Ep 100: Functional Medicine and High Vibration Living at its Best with Dr. Jeffrey Bland
Today we begin our Learn From Our Elders series, where Robyn has curated people who are 65+ and still contributing massively to their own body of work, and to the planet. And our first discussion in this series is with a very inspirational man and renowned leader in functional medicine. Together with his wife, he founded The Institute for Functional Medicine in 1991, a nonprofit organization focused on educating healthcare practitioners on effective approaches to treating and preventing chronic disease. He is an author of several books on nutritional medicine. He has been an internationally recognized leader in the nutritional medicine field for over 35 years. He is known for his ability to synthesize complex scientific concepts in a manner that is both personable and accessible. Not only does he educate others on these profound functional medicine and scientific concepts on an academic level but he lives and shares them deeply and openly on a very personal level as well. Our elders have much to teach us about life and living and health and healing, if we’re willing to open up and listen. And Dr. Jeffrey Bland teaches and shares with us some great lessons on how to live a happy functional high vibration life in this special 100th episode. So here’s to listening and learning from our elders.
LINKS AND RESOURCES:
To connect with and learn more about Dr. Bland: Click here
Find out about Dr. Bland’s Institute: Click here
Get his book “The Disease Delusion” : Click here
Learn about his upcoming Annual Thought Leaders Consortium: Click Here
Hey there. It’s Robyn Openshaw and this is the 100th episode of The VIBE show. It represents a lot of work and heart and passion, not just for me, but for some people behind the scenes that you don’t get to hear their voice every week. I wanted to thank Chad who was with me for the first two years. He’s my video guy. He’s also our podcast editor. He’s done a lot of work for the last two years.
And now our very own Sue, who was called in Switzerland, when she came with us one year, Our Dear Squire Sue. They got her first and last name mixed up, but I’ve been calling her Our Dear Squire Sue ever since. She’s been with us for a few years. You’ve heard me talk about her on the podcast before, but she’s a dear friend, a 12 year GreenSmoothieGirl follower, lost 70 pounds doing our 12 steps to whole foods and she agreed to step in and learn how to do podcast editing. And she loves to read the transcripts as well. She does the transcripts for the show notes. She takes the crazy silliness that the machine transcription does and she tries to make it what I actually said instead of what the machine thought that I said. And she sends our staff the funny little weird snippets of Gobbledygook that come out of that machine transcription.
So I just want to thank everybody who has worked on this podcast. It’s been a real labor of love. I’ve learned so much from our guests. I’m sure I’ve learned more from them than you have because I’m really, really listening so that I can have a great conversation with them and bring you great information that I hope makes your life better.
And today we begin a series on learn from our elders. I’m going to be interviewing Dr. Jeffrey Bland, who probably deserves credit as being the father of functional medicine. We talk a lot on this show about functional medicine because it’s a school of medical practice that goes to root cause. It helps people find and resolve the root cause of their illness rather than what Western medicine has become rather infamous for which is putting bandaids on things.
So there are now over 30,000 functional medicine practitioners out there in the United States and Dr. Bland and his wife founded the institute for Functional Medicine or IFM, which any functional medicine practitioner knows what that is. He’s an absolute legend in his space. He has a PhD in, I believe, organic chemistry, and he’s written five books on nutritional medicine for healthcare professionals. He’s also written six books on nutrition and health for the general public. I think probably the best one for you to go get is called “The Disease Delusion: Conquering the causes of chronic illness for a healthier, longer and happier life”.
In this interview, Dr. Bland gets very personal with us when I asked him to share some of his life experiences. And I really enjoyed what he says, that he knows at 72 that he wishes he could tell his 32 year old self. One of the things I was most impressed with, with Dr. Bland is how sharp has mind is and how much he’s advancing his career, even in his seventies and contributing to the body of knowledge and functional medicine, but he’s also really physically active.
He and his wife are avid boaters and they have voyaged more than 40,000 miles in their own boats exploring Alaska and the waters of the Pacific Northwest. They spend a part of each year in Hawaii where he likes to swim in the ocean, scuba dive, paddle board and surf, and he is a volunteer member of the Kona Ironman water safety team. He is the principal author of over 120 peer reviewed research papers on nutritional biochemistry and medicine. So I’m very excited to bring you this interview with Dr. Jeffrey Bland.
So Dr. Jeffrey Bland. Welcome to The VIBE Show.
What a kick! I so appreciate being part of your program. I’ve admired it from afar and it’s really a privilege to be with you. Thank you.
