PODCAST: The Truth About Metabolic Damage And How To Fix It

Thanks for joining us for episode 130 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are answering following question from a listener:

“Is it true that having a history of dieting can result in so-called metabolic damage? Can it mean you will then have a harder time losing weight or that your body tends to then try to maintain a higher weight? And if this is true, how should one go about healing the damage? I do have a history of dieting a few years and I have been at a higher weight after that – normal BMI, but on the higher end. I find it difficult to lose body fat even though years ago it seemed to happen relatively easily. I’ve been measuring my body temperature to track my fertility and there noticed my body temperature is rather low, about 96.6F° at the beginning of my cycle. Is that a sign that some sort of conservation mode or slowdown metabolism is going on? I don’t tend to feel cold though, on the contrary.”

A history of dieting attempts coupled with current low calorie intake can affect your body in multiple ways. Often one of them is difficulty losing weight despite calorie intake being lower than calories burned.

While this concept is referred to as metabolic damage, the term is inaccurate causing misunderstanding around the role of metabolism while leaving many disempowered thinking their metabolism is irreversibly malfunctioning.

Today we are busting myths related to metabolic damage so you can better understand metabolic function and approach the healing process with less frustration.

We’ll be discussing factors that affect the calories in/calories out equation such as the type of foods you eat and your workout habits, as well as the interplay between thyroid and adrenal hormone levels.

We’ll also be sharing strategies to repair a compensated metabolism to restore optimal metabolic and neuroendocrine function. As you come away with info about the recovery protocol and how to cycle between weight loss and maintenance, you’ll also be inspired to re-evaluate your weight loss goals.

This is an empowering episode not to be missed so you can approach healthy weight loss from a place of knowledge about metabolic function and clarity about your goals.

Here’s what Laura and Kelsey will be discussing in this episode:

  • [00:04:51] An explanation of the concept of metabolic damage and how calories in/calories out has become a controversial topic
  • [00:08:56] How digestive function and the type of food you eat affect calorie absorption
  • [00:13:23] How gut bacteria affect calorie absorption
  • [00:14:33] The difference between fiber containing carbs and simple carbs on calorie absorption
  • [00:18:34] How thyroid and adrenal hormones affect calorie expenditure
  • [00:19:44] Factors involved in your workout that affect calorie burning
  • [00:20:43] Additional factors that affect calorie expenditure
  • [00:31:00] How metabolic damage is really metabolic compensation by the body as a survival adaptation
  • [00:36:59]  How to adjust exercise habits and calorie intake to help repair a compensated metabolism
  • [00:40:55] How to support adrenal function to help repair metabolism
  • [00:43:52] The importance of ensuring adequate micronutrient intake and which multivitamins we recommend
  • [00:45:43] How long to maintain the recovery protocol and how to cycle between weight loss and maintenance
  • [00:47:31] Why it’s crucial to re-evaluate your goal to lose weight after repairing your metabolism

Links Discussed:


Laura: Hi everyone! Welcome to Episode 130 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Laura Schoenfeld and with me as always is my co-host Kelsey Kinney.

Kelsey: Hey everyone!

Laura: We’re Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me, Laura, at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com, and Kelsey over at KelseyKinney.com.

Over the next 30 to 45 minutes we’ll be answering your questions about health and nutrition, and providing our insights into solving your health challenges with practical tips and real food. Stick around until the end of the show where we’ll be sharing some updates about our business and personal lives.

Kelsey: If you’re enjoying our show, subscribe on iTunes so that you never miss an episode. And while you’re there, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well!

And remember, we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health related question that we can answer or suggest a guest you’d love for us to interview on an upcoming show.

Laura: Today on the show we’re going to be talking about the concept of metabolic damage and how your body is affected by a history of multiple diet attempts and current low calorie intake. We’re hoping to bust a few myths on this episode, so we’re glad you’ll be joining us. But before we get into the question for the day, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

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Laura: Welcome back, everyone. Here is our question for today’s show:

“Is it true that having a history of dieting can result in so-called metabolic damage? Can it mean you will then have a harder time losing weight or that your body tends to then try to maintain a higher weight? And if this is true, how should one go about healing the damage? I do have a history of dieting a few years and I have been at a higher weight after that – normal BMI, but on the higher end. I find it difficult to lose body fat even though years ago it seemed to happen relatively easily. I’ve been measuring my body temperature to track my fertility and there noticed my body temperature is rather low, about 96.6F° at the beginning of my cycle. Is that a sign that some sort of conservation mode or slowdown metabolism is going on? I don’t tend to feel cold though, on the contrary.”

I think this is a really interesting question because on one hand, there’s a lot of discussion in both the conventional nutrition and medical world, and the ancestral health and Paleo type nutrition world about the concept of metabolic damage.

I feel like metabolic damage is this term that gets tossed around that is describing a phenomenon that definitely happens, but it’s not really the right terminology for it. In that sense it’s kind of like the term adrenal fatigue where the symptoms of adrenal fatigue are definitely happening and there’s a reason behind it, but to call it adrenal fatigue is somewhat inaccurate.

Metabolic damage, I would say most people are going to consider that to be a situation where their metabolism no longer allows for normal weight loss using a calorie deficit.

I think one of the main arguments that a lot of the conventional medical nutritional world makes against the concept of metabolic damage is that nobody is immune to the concept of calories in/calories out. That thermodynamics equation where the amount of food we eat, the amount of calories we take in, if it’s balanced with the amount that we’re putting out, then we’re going to maintain our weight. If we’re eating less than we’re expending, then we’re going to lose weight. And if we’re eating more than we’re expending, we’re going to gain weight.

In that situation with metabolic damage, the concept is that the calories-in can be lower than the calories-out, but you won’t see weight loss. That’s the basic understanding of metabolic damage.

The reason why I feel like this is such a controversial topic is because in reality you can’t actually be in a calorie imbalance where you’re eating less than you’re expending and not be losing weight. That’s where the belief that the calories in calories out equation is a myth because they’ll say I’m eating less than I should be expending, and so I should be losing weight. And I’m not losing weight, so that means calories in/calories out isn’t true.

But that’s not the case. That’s really not accurate. That’s one of the myths I wanted to address in this podcast because I feel like that can make people very confused about the way calories affect weight loss.

If you think about calories in/calories out as being at its root what drives weight loss, it’s the laws of thermodynamics. It’s suggesting that if you eat less energy than you expend, you should lose weight. And if you do the opposite, so you’re eating more energy than you expend, you’ll gain weight. If you look at that just at its basic level, that is always true.

The question that I want to ask this person and also just anyone listening to this podcast is how detailed or how complicated do they think that equation is? Because if you think all of the equation covers is you’re eating a certain amount, you track that on My Fitness Pal, you see a certain amount of calories, and then you figure out how many calories your body should be burning based on your height, weight, gender, activity level, blah, blah, blah, and you have that be a higher number, then you should see weight loss. If you’re just looking at it that way, then that is not always going to happen.

That’s where that confusion comes in because on one hand you have people saying calories in/calories out is bogus, and it’s not true, and that’s not how you lose weight. And that’s totally wrong. And then you have people saying that if you eat less and move more, you will lose weight no matter what’s going on. And that’s not true either. So that’s why I think there’s so much confusion.

Is that kind of how you see the confusion around the calories in/calories out topic?

Kelsey: For sure. I think this whole idea of metabolic damage is also confusing just because people then think if my metabolism is damaged, can I even come back from that? I feel like it first of all it doesn’t take into account the many different things that can affect an energy balance. But then it also leaves somebody feeling like what the heck am I supposed to do about it if I’ve already damaged this? It’s really disempowering, I would say.

Laura: I would say the term damaged to me suggests broken and irreversible, or difficult to reverse. I don’t really feel like that’s accurate for a lot of people. I’m going to talk about the terms that I think are better for describing this phenomenon than metabolic damage. But if you go into this thinking that your body is broken, and you’re damaged, and that kind of thing, then it can definitely take away any level of power over the situation. The only downside is that the ways to get out of this situation can often be very challenging.

First I want to talk about what actually impacts this energy balance equation because like I said before, it’s not as simple as calories in/calories out and there are dozens of factors that are going to affect this equation.

Things that can affect the calories in part of the equation would include things like your digestive function. If you don’t have a very strong digestive system, then you’re not actually going to be absorbing all the calories that you’re eating. Even if you do have a normal functioning digestive system, you still are not going to absorb all the calories that you eat. There’s going to be a percentage of those that don’t get absorbed.

Kelsey: I know you work with some digestive people, but for me certainly I see a lot of people with digestive problems who they’re trying like heck to gain weight and it’s really, really hard. I think a piece of that is that they’re just not like absorbing the calories that they’re eating.

Laura: Definitely. Like I said with normal digestive systems even depending on the kind of food that you eat, you’re actually going to see some differences in absorption. That would be the difference between complex and simple foods.

For example, protein and high fiber carbs actually take significantly more energy to digest than things like pure fat or pure sugar. And then certain things depending on what form they’re in are going to affect how well we actually digest certain nutrients.

There’s been studies showing that whole nuts, when you eat a whole nut source, you don’t actually digest and absorb as much of the fat from those whole nuts as you do if they’re actually nut butter.

Kelsey: Interesting.

Laura: The way that it is processed is going to impact how much energy we get from it. The amount of fiber in that food is going to affect how much we digest. For example, fat can get bound to fiber and if we’re eating a lot of fiber, we may not actually even be absorbing the fat that we’re eating, which for some people can be helpful because it helps them cut down on their calorie absorption. But for other people like you said that may be trying to gain weight, it actually can make things more complicated or more difficult.

There is something called the thermic effect of food, which I think sometimes people take a little bit more liberty with that where they say if you’re eating a lot of protein, you’re going to be burning more calories. It’s true, it’s just not significant enough to make a huge difference in your total calorie intake.

On average people tend to use about 10 percent of their daily energy expenditure in the digestion and absorption process of food, but that does depend on the kind of macronutrients that they’re eating. Protein in particular takes about 20 to 30 percent of your total calories that you’re consuming to actually digest it. If you eat 100 calories worth of protein, about 20 to 30 calories of that are going to go towards digesting food, which is pretty significant. And then carbs is about 5 to 10 percent, and fats is about 0 to 3 percent.

So fats in some ways don’t take any energy to digest if they’re solid fats. Whereas something like a high protein meal or a high fiber carbohydrate, you’re actually going to take a lot more a lot more energy to just digest that food and so you’re not getting quite as much net calories out of that food as you would if you were eating like an isolated solid fat that takes no energy to digest.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: That’s that concept of a calorie is not always a calorie. If you’re eating whole foods, if you’re eating high fiber foods, if you’re eating high protein foods, you’re actually not absorbing as many calories from that food as if you were eating like sugar, and white flour, and low protein foods, and low fiber foods, that kind of thing. So that’s a huge factor in the calories-in part of the equation.

Cooking food versus eating raw food is going to affect the calories-in part of the equation. Certain starches like if you ate them raw, you would actually get very little calories out of them. That’s things like potatoes, sweet potatoes, that kind of thing. But when you cook them, you actually then get most of the calories out of that food. So veggies and starches…and I think meats are probably less impacted by the cooking, but they might get a little bit of an impact there.

Chewing your food obviously more thoroughly is going to help you get more calories out of it. The types of bacteria in our gut can actually affect how many calories you get out of your food. There are certain types of bacteria that actually digest indigestible parts of our diet. Things like fibers for example, they get digested by these bacteria and then they get turned into fat so then your body can absorb that fat for fuel.

Kelsey: I have an article that at least briefly talks about that on my site. I can link to that, too.

Laura: Obviously that’s going to make a difference and between different people what the balance of their bacteria is. Those are some of the things that affect the calories-in.

Somebody could be eating the exact same meal as someone else. Depending on their digestion, depending on how well they chew it, depending on the bacteria in their gut, they actually could be absorbing more or less calories from that food.

Kelsey: I have a question for you within that.

Laura: Sure.

Kelsey: I totally understand things like digestive function and the different bacteria contributing…and actually I’ll add into that like cooked food versus raw food, that kind of thing. Totally see how that can make a giant difference in how many calories somebody is actually eating.

When we’re talking about complex versus simple foods, how much of a role do you feel like that plays into how many calories somebody is actually consuming based on what they think? Like if someone was logging that on My Fitness Pal or something. But then considering complex versus simple, how much less might they be eating do you think?

Laura:  I don’t know if there’s a percentage necessarily that is in the research. But just as an example, the fiber containing carbs versus the refined carbs, they’re going to actually impact how much of other foods that we digest. If you’re eating a super high fiber diet, it’s going to actually prevent you from absorbing all the fat in your diet. Fat tends to be obviously a very high calorie food. If you’re absorbing more fat, even if it’s maybe an extra 20 grams a day, that can make a big difference in terms of how many calories you’re eating.

I think the complexity of the food can sometimes impact how well you’re absorbing even the non-complex components. And then if you think about carbs that are higher in fiber, it just takes more energy to actually digest those. So the net calorie intake for a high fiber sweet potato is going to be different than white rice, for example, or sugar. Sugar is one of those foods that pretty much can be absorbed very easily. In some ways it’s beneficial if somebody needs easily absorbed carbohydrates for some reason. But for the average person, eating a lot of high sugar foods is going to increase how many calories that they’re getting from their food.

Kelsey: Exactly.

Laura: I don’t know if there’s like a percentage. I think the information about the percentage of the thermic effect of food is a little bit more well understood. But again it comes down to a lot of different factors. Because if you think about fiber, humans can’t digest fiber. So we’re not technically able to extract calories from that.

But like you said in that article that we’re going to link to, certain types of bacteria in our gut can digest that fiber. If you have high levels of those, you may actually be getting calories from that fiber that most people wouldn’t be getting.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: And again, it’s one of those things that you can get into minutia about it. And yes, there is good information, and yes, it’s accurate. But as far as what that looks like practically, it can get a little bit over the top as far as what the actual practical side of it is. I just like people to understand that calories-in, there’s a lot of different things that affect what your body is able to process.

I forgot to mention with the calories-in, even if you have the exact same digestive system as someone else, foods themselves can vary up to 20 to 25 percent in terms of their calorie content. So that means that you could have the exact same looking apple that you’re eating and you could have a twin version of yourself with all the same like gut function, digestive strength, all of that stuff going on and eating a different apple that looks the same, and there could be like a 20 percent difference in terms of the calorie content between those two apples.

It tends to be more of an issue for processed food. Anything that’s been created and has like nutrition fact labels on it, there’s going to be a lot more variance in the calorie content of those foods. It’s just crazy because it’s like you literally could be eating from one day to the next the exact same food and your calorie intake could be like 20 percent different on another day.

Kelsey: Great.

Laura: Yeah. That’s another thing that affects calories-in. And then as far as the calories-out goes, this is another area that I think is way over-simplified in a lot of people’s minds. Most people think of calories-out as how much you’re exercising or like just what your body’s basal metabolic rate is, which basal metabolic rate is just how much energy your body burns just to function and do its normal daily life.

A lot of different things affect calories out. One thing is our hormones, thyroid hormone especially. Active thyroid hormone T-3 is going to make one of the biggest impacts on our calories-out. That will affect our basal metabolic rate fairly significantly. If you have hypothyroidism, you’re almost guaranteed to have a lower basal metabolic rate than someone who doesn’t have hypothyroidism.

Adrenal function can affect your metabolic rate. Cortisol levels are going to impact how much calories you’re burning if you have high cortisol, low cortisol, cortisol resistance. A lot of different things there that can actually affect your body’s basal metabolic function.

As you and I know, as our Paleo Rehab participants know, as a lot of our listeners know, adrenal hormones and thyroid hormones do interact pretty significantly. Having high levels of cortisol can actually impact the efficacy of your thyroid hormones. Even if you had normal thyroid production, you could be having low actual hormone effects. That’s a pretty complicated part of this equation that will significantly affect the calories-out part of the equation.

Obviously the type of workout you’re doing, the frequency, the intensity, the duration, all of that’s going to affect your calorie burn. There is some evidence that certain types of workouts are going to benefit your basal metabolic rate versus others that will actually lower it.

Long duration cardio is going to make your metabolic rate lower because it’s essentially an adaptation to the calories you’re burning in those long duration cardio training sessions versus weight training. It’s not significant, but it does have a mild increase in your basal metabolic rate when you put muscle on.

It may be like, I don’t know, 50 calories a day that you’re burning more than someone who doesn’t have a lot of muscle mass. But again that is going to impact how many calories your body is burning at rest along with the workouts themselves. And then also the way your workouts affect your hormones is going to impact how well you’re burning calories. So again, more complexity there.

Certainly your age and gender is going to affect your calories-out. As you get older your calories-out are going to go down. That’s just normal. It’s to be expected. Twenty years ago losing weight was probably a lot easier than it would be when you’re in your 40s, or 50s, or even older than that. So that’s going to be a factor.

And then stress levels, especially chronic stress because of the impact on the adrenal system is going to impact your calories-out. That can actually impact your calories-in as well since you might affect your digestive capacity.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: I would think they might have a net neutral effect there because you might be absorbing less nutrients and then you may be expending less nutrients. But I would actually think the expending less would be even more significant from chronic stress. So that’s going to be an issue.

You’re micronutrient intake is going to affect how well your metabolism works. Not to get into a deep biochemical information, but essentially our mitochondria that are burning the protein, carbs, and fat to create energy, if they don’t have enough of certain micronutrients, then it’s not going to function optimally.

It’s like kind of like if you have a car that has a lot of rust in the engine, it’s not going to burn fuel as effectively and it’ll lose its miles per gallon or its fuel economy. That could be totally wrong. If anyone knows cars, I don’t.

Kelsey: I can’t correct you there.

Laura: I’m like thinking of Josh listening over my shoulder.  He may be like, babe, that’s not true. That’s not how fuel economy works. But let’s just pretend it does for metaphor’s sake.

And then obviously your insulin sensitivity is going to affect your calories burned. Basically if you are insulin resistant, it’s going to be hard to tap into stored energy for fuel. That’s going to make it harder for you to burn extra calories that you’re taking in and it’s more likely to store them in that case. And certainly inflammation can affect your insulin sensitivity and your metabolic function as well.

Kelsey: That’s like actually how it connects back to the gut bacteria partially, too. If you have something like SIBO or dysbiosis, that’s going to essentially cause widespread inflammation which then feeds into insulin resistance.

Laura: Definitely. Any sort of inflammation can impact how well your body is using energy for from it the food you’re eating or from stored energy, that kind of thing.

And then there is something also called non-exercise activity thermogenesis, which is the acronym NEAT. I don’t know if there’s any way you can control this, but there is evidence that people who tend to fidget more actually burn more calories at rest than people who don’t. So if you’re that kind of person that taps your feet a lot or moves around a lot…I know my husband bounces his leg all the time and I’m like, babe, stop bouncing. It’s like enough that it annoys me sometimes.

Some people are like super fidgety, and then other people aren’t and they just kind of sit there. It’s not that that’s something you have so much control over. Actively choosing to fidget is not really a strategy for weight loss, but it is something that you can kind of work into your life by standing instead of sitting. Or they have these balance boards or balance balls that you can sit on that kind of force you to move a little bit more.

That’s kind of like a little bit down a rabbit trail as far as how to actually lose the weight. I just want people to be aware that your particular habits and neurological habits like that actually can impact your calories-out.

There’s probably other factors that are going to affect that equation, but I just wanted to make it really clear that there are a lot of different things that can impact the calories-in and calories-out.

One last thing I wanted to mention actually on that note. We were talking about resting metabolic rate and that’s based on your height, your weight, your gender, your age, your body fat percentage. All of that stuff can affect your resting metabolic rate. But even if you had the exact same weight, and age, and height, and gender as somebody else, you can have a 15 percent variation in your RMR.

Estimating your personal RMR is a good starting point for figuring out what your calorie needs might be. But this number could be 15 percent lower or higher than what is reality for you. So another thing that’s going to impact your estimation of the calories-out.

Kelsey: I’m going to bring up one thing here. A while back I found this company that makes a portable RMR machine, I guess. You breathe into it and it measures the gases. That’s how it’s calculating RMR. I would think that it would take into consideration obviously like a lot of these factors because it’s actually measuring your RMR. So that can be useful if  you just have no idea what your RMR is and even the calculations you’re not so sure about,  you feel like you have a lot of these other factors that are playing a role.

That company is called Breezing. This was a couple of years ago, so honestly I don’t even know if they still exist. I’m just bringing this up because you reminded me of it. But it was a pretty cool little tool and I would think that for somebody, especially if you have this this idea that you might have “metabolic damage”, it could be useful for you to just see exactly what you personally have as an RMR.

Laura: What did you say the name of that company was?

Kelsey: Breezing.

Laura:  How is that spelled?

Kelsey: It’s Breezing Metabolism. I just found it. Breezing. They’re not like super cheap. I think it was like three or four hundred dollars. So I think it’s mostly used by Dietitians or people like that in practice and then you can like swap out the mouthpiece for different patients and stuff. But I think obviously if you personally want to buy one and just keep it for yourself, you can do that, too. It just obviously is a bit more expensive to do so.

Laura: When I’m going to talk about how to improve your metabolic function in a few minutes, this could be something that would be a way to track your progress there, assuming it’s accurate. I don’t know anything about it so I can’t say whether or not it is 100 percent accurate or not.

But if you are finding that your RMR measured through that Breezing app was a lot lower than what your expected RMR would be, then hypothetically as you change your diet and exercise habits in general to have a more metabolism supporting approach, you can actually see if that number would go up, which I think it could and I think you could definitely see some progress.

Kelsey: Yeah. That happened to me. I actually did that kind of experiment. I think it was at the time we’re I like was just starting to play around with weight training a little bit. I added in some really quite basic weight training. I wasn’t working with my trainer anything at that point. I think I saw it go up like 200 calories a day, which is like not anything to scoff at certainly.

Laura: That’s a lot.

Kelsey: It was pretty impressive. Again, it’s hard to know exactly how accurate it is and everything like that, but I was able to replicate that. I would do a few different measurements before I started and then after a couple of months of weight training I did another few measurements over the course of a few days. They were all pretty much around the same thing.

Laura: I’d be curious, actually. I mean I would have had to do it like years ago for me to actually see this happen. But I actually feel like my metabolic function is a lot better than it used to be because frankly after getting married, my diet has been a lot less optimal. I eat out a lot more. I feel like I eat ice cream after dinner a lot more often because one, like my husband will usually eat it. And two, I’m like oh it’s there.

