Healing Yourself from Within, with Conscious Oncologist Dr. Katie Deming

In this episode, we discuss:

Deming’s background and journey beyond conventional oncology
Genetics vs. environmental factors of cancer
The role of emotional trauma in cancer and illness
The mysteries and secret life of water
Placebo and nocebo effects in healing

Show notes:

Hey, everybody, Chris Kresser here. Welcome to another episode of Revolution Health Radio. This week, I’m very excited to welcome Dr. Katie Deming as my guest. She is a radiation oncologist, inventor, and TEDx speaker who’s transcending the boundaries of conventional integrative medicine to evolve the current paradigm of disease prevention, treatment, and healing. She blends conventional medicine with holistic practices and ancient wisdom to address the hidden roots of disease and activate the body’s innate capacity to heal.
This was a fascinating conversation that spanned everything from integrative and holistic approaches to what causes cancer and how to treat it, the placebo and nocebo effect, the role of the structure and form of water in cancer and disease ideology, how little progress we’ve made in the in the “war against cancer” and how that perspective and way of framing it perhaps even contributes to its perpetuation, the role of fear and trauma and other emotional states in the pathogenesis of disease and cancer, and so many other topics. It was really a wide-ranging conversation and, depending on your perspective, might require an open mind to take in some of what she shares. But I really appreciated that about it.
There’s so much that we can appreciate about the contribution of allopathic, Western medicine, and yet there are many questions that it hasn’t answered. For me, it’s important to keep an open mind and continue to explore avenues, even if they’re outside of that paradigm of Western, allopathic medicine. So I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did. Let’s dive in.
Chris Kresser:  Dr. Katie Deming, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show. Welcome.
Katie Deming:  Thank you, Chris. It’s my pleasure to be here.
Chris Kresser:  I’m really looking forward to this conversation because I think in the conventional medical world, or in the medical world in general, let’s say, there are a lot of areas of medicine where I think functional and integrative approaches have made significant headway and are talked about fairly regularly. It seems to me that while there certainly has been some progress made in the world of cancer, it’s been perhaps slower than we might hope. And I think part of it is that it’s a potentially very serious and life-threatening diagnosis, and in the face of that, both doctors and patients tend to understandably revert to something that they feel is maybe safer, or more proven, or something like that. Whereas if you’re just trying to treat toenail fungus or something like that, you might be a little more willing to use an alternative treatment and experiment with [it], because your life is not at stake.
So, yeah, I’m excited about this conversation. And I would love to understand a little bit more about your background and how you expanded beyond the borders of your conventional oncology training and came to this current place that you’re in now.
Dr. Deming’s Early Career and Journey into Oncology
Katie Deming:  Yeah, sure. So I am a radiation oncologist. That’s my training. I trained at Duke University and practiced radiation oncology for 20 years—16 years of practice and four years of training in radiation oncology. I also was a healthcare leader within cancer care. I designed and led a large-scale cancer program end-to-end for one of the largest healthcare organizations in the United States. So that was my background, and I believed in the system and really believed in what I was doing in Western medicine. But in 2020, I was at [what] I would say [was] the height of my career. I had just been nominated to be the National Medical Director for all of cancer care for this organization and had made it up to the number two spot. Another woman who was a researcher ended up receiving the position, but immediately after that interview process, I had an experience. It was much like what you would describe as a near-death experience. And after that, I knew what I was doing was wrong. I just knew everything that I had been taught and how I had been trained to heal was not true healing.
And the hard part about that experience was that I didn’t know what the right way was. I just knew what wasn’t right. So it was a process, but I took some time to make the decision and ultimately ended up leaving Western medicine in the summer of 2022 to explore how [it is] that we heal cancer. In medical school, I had been trained all about illness. We’re taught the organs of the body and the systems from a pathologic standpoint. Everything we learn is from a dysfunction of the system, rather than what’s the optimal function of the system. So that’s really [how] I’ve spent my time from 2020 until now, studying everything I can about what creates actual healing in the body [and] what creates optimal health. Because I figured I understood the disease process really well, or at least I thought I did, but I wanted to understand, how does healing occur? And how do we create optimal health in the body?
So I’ve spent the past couple of years really diving into that, and that is what now informs my practice. The interesting thing is I don’t think cancer is that different from other illnesses, in fact. They all stem from similar issues that we are doing as a society that we think [are] okay, but [are] in truth eroding our health. Cancer is just one of the conditions that results from this way of life that we’ve adopted. So [I’m] really focusing on that, and, of course, still like to care for people with cancer, but I’m realizing that the principles I’ve learned are universal and really can help people heal from many different things.
