There is no magic pill but Candice Rosen believes we all have the personal ability to cure much of what ails us.
By Cuyler Gibbons Images Courtesy of Candice Rosen
To call Candice Rosen self-assured would be to understate the obvious. She certainly is, but what she mostly is, is fully present. Focused intently on the conversation and her interlocutor, she talks about diet and life in abundantly human terms, with an evident need to explain what she sees as fairly simple truths that can help us all. Rosen has earned her assurance. Through experience and scientific inquiry, she’s confirmed what she long sensed intuitively—American medicine’s knee jerk, default reliance on pharmaceutical abatement for common, non-communicable maladies will simply mask our symptoms and allow the underlying causes of our discomfort and ill-health to go unaddressed.
Believing what she learned could help others, Rosen was not one to keep that knowledge for herself. In fact, the imperative to change basic assumptions about nutritional health and its direct connection to total mind-body wellness compels Rosen to share what she has learned, so others can help spread the word. It’s a mission, because, well, it would never occur to Rosen to not share a learned insight that can improve other people’s lives.
Rosen didn’t set out to be a nutrition expert, in fact, her first choice of career was the theater. Even early on however, Rosen could analyze the “data” well enough to determine that putting herself through college to obtain a degree in theater was possibly not the most prudent approach for a young woman from a blue-collar Chicago family who would have to support herself. Rosen’s aunt was a nurse, and, ever practical, she took her aunt’s advice and with her mother’s blessing, studied first at Holy Cross School of Nursing and then South Chicago Community Hospital School of Nursing to obtain her nursing diploma, in what was then a three- year degree program.
As an RN, Rosen left few possible professional stones unturned, working in intensive care and dialysis, running two studies, then working in OR and also in cardiology. “By design,” she says, “I wanted to have all those experiences.” Soon enough however, as Rosen puts it, “The world changed and suddenly you needed a bachelor’s degree in nursing,” not simply to stay a nurse, but to have any chance at advancement. So Rosen went back to school and got her bachelor’s in nursing, and almost immediately began plotting her master’s degree. Before embarking on a master’s in nursing however, Rosen was convinced by a friend that combining nursing and social work would “open a lot of doors” and so, ever onward, Rosen earned a master’s in social work from Loyola Chicago.
She worked as both a nurse and a social worker, but it was a number of years before she was truly able to meld the two disciplines in the same job. Having begun a family in the interim (Rosen now has three grown children with husband Steven, Provost and Chief Scientific Officer of City of Hope), she finally found the perfect alloy of social work and nursing when she became director of the Chicago branch of Gilda’s Club. The organization, started by Gene Wilder in memory of his wife and cancer victim Gilda Radnor, provides social, emotional and psychological support for individuals and their families living with cancer. Able to understand cancer from both a physiological and psychological perspective, Rosen felt particularly well suited to providing support to both patients and families.
It was her work at Gilda’s Club that inspired her first foray as an author. Rosen was disturbed that people without adequate means or knowledge of how to mitigate the effects of cancer and its treatment on their appearance faced unnecessary emotional distress. They were “forced to wear their disease on their sleeve” as she puts it. Her manuscript, Through The Mirror, was intended to empower cancer patients by helping them with issues like the best place to get a wig, or how to apply makeup to lessen heavy circles under the eyes.
Sadly, good intentions often go unrewarded. And in the case of Rosen’s manuscript, her good-faith, but naive attempt at getting some professional skin care advice in order to vet a portion of her material resulted in the theft and unauthorized publication of her manuscript. Although Rosen eventually earned the legal restoration of the rights to her work, the outcome provided little justice, and was of even less consequence. Though disappointed, in human nature most of all, Rosen put the unfortunate episode behind her until she was compelled by events in her own life to begin an exploration into the relationship between diet and pancreatic function, and to once again share what she was learning with others.
When Rosen’s daughter began displaying symptoms of what Rosen’s own research led her to believe was polycystic ovarian syndrome she began seeking out relevant specialists—endocrinologists, gynecologists, dermatologists—in the hope of learning of a possible efficacious treatment protocol. Even when Rosen explained the family history of diabetes and her belief that her daughter was insulin resistant, she was ignored, or worse. Instead of helping, she says, “They treated me like I had Munchausen’s!”
One summer when her daughter was home from England where she was studying, Rosen took her to see the new head of Endocrinology at Northwestern. When he suggested a diagnosis of PCOS, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and offered his opinion that the symptoms were so classic he didn’t need an ultrasound to confirm the diagnosis, Rosen was thrilled to finally have her deeply informed intuition confirmed. Soon enough however the thrill was gone, when she learned his treatment protocol amounted to prescriptions for an appetite suppressant, birth control pills and Accutane. Rosen was horrified. “We’re not going to simply mask your symptoms with prescription drugs, we need to address the root of the problem,” she told her daughter.
So Rosen got a blood tester and following a 12 hour fast, tested her daughter, only to find her blood sugar was a highly elevated 145 (normal fasting blood sugar is between 70 and 100 mg/dl—milligrams per deciliter of blood). A natural experimenter, Rosen began testing various diets and protocols, everything from the Diabetic Association approved diet to Suzanne Somers’ theory about combining fruit with other foods. Through repeated testing of the effect on blood sugar of different foods, and importantly, different foods in different combinations, Rosen developed a nutritional system she calls The Pancreatic Nutritional Program/The Data Driven Diet™. As its initial subject, Rosen’s daughter lost 24 pounds and returned to her studies in Europe looking and feeling healthier than she had in years.
Rosen describes her essential hypothesis, which has since been confirmed by a study at City of Hope, as saying, “Most non-communicable diseases, those that you can’t catch, like obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, PCOS, low testosterone, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, renal issues, and even some cancers, stem from pancreatic abuse.” According to Rosen, anytime you raise your blood sugar above 100, 90 minutes after eating “you are asking for trouble.” Rosen’s system takes effort and attention—testing your blood as a diabetic does after each meal—for 90 days and tracking the results. But such effort provides an intimate perspective on exactly how your body reacts to certain foods and their varying combinations, and which are the healthiest for you. An outcome is personal and may vary widely from individual to individual.
And that really is Rosen’s point. We are all unique individuals. There is no silver bullet and certainly no magic pill. But if we quiz our bodies, listen attentively to the answers and make the appropriate adjustments, we can go a long way toward healing ourselves…by ourselves. As Rosen puts it, “I believe in the practice of self-health. You are your primary care giver and your physician is your secondary care giver. Unfortunately, in the US, physicians have been forced into the role of being nothing more than pharmaceutical bartenders and the American public has been overserved for far too long.” As far as Candice Rosen is concerned, it’s seriously past time for “last call.”