Ep. 139: There Are No Bad Genes, Just Variations (How to Work With your Genetics, Not Fight Them) | Interview with Michelle Sands, N.D.
You have a specific and unique genetic code. The human body knows how to adapt, change and use its genetic code for survival and growth. Dr. Michelle Sands gives us a paradigm to work within our genetics.
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Episode Highlights with Dr. Michelle Sands:
- [07:18] Living your diagnosis in the dark. Are you eating well, exercising, and doing all the things you can to be healthy, yet your body does not respond in the way it “should?”
- [8:15] Hope found in unconventional places. Sidestepping conventional medicine can lead to new pathways for your unanswered questions.
- [10:23] STAIN: a paradigm for health. Your body accumulates Stress, Toxins, Allergens, Infections and viruses, and Nutrition deficiency. Empowering yourself, with recognition of STAINs and actions to remove them, can lead to reversal of dysfunction and disease.
- [15:08] Practice makes perfect. Every day you have the opportunity to move closer or further from health. Every thought we have, bite we take, breath we breathe impacts our molecular selves; we never finish helping our beings (and that’s a positive thing).
- [17:51] Mindful meals for a mindful soul. Experience your food; give color and care to your cells. Balance your cleanses and shower your insides with water. Honor the foundations.
- [22:42] Your body makes no mistakes. Don’t limit your view of your body; for almost all of us, there is no such thing as “bad genes.” Just different ones.
- [24:26] What is gene variation? Pt.1 There are upsides to nearly every genetic variation; learn about MTHFR, APOE, COMT, and more. Your diet can help turn off the negative side of variations.
- [28:09] Working with your genetics makes everything easier. Healing, eating, health optimization, supplement choices: all made easier through understanding your genetic self.
- [29:02] A place to start. Genetic sequencing companies to start your path to consultation and understanding of the genes that make up you.
- [32.52] What is gene variation? Pt.2 Further examples of genetic variant upsides: Sickle Cell disease, Cystic Fibrosis, and PCOS. A brief introduction to CRISPR and chemical sensitivities.
- [36:47] Finding your root cause. Your symptoms lead to a dysfunctional part to your whole, but that is not the end; finding the root cause is necessary to reverse your dysfunction and achieve better health.
- [41.09] You are a holistic being. Your condition is more than one aspect of STAIN; build a strong foundation that addresses all before moving to specific programs. Approach your health like anything else important in your life; healing is your responsibility.
- [48:02] How attached are you to your diagnosis? How many times this week have you told someone that you have fill-in-the-blank? Has it become your identity? If it has, how will you put it behind you? Do you know about the nocebo effect?
- [49:56] Dr. Sands final message. The goal is to educate and empower people, rather than disempower, on their genetic being. We have infinite potential, just now scratching the surface of what we understand about our genes, biology, and medicine.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Robyn: Hi there, and welcome back to the Vibe show. I am your host, Robyn Openshaw. I am the Green Smoothie Girl online, and I am about to leave for Switzerland. I hope that some of you are going to be there and then we’ll get to meet you in person. If not, hopefully we’ll do it again in 2020.
I’m going to be leading liver detox retreats at the Swiss Mountain Clinic. It’s a place I discovered on my international research tours, I think eight years ago? And it’s just a wonderful health reboot, liver detox down time in the Swiss Alps. We’ll be taking off pretty soon, but before I go I wanted to interview a new friend of mine.
Her name is Dr. Michelle Sands and she’s an MD, or a naturopathic physician. She’s also a bestselling author and a female hormone expert. We’ve certainly interviewed quite a few functional medicine doctors who focus on hormones on this show.
She’s also an epigenetics expert, which is mainly the focus of this interview today. She’s been on ABC, CBS, Boston Herald, NBC, Fox News USA Today. Interestingly, she’s not only a mom, she is an endurance athlete. She’s a competitive kickboxer, an adventure racer, and an ultra-marathoner.
So welcome to the vibe show doctor Michelle Sands.
Dr. Sands: Hi Robyn. Thank you so much for having me.
Robyn: I’ve heard you on other shows and I’ve been really interested to have you come talk to my audience about epigenetics since I heard how much interesting cutting edge research you’ve been doing about what our own specific genetics tell us, about how it could guide our lifestyle, what we should eat. So I’m excited about this.
Tell me how you even got into this part of functional medicine.
Dr. Sands: It’s interesting. Like most practitioners you probably talked to, I had my own health issues growing up. I grew up in an Italian family in New York, and we ate pizza. Pasta, pastry… it was like 11 types of gluten, on the table, basically at any meal. And I always felt crappy after I ate. I always had bloating and gas. I had a lot of menstrual PMS issues. I was a little overweight as a child, had acne, and I always wondered why I had all these issues.
But I would look at my dad and my uncle and after a big meal they would actually unbuckle their belt and go take a nap. [So I thought], “Okay, well everyone feels a little crappy after they eat. It’s pretty normal.” And my parents didn’t know a lot about nutrition, and my mom just liked to feed us. It made her happy when we ate.
I ate a lot of, you know, crappy food growing up. When I got to high school I was more concerned about my appearance and my weight; I joined the track team. My track coach, who was amazing — her name is coach Shea — she was into gardening, and she was an herbalist, and she saw that I was struggling. I don’t even know how she let me on the track team — but she did — because I couldn’t run. I didn’t even have running shoes.