But it’s funny because like I feel like I’ve been so much looser with my diet lately and I was like I’ll probably put on all this weight after I get married. My weight really hasn’t changed and I’m like I wonder if my metabolic function has changed because of the weight training and stuff. I don’t know, it’s weird. It’s just totally hypothetical, but I just was like I’m surprised I haven’t put on any weight after making all these kind of less weight friendly diet changes. Just kind of an interesting experience. But I’m still training regularly so that’s kind of like maybe what’s keeping me stable.

But anyway, I think we’ll definitely link to that product if people want to check it out. Again, we don’t know how accurate it is. We can’t totally vouch for it, but it might be something worth getting if you feel like you are not having an optimal metabolism. If you wanted to actually track your progress in that area, that would potentially be a way to do it.

Assuming the precision…is it the precision the thing that you actually get the same measurement if you do it multiple times? Or is it the accuracy? I think of precision. Because there’s accuracy where it’s like how close is it to the actual number and then there’s precision which is how consistent are the measurements.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: So if it’s a super precise measurement, even if it’s a little off accuracy wise, it can still be useful information to see if you’re making progress.

Kelsey: Right. You’re kind of using it almost how you use your scale, like just sort of noticing the general trend instead of focusing as much on the actual number.

Laura: Exactly. That’s what I was trying to poorly articulate.

Kelsey: I’ve got you.

Laura: Like I said, I’m going to talk about some strategies for improving metabolic rate if it is low, but that would be something that you can actually see some progress in.

As far as what this metabolic damage even is talking about, I want people to be aware that our metabolisms were designed to keep us alive and keep our bodies functioning as well as possible when our food supplies are low.

Thinking about that in like an ancestral context, if you’re in a famine or if you’re out in a hunter gatherer community and there’s a short term…like animals aren’t there to hunt or there’s like a drought or something and there’s no plant foods or something, this is a defense mechanism that our body has to make sure that we don’t die if our food intake goes down.

When our energy-in drops, so if our calories-in reduce significantly, our bodies actually change our energy-out. So that’ll go down as well to match that change in the energy-in. This typically happens because our bodies will naturally and spontaneously reduce our physical movement. That fidgeting thing I was talking about before, a lot of times if you’re under-eating, you stop fidgeting as much or you just have less desire to move around.

And then you also find a big reduction in the thyroid hormones that drive metabolism. You see change in your adrenal hormones that block thyroid activity. There’s a lot of things that your brain will do to actually change how your body is burning fuel to match your energy-in drop.

A lot of times, not always, but for a lot of people when they’re on a diet, they find that their hunger goes up significantly. That is a way for us to be driven to greater food intake. Our bodies want us to eat more, so they’ll get us more hungry. They want us to move less, so we’ll stop moving around during the day as much. And then our actual metabolism will slow down because the body is trying to protect us from starving to death essentially.

I want people to recognize that this “metabolic damage” is really just our body’s neuroendocrine adaptation to chronic dieting and over-exercising. This can be really hard to accept for a lot of people who are trying to lose weight because it’s like this sucks because now I can’t lose weight, and I’m doing all this work, and I’m exercising, and I’m eating well, and I’m not seeing any weight loss.

It can be really frustrating, but this is actually our body’s way of protecting us. It doesn’t mean that your body is broken and it doesn’t mean that your metabolism is damaged. The truth is that your body is really just doing its job to protect you. If you can look at it that way, I think it can take a lot of the anxiety and frustration out of the process.

I’m not saying it’s going to make it not frustrating at all, but I think if you can understand that this is not a broken body that’s doing this, this is actually what your body’s been designed to do, it can kind of make you understand a little bit more about why this is happening.

But from a physiological level, a lot of these changes that you experience during the “metabolic damage” experience are driven by both the HPA and the HPT axis. That’s the hypothermic pituitary adrenal axis and the hypothermic pituitary thyroid axis. And possibly the gonadal axis as well, so that would be the ovaries and women in the testes and men. But I would say the adrenals and the thyroid are going to have a lot more impact on the immediate metabolic changes.

But for most people no matter how much weight they lose, no matter if they have weight to lose like if they’re significantly overweight, it doesn’t really matter to our bodies and losing weight is generally a stressor on their body in most cases. It’s not like it’s only stressful to your body if you have a little weight to lose, or if you’re already underweight, or something like that. Even if you’re overweight, losing weight is a stressor.

Essentially our brains, so the hypothalamus in our brain is going to sense potential danger when our calorie intake is too low and it’ll use the communication between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland to then adjust the thyroid hormones, adrenal hormones, and sex hormones. It’ll do this appropriately to prevent the immediate health risks of starvation that our bodies are potentially exposed to.

This is one reason why some practitioners refer to this metabolic damage concept as actually metabolic compensation. It’s not that your metabolism is damaged, and it will be able to recover eventually in most cases. But in this situation your brain is actually sending powerful compensatory signals that will reduce the likelihood that you’re going to lose any more weight without basically eating next to nothing.

If you can think about this as a metabolic compensation as opposed to a metabolic damage, I think again that will give you a little bit more understanding of what’s going on and a little less frustration.

Kelsey: Yeah, much better term for that.

Laura: There’s two articles that I really like when it comes to this metabolic compensation idea. There’s an article by Dr. Jade Teta and he has a review article about how to recover from this “metabolic damage” or metabolic compensation. I’ll link to his article in the show notes.

And then there’s also an article by Dr. Brooke Kalanick who we just had on the show pretty recently. It might have been the last episode. I’m trying to remember because we record out of order a little bit sometimes. But she has an article on a website called Girls Gone Strong that we’ll link to that talks about the concept of metabolic damage. Also I think her term for the phenomenon is actually metabolic shift just because she doesn’t like to have this concept that it’s a permanent situation.

I think that’s true. I think it’s important to remember that it’s not necessarily permanent for anyone who is experiencing it. And I wouldn’t say the full extent of it is permanent. It may affect somebody’s long term weight loss ability in the sense that they might not be able to get as lean as they had in the past. But I think in a lot of situations it’s not even healthy to get that lean again for that person.

We need to look at this as something that we want to support our body’s optimal metabolic function and in that situation a lot of the behaviors that lead to better metabolic function are things that are pretty backwards from what normal weight loss goals would be.

So in the last few minutes of this podcast, I just want to talk about some of the strategies you can do to repair a compensated metabolism. Again, it’s not damaged. It’s not broken. It’s not like totally permanently messed up. It’s just your body is protecting you against the long term health effects or even the short term health effects of starvation and it compensates its neuroendocrine function.

The first thing I would suggest doing is to cut down on the amount you’re exercising, in particular any sort of long duration cardio that you’re doing. If you’re doing a lot of running, or cycling, or rowing, or anything like that that goes on for more than like 10-15 minutes, then I would say definitely cut that back because the cardiovascular type exercise is a lot more metabolism affecting in a negative way than things like walking or weight training.

If you are working out, then cutting back on the frequency of your exercise, definitely taking more rest days. Some people might need to cut out cardio entirely in the beginning to get a better response. Other people may need to stick to just short bursts of intense cardio like Tabata intervals, something like that where you’re only doing it for 5 to 10 minutes or something at the most.

But ultimately cutting down on exercise in all forms other than really leisurely walking is going to be a good idea for someone who has a compensated metabolism. So that would be a first step. That’s usually the easiest thing for people to do.

And then after that you can start to increase your food intake slowly if you’ve been dieting chronically or if you’re in a currently low calorie intake. You want to get up to at least a maintenance intake based on what your expected metabolic output is. You use the basal metabolic rate and then add activity to that to figure out about what your calorie burn is. You want to match your food intake to your calories-out that are expected.

Now sometimes that can be that can lead to weight gain for people and that’s because your calories-out are still lower than they’re supposed to be. But the body tends to respond in a way that then brings the calories-out up to the calories-in and you should stabilize at some point. So even though it can lead to short term weight gain, eventually it’ll get you to the point where your body is actually burning the appropriate amount of calories.

Kelsey: It’s usually not a ton of weight gain either.

Laura: Right. I mean it definitely depends on the purpose of the person, but I’ve seen like somewhere in the 5 to 10 pound range on average. Some people don’t gain any weight, but a lot of people do. But again, 5 pounds, probably not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. You have to be okay with that especially if you’re increasing carbs.

Carbs are definitely part of this equation that you want to increase those especially if you’ve been restricting them. You want to be getting a balance of macros so really none of your macronutrients should be low in any sort of way unless you have a specific health condition that requires it.

It’s a combination of getting your calories-in to meet what your calories-out should be based on your height, weight, and gender, age, all of that. And then also like I said, balancing macros so that way you’re not restricting any macro in any specific amount.

That would be the second step after you’ve cut down on some of your activity levels. The reason why I say that’s second is because if you base your food increase off of your current activity levels and then you drop your activity levels, that can lead to more weight gain. It’s not that gaining weight is a bad thing.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: It’s just that most people don’t want to gain weight if they’re trying to lose weight. So we’re trying to figure out how to make sure you’re kind of easing into this so that way you don’t gain more weight.

Those are some of the more important strategies. But on top of that, you can do things to support adrenal function. There’s a lot of things that support adrenal function. We go into a lot of detail on that in our Paleo Rehab program.

But if you’re going to just kind of guess about adaptogens, which are herbs that can support adrenal stress resilience, I do like a product called HPA Adapt by Integrative Therapeutics because it doesn’t have anything in it that manipulates cortisol levels. It just supports stress response. So if you don’t know what your cortisol levels are, you don’t know if they’re high, or low, or fine, I don’t like to use products…and you’re the same way and this is what we teach in our program. We don’t like to use products that either raise cortisol or lower cortisol if we don’t know what somebody’s cortisol levels are.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: These adaptogens in this blend really are just balancers. They don’t raise it, they don’t lower it unless it needs to be. That’s a good way to support your adrenal function.

Other things that support adrenal function is reducing stress levels, so both avoiding and eliminating stress, and dealing with stress better, so implementing stress management habits. I’m kind of laughing about the irony of this after our last episode because I’m like my stress levels are super high. But it’s one of those things that I think it’s like a constant factor that most people have to think about. Most people don’t fix their stress and then like not have any stress for the rest of their lives.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: So it’s like a running inventory of what are my stress levels? Is there anything I can reduce stress with? Is there anything I should be doing to increase my stress tolerance?

The adaptogens can help. The actual stress management practices can help. All that good stuff. Sleeping on a consistent schedule is going to help optimize our circadian rhythm entrainment, which that will reduce stress, that will improve our insulin sensitivity, that will just overall make our hormones function more optimally, it’ll help our thyroid function.

So if you’re out of whack with your sleep schedule at all, that definitely needs to be really focused on and try to get that as consistent as possible where you’re going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time every day. Those things are going to affect not only your adrenal function, but really your entire neuroendocrine system, so that’s why those things are super important.

You want to make sure your digestive system is working properly and that you don’t have any gut infections. Like what Kelsey was talking about before, if you have a gut infection or gut dysbiosis and there’s a lot of inflammation, there’s a lot of indigestion or malabsorption going on because of that, then that’s going to make a big impact on your metabolism as well.

You definitely want to cover the digestive system if you feel like there’s any evidence of an issue there. That could be bloating, that could be a little constipation, that could be loose stools, that could be reflux. Anything that’s a digestive symptom is a sign that there’s things that are off balance there. You want to make sure that you’re addressing those issues if you are dealing with a compensated metabolism.

And then the last thing I would suggest doing especially if you have a history of dieting is to take a high quality multi-vitamin which will ensure that you’re getting a good amount of all your micronutrients in on a regular basis.

There’s going to be different micronutrients that may affect metabolism more significantly, but ultimately I’d say most people that have a history of dieting are going to be a little deficient in a lot of nutrients and it’s hard to tell exactly which ones they are deficient in.

If you get a good quality multi, you can kind of hit your baseline needs. And then also increasing your food intake will then get you more nutrients and that can help improve your metabolic function.

There’s a lot of products out there. Lately I’ve been really liking the…there’s two versions of this multi-vitamin from a company called Seeking Health. One is called Methyl One and then the other one is called Minus One and they’re Optimal One a Day Multivitamin. And the reason I like that one just as a general recommendation is because they’re not going to overload people with certain nutrients. Things like selenium is a good example of a nutrient that tends to be way too high in most multi’s and so this one’s lower in selenium and it doesn’t have things like iron in it which most people don’t need. I just like those products. But there’s a lot of different multi’s that are good.

Usually I would say working with someone in that situation to figure out a good product is a good idea because there’s different factors that you may need differently. Like you might actually need iron and maybe you should be taking something that’s boosting your iron intake whether that’s like a liver pill or some people do need iron supplementation.

Just generally getting your micronutrient intake up through a good quality multivitamin should be helpful for a lot of people. But some people are going to need some more targeted supplementation in their situation.

And then I would say you should expect to maintain this recovery protocol for at least three to six months. If you’ve been dieting for decades, it probably is going to take longer. But I’d say minimum three to six months is what people should expect. And again, you may gain some weight at this time, but you just have to keep in mind that the long term goal is to optimize your metabolic and neuroendocrine function. So if you gain some weight, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not like you’re going to be stuck there and any pound you gain is just never going to go away.

After you stabilize for a few months, then you can try doing a calorie cut for maybe eight to twelve weeks, that’s like two to three months total and you can see if your weight goes down at all. If it doesn’t, then you should assume that you haven’t fully recovered a normal metabolic function. If it does, then great. Then you can be on that diet for two to three months, lose some weight, and then re-establish your maintenance needs and stay on maintenance for a couple of months.

I would definitely cycle between a diet for weight loss and then a diet for maintenance and don’t just like go back into your chronic calorie deficit. That’ll just kind of reverse all the work that you just did. But there is a way to lose weight after you’ve gone through this process.

And like Kelsey was saying, that Breezing app thing or device I would say could be helpful in this situation because you can watch if your metabolic rate goes up. And if it gets to a high enough point, then you can look at that and say okay, my metabolism is functioning optimally, now I can try reducing my calorie intake by like three to five hundred calories a day and see if that helps with any weight loss. I would say that’s a more like a repair and then weight loss approach.

And then of course I can’t give this information without putting my little asterisk next to it and saying that for a lot of you listening to this, trying to lose weight all the time is what the major problem is. So if you have this constant thought in your brain that you should be losing weight, whether or not you feel like you’re actively dieting, I can guarantee that that’s affecting your food intake.

I know that I’ve been in that situation before even if I wasn’t purposely dieting. Like even just before my wedding, like there was that thought in my head that I shouldn’t be overeating and I shouldn’t be eating dessert, or like drinking alcohol much, that kind of thing.

If it’s a couple of months, it might not cause a lot of harm. But if that’s been your way of thinking about food for like decades, then that’s obviously going to make a huge impact on your metabolic rate over the long term.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: So if you’re always focused on losing weight and that’s always the way you’re thinking about food, then that’s a real serious problem that you need to work on. You can do these strategies up until the calorie restriction part to actually repair your metabolism and just fix that compensation that’s going on.

But the question is once you fixed it, do you really need to lose weight? Is that something that’s actually going to make you healthier? Is it something that’s going to make you happier? Is it actually going to be a long term situation, or is it going to set you right back into that cycle that you were in before?

I honestly feel like a lot of people in this situation, they really shouldn’t try to lose weight again. I know that can be really hard especially if you are medically considered overweight. I know this person asking this question wasn’t, but that could definitely be someone where their doctor says they need to lose weight. I’ve worked with people in this situation before and that was driving them bonkers because they were making themselves feel like garbage trying to lose weight and they weren’t losing weight. They probably had some kind of health issue that was preventing them from losing weight and it was just like this really bad situation. They felt bad about themselves all the time, they were super frustrated, they were very negative about their self-worth and their body image.

I just feel like that is such a bad long term situation, even short term, but just like a bad way to live your life that is really damaging and really harmful on your mental health, and your enjoyment of life, and your ability to function as a normal human being.

If you find that this chronic body image dieting thoughts are something that you’re dealing with on a nonstop basis, then I really want that to be a higher priority as part of your recovery plan. We have some podcasts on body image and the health at every size concept. Some of the women we’ve interviewed are women like Aglaee Jacob, Summer Innanen, Sarah Vance, Tessie Tracy. They all have really good insight into this disordered thinking around food and chronic dieting issue that I think if people get to the point where they don’t feel like they need to be losing weight all the time, that they can actually make a lot more progress in repairing their metabolism.

At the end of the day, I’m not going to tell someone if they should or shouldn’t lose weight, but I don’t want someone losing weight just because they think they have to. There’s nothing morally wrong with losing weight. But if you always are seeing these metabolic changes that make you feel like garbage whenever you try to lose weight, then I think you need to re-evaluate whether or not weight loss is actually something that you should be doing.

That’s my little asterisk. I want to make sure that people don’t think I’m just advocating for weight loss in any situation or saying that the only reason you should work on repairing your metabolism is so you can lose weight in the future. I think a high functioning metabolism is a really important thing for overall health. Even if your weight was the same or even a little higher and you have a good functioning metabolism you’re going to be a lot healthier than someone who is in that chronic low metabolism state.

Kelsey: Absolutely.

Laura: That’s just something to think about. But that’s kind of the starting point for metabolism repair. Kelsey, do you have anything to add?

Kelsey: I’m just going to drive home that point about cycling again because I think it’s really important to remember that once you repair your metabolism, it’s not like okay, now I can like go on a yearlong diet again and my body is going to be perfectly happy with that.

I like what you said about maybe doing for doing a cut for like a couple of months, and then getting back up to maintenance again, and then doing the same process. It’s a very step by step approach and you’re always coming back to maintenance so you’re making sure that your metabolism stays healthy throughout the process that is designed essentially to cause that metabolic compensation as you call it.

Laura: I think the figuring out when to do the cut is another challenge. Like I said, you need to be working on the metabolic repair piece at least three to six months before you even consider a cut. Even if you get to that six months and you still feel like you have symptoms or lab work that indicates that your neuroendocrine system is impaired, then I wouldn’t even bother with the cut until you feel like you’re back to normal.

Kelsey: Right. That’s where working with someone obviously comes in handy because they can kind of look at everything objectively, which I know is really hard when you’re like I just want to lose weight. I know I have clients kind of say this to me a lot where they’re like I just want to get started, but I know I shouldn’t so I’m really happy that you’re telling me I shouldn’t. But if it were just me, I would definitely have started already.

Laura: Yeah, it’s tough. I mean we just have so much societal pressure to look a certain way and there’s so much negative associations with someone who is overweight. Overweight people definitely get treated differently. That’s not in their head. They are being treated like either rude, they’re being treated more rudely by people around them, their doctors aren’t taking their health issues seriously. All that stuff definitely happens so I’m not downplaying the negative experience that an overweight person has in life at this current stage of the way our society operates. But on the other hand, being in a long term chronic dieting situation, and causing health problems because of it, and still not losing weight is definitely not a good way to live your life.

We’re not opposed to weight loss. We do obviously support good body image, but we also realize that for some people losing weight is actually a good idea for their health. We don’t want people to think that either that we think everyone should be thin or that we think nobody should lose weight. I feel like you and I are pretty in the middle there. But I just think it’s important to do it in a way that is supporting health. And so if you can’t do it and also be healthy, then it’s probably not a good idea to do it.

Kelsey: Exactly.

Laura: All right. So hopefully that helps and hopefully that busted some myths about the metabolic damage concept. I hope people understand metabolic function a little bit better after this conversation.

If you have further questions you want to talk about whether it’s this topic or another topic related to health, make sure you go to TheAncestralRDs.com/contact and you can submit a question so that way we can actually answer your question on another show.

But in the meantime, I think, Kelsey, it’s your turn for some updates.


Laura: What have you been up to lately, Kelsey?

Kelsey: Gosh, it’s been a while since we last had an update on the podcast, other than yours last week.

Laura: My little whinge fest.

Kelsey: A lot has been going on for me. I guess my main thing that I’ve been doing lately is getting back into weight training after being in a car accident in June. Gosh, that’s a long time ago at this point. Honestly, I think I didn’t go to a great physical therapists at first. It kind of it just seemed like a bit of a racket where they’re just like collecting auto insurance payments and stuff.  I didn’t feel like I was being followed very well.

Honestly by the time I got to a good physical therapist, they told me this too and I kind of felt like I had waited probably too long to get back into regular training. So that kind of sucked just knowing that I was not going back to weight training as early as I wanted to first of all, and it probably wasn’t doing me any favors to wait that long either.

Not that it like made anything worse necessarily, but even my physical therapist was like, yeah, I mean I think you doing your regular movement and going back to the type of movement that you were doing before, albeit at a lower weights and kind of getting back into it easily of course, I think that probably would do you some good at this point. That was kind of a bummer to realize that I probably waited too long. I think that was around like the three month mark.

Laura: Well, too long, I think we should probably be clear that it’s not like it was too long and too late at that point. It just was delaying your recovery.

Kelsey: No, definitely not doing anything bad to me necessarily. But I’m sure you’ve probably had this kind of same experience where you put in all this work for a while and you feel like you’ve gained a lot of strength, and then you were in a car accident as well and then you have to take this big break, which just doesn’t feel great because you’re like I put all this work into this and I can feel myself losing strength and that’s not fun. So it was definitely more of a psychological thing than anything that was negatively impacting my actual body in recovery.

I think I’ve been at it now for a month or so. It’s kind of funny because I feel like when I was resting, not going back to working out, I was like I think I feel fine. Like I could easily go back to working out and I think I would do perfectly okay.

And then when I started going back, you just kind of notice your body acts differently now. Of course part of that is just not weight training for three months at that point. But there was definitely another part of it where it’s like I can feel that my body has been strained in a lot of ways.

So I’m doing things very, very carefully and like taking it super easy right now, which is also psychologically frustrating. I’m like I just want to be back to where I was. But obviously I know that this is the way to do it and I don’t want to injure myself further by any means. I definitely would have waited even longer if I thought injuring myself was even a possibility going back into this.

I love that I’m able to start it again and it feels so good to like move finally and be lifting some weights, even though they’re like little baby weights. I think it’s just it’s been a frustrating experience in many ways, but also makes me very grateful for like what my body is able to do even after being in a car accident, which is pretty amazing. I know you going through this process, too.

Laura: Well, the weird part is I didn’t do weight lifting like the way I’m doing it now until after my car accident.

Kelsey: Oh, yeah. That’s true.

Laura: I was an athlete and I was working out and stuff, but I wasn’t doing the kind of lifting that I’m doing now. On one hand, I definitely get like the backtracking can be really frustrating. For me the backtracking in my lifting ironically happened when I lost weight.

From when I started training through like the first maybe 8 to 10 months my weight was fairly stable. It was at least 20 pounds, maybe 20 to 25 pounds more than it is right now. I was making a lot of progress in my strength. I was probably leaning out, but like my weight wasn’t really changing.

I hit some PRs with my lifts that after I lost weight, which most of my weight loss was pretty unintentional. A lot of it happened when I first met my husband and I was like super…I don’t want to say stressed because stress isn’t the right word, but like just like….

