Hello and welcome everyone to Discover Health! In today’s podcast, I’m interviewing Dr. Diana Driscoll, “Hi Diana!”

Hi, how are you doing today?

I’m doing great, welcome to the show!

Thank you for having me, I appreciate it.

It’s an honor to have you on. I’m going to start out, Dr. Driscoll, by reading your bio to let folks know what we’re going to be talking about today. Even before I read that, let me make sure people understand that we’ve entitled today’s talk, “Could Your Vagus Nerve be the Root Cause of Your Illness,” and I’m really excited to be talking about this today.

Dr. Diana Driscoll is an invisible illness patient, an author, a speaker, a patient advocate, researcher, inventor, a clinical director, a wife, and a mother. Dr. Driscoll was disabled with an invisible illness including dysautonomia, POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), chronic fatigue syndrome, and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.  After traveling the country looking for doctors to help, and yet unresponsive to treatment, she set up a corporation of her own entitled Genetic Disease Investigators to try to get answers. She created a blog prettyill.com to reach out to others when her children also became ill. Her forum is known worldwide. When answers came, she went on to write the Driscoll Theory which dramatically changed the current treatments of postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (or POTS). Her research continues, and she is the recipient of two patents today. Although disabled for over a decade, she and her children are fully recovered, and Dr. Driscoll is now the clinical director of POTS Care. She remains a devoted patient advocate and speaker.

Dr. Driscoll – WOW! Again, this is an honor to have you on today. The first thing I always ask folks that come on the podcast is to please share with us this vast history for you – what brought you to what you do today?

Listen to the podcast here:

First, Dr. Murray thank you for having me. It’s my honor honestly and I’m delighted to be here. To be on the other side of an illness is just an amazing adventure. Although I would never wish anyone the illness I went through, it was something that was worth going through because we were able to get answers to help other people. Click To Tweet. What happened to me was – I was basically healthy as far as I knew! I was 46 years old and went to Costa Rica on a mission trip and got a virus. I can’t blame this virus because we all got this same virus. But I was the only one who couldn’t recover, and I ended up with some very strange symptoms.

It was constantly changing but it started out where I felt like I couldn’t breathe, I was gasping for breath sometimes on all fours on the floor. My heart rate went wonky, my digestion started to stumble where food just sat in my throat for a long time, my blood pressure was going up and down, sometimes my heart rate would change just when I leaned forward or turned from one side to another. I was losing the ability to control my temperature, or at least I felt that way. I couldn’t handle any cold, I couldn’t handle any heat. I couldn’t handle one degree of temperature change in a room which was very frustrating. As I got sicker, it morphed into more of a chronic fatigue-type presentation, where what started out as I couldn’t sleep (I became a complete insomniac) went to I couldn’t stay awake. Then the digestive problems got worse. Things went downhill so badly I was hallucinating sometimes, I was sensitive to light and sound. I couldn’t handle any stress at all, I couldn’t even answer the phone. I was losing my cognition, I got down to zero on the short-term memory. It wasn’t a subtle condition, but no one could get me answers and I went everywhere Dr. Murray! I went to probably fifty doctors because I thought, This isn’t so! Surely someone is missing something, I just haven’t gotten to the right doctor.

I ended up at Mayo Clinic – I participated in three of their clinical trials. They did find that I had POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), and I thought, okay we’ve got a diagnosis and we know what’s going on! We know what to treat it with and I’m going to be okay. But no – it was just a complete dead end because they didn’t understand what caused POTS. POTS is a symptom, but they didn’t know what it was symptom of. What was the scariest part though for me, honestly, wasn’t even my illness, it was when my kids got sick. Our son was 8 years old when he got a series of three viruses and each virus knocked him down further until the third one caused him to become completely disabled like I was. He presented differently in that he fainted (I never fainted). Sometimes he fainted just sitting up, and then he got to the point where he was losing weight. He developed severe osteoporosis. He broke his arm just throwing a ball, just putting on his coat, and yet frighteningly no one could tell us why. No one could help.

