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Ep. 134: Helping 20,000 People Fast at True North in California–and Why I’m Going There Soon with Dr. Alan Goldhamer

Robyn Openshaw - May 29, 2019 - This Post May Contain Affiliate Links

Have You Heard? Can't-Miss May Podcasts | GreenSmoothieGirl

Dr. Alan Goldhamer is director of  the “True North Health Center” known for helping thousands through successful medically supervised water fasting. It’s where I’m heading for my next water fast. Dr. Goldhamer talks with us about the benefits and cautions of water fasting and how to do it properly for the best results. The Center provides a wide range of educational tools and courses to help anyone from the very ill to the healthy person acting preventatively. In this interview, we dive into the controversies and myths about FASTING.


Read Robyn’s Blog on Fasting

Check out the Podcast Episode with Dr. Longo

Get the book “The Longevity Diet”

Get the book “The Pleasure Trap”

Learn More about Fasting and Connect with Dr. Goldhamer

Find out More about True North Health Center


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Robyn:                                And Welcome back to the Vibe show. It’s almost spring here in Utah. I hope that you’re excited about Spring, like I am. There’s about 10 feet of snow by the ski resorts close to my house still melting. And so I’m looking forward to the warmer weather and hiking and all the fun things to do outdoors. And the other thing I’m thinking about is that it’s been almost a year since my last water fast. I don’t want to go to the Ashram in Texas anymore. I’ve been four times. And the main reason is just that I’m not allowed to be with everybody cause I need to work and keep running my business while I’m there and they don’t let me. So I’m kind of isolated.

And so I wanted to interview Dr. Alan Goldhamer. I’ve been seeking him out because he owns The True North Healing Center and I think it’s really the place to water fast. I didn’t know how inexpensive it was. It was only like $149 a night and it’s in Santa Rosa, California, which is a lot closer for me. So after this interview, which I think you’ll enjoy where I ask a lot of questions about fasting and the health benefits of fasting and what they do at their facility in Santa Rosa, California. I think I’m ready to fly out there and probably have a lot more people around me.

Apparently they are fully booked out about three or four months, so they must be doing really good work. They have medical and chiropractic services. When you’re doing your water fast, you have medical staff checking on you, twice a day, running a few little minor tests. They have psychotherapy and counseling in house. They have massage and bodywork. So I’m going to be going there sometime soon.

I think that fasting is one of the best health preventatives that there is. But I also read Dr. Goldhamer’s book “The Pleasure Trap” many years ago and I think you’ll enjoy it. There are a bunch of links that you can get in the show notes, including my blog post on why I fasted for 40 days. I didn’t do it 40 days straight. It’s kind of a bucket list thing of mine that I’d love to do that. I think it would be really, really good for me. I think it’d be really good for most people. I would really have to not work for 40 days though.

I ask some questions of Dr. Goldhamer about, why do I have this symptom and that symptom when I’m fasting? And so he really is a wealth of knowledge and I’m excited to chat with him today about the pros and cons and health benefits of water fasting for a long period of time.

So Welcome to the Vibe show Dr. Goldhamer.

Dr. Goldhamer:                 Glad to be here.

Robyn:                                So you have probably the most famous and the most credentialed water fasting facility. I know there’s more that you do. Tell us a little bit about True North facility. Why do you call it True North and what all do you do there? I know you do water fasting, medically supervised water fasting. But what else?

Dr. Goldhamer:                 Well, we believe that there’s a lot of different directions that people can go in terms of trying to get help, but we think that some are more based on science than others. And we try to direct our patients in what we believe is the best direction for them to maximize their health recovery, thus True North rather than some of the other options. True North is a 501 c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is public education and research. And our True North Health Foundation is involved in helping us conduct research, particularly as it relates to diet and fasting. We’re particularly interested in the role that a whole plant food diet that’s free of salt, oil and sugar, play with promoting health and then the use of a medically supervised long term water only fasting. And we do use both diet and fasting to help people with a wide variety of conditions recover their health and try to teach healthy people how to stay that way.

Robyn:                                Okay. So you’ve probably noticed out there that the trending diets right now are probably the most animal products intensive diets I’ve seen in my lifetime and in my career in wellness and nutrition. It’s the Keto Diet. I was at Expo West a couple of weeks ago where one of the marketers that brought the Keto Diet in really big said “Keto is dead”. But now I see the Carnivore Diet trending and I’ve been digging into a bunch of doctors in fact saying all you need is beef and water and salt. You are on the opposite end of the spectrum and I believe you’ve been a 41 year vegan. Tell us about your journey and why you believe that the best diet is an entirely plant based diet.

