44 Revelations About Healing They DID NOT Teach Me In Medical School — Part 1: OVERVIEW

Lissa Rankin, MD
10 min readJan 29, 2024

In this 7 part series, I’m reviewing the Cliff Notes of everything I should have learned in medical school, but didn’t- and everything I’ve learned since I finished my medical training about healing from my own research and self-study. We’ll be going into more detail about this material in a new online course I’m co-teaching with Jeffrey Rediger and Shiloh Sophia & Jonathan McCloud

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44 Revelations About Healing They DID NOT Teach Me In Medical School — Part 1: OVERVIEW

When I was an arrogant young whippersnapper indoctrinated into the brainwashing of academic medicine, I honestly believed that as a Northwestern-trained OB/GYN educated in “The Northwestern Way,” I knew how to save lives. My training program was rigorously evidence-based, with weekly journal clubs and tons of training about how to interpret statistics and evaluate a medical journal article for how credible it was. Anything health-related that fell outside the rigors of evidence-based medicine was worthy of contempt and mockery.

Within ten years of finishing my training, I would wind up shattered and disillusioned. Unlike some, I wasn’t so disillusioned that I turned my back on conventional medicine. I still believe it saves lives and I would still use it myself and recommend it to patients for many health conditions. But I no longer believe it’s the whole enchilada. My training failed to even recognize, much less appreciate, all the aspects of healing that fall more into the “subjective” category, things like bedside manner, the qualities of the therapeutic relationship, the mind-body-spirit aspects of healing, trauma-informed medical approaches to disease recovery, and other such hard to quantify aspects of healing.

I spent the first twelve years of my post-high school life studying to become a doctor, and I’ve spent the 17 years since I left the hospital in 2007 studying everything medical school missed. So I decided to give myself a challenge. If I died tomorrow, what would I want you all to know about what I’ve learned about healing since I finished my medical training. I wouldn’t include what I DID learn in medical school and still believe in- so I won’t be including things like “Follow public health guidelines” and “Take antibiotics if you get a severe infection” or “Go to the ER if you have a heart attack or stroke or broken bones!”

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This is everything else, everything I believe we should be adding to medical education and everything I believe you need to know. So here you go, y’all. This is what I’ve got. I’ll be going into more detail about such things in a new online program about spontaneous healing (and Intentional Creativity/ art!) that I’m co-teaching with my partner Jeffrey Rediger, my BFFs Shiloh Sophia & Jonathan McCloud.

I’ll be releasing the 44 revelations as a 7 part series, so make sure you’re subscribed to my newsletter if you want to make sure not to miss any of the installments.

The body is designed to heal what breaks inside. But those self-repair mechanisms only operate optimally if your nervous system is in the “tend and befriend” ventral vagal parasympathetic state. We’re all exposed to all kinds of pathogens every day but our bodies know how to protect us from being infected. We make cancer cells regularly and our immune systems kill them. We have this amazing microbiome in our gut that helps keep things running smoothly. And because of psychoneuroimmunology and epigenetics, our thoughts, beliefs, and feelings affect the hormonal milieu of our bloodstream and organ function and genetic expression on a moment-by-moment basis. The human organism is a miraculous creation in this way! But our bodies aren’t made to stay well when our nervous systems are jacked up in chronic repetitive stress responses. Anytime you’re in a “fight, flight, freeze, or fawn” state of the sympathetic or dorsal vagal parasympathetic nervous system, your body is thwarted from fixing anything that might have broken down. These powerful stress responses, which bolster survival in a real emergency but which destroy the body if firing chronically, override the body’s ability to repair what breaks, allowing chronic and life-threatening diseases to take hold and flourish.

It’s well known in conventional medicine that “incurable” diseases can disappear. The medical literature is full of proof that people have been cured without medical treatment from diseases as deadly and severe as almost every type of cancer, including Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and Glioblastoma multiforme. They’ve been cured from life-threatening diseases like HIV, end stage heart failure, aneurysms, heart defects, abscesses, hydrocephalus, and liver and kidney failure. They have also been cured from common chronic diseases like asthma, hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcers, gallstones, diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, ischemic heart disease, cataracts, herniated discs, and epilepsy.

