, read that again. Read that again.” Because no one expected me to survive. Even the immunotherapy drugs do not have that success rate. So I’m amazed, [and] my wife is amazed. And then, of course, I come back to Earth a little bit and we have some more blood work. And I know that there are certain malignant proteins that are still floating in my bloodstream from the malignant antibodies. Yes, they need to be cleared out. It may take time; it may take time for the rest of the cells to get eaten up by my immune system. But whatever is happening, there were no malignant cells on this PET scan, which is phenomenal. And I’m feeling fantastic. And here I am today.
Chris Kresser: That’s an amazing story. And we could talk all day about that. It’s such a fascinating topic and one that, cancer touches so many people’s lives. And the current treatments that are available, although they certainly, there [are] some new treatments that are becoming available that, I think, [are] much more promising than chemotherapy.
Al Danenberg: Yes.
How Your Gut Health Is Linked to Your Dental Health
Chris Kresser: But still what most people have access to is pretty disappointing. So thanks for sharing your story on that. I want to shift gears and use the last few minutes here to talk about just briefly reprising our previous show. We talked about the important connections between nutrition, the gut, and dental and periodontal health. And then this new initiative that you’re involved with that will hopefully increase the number of dental and periodontal professionals that understand this connection and know what to do about it.
Al Danenberg: Absolutely. So you know as well as anybody, because your program is just so centered around gut health, and then everything else emanates from that. And this is true. Gut dysbiosis is the central core, in my opinion, for all chronic disease. Maybe I can’t say all, but I will say 99 percent. And what happens in the gut is that the bacteria go out of balance for a variety of reasons, not just diet. It’s just chemicals and dirty electromagnetic fields and emotional stress and poor sleep and too much exercise, not enough exercise. All these things [wreak] havoc on the microbiome in the gut in different ways. And we can only have so much damage before our body gets overloaded.
So the gut bacteria get out of balance. For whatever reasons, [they’re] out of balance. Pathologic pathogenic species start to overwhelm. It affects the mucosal layer, it affects the epithelial barrier, which is only one cell layer thick, to the rest of the body. So, as we all know, the gut is a tube that is external to the body. And then once you get out of the lumen, and through the epithelial barrier, you’re into the circulatory system. So once junk starts to pass through, the bad bacteria, dead bacterial cells, lipopolysaccharides, a variety of things get into the blood system through these holes, openings, overly opened gates between the epithelial cells. Then your body creates, and the immune system creates, chronic or acute response and then chronic systemic inflammation, metabolic endotoxemia, [and] everything starts to go out of whack.
The immune system is so overwhelmed that if you do get an invader like, let’s say COVID[-19] virus, your body is so ill-equipped to deal with it. So this chronic systemic inflammation affects the rest of the organs throughout the body, and the mouth is one of the manifestations of the dysbiosis in the gut. And what happens is the mouth is made up of maybe 700 or so species of bacteria, give or take, and the dental plaque around the teeth is a biofilm, which is absolutely healthy until it’s not. Dental biofilm, dental plaque should be there and is always there, and we can look at primal ancestors’ skeletal jaw remains to see that there [are] many areas of calculus, which is just calcified dental plaque with no tooth decay or bone loss. So the dental plaque is a protective barrier. It actually does three things. It’s kind of the gatekeeper to make sure to allow minerals from the saliva that’s pouring out every day all the time to get into the tooth structure to remineralize the tooth as needed.
The dental plaque, because of the milieu of bacteria, creates a lot of varieties of hydrogen peroxide that literally kills off other invading pathogens that should not be there that will infect the root surface and the inner gum tissues. And in addition, it has buffers to maintain a pH that is above 5.5 so that the roots do not demineralize. Because you can’t get tooth decay unless you have acid that is more acidic than 5.5 for a length of time. So dental plaque has a huge benefit to play. But when the dysbiosis in the gut changes and creates damage to the epithelial barrier, dysfunctional immune system, chronic systemic inflammation, [and] LPs (lipopolysaccharide) is getting into the mouth as well as other mucous membranes, the bacteria in the mouth change into a dysbiosis in and of itself. So now you have unhealthy bacteria in the mouth creating gum inflammation, and the foods that we’re eating like sugars and sodas and a variety of grains and processed vegetable seed oil, all of this is inflammatory; it encourages these pathogenic bacteria to overgrow. [It] gets under the gum, creates inflammation, gets into the bone structure, and leaks into the bloodstream, just like a leaky gut leaks into the bloodstream in the gut.
So you have two niduses of infection now, and it becomes a vicious cycle. You have this nidus of infection under the gum tissue because it has gum infection from the gut dysbiosis, you have gut dysbiosis leaking into the system because of the leaky gut, and dentists know how to treat the mouth, but they have no idea about the gut. Functional Medicine guys know how to treat the gut, but they have no idea what’s going on in the mouth. And you can’t treat this disease until you treat all the niduses of infection. And you can have infection from any mucous membrane tissue. In the lung tissue, any mucous membrane can leak into the circulatory system. So the reason why the gut is critical [is that] it’s where all this disease starts.
But the mouth is critical because dentists are probably the only professional[s] who see a patient’s mouth all the time. And if they’re aware of disease and understand dysbiosis, they can identify dysbiosis because they see bleeding gum tissue in a variety of ways that they can diagnose that. And if you have bleeding gums, and actually there was a study that showed that almost 94 percent of the U.S. population has some form of gum inflammation, not serious, but some gum inflammation. The problem is, you should never have any gum inflammation. You should never ever have bleeding gums unless you literally tear the gum tissue.