So I’ve been super excited, ever since my assistant told me that we had you in our calendar to interview because you’ve been an enormous part of organizing around the concept of functional medicine. And we talk about that here on the show quite a bit. But I’d love for you to tell me about your background as a chemist, a biochemist, a PhD out there talking about medicine and nutrition and all of the links. But, what led you to want to organize functional medicine?
Thanks. Well, I think if you spoke to my mother, she would say that as far and long as she can remember, my interest has been in trying to understand why people got sick. And um, that kind of was a guiding principle for me all the way through High School into College and Graduate School and in all my training. Because it always seemed like a very, very interesting part of the process why some people, as they move through life got ill and others did not. And didn’t seem like it was just solely easily explained by our genes, that there seemed to be other things that were going on.
And, and so it was really been kind of a lifelong pursuit to me to kind of understand the origin, of what we now call chronic complex disease, which are the, the most common forms of illness that we have in our society, which include things like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, dementia, autoimmune diseases, those types of things that rob from us our productive life process, our health span, and they actually start creating dysfunction well before we die. And it’s those years of disability that then cause the medical system a lot of money. But they also cause a lot of loss of human potential and suffering that really always seemed to me it could be prevented if we understood where they came from.
And so, um, that has been a lifelong pursuit of mine. And it was very fortunate along my road of life that I’ve had the chance to be introduced to, and finally get to know and work for in some cases, uh, leaders in that field, um, people such as a two time Nobel Prize winning laureate Dr Linus Pauling, who I had the privilege of working for as a, as a research director of one of his research labs at the Pauling institute of Science in medicine in Stanford in the early eighties.
So, it’s that kind of interests that I’ve had, which is probably more than just a intellectual curiosity. It’s really kind of a life stream that’s affected everything I do. It kind of lives with me 24/7. I’m married to a woman, Susan, who shares the same kind of, uh, interest and commitment and we have our kids and now their families, who are also kind of on the same pursuit level. So it kind of has built for more than just being a profession or an intellectual curiosity, to be really a lifestyle and a life principle. So I guess that’s in summary, what my last, uh, 45 to 50 years has been like.
Yeah. So at 72 you’re still really, really active and we covered in your bio some of the amazing things that you do out on the water where you live and with your family and how you’re very integrated into a multi-generational family living close by. And that sounds very blue zone like. Now that that research is so, uh, you know, out there in the public, it’s probably pretty gratifying to know that those are the things that contribute to a long and amazing and rich life.
I would love to know from you what you’re most excited about that we’re on the frontier of in functional medicine. And actually I’d love for you to define for the lay person from the guy who sort of invented the thing. How would you define functional medicine? And then, I know you have a book out called “Genetic Nutritioneering” and I’d love for you to talk about what you’re excited about in functional medicine that you think is going to really explode in the next 20 years while we’re all still alive.
Well, first of all, I think it’s gonna be a lot shorter than 20 years. I think we’re in the throws of the explosion right now that’s happening in real time. Functional medicine to hopefully like give you a kind of a quick elevator summary to what it is, is a concept where the focus is less on what you call it and more and how you got there. So it’s less than trying to name the disease. It’s more about trying to understand the specific set of events, uh, that give rise to the origin of a dysfunction which we call loss of function. And really loss of function occurs in one of four areas. And that’s physical function, metabolic or physiological function, cognitive function and behavioral function. Those four are the real markers for what people call health.
Now, the only way you can really define health, I believe is by understanding function because in the absence of that, really health is pretty squishy as a term. You know, what one person might consider health and other person might consider something else as health. And, uh, once you start defining health in a quantifiable way, which is by measuring their function, which by the way all four of those things I just mentioned, we have measurement tools.
So we can measure physical function, endurance, strength and flexibility. We can measure physiological and metabolic function with all sorts of different parameters that assess your metabolism. We can measure cognitive function, there are all sorts of instruments now to measure cognitive function. And then lastly, behavioral function. We can measure, uh, how people behave and how they see themselves in the world and their locus of control and whether they feel loved and supported and have attribution or whether they feel isolated and lonely and unattached.
So all of these things can be evaluated and the composite of those gives rise to their overall aggregate function, which I would call their health or absence of it. And so function to me is the principle tool to move us away from a disease focused, what I would call almost negative implication society because no one really wants to talk about disease. It’s kind of scary and not very fun to talk about it. So it moves us away from disease into a discussion about health, which is uplifting, it’s positive, it’s affirming, and if people can learn to redefine themselves through the lens of health rather than the lens of disease, it’s a cultural wildcard that changes everything. It changes business, it changes our interaction one with the other, and it changes our interaction with our environment.