Kelsey: Excited and happy.

Laura: Yeah, excited, like just all the hormones when you meet somebody like that. I had lost all my appetite. It wasn’t like I was like choosing to eat less. I would serve myself a plate of food and I wouldn’t be able to eat.

I ended up losing probably about 10 pounds in the first month when I met my husband. That was like a pretty significant drop. And then after that I think it was like over the next probably year up until my wedding that it was like trickling down until where I’m at now.

The funny thing with me is that some of the lifts that I am doing, I am still PRing on because things like my bench, for example, not really significantly affected by weight loss. But my deadlift is like, I think my max deadlift when I was at my highest weight was like to 260 or something. And now if I could pull like to 220 or 225, I’m like that’s a really good pull.

Sometimes it can be frustrating because it’s like certain things I’ve lost progress in because of the weight loss and because of like inconsistency in training in the last couple of months. But on the other hand, still making like progress compared to where I started.

I think what you were saying about having that car accident kind of disrupt your training, I’d be really curious to know if you recovered from your accident faster because you had been training as opposed to if you had just not been training and then after the accident was when you started.

Kelsey: That’s a really good question.

Laura: Obviously you’re at a higher level of strength than what you would have been, but I feel like that’s one of the benefits of strength training in the long term is because things happen. Like even if you’re not in a car accident, if you’re a woman if you have a baby at some point, like that’s a pretty traumatic event on your body.

Having that foundation of strength, even if even if you take a backslide because of something, which I think all of us go through at some point, you still have that foundation that your body is working from and getting back into it I think is a lot easier than if you weren’t doing it and then you tried to start.

I feel like even though the car accident thing totally sucks, I feel like you are in better shape post-accident than you would have been had you not been training.

Kelsey: Oh absolutely. My trainer and other people at my gym that have been through similar type of situations, they’re like oh my gosh. And they’ve maybe been through it in both scenarios where they maybe weren’t working out first, had some sort of issue, and then started weight training. And then once they were training had some kind of injury and came back from that and they say that like it comes back really quick, which I’m very happy to hear.

And honestly, having some periods of rest, albeit that’s more rest than I wanted to do, but I think that’s probably healthy in the grand scheme of things. Like you said, life happens and if you can be better prepared for those sort of kind of tragic and traumatic instances, there’s a lot to be said for that.

And so again that kind of goes back to it makes me think how awesome it is to be able to get to this point. Especially for me like coming from…I wasn’t injured before, but I didn’t feel good. I had like a lot of mold issues and just I wasn’t at a point where I could even think about exercising. So to be able to go from that to then exercising for like a full year plus, and really making a lot of gains in strength, and then backtracking a little bit and knowing that it should come back pretty quick, that makes me super grateful for like everything that my body can do.

Laura: Yeah. It’s kind of funny how last week I was talking about how I have a hard time seeing…not the future, but like looking past what’s going on right now and looking at the long term. I think a lot of people probably have a similar issue with remembering where they’ve come from.

I’m the same way. It’s really bad, actually. I feel like I tend to get very caught up in what’s happening right now. It’s funny because in some ways people are like live in the moment. It’s like okay, in some ways live in the moment, but in other ways remember…

Kelsey: Think about the big picture.

Laura: Right, like remember how much progress you’ve made. Remember the things that you’ve been able to do now that like you’ve been working on that stuff.  And then also realize that even with the setback, you will get back to where you were if you’re consistent.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: It’s hard because it can be really frustrating to be like I put all this work in and now I’m like starting from scratch again. Like we said it’s not necessarily starting from scratch. And also like it’s stuff that is almost guaranteed to happen. You almost have to like expect and just acknowledge that there’s going to be times where you’re making PRs and you’re killing it. And then there’s going to be other times where you’re not and it’s okay.

I think just being able to be consistent and not get down on yourself about those hiccups is really important. And like you said, it can be hard because I mean you’re already probably not feeling great after a car accident anyway. I know for me, I had some mood changes that came from my concussion. It can be a little tough to feel hopeful, but I feel like once you start getting back into it, your body does remember things and it’s definitely better than starting from scratch.

Kelsey: Yeah, and it feels so good. It feels so good. It feels so nice to like move your body again. Oh my gosh, I can’t even like…I’m not one of those people that like has been an athlete my whole life and all that kind of a deal. So I feel like there’s been many times in my life where I haven’t done a whole lot of movement for a long time. But now that I’ve been consistent about it for a long time, man, it feels good to be back!

Laura: I know. I honestly feel like with my current work schedule, that that’s the thing that annoys me the most is like…that plus my dog being injured, I’m like I work out twice a week and then most of the other days I just I’m not doing anything.

We’ve also had some really weird weather here where it’s been really hot and muggy, oddly for October, which October’s normally beautiful. So I feel like just when I go on these walks or if I do some movement and my body’s like creaking and cracking, I’m like I feel like that’s the main thing I’m looking forward to when my work chills out. I would love to be more active like just on a daily basis even if it’s just walking, or going on a hike, or something like that. It’s amazing how much better our bodies feel when we’re using them.

Kelsey: Oh yeah. It’s crazy. Well, I’ll leave it there for now. I know we had kind of a longer episode. But I’ll hopefully start posting a little bit more about my work outs and stuff on Instagram and all that. I have just have not been doing so because it’s so boring looking. You have these tiny little weights on my barbell and nothing interesting is happening. But I know that there’s something to be learned from that process, too.

Laura: I think it’s good to share that stuff because no matter where you’re at, somebody is going to think you’re doing something awesome and somebody is going to think you’re doing something that’s like dumb.

Kelsey: True.

Laura: There’s women that can bench press like double their body weight. I don’t think I’m ever going to get to that point. But it’s like if I was always looking at them and being like I suck because I can only bench press like not even my body weight. And there’s people who if they could bench press a barbell without any weight on it, they would be stoked.

I just think we need more people sharing some of that boring exercise because if the only people sharing stuff are the ones doing like spectacular things, then it’s going to discourage people and make them feel like they can’t even get started. But if you show them where you’re at and you say like hey, I might have been stronger before, but I’m getting back into it and this is the process that I’m going through, I feel like that would actually be really helpful to a lot of people.

Kelsey: Yeah. Plus I feel like we’ve talked about this before, but just the consistency piece is so important. And like yeah, it’s kind of boring in the sense that I’ll post the same thing a few times a week because that’s what I’m doing essentially, but it shows people, okay, this person is going a few times a week, this is what they’re doing, that’s what a consistent workout schedule looks like for this person. I think that can be inspiring.

I know I’ve been enjoying your Instagram workout videos and stuff, so I think I’ll have to get back into the swing of posting about my workouts, too.

Laura: Yeah. I feel like there’s all this pressure in social media to be exciting and like just have that wow factor. I post my food and my workouts and I’m like this is kind of boring. Like steak, and sweet potato, and green beans, not a very exciting dinner.

But for a lot of people, if they’re constantly being exposed to someone that’s doing like six days a week of crazy CrossFit training and we’re seeing this like perfectly lit Paleo diet with beautiful photography, it’s just like…I don’t know. I mean I’m not downgrading the people that do that and I think good for them if that’s what they are able to do in their lives or that’s what they’re passionate about. But I think for the majority of us, that’s not accessible or possible.

So we need to have more of that influence of people like you and me who yes, we have the knowledge to do things correctly, but A- sometimes we choose to do things that are not 100 percent health oriented. And then B- we don’t have time to be doing everything perfectly so we’re making the best that we can out of our situation. You get into a car accident and you’re recovering from that and you’re not going to be training at a level that somebody who’s been training for 10 years and that’s all they do is going to be training at.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: I feel like having that authenticity and transparency, even though in our heads it’s like who cares about this? Why am I posting this? Like this is stupid that I’m posting a photo of my meal. It can seem a little weird and like self-indulgent. But I feel like in your and my case, it’s actually helping people realize that they can be healthy and take care of their bodies in a way that’s manageable with the rest of their lives.

Kelsey: Right, exactly. Alright, I’ve got to get back into it.

Laura: Yes, you should. I encourage you. So my goal for the next month is to chill the f out, and your goal for the next month is to start sharing your recovery more with people.

Kelsey: We’ve both got goals. That’s good.

Laura: Awesome. Well, thanks for joining us, everybody. We will be back next week with some more helpful information. We will see you around next time!

Kelsey: Alright. Take care, Laura.

Laura: You too, Kelsey.

PODCAST: Phytic Acid In Brown Rice: A Reason For Concern?

Thanks for joining us for episode 129 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are answering following question from a listener:

“Laura and Kelsey, I love your podcast! A quick question: I follow a primarily Paleo/whole foods diet. Recently I added more carbohydrates to my diet, specifically in the form of rice to my evening meal. It has overall been a positive addition. My energy levels and sleep quality have improved and I’ve noticed less need for nighttime urination. Hooray! I was inspired after I heard about vasopressin from Chris Masterjohn on your show that he had a client who had a strong need to urinate at night.

For years before I learned about Paleo or ancestral eating patterns, I understood brown rice to be more nutritious than white rice and therefore would always choose brown over white rice. Can you share your understanding about which type of rice, brown or white, is beneficial for us to eat and why? Thanks for your response.”

There’s two sides of the brown rice vs. white rice debate. On one side, conventional nutrition theory says brown rice is best because it contains all the nutrients. The other side which characterizes the Paleo school of thought says white rice is best because it doesn’t contain phytic acid that blocks nutrient absorption.

Today we’re talking about rice and sorting through the misunderstanding and fear surrounding phytic acid (a.k.a phytate). Listen as we clarify the sometimes misunderstood effect phytic acid has on mineral absorption, which foods contain phytates, and how phytates can actually have positive health effects.

You’ll be able to decide if brown or white rice is best for you as we explain who should be more cautious with the amount of phytic acid in their diet and even touch on the subject of arsenic content in brown rice. You’ll even hear how to reduce phytic acid content in brown rice. Be sure to join us!

Here’s what Laura and Kelsey will be discussing in this episode:

  • [00:05:47] Definition of phytic acid and it’s effect on mineral absorption
  • [00:11:03] How phytic acid is found in many foods besides grains and legumes
  • [00:13:14] The positive effects of phytic acid and why the fear of phytic acid containing foods is largely unwarranted
  • [00:20:50] Things you can do to lower phytic acid content in brown rice
  • [00:29:43] How those with digestive concerns may want to either eat white rice or properly prepare brown rice
  • [00:31:28] The people who should be watchful of the amount of phytic acid they are consuming
  • [00:33:25] The concern about arsenic in brown rice products

Links Discussed:


Kelsey: Hi everyone! Welcome to episode 129 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Kelsey Kinney and with me as always is my cohost Laura Schoenfeld.

Laura: Hey everybody!

Kelsey: We are Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence-based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me at KelseyKinney.com, and Laura at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com.

Over the next 30 to 45 minutes we’ll be answering your questions about health and nutrition, and providing our insights into solving your health challenges with practical tips and real food. Stick around until the end of the show where we’ll be discussing some updates about our businesses and personal lives.

Laura: If you are enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that way you never miss an episode. And while you’re there, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well. And remember we want to answer your questions about health and nutrition, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a question that we can answer on an upcoming show.

Kelsey: We’re going to be discussing phytates in your food and whether you should be eating white or brown rice for maximum nutrition. But before we get into our question for today, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

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Kelsey: Welcome back, everyone! Here’s our question for today’s show:

“Laura and Kelsey, I love your podcast! A quick question: I follow a primarily Paleo/whole foods diet. Recently I added more carbohydrates to my diet, specifically in the form of rice to my evening meal. It has overall been a positive addition. My energy levels and sleep quality have improved and I’ve noticed less need for nighttime urination. Hooray! I was inspired after I heard about vasopressin from Chris Masterjohn on your show that he had a client who had a strong need to urinate at night.

For years before I learned about Paleo or ancestral eating patterns, I understood brown rice to be more nutritious than white rice and therefore would always choose brown over white rice. Can you share your understanding about which type of rice, brown or white, is beneficial for us to eat and why? Thanks for your response.”

Kelsey: First of all, awesome to hear that this addition of rice has been a positive thing for you! Laura, I’m sure you as well as me, we’ve seen this happen time and time again within our own clients where something as simple as just adding a little bit of rice to their nighttime meal or in the morning or something makes a really big difference for somebody overall.

Laura: Yeah, definitely. I feel like rice is one of those super easy carbs and a lot of people tolerate it pretty well, so often a food that I have my clients adding in.

Kelsey: Yeah. I think this question about brown or white rice is actually a really interesting one because I feel like for a lot of the questions that we get about nutrition, there’s some amount of research behind stuff, but nutrition is an interesting science to say the least in that there’s a lot of problems with nutrition science. But there’s actually been quite a bit of research on the best kind of rice to eat for maximum nutrient absorption because lot of cultures around the world consume rice as one of their main staples for their diet.

So researchers have wanted to find out if there’s anything that they can do especially for people in developing nations where rice might be one of the only things that they’re eating. They’re not eating a varied diet that has a lot of nutrition overall and they’re getting a good portion of their nutrition from rice, and so then the absorption of nutrients from rice becomes very, very important.

It’s kind of cool that we actually have quite a bit of research to pull from for this question. I know this is something that’s talked a lot about in especially the Paleo and ancestral communities, and even like Weston A. Price communities.

We’re all concerned about nutrient absorption obviously, but specifically with rice it comes down to this idea about phytic acid. Phytic acid prevents the absorption of nutrients, especially minerals like iron and zinc, and to a lesser degree calcium, but still calcium as well.

You may have heard of phytic acid or phytates called anti-nutrients before. This is pretty common especially when you’re getting started with a Paleo or ancestral type diet. In a lot of the books that you’ll read or the blogs that you’ll read you’ll hear that you should avoid grains in particular because they’re high in anti-nutrients. That’s really what this is referring to, that term anti-nutrient. Or at least one of the anti-nutrients that that is referring to is phytic acid.

Laura, I’d be curious to hear what you hear from your patients about this because I know at least for me, I think there’s a lot of confusion with my clients about how phytates actually work in that many of my clients tend to think that when you’re consuming phytates in your meal anytime during the day, it’s like pulling from your own nutrient store. So it’s not blocking absorption of minerals that you’re eating, it’s like actually depleting your own nutrient stores. Have you ever heard that from your clients before?

Laura: I think so. I feel like it’s confusing because the phytate argument has to do with the long term effects of mineral depletion and so it gives this impression that like it’s actually removing minerals from your storage. But it’s definitely more of an issue where you’re just not absorbing all the minerals in your food because of the phytates and then you eventually develop a deficiency because of that.

Kelsey: Yeah, absolutely. Just to clarify exactly what Laura just said is that when you’re eating phytates in a meal, so let’s say you are eating brown rice. Brown rice contains some phytates. That essentially is blocking the absorption of minerals like iron, and zinc, and calcium from the food that you’re eating within that meal.

So it’s not pulling anything from your own stores of nutrients. It’s just blocking your own absorption of the nutrients that you’re consuming at that particular time that you’re also eating phytates. Even if you ate something in the morning that was really high in iron, or zinc, or something, but then you ate some rice later in the day, that does not block those nutrients from entering your system. It just has to be consumed at the same time that you’re eating foods high in those minerals.

I hope that clarifies that a little bit. I know for me I get a lot of questions about that from my clients and they want to make sure that they’re not depleting their stores of these kinds of minerals when they’re eating some of these things that are higher in the phytic acid.

One thing I think is important to remember with the phytates in food is that for the most part something like rice with the phytates in it, it’s going to mostly bind to the nutrients in the rice. I know you’re going to talk about this, but it would have to be free phytic acid that’s binding to minerals from other foods. That might happen a little bit, but in most research I would say that it’s not showing a ton of nutrient deficiencies if your food in general is high minerals.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: If you’re eating right like a steak or something, it might have a tiny bit of reduction in your iron intake, but it’s not that big of a deal. Whereas if you’re eating like a plant based form of iron that also has a lot of phytic acid it in that plant, then that’s probably going to be a bigger issue.

I feel like in the sense of a Paleo diet where you’re eating meats and stuff, usually you’re not going to have enough of an impact from phytates in food to actually get even like a significant amount of the nutrients from those other foods into it.

Kelsey: Totally. And again that’s sort of why it is something that researchers look at for developing nations where people are consuming rice as one of the main foods that they’re eating.

Laura: Exactly.

Kelsey: They might be eating rice and like one other food as the basis of their entire diet. That’s where it becomes way more important that we think about phytates, whereas like you’re mentioning here in the context of a Paleo diet or an ancestral diet, you’re eating meats, you’re getting these minerals elsewhere and it’s really, really easy for you to kind of overcome even a fairly high phytic acid intake.

Let’s talk a little bit about where you get phytic acid because I think this is a problem I see in the Paleo community specifically is that we hear about phytates and anti-nutrients as being a problem with things like grains and legumes, but they’re actually also present in pretty high amounts in seeds and nuts as well. But we kind of conveniently forget that part when we’re talking in a Paleo context because as I’m sure most of you know, nuts and seeds are highly recommended on a Paleo diet and often people are eating large amounts of these. I’m happy to see that that’s becoming less and less of a thing lately. People like Chris Kresser are saying only eat a handful of nuts a day and kind of putting limits on that.

But I know at least for myself when I first started eating Paleo, I mean I ate so many nuts it was ridiculous. I’m sure my phytate intake was way, way higher than it was prior to starting Paleo. And I think Laura, you’ve kind of said that in the past, too, like you ate a lot of nuts when you started Paleo, too.

Laura: Yeah, it’s kind of funny to think back at that time of my nutritional approach because that was gosh, what is it, 2017? That was probably like six years ago. Oh my gosh, I’m so old. It’s just funny to think back. I used to have this like gallon sized bag of mixed nuts that I used to eat from and I’m like man, I think I don’t even have nuts in my pantry at this point.

Kelsey: Yeah, same. That is kind of funny to think back on. Phytic acid is present in a lot of different foods and it’s also really variable within those foods. Like you can have almonds that some of them contain like 40 percent phytic acid and some of them contain 5 percent. So they range a lot in their phytic acid content.

It’s hard to really know exactly how much you’re getting, first of all. But also we tend to hear at least in the Paleo world that phytic acid is really a negative thing and we tend not to hear the positives about phytates.

Phytates are actually pretty strong antioxidants and they’ve actually been shown to prevent cancer as well as kidney stones. They’ve actually got quite a bit of good things going for them, but we don’t really hear about that in the Paleo world, and not really even in like the ancestral or Weston A. Price world either. I think we tend to really focus on the nutrient absorption piece of it and we don’t hear about those benefits.

Point being is that we don’t necessarily want to avoid phytates completely. That would be pretty hard to do, first of all. But they do have beneficial effects, so we want those benefits, obviously. And also avoiding phytates completely or even significantly would mean avoiding otherwise really healthy foods like nuts, and seeds, and legumes, or changing them a lot or processing them in a way that for a lot of people is very time consuming.

Not that there’s anything wrong with processing them in a way that helps or reduce phytic acid content. We’ll talk about that a little bit more later. But if you really wanted to take out phytates completely, it would be pretty impossible unless you’re taking out all of these foods.

Laura: Plant foods in general.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: Leafy greens. You basically wouldn’t be able to eat any plants.

Kelsey: Exactly. I find that people tend to think like phytic acid, and phytates, anti-nutrients; they’re terrible, we don’t want to eat them at all. When in reality as usual, it’s very nuanced and it’s not necessarily a 100 percent good thing or a 100 percent bad thing. It’s kind of somewhere in the middle as with a lot of things in nutrition.

It’s not bad to eat phytic acid or to consume that in your diet. And in fact, like I said, there’s a lot of benefits that you can get from phytates, but we don’t tend to hear about it and we tend to focus mostly on the negative stuff.

Then there comes the issue where, at least when it comes to nutrient absorption, this is where I have like a bigger problem with how this is portrayed in the Paleo and ancestral health world. Because for people who are eating a balanced diet and they’re not high risk for deficiencies like iron and zinc, consuming phytates with your meals; not a huge deal.

Like we’ve been talking about, it really just becomes very important for somebody who is getting a huge percentage of their diet from things that tend to be very high in phytates, or not even very high, but at least you know it’s blocking a good percentage of those nutrients that they would otherwise be getting from that food.

So again, that’s why researchers have been studying things like rice and how to reduce phytate content, and how much zinc and iron are in rice, and how we can get that to be more bioavailable for people. It’s really because there’s people out there who that’s maybe 80 percent of their diet and so it becomes very, very important for them that they’re absorbing those nutrients because otherwise they’re very nutrient deficient. That’s why we care in the research sense.

When we get all hung up on phytates, and anti-nutrients, and things without taking into context our food environment, and how we eat, and the fact that we compared to a lot of people have pretty varied, balanced, nutrient rich diet, I have a problem with that because it makes people fearful of things that are otherwise healthy.

I’m sure, Laura, you’ve had this experience, too, in your own practice where people honestly are scared of eating things that have “anti-nutrients” and they feel like they’re being “bad” when they’re eating those kinds of foods.

Laura: Yeah, I mean it’s not the most common thing as far as what people would be afraid of, but I feel like there is that just underlying belief that they are things to be avoided. Honestly I feel like it’s a pretty incomplete understanding of what foods even contain phytates. It’s just all sorts of inaccuracies when it comes to that.

Kelsey: Yeah, absolutely. When we’re thinking about phytic acid content in our food, for those of us who are eating a well-balanced diet, and we’re getting a lot of different types of food in our diet, and especially if we’re eating meat, like Laura mentioned before, meat is high in both iron and zinc.

So that really helps to prevent us being deficient in those minerals. Phytic acid intake for us if we’re eating meats and a varied diet in terms of other plant foods becomes way, way less important and you’re not really going to get much if any detrimental effects from consuming some foods that are high in phytic acid in that context.

And in fact, in that context really we’re going to start talking more about those benefits that we see where people are eating phytates because now we don’t have to worry about those nutrient deficiency risks that other people who are consuming way more rice or other grains, or nuts and seeds as the majority of their diet that they are worried about.

We actually kind of get the best of both worlds, honestly, because we don’t have to worry about being nutrient deficient in those minerals, but then we also get the benefits of consuming phytates. So again, that’s antioxidant cancer prevention and kidney stone prevention. All good, all pretty good things, I would say.

If you’re somebody who is eating meat, that’s probably the most important thing I would say, if you’re consuming meat and you tend to eat a pretty varied diet…and I say that was like really loose definitions here because I know Laura and I always talk about eating a really varied diet and how nutrient diversity is very important. And absolutely it is, but in this context it’s more just that you’re not getting like 80 percent of your nutrients from things like greens or nuts and seeds. If you’re just eating even like a standard American diet I would say, and you’re eating meat, you’re probably not at risk for phytates being a huge problem in your diet.