Dr. Goldhamer:                 Well, you know, my colleague John McDougall, says people like to hear good news about their bad habits and probably that’s true when it comes to these various types of recommendations that are being made. Many of them now are trying to mimic some of the benefits of fasting by putting people on very low carbohydrate, very high fat, high protein diets, the body’s hunger blunting mechanisms associated with ketosis and fasting kick in.

And so the goal is to try to help people lose weight. And the fact is over the short run, there may be some utility there, but over the long run, of course, going on a high fat, high protein diet, results in people compromising their health. And so even the advocates of these programs are now admitting that perhaps they should be cycled in and cycled out because the persistent use of these types of diets can certainly compromise one’s health.

Human beings are traditionally eating a diet that’s dominant in carbohydrates of one form or another. And the diets that we recommend that as a whole plant food diet that’s free of chemicals added to the food, including salt, oil and sugar. End up being around 70% of calories from plant based complex carbohydrates, about 15% to 18% of calories from fat and about 10% to 12% of calories from protein. So it’s like a diet that’s derived from fruits and vegetables, both raw and cooked, steamed and starchy vegetables. And if people are able to handle them, things like grains, legumes, limited quantities of nuts and seeds. These diets are diets that are consistent for people not only to recover health, but also to maintain health so they can be sustained indefinitely and healthfully.

Robyn:                                Okay. Say those percentages again of the macros.

Dr. Goldhamer:                 Well, if you get your diet exclusively from whole plant foods with fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and you break it down from macro nutrients, you’ll find there are about 10% to 12% of calories from protein, about 15% to 18% of calories from fat and the balance coming from whole plant food carbohydrates.

Robyn:                                Okay. So what do you think about this intermittent fasting? Some of it seems like probably a good start, a good baby step for people who are looking to fast. Some of the ways that people define intermittent fasting to me is just not eating from dinner to breakfast, which is probably a pretty uniquely American thing that you have to tell people not to eat from dinner to breakfast. What do you think about that?

Dr. Goldhamer:                 Well, intermittent fasting is certainly timely. My colleague Doctor Longo has published in Journal metabolism and many other places, some very interesting information. That this idea of short term deprivation can induce metabolic changes associated with rejuvenation and disease management and prevention and reversing some of the processes associated with aging, it enhances autophagy and many metabolic markers are positively affected.

And it turns out that of course everybody fasts every day and when they eat in the morning they break their fast with something we call break fast or breakfast. By extending that period of fasting that is eating early, not eating breakfast till later, you can easily have 14 to 16 hours a day of fasting in an eight hour feeding window, which is what we recommend routinely for our patients. By limiting the feeding window to eight hours, for many people, regardless of which style of diet they may be eating, it may help them reduce excess chloric intake which facilitates weight loss and other positive changes. And just that 16 hours of fasting is enough to induce metabolic changes and induce biological changes that may be associated with healing and disease prevention.

And so we encourage everybody to fast every day for up to 16 hours and to eat a whole plant food, SOS free diet during eight hours that they are feeding. Now some people want to extend this period even further or enhance this intermittent fasting concept by limiting their caloric intake perhaps one day a week or maybe even two days a week, to around 800 calories, perhaps say for example, eating just raw fruits and vegetables or some other source of limited caloric intake. There are some commercial products available that people will use exclusively as well. And the idea that these intermittent periods of reduced caloric intake may also enhance weight loss and induce metabolic changes. And the literature on that is growing and very interesting and certainly something that I think everybody could pay attention to.

That’s actually different than fasting though. That’s a fasting mimicking type of style. But actual fasting is going without anything except water in an environment of complete rest for prolonged periods of time. We do that under direct medical supervision. We recommend it be done under direct medical supervision. And we do that at the True North Health Center for periods ranging from 5 to 40 days. And this period of 5 to 40 days of fasting has a profound effect on a wide variety of health conditions.

And as our research is starting to demonstrate on fundamentally changing some of these biomarkers in the body, including for example, your gut microbiome. I mean you have five pounds of bacteria living in your intestinal tract. And of course living organisms like bacteria, eat and drink and breathe and poop. And so when you think about it, you’ve got five pounds of organisms pooing in you right now. And what they poo into you could either be toxic waste or fertilizer. And what determines the difference is what you feed them.

So when you’re feeding your microbiome animal foods, you’re getting toxic waste. Things like TMA, which becomes TMAO, trimethylamine oxidase, it’s a highly irritating substance that might be associated with increased cardiovascular disease risks certainly and possibly cancer. If you feed your bacteria soluble fibers, things like sweet potatoes and vegetables, you tend to get more fertilizer. So our belief is that fasting can help reboot the gut microbiome and that a whole plant food diet can actually encourage an environment where a healthy microbiome maintains you in health promoting environment rather than a compromised one.