And right now because we’re so disease centric, everything is doom and gloom rather than up and out. So I am a big believer that the functional medicine movement is less a way of doing it and more a way of thinking. It’s a way of being. It’s a way of approaching how we operate as an individual on the planet in these sacred few decades of life that we have here to be the best we can to me. So, that’s how I see functional medicine as contrasted to the kind of negative focus of what I call disease care.
Perfect. And I’m a little bit geeking out on the fact that Linus Pauling was your lifelong mentor and you actually worked for him. So can we go aside for a second and just tell us what it was like to work for a two time Nobel prize laureate, and what he was like and what you learned from him?
Yeah. Thank you. That’s a really insightful question. Um, so to really describe my experience with Linus Pauling, I have to describe my relationship with both he and his wife Ava Helen who was a remarkable person in her own right, very strong individual, very capable. In fact, Linus Pauling, said of his wife years later after he had been married for 20 or so years, that the best chemistry student he ever had was his wife. And the reason for that was that she was in nursing school at the Oregon teacher’s college where he, as a student, was already teaching in the academic program at what now is Oregon State University, at the time was Oregon Teacher’s College. So, she was a student of his, as a nursing student and learning chemistry, from her later to be husband Linus.
So, um, the two of them, when I think of their lives together, and I think of what Dr. Pauling achieved, not only winning his Nobel Prize in chemistry, but also winning a Nobel Prize in a separate field in peace. He worked with the Albert Schweitzer and Albert Einstein, in the ability to mobilize some 30,000 scientists around the globe to petition against atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons and get the UN to finally sanction, uh, their proclamation that there would be no atmospheric testing any longer of nuclear weapons.
That particular advocacy and the nature of the range of things that he was involved in. Free elections in Central American countries, uh, exchanges of science with Russia, which at the time was considered, verboten that we would speak with anybody in Russia. And his work with Ava Helen, in the less advantaged and bringing science into school systems that really didn’t have any science and kids were being deprived. So I learned so many lessons, uh, beyond that, just of the extraordinary brilliance he had as a scientist, about what was his central theme in his life and a lot of people I think probably don’t understand this, that you can aggregate all of his activities and his some 1200 scientific publications and his work in peace around a principle that was called structure and function.
He was one of the first people in the English speaking language to really talk very, very deeply about function and its relationship to structure and vice versa. Structure and its relationship to function. And his belief was that no matter if you’re talking about subatomic particles, atoms, molecules, super molecular structure, cells, tissues, organs, organ systems, humans, society, planet or ecosystems that you’re really are talking at about how structure and function fit together.
You look at the shape of plants and animals and you ask why are they shaped in the way they are? And then you look at how they function. You find that their function really follows from their shape or their shape is interwoven with their function. So the shape of things, the geometry, the art of life, the structure of the universe, how it looks, how things fit together. His belief was that if we could learn and take that information and we could capture it and put it into a system that was consistent with structure, our function would follow and we would have harmony. And that’s at every level from a physical level to a biological level to a societal level.
So my take away from him was not only tremendous insight about science, but was really about how to apply the principles in structure and function to a much broader level or a wider range of levels of thinking about how we aspire as human beings to live in peace and to live in harmony and to create new things and to make life better for others and to be in synchrony, in resonance with the universe. So that was my takeaway from my years with Ava Helen and Linus Pauling.
Thank you for that. So in the functional medicine world, what do you think is the next big frontier where we’re going to see exploding ideas brought to health and wellness and medicine that is going to change everything? What are you most excited about? Is it genetics, genomics?
I mean, that’s part of it. I think that opens up some really important things, but it’s not the answer all. I think the answer all comes from an interesting advancing story that’s occurring right now, which I think is absolutely revolutionary. And that is if we were to look at all of the various known risks that are associated with premature illness or disease and premature death, interestingly enough, the singular most important risk factor that has been determined from probably hundreds if not thousands of different studies, happens to be age itself. And so you say, well, just a second. You know, maybe we can cheat on our birthdays and lie, but you know, those birthdays still really come. So that sounds fairly discouraging that the main risk factor to illness or dysfunction is age.
But if you probe more deeply and here’s where the revolution is occurring, what you’ll find is that the effects are not tied directly to your chronological age. They’re tied to your biological age, your functional age. And then that begs the question, doesn’t it? Well, what is a functional age? How do you measure? We can measure our age in birthdays by just counting the number of years since our birth. But how do you measure your biological age? And that’s really where things are getting extraordinarily interesting because new tools that come out of the old mixed revolution are allowing us for the first time to really get very accurate understanding of how biologically aged we are. Meaning we could be 70 in birthdays, but we could be 50 in our biological age or vice versa. We could be 50 in our birthdays and we could be functioning like an average 70 year old.
So how are these things measured? Well, one of the ways they’re measured, which is new, is to look at telomere length. The ends of these chromosomes that protect the book of life, our DNA from damage. And we know that in all animals, as they go through birthdays, that their telomeres get shorter and therefore their book of life becomes more vulnerable to damage and defacing and water spotting and what we call mutational injury. And so one might ask, is there any ways that you can protect against the loss of your telomeres?
And there is where the exciting new discoveries come to play. And the answer is yes. And it turns out the way we live and how we individualize. How we eat, think, act, drink, move, and breath are all directly related to how we can maintain our telomeres. These caps on the end of our chromosomes that protect our book of life against injury. And therefore one of the most remarkable breakthroughs that has occurred within the last few years is we can measure our telomere length rather easily. In fact, there are many companies that are available direct to consumer on the Internet where you can have your telomeres measured from your white blood cells for less than $100. And that information turns out to have a very close correlation with your biological age.
So if you have advanced, um, loss of your telomeres, you have increased biological age relative to your chronological age. Now the good news is, and this is where the story gets very positive, is your telomere length is not fixed and you can’t do anything about it. That by intervening with the appropriate, what I call personalized lifestyle intervention program, that you can actually increase your telomere length. And it subsequently then show you’re reducing your biological age. So your function, your physical, physiological, cognitive and emotional function all improves.
So here we’re actually defining a way of getting at health from a functional perspective using biological age determinants as our tool and recognizing that when we do that, the risk or the prevalence of every major disease, heart disease, diabetes, dementia, cancer, arthritis, whatever of the….., all those diseases reduced in incidents in a person who is in improving their biological age and reducing the loss of their telomeres.
So I think we have new tools for the first time that allow us to quantify health such that we can really measure our own progress against ourselves. This is called the N of 1 experience where we’re one person and we compare ourselves against ourselves as we move forward with our personalized, precise program and we see how it influences these biological functions that relate to our age, our biological age, partly which are reflected in the length of our telomeres.
I think these are new tools and new concepts only within the last 10 years, that have really become available, and they’re mapping us to a future of healthcare that’s very different than where we’ve come in which healthcare was considered you’re healthy until proven sick or the absence of a disease means you’re well. Well, we know that’s not true. Many, many people who don’t have diseases are not well. So here’s a new way to get to functional age through using these new tools to assess our biological age.
Okay, so what’s the test? We’re going to have people write us and say, what’s the test for less than hundred dollars that I can see how long my telomeres are from my white blood cells.
That’s what it’s called. It’s called telomere length. You can type in telomeres into a search engine in your computer and up will come a whole bunch of different laboratories that you can, some of them just use buccal cells from your mouthwash, others a finger stick blood that you put on a filter paper and send in, but yeah, for less than a hundred dollars, you’ll get your telomere length, which will assess your biological age.
Okay, so increasing telomere length or decreasing the rate at which it is getting shorter. Of course we need to eat more vegetables. We needed to eat more organic. We need to reduce our toxic exposures, detoxify. We need to be physically active. So the obvious things. Setting those aside, is there any data on more metaphysical things that actually impact our telomere length and our longevity that you know of? Any actual published studies on things more like living in tribes, living in, you know, with extended family around us, having active interests later in life, you know, some of those blue zones, things that are coming out that are really fascinating, that aren’t just about eating 90 percent plant based diet or whatever?
In answer to your question, let me spend just a second talking about those things that you were saying, besides those things. My view is we have a new view of those things. We used to kind of generalize all these things about what is a healthy diet, what is a healthy exercise program, uh, what is healthy sleep? And we would make general proclamations and many authors of health books would give you the recipe that they thought was the solution to those issues.
And what have we really learned? We’ve learned that there is no one diet for everyone. We know that there is no one exercise program for everyone. We’ve learned there’s no one kind of sleep cycle or sleep hygiene program for everyone. We are all individual facets on the unique diamond of life. And therefore we all need to be cognizant of our own specific needs or as was said, millennia ago, the food of one can be the poison of another. Uh, we need to recognize our uniqueness and then program our life intervention program based upon our uniqueness. So we maximize our strengths and minimize those things that may be of concern.
And so I think that when we speak of plant based foods or we think of what is the appropriate dietary intake, should we eat gluten or not? All of these controversies that we have that often raids like regular clockwork in the nutrition literature, really should be addressed at the personal level. They should be, what does this mean to me? Am I that person?
Not just generally everyone should give up gluten. I don’t think everyone should just give up gluten. I don’t think everyone should give up root vegetables. You know, there’s an author out now with the bestselling nutrition book who’s a vascular surgeon who thinks that we should be not eating certain vegetables because they contain lectins. Well, uh, that may be true for a certain group of people, a small group of people who have a certain digestive and lectin sensitivities, but for the general population and for everyone that’s not true. In fact, I think it even would be considered counter for certain individuals.
So I think that, uh, we need to recognize that we’re in the age of the individual, not in the age of the average. In fact, Roger Williams, the father of the concept of biochemical individuality made a statement back in the 1950’s. He said, “Nutrition is for real people. Statistical humans are of little interest”. But when we think about a lot of the things that we learn in nutrition, it’s around statistical average things, like public health messages, which do not relate to the individual in ways that are specific enough. So that’s my point one. That’s my soapbox on point one.
Point two now, which is to direct to your specific question about studies that had been done on psycho-behavioral factors related to telomere length, the answer is, absolutely Yes. There are literally hundreds now of really good studies that have been published in peer reviewed journals, medical journals that are looking at the effect of psycho-behavioral influences on telomere length.
And in fact, uh, one of the winners of the Nobel prize for discovering telomeres, Elizabeth Blackburn, her colleague at the University of California San Francisco, in exploring telomeres, happened to be a member of the faculty that was a PhD in behavioral psychology and they did many studies in collaboration looking at the effect of meditation, looking at the effect of community, looking at the effect of socialization, looking at the effect of reducing violence, looking at the effect of relaxation therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy on telomere length. And all of those studies demonstrate improvement of telomere integrity.
So the signals that we’re receiving, if you think of our cells as a receiver of signals that come from the outside world, some of those signals are nutritional, some of them are electromagnetic from waves of different wave lengths. Some of them are coming from psychosocial variables that we feel and hear and touch. All of these signals that we’re receiving, some come from our medicines, some come from our gut microbiome, all of those signals are picked up by the receptors in our body and these are the transducers, it takes the information from all these signals and they convert them into physiological function. And they do it in a unique way that is unique to that individual’s own genetic archetype.
So for one person, what might be considered a very distressful situation, like let’s say a heavy metal concert, for another person, a heavy metal concert is very energizing and activating and an expression of great art. So I think what we’re saying is all of us are being influenced by all sorts of signals 24/7. And how we translate those signals into our function is captured in part in our telomeres. That’s a whole new way of thinking about health and disease than the way that we were trained, certainly I was trained in my training in the 1960’s and ’70’s.
I’d love to pull this down from the academic level. You’re a scientist to the person that is Dr. Jeffrey Bland. What kind of experiences have you had in your life that have led you to understand better what a great life is at 70 plus? Has it been some of your challenges? Has it been your career? Do you want to share anything about a specific trial that you’ve been through in your life and what you’ve learned from it?
The thing that I really want to drive home in this learn from our elders series, is that people who are 70 or in your case 72, they know stuff that the rest of us don’t know and that makes sense if you think about the age you are now and subtract 20 years and you realize you’re a completely different person who has been shaped by all these powerful life experiences.
What are some of your life experiences or you know, just at least one or two that have led you to feel like instead of just, you know, golfing for the rest of your life, you’ve made lots of money, you don’t need to be pushing the boundaries and continuing to improve the world with your intellectual knowledge and your work, but you are still working, you’re still writing you’re an author of what almost a dozen books, I believe, you’re still out there actively leading. What makes you do that? Why do you want to keep leveraging this international treasure that is in your mind and your experience?
Well, let me give you a two experiences that I don’t want to bore you, but let me give you two great life lessons for me that probably could be related to by other people that are going through their life experiences. So, um, when I took my first academic job, which was in 1970 as a professor, I had just my wife and I and our infant, well I guess you would call him an infant, he was two years old, son moved to the Seattle area for my first job. And we really had only been here a few days in the area and didn’t know much about anything. I mean we were just moving our stuff into our rental condominium and uh, not to be overly dramatic, but to tell it like it went in summary.
Uh, I woke up at 6:00 in the morning on probably the fifth or sixth day that we were there to recognize that our newest son who was three months old, so we had the two children, we had the two year old and then we had an infant son that had just been born as I was finishing up my graduate work and doing my final orals and we were in the process of moving and so forth. So he was about two to three months old, I guess at the time, that he was dead. That he had died in the early morning, uh, as a consequence of sudden infant death.
Now, I can say without any reservation that’s a life experience that I wouldn’t want anyone else to have to go through. It’s a life changer that, you are never the same and epigenetically marks you. It creates a challenge, as to what are you going to do with that irrevocable experience. And, uh, for me, after I had a chance to really work it through and I have to say it was something that didn’t just get worked through in a moment, it was something that really took years to kind of process and manage. Um, it eventually led me to recognize that the only way that I could make sense out of that and the stress and post traumatic event was to say I wanted to create from this an experience in his, his name was Kurt, in his memory that would help other people to avoid unnecessary trauma as it relates to their health.
So it really changed my whole career focus. Uh, it made me more open to new ideas and to not discount things that I hadn’t learned before and to seek out information in places that I might have otherwise not thought to even look and to open my heart and mind to people and their stories and there were things that were expanding in my understanding of the universe and myself within it. And I would say that that event was, uh, from the forge of the flame came kind of my galvanized personality to be really committed as a life process to seeing if I couldn’t help a few people avoid the kind of trauma that my wife and I went through in our family as a consequence of that experience.
So I would say that, that, um, everyone has trauma in their lives and hopefully not at the level that I just described, but how we take that trauma and convert it into something that becomes a positive affirmation of how we want to be and where we want to go, I think, is a very important life lesson because I don’t think anyone escapes without trauma in their life at some level. And then it’s how you deal with it and how you mold it into being something that can be a positive for us going forward. So that would be, that would be my number one. And then I can give you a number two if you want. But, uh, maybe that’s enough of a shock factor by itself. I don’t know.
Well, first of all, thank you for sharing that with us, as a mother of four myself, that hurt my heart to hear that you had been through that. And really, I’m grateful that you shared that with us because one of the things that I’m teasing out of these interviews with people who are 65 plus who I absolutely believe know very, very important things about life that we should all be listening to.
And I don’t think we listen in the US to our grandparents very much, we sort of put them out to pasture and pat them on the head a little bit. Is exactly what you said, I haven’t yet interviewed one of our elders who’s an extremely accomplished professional, still doing great work that didn’t have a very humbling story that we can all learn from. And I think that’s it. We mine it for what is instructive about it and it makes us that much more compassionate to all the other creatures we share the planet with. So yes. What’s your other one?
Well, my other one’s probably a little dramatic as well, but probably not as dramatic as the first story. The second one, I’ll go forward now about 15 years from the trauma of the death of our son. And now my career is kind of along on its path. You know, we have had another two more sons born. They’re growing up to be nice young men. And as a consequence of my Type A behavior, I would have to say overextended, doing many, many different things. Uh, I think I had four different separate things that I was involved in. Uh, by that time I had given up my tenured professorship. I started a company that was growing. I owned a publishing company. I had a seminar company. Um, I had a research laboratory. I had a clinical center that was seeing patients with doctors that were working for me.
So, I was um, oh, and I also had a medical laboratory that’s right, that was doing a clinical testing as well. Um, so I was, I was more than busy, I was overly busy. And um, I’m trying to balance that with a family, you know, and all the things that you want to be as a father and a member of the family. So, I think the intensity of all of that and uh, my being wound up into it pretty tightly, I started to really experienced what I would call cardiovascular symptoms, which seemed very strange to me because I was still a young man reasonably. And I was, I thought very fit. I was running marathons, I was in physical fitness, uh, doing a lot of different activities, swimming and hiking and biking and so forth.
And um, and so it just seemed very strange to me. My lipid panels were all very good. There was nothing that one would say was so glaringly obvious from a physiological or physical perspective that would say that I would be having these symptoms. And they got so severe that I was, this would have been the summer of about 1984, I think, looking back. I was at the seminar for a week, I was a principal presenter at this kind of retreat in New York State and I had this overwhelming feeling of impending death. And I knew that I was really in jeopardy.
So then I recognized I was in a place that I was unfamiliar with. I didn’t know where the hospital was. I was thinking I should go to the hospital and admit myself, uh, and then I recognized, well I really don’t know exactly where I am and tomorrow I’ve got this whole group of people that are expecting me to be available to orchestrate this course that they’ve come out for.
And so, I weathered the night with no sleep such that I actually wrote a letter, I should have kept it something I should have today as kind of a model, a letter to my family in case I didn’t make it to the morning as to what I thought of them. That’s how severe this was. Now, obviously I survived the morning. I went and I did the seminar all day long. In fact, I did four more days of seminars with this group, being the only speaker, eight hours a day for four more days.
I came home. I was still having symptoms on the flight all the way back to California where I was at the time from New York state. I went to see a guy I played racquetball with, who was a cardiologist at Stanford. And um, he said, “well, you know, I don’t think you’ve really got a problem here, but how about if you’re really that concerned, we can do a cardiac catheterization. We can take a look”.