[Coach Shea] knew I wanted to change my lifestyle. And so she taught me a little bit about when I ate vegetables and fruits, I’d get more energy and I’d be able to sleep better. And she taught me about herbs, and gardening, and she would actually bring me fruits and vegetables because, in my lunch that my mom packed me, I’d basically have a can of Coca Cola that was wrapped in Tinfoil to keep it cold. I’d have something like a Bologna Sandwich, a bag of Doritos or Ruffles chips, and then I’d have the snack cake, like a twinkie or one of the cupcakes.
Robyn: Oh my gosh. I think you’re the girl that I used to swap lunches with because…
Dr. Sands: I started trading out the soda for juice, and the chips for carrot sticks, and celery for the cupcakes.
Robyn: That was me. That was me! You ate my lunches and I ate yours.
Dr. Sands: Nobody wanted the Bologna Sandwich though and that kind of just sat around. It was kind of like the Wah, Wah, Wah, you know. But she asked that we would bring me healthy snacks because my mom, for my snack at track practice, would give me more chips and another soda and so I checked. I was like, no, that’s not how you fuel your body. And so I started learning about nutrition.
I actually lost some weight; I actually got a track scholarship to college. Otherwise, I never would have went to college because I was the first person, not just first girl but the first person, in my family to, not only go to a four year college, that was the first, but then also go onto medical school after. It really wasn’t going to be in the cards for me otherwise. So that was huge for me. But it didn’t solve all of my problems.
I still had the horrible menstrual issues. I actually lost my period for two years. I had a lot of digestive problems and I was popping Advil, Ibuprofen in the morning to get up. Two in the morning just so I could walk across the room because I had such joint pain, and then I would take four more before [morning] track practice and four more again before afternoon track practice. So I was taking like 15 to 20 Ibuprofen a day, and no wonder I had a lot of stomach issues, but that was how I was dealing with my problems.
I got to college — it was a second year in college, it was a routine physical — and I just broke down in the doctor’s office. They were just taking my blood pressure, and weighing me, and [marking] my height, like the routine physical staff for sports, and I just started bawling.
I was telling the physician’s assistant how I didn’t have my period but I still got menstrual cramps, and I couldn’t sleep, and I was taking all these things for joint pain and I was popping tums like candy and I couldn’t eat before track practice because if I did I’d actually poop while I was running. Like that was what was going on with me and I was just at the end of my rope, so I just let [myself] go there in the doctor’s office. Just started crying and told my whole story.
He just turned white. He was like, I did not sign up for this. You’re just here to get your pulse done and we’re just making sure you’re alive. But there were a couple nurses that were there, and they took me to the side and they convinced me to go see the doctor. So I made an appointment to see the doctor.
[The doctors] did some blood work. And then a few days later they informed me that I had primary ovarian failure and that I would never have children. So they’re like, your ovaries are done, you’re basically in menopause, but there’s nothing really wrong with your digestion and there’s nothing wrong with your joints, so you’re good to go. You just have an issue with your hormones and you won’t have kids. And they put me on, of all things, birth control pills and antidepressants.
So that was my start. Yeah. It’s the long answer to your question, how did I get into this?
I kind of lived this diagnosis for a long time and I was “the girl that would never have kids,” and I just kind of threw myself into my work. But it didn’t seem right, because I was eating healthy, I was exercising, I was doing all the things you’re supposed to do to be healthy, but why can I not do these basic things? Why can I not eat and poop normally? Why can I not have a baby like every other woman I knew on the planet who was trying not to get pregnant. I was in my twenties so all my friends were trying not to get pregnant and here I am, not able to get pregnant.
I started searching. I was actually in school for marketing, and I started going over to the other schools in my college and asking some of the alternative medicine teachers, and some of the Chinese medicine professors, herbalists, nutrition people. I started just reaching out and asking like, “Have you heard of this before? Have people overcome it? What’s going on with me?”
The conventional medicine doctors I went to see, and specialists, they didn’t have answers, but the alternative and Eastern medicine philosophers and doctors and energy healers, they seem to think there was hope. So I started going down that road and I got a little bit of help, and then I slid back and then I just decided I had to take it on my own hands.
I went back to school for a naturopathic medicine. So I ended up getting a four year degree. During that time I was my own Guinea pig and I started just digging into it. Not just my hormones (I spent 10 years just trying to fix my hormones), once I started looking at my gut health,, and my mitochondrial health and my detoxification systems and all these other things, I started chipping away at the dysfunction.
And then at age 39 I had my son Paxton naturally, without any IVF and without any drugs. I reversed my false diagnosis of primary ovarian failure, and I also dealt with Hashimoto’s and IBS and all those things. And now I don’t have those issues unless I work myself too hard. Then I notice I get some symptoms coming back.
Robyn: What kinds of things do you do to maintain healthy digestion then?
I think that’s really, really hopeful. And I want to stop there for a second and talk about your digestive issues because I think there’s a huge rise in adolescent — we’ll just call them the millennials — that the millennials and younger are having, major digestive issues and autoimmune disease. But I wonder how you figured out what your specific triggers are, and how you stay well now, and I think, what, you’re in your thirties right?