Robyn:                                You know, I grew up in a religious community where we all fasted one day a month. So after dinner on Saturday night, we didn’t eat again until dinner on Sunday night. So 24 hours of eating nothing. And we did this starting at the age of eight. And so to me, fasting isn’t scary. I mean, I might kind of have to buck up for a little a little bit and some stuff might happen during that 24 hours, like my energy might be a little bit low, I might go take a nap, I might be hungry, of course, but no big deal.

But in my lecture tour, I spoke in 450 cities over the course of six years. One of the things that people often told me, which really surprised me is that they had literally never missed a meal. Unless they had the stomach flu or food poisoning, they had never missed a meal in their entire lives. I think that people are a little bit scared of fasting. Can you tell a little bit about what it’s like for your patients?

Dr. Goldhamer:                 Many people are afraid of fasting. Many people think if you get on an airplane in New York and you were to fly all the way to California, that unless you ate the peanuts, you’d probably die over Colorado. They think those pretzels saved their life. And it’s understandable, you know, you’re designed to get enough to eat and avoid being eaten. That’s the biological imperative of life. But it turns out that fasting is a biological adaptation. It’s so necessary for human survival that literally everybody with very rare exceptions, people with MCAD or other genetic defects are able to fast.

And fasting by definition is the ability of the brain, your biggest burner of glucose, to shift from burning glucose to burning fat. And more particularly beta hydroxybutyric acid, a byproduct of ketone breakdown. So, the idea that fasting is natural is certainly well supported by the scientific literature. It’s natural, it’s necessary. It’s actually, as I said, a biological adaptation. And so all we’ve done is learn to extend this very natural process in a way that helps undo the consequences of dietary excess. And let’s be frank, most people that are suffering and sick and dying prematurely today are dying from not deficiency diseases like in the ancient past, but diseases of dietary excess. Diseases that used to be called the disease of kings because it was only the wealthy and the elite that we’re able to develop the heart disease, the cancer, etc.

Undoing the consequences of dietary excess is one of the potential benefits of long term water only fasting. One of the challenges of fasting though, is that it needs to be done in a resting state because if you’re too active, you increase your glucose needs. And the only place your body can get glucose after it’s depleted is it’s glycogen reserves, is through gluconeogenesis, the breakdown of protein. And the idea with fasting is to burn your fat stores, detoxify and preserve your vital tissues but that does require people to reduce their energy to a reasonable level.

We also recommend that fasting be done in a controlled setting under supervision because the healing crisis that come up in fasting can be very difficult to differentiate from actual problems and breakdowns. And the way you do that is with history exam, laboratory and careful monitoring. So we’ve been doing fasting for 34 years at The True North Health Center. We’ve had almost 20,000 patients come through this fasting protocol. Everybody that’s walked into fast so far has walked out. And we have published a fasting safety study in the scientific literature showing that at least using this protocol fasting can be done safely in a wide variety of conditions and in patients of varying ages. So it is safe, it can be effective, but it does need to be done right.

Robyn:                                Yeah, I agree with you. I’ve done Facebook lives and written fairly extensively about four fasts in the last three years that I’ve done. And all four of them were between 7 and 12 days where I didn’t eat anything, only drank water. And people will write us and say, hey, where’s that place that Robyn went to fast? It was an Ashram in Texas. And I always say, I don’t suggest you go there. There’s no medical supervision. And in my case, they wouldn’t even let me stay with everybody else. I had to go to this weird little shed about a half a mile away because they didn’t like me working on my computer.

So, I hope everyone will indulge me in asking a few questions while I have the chance here of Dr. Goldhammer. A few things that I experience are, first of all, even though I’m an athlete, I’ve been playing sports my whole life, I run, I ski, play tennis, do Yoga probably twice a day. I probably do two hours of physical activity a day on average. I really don’t do anything when I’m fasting and I don’t really feel capable of doing anything. The first few days I do, I’ll go for a brisk walk or even a very short jog. But then I don’t really do anything. It sounds like you’re saying that that’s probably best.

I also noticed the last couple times I found that I had some lower back pain that was pretty significant. And the last time I fasted I had, I assume it’s some kind of adrenaline surge, I felt angry a lot and there was not really a lot to be angry about. I was definitely working and running my business online, but I didn’t feel like me. That’s not really how I am. And I just felt very triggered easily and just pissy. Are these things you hear from people and what’s going on with those different things?