Genetic vs. Environmental Factors of Cancer
Chris Kresser:  What do you think, if you’ve looked into this in any depth, [the] split is with genetic and environmental causes with cancer? And this differs from disease to disease. Some diseases or conditions, like schizophrenia, for example, are known to have a very significant genetic contribution. It doesn’t mean that if you have the genes you’ll develop it. But they’ve done studies of identical twins, and there are ways of determining what the relative contribution of genes is. I know, just overall, the statistics I’ve seen for chronic illness are that 90 percent of chronic illness is determined by environment rather than genes. But then, within that overall umbrella, it differs quite a bit from condition to condition. And I’ve wondered about this with cancer because, of course, we have situations where very young children get cancer, and they haven’t been alive long enough to really be able to blame lifestyle factors, although in some cases, it could be something like heavy metal toxicity or other factors. But it’s hard to reconcile that with a very young child getting cancer. So I’m curious about your take on that, the relative contribution of environment and genes with cancer.
Katie Deming:  Yeah, well, the way that we’re trained in oncology is to think that it all is related to mutations in the DNA, which would make you think that the percentage would be quite high of cancers that are genetically related. But I’ll give an example from my specialty. I specialized in breast cancer when I was working in oncology, and we know that only five to 10 percent of breast cancers are genetically related. The other 90 percent we say are sporadic, which means we have no idea what causes them. And this is actually part of what was disconcerting for me, is how 90 percent of the time, we say we have no idea why you have cancer, but yet we’re told this is all related to mutations in the DNA. So it’s similar to what you just described; 90 percent are related to environmental factors and, really, how we’re living. It’s not just toxins in our environment. It’s what we’re eating; it’s how we’re choosing to live. Also, emotional trauma. There are studies that show—the [CDC-Kaiser Permanente adverse childhood experiences (ACE)] study is an example; I’m not sure if you’ve ever spoken about the ACE study on your show—but basically, [it] shows that children who have emotional trauma have a higher risk of developing illness. So our environment is a lot more than just the food we eat or the toxic chemicals in our environment.
So 90 percent is environmental, and only 10 percent is genetic. But you brought up an interesting question about babies [and] children. And on the surface level, it seems difficult to reconcile. They haven’t been alive long enough to have accumulated environmental damage. But they have—they’ve been in the mother’s womb, who is experiencing potentially emotional trauma, stress, all of the things, what she’s eating. And even if she’s eating well during the pregnancy, the things that she’s been exposed to in her life are passed to the baby, as well. So I think we can look at that and see that even the babies or children who have cancer, it’s likely related to our environment. We just think of it as [their time] outside the womb, but their whole life, up until the time that they’re born, has been an exposure.
Chris Kresser:  Well, there’s also the contribution of epigenetics to consider. We know that epigenetic modifications can be passed down at least two generations, possibly longer than that. So even going back to grandma and grandpa could have been exposed to something or had significant emotional and psychological trauma that altered the gene expression. It’s not that the underlying genes themselves change, but the expression of those genes change[s] in a way that affects the child, of course even without any of these other influences that we’re talking about. So that’s, to me, something that plausibly answers that question, too. Because it’s something that unifies or pulls together genes and environmental factors in an inheritable fashion, in a way that can be just passed down from one generation to the next.
Katie Deming:  Absolutely.
The Role of Emotional Trauma in Cancer and Illness
Chris Kresser:  In your exploration of all of this, integrating science with ancient wisdom, spirituality, emotional and psychological factors, I know you have become fascinated by the contribution of water, and particularly the structure and form of water in ourselves, the quality of water that we consume, and then even, we might say, the consciousness of water within our bodies. I know you have mentioned Veda Austin’s work, which is quite fascinating to me, so I want to talk a little bit about that. But before we go on to that, what’s your take on the type C personality and the contribution of that? This idea, for listeners who aren’t familiar, everyone’s heard of type A personality—driven to achieve and succeed at all costs and [with a] very high level of stress and sympathetic arousal. Type C is often referred to as somebody who tends to hold their emotions inside and not express them, or have difficulty expressing them, [and] difficulty asking for help. Do you think there’s anything to that? Have you, both in terms of the scientific literature or any research that’s been done on that or in your experience as an oncologist, have you noticed a pattern there?
