The cover of Goodbye Lupus by Brooke Goldner, M.D., isn’t bad. It features a smiling woman in a lab coat set alongside and partially overlapping a green smoothie. The smoothie looks cool and refreshing, despite being green. Obscuring the bottom of the glass, as well as the woman below the hips, a semi-transparent overlay makes the subtitle pop: “How a Medical Doctor Healed Herself Naturally with Supermarket Foods.”
The cover’s overall effect is tidy in a way that suggests the earnestness of a novice self-publisher. A Google search of Express Results, LLC, the actual publisher—and not a name that inspires medical confidence—turns up nothing and would seem to confirm this.
A second Google search confirms that the woman pictured is in fact Brooke Goldner.
The book is my wife’s, and mine. In it, Goldner describes how a change in diet cured her lupus, a systemic autoimmune disease whose milder symptoms tend to be joint pain and fatigue. Diagnosed with a particularly nasty form of the disease when she was sixteen, Goldner explains her decision to switch to a vegan, raw veggie diet in hopes of slimming down before her wedding. To her surprise, the change in food coincided with a reduction in her symptoms. Soon after, her symptoms disappeared entirely. Her lab work, too, started coming back negative. Miraculously, the lupus appeared to have left her system—and this after she had faced down kidney failure and a stroke because of it.
Jes has lupus. She got diagnosed a couple months after our July 2015 wedding, and although two years of steady medication and regular checkups brought the disease to heel, her lupus has not gone into remission. It definitely hasn’t vanished. She was frustrated. So was I. We wanted something new, and Goodbye Lupus, whatever its shortcomings as a publication, offered it. Its implicit argument—that Western medicine, with its emphasis on prescription-based care, often has a blind spot for the role of lifestyle and nutrition in health—squared with our own experience. More to the point, the fact that Goldner had lupus and holds an M.D. from Temple University, in addition to a certification in plant-based nutrition from Cornell, mitigated our more snake oily concerns.
So we talked it over. In the end—because eating healthy is pricey in a food culture that enshrines disposability and convenience—we adopted just one part of Goldner’s dietary program: her regimen of smoothies.
The smoothies are revoltingly healthful. One recipe, dubbed “The Beginner,” calls for pear, banana, pineapple, avocado, and a full six cups of kale. More seasoned professionals, meanwhile, might try the speciously titled “Chocolate Green Dream,” aka “Chocolate Milk,” which combines avocado, dates, almond milk, cocoa powder, and six cups of collard greens. The philosophy animating Goldner’s cure seems to be that of the shotgun: assuming the body can heal itself when fed properly, blast all the nutrients you can at it and see what hits.
Despite the ingredients, the smoothies aren’t terrible. True, they taste bitterer than the average mass-market smoothie, but for a drink whose foundation is six cups of liquefied collards, one could imagine worse. So with as much regularity as possible, Jes makes one 40 oz. green smoothie a day and drinks the whole thing down. She’s been at it a little over a month and feels pretty good.
Last week Jes went to her bimonthly checkup with the local rheumatologist. Although he was pleased to hear she was feeling well, he worried about the “numbers” from her lab work. Instead of encouraging her dietary changes, he suggested starting her on a new medicine to regulate those numbers, a new drug for her daily chemical highball.
Meanwhile, as I said, she’s been feeling fine, though whether we can attribute that to the smoothies remains unclear. Maybe they helped. But we’d almost prefer it if they hadn’t—if, instead, like a bike gathering speed on a hill, the collective effect of those nutrient-dense drinks is still coming and, as happened with Goldner, will one day swoop down and fix Jes’s symptoms and numbers in a flash.
I read once that starting around the 1950s, as medicine began to rely increasingly on statistical models of populations, our understanding of the body shifted from the body as inherently healthy to the body as inherently unhealthy. From a baseline of wellness to always at-risk. Given this latest trip to the doctor, it’s hard not to read Jes’s lupus in light of this shift. Alienated from her own body, she goes to the doctor to learn what’s wrong with her. She takes medicine to treat symptoms that have not manifested yet, but might. She drinks smoothies to heal a body whose biggest problems, for now, can only be expressed by the abstraction of digits on a screen.
I find myself reminded of something my brother Jon said recently, in the wake of Hurricane Irma. He lives in Sarasota on the west coast of Florida and was expecting a direct hit from the Cat. 5 monster. “It was weird,” he said, “hunkering down for a disaster you know is coming and can do nothing to stop.”
But that disaster never occurred. At the eleventh hour, Irma swung Gulf-ward and grazed Sarasota. While other cities and islands reeled, Sarasota escaped even major flooding. Within a few days, Jon was posting videos of himself and his friends cruising city streets in a convertible.
I’m uncomfortable carrying this analogy any further. But it is hard not to wonder: what if the storm misses us? How much, in the end, do numbers matter? Is it fear or hope that steered us to a doctor’s self-published book? An investment in the logic of risk-management and prevention, or determination to get better? Jon came out of Irma with bottles and bottles of water that he didn’t need. Might not the same thing happen to us?
Is it worth the risk?
Pass the chocolate milk.