Dr. Goldhamer:                 First of all, your brain is the biggest burner of glucose so if you’re working when you’re fasting then you’re putting increased demands on the body. And your brain itself changes fuels from burning sugar to burning fat. So it’s not surprising that you would have some volatility there and some shift. The low back pain is very common in fasting. 35% or so of patients also experience this. It’s Visceral somatic referral, usually from the kidneys. The kidneys are doing a lot of work and adaptation early in fasting and so you’ll often get a little transient pain that will go away, particularly for the people who are resting properly.

Sometimes you get a healing crisis where a chronic problem, especially if people have had low back problems, degenerative joint disease, if they have joint and disc problems, that will become active as the body generates an acute response to resolve the underlying condition and you may get some referral pain there as well.

But most people that get low back pain in fasting, it’s the early few days, it goes away and then different things can come up. People also get headache, especially if you’re withdrawing from highly addictive drugs like caffeine. They may get skin rashes and discharge from the mucous membranes. They may get irritability. A lot of chronic problems becoming acute in the body’s attempt to resolve it.

Honestly fasting can be an intense and miserable experience unless you prepare properly for it. And preparing properly for fasting means limiting yourself in the days prior to fasting to eating fruit, salad and steamed vegetables only. Eliminating meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, oil, salt, sugar, alcohol. Basically I tell patients anything that you really want, you can’t have you get nothing.

And then once you go on a whole plant food diet in preparation for fasting, then fasting transition tends to be much easier. A lot of the misery people have with early fasting isn’t anything to do with fasting, it has to do with the withdrawal from the drugs and foods and terrible habits that many people are indulgent.

Robyn:                                Okay. So will you just tell me a little bit more about the kidney referral issue with the low back pain? Because I would like to fast again. I would like to make it a once a year thing. And one of my colleagues told me that it’s because of a protein breaking down in my body and the kidney gets swamped. Is that wrong?

Dr. Goldhamer:                 Yeah, that’s wrong. There’s a lot of old wives tales about fasting. The kidneys are definitely processing certain things and protein is one of them. But this idea of a big response is really minimized if people prep properly and rest appropriately during fasting. And, we know that the transition of a protein utilization drops from around 75 grams a day, less than 20 as they get into the second week of fasting and the vast majority of calories in an appropriately fasting state are being derived from fat. First couple of days actually is basically a lot of glycogen localization and as the glycogen stores become depleted then we get a progressive shift into fat metabolism.

So it’s interesting to note though, people that are eating healthfully, living healthily and have fasted previously typically have less and less of these kinds of symptoms. If you look at the staff at True North, which fasts on a regular basis, many of them have very little if any symptoms as they transition into fasting. So I think a lot of this is just engaging the fasting mechanisms. Every time you fast you induce these enzymatic changes that are associated with nutrient mobilization and detoxification.

And so you literally get better at it, much like a conditioned athlete gets better at mobilizing glycogen stores. At least in some part due to the induction and canalization of enzymatic pathways that are necessary for glycogenolysis as well as gluconeogenesis and lipolysis and all these other processes that are accentuated during fasting. So you detoxify, for example, during fasting but your enzyme systems associated with detoxification apparently persist after fasting. And you know, the more you induce them, the better you get at it.

Robyn:                                Well next time I fast, I’m definitely going to come to you. I’ll tell you the dumb reason that I went to Texas, but it’s a very honest reason and that is I would take a Lyft or an Uber from the Dallas airport to two and a half hours away where this Ashram was. And then my Lyft app didn’t work anymore and there was no store anywhere nearby. And so there was absolutely no temptation and me fasting at home, like Katie Wellness Mama Online, one of the biggest bloggers online, she’s done a couple of one week or two week fasts and she takes care of her six kids and she does great.

And I have felt a little bit, not like a failure because I complete the fast, but I feel like I don’t have any energy. I just pretty much sit around or lie around, which is not how I am. I guess you’re saying that that’s fine to do and that’s what you should do. When does the hunger subside? I know what my answer to that is. But since you’ve taken 20,000 people through a fast, when do they feel less hungry? Do they ever get a little bit of energy back or do the 40 day fasters just kind of stay mostly in bed?

Dr. Goldhamer:                 Yeah, so you know, it’s a bell curve. So there’s a range of responses to that. Lot of it depends on how people prepare for fasting, how good they are at fasting, how sick they are. But most people within a few days, hunger is no longer an issue. And once you get into ketosis, which largely happens by 48 hours, there’s a hunger blunting mechanism that kicks in. That’s why these high protein, high fat diets, one of the benefits they think they’re driving is by inducing this ketogenic state. There’s a hunger blunting component that kicks in. It’s one of the fasting mimicking components that is often discussed.