Katie Deming:  Yeah, well, I think that this is an interesting conversation because this is actually what I see in my current practice. I can’t say from my practice before that I knew that this was an issue. But what we see commonly is that people who have cancer are suppressing emotions and pushing down what they really think, what they really believe, and have problems with boundaries, and basically are the ones who are the pleasers. They’re doing what everyone wants them to do. And particularly, in my breast cancer practice, I saw a lot of that. I just didn’t know why these women tend to be the ones who are pushing down their own needs and their own emotions. But now, as I understand the role of emotions in illness better, it makes sense because basically, they’re pushing down and then holding these emotions, which are a frequency in their body that ultimately [is] affecting the functioning of their cells. And so, for sure, this is part of the, I think all illness is related to our emotional well-being, as well. If you look at the radical remission data from Kelly Turner, she basically studies people who have cured themselves of their illness without what we would consider appropriate treatment, and what [she] found is that there are nine factors that these people [have] in common. So it’s not causation. We don’t know that these are the things that cause them to cure themselves, but they’re common among all these people. And two of the things are related to emotions. One is releasing trapped emotions, or emotions related to past trauma, and the other is fostering or facilitating more positive emotions and helping people move out of negative emotional states. So, [for] people who are suppressing their emotions, even though on the surface, it may look like they’re coping well, they’re carrying that in their body and it has a physical imprint and effect.
Chris Kresser:  Yeah, I mean, I’ve had several conversations with patients in my own practice. I, of course, don’t treat cancer, but I’ve seen many patients who have cancer that we’re providing adjunctive support for. And [they’re] patients who, through their own research and even sometimes just self-reflection and awareness, have identified that pattern in themselves.
I think the challenging thing for a lot of these folks, and even for me as a clinician just sitting with them, is walking the line between recognizing that and taking ownership of it and taking responsibility for it, and sliding into blame, guilt, and shame and self-incrimination and this idea of like, “This is my fault; I made myself sick. I’m to blame for this.” And that, of course, can interfere with the recovery process because it just perpetuates the cycle. So I’ve found that it’s a very delicate line to tread in discussing that with patients and even introducing that as a concept because, understandably, their defenses can go right up with any suggestion that they might have played a role unconsciously or unwittingly in that disease process. So how have you approached that with patients? Or have you noticed that same thing?
Katie Deming:  Yes. Yeah, absolutely. So this is one of the things that I’ve noticed as I talk about emotions is people worry that I’m saying they caused their illness. And absolutely not, that is not what I’m saying or I think any other practitioner [is saying]. It’s just recognizing that our emotions are related to our physical health and that we’re all exposed to emotional trauma. If you look at the world around us, just even, let’s just look at the past few years since 2020. As a collective, we’ve experienced an emotional trauma from everything we’ve been through. So it’s not that something’s wrong with you; it’s that you’re a human being, and humans are emotional beings. And the way we cope with emotions is basically ruled by our subconscious. We’re programmed between ages zero and eight, our subconscious mind is, with the things that we see. And we don’t know good from bad in the subconscious mind. It just records it, and then we’re programmed with those patterns. And what happens is that you may not even be aware that you’re doing some of these things emotionally, like suppressing or holding negative emotions.
So a lot of the work I do with clients around emotional trauma or helping with suppressed emotions is actually subconscious work. I have a couple [of] providers who do different types of subconscious work. PSYCH-K is one of them. Bruce Lipton talks a lot about that particular modality, and that can be quite effective. So I think part of this is just normalizing. There’s nothing wrong with you. All of us have emotional trauma [and] emotional things that can be healed. But I see it as an opportunity, like look, there’s more than just the physical stuff. There [are] these other pieces that, if you’re willing to go there, can impact your physical health in ways that you may not have thought possible. And there are ways to do it without having to talk and bring up the trauma and really re-traumatize people. So that’s the way I’m approaching it in my practice. But you’re absolutely right, that it can be a tricky line to walk. And I think my approach is really just having compassion and saying, “This is just part of the human experience for all of us.”
Chris Kresser:  Yeah, absolutely. I think those are two ways that I look at it, as well. One is [that] this word “responsibility” is interesting if you break it down. It means the ability to respond. Whereas I think [with] responsibility, the general connotation is like, “It’s my fault.” If someone says I’m responsible for this, it’s my fault, my obligation. But really, the root of the word is ability to respond. So it means acknowledging what is and then responding in an appropriate way in that moment, which doesn’t need to include blame and shame and all of the other stuff that tends to go along with it. The other part is just recognizing, as I think [you] just alluded to, that none of us exist in a vacuum. We’re part of a system, and that system influences us in many different ways, some of which we have control over and many of which we don’t. From all of our early in utero influences that you mentioned before, like what was happening with mom when we were in the womb, to very early childhood influences, to environmental exposures to toxins, the food we were fed when we were growing up, even how we learned to process our own emotions, generally comes from that early childhood developmental environment and is not something that we really had a say in or control over. Whether or not we were victims of abuse—emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, whatever. When you put all that together, it doesn’t mean that we can’t take responsibility only for what happened and respond to it in an appropriate way, but it does mean we’re not to blame for all of those influences and how they might have impacted our health.