So these people that have bleeding gums absolutely have some dysbiosis in the gut, some compromised immune system and some epithelial barrier dysfunction, and that needs to be treated along with the mouth.
Chris Kresser: What about the, we talked about this a little bit on the last show, but just briefly, there’s the idea that the issues in the mouth may be driving dysbiosis in the gut microbiome. And I know that you’re not a fan of that hypothesis.
Al Danenberg: That’s true, though. But that’s the vicious cycle now.
Chris Kresser: Yeah.
Al Danenberg: So I believe there was a study that was just published and I think that there was a real[ly] bad system. What they did [was] they tested mice and they put Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. gingivalis), which is a very virulent bacteria causing periodontitis, into the mice mouths, and they made them swallow this. And [it] got into their gut and it caused gut dysbiosis, whatever. The only problem is, the human stomach has a pH of one. The mouse stomach has a pH of around four, three to four. So when you have bacteria that go into an acid environment, a pH of three and four, [they] may live, but [they don’t] live in an acid environment in the human stomach, a pH of one. So there is communication. Absolutely.
Because all mucous membrane communicates, and bacteria communicate and crosstalk in a way that we probably don’t understand. Because I think they use frequencies as well as chemical interventions and have this discussion among themselves of what’s going on. I do believe once you have [an] infection in the mouth, you’ve already got some damage in the gut as well as the immune system. And then you will have crosstalk and it will go back and forth. Absolutely. But I don’t think that the mouth initiates the infection. And the main reason I believe that is because there are great studies, human studies, double-blind studies, where the only thing that has been changed is the diet. And once the diet is changed, the gum inflammation goes away. And if it were just the inflammation in the mouth that’s causing the gut dysbiosis, the diet should have relatively nothing to do with it.
How to Get Certified in Biological Nutritional Dentistry
Chris Kresser: Right. So, with that in mind, tell us a little bit more about the program and who it’s for, and how you are setting it up.
Al Danenberg: So this program, the International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine is an organization that obviously supports biological dentists. And the International Academy, actually, and I got together; they put me as head chair for periodontics for their organization. And they talk[ed] about me getting involved and I thought, what would really be smart is if we could design a program, a certification program for dentists, dental hygienists, [and] dental staff people to learn not just biological dentistry, but biological nutritional dentistry. The understanding of the relationship of nutrition and the biology of the human body, because the dentist is literally the first person to diagnose a lot of systemic problems in the mouth because the mouth is a mirror to most systemic diseases.
So I literally wrote and created this program. It’s four one-and-a-half-hour series of lectures on this topic. And there is a 50-question final exam. And when the individuals go through the program and satisfactorily pass the exam, they will become certified and the certification is called a Certified Biological Nutritional Dental Professional. And it’s the only certification of its kind in the world. This is the first and it’s very exciting, and it’s based on the things that you and I have just been speaking about. But the main concerns [are] we need to correct the diet, we need to correct the gut microbiome, and we need to enhance an immune system so that it does everything it’s supposed to do to fight off infection and maintain the rest of the body’s microbiome, because the entire microbiome talks among itself. And all the microbiome actually communicates with the immune system to create the innate and the adaptive reactions for the immune system. It’s an amazing, amazing complex structure. I wish I was smart enough to have created it, but I wasn’t.
Chris Kresser: If folks who are listening are dental professionals, where can they learn more about it?
Al Danenberg: Well, certainly, they can contact me if they need to. Contact me at DrDanenberg.com. My email, they can just email me at [email protected] But the IABDM.org is the organization that they can contact for the course itself. And they are just getting started with marketing the course. Everything was pre-recorded and edited. And I believe everything is ready to go. So the program is out there for those to look into it.
Chris Kresser: Cool. Well, this has been such a great conversation, Al. It’s always a pleasure to speak with you. Congratulations on your recovery and also on this new program. And can you let people know where they can find out more about your work if they’d like to follow what’s next?
Al Danenberg: Sure. So I write blog posts, and I post them every Monday, generally, on my website. So it kind of gives you an idea of what I’m thinking and certainly my cancer progression because I’ve outlined my cancer journey from the day I was diagnosed in 2018. And that would be DrDanenberg.com, which would be spelled D-r-D-a-n-e-n-b-e-r-g dot com. If you want to contact me through the website, just go to the Contact tab on the navigation bar and write what you want to write. It comes to me via email, and I respond to all my emails. So it’s not a problem.
The book that I wrote, which [is] called Crazy-Good Living!, was actually published by Elektra Press a year before I was diagnosed with cancer. So it was published in September 2017. And it talks about the concept of the gut being critical and oral hygiene and dental disease and chronic disease and all the other factors that affect the gut, like stress and exercise and sleep habits.
Chris Kresser: Cool. Well, thanks again, Dr. Al. Again, pleasure to speak with you.
Al Danenberg: Well, thank you for the opportunity. It’s always good to talk to you, Chris.
Chris Kresser: And good luck on the next steps of your journey, and we’ll be following you as usual and look forward to part three.
Al Danenberg: Thank you. Appreciate it. Have a great day.
Chris Kresser: Okay, everybody, thanks for listening. Please keep sending your questions in to ChrisKresser.com/podcastquestion, and we’ll talk to you next time.