When I heard from the researchers that they thought POTS patients were perfectly normal, just more aware of our own bodies (ha!), I turned to my husband and said, “We have got to figure this out ourselves. They have no clue how sick we are.” Click To Tweet I couldn’t push past it, certainly. I had to shut down in the middle of the day. I had to stop seeing my last two patients, I couldn’t even see them. We set up Genetic Disease Investigators. I thought, let’s do some studies. At that point, I had received disability and we took the money from disability and put it in the studies to try and get answers. So that’s what kind of launched me to figure out what just happened and is there a way we could possibly return to health.

Gosh, Dr. Driscoll. I have patients everyday coming in that say they have this diagnosis and the other diagnosis, and I honestly say to them, “Yes, that might be the uniform you were given.  But that doesn’t tell us why and that doesn’t tell us how to reverse or eliminate it from your life.” Wow, that’s quite an experience that you’ve been through. Traditional medicine is wonderful for acute disease, but in the functional medicine world we’re really all about the chronic conditions that let’s try to get to the underlying cause. Since we’ve entitled today “Could the Vagus Nerve be the Root Cause of Your Illness,” what is the vagus nerve and how does that fit with this experience you’ve had?

Yes, it was a key piece, and there were many layers to my illness, to my kids’ illness, and again we weren’t even all the same which was surprising to me in the end. One of the first things we figured out though was that we all had abnormal intracranial pressure and we had to get answers there and that’s in the book. The next thing I figured out, as I kind of suspected, was the vagus nerve was a problem. The reason is that that nerve is so long (it’s the longest cranial nerve in the body and it serves so many different organs. It helps control our heart rate, it slows it down when we tend to get high heart rate – say we’re chased by a bear or something and then we’re ready to calm down, it slows the heart and the breathing. It controls every aspect of digestion:

  • stomach acid production
  • opening up the pyloric valve, the valve at the base of the stomach that allows food to exit
  • signals the gallbladder to release bile
  • the pancreas to release digestive enzymes
  • the sphincter of Oddi allowing the release of bile and digestive enzymes into the intestines
  • motility – movement of the food/stool throughout the GI tract

It does even more than that. The vagus nerve is also the anti-inflammatory nerve body and that’s important. I started to suspect my vagus nerve might be affected because when I got sick, my heartrate and my gut were both affected at the same time. Click To Tweet I thought, Well, what would tie those two things together? That nerve would. I spent some time trying to figure out if that nerve was perhaps involved.

The sympathetic nervous system being your “fight or flight” nervous systems and the parasympathetic nervous systems being your relaxation, digestion, libido type of nervous system. The vagus nerve is the longest of the cranial nerves and connects the brain and the gut. There is a lot of research out there about even the fact that it’s almost a two-direction highway now between the bugs, the bacteria, the viruses, the fungi, the microbiome of the gastrointestinal tract and the brain. What happened to you, and how did you figure out your vagus nerve issue?

This was quite the story, but it was an interesting journey and it was a great example, I think, of a patient that had to do something because no one else was helping. I got to the point where I couldn’t have a bowel movement. I had complete gastroparesis. I had struggled with constipation for a long time, and then had episodes of diarrhea which were welcomed because at least it would relieve me of the constipation. But when I got to the point of complete gastroparesis, I had tried everything Dr. Murray – I had used everything out there to try to have a bowel movement and was getting nowhere so I showed up at my doctor and she said, “Well I have nothing new to offer than what you’ve already tried.” I was having some vague pain in the lower right-hand quadrant of my abdomen and I told her about that and she said, “Maybe this is an atypical kidney stone, I’ll send you to a urologist.” And I thought, That’s kind of odd. I didn’t think it would present that way. I’ve never had a kidney stone, but from what I hear they don’t present that way. But I don’t think she knew what else to do, and I understand that. She wanted to pass me off to somebody.