And so our patients are often even going to food preparation classes and stuff. They’re doing fine, they come in and join people socially in the dining room, even though they’re not eating, which seems hard for people to imagine that they would enjoy that. But after you adapt to the fasting state, hunger no longer seems to be a dominant factor for the vast majority of people. There are a few people which will have some persistent, what they’re proceeding is hunger that goes on for a little bit longer. Sometimes that’s because there’s a history of gastric irritation and nerve roots are being stimulated but not necessarily the same ones associated with true hunger.

So, there’s no absolute answer to your question, but it’s rather limited, it’s over a few days. And once people adapt to the fasting state, that’s not one of the things they complain about. There’s plenty of other things that bother them but that’s doesn’t happen to be one.

Robyn:                                Yeah, I would agree with that. I usually go in and sit with everybody at dinner who are there doing a silent retreat or some other kind of spiritual or yogic retreat at this Ashram in Texas where I do not recommend anybody go for a water fast because nobody’s paying any attention to what’s going on with you medically. They don’t even have a sauna. And I’ve told them, you guys really need to at a minimum have a sauna. I don’t think I’d ever do a fast again unless I was doing some things to optimize it. What other things do you have patients doing?

Dr. Goldhamer:                 Well, you want to be careful now because it turns out the more stimulation you do in fasting, the less net detoxification occurs. The body does a really good job of actively regulating and mobilizing and detoxifying during water only fasting. And the reason people feel better when they exercise or they feel better if they go through hydrotherapy and other types of intervention is it actually slows down the mobilization of toxins and facilitates the processing elimination of toxins. So you drop the superficial load, so to speak.

But that’s not what we’re trying to do with fasting. We’re trying to get in and give the body a chance to rapidly mobilize and eliminate those accumulated intermediary and secondary toxic products. And the best way to do that generally is to do as little as possible. So we’re resting, we’re not doing a lot of treatment stimulation during fasting, before and after is different issue.

We certainly have a whole host of doctors and amenities that are available as necessary. But the best and most efficient way to fast is to drink water, rest and have a minimal amount of input. We are monitoring patients carefully. Every patient is examined at least twice a day by our staff doctors where their questions are answered and we’re able to provide educational classes for them three times a day so they can get what I call brainwashed with what we call educated about diet, lifestyle, exercise, fitness, stretching, et cetera.

And then after fasting, of course, we have a fabulous chef, so people are fed a whole natural food diet. And there’s a whole protocol we go through as we come off that. So you know, a person that has fasted for a couple of weeks is going to need at least a week of progressive re-feeding. That’s a very critical time because that’s actually where a lot of the materials mobilized through fasting are processed and eliminated.

So that initial re-feeding it’s one of the most important aspects that needs to be done properly. And it’s often where people mess it up when they’re not fasting in a controlled setting. They all too rapidly return to re-elementation and so then they don’t get a chance to do as effective a job of eliminating the materials they’ve mobilized during fasting. And they also sometimes can get themselves into trouble. Especially longer fasts, inappropriate re-feeding can lead to a re-feeding syndrome, and could cause serious problems, even death. So, we work really hard to avoid that by having carefully controlled progressive re-feeding.

Robyn:                                Tell me about the re-feeding syndrome.

Dr. Goldhamer:                 Well, you can disrupt the body’s metabolic balances after prolonged periods of fasting, where too rapid re-feeding can lead to serious electrolyte disturbances, cardiovascular issues, and it’s a well-documented medical phenomena, when people have gone through a deprivation process, you don’t want to over feed because of this process of re-feeding syndrome.

Robyn:                                So basically start slow, don’t eat very much when you do start eating again and eat only plants?

Dr. Goldhamer:                 Well what we do here at the True North Health Center is we use on average for every week of water fasting we do a day of fresh fruit vegetable juices, a day of raw fruit and vegetables, a day of raw fruit and vegetables with steamed vegetables and then a day of including steamed and starchy vegetables as we progress. So for example, a two week fast would take a week of progressive re-feeding to get back to what we consider a normal healthy whole plant food, SOS free diet,

Robyn:                                SOS being, salt, oil, sugar, yeah?

Dr. Goldhamer:                 SOS is the international symbol of danger and it also stands for the chemicals added to food that fool your satiety mechanisms and are the reason why people are fat, sick and miserable. It’s the use of salt, oil and sugar on food that is actually responsible for fooling the brain to overstimulate dopamine production. And that’s why people like highly processed foods because it results in more dopamine production in their brain.

And for people interested in really understanding how this works because it’s really quite fascinating, they can read our book, “The Pleasure Trap: Mastering the Hidden Force that Undermines Health and Happiness”. It’s available both in written and audio format, for people that would rather listen to it. It’s very interesting, it’s a little bit of a mind bending book. It’s a little bit disturbing, doesn’t tell people what they want to hear, but it does tell them what they need to know if they want to get and stay healthy. And the last third of it is all about fasting and how we use fasting to help people escape the pleasure trap.