Now of course you could do a lot better if you’re eating a standard American diet and you’re probably going to eat less phytates kind of getting on to a more Paleo or ancestral diet. But the point being is that you really don’t have to worry that much about your phytate content.

But you can do some things to help lower your phytic acid intake. And again, this is not a huge deal. If you’re eating meat, if you’re eating a varied Paleo or ancestral diet, to be honest you don’t have to worry that much about it.  Like if I have a client who doesn’t really want to prepare brown rice in a proper way according to like Weston A Price type…when I say proper preparation, that’s sort of what I’m referring to…and they’re only eating it occasionally, not a big deal. I’m not going to make that a big deal in their life to really make them start to incorporate that process for something that they’re only eating once in a while.

If you’re like going out to eat every once in a while and you prefer the taste of brown rice over white rice, sure, have the brown rice. Don’t worry too much about it. Overall your diet is great and a little bit of extra phytic acid every once in a while is not a big deal at all.

But if you’re cooking at home and it’s not a big deal to add some steps to help reduce your phytic acid intake, I think that can be a good idea. The first option of course is to use white rice. The reason white rice has less phytic acid is because you’re getting rid of that outer layer of rice and that’s where the phytic acid is stored.

You don’t really need to do anything special with white rice and that’s why it’s the easiest option of course because you can just cook it as normal. You don’t need to do any soaking, or fermenting, or anything like that to help reduce the phytic acid content. For most people obviously that’s super easy and because you don’t have to do anything extra to it, that’s what a lot of my clients end up choosing. I work with gut health clients, too, so that’s another reason why we tend to move more towards white rice just because it also tends to be more tolerable for them. So that’s a really good option.

If you’re not eating rice in general to get nutrients, so meaning if the rest of your diet is very nutrient rich and you don’t need the nutrients in white rice to help bring up your nutrient content of your diet, then you really don’t need to worry about getting those extra nutrients that you would get from brown rice.

That’s the benefit of brown rice is that you’re going to get a little bit more nutrition from that. But the caveat here is that you have to make that nutrition bioavailable. That means that we have to try to get rid of the phytic acid that brown rice contains in its outer layer so that you can then absorb the nutrients that it contains.

I was looking at a lot of different research just kind of looking at like soaking and fermenting and what the best option is to get rid of the most phytic acid content possible. And it was kind of funny because I was looking in Google Scholar and PubMed and was reading this article, and then I was doing a little Googling just to see what our Paleo and ancestral peers kind of had to say about this. I actually found an article that Stephan Guyenet wrote in 2009 about this scientific article that I was reading in which he had actually contacted the study of article writer and director and asked him for specific directions on how they actually soaked the brown rice to get rid of I think it was 96 percent of the phytic acid content. That’s pretty darn good. If you can get rid of 96 percent of the phytic acid content, obviously you’re going to be absorbing quite a bit of the nutrition that’s contained in that brown rice.

The method that he got from that study author was to take brown rice and soak it in dechlorinated water for 24 hours at room temperature. And then what you do from there is you reserve about 10 percent of that liquid that you soaked the rice in and you save that for the next time you make brown rice.

So the first time you do this, your rice is not going to have a whole lot of its phytic acid content reduced because you’re basically just soaking it for 24 hours, which does something to reduce the fiery acid content, but not major.

But then the next time you make brown rice, you take that 10 percent of the reserved liquid that you kept before and you add that to your soaking liquid. So again you’re going to soak it for 24 hours at room temperature with 10 percent of the previous soaking liquid and 90 percent new dechlorinated water. And then you basically just keep doing that process. Once you take that water out of your soaked rice, you save 10 percent of it. You use that the next time that you make rice and so on, and so forth.

Basically over time that process gets better and better at removing phytic acid content. After a little while you get up to that 96 percent of fighting acid removal when you’re using this reserved liquid to help break that fight it gas it down.

The reason that they think that this works is because first of all you’re kind of fermenting the liquid when you use the reserved liquid and that helps to lower the pH. The lower the pH, the better you can break down phytic acid. Then also because it’s fermented, you’re getting microorganisms that can help to degrade phytase taste as well.

Basically by the end of this process once you’ve done this a few times to kind of buildup that fermentation potential, you’re going to be able to get rid of almost 100 percent of the phytic acid contained in brown rice.

At the end of the day I would say you don’t have to worry about fighting acid really unless you’re somebody…let’s say you’re a vegan who you’re not eating meat, obviously, so you are going to tend to be more at risk for things like iron deficiency and zinc deficiency. Then you’re going to want to pay a lot more attention to phytic acid content and you’re going to want to either eat white rice, or I would say in that particular scenario I would recommend that you do the brown rice, but you properly prepare it so that you’re absorbing the maximum nutrition that you can from that brown rice.

But if you’re not a vegan and you’re eating meat, you’re eating a varied diet otherwise, you’re not going to be really at risk for iron deficiency or zinc deficiency unless you have other things going on. In that case you can do either of these, so whichever one you prefer. Like if you just like the taste of brown rice better than white rice, you can certainly do that process. I know for me I actually like the taste of white rice better, so that’s what I tend to use because it’s not something I’m really eating all that often anyway and so I’d rather just eat what tastes good. What about you, Laura?

Laura: Honestly when I was listening to you describe that method, I’m just like, yeah I’m sticking with the white rice. Even if I liked the taste of brown rice better, I wouldn’t be bothering with that. It’s like way too much work.

Kelsey: That’s what most people think, too. I mean I have a lot of clients that they get really into this stuff. I know I was like very into properly preparing things when I kind of first got into Weston A. Price and stuff, but eventually life takes over a little bit I think and you’re like I don’t have time for that.

Laura: Yeah, seriously.

Kelsey: It’s just too much to bother with. I agree. Even though it doesn’t sound that hard, I just know that every time I go to cook rice, I’m not going to want to do that whole process.

Laura: Yeah. And I mean like we were saying before, the amount of phytic acid in the rice could be negligible.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: And if you’re getting minerals from other foods….I think that kind of process might be better for people who don’t digest the rice well whereas if you’re just concerned about phytic acid, it’s definitely not worth it in my opinion.

Kelsey: Yeah, and I would say just because you brought up digestion here, that’s another group of people that I would be thinking more about phytic acid with because those people with major gut issues, they’re generally not going to be absorbing their nutrition very well in the first place as we’re like dealing with these major gut issues and getting them to a point where their gut is healed and is able to absorb all the nutrition that they’re eating in their food.

That’s another group of people that I would want to reduce their phytic acid intake as much as we can within reason because I’m not really worried about them getting the benefits of phytic acid in that case. I’m more worried about preventing nutrient deficiencies. Especially for something like zinc which is really important for gut health, I want them to be getting as much zinc from their food as they possibly can.

Like I was saying before, most people with gut health problems are going to tolerate white rice a bit better than brown rice even if it’s soaked and everything a bit better. I tend to just recommend white rice first of all obviously just because it’s easier, and then second of all because again it tends to be more tolerable for people with gut health issues. If you are somebody with major gut issues, I’d say you want to pay a little bit more attention to this as well at least until you’ve healed. And once you heal and you feel like you’ve repleated all of your nutrient stores, you’re pretty much back to normal, you’re 100 percent, then in that case at that point you can be less concerned about your phytic acid intake.

Let’s just kind of overview the people who should be thinking more about phytic acid content and making sure that they’re not overdoing it in that sense. I think really my main group would be vegans with vegetarians as less of a concern, but still something you at least want to think about and kind of go through your diet and say okay, where am I getting iron? Where am I getting zinc? Where am I getting calcium? And if I’m not getting a whole lot of those nutrients, then yeah, maybe I want to be a little bit more concerned about how much phytic acid I am consuming.

And then like I was just talking about people with health issues. Any other groups you’d add to that, Laura?

Laura: I don’t think so. Like I said, I feel like some of this stuff can be a little over the top and the things that solve the problem are generally a lot easier when it…I’m just trying to think of how to describe this…like if you’re eating a varied diet. And again with the GI stuff, obviously that’s going to make an impact on a lot of different foods that they’re choosing and it goes way beyond just like phytate, and rice, and stuff. But sometimes I think the people that are needing to worry more about this stuff are people that actually would be better off making other changes to their diet, if that makes sense.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: I tend to not get super into this with my clients because honestly if somebody has a mineral deficiency because they’re eating too much phytate…

Kelsey: You’ve got bigger issues, basically.

Laura: Right. So that’s why I’m like I think it’s good to answer this question because I know a lot of people are wondering about it and there’s a lot of information on the Internet about why you might want to do different types of rice. I think one thing one thing about brown rice that we didn’t really talk about is the arsenic content of brown rice over white. So that would be another reason why even if you can reduce the phytic acid in brown rice that you might not want to be doing brown rice over white.

Kelsey: Did Chris Kresser have an article about the arsenic content in rice? Because maybe we can link to that. It’s my brain somewhere.

Laura: Yeah, he definitely did. Let me just see if I can find his article because I think his article talks about when you should be worried and when you shouldn’t. Let me just see. I think white rice in general was okay. I know that he didn’t really suggest most people to eat brown rice anyway regardless of the arsenic content.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: He has a link to a PDF in that article talking about different brown rice brands and which ones have more or less of arsenic. I believe part of the problem is where the brown rice is grown. Different countries will have different arsenic content.

Of course there’s going to be arsenic in a lot of things. Like water and stuff is going to have…like tap water I should say is potentially going to have arsenic in it. So it’s not that you’re going to 100 percent avoid arsenic in all areas of your life, but there is some potential concern for certain types of brown rice products that are a little bit higher in arsenic.

We can definitely link to that article in the show notes and that way people can check it out and just see if there’s any brown rice products that they might be using more consistently and go for the brands that are lower in arsenic.

But that would be another thing that as far as brown rice goes that I’m not super fond about it for. I personally brown rice occasionally like if I’m at a restaurant and they have brown rice as part of the dish. I’ve had brown rice that tastes good. I personally like it when it’s sprouted. I think it tastes better when it’s sprouted. I’ve had those before and I think they taste fine. I’ve definitely eaten brown rice before and recently even knowing what I know about brown rice. But at the end of the day it’s just one of those things that there really is no benefit other than the potential flavor. And even in that situation, it’s like okay, is it really that much more tasty that you would eat that versus white rice?

Like I said, I’m glad we are discussing it because there is so much confusion about it and there’s just that general conventional nutrition belief that brown rice is better. There’s a lot of like misunderstanding in the average person when it comes to rice products. But hopefully this podcast answered some of those questions. At the end of the day like I was saying, if somebody is mineral deficient, then the rice that they’re choosing is probably not their biggest concern.

Kelsey: Yeah, exactly. I think that’s a really, really good point because we tend to just get caught up in the minutia of a lot of things. I think especially our audience, we have a lot of people who have a history of orthorexia and things like that where they will get really caught up in these kinds of issues without looking at the bigger picture and seeing if there’s something else that’s kind of a bigger issue that they should be focusing on. I think this is a perfect example of that.

It’s not super common that I see people get really, really concerned about phytates, but I definitely have people who come to me and just be like I don’t eat rice at all or any grains because of the phytate content and I’m worried about depleting my nutrients when maybe they’ve been a vegan for 10 years and like that’s the bigger issue here.

Laura: Definitely.

Kelsey: Cool. I think that’s about it in terms of what I have to say unless you have anything else to add, Laura. I think we can jump into our updates for this episode.

Laura: Yeah, I’m all set with the rice conversation and can definitely give our updates for today.


Kelsey: Laura, how’s it been going lately? I know you’ve been working on your program like nonstop lately.

Laura: Yes. This past couple of weeks has just been a little crazy. I feel this year in general has been a little crazy. I was so excited after the wedding thinking the wedding was going to be like my big stress moment for the year. I think I had like maybe a month of… I don’t even know, would we even consider that chill? I’m trying to think. This year has just been ridiculous.

The last couple of weeks have gotten a little out of hand because I have the “Get Your Period Back” launch, which I think by the time this episode comes out I’m going to be like two weeks away from the course ending again. We’re in module four or five? No, four. Four out to six the week this comes out.

It’s going well so far. I feel like the nutrition component has been released yesterday that a lot of people have gone through it. It’s funny that there’s a lot of people that are learning things that are what would seem to you and I kind of basic, but I think it’s something that people aren’t even aware of, which is why we create these kind of online programs. Because it’s like there are so many basic things that can be going wrong, but if you don’t know what it is, then you’re actually just kind of doing the same thing over and over that’s not working, It can be really easy to fix things if you’re made aware of what’s going on. But obviously you have to be made aware first. I think the information has been helpful.

It’s funny because with the course creation, I feel like the hardest part is the actual production of the videos and stuff whereas the information development is like not as hard because I know what I want to say and I know what people need to learn.

So it’s just funny with online courses because on one hand you create them as a practitioner so that way you can provide information to a greater variety of people at a lower price point, that kind of thing, and they can be really helpful for a lot of people to go through these group programs. But I was just realizing I guess it was yesterday or something because I was working on some of the content that so much of the work in creating these programs actually goes into the production and not the information.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: It’s funny because I feel like when you work one on one with people you’re providing the same information, or maybe it’s a little bit customized, but you’re talking. I mean it’s kind of like what we’re doing right now. We’re just talking. We do prep for our podcast, but at the end of the day like we’re just talking. We don’t have to create like visuals and stuff like that.

I know you hired someone to do the visuals for a lot of your “Build Your Biome” course, which in hindsight I’m like that might have been a nice thing to do. But just with the timeline of the launch and everything, I’m trying to launch it before everything was done, I basically had to do it myself. Finding someone to create it would have been kind of almost more work. Well, maybe it would have been more than creating it myself.

Kelsey: It felt like it was going to be more work.

Laura: Yeah. It’s just hard to find someone that is going to give you exactly what you want. I’m a control freak which is probably one of the problems in my life is that I like don’t trust anyone else to do what I need to do, so I end up doing it all myself and then exhausting myself.

It’s just a funny kind of couple of weeks where I have the program that I’m creating. So it’s in process, but I’m still creating content for it, which is a new thing for me. The benefit of it doing it that way is that I can get feedback from the participants and then create content that is aligned with what they’re looking for as opposed to it just being like fully done and then they’re doing it. But on the other hand, it obviously puts a level of strain on me to make sure all the content is created by the time the modules release.

Definitely a little bit of a stressful decision that I made and we’ll see how I feel at the end of November when this is all done.

Kelsey: When you’re done, you’re done. It’s a great feeling regardless of how you do it.

Laura: I’m not a distance runner, but I imagine this is like running a marathon where you are in mile 5 and you’re like, oh my gosh, why did I sign up for this? And then you get to the end and you’re like, oh I feel so great that I finished!

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: It’s funny because…well it’s not really funny. It’s just I feel like when it rains, it pours because my dog a couple weeks ago tore his like dog version of the ACL.

Kelsey: Poor guy!

Laura: I know. And the funny thing is like he didn’t really seem to care that much other than just not using that leg. He was just walking around on three legs for the last couple of weeks. So I had to take him to a surgical consult and it turned out that the ligament was fully detached and they had to do this like really crazy surgery. It’s called a TPLO, which I think stands for tibial…gosh what does the P stand for? I feel like it’s like protuberance or something. I can look it up really quick. Oh I’m sorry, not protuberance, Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy.

Basically the tibial plateau is like the top of the tibia. Basically you know how your joint, like your two bones will kind of like stack on each other? So dogs have that, it’s just in a different angle. Ours is straight up and down whereas a dog is kind of like… I don’t know, maybe a 90 degree angle or something, like less than 90 degrees. The bones kind of stack there. But the CCL ligament has to keep them from shifting. If the CCL ligament is not there, then the top bone, basically the femur can just slide and it slides back and forth. It can hurt and it can cause like rupture to the bursa between the joint and everything like that. It can cause pain, inflammation, but also just instability in the joint that usually will freak the dog out and he won’t put his weight on it.

And so they had to do this whole thing where they actually like cut the top of the bone off, like fully detached it in this arched kind of cut and then like rotated it so that way the angle of the tibial plateau changed so that the femur rested on it and couldn’t slide. And then they put a plate in there to stabilize it and then eventually the bone kind of grafts itself together.

Kelsey: Wow.

Laura: It’s crazy. I was thinking when they said CCL surgery that they would just be like reattaching the ligament, but it turns out that’s not a very effective way to repair this issue.

Kelsey: I saw your Instagram photo of his poor little leg.

Laura: I know. He’s got all this like fluid at the bottom so he’s got like the biggest canckle you’ve ever seen in your life right now. It’s like super red and he’s not allowed to lick it so sometimes I have to put this cone, which I feel like for him the cone is the most traumatic part of the whole thing. He can’t walk. I have to kind of like just lead him outside. I used to have to use a sling to carry his back end to make sure he wasn’t tripping or falling or anything. Now I think he’s a little bit more stable so I haven’t been using it.

But oh my gosh, there’s like eight medications I have to do. It’s like the timing and the expense has been really poor timing. I mean luckily, and this is like a disclaimer to anyone that has a pet mostly a dog, I don’t think cats really are at as much risk for this. But any pet at all that you feel like you wouldn’t want to just like put down if they had a serious issue. Get pet insurance because I have it, I pay like someone in the 30 to 40 a month range. I can’t necessarily confirm this, but I’m pretty sure the insurance is going to cover a large like maybe 80 percent of the cost of the surgery.

Kelsey: I mean I only have a cat now. But my cat that passed away last year she like ended up getting really sick and like needed medication and stuff like that. It adds up. Obviously a surgery is going to be way more than that. But like even that to me, I wished I had pet insurance at that point. When we got our new cat I was like all right we’re getting pet insurance for sure.

Laura: Oh, so you have it, too. Yeah, it’s one of those like hindsight is 20/20 experiences. Luckily with my last dog my parents funded any of the like major medical treatment that she needed, which in some ways was like less than Levi. Levi is only like three years old. But when my when I first got the dog, my vet encouraged me to get the insurance. I was really glad that I did because I think it’s going to like I said cover the majority of the surgery and there’s a chance in these kind of situations that the dog may need this exact surgery on the other knee at some point.

It’s just like oh my gosh, this poor dog. I just don’t understand how he like has these problems. But it’s just been kind of an emotionally and just like mentally stressful experience because obviously I don’t like seeing him in pain, or sick, or dealing with like the medication. I have this whole like medication schedule written out and it’s just a lot of things going on.

It’s funny because like I said, I was so excited for the post-wedding experience because my husband moved in with me and the wedding planning was done. I was like our stress levels are going to be so low. I’m like why don’t I feel more stressed right now than I did before the wedding? It’s funny because I feel like I’m handling it okay, but I can definitely see how some of the stuff is affecting me health wise.

I just noticed the other day Josh and I went out for a walk and I was like can we just like pretend like we’re walking the dog and go walk somewhere because I hadn’t really been walking. I’ve been on the computer so much this week and I started to notice this hip discomfort that I’ve had in the past. Basically it was right after my car accident when I was pretty much like laying on the couch all the time for a couple of months. I was having this discomfort in I think it was like my left hip. I can’t remember this second. But essentially if I would take longer walks, I would start to get this just somewhat of a pain in my hip. I recognize it as the same pain I was getting when I was in that post car accident situation.

I’m like I bet this is because I haven’t really been walking in the last, I don’t know probably six weeks because of the dog being injured. So now I have to figure out if, I’m like am I going to just like take walks by myself? I guess I have to. I guess I should practice what I preach. But it’s like having a dog makes it so much more just intuitive whereas right now I’m like oh I have to like go on a walk to make sure I’m not just sitting all day.

I tend to be prone to anxiety and if I’m like stressed, and working nonstop, and that kind of thing, it’ll kind of trigger the physical symptoms of anxiety for me, which is sort of annoying. It’s like I can be going to bed and then all of a sudden feel super anxious about who knows what. Like maybe it’s just all the stuff I have to get done the next day and I can’t really like shut it off. That’s been something that I’ve been trying to figure out how to deal with it because I have some like nutritional and supplemental strategies for it. But at the end of the day, I know what the reason is and it’s like do I just like power through the next six weeks?

I forgot to mention this because we talked about it a little bit before we got on the phone is tomorrow based on when this podcast is publishing I’m actually doing a day long seminar at the Weston Price Conference, which it’s the same seminar I did last year which makes it a little bit easier because I don’t have to do any prep for it other than just like reminding myself what I’m talking about.

Kelsey: Yeah, that’s good.

Laura: But it is a different setup where last year it was like a small group, and I sat down for it, and it was like a small room. I was still pretty nervous before, but I think I felt more comfortable because it was like just a group session essentially. This time I’m going to be on a stage and I have no idea how many people are going to come to it. I’m probably going to be like super stressed. I was saying to my husband like I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a heart attack like before the end of November.

Kelsey: No heart attacks.

Laura: Yeah, seriously. But it’s just funny because I’m like why did I commit to all this stuff all at the same time? I have no idea. I think I just wanted to make up for some of the lost time earlier in the year with all the wedding stuff going on and definitely over committed.

I feel like I’m learning, well I’m not learning. I feel like this has been an issue for years where I overcommit and start to do too much and then I don’t feel great. And then it’s like alright, try to prevent an adrenal fatigue situation since I feel like my adrenals are finally back on track. It’s like let’s see if I can minimize the damage here and then once all of this craziness is done, I need to take a break.

Because like I said, I need to practice what I’m preaching with our Paleo Rehab program, and our clients, and all that stuff where it’s like I’m telling them to reduce stress or implement stress management practices. Right now I’m trying to do that as much as possible, but I’ve definitely made some decisions that made my stress goals….

Kelsey: Go against that.

Laura: Yeah, that did not support that very well. It’s a learning experience.

Kelsey: I feel like the benefit of our type of job is that yeah, we go through periods of higher stress, but we can also like pull it back a bit after that much more than somebody with a regular nine to five job probably can’t. So there is that benefit.

Laura: That is true. Some people are in this kind of state for like months and they don’t have any control over it, whereas I definitely have control. I try to not like feel guilty for doing this to myself essentially. Obviously have no one else to blame except for myself. But on the other hand, it’s like I made the decision, got it just kind of a stick through it for the next I guess it’s like five weeks at this point maybe to get through it. Once it’s over, I’ll be happy.

I’m kind of thinking about this whole year and I’m just like what was I thinking trying to do this all? I think sometimes you get the impression from other business owners that it’s possible for everyone to work hard. You and I were talking about this before we got on the call that there are certain people out there that it just seems like it comes naturally to. I think throughout this year I’ve discovered that it does not come naturally to me and this is probably not a level of work that is sustainable for me. We’ll see what happens.

