The Fatigue Mystery Solved!

Dr. Frank Shallenberger, MD
December 10, 2018


Practice makes perfect. All you have to do is keep on practicing those piano scales, and you will eventually start to sound very good. Practice them long enough, and you will perfect them. Not so with medicine. Medicine is a humbling profession if there ever was one. You can practice medicine all your life, but you will never perfect it. Even the greatest doctors will attest to this.

And the case of Phyllis is a good illustration. It’s also a reminder of the devastating effect of a simple, common mineral that many people, doctors included, may overlook.

I first met Phyllis in September 1999. She was 57 at the time. She complained about having chronic pains in her abdomen, chest, back, and joints. She had suffered with these problems for 6-7 years. The pains would come on for a while, and then would mysteriously disappear, only to return again.

Phyllis had seen several doctors, none of whom were able to do more than offer her pain medication. She was currently receiving chiropractic treatment, which was helping with the symptoms. But it didn’t make a difference in her overall condition. Unfortunately, there was a lot more going on in Phyllis’s case than just pain.

She also had a chronic sore throat. The soreness was severe, and made it hard for her to swallow. But every time I examined her, I found her throat and neck to be completely normal. And along with these symptoms, she noticed a number of other seemingly unrelated symptoms. These included weakness, fatigue, depression, confusion, palpitations of the heart, dry mucous membranes, skin sores, and restlessness.

What was really interesting was that for two to three days out of every month, she would become essentially free of all her symptoms. She would feel great. It was if a veil had been lifted.

Drugs Didn’t Help

One of the doctors she had seen before me was a cardiologist. She saw him because of the occasional heart palpitations she had. He wasn’t much help. He just ran some tests, determined that the palpitations were nothing that would kill her. Then he told her to take a drug for the rest of her life that would help with the symptoms. He made no effort at all to discover why she had the palpitations so that he could treat the cause. Instead he just gave her the drug and called it a day.

The drug was a beta-blocker, which is known to cause fatigue and low blood pressure. It also interferes with the way the nervous system regulates the body. So I took her off of it. One less interfering substance had to be helpful.

The Stress/Hormone Connection

Like so many women, Phyllis’s symptoms first came on around the time that her body went through menopause. That’s because menopause is a very stressful insult to a woman’s body. One day the body has an abundance of hormones. The next day the levels are deficient. When this happens to a woman, her adrenal glands respond by working overtime to correct the hormonal imbalances. As long as her adrenal glands have enough reserve to handle the situation, there should be no problem. But often enough, that’s not the case.

Many women going through menopause have all sorts of additional stresses that their bodies also are dealing with. These could be emotional stresses and/or physical stresses, such as pain, insomnia, allergies, poor diet, etc. As a lot of women go through menopause, their adrenal glands use up their reserves, and become exhausted. And then things can really start to unravel.

Adrenal exhaustion was certainly one battle Phyllis faced. I knew this because of one of the clues she gave me when we first met. She said that more often than not, her symptoms were brought on and aggravated by “over exertion and/or emotional stress.” So I treated her with a combination of adrenal hormones that included pregnenolone, hydrocortisone, and DHEA. I also gave her body the female hormones that it so desperately needed in the form of bio-identical hormone replacement. Simply replacing her deficient female hormones would help her adrenal glands to recover much faster.

And finally, I started her on the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is the master hormone that to one degree or another regulates the function of all of the other hormones. Melatonin levels drop dramatically as we get older. At her age, it was certain that she was deficient of melatonin. I couldn’t wait to see her at the next visit. I was certain she would be cured.

I was wrong!

Remember, I’m still “practicing” medicine. Apparently, I needed some more practice.

Over the next six months, I was able to adjust her hormones perfectly. I also detoxified her. The result was that her symptoms were about 50% less. But to my great frustration, they were still there.

In other words, her body had been strengthened by the improvements in her hormones, and it was holding up better. But whatever was causing her symptoms was still very active. She was happy, because for the first time in years she was actually feeling better. But I wasn’t. I still had not gotten to the cause of the problem. So we persisted.

For the next six years, I tried all kinds of therapies including intravenous vitamin C, ozone therapy, immune modulation therapies, intravenous vitamin B therapies, and thyroid hormone replacement therapy. I was able to keep her active and working, but the case just wouldn’t crack. She would go through times when she felt great, only to have another episode of the sore throat, weakness, fatigue, body aches, depression, and generalized irritability. Each time it happened, I would treat it with ozone and/or vitamin C. But, sure enough, three to four months later, the same thing would happen again.

A clue, at last!

Then, for some reason, in March of 2008 things changed. It happened after she finished a program for yeast detoxification. Why it happened this particular time, I don’t know. I had detoxified her of yeast on several other occasions, but this time was different. This time she felt “perfectly well.”

I saw Phyllis two months later, and she was still feeling great. At this point, I was beginning to think that her body had finally healed itself. I made a few minor changes to her overall program, including placing her on a form of iodine called Lugol’s solution (6 drops per day), as part of a program to decrease her risk for breast cancer. For the next 15 months, she continued to feel great. She was traveling, having fun with her grandchildren, and enjoying her new-found freedom from illness.