Dr. Sands: Well I’m 43 now. Throughout my thirties I was working on this.
In my practice, I’m a naturopathic physician. So we look at the whole person and we look at your history, going back to before you were born, to how you were born, how you were raised growing up, and what your possible triggers were along the way. Just get the picture of what each individual person needs to do.
When I say “triggers,” we have an acronym in our practice called STAIN. It’s things that “stain” your health.
The first is Stress. There’s three types of stress: there’s the physical stress like working out too hard, not sleeping, chronic movements, carpal tunnel; those are all physical stressors. There’s biological stressors like food sensitivities, toxins and things that you’re ingesting, xenoestrogens, things like that.
Then there is mental, emotional stress. That’s the stress we all think about, like when you’re fighting with your boyfriend, or you hate your job, or you’re thinking about your finances, and all those kinds of stress play into our genetics and our hormones and our digestion.
We have two sides of our nervous system: our parasympathetic, which is our peaceful side with a p, and then our sympathetic side, which is our stressed-out side. And when we’re operating in that sympathetic nervous system, it turns off our blood flow to our digestive system. That can cause problems right there.
So that’s the Stress, that’s the “S.”
And then there’s Toxins, and toxins can be pretty much anything. We have a lot more toxins now, like you talked about the millennials, [they’re] are just exposed to a lot more toxins than we were even 20 years ago and 30 years before that.
A lot of times people will talk about, “Oh, well our ancestors weren’t exposed to this many toxins hundreds of years ago.” We weren’t exposed to this many toxins 20 years ago. Every day. And new types of toxins are coming on the scene, replacing old types of toxins. It’s an overload for system. Our bodies are miraculously designed to detoxify. We have built in detoxification systems, but when they’re overloaded, then they can’t work properly. And that has its issues.
Then the “A” stands for allergens, the “I” stands for infections. Infections as you know, can be viral infections. It could be bacterial infections. And those are very rampant nowadays. And the “N” is nutrient deficiency.
Together, stress, toxins, allergens, infections, nutrient deficiencies — those are the triggers for pretty much every disease you can think of. Every dysfunction, every disease.
When it comes to digestion for me, and for a lot of people listening, I was born via c-section; I was put on antibiotics every time I sneezed growing up.
My microbiome was compromised from the get-go. Then, growing up, I didn’t eat a lot of whole, real foods. We didn’t have a lot of foods from the garden on the table. We ate a lot of frozen foods, packaged foods, foods that are depleted of enzymes. So that put me at a disadvantage. I was exposed to a lot of toxins; I also had a lot of stress. All of these things — and the gluten I talked about, all the pasta, the pieces of the pizza, the pastries — all of that caused gut permeability.
[My diet] caused issues with my microbiome balance, but also the integrity of my mucosal barrier. That’s the wall basically between your insides and your outsides. And when things leak through, that causes a lot of auto immunity, a lot of distress, inflammation.
That’s why a lot of people are dealing with chronic diarrhea, chronic constipation, inflamed guts, IBD, IBS, crones, colitis. We see that now more than I’ve ever seen it in my life, and younger and younger women coming in with those issues.
Robyn: Were you a breastfed baby?
Dr. Sands: No, I was not. I was bottle-fed.
Robyn: I was going to figure, just that it fits the profile of the urban mom from the seventies.
So your risk factors: your c-section jacked up your microbiome right out of the gate, you weren’t breastfed, so you didn’t have that immune stimulation and that peaceful babyhood, you were probably on some kind of crappy formula, you had lots of antibiotics, then you went right onto a processed diet for 13 types of gluten at every meal. Okay. So you’re up against a lot of stuff. What are the hard and fast rules in your own diet and lifestyle right now that have you thriving at 43? And like you said, let’s be [honest], I like to be totally honest too and say I’m not perfect.
Dr. Sands: Recently in this past year I wrote a book, I hosted a large summit. We moved two different locations. Those stressors kind of overfilled my stress bucket. And then at the same time I let some of my practices slides. So I did start experiencing some symptoms around January, and I had to get myself back on track.
We talk about practicing health. You go to a doctor that has a practice; it’s because we have to practice this every day. It’s constantly evolving. Humans constantly interacting with our environments, our lifestyles, every thought we have, every bite we take, every breath we breathe, every move we make. These all impact our genetic expression and our hormones and our digestion and our energy production rate. Every day we’re doing these things. So every day we have the opportunity to move closer to health, or further away from health.
You’re never going to be done. You’re never like, “Oh okay, I conquered autoimmunity. I solved my IBS issue, and I’m done.” That just doesn’t happen. It’s a constant practice.
But some of the things that I do [better now] that I wasn’t doing before is, I was on that track team and that was my ticket to college. So I got a little obsessed with running. I started doing marathons and ultramarathons, and that was really what I was good at. I was staying thin; it was the early nineties. And so I was running a really long distance and putting a lot of stress on my body.
I was also doing the “low fat” movement, you know, where I was eating like Snackwells snack cakes and sugar free red vines and diet coke. I was doing all those things, thinking it was healthy because it was little fat. So I still wasn’t feeding my microbiome; I wasn’t giving my body whole, real nourishing foods.