Kelsey: Yeah, you and me both.

Laura: I think we are both in the same plate, which on one hand it’s frustrating because it’s like I don’t like feeling like I’m going to get sick whenever I work too hard. But on the other hand, we can’t all be workaholics.

Kelsey: Exactly.

Laura: I don’t want to promote that in my work and I don’t want to make other people believe that they should be doing that. So now I just have to like commit to not doing it in my own life, which is the hard part.

Kelsey: Now after this this conference, time to chill. Right, Laura?

Laura: Yes. It’s early November when this comes out. You guys need to check in on me and hold me accountable to chilling in the month of December. We normally record about a month or like at least three weeks in advance. Check in on me in November and make sure I am relaxing. At the end of November, I should say.

Kelsey: Well the good thing about December is that it tends to lend itself fairly well to relaxation.

Laura: Yeah, nobody wants to talk about nutrition in December.  I’m happy to not talk about it either.

Kelsey: Perfect. Well I hope you get through this all just fine that you have the ability to relax after it’s all said and done. But I’m proud of you for getting this out into the world. Like I have told you, I think it’s a really awesome program and I admire your dedication.

Laura: Thanks! Yeah, I feel like once it’s done I’ll be able to see a little clearer. I have a hard time with seeing the long view when it comes to things so I get very caught up in like what’s happening right this minute. I’m sure once I have kids that will change. I’m hoping it will change because I feel like having a baby is probably a lot harder than what I’m doing right now.

Kelsey: That’s probably true.

Laura: I’m like if I can’t even handle launching a program, how am I going to launch a human? But we’ll see what happens.

Kelsey: I like that term: launch a human.

Laura: Yes. Well like I said, just keep me keep me honest with my plans to chill out in the month of December.

Kelsey: Will do.

Laura: Alright, well thanks for joining us, everybody. We will see you here next week.

Kelsey: All right. Take care, Laura.

Laura: You too, Kelsey.

PODCAST: How (& Why) To Eat More Vegetables With Dr. Thomas Cowan

Thanks for joining us for episode 128 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are excited to be interviewing Dr. Thomas Cowan!

Dr. Thomas Cowan is an author, lecturer, and holistic family doctor in San Francisco. He’s the author of quite a few books including How (& Why) To Eat More Vegetables, Human Heart, Cosmic Heart, as well as the principal author of the Fourfold Path To Healing, and the co-author along with Sally Fallon of the Nourishing Traditions Book Of Baby & Child Care. Dr. Cowan is also the founder of Dr. Cowan’s Garden.

If you’ve listened to the podcast for any length of time, you know that we believe diversity is crucial for a healthy diet and overall health. But we also know that it can be hard to eat a nutrient diverse diet in our modern food environment.

We are very happy to have Dr. Thomas Cowan talk with us today about the importance of nutrient diversity and provide a solution to the lack of diversity in our modern diet.

Join us to hear Dr. Cowan tell us how the amount of plant matter in the diets of traditional cultures compares to the average American’s and how increasing plant diversity in the diet can impact the microbiome.

You’ll be excited to hear Dr. Cowan’s super practical and delicious way to incorporate more plant diversity into your daily diet. You’ll learn the many ways the vegetable powders by Dr. Cowan’s Garden are a beneficial addition to the diet as Dr. Cowan shares easy and tasty was to add them to meals.

Be sure to listen for Dr. Cowan’s generous offer to our listeners to try Dr. Cowan’s Garden products!

Before you tune in, can you guess the number one food for promoting a healthy microbiome? Listen now to find out!

Here is some of what we discussed with Dr. Cowan:

  • [00:03:38] What led Dr. Cowan to practice holistic medicine
  • [00:07:11] What led Dr. Cowan to create the Weston A. Price Foundation with Sally Fallon
  • [00:12:00] The importance of nutrient and plant diversity in the diet, and the three food groups that form a healthy diet
  • [00:20:31] The amount of plant matter that traditional cultures consume and how it compares to the average American’s diet
  • [00:25:01] The story behind Dr. Cowan’s Garden
  • [00:31:55] How to incorporate Dr. Cowan’s Garden vegetable powders into your diet
  • [00:36:59] Benefits of consuming Dr. Cowan’s Garden vegetable powders and how they can improve the nutrient content of restricted diets
  • [00:43:18]  How increasing plant diversity in your diet can impact the microbiome and how the vegetable powders are a practical way do to so
  • [00:49:36] Dr. Cowan’s favorite ways to use the vegetable powders

Links Discussed:


Laura: Hi everyone! Welcome to Episode 128 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Laura Schoenfeld and with me as always is my co-host Kelsey Kinney.

Kelsey: Hey everyone!

Laura: We’re Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me, Laura, at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com, and Kelsey over at KelseyKinney.com.

We have a great guest on our show today who’s going to be talking to us about nutrient diversity and why it’s so important to our overall health. We’re so glad that Dr. Thomas Cowan is joining us and we think you’ll really enjoy this episode.

Kelsey: If you’re enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that you never miss an episode. And while you’re there, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well!

And remember, we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health related question that we can answer or suggest a guest that you’d love for us to interview on an upcoming show.

Laura: Before we get into our interview for today, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

You know that we’re all about nutrient diversity here at The Ancestral RDs, which is why we’re really excited about the products at Dr. Cowan’s Garden. Dr. Cowan’s Garden makes nutrient dense, organic vegetable powders that can be added to your food to increase your nutrient diversity in an easy and delicious way. These powders are a perfect way to get valuable added nutrients if you aren’t eating as many plants as you’d like. In fact, Dr. Cowan’s Garden even uses some vegetables that are difficult to obtain like sea vegetables, perennial greens, and wild ramps. The vegetables are cooked to reduce anti-nutrient content and then they’re dehydrated on low heat to preserve their nutrients. Finally, they’re stored in Miron jars which prevent light from penetrating so the powders remain flavorful over time. Want to add more nutrient diversity to your diet? Use code “Ancestral RDS” at drcowansgarden.com for 20 percent off your order.

Kelsey: Welcome back, everyone. Today I’m very excited to introduce you to Dr. Thomas Cowan! Dr. Cowan is an author, lecturer, and holistic family doctor in San Francisco. He’s the author of quite a few books including How (& Why) To Eat More Vegetables, Human Heart, Cosmic Heart, as well as the principal author of the Fourfold Path To Healing, and the co-author along with Sally Fallon of the Nourishing Traditions Book Of Baby & Child Care. Dr. Cowan is also the founder of Dr. Cowan’s Garden, which we’ll be talking more about later in this episode. Welcome Dr. Cowan!

Dr. Cowan: Thank you. Thank you for having me on your show.

Kelsey: We’re super excited! I always love to ask people who have been through the world of conventional medicine that have a medical doctor degree, you’ve done all that schooling, but you’ve sort of ended up in this more integrated, functional medicine, holistic type space. I’d love to hear from you sort of what got you to where you are today and what inspired that journey for you.

Dr. Cowan: I grew up in a pretty academically and medically professional household and community. My father and grandfather were dentists and many of my parents’ friends were doctors. Being a good student, I was sort of groomed to be a doctor. But I must say, I didn’t like it and there was a lot of reasons. Personally I didn’t like it, but intellectually I just thought it was primitive and it’s just not very interesting.

So I decided after I went to college and I tried to do everything I could to not be a doctor, but I got very interested in food when I was about 19, which is 40 something years ago. And then I went to the Peace Corps and when I was in the Peace Corps I heard about it and was given books about it by Rudolf Steiner and Weston Price, which probably makes me the only person on earth who heard about Anthroposophy and Weston Price while living in a mud hut in Swaziland.

Kelsey: That very well may be true.

Dr. Cowan: It may be, yes. It was like kind of a revelation for me that this business of being a doctor which I always just was loathed to do, but had some sort of inkling that I should do it, or it was destined to do it, or I don’t know what exactly. It was sort of like an itch. It was like a niggling itch. I realized that the kind of doctoring that I didn’t want to do was not the only kind of doctoring there was.

And so at that point, we’re talking mid to late 70s, I realized that I could essentially be a food and more interesting doctor and I could actually try to help people. That became kind of a guiding passion in my life, particularly the food and the other things like trying to understand the heart is not a pump and all these things that I got involved in over the last 40 years.

It wasn’t like a lot of people…a lot of people come to it because of a personal illness. That’s not my story. My story was normal science and medicine just doesn’t do it for me.

Kelsey: Fair enough.

Dr. Cowan: I wasn’t going to do it unless I found another way.

Kelsey: I think that’s really interesting, actually. You are a founding member of the Weston A. Price Foundation and I’m assuming your interest in food obviously and finding Weston A. Price’s work led you to that. Tell me a little bit more about that and sort of how you got together with Sally Fallon and sort of created this really wonderful foundation that we had today.

Dr. Cowan: Again, I suppose in some ways I’m kind of a very intellectual person in that ideas drive me to a large extent. A lot of people have a lot of ideas on what good food is and what good food isn’t. So you’ll hear things like cow’s milk is for baby cows, not for people. Or people should only eat raw foods, or whatever it is.

The thing that got me interested in Weston Price is he came at it from the way that I would come at it which is go find the healthiest people that ever lived and find out what they did. Because if some of them, which is the case actually ate cow’s milk, it’s very hard for me to then like give a lecture on how cow’s milk is so bad for me if somebody is going to say, yeah but these are the healthiest people that ever lived and they drank cow’s milk.

Now you also have to get into what kind of cow’s milk did they drink? And they didn’t drink cow’s milk of sick cows who eat cardboard and other cow parts or grains and pasteurize and homogenize the milk, or drink skim milk.  There’s some devil is in the details kind of thing.

I don’t remember what the question was, but my strategy of studying food was very simple. It was find out what works and then go from there. In other words, start with facts, not theories and not sort of an intellectual approach which is I think enzymes are good, therefore people should only eat raw foods. If you actually go out and try to find a healthy long lived group of people who lived for generations on raw foods, I guarantee you’ll never find them. So if you think that’s the best, that’s completely an abstract theory of which there is literally no proof that that’s true.

Kelsey: Yeah. I love that. I think that thinking about what actually works, and going out and observing that, and then coming up with an idea of how people should eat makes a whole lot more sense than what you’re saying of kind of abstracting these bits and pieces and then coming up with some idea that because enzymes are important, that we should only eat raw foods to get those enzymes in their raw state.

I think that makes a whole lot of sense and it certainly makes sense to me that you would end up being a founding member of the Weston A. Price Foundation. That was my original question, by the way.

Dr. Cowan: Oh, right.

Kelsey: But you got us there!

Dr. Cowan: Yeah. Eventually then I read an article by Sally, and I still remember it. It was 20 some years ago and I remember thinking to myself after 15 years of studying nutrition and being a guy, guys are always sort of more arrogant than women are, I said to myself something like, damn, this woman knows more about food than I do! Which is annoying to me, so I called her up and we talked and she ended up giving her first public seminar around my practice in New Hampshire. That’s how we met, and we decided then to write a book. And then I would say we decided to start the Weston Price Foundation. It’s actually 99 percent she, and I just said, well that’s a good idea. Because she did all the work practically. I just helped a little bit.

Kelsey: I know that for me the Weston A. Price, first of all, his book, and of course the information that the Foundation puts out as well was a big part of sort of how I transitioned from just a conventional sort of dietitian to somebody who was way more into traditional food ideas and just an ancestral way of living, and eating, and just basically following that as much as we can in a modern world.

Dr. Cowan: Right.

Kelsey: I’d love to hear a bit more because I know you’ve written a book called How (&Why) To Eat More Vegetables. At the core it seems like a very simple and obvious message. But I love this book because I think that this whole idea of the importance of diversity in your plant intake and the diversity of phytonutrients that you’re taking in is a lot more complex than you might think. I’d love for you to kind of explain that concept to our listeners if they’re maybe not super familiar with the idea of nutrient and plant diversity in their diet.

Dr. Cowan: Basically for whatever reason I am like a schemer, so I get ideas and then I put them into schemes. I don’t mean scheming to do nasty things.

Kelsey: In a bad way.

Dr. Cowan: I put things into frameworks. Maybe that’s a better word.

Kelsey: Got it.

Dr. Cowan: I lived in Africa. I lived with traditional people, I studied traditional diets, I studied research on food. Trying to make it simple for people, I came out with the idea that, more or less, 100 percent of the good diets have three food groups. The food groups are number one: animal foods, which is the source of fats and proteins. It could be wild fish. It could be raw, whole milk, cultured dairy products. It could be buffalo. It could be insects, worms. I read the other day that the Kalahari Bushmen ate lice from each other’s head which was a great snack for them.

Kelsey: Yum.

Dr. Cowan: The point is they all had some sort of animal food in their diet. It’s about somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of their caloric intake. And that’s the source of fats and proteins in the diet.

The other point I made in the book is that, not to tout Weston Price so much, but I do think that really Sally Fallon and has done more to make the possibility of healthfully grown animal foods available to pretty much any American now more than maybe anybody else.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Dr. Cowan: There’s a lot of other people in the Paleo movement, etc. But now we have grass-fed meat, and good fish, and pastured eggs, all that stuff.

That category people know about. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than it used to be 30 years ago.

Kelsey: Absolutely.

Dr. Cowan: The second category I call food from seeds and this includes anything from tree nuts to usual seeds like sunflower seeds, grains, beans and all those kind of foods that come from plant seeds. These are sources of fibers, and some fats, and some protein, and other essential nutrients.

Besides the fact that I’m convinced that almond trees don’t like to grow in monoculture of almond trees, we still have reasonably good heirloom grains, and beans, and seeds, and nuts, and all those kind of foods. Of course they need to be soaked and processed like Nourishing Traditions. And that’s the second category of food and most of the traditional diets had some sort of seed food.

The third category which is really what the book is about is all people with very few exceptions ate vegetables…well vegetables and fruit…and about 80 percent vegetables, 20 percent fruit. The reason for that is these are almost like what we call vitamins or phytonutrients which are chemicals in the plants that fight off disease and give us vitamins, minerals, and other anti-oxidants, vitamin C, all those different nutrients. It’s similar to why people take multivitamins or nutrient blends.

And by the way, the idea that you should sit down and eat kale salad for lunch with only kale is completely not a traditional diet. Or to say that we’re eating kale because of the protein content, you don’t get protein from kale. You get disease preventing nutrients and chemicals from kale.

Kelsey: Right.

Dr. Cowan: The reason is because the kale plant uses chemicals to ward off predators and other disease. So humans in my view have evolved to piggyback onto those chemicals and that’s what prevents disease in us. But it’s not for building your body or for even carbohydrates for fuel. That’s not generally that’s the reason we eat them.

Now again, if you just live with a traditional people or you study, like there’s a book called Tending The Wild which is the native Californian diet, and just this week I read a book on the native diet of the Kalahari Bushmen. There was a report of an anthropologist with The Human Microbiome Project who studied, I think they’re called the Hadza people are hunter gatherers in East Africa. The average number of vegetables that traditional people eat is about 100 to 150 per year, and about 10 to 20 per day.

Kelsey: Wow!

Dr. Cowan: This includes all the different colors of vegetables, so there’s some red, and there’s some yellow, and there’s some green, and there’s some purple, sort of magic color. There’s different plant parts, so they eat tubers, they eat roots, they eat stems, they eat leaves, they eat sort of the fruit which would be like a squash would be like the fruit of the vegetable. Basically they ate small amounts of many different ones as they can.

Another aspect of diversity is a lot of them were perennial vegetables, which are vegetables that grow for many years like moringa leaves, or tree collards, or those kind of things, and the annual vegetables like kale, and tomatoes, and squash. So it was every way of diversity you could get.

If you look over the landscape, and I live in San Francisco the Bay Area which arguably is the food capital of the world. So if you don’t find it in San Francisco, you’re not going to find it anywhere. If you go to the best farmer’s market where they charge double what they charge at Whole Foods, even there you still don’t find wild vegetables, you still don’t find perennial vegetables, you still don’t find that kind of diversity that makes up a traditional human diet.

That was the idea of the book that even now that’s the category of food that is crucial for disease prevention. It’s crucial for optimal health and nobody is really addressing this. So that’s in a sense why we started that company to be able to as well as providing diversity of and colors, and genetic types, and heirlooms, we’re also trying to provide perennial vegetables and wild vegetables so that we can essentially bring our diet up to traditional standards so we’re not living in a fruit, vegetable desert anymore.

Kelsey: Right, it makes perfect sense. I’m curious just with the amount of reading and research that you’ve done on this topic, you were saying that the traditional cultures, they would eat small amounts of many different kinds of vegetables. Does there seem to be some kind of consensus or what people have observed in many different traditional cultures of an overall amount of plant matter that people are or were eating?

Dr. Cowan: When you say plant matter, you’re talking not about seeds, and grains, and beans.

Kelsey: Right. Correct.

Dr. Cowan: The way I would answer that is having lived in traditional Africa for two years, you would look at a plate and it would have a big scoop of a corn or grain and bean mixture, and then it would have a similar size scope of some sort of animal concoction of some sort, mostly stew. And then it would have a like an ice cream scoop size of all the different vegetables and roots that they picked that day. And some of the vegetables were mixed in with the corn or the maize and beans. Mind you, I don’t think corn was actually their traditional grain. They used millet and sorghum, but that was sort of modern version. It’s pretty much like I would say 20 percent to 30 percent of the plate was these vegetable dishes.

Kelsey: Got it, okay. I asked just because I think that’s a place where people get confused, too is just overall how much plant matter they should be eating. And then of course once you start talking about diversity, when you’re talking about a scoop of a vegetable matter thinking that some traditional cultures would be getting I think you said 10 to 20 different types of plants a day between the meals that they’re eating with that amount, that is a lot of diversity. Can you compare that to what is average for let’s just say the typical American now?

Dr. Cowan: There was this great article on, again, this anthropologist who is part of The Human Microbiome Project. He measured his microbiome, which is the diversity of organisms that live in your gut, which is probably one of the most important and sensitive measures of overall health. He got a number and he went down and lived with this hunter gatherer tribe. He estimates that they eat between three to four hundred different plants and animals per year and something like 15 to 20 per day. After he was there for just three days, the diversity of his microbiome improved by about 20 percent, which is shocking, actually.

Kelsey: Wow.

Dr. Cowan: That was a huge difference in just three days of eating scorpions and all these different roots and leaves that they collect. They go out and they know all the different plants that are edible and they just collect a little bit in their basket of everyone. That’s how we did it in Swaziland.

The answer to your question, there have been studies on the American diet and it’s between 20 and 40 in a lifetime.

Kelsey: Wow.

Dr. Cowan: This includes things like tomatoes, which means ketchup. It means potatoes in French fries, beef, iceberg lettuce, chicken. We eat a lot of corn, but not straight corn, corn in things. Apples, carrots. You can go down the list, maybe 40 to 50. That’s in a lifetime and most of these are you know overly hybridized sometimes genetically modified. So they’re not even reflecting the actual species that they come from.

Kelsey: Right.

Dr. Cowan: They’re weakened versions grown on impoverished soil. Some people are amazed how sick Americans are if you look at disease rates. But I’m always amazed that a human being can survive.

Kelsey: Right. Yeah, that’s a really good point. I think going back to what you were saying before is just that even if you’re going to the best farmer’s markets in the country and seeing what they have available, it’s just really nothing compared to how traditional cultures are eating.

I would imagine that that’s a big part of why you created your company, Dr. Cowan’s Garden, where you sell vegetable powder. Tell us a bit about that because I know you do some really cool things in your own garden and sort of that makes these vegetable powders really amazingly healthy for people. I want to hear a bit more about that.

Dr. Cowan: People have to understand, I’m a foodie from way back. I’m not a great chef, but I’m a good food processor, which means I grind my own flour and make sourdough bread, and I make fermented kimchi and sauerkraut, and a lot of things. I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years.

I knew about this diversity, so being the fanatic that I am, I would actually keep lists of how many different vegetables and plants I would eat in a day a year. What I realized is that to get the kind of diversity, even just of annual, so you sit down for breakfast and have leeks, and beets, and kale, and collards, and cauliflower, and broccoli, and broccoli sprouts, it was because a lot of work. I couldn’t do it except if I actually had access to growing garden.

And then I realized that I still was missing the perennial part and the wild part. I’m not saying anything negative about annuals. They are certainly part of the diet and they have a lot of good things in them. But I started growing tree collards, gynura, and Malabar spinach, and rhubarb, and ashitaba, and things that are perennial vegetables which you can’t get anywhere because perennial vegetables mine the soil and because they have to be longer lived, they have to get more of these disease fighting chemicals in their tissues. They’re sort of the super food category in the vegetable world.

I started growing them and now I got my diet up to partially wild, partially perennial, some annuals. I used to joke that if I did my practice and said everybody who comes to me has to eat this, I would end up with maybe two or three patients who could do this. To a certain extent, my whole life became revolved around that and I got access to an acre garden in Napa which is probably the best place to grow things in the world, or one of them.

And then one day I came across a restaurant that was taking these vegetables and basically dehydrating them into powders. All the research that I could read on them said that they would retain about 95 to 98 percent of their nutrients. And the flavor was amazing.

The rule that I used was I would take the food, the vegetables, and do whatever I usually do to prepare it, and then stop it at that point and dehydrate it. If you go to the pumpkin powder on the market today it’s just raw pumpkin powder, which is the reason why everybody has a bag of raw pumpkin powder stuffed in the back of their shelf which they ate once and never ate again because it tastes horrible and that’s not the way to eat pumpkins.

What I decided to do was get the best pumpkins like heirloom Hopi pumpkins because my idea as the head gardener of the group was I would go to the people who know the most about whatever kale, or pumpkins, or treat collards, or whatever. So Native Americans, they know the most about pumpkin, so I grew Native American pumpkins. Then we would bake them the same way that I make pumpkin pie, and then as soon as they were ready to eat, they would dry them at that stage and then put them in these Miron jars which preserve them.

You would end up with the best tasting pumpkin powder concentrate which you can then add to whatever food you’re eating. If you’re eating oatmeal, you can put dried pumpkin powder, dried beet powder, dried ashitaba powder. And now you’ve gone from just oatmeal to oatmeal with three different vegetable concentrates. So most, if not all, the nutrients and it’s no more difficult than opening a box of Kellogg’s Cornflakes, which I wouldn’t recommend.

Kelsey: I would imagine of course that like you were just saying, it’s practically almost impossible to get the kind of diversity that traditional cultures are getting in our current food environment. And so I think that this is a really interesting idea.

I love, by the way, that you came up with this idea after you saw someone using it in a restaurant, more I would assume there for flavor purposes more than anything else. But then that sort of clicked with you and now you can use them for both flavor but also amazing nutrition. I think that’s really, really cool.