Then, in June 2009, it happened again.

She had been very emotionally upset by a turn of events in her family. And all of her old symptoms returned: low energy, joint pains, sore throat, and profound weakness. Only this time it was different. No matter what we did, nothing could pull her out of it. Things would get better with the various levels of nutritional and hormonal support we gave her. But overall, her condition remained unchanged for the next eight months. We were both extremely frustrated. Then, in April 2010, I discovered a very interesting fact.

When we completely rehashed all of the details of her case, I asked her about the Lugol’s solution that I had prescribed in May 2008. I had been operating under the assumption that she had been taking it ever since then. But that was not the case. The reason was that it was about that time the government started preventing its sale except under a prescription. So she never took it. Then in June 2009, she found a source for it, and that’s when she started to take it — exactly two weeks before her relapse. This simple piece of information was what finally turned her case.

Isn’t Iodine Good For You?

If you’ve read my writings for very long, you probably know that iodine is a mineral that’s crucial for good health. In fact, it’s an absolutely critical mineral for the function of every cell in the body. The body thrives in the presence of adequate amounts of iodine, and languishes when the amount is suboptimal.

The Lugol’s solution she started to take a couple of weeks before her last relapse contains iodine. And the six drops that she was taking contains a lot of iodine — 39 mg to be specific.

So why would it cause Phyllis to relapse? Could iodine actually have a negative effect on your health?

Well, it’s not really the iodine that caused the problem. It just told me what the real problem was. And how to fix it.

Once I figured it out, I immediately stopped the Lugol’s solution, and started giving her ¼ teaspoon of table salt (without iodine) in a glass of water three times a day. This is because salt is an effective way to stimulate the kidneys to eliminate another mineral — the real cause of her problem — at a faster rate. Within one week she was feeling better. Four weeks later, she was back to her former level of feeling great, and she remains that way to this day.

A Common Cause of Fatigue

The mineral that was hurting Phyllis is extremely common. It’s in nuts, grains, fish, and well water. However, these sources of the mineral are safe. It’s the manmade sources that really cause the problem.

This mineral has found its way into our bodies in all kinds of other ways. Pesticides (specifically methyl bromide, used mainly on strawberries, predominantly in California) are one source. Soft drinks (including Mountain Dew, Gatorade, Sun Drop, Squirt, Fresca, and other citrus-flavored sodas) contain brominated vegetable oils (BVOs) — a huge source of this mineral. And many canned and bottled juices and fruit preserves and jellies also contain BVOs.

But one of the biggest sources of this mineral is bakery goods and flours. Normally, bakery goods and flour contain iodine as a “dough conditioner.” But in the 1950s, manufacturers stopped adding the iodine, and instead started using potassium bromated instead. As a result, most of the baked goods we eat are loaded with this mineral.

When I put all of this together for Phyllis, I realized that many of my patients had the same problem. They were all suffering from bromism. This is a condition where the cells in your body take in the mineral bromine instead of iodine. And the body becomes loaded with bromine, while at the same time deficient in iodine.

Bromine is necessary in minute amounts for a healthy nervous system. Medicine figured this out years ago. So way back when, pharmaceutical companies started using it as a remedy for insomnia and nervousness. The most popular brands were Miles Nervine and Bromo Seltzer.

But there was a problem with the continuous use of these medications. They caused excessive levels of bromine to build up in the body — bromism. Bromism causes symptoms of restlessness, weakness, constipation, acne, sores, irritability, loss of balance, and confusion. In severe cases, excessive bromine can cause hallucinations, psychosis, stupor, and even coma.

You would think the drug companies would stop using bromine as a result of this condition. While they did take these brands off the market, other drugs, such as Atrovent Inhaler, Atrovent Nasal Spray, and Pro-Banthine (for ulcers) still use bromine.

The Iodine Connection

Remember that iodine and bromine are so closely related that they are interchangeable. So when Phyllis began taking in the iodine, her cells began replacing any bromine they contained with iodine. This caused a net release of bromine into her bloodstream. And in Phyllis, the sudden release of the bromine created the symptoms of bromism.

Apparently, for reasons we have not identified yet, her body had accumulated a large amount of bromine over the years. So does this mean that she will never be able to take iodine again? Not at all. In fact, we want her to take iodine so that it will continue to cause her body to eliminate bromine. Only we want to make sure that we give her amounts that will only displace the bromine slowly. This way she can eliminate the bromine without having to suffer from the effects of bromism. So she is now taking one drop of Lugol’s every other day. Gradually, over the next six months, we’ll increase this dose until she reaches a dose of six drops per day. At that point, bromine in Phyllis will be a thing of the past.

Notice how the symptoms of bromism are similar to the symptoms that so many people have. While there certainly are other more common causes for these symptoms, Phyllis’s case teaches us that chronic bromine toxicity is still alive and well. You and your doctor should consider it if you have any of these symptoms and you’re not responding to the usual therapies.


Horowitz, B.Z. “Bromism from excessive cola consumption.” J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 1997;35(3):315-20.

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