So, in conversations like this, it’s important to me to put this all out there because I want people to understand where we’re coming from. Not the place of, “Yeah, if you have cancer, it’s your fault because you did something wrong.” It’s unfortunately all too easy to hear that, but that’s not at all what we’re saying.
Katie Deming:  Absolutely.
The Mysteries and Secret Life of Water
Chris Kresser:  So let’s talk about water. I think a lot of people will be surprised, if they’re not familiar with Veda Austin’s work or similar work, that this is entering into the conversation at this point around cancer. I’m really excited because I don’t think I’ve ever talked about it on my show. I’m looking forward to it.

Discover a new perspective on cancer care with Dr. Katie Deming in this episode of Revolution Health Radio. We delve into holistic healing, the power of the mind-body connection, and much more. #chriskresser #cancer

Katie Deming:  Oh, I love that. Okay, so I’m going to back up just a little bit and explain how I came across it so that you can understand how this has become really an important part of my work. When I left conventional medicine and I was looking into all these different ways of healing and how to create optimal health in the body, I realized that any approach to healing and restoring health in the body really required four components. You need the physical part, which we know is what most of us think you need to do—what you’re eating, what you’re doing with your body, what you’re putting in it. But the other parts were that you needed to have emotional and mental and spiritual components to the healing. And that became just really clear to me, that it needed to be this holistic approach. But I didn’t totally understand why. I mean, I understand that we’re human beings and we’re not just machines, so it made sense that you needed these other parts, but the science [wasn’t there] that could have helped me unify this and understand why we needed these different components.
I’ll tell you a story, and I think you’ll appreciate this because you’re a mountain biker, right? Me leaving Western medicine actually resulted in my divorce because my husband wasn’t on board with that, and that’s part of why it took me a couple of years to make that decision. Recently, I was dating a gentleman who had been a professional cyclist. He’s now retired, and he had heart failure when he was 50. He was still racing, actually, at the time he had heart failure. The month before he was diagnosed with heart failure, he won the state championship for Georgia as a master, [which is] age 35 and older, and also in the pro 1.2 category. And then a month later, he was diagnosed with heart failure to the point where his ejection fraction was 15 percent. Which, for your listeners, a person with an ejection fraction of 15 percent usually can’t get out of bed and walk to the bathroom, and basically could die at any moment, let alone [walk] to the mailbox. And I, for the life of me, could not understand how someone [could] be racing a bike and winning professional races in heart failure at this level. I just couldn’t reconcile it in my brain. And I came across Tom Cowan. I had seen a keynote of his, so I went to his website just to look at what else he had. Dr. Tom Cowan is a medical doctor who is quite well-known in the COVID era. But when I went to his website, what caught my attention [was] that he had a book called Human Heart, Cosmic Heart. And the first thing that was written about the book was that the heart is not a pump. And I was like, oh, my goodness, I’ve got to read this, because maybe it explains why Steve could have been cycling and racing at this high level, and the only symptom that he had was maybe a little bit of shortness of breath when he pushed himself past 100 percent, which, who wouldn’t be short of breath, right? But no other symptoms.
As I read this book, what Dr. Cowan describes is that the circulation of the blood is not related to the heart as a pumping mechanism, but rather related to the fourth phase of water. The fourth phase of water is something that has been described by Professor Jerry Pollack [from] the University of Washington, and I’ll describe the experiment to give your listeners a concept of this. Basically, you imagine a beaker of water, just like a big bucket of water, and in the bucket of water, they had a tube. Imagine a test tube that’s open on either side so water can flow through it, and they suspended this tube in the water. And what they found was that the water started moving through the tube, like, there’s a whole bucket full of water, but in this tube, the water started moving in one direction. Then they took the bucket and put [it] in a lead box. And when they put it in the lead box, the water didn’t flow. Then they brought it out, and again, the water was flowing. And they’re like, “What is going on here? There’s no energy source that we can see. It’s not like a battery [is] attached to this water. Why is it moving in one direction?” Dr. Pollack’s work, his whole life’s work, is really about this—what he describes as the fourth phase of water. What’s happening is the test tube is a hydrophilic surface, which means it’s water loving. Hydrophilic means water loving. And a lining of structured water, which is more like a crystalline form of water, lines that test tube, and it actually creates a charge differential between the rest of the water. So then the water starts moving.