Robyn:                                Yeah. I think I read it 15 years ago and I didn’t find it disturbing. I found it motivating to get me off of those substances that I already knew were bad for me. But I like to read bad news about my bad habits so that I have some motivation.

Dr. Goldhamer:                 “The Pleasure Trap” just hit 75,000 copies sold. So it’s taken a long roll out, but it’s actually picking up. We’ve had the most copies of the pleasure trap bought in the last quarter that we have in the last decade. So we’re excited about that because now people are starting to get open to this message, which frankly we are way, way ahead of the curve in terms of the things you read in “The Pleasure Trap” are now becoming more discussed and more popular. But you know, we’ve been talking about this now for a long time.

Robyn:                                That is awesome. It’s like a stealth bestseller. I love when a bestseller happens, not because somebody marketed it so hard in the beginning, but because interest is growing in these principles that you teach. And as I recall it, it wasn’t even anything about fasting. I love the trend of fasting. It’s like if we have to put up with the Ketogenic diet where people think that eating all kinds of bacon and butter and beef ribs is a good way of eating. Well at least there’s the intermittent fasting redeeming it. Like skip a meal now and then, which is always good.

I think that you’ve done a study with the help of Colin Campbell of the China study, regarding fasting and hypertension. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Dr. Goldhamer:                 Yeah. We did a study with my hero T. Colin Campbell from Cornell University. We took 174 consecutive patients with high blood pressure, got all of them off their medication and all 174 we’re able to lower their pressure enough to eliminate the need for medication. We have the largest effect size that’s ever been shown in treating high blood pressure in humans with an average effect of 60 point drop in systolic blood pressure.

And remember their baselines were taken on meds, many of them, and their follow ups were all done off meds, so it’d be 60 points plus whatever effect the medication might’ve been having. The follow up, and I think there was 47 subjects that they did follow up on, their average blood pressure at follow up was similar to what their blood pressure was at the end of fast. So it showed that it was sustainable in those people that were willing to do really dangerous radical things, like eat well and exercise and go to bed on time and undergo fasting. So, I think that was really good.

We did another study also with T. Colin Campbell on borderline hypertension. You know, most people that have elevated blood pressure, it’s not quite elevated to justify the risk of medication. And the reason for that is if you only have moderate levels of elevated blood pressure and you take drugs, your chance of dying is greater from the drugs then from the blood pressure. Even though you might have five times the risk of having a heart attack, it’s still not enough to outweigh the tremendous risk that’s associated with hypertensive drugs.

And so we looked at those people because you couldn’t really justify drugging them, yet they were still at dramatic increased risk from disease. And we fasted them from 5 to 40 days and not surprisingly, they all normalized their blood pressure. And to the degree that they’re willing to stick to the diet and lifestyle changes, they can sustain those pressures without the need for medication. And once you get rid of the medication, you not only get rid of the risks of dying from the medication but also the chronic cough, the fatigue, the impotence that is so commonly associated with the use of these drugs.

Robyn:                                Fascinating. 174 people. You got every single one of them off their hypertensive drugs. And fascinating that you just said that your risk of dying from these drugs is higher than your risk of dying from a cardiac event. Am I understanding that right?

Dr. Goldhamer:                 Well, not just cardiac event but dying of all causes because they cause complications in so many different conditions. The point is that they don’t recommend medication for everybody. You know, a significant percentage of everybody over 20 years old has now got hypertension. And the majority of people over 65 have hypertension. They don’t put it in the public water supply because they’d actually kill more people than they’d save. People think these drugs are very benign but they’re not benign at all. They have significant consequences. And that includes many of the over counter medications that people are using.

We just published a paper in the British Medical Journal on polypharmacy. And it involved an older individual with atrial fibrillation and numerous other conditions that were successfully managed with dietary manipulation alone just by getting him off medication.

And you know, for any of your listeners that are interested, they can go to the website of our nonprofit organization, True North Health Foundation, at and all of these papers and studies are readily available. They can read them, they can download them, they can share them. And it’s an interesting site because it really focuses on the role that fasting plays in helping the body heal itself.

Robyn:                                We will put in the show notes the link to where Dr. Goldhammer says they’ve collected the published studies on health benefits of fasting. We will also link you to True North and will also link you to my blog post where I talk about why I fasted for 40 days and what I got from it. Is it true that people who are very overweight have an easier time with fasting? I struggled with those seven to 12 day fast. I really struggled. And they told me stories of people who had come there and who had gone for a 5 or 10 mile walk every day and done fine for 30 or 40 days straight. And they said that if you have a lot of fat to feed on, you do better. Is that wrong?