Dr. Cowan: It was totally flavor. That’s why they did it. We have a saying with very few exceptions. I don’t know that cholla buds taste that good, but they’re a wild cactus bud that we source from this guy who’s a forger in the Sonoran Desert. That’s a wild food that nobody else seems to have access to. Everything else, if it doesn’t taste good, we don’t make it. Taste is a human beings cue into nutrients. You can ruin it by eating sugar. But if it doesn’t taste good, it means you probably shouldn’t eat it.

Kelsey: Yeah, absolutely. With these powders, do you have a recommendation in terms of how much somebody should be eating? I don’t know if there’s a number of the amount of different types of powder somebody should be eating every day. And then within that, of each different type of powder, how much somebody should be eating.

Dr. Cowan: Yeah. People ask that a lot and it’s a great question. With very few exceptions like recipes, like you can make pumpkin pie using the recipe in Sally Fallon’s book except instead of pureed pumpkin in a can, you can use our pumpkin powder.  We have recipes for that and how to make beet desserts with our beet powder. And on our website, we do go through that.

The rest of it is really purely culinary. So if you make eggs, a really quick breakfast would be just sort of fried eggs in coconut oil or ghee. Now if you don’t have time to cut up kale, and onions, and leeks, leeks is probably the number one food for improving people’s microbiome. All you do is you put I would say the appropriate amount of leek powder, and kale powder, and the best tasting one which is pepper salt, you sprinkle that on your eggs.

How much? A little bit, I mean a quarter of a teaspoon. Because if you put a tablespoon on, it would just taste like powder stuff. You wouldn’t do that. I mean nobody would do that. Half a teaspoon is like two or three big leaves of kale. That’s all the kale you need to eat. A sprinkling of pepper salt is probably a small pepper. And you go on like that.

We have I don’t know how many recipes in the book. We put charred eggplant on popcorn or you bake salmon and you sprinkle the top that charred eggplant powder which is eggplants that we’ve roasted on a fire and then dried and mixed it with leeks and peppers. It becomes obvious how to use them just because it’s a culinary experience. I’ve had chefs who said you could make a whole business out of just the flavor of these.

Kelsey: Right. It seems like that’s exactly maybe what that restaurant was doing, too. But I love that you’re using these heirloom type vegetables. It sounds like you really seek those out in terms of like finding maybe the oldest type of vegetables and plant matter that you can find to grow in your garden. Would you say that’s true?

Dr. Cowan: Yes. That’s 100 percent true. People also should know that it isn’t…I mean we don’t get all of our vegetables from the garden because we’re essentially too big for that now. So we get them from local certified organic farms who also grow heirloom organically sourced vegetables.

The garden has three purposes. One is to grow vegetables that we can’t find anywhere for the business. The second one is that’s probably 98 percent of the vegetables, corn, and beans, we eat. I’m eating the food that you’re getting in powders. And so I’m not going to grow genetically modified corn to make my cornbread. I’m growing blue corn that goes back to the early part of the millennia, I guess you’d call it.  It’s native Mexican corn, blue corn, green corn. That’s what I’m eating. That’s what I’m growing.

I make pumpkins and squash out of the stuff, so I get the best varieties I can usually to all this. For those who are gardeners, there’s a catalog called Baker Creek which is specialized in finding the best, oldest, most flavorful varieties on the planet. Both my wife and I, we watch chef shows and this guy makes a certain type of winter squash, so that’s what we grow.

Kelsey: Interesting. I love that. With these powders, I would assume that maybe a lot of your patients that you’re working with in your medical practice, are they using these as well and have you noticed any interesting kind of case studies I guess of people starting to use and really diversify their plant matter intake?

Dr. Cowan: It’s also a great question. We have essentially two businesses. We have this Dr. Cowan’s Garden business and then we also have a Human Heart business- Human Heart, Cosmic Heart, which that’s the title of the book I wrote on the heart. And the reason I bring that up is we were very careful and specific that the powders are food and not medicine. I never prescribe somebody eating our vegetable powders because this is a food business.

I do things like this, and I write books about it, and we even have some of them in the office. A lot of my patients hear me and I tell them about vegetables and they buy them. But I am specifically not treating people with vegetable powders because that’s a different thing. We have medicines, but those are on a different system.

Now as far as have I noticed that people are doing better, we have I don’t know how many reviews, hundreds now of improving people’s energy, their hair, they feel better, they’re whatever disease they have is better. They love the flavor. They can finally get their children to eat vegetables because you can make yummy green pasta. All you were eating was pasta before and now it has perennial grains in it. It’s an easy way to get children to add different foods to their diet.

With some things we’re compiling case studies, but I’m not doing that because I don’t want to blur the lines between food and medicine.

Kelsey: Fair enough. I think that’s admirable. I was just thinking, too, because I work a lot with people with digestive problems and disorders, conditions, and I was just thinking that these sort of powders actually would be a great use for those kind of people who can’t at least in their current state because they’ve got dysbiosis or they’ve got SIBO and they’re having trouble eating a lot of plant matter where they could include these kind of powders in their food without having to eat all these fibrous veggies that they really can’t tolerate at the moment until they sort of deal with the underlying root cause of why they aren’t tolerating those things right now.

But I would think that this would be a great way for them to get a lot of nutrition in while they’re on an otherwise maybe somewhat restricted diet just because of their tolerance level.

Dr. Cowan: Yes.

Kelsey: In a sense there, I see a really good use case for that for those kind of people.

Dr. Cowan: Yes. I hundred percent agree with that. I have a lot of people with Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis and they can’t tolerate hardly any fibers. The fibers do come out and powders, but you get such a small amount and you can mix it in with other food that it doesn’t seem to cause digestive trouble that you would get with eating a bowl full of kale.

I have nothing against kale I eat it probably almost every day myself. But a lot of people with digestive problems can’t tolerate a bowl of kale. But three to four big leaves is maybe, I’m never sure exactly, but a half a teaspoon, which is easily tolerated. It is a way to get all the nutrients that you’re looking for with kale without the trouble.

I’ll tell you another use because we just this last week, it’s not on all of labels, but we did a macronutrient analysis of our powders. In other words, proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Essentially the net carb of a teaspoon of kale powder, which is a lot of kale powder, is 1 to 2 grams of carbohydrates. That’s almost nothing. So if you’re on a ketogenic diet, then you could use half a teaspoon of kale powder which will give you essentially a half a gram of net carbs, which like I say is almost nothing, and get all the nutrients in it. That is a huge boon to somebody’s nutritional status on a ketogenic diet.

Even our threefold blend which combines carrots, and beets, and kale, and chard, and winter squash; so it’s roots, and leaves, and flowers so we get the entire plant so to speak; even that only has three to four grams of carbs and two net grams of carbs per teaspoon. That’s still not very much and you get all the benefit of eating five different vegetables.

Kelsey: Yeah, absolutely. That actually reminds me, you were speaking about somebody who did…I forget the organization that you were talking about…but the man who went to a traditional culture, started eating their diet for three days, and noticed that 20 percent increase in diversity of his microbiome. Again, since I work a lot with those with digestive disorders, I’m very, very fascinated by the microbiome and sort of how it affects our overall health, which is hugely of course as I’m sure you know.

I find the powders as a really interesting way to help people to diversify their microbiome which of course has widespread impact on their overall health. I would think, and again, I’d be curious to hear if you noticed this maybe in some of your patients or maybe even just family members or friends who have used your powders who maybe have things like metabolic syndrome or high blood pressure where I think the microbiome plays a really big role in someone’s metabolic health. I would think that increasing diversity would have a big impact on how those conditions are coming out in a person.

Dr. Cowan: Yes. I mean the microbiome maybe a little bit of hyperboles, but basically everything. It’s what processes our food, it’s what protects the lining. It’s actually most of the genetic material in us is not us, but somebody else, which gets metaphysical question. Some of these things are so obvious, it’s amazing it needs to be said.

But the diversity…Everybody now knows that an entire 100 acre field of wheat, or carrots, or almond trees, or whatever it is, is a sitting duck for disease. I mean everybody knows that nowadays.

The microbiome is a direct reflection of what you eat and the diversity of what you eat because each of the different things that you eat creates different organisms living in your gut. That should be no surprise because different organisms live on different food, they have their niche, etc. Eating diversity is the way to create a diverse ecosystem in your gut.

This Human Microbiome Project, which is sort of tasked with this daunting undertaking of understanding what lives in a human being’s gut, has actually found that the single vegetable or single food that promotes the best diversity, believe it or not, are leeks. Who would have thought? But that seems to be the case.

The interesting thing about that from our perspective is first of all, I like to eat leaks because I like the flavor and they’re really yummy.

Kelsey: Yeah, yummy.

Dr. Cowan: They’re a little bit of a pain to clean and all that stuff, but not that big a deal. But their taste is amazing as a powder because it’s better than onions, which is why we don’t do onions because we also want the green part of the leak. For all those people who either just don’t want to buy leeks everyday, or pick them, or clean them for breakfast, our leek powder is the nutrient content of the leaks very carefully dried and processed and it is the number one food for promoting a healthy microbiome.

I was listening to an interview of this female pediatric gastroenterologist who says that she treats her pediatric Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis patients with a vegetable diverse diet and telling them to eat leeks every single day.

Kelsey: Interesting.

Dr. Cowan: Which I think the only doable way of doing that is by eating our powders.

Kelsey: You’re going to have to get in touch with her.

Dr. Cowan:  It’s like I love beets. They are great food. They’re great for blood pressure. There are a lot of good things with beets. But when I think back, even me… and I say that not like I’m special, but I’m just really into food and cooking…I would eat beets maybe twice a month just because they’re just a pain. They get all over everything. They makes your hands sticky. It’s just a pain. Same with burdock root. Burdock root is one of the best anti-cancer foods there is, but I would eat it maybe once every two months. Now if you have beet powder or burdock powder, I eat it every day. It’s easy.

Kelsey: Right.

Dr. Cowan: People say isn’t it better to eat fresh vegetables? The answer is yes. So why don’t I just eat beets everyday? And I always say, right, do it for a month and tell me how you did. At the end of it see how many times did you eat beets. Twice.

Kelsey: Right. Yeah. It comes down to a question of practicality for most people.

Dr. Cowan: Right.

Kelsey: And like you said, even you, somebody who is probably spending much more time in the kitchen than the average person is having a hard time eating beets more than twice a month, you can certainly imagine that the average American is not even getting close to that. Having something that’s really practical like vegetable powders that you can just sprinkle on pretty much anything it sounds like, that just makes it super easy, super practical for somebody who can just continue with a lot of what they’re already doing, but now it’s ten times healthier for them.

Dr. Cowan: Right. I spend about 45 minutes to an hour preparing breakfast meal. Not everybody wants to do that, and I get it. I’m not sure I want to do it anymore either.

Kelsey: Yeah. So this came out of your own need for timesaving here it sounds like partially. I think being able to not deal with beats more than twice a month and yet still get it in your diet almost every day is a really amazing thing.

I actually want to ask you a bit of a personal question here maybe for you in thinking about your family as well. I know we talked about a couple of different recipes and a couple of different ways to use the powders, but I want to know your personal favorites. Maybe if you can give us like three of your top ones, ways that you like to use these.

Dr. Cowan: Like I said, I’m avid cook, but not a great cook. I’m not a chef by any means so I make incredibly pedestrian food and also repetitive. On the other hand my son, he’s a really good cook and makes great stuff.

For instance, pretty much every morning we either make or buy from a really good place bone broth. Every morning I have about five or six different vegetables from the garden. So we’re talking leeks, and Malabar spinach, and gynura, and ashitaba. These are different perennial vegetables.

Ashitaba is like the most nutrient dense plant there is. It’s in the Angelica family. So that and maybe a zucchini and pepper. I sauté those in turmeric ghee, which is ghee impregnated with turmeric, until they’re soft, and I pour the bone broth in. Then I put about four or five different powders. I’ll put a little scoop of burdock powder, I put a scoop of wild sea vegetable powder, I’ll put a scoop of beet powder, either tomato salt or pepper salt, or one of those. So I’ve got about 10 to 12 different vegetables in there. And then I simmer it for maybe five minutes, put it in a bowl with a little bit of natto which is a fermented soybean, and then I put on top of that homemade sauerkraut or salsa that I make that’s fermented.

Kelsey: Wow! You’re putting me to shame here. That’s an amazing breakfast.

Dr. Cowan: Two or three days a week I intermittently fast, so I don’t eat breakfast. The other four or five days, that’s what I have. Plus I’ll make two eggs in coconut oil and I usually like leek powder and tomatoes salt on that. So that’s my typical breakfast.

A typical dinner would be wild salmon that I put a little bit of butter, or ghee, or turmeric coconut oil on it. And I’ll put charred eggplant powder on that with leek powder. I love the flavor of leek powder, so I put that on everything.

Kelsey: Yeah. I would imagine leek powder would be very delicious.

Dr. Cowan: Even if somebody said, Tom, it’s really bad for you. I’d say well, you only live once so I’m going to eat it anyway.

Kelsey: It’s worth it.

Dr. Cowan: My wife is more the sort of dessert chef and more the special things. She made a smoothie with peaches and full fat coconut milk, and into that she put a big tablespoon of our turmeric powder which we have grown for us in Maui with a guy who’s sort of biodynamic farmer and he keeps the roots for a couple of years. So it’s really amazing turmeric powder. She may put a few other things in there. Probably she puts chocolate powder in it because she puts chocolate powder in a lot of things.

Kelsey: Delicious.

Dr. Cowan: That’s another way. I do pumpkin pie and I use fresh pumpkins that I bake, but I also put some pumpkin powder in to just accentuate the flavors. That’s another one.

When I make a salad dressing, so we’ll have radicchio or endive salad with maybe feta cheese and tomatoes. In the salad dressing will go pepper, salt, and probably some beet powder because it increases the flavor.

I have some of the other ones that I’m making out of herbs like summer savory, which we’re not ready to sell yet. But summer savory is probably the most anti-aging herb there is and there’s a few reasons why I say that. That’s going to be probably next year.

A lot of the things I do with the garden, I’ll do a trial of summer savory or tarragon and see how well that grows and how much powder it makes. I also put that on to whatever dish I’m doing. But I do the same things over and over again because that’s just how I cook.

Kelsey: Yeah. You figure out what works and you just stick to it. Nothing wrong with that. The sound that all of that sounded really delicious. I’m getting hungry now just thinking about it all. I’m excited to try that leek powder myself. You’re really making it sound amazing. Leeks themselves are delicious anyway, so I can only imagine that the powder is. It sounds like it’s better than the real thing, in your opinion anyway.

Dr. Cowan: It concentrates the flavor. We put them in these jars called Miron jars, which are thick purple glass. The urban myth is they were originally found in the pyramids and the oil was still good. And then guy in Switzerland reverse engineered it and found that they only let UVA light in which keeps whatever’s in there fresh.

Of course we didn’t believe it necessarily in the beginning. So what I did was I took two cherry tomatoes, more or less identical. I mean obviously not totally identical, but they were pretty close. We put one in a Mason jar and one in a Miron jar and just left it on the counter. In a month the one in the Mason jar was all mushy, and moldy, and all that. And the one in the Miron jar was fresh for about five and a half months.

Kelsey: Wow!

Dr. Cowan: You could still eat it after five and a half months.

Kelsey: That’s incredible!

Dr. Cowan: That convinced us that there’s something about this that actually preserves the freshness and the flavor. And frankly without the Miron jars, I wouldn’t have done this because I wouldn’t have believed that we could retain the nutrients, and the smell, and the taste. They’re the linchpin in us essentially preserving the food.

Kelsey: Right.

Dr. Cowan: The flavors really concentrate. You get leek-ness in all its full glory.

Kelsey: It sounds amazing. Very excited about that.

Well, Dr. Cowan, I have to say this was really, really fascinating to hear you talk about all this stuff. I’m sure this episode is going to be very popular with our listeners just because Laura and I, we talk about diversity a lot in terms of eating as many different types of vegetables and things that you can. But what I’m hearing from you and what of course we know to be true is that that can be hard. It’s not even a matter of our own motivation necessarily, it’s just what is available to us in our current food environment is not up to what we need in terms of diversity.

I have to say that I’m really, really excited that you have gone on this business venture to bring plant diversity to the world because I think it’s a really important and noble cause to go through with.  Thank you for that and thank you for this interview today.

And just as a reminder to our listeners, Dr. Cowan’s Garden is a current sponsor for our podcast. Just in case you missed it at the beginning of the show, you can get 20 percent off your order at DrCowansGarden.com by using the code “AncestralRDs”.  I’m about to go hop over there and order me some leek powder as well as some of these other ones, too.

I just wanted to thank you for not only giving our listeners a chance to try this out at a discount, Dr. Cowan, but again thank you so much for the interview today.

Dr. Cowan:  I really appreciate it and it was fun talking to you. I hope people try it out and give us feedback. We ask people for recipes and how did you use it. But just do not be intimidated by how do I do it? Just open the jar and sprinkle it on your food. Everything you eat will be better, I can tell you.

Kelsey: Right. It sounds like it’s fairly self-explanatory.

Dr. Cowan: It couldn’t be easier. You’ll figure it out.

Kelsey: Once you have that jar in your hand, you’ll figure it out. Perfect. Well thanks again, Dr. Cowan. It was really great to talk to you today.

PODCAST: Empowered PCOS With Dr. Brooke Kalanick

Thanks for joining us for episode 127 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are thrilled to be interviewing Dr. Brooke Kalanick!

A Licensed Naturopathic Doctor (ND), Dr. Brooke attended Seattle, Washington’s Bastyr University where she earned a Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine and a Master’s in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine.

She’s a published author, co-host of the popular podcast Better Everyday With Sarah and Dr. Brooke, and a sought after hormone expert having been featured in Women’s Health Magazine, Fitness Magazine, Oxygen, Allure, and Health Magazine.

Dr. Brooke practices functional medicine primarily with women who have PCOS, Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism, various autoimmune conditions or any other female hormone imbalance. Most importantly she teaches women how to actually listen to their bodies, how to tune into hormonal cues so they know exactly how to eat and exercise for their unique metabolism and imbalances. With these women she works to reset their hormones, their heads, and their habits so they can finally feel at home in their bodies.

You can learn more about Dr. Brooke on her website BetterByDrBrooke.com and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Among prescriptions for the birth control pill and recommendations of a low carb diet with restricted exercise, trying to heal from PCOS can be just as difficult as getting a diagnosis.

Luckily, Dr. Brooke Kalanick is with us today to clear the confusion and guide us on a path to understanding our body’s hormonal cues to determine diet and exercise strategies for dealing with PCOS.

Today Dr. Brooke furthers our understanding of PCOS by explaining the types of PCOS and contributors to its development. She also opens our eyes to problematic dietary and exercise recommendations for PCOS.

You won’t want to miss the key issues to consider with fat and carbohydrate intake or Dr. Brooke’s guidance through the hierarchy to follow when beginning to address contributing causes.

You’ll even come away with Dr. Brooke’s exercise template for women with PCOS so you’ll know much and what types of exercise to focus on and adjust for your individual needs.

Here is some of what we discussed with Dr. Brooke:

  • [00:05:06] Dr. Brooke’s Empowered PCOS program
  • [00:06:54] How Dr. Brooke became a women’s health Naturopathic Doctor
  • [00:10:39] The difficulty of getting diagnosed with PCOS
  • [00:16:14] The major role inflammation plays in the development of PCOS
  • [00:18:36] Triggers for inflammation in young girls and the importance of teaching them about diet and lifestyle
  • [00:22:20] Clinical presentations of the two different types of PCOS
  • [00:27:15] Three problematic dietary recommendation for PCOS in the conventional and Paleo/ancestral health model
  • [00:32:34] The importance of figuring out your unique carb tolerance
  • [00:33:40] Key issues to consider with carbohydrate and fat intake when you have hormonal imbalance
  • [00:43:06] Where to start to heal from PCOS and the hierarchy to follow
  • [00:51:16] Dr. Brooke’s exercise template for women with PCOS

Links Discussed:


Kelsey: Hi everyone! Welcome to episode 127 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Kelsey Kinney and with me as always is my cohost Laura Schoenfeld.

Laura: Hi everybody!

Kelsey: We are Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence-based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me at KelseyKinney.com, and Laura at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com.

Laura: If you are enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that way you never miss an episode. And while you’re in iTunes, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well. And remember we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health related question that we can answer on an upcoming show.

Kelsey: We have a great guest on our show today who’s going to share her insight into PCOS and what women can do to begin to heal from this condition. We’re so glad Dr. Brooke is joining us and we think you’ll really enjoy this episode. But before we get into the interview for today, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

You know that we’re all about nutrient diversity here at The Ancestral RDs, which is why we’re really excited about the products at Dr. Cowan’s Garden. Dr. Cowan’s Garden makes nutrient dense, organic vegetable powders that can be added to your food to increase your nutrient diversity in an easy and delicious way. These powders are a perfect way to get valuable added nutrients if you aren’t eating as many plants as you’d like. In fact, Dr. Cowan’s Garden even uses some vegetables that are difficult to obtain like sea vegetables, perennial greens, and wild ramps. The vegetables are cooked to reduce anti-nutrient content and then they’re dehydrated on low heat to preserve their nutrients. Finally, they’re stored in Miron jars which prevent light from penetrating so the powders remain flavorful over time. Want to add more nutrient diversity to your diet? Use code “Ancestral RDS” at drcowansgarden.com for 20 percent off your order.

Kelsey: Welcome back, everyone! We’re so excited to have Dr. Brooke Kalanick with us today. A Licensed Naturopathic Doctor (ND), Dr. Brooke attended Seattle, Washington’s Bastyr University where she earned a Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine and a Master’s in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine.

She’s a published author, co-host of the popular podcast Better Everyday With Sarah and Dr. Brooke, and a sought after hormone expert having been featured in Women’s Health Magazine, Fitness Magazine, Oxygen, Allure, and Health Magazine.

Dr. Brooke practices functional medicine primarily with women who have PCOS, Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism, various autoimmune conditions or any other female hormone imbalance. Most importantly she teaches women how to actually listen to their bodies, how to tune into hormonal cues so they know exactly how to eat and exercise for their unique metabolism and imbalances. With these women she works to reset their hormones, their heads, and their habits so they can finally feel at home in their bodies.

You can learn more about Dr. Brooke on her website BetterByDrBrooke.com and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Welcome, Dr. Brooke!

Dr. Brooke: Thank you! And I should warn you guys, I’m not very good at Twitter, so connect with me on Facebook or Instagram. I’m terrible at Twitter.

Kelsey: I’m not good at Twitter either.

Laura: Does anyone use Twitter anymore? I feel like I auto tweet things.