His research explains that we think of three phases of water—liquid, which [is] just regular water we would think about, ice as a solid, and steam as a vapor. But what he describes is that there’s this fourth phase of water that occurs and has really unique properties. It’s more like a crystalline form. It’s almost like a Jello-like form. And in Dr. Cowan’s book, the heart book that I was describing, Human Heart, Cosmic Heart, [he] explains [that] this is how our blood moves through the circulatory system. It’s actually a differential between this fourth phase of structured water that lines the blood vessels and the blood that is flowing as a liquid. There’s [a] charge differential that is allowing the blood to flow through our circulatory system. And this makes so much sense physiologically, although it goes against everything that I had been taught. But we think about the heart, if the heart was really responsible for pumping the blood through the body, then basically, the heart pumps the blood through the aorta, into the arteries, and then to the capillaries, where it slows down—almost stops—to release oxygen into the tissues and absorb CO2, and then comes back up to the heart. But if the heart is the pump, how does it go from stopped in the capillaries to moving again back up to the heart? And so, when I started to understand this, the fourth phase of water, it made so much sense from a physiological standpoint. It also explained this phenomenon that I was seeing that didn’t make any sense to me in Steve, who was functioning at such a high level with heart failure. Now it was like, okay, I can see how that could happen, because the water can still allow the blood to move through the circulatory system.
Tom Cowan also has another book that’s called Cancer and the New Biology of Water, and that’s where I started to put it together with cancer and water. What he describes is that, in the cells of our body, our bodies create this structured water within our cells. That is the optimal structure of the water, and when the water is structured, it allows for the proper functioning of our cells. A very healthy cell would be one that has the structured water within it. And this ties to metabolism. It turns out that [adenosine triphosphate] (ATP) is related to the structuring of the water in our cells. When you have mitochondria that aren’t functioning properly, which, everyone’s talking about mitochondria now, right? Mitochondria are really the foundation of our health. Mitochondria are responsible for creating ATP, and ATP is responsible for the structuring of the water in our cells. When we don’t have enough ATP production, either because the mitochondria aren’t functioning properly, or we don’t have the proper nutrients, or we have toxins in our cells, the structured water starts to diminish in the cell, and the cells become hard. They lose their charge. Normally, cells have a nice negative charge across them. And this is really what cancer is. Those cells start using a different form of metabolism from the normal oxidative phosphorylation used by the mitochondria, and they start doing anaerobic glycolysis. That’s why cancer is pulling sugar from everywhere it can, because it literally can only use glucose and anaerobic glycolysis. Also anaerobic glycolysis creates much less, I think 1/9th, of the ATP of normal oxidative phosphorylation. So it’s basically pulling it, [and] it becomes a parasite [in] the body.
When I read this, I was like, “This makes so much sense for everything that I know physiologically about cancer.” And then, I started thinking, “Well, what about the emotional component? What about the mental component?” And this is where Veda Austin’s work comes in. Veda Austin does water crystallography and posts beautiful photos on her Instagram and other sites showing that consciousness [and] our thoughts can be recorded in water. Water has memory and is alive. And so, our thoughts are important. This is why the mental component of healing is so important because our thoughts impact the ability of the water to structure. If we’re holding thoughts that are negative, it can disrupt that structure of the water in its optimal form.
Chris Kresser:  Can you give some examples of Veda’s work? Because that’s really quite fascinating, and I think it will help people understand what you’re talking about a little bit more. Like what she actually does with water, and then what the results are.

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Katie Deming:  Yeah. She takes water and freezes it to see the crystallography of what the structure of the water looks like. One of the posts I saw recently was a pregnant woman who was about to get an ultrasound of her baby. She took a sip of water from a glass, and then Veda froze that water. And what Veda posted was a photo of the crystallography of the water alongside the ultrasound photo of the woman’s baby, and basically they look the same. This woman, the water that she drank before having that ultrasound and thinking about her baby, created a picture of the baby in the water. So that’s one example.
I think another body of work that’s important to mention in this is [Masaru] Emoto’s work.  Emoto was a Japanese scientist who studied the effects of emotions on water, and one of the things he found was [that] if you express loving words on water, it would show a beautiful snowflake-like pattern. Beautiful crystallography. But if you said hateful things to the water, it showed a very disorganized structure. He also found that classical music showed a beautiful crystalline structure, whereas heavy metal [music] created this distorted structure. And Veda, in this post, talks about how her son was saying, “Gosh, does water not like me? Because it only likes classical music.” And she said, “Well, I don’t know [if] that’s true. Let’s see.” So he played a song, I think it was [by] Tupac. I can’t remember what it was, but it was a rap song, and it was something about “I see,” and then they froze the water after playing the song, and the crystallography showed an eye.
Chris Kresser:  Yeah, amazing. I know she’s also put a petri dish of water next to her bed at night and then frozen it in the morning to find pictures in the water of images from dreams that she’s had.
So this is probably a good point to pause and say [that] a lot of what we’re talking about exists outside of the realm of [the] current Western paradigm of understanding science, which I have deep respect for. I imagine you do, as well, from your conventional training. There’s a lot of things to admire about allopathic Western science and a lot of things it gets right and a lot of contributions that it’s made. I’ll often say [that] if I get hit by a bus, I definitely want to be taken to the hospital. LASIK surgery is pretty amazing. The advances, antibiotics and other things, of course, have not been without their downsides and negative consequences, but I think it’s very safe to say that Western allopathic medicine has improved our lives in numerous ways and that peer-reviewed published research is a valuable piece of that equation, verifying results and doing it in that particular way.