One of the things that is really important for me is having a balanced lifestyle. So when I exercise now I, I do it in a way that is going to be nourishing for my body. Sometimes I may go for a run, but I’m not running every day.
I’ll also incorporate mind/body restorative exercise to help my body to restore and get into that parasympathetic state where I can actually start repairing my body. When I talk about that parasympathetic [system], [an example is] when I get ready to eat I actually take a moment and I don’t eat when I’m on the go, I don’t eat when I’m working, I actually sit at a table with a plate and eat.
This is something I never did before. I was always eating in my car, or was working or on the go. That doesn’t allow your body to signal that it’s time to eat and your body doesn’t create the enzymes that are going to need to break down the food. You actually don’t have that blood flow going to your digestive system.
Taking time to be mindful, chewing your food, and actually experiencing that meal — that is super helpful in and of itself. But I had to do a lot of work. I had parasites and some bacterial infection, so I had to clear some of those.
The most important thing that I see people missing all the time is, I see a lot of people doing yeast cleanses and parasite cleanses and bacterial cleanses, but when they’re not doing is they’re not restoring the integrity of their gut lining and repopulating their gut for diversity.
When you fail to do that, then you don’t get back that ability to assimilate your food and break it down and deliver it to the cells that need it. A lot of times practitioners are missing the point; even when they’re helping people they’re just saying, “Oh, it looks like a parasite. Let’s fix the parasite.” And they’re not taking it to the level of balance we need to be to be healthy. We need to go to balance. That’s one thing we had to work on.
Also, making sure I’m eating a variety of foods, including the in-season foods, is really important to me as well. I don’t subscribe to any one diet type of dogma. It’s not that I’m eating a certain style. I eat a lot of whole real foods that are colorful.
My plate is always colorful. A lot of plant-based foods that are in season. The cool thing about in-season foods, for people that are listening, is they’re typically less expensive. They’re fresher, and they’re more abundant for you. So if you eat foods that are in season they’re going to be healthy, you’re going to get more nutrition out of them.
Robyn: They taste better too.
Dr. Sands: Yeah, that too.
Those are some of the things that I do to help my gut health and to help me digest my food, and [help] the symptoms. That’s what some of the things that we do in our practice as well.
But there’s some foundations that, no matter what you’re dealing with, I’m having those in place. The very first thing we do with everyone I work with is we make sure they’re drinking water. I make sure they’re drinking clean, clear water.
It’s amazing how many women I work with — I work with mostly women, so when I say women it’s because I work with a lot of women — this applies to men too, for all the guys that are listening. So many people say they don’t like the taste of water. They get up in the morning, and they start drinking coffee, and then they might have like a green drink, and then they’re having a soda or a smoothie and they’re not drinking water.
Water is so essential to hydrating our body. Getting our digestive system moving, detoxifying. We’re always looking for, what’s the hot new supplement, but what about clean, pure water? That’s huge, and that makes a big difference for a lot of people.
Robyn: I’m so glad you said that because we talk about all these “fancy” [things] or things that we might not think of, and then we completely neglect the basics. For me ,if I were listing out my hard-and-fast rules — the things that I do every day and that I really never slip on — the minute I wake up, I drink a pint of water, which is two cups of water.
Dr. Sands: That’s exactly what I do. 15 to 18 ounces is what I recommend, and for those that are listening, just fill up a mason jar the night before. Put it on your nightstand, and before your feet hit the ground drink that room temperature water. That is like a shower for your insides. You’re basically cleaning yourself out.
You’re going to have more energy. When you are just a little bit dehydrated, your energy level depletes. [When you’re hydrated] you’re going to have better digestion. It just makes a huge difference. Everything you do throughout the day is going to be improved when you’re hydrated.
Robyn: You know, what’s so funny is that we’re going to go on to talk about genetics, and APOE, and MHFR, but what everybody’s going to tell me is, “Oh my gosh, she reminded me that I gotta get up and drink a pint of water. I gotta have my mason jar next to my bed.” That’s going to be the thing that people are going to say. “Remember Dr. Sands said that?” So I’m glad you said that. Let’s really start at the beginning.
Now we’ll go from the super, super basics to [something more]; we have interviewed Dr Ben Lynch — it was episode 70 on this show — and he said some things that I really like based on my, admittedly, not very extensive “pulse” on the situation of the emerging science of genetics, and epigenetics especially. He said something that goes right along with your thoughts after reviewing what we know so far about genetics. He let people not worry so much about, “I have this genetic snip or that genetic snip.”
You say that the body makes no mistakes, and that for almost all of us there’s no such thing as bad genes. I think people are going to find that hopeful.
I want you to develop that concept, and then I’m going to ask you about some of these genetic snips that have been really studied, and have been in the media a lot, and people are like, “Do I have it?? Oh no.”
We’ll get to that, but let’s start with that basic question of, what does that mean that for 99% of the population that there’s no such thing as bad genes?
Dr. Sands: That’s really important because we know — as we’re learning more and more about genetics and epigenetics, it’s in the news a lot, there’s a lot of websites out there that you can pull your genetics [from] — [that] a lot of people are feeling like they got dealt a bad hand, like they have bad genes.
That’s a very limited view of the human body. I prefer to have a limitless view of our human potential, and you’re right: the body makes no mistakes. There are variations in genes; you can say, “I have brown hair and my girlfriend has red hair, which is the bad gene? What is it?”
There’s not a bad [gene]. There’s just a different one. A lot of people are misnomering what a mutation is, so a lot of people come to me and say, “I have an MTHFR mutation.”
And what they really have is a variation, they have a polymorphism. A “snip” or SNP, is a single nucleotide polymorphism. That means a variation. Less than 1% of the population has true genetic mutations. That’s where the problem [lies]. That’s the bad genetics.
Mutation is not necessarily bad, but it is something that is irreversible. Most people, when they’re talking about MTHFR, or APOE, or COMT, they’re talking about variations. And with every variation there is an upside and a downside.
Oftentimes we popularize and we read on the blogs the downside of, [for example], MTHFR. You can’t process folic acid, and you’re not methylating or detoxifying well and you’re doomed to need all these supplements. But what they’re not popularizing is people with that MTHFR variant are actually protected against a lot of gut pathogens, a lot of parasites and microbes that can cause a lot of negative effects.
And the reason why these variations happen is because it’s an adaptation to the environment. A lot of people who [have MTHFR], their ancestors come from tropical climates where folic acid is plentiful, where there’s plenty of green leafy vegetables.
Their bodies actually had this evolutionary variation, where they have this MTHFR variant, because they needed to be protected from these microbes, these gut pathogens. As a tradeoff, they needed to eat more leafy greens, which was plentiful for them. That was not a problem. They didn’t have to worry about taking folic acid supplements because they didn’t exist.
That’s the upside [to the mutation]. If you have the MTHFR variant, then you are going to be more protected against some gut pathogens. Same thing with APOE. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a gene that has [two variations], APOE and APOE II. There’s certain variations that give you a higher probability of having cognitive decline and cardiac issues, specifically, in the literature, when talking about links to Alzheimer’s and heart disease.
They chart these snips out, and if you have a four, an APOE four, that makes you have a higher likelihood of these detrimental issues. But, it also protects you from colon cancer and kidney disease. So there’s an upside there as well. And we know now that the way around [this], going down that road for those with the APOE four, is eating a diet that has less than 6% saturated fat. That will protect you from going down that road, and it helps you turn off that negative side of the gene variation.
Robyn: You’re saying that, if you have either or any of the APOE snips, there’s evidence that you would do best to eat below 6% saturated fat.
Dr. Sands: Yes, you’re not limiting fat overall. You’re just going more [in the direction] of mono and saturated fats like olive oil, Avocados, and you’re limiting the animal fat, the butter, even coconut oil in this case.
This is why you hear all these conflicting things on the news, like coconut oil is good for you, coconut oil is bad for you, eggs are good for you, eggs are bad for you. It’s because there’s some studies done on people with certain genetic variations, and then there’s other studies done on people with the opposite genetic variations. So they’re both right, but they’re just not right for every body.
When you understand your genetics — and this is why our practice is called GLOW, genetic leveraging for optimal wellness — and when you can work with your genetics instead of fighting against your body, everything is easier.
Healing is easier. Optimizing health is easier. Eating is easier. Watching the news and trying to decipher whether you have to deal with this thing or not, looking at supplements and deciding what you need it or not, is all easier. And because you actually have your N-of-One, you have what you need and not what everybody else needs, or not what most people need. That’s the beauty of it
It’s not rocket science. It sounds like rocket science because we’re talking about all these letters and numbers, but it’s actually very easy to understand. And once you have the information in front of you —
Robyn: Can people follow your program if they get some genetic testing first?
Dr. Sands: Yes. We’ve hooked up with a company called Apeiron, and I’m actually one of the coaches for that company. We use a test out of California called Diagnostic [unintelligible]. It’s not available to the public, but we make it available. Why I like that is they pull more genetic variants. They pull 746,000 genetic variances. Not that we know what to do with all those right now to be completely honest — we look at about 700 of those — but they actually identify you only by a barcode and not by your name. So there’s no risk of your information getting sold or used or used against you.
There’s been a lot of issues with a lot of the direct-to-consumer companies releasing private information. We’re really conscious of protecting our client’s information. This particular company only identifies by Barcode so you’re completely protected. That’s why we like to use them. But we can also use, if you already have a 23andMe or another company’s reports, we can actually use that information as well. As long as you have your raw data.
Robyn: Good. I’m actually studying up and I’m doing a podcast recording, not an interview but just myself on my research, about what the ethical implications are of getting genetic testing done where you aren’t a barcode. Where you’re actually identified by your name, your social security number. And guess what, 23andMe’s database was just bought by, wait for it, Pharma. So…
Dr. Sands: It’s very political and I — we — always err on the side of protect yourself. Even before this, when I didn’t have the access to this company, I would have my clients use a fake name when they order their 23andMe. You can easily do that. You don’t need to prove [your identity], you don’t have to show your Id. So just make up a name if you want to order 23andMe and that way you’re kind of protected in that realm.
Robyn: Except you know what? Here’s the thing. We’ll not go into the really minutiae part of what can happen, but if you sign up with a fake name under 23andMe and then your cousin commits a heinous crime, they can find you, right? They could find you. They’re closing cold cases all the time.
You might think, “Why should I care if they have my genetic DNA? I’m never going to commit rape or murder. Right? So I don’t need to worry about it.” But there’s all kinds of really interesting ethical implications that are just starting to happen. It’s going to be an explosion.
Dr. Sands: I don’t know how deep you want to go, but there’s also been — I don’t know if it’s true or not — there’s talk about criminals actually using other people’s genetic data to plant to cover themselves. Maybe I watch too many crime shows, but protect yourself.
I love this company because they’re one of the only ones I know that use just the barcode to identify you, and then they absolutely destroy your information. Even the barcode; they destroy that as soon as we download the report.
Robyn: That was a total side tangent, but criminals using the wrong genetic data in 23andMe isn’t going to throw the police off because all they have to do is get a piece of their hair and they’ll still get in trouble. However, that brings up another interesting conundrum that if Pharma, a major pharmaceutical company, has bought the data from 23andMe and literally paid billions of dollars for it, people are going to start gaming it like that because we’re all concerned about the loss of privacy and ethical implications. Then there’s fake data that’s being used to develop medical treatments and drugs. If that’s the case…
Dr. Sands: Just to get back to the conversation. There’s a lot — I mean there’s tons — of variants. Every variant has an upside. Like sickle cell anemia; that’s a disease that causes joint pain and weakness and it can even be fatal. It’s very common in Asian and African American cultures, but it also protects against malaria.
[There’s been experiments where] they actually were trying, using CRISPR technology — which is an advanced genetic technology — to manipulate the genes of babies so that they could have babies born without the sickle cell anemia genetics. They’re actually changing the genes. When they have two copies of that gene or the variation, that’s when sickle cell anemia happens. But when they only have one copy, that’s the protection. So they’re actually erasing the protection. And more and more people are dying of malaria because of the intervention.
That’s huge. Cystic fibrosis is another one. Two copies give you cystic fibrosis; one copy protects against tuberculosis. It goes on and on. Even when you look at PCOS, one of the most common hormonal imbalances that we’ve seen, women in ancestral times with PCOS, you were going to be a stronger woman and so you were going to survive.
PCOS is an evolutionary adaptation to stress and it gives you more testosterone, makes you able to run further and fight. So more and more women are developing PCOS because their moms and grandmothers have had a lot of stress. That’s what we’re seeing there. It’s pretty interesting. But there’s an upside to that too, you’re stronger.
Another thing: it’s not really a genetic variation that a lot of times [are afflicting people]. A lot of people I see coming in have horrible chemical sensitivities.
They feel like they’ve been betrayed by their bodies because they can’t do anything without reacting. They react to smells and all kinds of things in their environment and food, even food. They’re really upset by this. But I always tell them the upside of reacting to all these things is that what they’re reacting to, for the most part, is toxins. Their body is hyper vigilant to know that those things are bad for you. Stay away.
But a person who doesn’t react, they’re still being exposed to these toxins, but it’s like a silent killer for them.
Robyn: Right. At least the people with multiple chemical sensitivities do something about it. It’s not like those toxins aren’t affecting the rest of us.
Dr. Sands: Yes, that’s what I’m saying. There is a benefit there as well. You want to obviously work on healing the immune system so that you can calm it down and you don’t have quite the reaction. But the upside is it’s because your body is in a fragile state and it’s just hyper vigilant to protect you. That is a good thing when you look at it that way.
Again, just going back to the idea that the body, and the human body, makes no mistakes and there’s no extra parts. It’s like you are a perfectly designed human being.
Robyn: I love that concept and it’s actually quite anxiety reducing. When we first start learning about something, we usually have a high level of anxiety and then when we go on a little bit deeper, it’s, it ends up being empowering. And I think that’s what you’re doing for us here.
What do you see a lot of natural and functional practitioners doing that you’re concerned about, as we’re so early in this field of epigenetics?
Dr. Sands: In epigenetics, because epigenetics is the new hot thing — a few years ago it was the microbiome, coming up probably in the next year it’s going to be the virome, and retroviruses — it’s a lot of shock. It’s a lot of scare tactics. All the messaging is like, “If you don’t do this, this is going to happen.”
I have a lot of friends that are other types of health practitioners, other naturopathic doctors and chiropractors and conventional medicine doctors as well. A lot of times, even though they’re saying they get to the root cause, root cause medicine, they’ll ask you, “Okay Robyn, what are you experiencing?
And you’re like, “Oh, well, you know, I’m tired all the time. I have cold hands and feet. My hair is starting to fall out.” And those are symptoms of thyroid [problems]. So I’m like, “oh, I know what it is! It’s your thyroid! So I’m going to give you a thyroid supplement, or I’m going to give you armor thyroid? But they’re not asking “Robyn, why is your thyroid not functioning?” Let’s find out why, what’s going on upstream? And what kind of dysfunction is happening to cause your thyroid to be dysfunctional?
That’s really a disservice to the public, to everybody, because it’s not the cause. That’s not the root cause. Even that’s a misnomer because even in our practice, we do all the work to get to the underlying causes. But we can’t always tell you what the one root cause is because there’s not usually one.
It doesn’t really matter as long as we clean up all the dysfunction. When we clean up the dysfunction, the symptoms go away. So I really believe disease doesn’t really exist. It’s dysfunction.
All disease is, is the expression of upstream dysfunction. Naming diseases and trying to match up treatments with diseases in the naturopathic or alternative space is no better than conventional medicine. Giving you a pill for an ill, or giving you insurance code to match up with a surgery, when all we’re doing is giving you a supplement to match up with your symptoms. That’s not really serving you either. That’s not healing, that’s just managing symptoms.
Robyn: It seems like we’re still just putting duct tape over the engine light with a less toxic pill sometimes.
Dr. Sands: It’s one step better but it’s still not healing. Healing is actually bringing the body back to balance. Finding out what’s causing the imbalances. And it’s not just inside your body, it’s also your environment, right? It’s how we’re interacting with the world.
That’s the whole thing of epigenetics. All it really means is how you express one or more of your genes, and how they can be modified by your environment. And that is everything we talked about earlier. It’s diet, it’s infections, it’s stress, it’s toxic exposure, it’s medications, it’s your relationships, it’s your thoughts, it’s how well you are, how resilient you are.
You have to look at all of that; not just what’s going on inside, but what’s going on outside. You talked a lot, Robyn, about mind-body and the whole experience in life, and we’re missing out on that a lot when we’re telling you, “Let’s figure out what your symptoms are and then here’s the supplement package that you need.”
Robyn: So, no disease, just dysfunction, bad expression, got to clean [your system] up.
You talk about six basic triggers that lead to that dysfunction. I love constructs like that, where we can focus on categories. What are these six triggers?
Dr. Sands: It’s toxins, allergens, the viruses, infections, stress and nutrient deficiencies. Anything you have, you could trace back to one of those things, or all of those things, or a combination of those things.
Robyn: You said those in a different order this time, but it was your STAIN.
Dr. Sands: It’s stress, toxins, allergens, infections and viruses together, and nutrient deficiency.
Robyn: Oh, so that’s where the six comes in, infections and viruses. Okay.
Dr. Sands: Yeah. Name a condition and it goes back to one or more of those things. And it’s never in a bubble.
If you have stress, chances are you’re also going to have nutrient deficiencies. If you have toxins, you likely will have stress. It’s not just, “Oh, I just have to do the one thing. I just have to do the detox program, or the hormone program, or the gut program.” Guess what? You’re a holistic being. You have to do all the programs. You have to do it all. Not all at once! But, like we talked about the water, you have to start with the foundation.
Whenever we work with people in our practice, whether they’re doing our do-it-yourself program or they’re working with us one-on-one, we start with the foundations of health. Some people get irritated by this because they just want the punchline. “I want to thing at the end, I want to take the hormones.” But no, you really have to build a strong foundation so all those fancy protocols can work.
We have to approach our health like we approached anything else that’s important to us in life. We have to start with the foundations. We wouldn’t just put our baby into college, we have to teach them how to walk first, right? We have to do that with our bodies. What we’ve been doing all these years got us to where we are now.
Not that it’s our fault. Being sick is not your fault. Having dysfunction is not your fault, but healing is your responsibility. No one is going to do it for you. There’s no doctor, there’s no guru. I don’t heal people. I teach someone to heal themselves.
Robyn: That’s the thing, everybody in the naturopathic community, the acupuncturists and the chiropractors and the many types of practitioners who are trying to go to root cause and helping people reverse it, we have to have some engagement from the patient. That’s the whole appeal of allopathic medicine, besides the fact that our insurance company pays for it, it’s so passive, right? We so want to buy in on that idea.
Dr. Sands: I think there’s a segment — probably not your listeners, probably not people that are listening to this — but I believe there’s a segment of the population that likes to hear, “There’s nothing you can do that.” That likes to hear, “It’s not what you’re eating.” That likes to hear, “It won’t matter if you exercise.”
I think there’s a segment of the population that doesn’t wish to take that responsibility, but they’re not the ones that are going to heal.
Those of you that are listening right now, you’re actually proactively doing something to improve your health. You’re educating yourself. You’re learning. So that’s not you, you’re the people that want to do something. You just maybe don’t know what that thing is that you need to do, and you need a system or some support, some guidance to put the pieces together. Or maybe you’re already there, you’re just [honing] your knowledge. But I think that that’s really important, we really have to be the healers of ourselves.
I hear crazy things every week from my clients. Today I was talking to a 43-year-old woman, same age as me, and we were looking at her genetics and she has genetics that show that she doesn’t actually transform vitamin D from the sun and that she likely needs to supplement with vitamin D. So I was like, “Hey, have you had your vitamin D checked with your doctor?” And she says, “My doctor says I’m too young to check my vitamin D.”
What does that even mean? It’s so funny because kids need vitamin D. Why would you be too young to check your vitamin D? There’s all these crazy things that are being said. I don’t know where they come from, it was just kind of funny.
Robyn: I saw somebody post on my Facebook page today that they were in a room with two medical doctors who were making fun of people talking about leaky gut. And they were making fun that that doesn’t exist. And this person, who’s a complete lay person but who works in the medical setting somewhere, said, “Have you guys ever even looked that up on pub med? Like you really, you really should look that up on pub med.”
Dr. Sands: Yes. Well you know why, there’s no such thing as leaky gut, but there’s intestinal permeability and it’s the same thing. Just like there’s adrenal dysfunction that exists, but there’s no such thing as adrenal fatigue. It’s just semantics.
But the [affliction] happens, right? We talked about root cause, the cause of your problems: it’s not adrenal dysfunction, that’s the result of your problem. It’s not like, “Oh I figured it out for you, you have adrenal dysfunction.” No, you have a dysfunctional adrenal gland that’s not working optimally. But we have to find out why.
Robyn: Yeah, we did a great interview with Ari Whitten recently.
Dr. Sands: He’s amazing. I love Ari.
Robyn: Yeah, he talked about the [adrenal dysfunction]. If that’s a shock to you, and you haven’t heard that one and you are walking around, like a good friend of mine for many years, saying, “I have stage three adrenal failure,” you need to go listen to that episode with Ari Whitten.
I think I’ve interviewed him three or four times, but we did a specific episode on the HPA axis. Three different glands working together. There’s really no such thing as adrenal fatigue, which doesn’t mean that your adrenal fatigue can be indefinitely abused. Like you said, I love how you put that, it’s like you kind of boiled down his whole detailed argument into one tiny little soundbite, which I love.
Dr. Sands: There’s so many things! People are so confused, they’re mind boggled. They have literally a suitcase of supplements that they’re taking, because so many people said, “This is good for this and this is good for that.” And you know, there’s all these catch phrases. “I have the MTHFR gene mutation,” “I have adrenal fatigue,” all these things. And they still don’t have a sense of it. They don’t know what to actually do to heal.
Robyn: Right. And the good news is all these little micro-diagnoses that you’ve been carrying around or pulling in your little red wagon behind you, a lot of the same action-taking in your life will probably get rid of a whole bunch of them.
Dr. Sands: That is probably the most eloquent thing that people can take away. That is so true. I hate ever sounding uncompassionate, but to say that it doesn’t really matter what your diagnosis is… it’s kind of true.
You’re still going to do the foundations; you’re still going to work on improving your gut and immune health. You’re going to work on balancing your hormones and neurotransmitters. You’re going to improve your detoxification, your transport systems, your cellular integrity, your energy production. And once you do all that, if you can remove dysfunction in all those areas, you will be living optimally healthy.
Robyn: I wonder what you think of this piece of advice, if we feel like giving this joint piece of advice — just an observation I have in dealing with people all day, every day, many of whom are unwell and you have a similar career — is to ask yourself, how attached are you to this diagnosis? How many times this week have you told someone that you have fill-in-the-blank?
Whatever your diagnosis is, how attached to it are you? Are you pulling it in a little red wagon behind you? Are you cradling it like a baby, and walking around with it, and it’s become your identity?
I sound like I’m being sarcastic and it’s like you said, I don’t want to make fun of people. That’s not the point. But I am being provocative here on purpose because when we attach to something like that, how are we going to put it behind us? How are we going to get rid of it if it’s such a part of our identity, when a small shift might disappear it? I mean for heaven’s sake, I had 21 diagnoses. I had 21 diagnoses 20 years ago. I have zero now.
Dr. Sands: Exactly. And not to mention the whole nocebo effect, where you believe that you have a disease so you’re going to start expressing symptoms of that disease. It’s documented time and time again.
There are tons of documentation of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer on a mammogram and they actually did not have breast cancer, but they developed breast cancer.
And then there’s also diagnosis of women who had breast cancer and it went away on its own because they weren’t told they had breast cancer. It’s ridiculous how your brain and your body and your thoughts can actually manifest symptoms if you believe that’s going to happen to you.
Tell us where we can find more from you. Are you seeing patients? If so, where? And I know that you have a video course people can take, about how to get their genes to express in the best way possible.
Dr. Sands: We have a 100% virtual practice, called glow natural wellness. Our website is glownaturalwellness.com. If you are interested in any of the little philosophies that I mentioned today, I created a four-part video series called “natural healing made simple” where I break down the five steps I use in my practice to help everybody heal themselves from their conditions, no matter what they are.
I talk about the triggers. I talk about the three kinds of stress. I go into the five steps. I talk about epigenetics and what that means, and how to actually leverage your genetics so that you can be well. It’s completely free. And if you go to our website and you go to the home page, it says “free learning” on the top and you just click on that and you’ll be taken to the “natural healing made simple” page.
When you’re going through the course, we include a metabolic assessment so you can kind of see, based on what you’re experiencing, what systems of the body might have dysfunction. And I tell you how to read that. So there’s a lot of great little phrase along the way.
My goal is just to educate people and empower them; rather than have them being disempowered by their condition, really being empowered by their condition. Anything you see from me will never be fear based. It’ll never be doom and gloom.
I truly believe that we have infinite potential and we’re just scratching the surface right now of what we understand about genetics and biology and energy medicine. If we can just stay on top of it, and give our body what it needs, we are going to be able to thrive. And everybody’s going to live a healthier, happier life, and nobody is going to be mean.
Robyn: What a great way to end. No one’s going to be mean.
Dr. Sands: Well when people are in better health, they’re just nicer.
Robyn: We could use a lot of that. Anybody who spends 10 minutes on Facebook sees a lot of meanness. Well you’re doing such great work, and I really appreciate the time that you’ve spent with us today. I’ve enjoyed it very much. Thank you, Dr Michelle Sands.
Dr. Sands: Oh, thank you so much, Robyn. It’s been a true pleasure.