Dr. Goldhamer:                 No, that’s absolutely not true. What goes on is if you’re very active in fasting, if you’re going on long walks you’ll just do a lot less detoxification. So in your case, because you did rest, you did it properly, of course you’ll be more miserable than you would be if you were active. If you allow patients to be active and stop or slow down the detoxification responses, of course, they’re not going to feel as miserable.

We don’t care if people feel miserable. We care if they get well. We’re not worried about if they go through a few periods of days where maybe they’re not that comfortable. Because in the end when people get dramatic outcomes, they forgive you for all that, and they forget about the fact that it wasn’t always the most pleasant experience. And if you want to not be miserable, what you can do is prepare properly before fasting. People that eat a health promoting vegan SOS free diet typically have a relatively, what I call boring fast, where they don’t go through all these intense processes.

So don’t assume just because somebody has a lot of extra fat, they’re going to have an easy fast, not at all. Because a person with a lot of weight that is very active isn’t miserable, may just be because they’re not necessarily doing as much mobilization as a consequence of their excess activity.

Robyn:                                So you probably have a lot of cancer patients come there. Do you feel that stage four cancer patients who are in cachexia are contraindicated for fasting? Who shouldn’t fast?

Dr. Goldhamer:                 There’s a lot of different kinds of cancer. We just published a paper in the British Medical Journal on the effective treatment of follicular lymphoma. That was a stage three follicular lymphoma patient who fasted for 21 days and resolved her cancer. And then we published a second paper just recently of a three year follow up on that patient. And not only did she overcome her lymphoma cancer, but she has maintained herself. And we’ve got that well documented, and as I said published in a major medical journal, BMJ case reports. In fact, I have a four year follow up on her now and she continues to do well. So, there are certain types of conditions like lymphoma that do appear to respond well.

There are other types of situations, like you mentioned if you have a stage four primary cancer with metastasis and a person is in a cachexic state then fasting may not be a useful tool. You have to approach it a little different way. So there are a number of contraindications to fasting. One of them would be a patient in a weakened or cachexic depleted state. People who have atrial fibrillations or that are on anticoagulants therapies. People with recent history of stroke, MI, or other issues like pulmonary embolism, you may be cautious about utilizing fasting. All patients on medication need to be working with a doctor that’s not an idiot to help them get off the medication safely. You have to be really aware that too rapid of withdrawal of many of these medications can be life threatening.

And fasting on medications even that might be tolerated in the fed state may not be at all appropriate in a water fasting state. You can be burning holes in your intestinal tract or causing significant cardiac or kidney dysfunction by putting a person in a water only fast and continuing to give them these very toxic drugs that are no longer being neutralized by some of the effects of your diet. You want to remember that most people are actually more medicated for their diet than they are their conditions. Because the moment you change the diet, you can begin to change the medications, as the need for these medicinal interventions is reduced and eventually, in most cases, eliminated.

Robyn:                                The anticoagulant drugs, and as you said, with doctors who aren’t idiots, can people get off their anticoagulant drugs?

Dr. Goldhamer:                 It is possible to make changes carefully and slowly to eliminate the need for anticoagulant therapy. But it has to be done slowly. And particularly for people that have had recent acute episodes, it often takes six months to a year for physicians to help patients safely make the transition sometimes off the more powerful anticoagulants, the Eliquis or the Coumadin into Aspirin or some less damaging medication and then eventually off that medication. But that really needs to be done in conjunction with the doctor that put the patient on the medication to begin with. It’s not something people should be doing on their own or taking lightly, letting their arrogance exceed their ignorance.

Robyn:                                And how would you describe autophagy? And when you go into this state and what the benefits are of it?

Dr. Goldhamer:                 This is basically auto phase or auto eating process of the immune system that eats up bacteria that takes cells apart and gets rid of the waste products and eats up cancer cells, etc. And so this process of autophagy is thought to be enhanced in people that eat a healthy diet, that use intermittent fasting and then undergo longer term fasting. But again, that research is still pretty virgin.

We’re doing some of it and others are looking at that. I don’t think that it’s ready for mainstream claims, it’s certainly interesting. Some of the better descriptive work on this is done by Valter Longo. You can read his book or look at his articles. You can go onto our website at or and read about these studies yourself.