For me, personally, [and] I imagine for you, as well, given the transition that you’ve made, it doesn’t answer all [the] questions. There are lots of things that we don’t understand through that lens, or [which] that lens has not yet been able to explain. And I like to keep an open mind about that and say, “Huh, that’s interesting. That doesn’t really fit into my current, existing mental map or paradigm.” So either that map is not correct yet, or not complete, or there’s perhaps this thing that I’m looking [at, and] there’s nothing to it. But I’m curious how you have reconciled that in your own journey, as you’ve made this transition from exclusively or mostly allopathic radiation oncologist to someone who’s looking at the structure of water. I imagine, [and] it sounds like your former husband was one, [that there were] others who were not able to make that transition with you. I’m curious how you are working with that, how you look at that?
Katie Deming:  Yeah. Well, I think this comes back to that experience that I had in 2020. People who have near-death experiences and see what’s beyond this often come back with very different perspectives, and there are two things that I really had conviction of when I experienced that. The first one was that I knew there was something wrong. I had a sense, like, I had this [unease] about my practice for a couple [of] years where I was like, “Something’s just not quite right.” And I was frustrated because [it] felt like [this] parable of a river where they describe [a] village along the river. One day, the villagers saw [a] body floating in the river, and they quickly went out and rescued it. Then the next day, there were two bodies, and they went out and rescued those. And every day, there was, like, double the amount of bodies. So this village by the river became very organized, and they had rescue teams and all of these boats, and this very complicated system of rescuing. And the village elders were praising the village people for doing such a good job rescuing these people out of the river.
I heard this at a meditation retreat, probably in like 2016 or something. I was like, this is Western medicine. We’re just lifting people out of the river. But what is happening upstream? And also, why aren’t we helping them when they get to dry land to make sure they don’t fall in again? So I had this sense that something was wrong. But that experience made me realize something really is wrong, [and] I don’t know what the solution is. The other thing, and this comes from that experience, but also [from] having cared for 5000 patients in my career. About 40 percent of my practice was palliative, which means people die. So I’ve been around a lot of death. And I know that when people get close to the end, they say things like, “I wish I had just been true to who I was. I wish I had listened to that voice inside.” So, both from my experience of crossing over, but then also from having been around so much death, I knew that I would regret at the end of my life if I didn’t figure out what this was about and listen to that voice inside of me that was saying, “Something’s not right here.”
I’m a deeply curious person. And since leaving Western medicine, I’ve just decided, you know what? I don’t know what’s right. But I want to learn everything that I can. So I’m wide open in exploring all things because I have nothing to defend. I actually think my move of leaving Western medicine completely was a gift because it allowed me to be open to other possibilities that I probably wouldn’t have been able to see if I was really tied into that structure and my safety and security relied on it.
Chris Kresser:  And [your] reputation, and the way you’re perceived amongst your peers, and all of that.
Katie Deming:  Absolutely.
Chris Kresser:  I know Tom Cowan. He’s been on the show, and I’ve known him for many years. I lived in the Bay Area, and he was actually our family physician for a number of years. And I saw him, I mean, he was always certainly on the periphery as an anthroposophic physician. That’s not a typical conventional paradigm. But when he retired as an MD, that’s when he was really able to start exploring some of his passions and interests in a much deeper and more public way, I think because he no longer had to be concerned about the medical board and how they would view his ideas and theories. So he became free of that structure, and it allowed him to really branch out in a different way. I’ve seen that in a lot of different cases. So, yeah, I love that.