I saw the urologist and he was great. He was super smart, really nice. He gave me some dye to drink and did some imaging to look for stones and there were no stones. That’s great. But because he was so nice and so smart, you know as patients sometimes when we get in these positions we’re looking for anybody who could help out. I told him what I was suspecting about the vagus nerve, and I said, “If it’s a vagus nerve problem, could this vague pain be the ileocecal valve – the valve between the large and small intestine. If that’s not opening I could see how I couldn’t have a bowel movement.” He thought that was an amazing possibility, and he said, “I would like for you to see a friend of mine. Up the hall is a surgeon – maybe he can help.” And I saw this surgeon and explained what I thought was happening. He said, “Diana if you think you have a vagus nerve problem, don’t ever have abdominal surgery unless it’s life threatening because we cut right through the nerve. We cause gastroparesis!” I thought, Okay. I appreciate that. I’ll leave.

I left, and I went home. I had gone to the emergency room. At that point I hadn’t had a bowel movement in about two weeks. It wasn’t just about the constipation, Dr. Murray, it was the constipation on top of being so sick. It was one thing on top of another. It was just too much. They gave me prokinetics and it did nothing. It did absolutely nothing. I was at home a few days after I saw the urologist and, this had to be some sort of divine intervention because, oddly I got a kidney stone! I called the urologist, I said, “I know you’re going to think I’m nuts! I understand. I saw you just a few days ago and I didn’t have a stone. I respect that. But I do now!” He met me at the hospital and sure enough I had a stone. He removed it and the moment I woke up, he was standing very close to me and I remember him just inches from my face is how I remember it. He said, “Diana you were right! It’s your ileocecal valve.” I said, “How did you know?” He said, “Well that dye I gave you to drink a few days ago is still in your GI tract, but it’s all up against the valve. It can’t move past it.” I said, “Oh confirmation. This is excellent! What do we do?” He said, “Well I don’t know, I’m here to remove your kidney stone.” We all have our parts in the body, you know. I felt like I had some validation there and I went home and thought, I don’t know where else to go. I’ve exhausted all possibilities.

Interestingly, I will tell you that, my gallbladder had also shut down and they had figured that out with the hydrascan, the traditional test. It was just not working; the ejection fraction was a measly 8% and they wanted to remove it. I said, “Hmm, is it like an appendix? It is infected and is going to blow? Am I going to have to have that removed right away?” And they said, “No, it’s not infected. It’s okay.” Is it filled with gallstones? You know, that would be a reason to have it removed, but no it was fine. I said, “I’d like to think about this.” Because to me it sounded like the gland was fine. It sounded like maybe it wasn’t getting the signal. Could this be a neurological issue? And they were a little upset that I didn’t have my gallbladder removed, but I was thinking about that. It was kind of all sliding into place that this sounded indeed like a vagus nerve problem. I was lying in bed saying, “Let’s just assume I’m right. I have nowhere else to do. What can I do to help myself?

I remembered in school and, Dr. Murray, my school was like 30 years ago so it’s amazing I even remembered this, but I remembered memorizing these nerves and drawing them. The vagus nerve was in two parts. There’s the long preganglionic portion that goes from the brain down the neck into the chest and abdomen. Then there’s the tiny gap, or what we call synapse, and there’s a very small postganglionic vagus nerve. I remembered the instructor saying that the postganglionic vagus nerve is so small that it’s almost part of the organ itself. I thought, Okay, well could I still trigger that nerve somehow? Let’s say this preganglionic is defunct for whatever reason, I was considering maybe it was compressed. But I didn’t know. I thought, let’s try to stimulate that tiny postganglionic nerve. So, I’m thinking through the science, You need a neurotransmitter to land on the receptor of that nerve. What is the neurotransmitter for the vagus nerve? That’s easy. That’s acetylcholine. But that’s not a drug, and the reason that’s not an injectable drug is because the body breaks it down immediately which is also why we don’t have a blood test for acetylcholine.

Instead we have to use a substitute what we call an agonist. I thought, what is the agonist for the vagus nerve? Oh! Well that’s easy. The vagus nerve is the only nicotinic acetylcholinergic nerve in the body. And we call it that because its agonist is nicotine. I thought, alright then! I called my husband at his office and I said, “On the way home can you swing by the drug store and bring me a nicotine patch?” And he said, “What are you up to?!” He was getting used to me doing little science experiments on my body. But I didn’t know if it mattered where I put it. I put it in the lower right-hand quadrant, kind of picturing the nicotine going through the skin and perhaps landing on the receptor of that postganglionic vagus nerve and maybe triggering a bowel movement. Sure enough, an hour or an hour and a half later things start moving, the valve opens, and I have a normal bowel movement. I did it again the next day. It worked like a charm the next day. I did it for four days, but then I had to stop because nicotine sadly activates a lot of inflammatory cells. My stomach was purple, it looked like it had been eaten by fire ants. It was itching, and I thought, I’ve ruined everything! How can I possibly recover? I had to stop using nicotine, but at that point I thought, wouldn’t it be great to figure out something we could take orally that would come together in one time to trigger that postganglionic vagus nerve like nicotine did without the inflammatory effects of nicotine? I spent a long time working on that. That was the next step. Long story, I know!

No, but that’s amazing! Absolutely as you brought up in the parasympathetic nervous system, the neurotransmitter primarily for that is acetylcholine. That was a wonderful thought process. Again, we can’t take acetylcholine, so what’s a precursor? It’s sort of like in the detoxification world our primary detoxifying chemical is glutathione. Many times, we can’t take glutathione because it gets broken down in our acidic stomach. We may give people a precursor like N-acetylcysteine. This is the same kind of concept, it’s just different pathways.

That’s exactly right!

This was a vagus nerve problem then, right? Or was it more than acetylcholine problem?

I am so glad you asked that because if I had stopped there saying, Okay I was able to trigger the vagus nerve. This is a vagus nerve problem, I would have missed so much. What I did was pause and say, what did I learn from this lesson? I just tried to stay strongly in the science. The science was telling me the receptor itself was receiving the signal. The receptor was fine and all the research on POTS to date was saying this was likely some weird autoimmune condition affecting the receptors. But they couldn’t seem to figure it out. Because the receptor worked fine we could dismiss that possibility. There was still hope!

Dr. Driscoll, the reason you knew that the receptor was not the problem was because the nicotine worked?

That’s correct! Exactly. It was a diagnostic test to make sure the receptors actually worked. And it worked great! It was either a preganglionic vagus nerve problem, something ruined it for whatever reason, or it was acetylcholine problem. To break that down, I looked at symptoms of low acetylcholine and as an eye doctor, I had an advantage here honestly, Dr. Murray, because this is something we study in school. The reason is we use anticholinergic medications every day!

Those eye drops that the doctor puts in to dilate your pupils is an anticholinergic. We learned the pharmacology, there is not blood test for this, and we learned to recognize the presentation of symptoms of low acetylcholine. Those include things like brain fog or I would go to pure dementia. I got to the point where I had zero short-term memory, even to the point where I couldn’t stay awake. I’d lost all executive function so that was traumatic. Dry eyes and that was something that had hit me. Large pupils and all of these were eye effects. I’d heard from patients on the form I had on prettyill.com some pretty weird symptoms. At first I would say, “What? You’re seeing dancing lines or spiders? Okay, I don’t know what this means.” But it was when people started to say that sometimes they’d see visual snow or what looks like static in their vision. That nailed it right there. There is only one reason that we know of for visual snow and that is anticholinergic poisoning.

Well we hadn’t been poisoned, but could acetylcholine release be so low that we’re exhibiting much like an anticholinergic poisoning patient? The symptoms tend to come and go and be much milder, but it was in that family. I sent the symptom checklist to chronic fatigue patients, POTS patients, fibromyalgia, and interestingly PTSD and the vast majority of patients showed the majority of symptoms of anticholinergic poisoning. The would tend to come and go, but I knew that then that the vagus nerve problem was secondary.

This was an acetylcholine problem. I started to look at where did the acetylcholine go? I started with genetic problems, was this a genetic issue with acetylcholine? I wanted to be able to work around any genetic defects in that pathway. I figured out how to work around that but that wasn’t the number one reason. There were approximately 1 out of every 50 patients in our studies had a defect there but that wasn’t the majority. I didn’t feel like we had it yet. Then I spent time trying to figure out was the acetylcholine getting broken down? I was just getting nowhere with that. One day I thought, wait a minute, could something be blocking the release of acetylcholine? And again, that was an eye doctor thing. We know that happens in an eye condition called Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune condition where the patients can’t produce tears well. They also tend to get dry mouth and other symptoms. The reason they can’t produce tears is inflammation starts to attack the gland that produces tears, the lacrimal gland. Early in the condition, the inflammation blocks the release of acetylcholine, the gland is still okay, but it can’t release tears because it’s not getting the signal. If we stimulate the lacrimal nerve, it won’t work. The acetylcholine does not get released. I thought, could that be happening to other nerves? The first time we have a thought like that, you want to check existing literature and say, oh maybe someone’s already looked into this. Well they have so I thought, okay we kind of know what’s going on here. For many people certain inflammatory cytokines actually block the release of acetylcholine. For patients who have episodes of inflammation it’s not a big deal, but if we’re dealing with some chronic inflammation that’s where we run into trouble.

We wanted to go in the back door and I just sat in my kitchen and used my organic chemistry to try to do this, to come up with something my son and I could start with to take to replace the acetylcholine that might not be getting released. That’s where Parasym Plus™ was born, the pill that’s gotten the patents you mentioned. No one had ever thought that could be done orally, and I was on a mission to figure this out! Finally got it!

So, what is it again?

I called it Parasym Plus™ I was trying to think, what am I going to name this? If we’re going to call this something. Parasym Plus™ is what I came up with because it supports the parasympathetic nervous system, the vagus nerve, the calming/relaxing “rest and digest” nervous system, plus it passes the blood-brain barrier to support cognition, executive function, short-term memory, produce tears, etc. It does more than just the parasympathetic nervous system.

What exactly are the ingredients?

Ingredients are on the website. It wasn’t even so much which ingredients it took, although that was important. We’ve got a form of choline that crosses the blood-brain barrier with additional support for an acetyl group. This is specially to work around genetic issues for people who don’t have an enzyme to break off that acetyl group, but that also increases acetylcholine. We have an anticholinesterase inhibitor which will preserve acetylcholine in the synapse once it is released and that helps. But certain nutrient deficiencies which end up being pretty common in people with vagus nerve problems can also prevent the production of acetylcholine, so I wanted to cover for that, so thiamin was important.

What was so hard and what took me three years was not just that research, but the right amounts were so critical. Two of them, if they were in improper amounts they basically cancelled each other out so that didn’t work. If you put too much of the enzyme inhibitor in there, the receptors can kind of get numb and then they need more and more. We didn’t want that! That amount was really important.

I ran three clinical trials on this to make sure we had it right. Interestingly on the third one, if we take this every day (which I did), it’d be nice to put it in food like a breakfast bar or something we could grab on the run or in a smoothie or something. I was looking for the bowel movement to make sure it triggered that nerve and we didn’t often get that on the first dose. It’s best take initially on an empty or close to empty stomach at least for the first month or so until all of the organs are working. My gallbladder works like a champ, but I had to give it all time to return and get that gut flora normalizes. The dysbiosis I had as a patient was horrible but all of that would just go away and then the immune system can improve. That was a process but mixing it with food initially was not a good idea. It took some time to get all of that right.

What I’m hearing you say is that the creation of this Parasym Plus™ and the experiment of using yourself as a guinea pig to get the right combination was ultimately what corrected your problem?

That’s exactly right. I put this together for our son and was giving it to him honestly just praying and hoping I got this right. The only way we could tell if we hit it right besides bowel movements was looking at if the pupils were starting to respond. Dry eyes eventually went away. We were recovering from malabsorption. That was why he developed osteoporosis. So, when he started to gain weight he got stronger, we knew we were getting there. For me it was the relief in the cognition was so significant. It was immediate, so I knew it was crossing the blood-brain barrier which was very relieving. Just having normal bowel movements again and I know it’s not a “bowel movement” supplement, but that in itself was life-changing for me. I had had four big Tupperware containers of every GI medicine known to man to try to start bowel movements or stop them, or relieve symptoms or whatever, and to wake up in the morning and basically have a bowel movement kind of knocking at the back door was life changing. It was like a party every day in the bathroom! Suddenly I celebrated every day because I didn’t have it for years. I knew I was getting there so that was very rewarding.

The vast majority of Americans do have bowel problems, IBS, oh my goodness. Where they garbage dump the diagnosis, to be honest, as soon as you come up with the uniform let’s give you a uniform that we call Irritable Bowel Syndrome. How many people across this country and the world are suffering from either constipation and not going for days or you sit on the toilet and you’re not fully emptying so you walk away completely unsatisfied with the experience. Or you can’t even leave your home because of diarrhea.

You are right!

Do you think that this is the key answer for a lot of that? Is it that a lot of us suffering from an acetylcholine deficiency?

I think there are so many out there. What oftentimes happens, like I was extraordinarily ill, but for people who are functional or they’re living but not living optimally, they tend to blame some of the symptoms. They’ll get some fatigue or brain fog or constipation and they go, “well I’m getting older” or “I’m under a lot of stress.” They can always point to reasons for it. We look at that as are you sure that’s what that is? We know as we get older we get more inflammation. Could we be more proactive? Is that a necessary consequence of getting older? How many people deal with a low level of inflammation that their symptoms are subtler but they’re not living optimally? We see as eye doctors, patients who come in and we know they’re not 100%. You can tell. One, we see the bigger pupils and go, “do you tend to get constipated?” And that coming from an eye doctor they’re like “what?! But yes, I tend to get constipated.” It’s interesting they go about their lives, they don’t consider themselves ill but they’re not as well as they could be. I do think there’s a fair number of people out there like that.

And now, of course, we’re talking near and dear to my heart with my book, “Make a D.E.N.T. in Chronic Disease,” in the first chapter of my book is all about the immune system and the fact that inflammation and the iceberg below the water that we can’t see of all the cytokines and the inflammatory milieu that is living in us if we’re not identifying our food triggers or identifying toxins in our world or decreasing our stress and having a good stress management aspect to our lives. It’s so important that as we age it may not necessary be a genetic deficiency, it may be that we’re not living optimally healthy lives, therefore we have this inflammatory milieu causing our hormones and nervous system not to function optimally.

Completely, so well said. So much of the immune system is in the gut, right? And we tend to judge our gut based on whether or not we’re having bowel movements, or we’re bloated or having pain, but at a lower level you may not have those symptoms. The absorption may just be less than it could be, the inflammation can be more than it should be, the immune system can be less than it could be and that can affect long-term health and an overall feeling of wellness, completely. I’m a huge believer in being proactive as you are. Click To Tweet

Dr. Driscoll, back on the virus you mentioned…

Yes, again I can’t blame the virus, but in my case that virus set off so much inflammation and my body just doesn’t do well with inflammation and I couldn’t rise above. I just got sicker and sicker. It went untreated for so long and the underlying problems just got worse and worse and that’s where even the malabsorption didn’t start out being bad, but it got bad and that’s where some of the hallucinations were coming from. I was eating just fine but I wasn’t absorbing, and neither was my son, so we had to get those answers just for our own recovery.

In the functional medicine world, we take so much about root cause and what’s the trigger. We do a timeline, for example: someone’s entire life. We’re looking for those triggers. Do you think that viral infection for you was the ultimate trigger?

I think that’s what got it going, but when I look back on my life, although I see myself as I was healthy, we start to reexamine and go, did I show any signs of dealing with inflammation back then? I remember being prone to constipation. This is back in the day when cone enemas were a big deal, my mom would chase me with this enema thing and I thought, why aren’t my sisters having this problem? Why me? I did get anemic when I was young. I was eating the exact same things that everyone else in the family was eating, but I was leaning that direction. I was thin. There were probably some signs then, but I wasn’t sick. I was able to handle things but it all came to a culmination when I got the virus. For my son though, it was three different viruses, and each one knocked him further down. Everyone at school got them and they did fine. Why didn’t he do fine? For my daughter though we never could point to a trigger. Try as we might, we couldn’t tell. She was much more functional, so it wasn’t like a day that down she went like my son and me. She started to show anxiety and depression first and eventually I saw she was having trouble standing still when we were at the store. We figured out she developed POTS, but it was more incremental for her. There was nothing specific we could point to.

Is the underlying mechanism of this issue, autoimmune?

I don’t think so. At least not for me. I don’t think my kids or I have an autoimmune issue. We see patients who have POTS who are all different, and we tend to see more autoimmunity here than the general population so there could be an autoimmune component, but we have plenty of patients with autoimmunity who can still recover from POTS, and there are plenty of people out in the world with autoimmunity that don’t have POTS. We can’t say that’s necessarily the cause. We sure don’t want to take away hope for patients who have autoimmunity. POTS is very specific which is why we limit our practice to POTS only. We know what we’re doing with POTS. As you mentioned, the unrecognized especially chronic inflammation I think is huge and one reason that goes unrecognized is as doctors we don’t test inflammatory cytokines. We just don’t have that ability. We can maybe do one or two, which is not enough. We have the traditional markers that separate CRP, the majority of those people that’ll show normal. We get missed and until that’s a routine thing, and it’s going to take a while to get all that literature and make that part of a treatment paradigm, patients like me and my kids and so many others won’t get recognized. They consider it maybe it’s a psychiatric condition or maybe we’re just more aware of our own bodies. No! We’re very sick, but the markers that are objective are not getting measured so that’s a huge problem.

You also have to remember that in the adaptable immune system, you can narrow down the inflammatory T2 pattern into the high CRP levels and the high sed rates type autoimmune conditions or inflammatory conditions. Or you could go down the T1 such as like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, typical thyroid diseases whether that be Grave’s or low thyroid. Those folks are not going to have a high inflammatory marker, doesn’t mean their immune system is not dysfunctioning it just means it’s a different pathway.

That’s exactly right. We tend to think of those conditions more as localized. Like you mentioned Hashimoto’s, we’ll tend to think of that as a thyroid problem – it’s not really a thyroid problem it’s a systemic disorder that eventually attacks the thyroid sufficiently to cause thyroid problems. We don’t tend to think of those systemic issues and that’s really a disservice to the patient. So much more involved.

Dr. Driscoll, this has been very enlightening and the idea of the acetylcholine and the vagus nerve. Thank you so much! You’ve written the book called the Driscoll Theory® – tell us about that.

Yes, I came out with this years ago and it was designed initially for POTS patients. As I started to get answers, some things we could put in peer review like a tendency for high pressure. They wouldn’t publish it without lumbar punctures, but we didn’t want to do that because a lot of patients were showing connective tissue problems and we were afraid that would set them up for spinal leaks. We had to get the word out though. That went around the world and it changed the way POTS was being evaluated and treated, which is amazing! We have moved so far beyond that but there’s so much in that book that can help people today.

Great! How do people get access to the supplement you mentioned, the Parasym Plus™ and how do they know whether that’s something they should be taking?

I think if you look at the symptoms of low acetylcholine and see, is this a pattern for me? Do I tend to get brain fog, constipation, dry eyes, big pupils, or flush? Those are clues right there. That’s usually sufficient. That’s all we have because there isn’t a blood test for it. We have to look for those sorts of patterns. It’s at vagusnervesupport.com; there are some other products to support that too that can be really helpful, but I’m so excited it’s out there now! It was just a labor of love really for so long. I’m so excited to see how it’s helping so many people.

How long has it been out there and available?

It’s interesting, I came up with it 4 years ago (when I finally had it in a bottle). I didn’t have any time to do anything with it! We had a website where all the links were broken, it was almost like you had to be in this secret club to know it was there for 2 years! After a couple of years and once POTS care was stable we got the website going. it’s been active now for a couple of years.

That’s fantastic. Again, this has been extremely eye opening for me and as well as everyone listening. There are so many patients that we work with from so many avenues to improve. People do see improvement coming from the functional medicine paradigm again from avenues of diet as well as exercise as well as stress management as well as supplements and medications and integrative therapies. It’s always interesting to hear about more and as you thought through the science of the parasympathetic nervous system. That’s amazing.

Thank you. It was geek at work, what can I say?

We all do that, don’t we? To think it through and think it through – the people who do that are the ones that come up with solutions for new problems with ideas. Thank you so much!

You’re welcome.

Dr. Driscoll, I also like to end my show with trying to make sure I ask all the brilliant people I’m interviewing, if you had to pick one or a couple of the main secrets you would say to living an optimal, healthy life – what would that be?

I struggle with this so much because I have my top 20 or something! But I’ve thought about if I could recommend something, if someone’s sick or they’re struggling and they’re looking for answers one thing that really helped me was to always get a copy of my medical records and my images on my way out the door. There was so much getting missed and there were errors and it was scary to find, I understand we’re all human. Having another set of eyes on some of those things is really important. I was even in stage 3 kidney failure for three years and it was in the bloodwork and they still missed it, so that was kind of terrifying. But I would recommend always getting a copy of your records. You never know when that could be helpful and even the images could be helpful.

For those who are healthy, which is awesome, I would say if I had to pick one thing, it would be to watch late night eating, oddly. As an inflammatory patient, I found that so inflammatory. For people who are healthy, I have a feeling that could probably affect them on a lower degree and maybe prematurely age us to some degree. When we can go to bed on a, more or less, empty stomach, we do so much healing at nighttime that that can be really helpful. So, if you let me squeeze in two Dr. Murray, that would be my two!

In my world you’re alluding to the concept of intermittent fasting and the idea that if we’re staying up late and eating and eating and eating we’re constantly not allowing our body to go after the dead and dying cells and eat them so that if they’re still there then we’re going to have more cancers, more inflammatory milieu. We talked about it earlier, the iceberg below the water surface that people don’t know about of inflammation in their immune system.


That’s awesome. Thank you so much for being on the show with me! I look forward to people’s responses and sending this out to my tribe, so they hear about it and also hopefully helping out your folks that you work with on a regular basis. Thank you so much.

Thank you, Dr. Murray! It was such an honor. I really appreciate it.

Take care everyone, and we’ll see you in the next episode of Discover Health!

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About Dr. Diana Driscoll

Dr. Diana Driscoll is an internationally recognized researcher, inventor, speaker, author, and patient advocate. An optometrist by education, she was disabled for over a decade with “invisible illnesses”. Now fully recovered, she is the recipient of two patents to date and continues her research as President of Genetic Disease Investigators. She is the founder and Clinical Director of POTS Care — the only clinic dedicated to treating the underlying medical causes of POTS — not just the symptoms. 

Dr. Driscoll graduated summa cum laude from both The University of Houston College of Optometry and The University of Texas at Austin. She is a member of the International Society of Neurovascular Disease, the American Headache Society, the Medical Advisory Board for EDS Network C.A.R.E.S, the American Optometric Association, the Tear Film and Ocular Surface Society, and served as a medical advisor for the Ehlers-Danlos National Foundation. 

Her peer-reviewed medical abstracts include those involving vascular abnormalities in the fundus of POTS patients, the etiology of left ventricular diastolic dysfunction, and the use of acetazolamide in multiple sclerosis. She is the author of “The Driscoll Theory” — the publication revealing the propensity for high intracranial pressure in POTS patients that dramatically altered how this condition was evaluated and treated. She has also authored “Your Eyes and EDS”, and was the chief author of the “Ophthalmology Medical Resource Guide” for Ehlers-Danlos National Foundation

Dr. Driscoll is the recipient of numerous awards for patient advocacy and continues to donate her time to help others across the globe through her online forum and videos on YouTube.

Her work in chronic inflammation, the autonomic nervous system, collagen disorders, and organ dysfunction can help others live their best life, as well as have their best body and mind.


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