Dr. Brooke: I will sometimes send my Instagram posts to Twitter and that’s about it.

Laura: Yeah, that’s about what I do. I used to have an auto tweet set up and it would go out and tweet blog posts, but I don’t even know if I have that anymore.

Kelsey: Does Twitter even exist anymore?

Laura: Apparently our president still uses it.

Kelsey: That’s true.

Laura: So it’s good company over there on Twitter, but that’s alright. I feel like Facebook, Instagram, and then like you said, you have a website, and a podcast. So there’s lots of different places that people can meet you.

We have a lot of awesome things to talk about today. We actually just did a podcast a couple of weeks ago on amenorrhea, hypothalamic amenorrhea, a little bit of PCOS there as well. We talked about birth control and all that. So I think this is a nice follow up conversation for that because Dr. Brooke is an expert in PCOS.

Dr. Brooke, did you say you have a program? I don’t know if it’s coming out now or if it’s out already. I believe I’ve seen some, I don’t know if it’s ads or things just come up in my newsfeed talking about Empowered PCOS. Is that a program that’s already available, or is that something that’s on the horizon?

Dr. Brooke: Actually I’m running it live right now. This was my first foray into doing a program like that. This one, we’re in the middle of running it now. We’ve got two weeks left. This time I ran it live with me as part of a Facebook group to kind of help the women through it. I don’t know if I will do it that way again or if it’ll just be a do it yourself program in the future. But it will still be available on my website and I do have a waitlist going for that on the website. Anyone can email me about that if they’d like to get the lowdown of how that’s going to run the next time.

We’re in the middle of it right now, but it will continue to live on in some form.

Laura: Nice. Well congrats on creating your first online program!

Dr. Brooke: Thanks! That was technologically and emotionally very challenging for me.

Kelsey: We totally get that.

Laura: Yeah. I’m in the middle of a launch for my…it’s called Get Your Period Back. It’s kind of like a hypothalamic amenorrhea/kind of PCOS program. And this is the first one I’m doing on my own because Kelsey and I have done several launches of our Paleo Rehab: Adrenal Fatigue program. It’s nice to have someone to work with, so doing it on your own can be kind of a beast. But it is nice to have because I’m sure you’ve had the experience where you can’t work with as many people as you would like because you run out of time. So being able to offer that program will be awesome.

Dr. Brooke: Yeah, exactly. A lot of people for many reasons are aren’t able to work with me one on one. So this was a much more affordable option to at least get women kind of off the ground and cover most of the basics on their own.

Laura: Well let’s actually get into the PCOS topic a little bit. First because I’m sure some of our listeners aren’t familiar with you, can you give us like a nutshell version of your back story, how you got into just women’s health, and how you became a Naturopathic Doctor?

Dr. Brooke: Yes. My story is sort of funny. I kind of always knew that I would do something in medicine and was very much more leaning towards conventional medicine and I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to be a doctor.

What ended up happening was I sort of got accepted into pharmacy school probably earlier than I should have. I sort of applied and didn’t think I would get in that first round, and I did. I sort of jumped at it still thinking maybe I would go on to medical school or some other type of training after the fact.

But as I got sort of into that model and starting to work completing my internships for pharmacy, I was just really finding in my own personal life I was super stressed out as a grad student, and in a very demanding program, and not doing well.

For me, I had PCOS in my teens, but it was never really talked about. I mean I don’t even know if they really diagnosed me properly. I just got the pill because I was having all this stuff go on, which I took until my early 20s when I was in college and very stressed out. All these hormone issues sort of came to the front. I was not finding good help in my pharmacy model and was turning to actually my mom’s Naturopathic Doctor who was really helpful to me. I was like well, this is interesting. Maybe I will sort of combine this with being a pharmacist someday.

And then as my health sort of continued to be met with poor options in the conventional model, they were like you’re probably going to end up with diabetes, you’re not going to be able have a baby. I just was not feeling well, I was super tired, I had terrible headaches, my period was crazy. As soon as I would come off the pill, my skin would just go bonkers.

So as I was working with her, my Naturopathic Doctor, I was just getting so much better and learning that I had so much more control over this. I wasn’t necessarily destined to only have medications be my only option. What happened was I just decided that was probably a better fit for me. When I was done with my pharmacy training, I went to Bastyr and was studying to be a Naturopathic Doctor.

And as far as like how exercise and all of that kind of came in, I mean I obviously had my own hormone issues, which sort of I think made me want to help other women who had felt in my situation where we just didn’t have really great options. I also really didn’t like how I just didn’t understand what was going on. I feel like so many women feel that way. They have these symptoms and they have terrible periods, and they’re just sort of told well this is what it’s like to be a woman, or this is what it’s like to be a new mom, or this is what happens when you get older. I really didn’t love that I didn’t have really any understanding of what was going on in my own body.

So that was part of it. And then exercise sort of came in because I was really interested in exercise for myself. I’d always really loved being at the gym. I was not one of those people who hated going to the gym. It just sort of evolved into another tool that I could use in my in my practice.

Laura: Awesome! It’s kind of interesting how some women get into functional medicine because of the health issues that they’re dealing with. And then others, they just notice that there was a lot of women dealing with those issues. It sounds like you got passionate about it because you weren’t getting the help that you needed and you wanted to be able to share what you learned with the women that you were working with.

As far as PCOS goes, something that came up, I just did a webinar two days ago about the pill and how that’s not going to help people get their period back. I did get a couple questions about PCOS that I’d love to forward on to you since you have expertise there.

I think one thing that can be really confusing for a lot of women is getting a diagnosis and what it even means to be diagnosed with PCOS, or how they can actually identify whether or not they have it if they don’t have some of the typical symptoms of PCOS. Can you share a little bit about how to get diagnosed PCOS or what kind of things women should be looking for to figure out if they are dealing with a PCOS type of syndrome?

Dr. Brooke: Yes. First of all, it’s just kind of a bad name because it’s called polycystic ovarian syndrome and not every woman on the spectrum with some of these issues has polycystic ovaries.

One of the ways you can get diagnosed is we can do an ultrasound and we can see this sort of classic look of the ovary where we have these smaller underdeveloped sort of faulty follicles. That has sort of this classic look on an ultrasound, but not every woman will have that. I, for example, never had that. My ovaries always looked pretty normal.

Other ways you can look at it, we’ve got the ultrasound, we’ve got elevated androgens on a blood test. That can be testosterone, or DHEA, or some of those variants. We can have insulin resistance showing up on blood work. We can have other hormones out of balance such as high prolactin. Thyroid gets in the mix there, but it’s not typically part of this particular diagnosis. But there’s essentially a set of criteria that you can have and you need to have three of those to meet the diagnosis.

But part of the problem is women come in…I think two things happen. One is they’re having a lot of the manifestations of PCOS, like maybe they’re breaking out, and maybe they’re dealing with some low progesterone symptoms, and their ovaries don’t look quite right, but they’re getting a period. So they’re told this can’t be PCOS.

Or it’s a woman who doesn’t “look the part”. She might be what’s now being talked about as lean type PCOS. Before we sort of didn’t even have that categorization. It was just thought if you don’t have this classic look where you’re struggling with fat loss, you are breaking out, you have a lot of hair growth, then it can’t be that.

I hear this a lot from a lot of trainers where there’s a woman with PCOS and she’s saying I really can’t eat as many carbohydrates as you’re recommending. They make me really sleepy and they make me crazy. They’re like well you can’t have insulin resistance because you just don’t look like it.

So part of the problem is the name. Women think, well if I don’t have that on an ultrasound, then this is not what’s going on with me. I think a lot of women fall through the cracks. Another problem is that not every woman with this has every single symptom on the list. Not every woman has a particular body type or those sorts of issues.

Me, for example, I struggle with fat loss, I struggle with energy. But as long as I keep myself in check, I have a pretty regular period and I was able to get pregnant really easy.

It does look different for women. And so sometimes there are just the androgen issues, and sometimes there’s more of this bigger picture of PCOS. I hope in time we continue to kind of elaborate on this kind of constellation of symptoms and have there be better categorization. That way women can get more help when they sort of fall on like one end of the spectrum, but don’t necessarily meet all the criteria to get that formal diagnosis.

You guys know how it works. In our conventional model, it’s like you have to have the diagnosis to get the treatment. And in the functional model, we’re more looking at how’s your optimal health? How are you functioning? I care less if we call it PCOS than can we get your blood sugar and your testosterone under control so you have better hormones, better balance with that, better energy, better results.

Kelsey: Can a woman be diagnosed with PCOS if she only has you polycystic ovaries and none of the hormonal or insulin resistance type symptoms. Can that come later down the road with PCOS and the polycystic ovaries might be the first symptom that is found?

Dr. Brooke: Possibly. We don’t always do an ultrasound for a woman when she comes in. That’s usually done because a lab test is out of range or they’re not having a period. It’s called the Rotterdam criteria. There needs to be some sort of ovulation not happening, something’s not going quite right in your period for it to be called PCOS, you’re not ovulating.

Kelsey: Got it.

Dr. Brooke: Again, some women with PCOS do, but maybe that’s because their diet and lifestyle is such that they’re kind of getting that piece in line.

Kelsey: Right.

Dr. Brooke: It can get a little bit tricky for this. I think that many women are like I feel like I have this, but my doctor tells me that I don’t. There’s a lot of women that are just dealing with hormone manifestations in this realm and maybe don’t actually qualify for the diagnosis of PCOS.

But many women don’t know because this shows up at least initially, it starts to show up in puberty where we’ve got maybe heavy bleeding, or painful periods, or not getting a cycle. The coordination of the pituitary hormones in the ovaries don’t quite sync up and so we get this kind of long periods of time between your cycle.

Women so quickly are given the pill because it kind of “manages” that, at least normalizes it. It doesn’t of course fix anything underlying the cause, but it will sort of set the stage. It’s not until they want to have a baby, or like me, they go through a really stressful time that these hormone issues come up again.

Many women don’t discover that they have this until they’re trying to get pregnant or they try coming off the pill at some point. They just are like I just never knew because I was handed the pill so quickly in their teen years.

Laura: Obviously a lot of these symptoms show up when women are very young. I’m sure there’s women out there that have PCOS that might have been seeing these symptoms when they started menstruating, which could be as young as like 12 or 13 years old. What leads to the development of PCOS? Is it primarily genetic? Or are there things that happen when a woman is in her first 15 years of life that can actually drive the development of PCOS?

Dr. Brooke: There is a genetic component for sure and we don’t totally know what causes this. Many women are like, well my mom had this, or my mom had these issues, or my aunt, or my grandmother. So there is a genetic component and we don’t totally know exactly what that is. But one of the things that we’re starting to learn about PCOS…and I maybe didn’t answer your first question definitively, but I’ll go back to that.

The two things to get the diagnosis of PCOS is you have to have two of three things. You either have to have the high testosterone or high androgens, you have to have some sort of ovulation dysfunction, or you’ve excluded other reasons why you might not be getting your period or have high androgens. There’s other things like hyperthyroidism can look like PCOS, it’s technically not. So those you have to have two of those three. Hopefully that if someone’s looking for like a definitive test they can go back and look at that.

But as far as the causes, we don’t really understand the genetic component, but there does seem to be one and we’re studying that. But the kind of smoking gun that I think really gets missed with women with PCOS is inflammation.

We’re starting to learn in the last 10 years or so that that actually seems to be more of a core issue that’s probably actually causing the insulin resistance. Typically we thought of it more as the insulin resistance and this person also has inflammation probably resulting from that. But the research is starting to point to the inflammation might actually be the kind of underlying cause, which makes sense.

All of us talk about hormones all day. We talk about cortisol, and insulin, and thyroid. And the truth is, all of that is controlled by the immune system. All of that goes back to what I call the hormones of the immune system, which are the cytokines. Those really dictate what kind of flows from our end glands; the adrenals, and the ovaries, and the thyroid.

I think we’ll start to look at hormones sort of differently in the coming years and we’ll talk a little bit more hopefully about inflammation and the immune imbalances because that is really what appears to be driving a lot of our kind of what we think of as “hormone imbalances”.

Laura: I’m assuming you don’t work with 12 year olds with PCOS necessarily. But knowing that it can develop that early, what do you feel like are the big triggers for that inflammation at that age?

Dr. Brooke: Part of it with PCOS is we’re just hardwired for inflammation, so we genetically do things a little bit differently. We have a low grade inflammation even at best. When you think about all the things that we do in our lifestyle; the food we eat, the stress we have, all of the endocrine disruptors, all the inflammation we create, women of PCOS are just really, really sensitive to that and inflammation just goes on to create a whole host of hormonal imbalances. We can talk about how that works if you want.

Young girls are starting to see this start to pop up. Unfortunately, like I said, we kind of get handed the pill. The pill sort of levels your hormones. It’s a very artificial cycle, but you get a bleed and you get a little bit more predictability. Most moms aren’t necessarily looking at what is going on under the surface. I think that’s changing because I think more parents are trying to pay a lot more attention to our own health in this kind of toxic world. We have a lot of information at our fingertips these days.

I do think it’s really important for our young girls to start talking with them about these hormone changes are going to be profoundly affected by your diet and lifestyle. The classic teenage diet is pretty sugar and carb heavy. They’re not getting enough sleep. They have a lot of emotional stress.

We really need to be teaching our kids, you’ve got to pay attention to how you feel when you eat and eating certain foods are going to drive your blood sugar problems, are going to drive your breakouts, and your PMS, and your emotions are going to be less stable. And all of that just makes being a teen harder to deal with.

It’s kind of a subject of a different podcast maybe, but I think we really over-schedule our kids and put a lot of demands on them. I think we have to really work with teens in that age group. Maybe before we just hand them the pill, start teaching them about food, how they can better care for themselves, understanding their body.

You guys remember what it was like to be a teenage girl. It was sort of you were just scared of your cycle. They were like don’t wear white pants, don’t get pregnant, and this is really rough, but this is how it is to be a girl. You weren’t really taught like this is what it means if you’re bleeding really heavy, and this is what it means if you’ve got terrible cramps, and these are some things that you can do to fix that. We just we don’t teach girls that.

So that’s probably where we need start so that then women don’t need me as much in their 30s trying to undo this mess and relearn how to eat, and understand they have to meditate, and watch their stress.

Laura: I feel like you don’t normally think of teenagers as being super stressed, but obviously there’s a lot of things going on at that age that can be really stressful.

And then probably another factor that sounds like you are touching on a little bit is most of the teenage schedules, like high school starting at crack of dawn, that kind of thing, it’s not really well lined up with the typical teenager circadian rhythm.

I know that there’s been a lot of research showing that teenagers really need to be waking up later and not getting up for school at 5 o’clock in the morning or something like that. I’m sure that plays a big role in it. Even if they’re not over-scheduled after school, it may just be the fact that the high school timing isn’t really set up for the way teenagers should be structuring their day.

Like you said, there’s a lot of different things that maybe aren’t under their control, but there certainly are things that things like diet, and exercise, that kind of stuff that is more under their control. It’s just that they don’t get taught, or their parents don’t know, and it’s just they get set up for kind of bad hormone function. By the time they’re in their 20s and 30s, it’s like you said, undoing damage.

Another question that I feel like comes up a lot when it comes to PCOS that we had touched on a little bit a few minutes ago is the different types of PCOS. You had mentioned there’s the pretty typical insulin resistant, generally more weight loss resistant type of PCOS. And then there is the lean PCOS, which some of those women will have some level of insulin resistance or blood sugar dysregulation, but not all of them do and they tend to be either normal or underweight.

Do you find that those two different types of PCOS…would you classify them as different conditions. Or do you think that they’re the same condition, they just need to be treated differently? What’s your feeling about those two distinctions?

Dr. Brooke: It sort of depends. Like we’re looking at a woman who has that lean type that’s actually been diagnosed with PCOS, whether they’re not having a cycle, they’ve got some high androgens or the insulin resistance on blood work. I do find if we’ve got PCOS, we know we have inflammation, we know we have some level of insulin resistance.

The difference in the body types, I feel like lean and heavy types are just kind of bad names. Most women associate the heavy type with that’s something bad we don’t want to think of ourselves that way. I hate those names so I try to get kind back to always going back to the chemistry because that’s not of course our fault. This is our hormones and unfortunately I feel like PCOS kind of gets written off sometimes as a lifestyle condition. I hate that because again we’ve got this huge genetic component that makes lifestyle harder for these women. When it gets called that, it sort of makes me maddening.

With the lean and heavy types as they’re called, I tend to think of what we have to kind of remember with insulin resistance is we think of it as like you have it or you don’t. You’re insulin resistant or you’re not. And it’s more of a grayscale. It’s more of kind of a spectrum. Some women are more insulin resistant than another woman. Maybe they both have some degree of it and both have PCOS. So it can vary from woman.

It also various tissue to tissue. We’ve got women that are more insulin sensitive or resistant in let’s say their muscle tissue, or their fat tissue, or their liver. The ovaries tend to stay pretty insulin sensitive, which is part of why they’re so affected in this condition. We think about PCOS as this ovarian syndrome, but we talk about it of course in the sense that there’s inflammation, and insulin, and blood sugar problems. But the ovaries sort of take the hit because they remain sensitive to the insulin. So when there’s all that insulin around in a woman that’s insulin resistant, the ovaries really get hit with that.

When we release insulin because we’ve eaten something, that hormone is meant to take the fuel out of our bloodstream and stick it somewhere, so stick that into our muscle, stick it into our liver, stick it into our body fat. Women that struggle more with the being heavier type or having more of the fat loss resistance, they do a really good job of scooting that stuff into their fat cells whereas they don’t do as good of a job putting it into their muscles.

I tend to look at it that way. Like where are you more sensitive and where are you more resistant? I think it’s important for women to know it’s not black and white. You have sort of varying insulin and hormone responses in different tissues in your body and it makes this condition look very different for different women.

With the leaner type, so the ones that don’t struggle as much with losing weight, what they tend to have is even they will find like maybe they only want to lose five pounds, but that’s also still really difficult for them when they have some degree of insulin resistance. They also deal more with what we think of as the inappropriately termed adrenal fatigue. They deal more with like low cortisol or erratic cortisol issues as well.

While PCOS is thought of, of course, as a blood sugar problem in relation to insulin, cortisol is a big piece of this because that’s the other side of all of our blood sugar control. So whether we eat something or we stress about something, our blood fuel is going to rise and insulin is going to need to come in and help with us. When you’ve got that insulin resistant picture or that hyper insulin and over-exaggerated, response we’re still going to see that in both types of women, but it may not be driven as much from what they eat as it is from their stress response. So with the leaner type, we definitely really need to make sure we’re looking really closely at the other side of that, looking at their stress response.

But we do find in both when we look at the research for women, both the lean type and the heavy type do have this low grade inflammation. In fact, sometimes the lean types have shown it even more. Going back to that and making sure we have managed all sources of inflammation for both types of women, looking at what are they eating, is anything there causing inflammation, stress chronic infections, over-exercising, under-exercising, not getting enough recovery, making sure we’ve really looked at all the different sources of stress for them.

Laura: Definitely. Now I would love to talk a little bit about the dietary recommendations for PCOS. This is mainly because I feel like for most women who are just doing a Google search, the same kind of recommendations come up for PCOS no matter what the reason is behind their PCOS.

Can you talk a little bit about how you approach nutrition with these patients and if there’s differences between the types of PCOS or the reasons that a woman is experiencing PCOS, and how they should be eating?

Dr. Brooke: Yes. I think you probably get a couple of things when you Google search this. One is the blanket recommendation to just don’t eat carbs, just go low carb. That does a couple of things wrong. The women with more adrenal problems, whether they’re considered lean type PCOS or they…I wouldn’t have considered myself lean type PCOS historically, but since having kids, and my business, and not getting enough sleep, I definitely have more low blood sugar problems now. So I have to manage my PCOS in a whole new way. I used to be able to just be…I pretty much just avoid carbs and I was fine. That really, really helped me. But now I have to think of things a little bit differently and honor all of the hormones involved.

The first thing for when we think of just having insulin resistance and just going low carb, that doesn’t acknowledge that this woman might also have, like I said, struggling to keep their blood sugar up between meals, which is a cortisol problem, or hyperthyroidism which might be dysregulation their metabolism such that they need to think about their carbohydrates differently. I’ll talk about how to do that in a second.

But that’s the first thing. It’s just the blanket recommendation to go low carb is not going to work for all women. It’s going to work for the really insulin resistant ones that other hormones are pretty much a little bit more in balance and they’re not really struggling with any other side of the blood sugar equation.

The other thing women will see as well, as long as you just eat “good carbs”, like if you just eat whole grain bread versus white bread, you should be fine. And that of course doesn’t acknowledge inflammation because a lot of those wholegrain foods are going to be potentially problematic for a lot of women. It also doesn’t really acknowledge the fact that taking in…like I said, the difference between Ezekiel bread for a woman and white bread is different, but it may not be nearly enough to move the needle on their actual blood sugar response.

Those two things I see in the kind of conventional model. And then in the more Paleo or ancestral health model where I see women with PCOS kind of getting it wrong is sometimes doing the “good carbs” or the Paleo based more whole foods carbs with too much animal fat.

That combination can be really tricky for women with insulin resistance because there’s other hormones that get involved particularly when we do fat and carbohydrate together. We’ve got ASP, GIP, and these other hormones that actually kind of round about signal insulin when we eat fat. We get this really is exaggerated response in these women. So they have to kind of watch that combination, too, and that just doesn’t really get talked about at all.

And then also when we’re dealing with fat content, women with PCOS, and estrogen dominance, and this more sensitive female hormones system, we’re going to be the ones that don’t do as well with any of the stuff that can come along with excessive amounts of animal fats.

If we’re eating tons of bacon, tons of really fatty animal protein, we’ve got those persistent organic pollutants and just endocrine disruptors that build up in our own body fat and of course the animals that we eat. Even a well-raised animal is going to have some of that. They still live in our same toxic world. So there’s some of that that goes on.

And of course, that animals are going to have its own metabolism. Even if it wasn’t given hormones for growth, they still have estrogen in their body fat. That’s sort of where they put it, just like where we put it.

Those are kind of three things that I see go wrong. We get the blanket recommendation of low carb, we tell them just to focus on good carbs. Or in our world, which I think is better, we don’t always pay attention to their fat and carb combo.

What I tell women with all these hormone issues, when you’ve got multiple things going on, we have to honor our more delicate hormones first. We have to deal with excessive inflammation, low cortisol problems, low thyroid problems first. And then I usually say deal with high cortisol next, then insulin resistance, and then estrogen and progesterone.