Placebo and Nocebo Effects in Healing
Chris Kresser: I mean, interestingly enough, [I] was initially trained in the alternative medical world but also had a deep appreciation for Western science and what it could contribute. But I’ve never lost, of course, that broader understanding and worldview. In fact, when I was in school, I wrote my graduate paper on the placebo effect, which was absolutely fascinating and still, to this day, is one of my biggest interests. I now call [it] the self-healing effect because I think placebo is a derogatory term that’s used by drug companies to diminish the true impact that the power of belief and relationship can bring in a clinical interaction. So I’m curious how that plays in for you. As someone who’s worked with cancer patients through both the conventional lens and now this different lens, what have you noticed as far as the contribution of even the relationship between the clinician and the patient? And then the patient’s own belief system, and perhaps their fears [and] their trauma, which you already kind of alluded to? Even the word cancer and the diagnosis itself can have such a powerful effect. I read studies when I was writing that paper on the nocebo effect that the cancer diagnosis itself can have [an effect]. And I remember one—I’ll just say it briefly, and I’m not going to get it perfectly right. It’s been many years now. But it was a guy who initially was diagnosed, I think it was with cancer, and he was doing poorly. Then the doctor called him up a few weeks later and said, “Oh, no, actually, I’m so sorry; those were not your results. We made a mistake. You actually don’t have cancer.” And he recovered completely—no longer sick, didn’t have any of the signs or symptoms of cancer. And then something like a few months passed, and they figured out that, oops, [they] actually [were] his results. They called him back, said, “You do have cancer, in fact. I’m so sorry.” Then all the symptoms returned, and I think he ended up dying. It’s almost unbelievable, in a way, if you’re looking at it from that conventional allopathic lens. But it always stayed with me as a perhaps extreme example of the placebo and nocebo effect, or just the contribution of our beliefs to our physical and physiological state.
Katie Deming:  Yeah, absolutely. I think that that story is in Bruce Lipton’s book, The Biology of Belief, because that sounds very familiar, and I think I read it there, as well. But, absolutely, what people believe about their illness, or just what they believe about their bodies in general, impacts what is manifested and seen clinically. I saw [this] in my practice, and [it] was part of [starting] my Born to Heal podcast back in 2020. And at first, I was just putting out stuff like this, things that I was seeing in my clinic. I’ll just give you an example. There was a woman, this was early in my career, and she had head and neck cancer, which was the worst type of radiation we give. Chemo and radiation for head and neck cancer is brutal. That [consultation is] like 90 minutes or 60 minutes, [and] I’m going over side effects associated with the treatment. And she was so sweet. She was like, “Dr. Deming, I know you believe all of that, and I know that’s what you see with most of your patients, but I’m telling you, that’s not going to happen to me.” And I was like, “Oh, you’re so sweet. As long as you heard me, that’s fine if you want to believe that, whatever.” And I was just kind of thinking in my mind [that] maybe she’s in denial.
Then she went on to defy every expectation that I had about her during her treatment. She would have those side effects, but she would have them like three weeks later than I would have expected them to occur in the treatment, and they would be way less. She just had this amazing, amazing experience with her radiation that should have been horrific. And she saw it as a gift the whole time. She kept telling me, “God’s with me, and you work for God.” She just had this belief that was unshakable, and I would never, never forget her. Then I would have patients who had stage zero breast cancer and really should have had no side effects associated with the treatment. And when they [came] in, they would tell me, “I’m the one who has all the bad side effects. I’m always in that one percent that’s going to have the things that you don’t expect.” Sure enough, they would be having worse side effects than someone who was having way worse treatment. So I saw this clinically, that what people believed and were convicted about their bodies and how their bodies were going to respond to the treatments actually bore out in their clinical results. I definitely saw [that].
For a long time as a radiation oncologist, I didn’t ever love radiation. I went into it because I love the patients, and I love that intimate interaction of being with people at a time that’s so real, because cancer is so scary and it’s so intimate. But for a long time, I was like, “Gosh, I don’t really love radiation.” But I realized that what I was doing for the patients was way more than the treatment that I was giving, and there [are] studies that show this—that patients who like their hospitalists have better results, have shorter hospital stays, less complications, and better outcomes. Also there was a recent one with female surgeons, and I’m not dissing my male colleagues, but women tend to have a little bit more nurturing effect, and there was a study about women surgeons having better outcomes, even though technically, the skill level is the same. And I think that there is this piece of connecting [with] and trusting your doctor. Also, I believe, [and] this is also in the placebo data, that what the doctor believes about what’s going to happen for the patient can impact the outcomes. Studies show that if the doctor thought that the treatment was going to work, even if it was a placebo, that patient had an effect. So I always remember that when I’m with clients, to say what I believe and [that] how I make them feel is just as important as any intervention we do.
Chris Kresser:  Yeah, so true. I’m familiar with those studies and the work of Ted Kaptchuk, who has a fascinating career. He was originally trained in Chinese medicine, then he ended up at Harvard doing placebo research, and he’s done a lot of great work in this area. There are a few studies that stand out to me. One is, [and] you’ve probably heard of this study, a sham surgery study of people with severe osteoarthritis. They separated them into two groups, and in one group, they performed the actual surgery, [and] in the other group, they just did the incision and did some lavage, washed it out, and closed it up, and compared the results of those two groups. And they were basically the same. The group that didn’t have the surgery had almost identical results. I think there was a 60 Minutes or some kind of TV program showing this guy who could literally barely walk before he had the surgery, and then [he was] outside playing basketball after the surgery. But it wasn’t a surgery. It was just an incision and the lavage that he received.
I’ve seen a study, to your last point, where all they did was split patients into two groups. It was the same doctor or doctors, and for one group, they asked the doctor to be very curt. Just go in the room, only say a few words, [and] not be very friendly or warm. Just [stare] down at the clipboard. This was before [electronic health records] and computers, which is probably even worse now. [But] not really engage or make a connection with the patient at all. And then [with] the other group, the doctor was very warm and really made an effort to make eye contact and connect with the patient. They followed the patients for some period of time, and guess what? No big surprise, the patients who had the warm and kind interaction with doctors fared much better than the patients who had the curt interaction.
And then the last one, which is, again, almost unbelievable if you haven’t seen all of the other research, was out of Japan [and] was a group of teenage or high school students [who] had a pretty severe poison ivy allergy. They blindfolded them and rubbed one arm with poison ivy and the other arm with an oak leaf or something totally benign. But they told them the opposite. They said, we’re rubbing this arm with oak leaf, and it was actually poison ivy, and then they told them the opposite on the other arm. And many of them broke out on the arm that was rubbed with the oak leaf and didn’t break out on the arm that was rubbed with poison ivy.
And these are all, by the way, published, peer-reviewed studies that you can find in scientific literature. So [placebo research] is an area that’s, for me, fascinating, because it sort of intersected. These were all published, incredible, peer-reviewed journals using the gold-standard scientific methods of the day. And yet, they point to something that cannot fully be explained using the allopathic paradigm.
Katie Deming:  Yeah, it’s so powerful. Our mind is so powerful. And there are tons of these studies. What’s so interesting for me is that we were never taught it. I was never taught any of this in medical school. It is fascinating when you dive into it and you realize the power [of the mind]. Also, it’s so empowering that we have more power than we think over our physical body, and I think that’s a story of hope.
Chris Kresser:  Absolutely. I love this. Ted Kaptchuk rebranded the placebo effect as the self-healing effect exactly for that reason. His position is, wait a second, the drug companies are busy trying to eliminate placebo because if their drug doesn’t outperform placebo, they’ve just wasted millions of dollars and don’t get approval. So, for them, placebo is a dirty word and a pejorative term and not something to be studied or celebrated, or [to] learn how to harness. Ted Kaptchuk, after studying this for a long time, [thought] we should be doing everything we can to learn how to harness and amplify and expand this and make use of it in clinical settings. He started doing open-label placebo studies, where essentially, people would be told they were getting the placebo, and they still improved. And that was like, I think, I mean, we still don’t even fully understand why that is. But even just the kind interaction and the participation in the study, my guess is that [by] being told that they’re on the placebo and still [getting] better, they start to believe in themselves and their own capacity for self-healing.
I think there’s so much to this in your work, and looking at this is, like, that’s the message of hope. Kind of going back to how we started with blame and shame and guilt, it’s like, no—it’s not about that. It’s about recognizing our capacity to respond in a powerful way and to influence the trajectory of our life. Or our death. In some cases, that might be what happens. But the trajectory can look really different toward death with that kind of mentality than it does with the mentality of like, “I’m a victim, and there’s nothing I could do.”
Katie Deming:  Yeah. Well, I think cancer or any illness is really a crisis, and crisis in Chinese is two symbols together. The first symbol is danger, which makes sense, but the second symbol is opportunity, and I think illness is just an opportunity to do something different to create a different result. And I love that you talk about these things on your podcast because the more people that understand this and know this can take their power back and really recognize that [they’re] an agent of [their] own healing. Healing comes from within and, yeah, I love that.
Chris Kresser:  Great. Well, thank you so much for this conversation. It’s been fascinating. I know the listeners are going to get a lot out of it. Where can they learn more about your work and what you’re up to?
Katie Deming:  I’m relaunching my podcast, which is Born to Heal with Dr. Katie Deming, on February 13th, and actually, we’ll be starting with sharing my journey of leaving Western medicine. And then my first interview is with Dr. Pollack, who did this research. And also, Tom Cowan and I have been talking, and he will be on my podcast, as well. So my podcast is a place. And then I’m also hosting a workshop on understanding water and its influence on our healing on March 5th. You can find out more information about that at KatieDeming.com.
Chris Kresser:  That’s K-a-t-i-e D-e-m-i-n-g, right?
Katie Deming:  That’s right.
Chris Kresser:  All right. Well, thanks again, Katie. [I] appreciate it, and thanks for the great work you’re doing in the world.
Katie Deming:  Yeah, thank you. It’s my pleasure to be here.

This episode of Revolution Health Radio is sponsored by LMNT and Paleovalley.
As a member of our community, LMNT has a very special offer for you. Get a free LMNT Recharge Sample Pack when you purchase any LMNT product at DrinkLMNT.com/Kresser.
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