Sonja Jentzsch suffered from the kind of symptoms that don't inspire friends to send get-well cards. There was sort of a vagueness about them.
"You can't quite pinpoint what the problem is," explains Jentzsch. "You just feel bad."Sometimes she would set out to go somewhere and by the time she had turned on the ignition she would have forgotten her destination. And she felt so tired all the time. She had muscle aches, stomach aches, joint pains, canker sores, recurring infections, depression and a crunching feeling in her chest that made it hard to breathe.
Jentzsch went from doctor to doctor, having blood drawn and tests done. They thought for a while that she might have rheumatoid arthritis. Finally, last spring, after two years and thousands of dollars in medical bills, she found an answer that satisfied her:
According to Jentzsch, her body had produced an oversupply of Candida albicans, a yeast similar to that used in making bread. While some yeast is normal in the human body, too much yeast, according this theory, can cause nearly everything from emotional problems to psoriasis.
Yeast, according to this theory, is the common denominator that can finally explain who so many people feel so rotten for reasons that continue to baffle modern medicine.
But what a few Utah doctors and a growing number of patients view as a medical breakthrough, most traditional M.D.'s view as just the latest "Ladies Home Journal" disease; hypoglycemia with a new twist.
"It's like astrology," scoffs Dr. Edwin A. Bronsky, a Salt Lake allergist. "It's totally without scientific merit."
The executive committee of the American Academy of Allergy and Immunology -- made up of leading lights in allergy research, notes Bronsky -- calls the very idea of yeast disorders "speculative and unproven."
Yeast is such a dirty word to most doctors these days that a Utah physician earlier this year, convinced Bountiful's Lakeview Hospital to discontinue allowing a Candida albicans support group to hold monthly meetings there.
Utah valley physician Dennis W. Remington thought that the notion of yeast sounded "pretty flaky," too, when he first heard about it five years ago. But Remington is one of several Utah doctors who now embrace the idea.
Remington says he began to question his skepticism when he treated a patient with an anti-fungal medicine and a whole host of symptoms improved, including abdominal pain, indigestion, anxiety, confusion and depression.
What doctors like Bronsky would dismiss as simply a placebo reaction, Remington saw as something worth pursuing. In the past five years, he says, he has discovered that yeast "is an epidemic of alarming proportions." Co-author of "Back to Health: A Comprehensive Medical and Nutritional Yeast Control Program," Remington says he has based his yeast work on theories pioneered 20 years ago by Dr. C. Orian Truss.
Remington, also co-author of "How to Lower Your Fat Thermostat" and an audio-tape program call "The Neuropsychology of Weight Control," spoke last month at a meeting of a Salt Lake yeast disorder support group (the group meets the second Thursday of each month at Gull Laboratories, 1015 E. 48th South. For more information, contact Ann Clark, 942-4685.)
Remington indicts modern broad-spectrum antibiotics as the cause of out-of-control yeast. According to this theory, the same antibiotics that kill unwanted bacteria also kill the "friendly" bacteria that normally live in the intestines. These friendly bacteria secrete chemicals that usually control yeast growth, says Remington. With the friendly bacteria gone, the yeast can then complete a hostile takeover.
Once they have the upper hand, the yeast organisms then cause two major problems, says Remington: They invade body tissue, causing local infections; and they produce toxins that sabotage the immune system, destroy enzymes and interfere with the body's hormones.
Many allergy problems can be traced to yeast overgrowth, says Remington, as can PMS and hypoglycemia.
"These statements appear to be without scientific validity, by my reasoning," complains Bronsky.
Valarie Westfall understands that doctors are reluctant to accept the notion of yeast. "I know they like to prove things scientifically with double blind studies.
"But there comes a time when instinct has to take over."
That time came for Westfall last month when, after feeling like "the walking dead" for years, she made an appointment with Remington.
Westfall, who had been on antibiotics for years because of recurring infections, suffered from some of the same vague symptoms that plagued Sonja Jenztsch: fuzzy thinking, depression, irritability, muscle soreness.
Remington put her on Nystatin, an anti-fungal medication. He also placed her on a strict yeast-control diet: no sugar (because yeast thrives on sugar), no artificial sweeteners, no yeast-containing or fungus-containing foods, no refined flours, and, in the beginning, no peanuts, no cheese, no fruits. He also started her on lactobacillus supplements, to recolonize the intestinal tract with healthy bacteria. And he suggested that she exercise regularly to strengthen her immune system.
Within three days, says Westfall, she noticed that the sore throat she had awakened with every morning for years was gone. After a few more days the eczema that had plagued her since she was a teenager disappeared.
The same woman who had hardly been able to pull herself off the couch to change channels now found that she had energy to play with her children, and still energy left over to cut out 500 quilt blocks in one day. Best of all, says Westfall, "I didn't have to work anymore at being happy."
Remington has now treated over 3,000 people for yeast disorders, including children like 8-year-old Heather Feichko of Miller Creek, near Price. At 8, Heather had trouble reading simple words like "cat," says her father, Frank. Because she seemed to be a slow learner, as well as hyperactive, she repeated kindergarten.
But since beginning yeast treatment 10 weeks ago, says her father, she is now out of the resource class and is reading on a fourth-grade level.
Critics like Bronsky are not impressed by this or any other yeast story. Syndromes like hyperactivity _ or muscle soreness or anxiety _ often have nebulous causes, or no cause at all, he notes. And when something like depression is treated with dietary changes rather than with psychiatric therapy, he adds, "you'll have a lot of trouble with these people later on."
He worries that methods like this, and newspaper articles about them, will discourage people from following "proper medical avenues."
"There are some people who are so desperate they'll do anything."
That's just the point, says Remington. Traditional medicine has failed to find a cause and a cure that can help the Sonja Yentzsches of the world. Yeast control, says Remington, does.