The reason I’ve had to kind of break that down over time, because we don’t have just one thing wrong. Most of us don’t just have PCOS, or don’t just have insulin resistance, or don’t just have low cortisol. We’re probably also dealing with at least a borderline low thyroid. We probably have low progesterone. There’s multiple things going on. When they take to the Internet and they look at these different things, like how do they figure out what thing do I deal with first? Because oftentimes the recommendations for one are really counter to another.

So making sure you kind of have a bigger sense of what all your hormone issues are…and I do have a quiz on my website so you can take that and see if you’re kind of struggling. Obviously you can do testing, too, which is ideal. But for any woman and a really inexpensive way is to start to look at your symptoms and see how everything kind of shakes out, and see where you’re struggling, and then follow that hierarchy. Within that is also where I think the fat and carb combo comes into play a little bit. I have a couple articles on my site about that if someone wants to kind of get into the nitty gritty science of that.

But the most important thing for all of us I think is finding what I call your unique carb tolerance.  My low carb diet might be very different from Laura’s low carb diet. Your amount of carbohydrate, depending on your goals, your genetics, that hormone hierarchy, we really have to figure out which carbohydrate sources work best for us, what amounts, and what time of day.

There’s definitely different variables and that’s just such a bigger conversation. You can do that relatively easily either by watching your symptoms or by using glucometer and kind of figure out what works best for you for different sources, different times a day.

It takes a little experimenting and people don’t always like that. It’s I think human nature to just kind of want the plan, someone just tell me what to do. But doing it this way, it allows you to really dial it in for where you’re at right now. And then remembering women’s hormones; they’re a moving target. They’re going to change.

Again, like me, I used to just be low carb and now I have to do things differently with smaller amounts of carbohydrates a couple times a day, especially on the days when I don’t get enough sleep or I’m training hard.

Laura: I actually want to dig in a little bit into the what you’re talking about with combining carbs and fat because that’s something I feel like in the Paleo community especially doesn’t really get talked about. Because on one hand, a lot of the Paleo guidelines go pretty low carb and that might not work for a lot of women. I know personally, I don’t feel well if I’m not eating a pretty significant carb content in my diet, and like you said, especially on days where there is some higher intensity training.

But on the flip side, there’s also this concept that fat is perfectly fine, and you should eat as much as you want, and animal fat is awesome. I feel like that belief could potentially be causing a lot of problems for a lot of women that are following the Paleo approach.

When you talk about combining fat and carbs, does it have anything to do with going overboard in calorie content? Or is it completely unrelated to calorie intake and just has to do with the actual hormone response to those combinations?

Dr. Brooke: I actually think there’s probably three things that go on. I am so glad we came away from like the fat’s scary, from where were because that was a problem too. I think we’re in a better place. We’re not as scared of eating a steak. We’re not scared of eating something like bacon.

This is true for any women dealing with any estrogen and progesterone imbalance, when you’re having a lot of PMS, painful periods, any issues with your cycles getting more erratic, closer together, further apart, having PCOS, or endometriosis, or going through menopause. All of those female hormone imbalances, we do really need to take a look at insulin for sure.

Are we over-carbing? Are we under-carbing? Because remember if we under-carb, that’s a problem, too. Like you were saying you don’t feel as good, but that’s a stress for our body. We really have to find what works for us in, again, that unique carb tolerance. Like what do you need right now given your goals, and your lifestyle, and your current hormone imbalances?

But when it comes to fat, I think it’s all three things. I think because we’ve taken so many other things out of our diet, it’s really easy to overdo it on like the salami, and the bacon, and some of that stuff, and the avocados because it tastes really good.

Many women feel on a more Paleo diet, they feel better for many reasons. But I think sometimes that restriction comes up so we sometimes overdo it or we get this mentality that’s like well because it’s natural or because it’s on my Paleo plan, it’s a free for all. I see a lot of women sort of overdoing it in fat, just on calories just because it sort of naturally is the thing that we get to still eat, which when we are missing some of those other foods, and again we have that mentality that well it’s Paleo, so it’s okay, or it’s part of this whole foods plan, so it’s okay.

I do think calories come in. I find I don’t really address calories until a little bit later. But if you’re somebody who’s not new to this lifestyle and you’re wondering about your hormones or your progress, it is something to take a quick look at because a lot of times many of us are overdoing it. So there is that.

And then again, with particularly animal fat, we do bring in those POPS, those persistent organic pollutants that build up in our own fat, in an animal that lives in the same world. Are healthier raised animals, grass fed, hormone free certainly better? Of course, that’s a huge step above conventionally raised animals.

Even if we’re doing that though, we’d still have to acknowledge the animal has its own metabolism, it still probably gets contaminated water which has a lot of this stuff in it, and it’s just in our environment. It’s ubiquitous. We cannot get away from plastic and that’s really profoundly affecting all of us. So it is still in their environment.

If you’ve got a female hormone imbalance, if you’re eating more endocrine disruptors whether that’s from your spinach in a plastic container, or eating animal fat, or water out of a bottle, we just have to look at kind of the net results of the accumulation of all of those things. It is something to look at in that regard.

I do find a lot of women, if we just make the switch without thinking like I can never have bacon again, or I can never have a grass fed steak, just moving towards making sure you’re eating those proteins a few times a week and leaning towards getting more of your fat from plant based sources and doing more lean protein, more chicken, fish, turkey things like that, lean pork chops, that can be just an easy switch that doesn’t really make you feel like you made a huge difference in your diet. But it can make a big effect on your hormones.

When it comes to this particularly the combination with carbohydrates, it’s a big fat storing message when we eat…I like to think for the average woman, hormones are just sending a message. It’s like me sending Laura and Kelsey an e-mail. I just sent them some information about me. That’s just the way one part of your body talks to another one.

So the message is when you have fat and carbohydrates together we get an insulin response and we also get this acylation stimulating peptide, the ASP, and then another hormone called GIP. As a bit of a backdoor, we get an exaggerated insulin response from fat.

Fat is typically thought of as…we always thought about fat as not triggering insulin, it was insulin neutral. And we know now that these some of these other hormones in these molecules get in the mix, and that particular combination is a bit of a vicious circle. So insulin is going to, when the fat is around, going to trigger these ASP and GIP people, and they are going to in turn have you secrete a little bit more insulin.

Is this a big deal for every woman? I’m sure there’s a woman listening to this going, I’m eating like a ketogenic diet and I feel great and my hormones are awesome. So no, it’s not going to affect every single woman. But if you have insulin resistance, that particular combo is just harder for your metabolism.

Again, it’s not that we should never eat guacamole and plantain chips. That’s a good example. Or a burger with sweet potato fries. But if we’re doing that all the time, or like that classic Paleo hash where we got egg yolks, bacon, and sweet potatoes in the morning. It’s like that combination for some of us if we’re doing it too often, especially the more exaggerated your insulin resistance is, we can really struggle with that.

Laura: Yeah. It’s kind of funny, I feel like when people are on Paleo, they get ideas about what is right and wrong. And sometimes like you were saying with bacon for example, bacon is like, oh it’s an animal food, I can eat as much as I want. And then we’ll have clients where they’ll be afraid to eat more than half a banana because they think it’s too much sugar. I would imagine, and maybe I’m wrong, but I would imagine that eating a whole banana in the morning or at a meal or something is probably going to have less of a negative impact on hormones than eating six slices of bacon or something like that.

Dr. Brooke: Yeah, it’s going to really depend. I think we get so dogmatic about Paleo. I came to this diet when I was… Loren Cordain’s first book, well before any of our great gurus now. And it really saved me and this really was like a diet that for the first time I felt like on top of my hormones and my insulin resistance.

It’s such a great template, but we have to remember that it’s just kind of a jumping off point. It’s a really good template, but beyond that, everyone has individually, our own unique issues. Like for example, I can’t do bacon or bananas because they both are histamine intolerant foods. I am genetically hardwired to not do well with histamine. For the most part, neither of those foods work for me.

We have to first take the big picture hormones, like what this is doing to my master metabolic engines here? What’s this doing to my thyroid, my cortisol, my insulin? And that is my insulin, not necessarily what might work for you guys.

When we work with people, it’s hard because we have some biases about what’s worked for us or most of our clients. We have to always remember that’s just not going to work for every single person. So kind of honoring those master higher level hormones and then getting into like what are my preferences? What are my genetic issues?

Again, the histamine thing, we’re seeing more and more of that because more and more people have disrupted guts creating histamine intolerance, they’re having more chronic infections that are causing a low level histamine…or we can now get a hold of our genetic information.  I figured out that was the thing that was going on with me, which I knew that I didn’t do well with bananas. They made me itchy, but I didn’t understand fully why.

I do think we have to just take that good Paleo template, it’s certainly an upgrade from the standard American diet, and then we have to just work with what works with us and our own unique hormone issues. And it’s unfortunately why we can’t say here’s the PCOS diet, and here’s the thyroid diet, and here’s the CrossFit diet. We really have to take each woman as she comes.

Laura: It’s funny because like you said with the histamine piece, I mean obviously not all women with PCOS have histamine intolerance. But a food like bacon, or bananas, or even liver…I mean liver is something that we would consider a really healthy food for most women, but if you have a histamine intolerance issue, you might not be able to eat it and then you have to look for different ways you can get those nutrients in your diet.

I can imagine a lot of the women listening right now, you’re giving us all great information, but there may be some anxiety building about if there’s all this stuff going on, how do I figure out where to start? I mean obviously working with someone one on one would be awesome. But do you have any recommendations for where a woman can start if she knows she has PCOS and she wants to figure out where in her life she can really hammer into some changes first to get the best results?

Dr. Brooke: Yeah. Doing something like my quiz, again, you just go on and do it at home. You can get some information right now about these are the different hormones that are struggling. That’s been kind of my quest especially in the last few years is how do I take the overwhelm out of this? Because now women have so much information and most of time by the time someone gets to me, I’m kind of the end of the line. They’ve not only gone through their PCP and their gynecologist, they’ve probably worked with three other dietitians or functional medicine people and still struggling.

Sort of as time goes on, what happens is when we don’t rein one hormone in, then more and more dominoes fall. Most the time women are dealing with, again, multiple issues and the advice for one seems counter to the advice for another. Like the advice for insulin resistance is we need to exercise a lot and you need to not eat very much. And then the advice for low adrenal issues or dealing with HPA axis dysfunction, you’re supposed to rest a lot and eat more frequently. It’s counter, but how many women do we know have both of those things?

Looking through something like that quiz or getting testing with someone so you kind of know based on your blood work, your salivary panels, your DUTCH test, your symptoms, kind of getting a sense…and maybe you only have a couple of those pieces. Maybe there’s people listening that haven’t had any testing.

Look at the quiz and then start to see where things are going and then put it in that hierarchy. So again, address your big sources of inflammation first, honor your low cortisol. When you’re going to figure out like what do I do? How do I exercise? What do I eat? Honor the low cortisol, low thyroid stuff first. Heed that advice first. Get that healed up. Next you would heal high cortisol if you had any of that. Next you would address your insulin and then you kind of get to those more peripheral estrogen and progesterone problems.

How many women are dealing with let’s say PCOS and they’re given stuff to help their progesterone balance? They’re just given let’s say Vitex or natural progesterone cream and we’re missing all of those steps that had to happen. If we don’t address those first…first of all it takes out the overwhelm. But if you don’t address those kind of bigger picture ones, you’re never going to get anywhere with fussing with estrogen and progesterone. If you haven’t dealt with inflammation, your thyroid, making sure your adrenals are healthy, you’ve got the right amount of recovery, and then honoring your insulin resistance as far as the carb intake.

So I would say look at that hierarchy. You can see that on my Facebook page, on my Instagram page looking at that and kind of making sure you just kind of follow those steps. When your adrenals are better and you’re you’re not dealing with so much low blood sugar, can’t tolerate exercise, trouble with sleep, waking up super fatigued, when you’ve kind of dialed that stuff in, then you just kind of move on down the list.

I would say the next thing is find your unique carb tolerance. It doesn’t matter if you have PCOS or not. You really got to step away from all of that diet templates and find out again what works for you. I usually have women just address that first and know that it can change.

While insulin, and cortisol, and blood sugar, like they’re not sexy topics. Those are not new. The ASP and the GIP hormones, people are like that’s new, I didn’t really know that that happened with fat. Well we didn’t even know about those hormones 10 years ago. We’ve got cool new information. When I’m always harping on women about your blood sugar, and sleep, and insulin, cortisol, it’s so boring.

There’s a couple of reasons why I think those are so important. One is that those hormones, insulin and cortisol, they have such a profound effect on everything that flows out from that. They impact our thyroid. Thyroid is super important, too, but it’s not always something a woman can really handle on her own. We need testing and sometimes medications or higher level interventions.

But insulin and cortisol, they’re going to affect all those other hormones. They talk to us all day. We have my acronym of ACE’s: appetite, cravings, energy, sleep. When those things are off, that is mostly insulin and cortisol talking to you. We get this feedback after we eat, between our meals, when we try to go to sleep. We have this talk from our hormones all day and if we can listen to it, that’s like real time information. You don’t have to wait six weeks to get a blood test. You can intervene on that right now.

The other thing is when you start to listen to those symptoms, you can make changes in real time. Like if I’m over-eating past my carb tolerance or I’m feeling super sluggish after I have like a really heavy carb and fatty meal, I can make a different decision at lunch. So that’s just a few hours later that I can try something new and get a different result. You can start to really tune in. We’re always saying do what works for you. Well this is how you figure out what works for you.

And the last thing is we have a lot of control over those hormones. It doesn’t always feel like it. It doesn’t always feel like we can control what we eat or we can control how much stress is in our life. But when we stop and think about it, those are two hormones we have a ton of control over if we stop and kind of figure out how they’re working and really make those strides to do what works for us in terms of food, step away from our dogma, or even step away from the confusion and just start listening, and figuring it out, and then really paying attention to the many, many sources of stress in our life. When we do that, we really can have a really wide ripple effect on a lot of hormones.

Laura: And it’s funny because with food I feel like people will tend to be, they’ll get into the weeds so much with food where they’re like, I don’t know, is this too much sugar, or too much carbs?
They’re like, is it too many blueberries that is causing my blood sugar?

I’ll work with clients and I’ll see that they’re just not even eating protein at breakfast. I’m like alright, well let’s first just get some protein in that meal and maybe we’ll have better blood sugar control after that.

I think you can get a little bit caught up in all the minutia and miss the big picture. Like what you were saying about cortisol and insulin, that’s not just diet. That’s like you said, things like stress, things like sleep, things like exercise. It’s one of those things where if you get way too wrapped up in finding this perfect diet and you’re not paying attention to those other areas, you could be totally missing what’s going on in your root cause.

This is something that Kelsey and I see all the time where we have clients who are like super stressed out, or over-training, or not sleeping, or they have a job that they hate. And it’s like you can’t fix that kind of stuff with a perfect diet no matter how hard you try. I mean obviously it’s going to help if you’re eating well, but I find that a lot of women will just get like way too focused on the diet.

Dr. Brooke: Think about most of our clients. They’re willing to really micromanage their diet. They’re willing to take a ton of supplements, spend a lot of money. But they’re not willing to meditate, they’re not willing to go to bed earlier, or they’re not willing to take some stress off their plate. Maybe they make some changes in their finances that they think it would be less stressful if they do it, but it feels like oh I have to keep working towards that thing.

Those things are so much harder for people to change. We’ll get up at 5 to go to the gym when we need to be sleeping. It’s really funny and I think women are probably worse at this than men. I think we kind of suffer from this mentality of doing it all and look good doing it. There’s a lot of a lot of pressure. I’m the same way. Like I’m the last person to think going to bed early is the right choice. I should work more, I should do more things, I should get in another whatever.

And of course I’m having to change that. We were talking about teen girls and stuff, like we think kids can handle it because they’re young. And they can, until they can’t. Unlearning all that stuff now is really hard.

Laura: Definitely. Now I wanted to talk a little bit about your philosophy on exercise since that sounds like it’s a big part of the work that you do. Do you have any tips for women with PCOS in terms of exercise, either types of exercise they should be looking at, frequency, or anything like that?

Dr. Brooke: Yeah. With exercise, it’s just like the food. You have to still follow that template. You have to still exercise in a way that honors the low cortisol and the low thyroid first, the high cortisol next, the insulin resistance next, and then if there’s anything specific for estrogen and progesterone.

You start the same way. We don’t want to overdo it if your adrenals and thyroid are sad. We don’t want to overdo it if those hormones are struggling. We don’t want to do too much metabolic training if you’ve got crazy high cortisol. It’s just going to continue to drive that.

What we want to do, again, is try to make this simple. I’ve put kind of all of that information in my head and for the women I work with into a little…so there’s those five hormone imbalances and then there’s what I think is a pretty simple template for your week basically. And then you adjust these again as your hormones dictate.

You kind of always go back to this is just a template. Even my template is not perfect, but it does a pretty good job of honoring those most delicate hormones first. I have this little five, four, three, two, one. So five walks a week, four meals a day, three strength training sessions a week, two liters of water a day, and then one kind of prevailing positive thought about your body because I feel like women, of course we struggle with that, too, and I don’t want to ever forget that mindset piece of it.

The five walks, most women even like the most hormonally wiped out can tolerate walking. It’s also a pretty good hormone normalizer. It’s not going to be a type of cardio that is too much for most women. Now there are some women that it is and they can only walk a little way. So I usually try to encourage that.

And the four meals a day of course is variable. I find that four meals a day that are roughly the same size versus larger meals and smaller snacks works really well for women with PCOS and insulin resistance, trying not to overdo it at any one meal. Now if your adrenals, if you’re really struggling with the low cortisol or some of those issues, you might need to eat a little more frequently. If you’re super insulin resistant or have a really healthy metabolism, you might be able to have less meals. Maybe you’re doing intermittent fasting or maybe you do fine on just like three squares. So you adjust each piece of this template according to the hormone hierarchy.

And then the strength training is probably the place that I differ the most from other hormone experts when they’re dealing with people in the HPA axis dysfunction. I know adrenal fatigue is not a great term. We know that that’s not actually what that is, but it’s still pretty common for the average person. They know what that is.

When we’re dealing with those types of issues, the low thyroid, lots of inflammation, a lot of autoimmunity, or any of that HPA axis “adrenal fatigue” stuff, with the three strength training a week, a lot of people will say absolutely can’t do that. This person needs to walk and rest and they can’t do any strength training.

The type of strength training I find works the best…because we have really great anti-inflammatory, and hormone helping, and insulin sensitizing benefits from strength training. So I’m not just talking about weight loss, or physique, or even just the fact that strength training is so good for our bones and our longevity. We have anti-inflammatory, really good hormone effects from muscle mass and from strength training. So taking that away from someone who’s trying to lower their inflammation, and improve their health, and improve their hormones I think is sometimes a mistake.

Obviously we also can’t overdo it. The way that I recommend women start to again just honor those hormones is doing some heavier strength training, some more of like a 5X5, heavier lifts, not a lot of reps, plenty of rest. I find that most women can do that without feeling totally wiped out. Of course my sickest of my Hashimoto’s women can’t do that until we get all their inflammation dialed in and support their oxidative stress better. But for most women, this allows them to keep some muscle mass, work on some of the hormone benefits of exercise and muscle mass and not do nothing, but also allows them not to overdo it.

I have a guide on my website, The Guide To Exercising For Your Hormones, and it has that hierarchy in it so you can kind of go through that…and then a strength training template where you can also take it day by day. You take it hormone by hormone.

But let’s say you’re doing better. You can do a little bit more strength training on that day, you still honor that 5X5 and those heavier, lots of rest lifting up front. What I find that does is a woman can say okay, I feel good, I can do a little bit more today. Or I don’t feel that great, I’m only going to do this and that’s enough. You’re kind of getting the benefits without overtaxing your system.

Again, there’s going to be some variation in that. But I find that that template kind of keeps us from doing…I always want to gravitate towards lots of high intensity training. That’s what I like. I really like the adrenaline and dopamine rush. I always have. But that’s not something that really works very well for me anymore.

Many women find as their female hormones change, we don’t tolerate stress of any kind as well because we’re losing some progesterone and that sort of tempers the effect of cortisol. So many women find when they start going through menopause or they’re not ovulating right for whatever reason, we’re so sensitive to stress and some of the good exercise that we used to do for weight loss, lots of CrossFit, lots of spinning, lots of high intensity training can really kind of backfire for us.

Again, it’s a template, it’s a starting point for women. I feel like that hopefully gives them a place to start to think about it in kind of a framework, but then you just got to honor it for each individual hormone.

But that’s something that’s a little bit different with me. I know a lot of people when they’re dealing with those more delicate hormones that are low, they’ll just say you shouldn’t really do anything and I have found that that isn’t always the best.

Laura: Well and not to mention for a lot of women, not exercising at all is stressful on them because they really enjoy it. That’s something where in my hypothalamic amenorrhea program I’m going to be talking about because those recommendations happen with HLA lot where they’re like don’t exercise at all. And to be fair, I mean some women can benefit from a short break. But I find that most women don’t feel their best if they’re just not moving at all. I don’t think that’s normal or healthy. It can scare women a lot where they feel like they shouldn’t be doing anything.

Like you were saying, the kind of training you are talking about is not going to, or at least it shouldn’t overwhelm a woman’s adrenal system just on average. Obviously if someone’s got some severe cortisol dysregulation, you might have some trouble. But the average woman can do fine with three times a week.

The kind of training that you’re talking about, it’s not as sexy as like CrossFit, high intensity, that kind of thing. But honestly, it’s really effective and that’s the way that I train with my trainer. Kelsey, I feel like you kind of train that way, too, where it’s like you take a lot of rest breaks in between sets.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: Like I said, it doesn’t feel like you’re killing yourself, which for some women they feel like I’m not getting a good workout because I don’t feel like I’m dying at the end. It’s like you have to retrain yourself to not only not expect that, but also like not continue if that’s how you’re starting to feel.

Dr. Brooke: If you want to add some of that, great. I always say don’t sacrifice that other training for that. So if you do that and then you want to do a metabolic circuit afterwards or some of that stuff, do it to your tolerance as long as you’re not ignoring those other hormone problems. And we’ve all done that, right? We’ve all over-exercised at one time or another, or done nothing. I think both are really not great for our hormones.

Laura: Right, especially because you were saying with the insulin resistance piece, building muscle is one of the best ways to improve insulin sensitivity. So definitely a good thing to be doing no matter which version or type of PCOS that you have.

I feel like we could keep talking about this for another hour. We’ll have to have you back on the show. But I think we got a lot of really good information today. A lot of myths were busted about whether you should be exercising, how to be exercising, how to eat, whether to eat carbs or fat, or what kind of fat. I’m really glad that we had you on the show today.

Can you just remind our audience where they can find you and learn more about the work that you do?

Dr. