Glenn SabinMay 2017
By Garry Messick
In 1991, Glenn Sabin was a happy and apparently healthy 28-year-old newlywed. He was energetic, big into exercise, and felt fine—so he was totally floored when the results of routine bloodwork showed he had chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
Doctors told him treatment could alleviate the symptoms and perhaps extend his life to a degree, but there was no dependable cure—he was suffering from a fatal disease.
Despite this grim prognosis, Sabin refused to accept that he had no chance to recover. Since mainstream medicine couldn’t help him reach that goal, he resolved to find another way. He didn’t turn his back on his doctors, but rather, working in collaboration with them, he did extensive research and essentially became, in the parlance of medical studies, n of 1, meaning a group of subjects consisting of only one person—himself.
It was a long, hard struggle, but in 2012 there was a near-miraculous result. A biopsy at Harvard showed Sabin had no trace of leukemic cells in his bone marrow. Against all odds, his “incurable” cancer had been cured.
Sabin cautions other cancer patients, however, that what worked for him will not work for everyone. For that reason, he doesn’t encourage anyone to abandon conventional treatment or to copy his diet or supplement protocols. Rather, he encourages others to get the help they need to develop protocols tailored to their particular needs.
In this interview with Life Extension®, Glenn Sabin discusses the incredible medical journey he describes in his book titled N of 1, and its implications for cancer treatment.
LE: You were first diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 1991. Tell us about the circumstances surrounding that diagnosis.
GS: (At that time) it wasn’t unusual for me to put in long days at a media company that my father had founded. Shortly after I got married, my father’s health had begun to fail, and I found myself running more and more of the operation.
Despite my long workdays, I did not neglect my body. Exercise was planned into my schedule. I worked out almost every day, usually lifting weights. I snuck in occasional unplanned cardio… I honestly can’t recall being fatigued at that time. I felt like a tank. Indestructible.
So when I showed up at the doctor’s office for my “routine maintenance,” I expected that last errand of the day to end with a nice slap on the back, and a “See you next year.” Instead, the doctor came into the exam room wearing an uncharacteristically solemn expression. My blood tests showed a problem, he told me. Something serious.
I had a disease, he said. Leukemia. He looked me in the eye. The disease was fatal.
LE: What was your initial treatment?
GS: I was surprised to hear that I needed an operation for a blood problem.
The unceasing production of abnormal cells is the hallmark of cancer. The body makes attempts to control the disease, but when these attempts fail, or are overwhelmed, symptoms occur. In my case, the leukemic cells had lodged in and overwhelmed my spleen. It was so enlarged Dr. Kressel (my hematologist) could easily palpate it, a firm mass distending the upper part of my abdomen. A healthy spleen weighs only two pounds. Mine weighed seven. It was packed with five pounds of leukemic cells. Not only was my spleen no longer functioning, it was fragile. It could rupture and cause me to bleed to death. Dr. Kressel said it had to come out, and soon.
Once that surgery was done, he said, I might want to consider a bone marrow transplant.
LE: You ultimately decided against that, even though doctors thought it was the only thing that offered even the slim chance of a cure.
GS: I immediately backed away when Dr. Lee Nadler (a renowned expert in chronic lymphocytic leukemia) told me that 20% of patients who underwent the procedure died. Not of leukemia, but of complications from the bone marrow transplant. I’m no math whiz, but I recognized those odds. They were about the same as Russian roulette.
Editor’s note: Other studies show much higher long term mortality from an allogenic bone marrow transplant where bone marrow is donated by another person.
LE: Were you presented with another option?
GS: To my great disappointment, it was “watchful waiting.” Dr. Nadler must have seen my face fall, because he was quick to point out that on the plus side, delaying treatment meant I could take advantage of whatever scientific discoveries lay in the future.
LE: You weren’t happy with that option either, so you decided to exercise and eat healthily while forgoing a transplant. What happened then?
GS: Despite the vast improvements in my diet, my blood counts remained abnormal. Not by much, but it was clear I still had chronic lymphocytic leukemia. I had cleaned up my diet, eating vegetables and fruits almost exclusively, avoiding pesticide-sprayed foods, and taking supplements and exercising daily. I explained this new regime to Dr. Kressel, and he heartily encouraged my healthy new lifestyle. However, when I pressed him about the effect of my new way of living on leukemia, Dr. Kressel admitted that he didn’t think it was likely to help. There was simply no scientific evidence that lifestyle had any effect on leukemia.
LE: In 1998, you went on to investigate an alternative pharmacy in Bethesda, Maryland, called The Apothecary. What did you gain from it?
GS: At the epicenter of The Apothecary was Dr. Irv Rosenberg. Both pharmacist and nutritionist, Rosenberg was working with scores of patients, many with cancer, and using natural agents to complement their conventional care.
LE: Did he add to the supplements you were already taking?
GS: Before I list those details, do be warned that this list is not meant to be construed as a treatment for cancer. Using this list…in lieu of seeking personal guidance from your own medical professional could cost you your life. So now that you understand that this program was built for me specifically, that it is therefore unsuitable for anyone else, and that you should work with your own health professional to develop a program that fits your needs, I’ll proceed to share with you what Dr. Rosenberg recommended to me, and me alone.
One of Dr. Rosenberg’s top recommendations for me was a proprietary version of vitamin C, calcium ascorbate with bioflavonoids added to enhance absorption. I was also to take a tablet containing a mixture of four yellow and red plant pigments: carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. A third recommendation for me was d-alpha tocopherol, part of the vitamin E family.
Irv also suggested I use a fermented mushroom extract containing “active hexose correlated compound” (AHCC).
Irv also recommended a soy extract called genistein, a vegetable extract called inositol hexaphosphate, and colostrum, an antibody-rich secretion of the bovine mammary gland produced at the time of birth.
LE: So had you turned away from mainstream medicine at this point?
GS: I never have, and never will. During the years I was experimenting with supplementation…I saw my local specialist, Dr. Kressel, regularly, for blood tests and examinations. Every few years I returned to Harvard’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for an exam by Dr. Nadler. Every year or two, I submitted to painful bone marrow biopsy.
LE: You felt fine for a while until 2003, when you had flu-like symptoms and underwent tests that showed your leukemia was getting worse, and Dr. Kressel recommended chemotherapy. I understand you asked for a second opinion.
GS: Dr. Kressel quickly arranged one for me at the renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. I drove to Baltimore to meet with Dr. Richard Ambinder.
LE: After testing, what was the upshot?
GS: He began with the fact that my red blood cell count was dangerously low, and there was no question about the cause: chronic lymphocytic leukemia. My immune system had been hijacked by the chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The hijacker had turned my own immune system against my red blood cells.
Dr. Ambinder explained his proposed plan. First, he said, the hemolytic anemia should be treated with an immune-suppressing drug called prednisone. Then, once the hemolysis was under control, several chemotherapy drugs would be given. Every detail of Dr. Ambinder’s plan concurred with Dr. Kressel’s advice. I realized that the moment I dreaded was finally here. The doctors were unanimous—I needed chemotherapy. Not “curative” chemotherapy, but a palliative Band-Aid to get me out of the danger zone and buy some time.
I reviewed my predicament. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia was considered terminal. Though some people lived for a number of years with this disease, there was no cure. And then it occurred to me—there was another choice, a very obvious one. This other choice would require the services of another type of healer… I had already met him. It was me. I would have to learn how to treat myself.
LE: From there, you proposed a sort of research partnership?
GS: I proposed that together, Dr. Kressel and I monitor the anemia. I would revisit and reinforce my home-cobbled program, and would show up twice a week at his office for blood work…We’d know for certain whether I was getting better or worse. Dr. Kressel was game.
Over the next few weeks, as often as I could, I swam. I stretched too, one muscle group at a time, and I could feel the strength and spring return to my step. To me, exercise was a healing form of meditation. Although the walks and swims were short, at least for the first month or so, they still happened every day.
I stayed the course. I proceeded with my self-directed program of activity, declining conventional treatment. I went to Dr. Kressel regularly for blood tests, as he and I agreed. And then, during the third week, Dr. Kressel and I got a surprise.
There was a measurable improvement in my counts. That initial result was good, Dr. Kressel explained, but caution was needed. To prove this result was a trend, we’d need three consecutive tests showing improvement. I was to return a week later, for the second of the three tests.
The following week, another test…
When I heard the result, I joyfully blurted out, “Another improvement!”
The fourth and fifth week’s blood tests confirmed we had a trend. The anemia was definitely improving. Although my red cell levels were not back to normal, they were definitely on their way. And the improvement was happening without prednisone or chemotherapy.
And then, after a few more weeks, the fevers went away and my night sweats vanished. My blood counts completely normalized. I had faced down the leukemia. It had backed off. I was out of immediate danger!
Dr. Kressel was pleased by the complete turnaround in my condition, although he could not explain what had happened. He recommended we take a closer look at my blood using a technique called flow cytometry. This investigation would tell us if leukemic cells were still lurking among the normal blood cells. Within a few days I got the results. They nearly floored me. There were no leukemic cells in my blood. None.
It seemed to me that there was a powerful, synergistic effect between the nutraceutical compounds, my diet, physical activity and my improving health. Perhaps consistent daily exercise contributed to an increased metabolic rate, and maybe my stress hormones were kept in check through all of these things. Ultimately, my body’s innate healing capacity was activated. I can’t know exactly how this came about. I can only speculate that my lifestyle played a big part. Whatever the molecular details, I knew I had accomplished something important.
LE: At that point you went back to see Dr. Nadler. What was his reaction?
GS: Dr. Nadler pulled up the report from my previous visit in summer of 2003, when I’d been so ill. He told me that in his 30 years as a doctor, he had never encountered a patient with chronic lymphocytic leukemia who had done so well. There was no evidence of leukemia on any of the tests, he told me.
It seemed to me that Dr. Nadler thought my remission must have been attributable to one thing in my protocol. One supplement or one botanical had to be responsible for the stunning turnaround in my health. Dr. Nadler wanted to know exactly which one it was.
I was more than happy to spend the next 45 minutes explaining to Dr. Nadler all the things I had done: my incredibly healthy diet, the meditative walks, the long swims, the weight workouts, and the nutraceuticals program. The nutraceuticals caught Dr. Nadler’s attention. He made me go over them several times, while he took notes and asked questions about formulations, dosages and schedules. I told Dr. Nadler, point blank, that I thought looking for one active agent responsible for my recovery was the wrong approach. In my opinion, the secret formula was the combination of diet, exercise, mind-body work, and nutraceuticals.
Deep down in my heart, clear marrow was what I wanted. I wanted to be free of leukemia once and for all. If I wanted to know I was indeed cured, I would have to take the only test that would tell me what was happening deep in my bones—another bone marrow biopsy.
LE: So what were the results?
GS: Leukemic cells were still there, lurking deep in my marrow. The news was a brutal kick to the stomach.
LE: From there, you read about epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG, which is an alkaloid in green tea that had been shown to kill cancer cells in a test tube. You made it part of your regimen, but not long afterward, you found out your leukemia was no longer in remission. Under the care of integrative medicine advocate Dr. Keith Block, part of your response was to increase your EGCG intake. What was the result?
GS: By March 2011, my white blood cell count began to drop. At 30 thousand, it was still high, but for the first time in a year, there was some improvement…I continued full steam ahead on every aspect of my lifestyle regimen. By the end of May 2011, my white blood cells had decreased to 19,000…By mid-July, my white blood cell count had fallen to 9,400, which was within normal range. By November 2011, about a year after increasing the dose of EGCG, my white blood cell count was 5,600, at the low end of normal! In addition to the dramatic decrease in my white blood cells, every single number in my terrain report had returned to within the normal range. A complete blood count and flow cytometry of the blood found no chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells. My blood was normal.
I was in clinical remission. Again.
LE: At this point, you wanted a bone marrow biopsy done to see if, amazingly enough, you could possibly have been cured. But doctors considered that extremely unlikely, and were reluctant to perform the test. Still, you went back to Dr. Nadler and insisted, correct?
GS: Unlike me, Dr. Nadler was always a gentleman, and was helpful whenever possible. Or perhaps on that occasion he just wanted to shut me up. By the end of the phone call, he had agreed to do the bone marrow biopsy for me.
LE: What happened when you got the results?
GS: As I scanned the report, a chill shot up my spine. Was I reading it accurately? Was it saying what I thought it was saying? It took me a moment to translate (the report) from medical-ese to English. The two most important words were “not seen.” What exactly was not seen? Leukemia. There was no sign that I had ever had it. My marrow was stone cold normal.
I could not wrap my mind around this astonishing fact. …These wonderful results occurred without conventional treatment…Was synergy between several factors at work? Dr. Nadler suggested looking into EGCG…To my mind, that was one possible answer. Rather than one component of my program, such as EGCG, being entirely responsible for my recovery, was it possible that the various elements of my program had worked together to improve my health?
LE: So how are you today?
GS: My most recent blood tests, including flow cytometry, could find no evidence that I’ve ever had chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Only time will tell if I am truly cured.
LE: Anything you’d like to say in closing?
GS: I call on conventional physicians and investigators to put serious resources to work looking at cases like mine, where an unexpected recovery occurs. Please, conduct the rigorous research needed to learn how best to use diet, exercise, stress reduction techniques, herbs, and supplements to help people with serious illness. The time is now for this approach to become a major thrust of research.
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.
To order a copy of N of 1, call 1-800-544-4440