But again, a lot of it is speculative. I know that Longo’s group is now, he has a number of papers coming out this year including one I think very shortly in “Nature”. And they have over two dozen clinical trials going on around the world looking at their version of intermittent fasting, with the use of their products, and the effect that it has on these various biomarkers like brain drive neurotrophic factor in autophagy and many of these other variables that seem to be influenced and benefited by fasting. So we should know more here even this year. And for those that want to keep up on this, they can go to and we’ll continue to post the results of all the fasting related literature as it becomes available.

Robyn:                                We will link to “The Pleasure Trap” in the show notes. We’ll also link to Dr. Longo’s book “The Longevity Diet” and we will also link to my previous interview with Doctor Longo, which was very interesting. So you’re in Santa Rosa, you have a really big facility, you don’t just do fasting there. What else does True North do?

Dr. Goldhamer:                 Well, not everybody is a candidate for medically supervised fasting some people want to fast but it’s not appropriate. So we may do a modified program. They might be on juice fast, they may be on a healthy eating program. Some people just come in because they want to get a vacation, they want to go to a place they can eat healthy, be around people that don’t think they’re whack jobs just because they want to eat healthy and you know they can do it affordably.

So we see a wide variety of people from the very sickest to very healthy people. Many of our patients are referred by other plant based doctors, like Dr. McDougall refers to some people, he says that we’re the punishment. You know, if somebody doesn’t get well with a more flexible program then he’ll send them in and we’ll do our thing with them.

So we’re definitely a stricter version because our food is all Vegan, SOS free, so we don’t use any sugar, salt, oil or animal foods in any of our food preparation. And that’s the diet we advocate. We have a number of Vegan, SOS free cookbooks out and a lot of information for people that are interested in really trying to apply these principles in their own life. Everything is relatively simple to do. The only thing that we do that requires a little bit more intervention is medically supervised water only fasting. The prolonged fasting needs to be done in a controlled setting.

And for those that are interested, if they don’t want to come to California, we have a number of doctors that we’ve trained. We’re an active training site for physicians. We have relationships with Texas A&M where their second and third year residents come and train with us. We are an MD residency training site. Those doctors come for a year and they’re able to train. We have internship programs for physicians, chiropractors, medical doctors, osteopaths, and when they get out in the field, some of them have successfully opened up facilities that offer fasting and we can refer people to those facilities as well.

So even if we can’t get you in right away, because we book sometimes three or four months in advance, we can refer you to another doctor that we’ve trained that might be able to help you with the same type of intervention. You know, one of the things your listeners might be interested in is we offer a free service, which I think is really useful for many people, is they can go onto our website at, complete the registration forms, which gets me their medical history and I’ll offer them a free brief phone screening consultation where I can help them identify if they’re a candidate for fasting, if there’s something they can do that they’re not already doing and maybe refer them to a place that’s closer to them than us, that might be able to help them take this next step to healthful living.

Robyn:                                Okay. What’s that URL again and we’ll put that in the show notes as well.

Dr. Goldhamer:                 Our website is

Robyn:                                Well, I think I’m going to come stay there for a week and fast. Anything we missed that you want to tell people who are afraid of fasting, is there a way to ramp up to it? What can they do at home?

Dr. Goldhamer:                 Well, health results from healthful living, so the focus is diet, sleep and exercise. I think we all understand that sleep is an important issue. We’ve got to get enough of it. The quality and quantity is necessary. That exercise, using your body, getting strength, flexibility, balance. These are all critical issues of being healthy. And our particular recommendations on diet is eating a whole plant food diet that is free of salt, oil and sugar, that’s a more radical intervention. But the closer you get to these recommendations the sooner you’re going to be able to get and stay healthy.

If you need to speed things up or you’re looking for the benefits preventatively that fasting might play, then I would recommend you consider going to one of the places that specialize in doing fasting. As far as at home fasting, everybody can fast intermittently every day, and we recommend that. 16 hours of fasting every day in an 8 hour feeding window. If you have weight to lose, you may want to reduce your calories one or two days a week in addition. And if you have any questions, give us a call.

Robyn:                                Well, thank you so much for being with us today, Dr. Goldhammer. I learned a lot.

Dr. Goldhamer:                 It’s my pleasure.

2 thoughts on “Ep. 134: Helping 20,000 People Fast at True North in California–and Why I’m Going There Soon with Dr. Alan Goldhamer”

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  1. Jilene Burger says:

    Fabulous! I heard Dr. Goldhamer in Austin, Texas at a Natural Hygiene Convention in the 1990s when I was first investigating eating a whole-food, plant-based diet. I love his passion for helping people learn the benefits of fasting and eating live food for best health. He is an extremely knowledgeable and competent doctor as well as an inspiring motivator. Enjoy your time there, Robyn!

  2. Dianne Hensley says:

    I have a friend with neck pain…can you help him….

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