The medical establishment labels these unexpected cures “spontaneous remissions,” and doctors write them up in medical journals as curious flukes. But if you actually study these people, as me and my partner Jeffrey Rediger, MD, MDiv have done, you’ll realize these remissions are anything but “spontaneous.” These people work so hard for their mysterious cures that we’ve come to call them “Olympians of healing’- or more simply, “health outliers.”

Conventional medicine focuses on alleviating symptoms but stops short when it comes to helping patients figure out why their bodies broke down and why self-repair failed. Treating symptoms is important: if you’re in pain, by all means take a pill or get a surgery to relieve your pain, if a vital organ stops working, by all means take a pill or submit to an intervention that will help your organ work better or replace your organ. But conventional medicine does nothing to help patients enter into a period of self-inquiry after the initiating symptoms are relieved. Once the acute intervention happens and the symptoms are allayed, a secondary part of the healing process must be facilitated.

Experts might know what’s best for a population of statistics or for public health, but you are not a statistic, so no expert knows what’s best for your individual body better than you do. Expertise is awesome. We need our experts to offer what they offer in their respective medicine bags. But someone else’s expertise does not make them the expert of how your very personal healing journey should go. Conventional medicine undermines patient intuition, and it’s understandable why they do. Intuition is imprecise and hard to validate. But if you’re on a healing journey, your intuition- which is a somatic experience- will guide you better than any expert can possibly guide you. Mixing your own intuition with the opinions of experts- and weighing that feedback in a measured way- will get you the best health outcome. Just make sure it’s true intuition and not a part with an agenda that wants to ignore experts, pretending to be intuition. Discerning the difference is one of the hardest parts of the trauma-healing spiritual path.

Every aspect of your life (your relationships, your work, your creativity, your sexuality, your spirituality, your relationship to money, your environment, your food, how you move your body, etc) has the opportunity to be either poison or medicine, depending on whether you’re these aspects of life relax or stress your nervous system. As I explain in great detail in the description of the Whole Health Cairn in Mind Over Medicine , Whole Health requires lifestyle modifications that transform what might be poison into what can be medicine. For example, your work can be poisonous to your health if you’re sucking up to a narcissistic boss every day or selling out your integrity to earn a paycheck. Or your work can be medicine as you express yourself creatively and fulfill your calling in a way that helps you (and others) heal. When we live authentically from the life force of our Self/ Inner Pilot Light, our relationships, our work, our spirituality, our creativity, our sexuality, our relationship to money, our mental and physical health behaviors all convert what is potentially toxic into what is healing.

Inflammation is a normal part of fighting off infections. When the body spots a pathogen, it mounts an immune response- with fever, redness, swelling, pain, and recruitment of immune cell activation. But metabolic diseases result when there’s too much inflammation, unrelated to infection, and the inflammatory process gets stuck in a permanent “on” position.

Harvard magazine published that states, “In medicine, believing something is true is not the same as being able to prove it. Because the idea that inflammation-constant, low-level, immune-system activation -could be at the root of many noncommunicable diseases is a startling claim, it requires extraordinary proof. Can seemingly unconnected illnesses of the brain, the vasculature, lungs, liver, and joints really share a deep biological link? Evidence has been mounting that these common chronic conditions-including Alzheimer’s, cancer, arthritis, asthma, gout, psoriasis, anemia, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and depression among them-are indeed triggered by low-grade, long-term inflammation. But it took that large-scale human clinical trial to dispel any lingering doubt: the immune system’s inflammatory response is killing people by degrees.”

Inflammatory diseases tend to cluster together as chronic metabolic diseases- such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, nerve degeneration, and cancer. Because chronic inflammation underlies these metabolic diseases, if a person gets one of these diseases, they’re much more likely to develop others.

In medical school, I was taught that auto-immune diseases include diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, scleroderma, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, Type 1 diabetes, and celiac disease. But nobody taught me that diseases like the #1 and #2 killer in the US- coronary artery disease and cancer- are also autoimmune diseases. (Read more about heart disease and autoimmunity here. Read more about cancer and autoimmunity .) Long Covid also appears to be an autoimmune disease. All of these autoimmune diseases are the long term side effects of an inflammatory process that gets stuck in the “on” position, even when there’s no infection that needs to be fought off.