So, I put myself through the procedure and, you know, had the line threaded up my artery to look at my heart and, uh, take the video pictures of what was going on. And um, when he came into the recovery room after the procedure, I was in there and he showed me the video. Um, I was awake through the whole procedure, so I kind of was aware of what had been going on during the procedure.
But then had a chance to look at it in reflection with him at my bedside. And he said, “You know, I can’t understand this Jeff. I mean, you have like, the cardiovascular system of a 17 year old. I mean, you’re functioning very, very well. There’s no sign of plaque, no sign of this or that or, and we can’t see any vessel constriction”.
And as he was talking to me, and this relates Robyn to your comments, I was having an experience like a laying on of hands experience. It was like a healing event because what I recognized as he was speaking was exactly that I was the problem that was manifest in the function of my symptoms in the way that I was managing my life. And a clarity, almost like a lay laying on of hands kind of momentary Aha came just beaming through as to what I should do to resolve this issue. And when I had this epiphany, literally my symptoms at that moment went away to never return for 50 years or 40 years, I guess it would be.
So what I became is a very strong believer in is, behavioral aspects of health because there was no explanation for any of this, based on organicity of plaque or atherogenic complications or something congenital with my heart. This was a psycho behavioral determinant that only I had control over by both identifying it and then doing something about it. Which was basically a life change which occurred immediately. Uh, but even before I made the change, just the recognition of what I needed to do and the clarification of my goal was a healing event.
Fascinating. So if you could be 72 talking to your let’s say 32 year old self, what would you tell him? And that we can all learn from, in terms of actionable things that we can do to live a longer, stronger life, to be better partners, to our spouses, to be better parents, to be better to the people we work with, who work for us, what things can we do to up-level even without your level of life experience?
Yeah. Thank you. I’ve actually had those conversations with my sons who are now, you know, much older. I have a 49 year old son, a 46 year old son and a 36 year old son. And we’ve had those conversations over the years. And I think my answer to that is hopefully very simple, but hopefully also very insightful. And that is, I had this opportunity to do a series of lectures many decades ago with a cardiologist from Colorado by the name of Robert Elliot. And Robert Elliot was very famous, he had written a couple of bestselling books actually, for his really discovery, of what he called hot reactors.
Hot reactors are people who take things that are happening in their lives and they hyper respond. And, uh, you can actually measure this. He actually set up a way of measuring this. So it’s more than a Type A. Type A is time urgency. This is people, they may be Type A, but they translate that time urgency into an exaggerated response in their stress response system. Now it turns out that there are many highly productive people that have been very successful in all sorts of different careers that are hot reactors. It’s also true that many of these people die young from cardiovascular events or other kinds of diseases. So being a hot reactor in and of itself is not necessarily the problem, it’s how you manage that characteristic. And he had two rules and I thought there were very, very important rules.
Rule number one is “don’t sweat the small stuff.” So that’s a pretty easy rule for us to understand. Uh okay, seems reasonable. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t overreact. Yeah, I got it. The second rule, however, was a more complicated rule. He said “everything is small stuff”. And what he was really trying to get us to understand is that the things that we often say are so monumental and so cataclysmic and so important, and they preempt everything else. They are the most high priority, that looked in the context of a century long life, which most of us aspire to live hopefully. Um, it probably isn’t that important. And there’s probably only a very few number of things in our lives that are really preemptive of everything else. Everything else should be put in context. That’s what he was trying to say.
And I really believe that’s true as I’ve gone through my life and I’ve been through many, many stressful situations that could be blown up into major events, uh, you know, that were influencing thousands of people’s lives and millions of dollars of money and whatever one puts as a priority of different weighting factors. And when I really look back at those incidents in the broader context of life, they were not that important.
And in fact, I was much better able to manage through them, by not over prioritizing them and not being a super high reactor to them. And recognizing they’re part of the ebb and flow of life process and having the self-confidence to know that they’ll work out just by tender loving care. They will work out, they may not work out it immediately and they may not all work out exactly as I may have forecast, but they’ll work out just fine.
And, I think that conceptualization has been since probably, I probably was around 40 years of age when I did those, uh, seminars with Dr. Elliot, so let’s say for 30 some years, this has become an operative, um, way that I approach life and it’s a way that I’ve tried to help guide my sons and other people to use their skill set to manage through without overreaction. I think that’s a very important lesson.
Wow, I’m having such an interesting experience interviewing people who are over 65 and I keep asking them, you know, a little bit different take on it, but a similar question to what I just asked you and I keep getting the same answer. And, you know, I’ve been on podcasts of other people’s and had them ask me that question and my answer is to let go of more things and faster and to forgive. And we just got that answer from Dr. Roy Martina. He said, let go and forgive. And you have said don’t sweat the small stuff and it’s, all small stuff.
By the way, we’ve interviewed the widow of Dr. Richard Carlson, who wrote the book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and, it’s All Small Stuff” and um, you know, his life is the perfect testament to that because he died in his late forties suddenly on an airplane, I believe it was of a cardiac event.
I did a show, on one of my best friend, Matthew’s advice, which is “everything should go through the filter of, you know, when it feels stressful, when it feels heavy, when you feel reactive, ask yourself, is this going to matter in a year?”
Exactly. That’s a really good litmus test. I agree with you.
Yeah. So you’ve said so many wise words to us. I’d love it if, my last question for you, if you could go through your books that are for the lay person, because I know several of your books are for clinicians. Can you go through the books that you’ve written for the lay person and just give us a little two sentence teaser about it so that those who want to dig deeper into your body of work can do that?
Thank you. Let me just give a quick book report, Classics Illustrated Book Report version. My first book was called “Your Health under Siege: Using Nutrition to Fight Back” and um, that was uh, published in the late seventies. And when I look back, it’s kind of interesting now to review that book because I said things that I thought were very well understood at the time. It turned out to not be well understood. They turned out to be things that people did head scratchers, like dietary fiber was one that I almost laugh about. People took big exception when I talked about the effect of fiber on our health and how fiber is digested by a friendly bacteria in our gut to produce good things. Um, people thought this was crazy. A lot of these things have proven the test of time.
Uh, my second book, which was the “20 Day Rejuvenation Diet Program”, was built around the concepts of, uh, of oxidants and antioxidants and free radical pathology and oxidant stress. And uh, this again at the time was considered very kind of controversial and people really, uh, made a big deal about, you know, how could I say these things?
And we actually did a study with several hundred people in my clinic on a program that I thought demonstrated unequivocally their improved function based upon this kind of an approach, using a plant food. In fact, we had a whole juicing program that was part of it and various juices for different kinds of physiological function, including hepatic detoxification. And people took great exception to this saying that foods don’t do those things. And, now, I think we recognize that foods can do those things and it’s fairly well documented and well understood.
My next book was on the one that you had mentioned, “Genetic Nutritioneering”. And again, I thought I was speaking about things that people would understand that, our genes, uh, speak to our food and that food is information and it’s, uh, it’s really activating our genes to do certain things that our genes are not hardwired to our bodies, they’re soft wired through the way that the information is received from our diet and other factors. And that seemed to me to be at the time I wrote the book to be a very well understood concept. Well, it was not, and I got a lot of criticism for that.
The “Genetic Nutritioneering” book really talked about food as much more than just calories and nutrients. It’s information for our genes and it influences them to produce how we look, act and feel. And that book, although, in the minds of some is considered controversial, and I think now some 10 years later or 15 years later has been seen to be very reasonable and probably right on target.
My most recent book then, which is called “Disease Delusion” really talks about the fact that we don’t get diseases. We just call certain things diseases. What we get are dysfunctions. And it talks about how to in fact, to think of ourselves as unique in the way that we eat, act and behave in the world, and how we can design personalized programs that would avoid diseases.
So I think that there is a characteristic that ties all this together if I was to do a wrap. And that is that we’re in control. We’re in the driver’s seat. Our genes are there not to make us sick, but to make us well. We have to send the right information to the genes so we’ll get full benefit of them. We turn off the messages that are those that are the message of alarm. We turn on the messages that are that of bliss, of joy, of grace, of value, of energy, of enlightenment. And those are all waiting for us just to give them the right experiences in order to create the best that we can be.
So to me, this is an age of great opportunity. It’s an age where we’re not born into a caste, were not born into a sect. We’re not born into a specific predestination. We’re born into opportunity. And the concept is how do we create our environment, our lifestyle, to get the most of our opportunity that takes us away from the fear of disease to the extraordinary acceleration of good health. So that’s probably the best way I can wrap my message.
Well, you’re such an inspiration. Thanks for leading the way and for continuing to be out in front in so many issues in functional medicine. And thanks for your time today. You’re a tremendous gift to the whole world in terms of helping us get to the root cause of our disease and just be healthier.
Well, thank you Robyn. And keep up the great work that you’re doing. You know, we’re all ambassadors to this new age, which I hope will allow a lot more people to achieve their destiny of good health.