As Harvard magazine asserts , “Mounting evidence suggests a common underlying cause of major degenerative diseases. The four horsemen of the medical apocalypse — coronary artery disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s — may be riding the same steed: inflammation.”

In medical school, I was taught that, if anything, inflammation was a beneficial response to invading pathogens, recruiting granulocytes, T-cells, B-cells, macrophages, fibrocytes, antibodies, cytokines, and complement, an array of circulating proteins produced in a cascade of enzymatic activity in the presence of microbes. Once the pathogens are eliminated, suppressor T-cells are supposed to turn inflammation off.

But that’s not what happens with chronic inflammation, which is different from acute inflammation, which is easier to spot because of the Latin pneumonic we did learn in medical school- calor (heat), dolor (pain), rubor (redness), and tumor (swelling). But when the acute inflammatory response fails to eliminate the offending invader agent completely, suppressor T cells don’t call off the immune system- and chronic inflammation takes hold, often without the obvious fever, pain, redness and swelling. When this happens, the immune system goes on to slowly, gradually turn on its host and attack your body, rather than protecting it. This is what we call “auto-immunity.”

As we age, we all have some degree of chronic inflammation, which is associated with degeneration of the body. But if chronic inflammation, marked by high levels of CRP (C-reactive protein) and other inflammatory biomarkers, get high, they’re associated with all kinds of diseases, most notably coronary artery disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.

So trauma causes nervous system dysregulation, and chronic nervous system dysregulation causes chronic inflammation, and chronic inflammation leads to auto-immune dysfunction, which increases the risk of almost every chronic disease process. So in effect, trauma causes inflammation-related diseases, proving that there’s no such thing as “mind-body” because the nervous system impact of psychological, emotional, and spiritual trauma is 100% in the body- as nervous system dysregulation and chronic inflammation.

Acute inflammation typically results because of infection or a neoplastic process like cancer. But chronic inflammation is different. It tends to show up in the body for three primary reasons- an inflammatory diet (metabolic inflammation), immobility, and the physiological impact of psychological trauma. Overeating or eating nutrient-free foods stimulates an inflammatory response that kicks off a whole cascade of physiological auto-immune activity. Exercise can reverse some of this, but if your diet is poor and you’re not exercising much, the effect is amplified. Chronic PTSD also increases inflammatory biomarkers (read more and ), largely related to the excess cortisol stimulated by chronic repetitive stress responses.

The good news is that diseases caused by chronic inflammation can be reversed by reducing inflammation. Gökhan S. Hotamisligil, Simmons professor of genetics and metabolism at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said, “Chronic inflammation is uniformly damaging and is absolutely causal to the process, because if you interfere with it, you can reverse the pathology.” Diet-related inflammation can be reduced by limiting overconsumption and eating an anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet. Immobility-related inflammation can be treated with exercise. And of course, trauma-related chronic inflammation requires healing and treating the underlying trauma.

As is typical in the conventional medical mindset, scientists have investigated whether anti-inflammatory drugs can reverse chronic inflammation, but the body outsmarts the drugs. If you block an inflammatory pathway, the body tends to switch pathways. If you block too many pathways, you create dangerous immunosuppression. The obvious answer is to reverse chronic inflammation not by using anti-inflammatory drugs, but by treating the sources of the problem- diet, exercise, and psychological trauma.

In medical school, I was taught to work 36 hour shifts without any sleep. By the time I was a practicing physician, I was expected to work 72 hour shifts without sleep- even when I was pregnant. But optimal health requires the opposite. To achieve the best health outcomes, most people need about 9 hours of solid nighttime sleep (naps don’t make up for lack of nighttime sleep.) Our bodies need for our nervous systems to spend many hours in the healthy dorsal vagal parasympathetic sleep state in order to repair what breaks down during the day.

Western culture prioritizes productivity at the expense of sleep and optimal health. But especially if you’re sick and in recovery, or if you’re interested in disease prevention, sleep is essential.

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Curious to learn more about what Jeff, Shiloh, Jonathan, and I have figured out about how to be proactive in your healing journey?



Lissa Rankin, MD

Lissa Rankin, MD, New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine, The Fear Cure, and The Anatomy of a Calling.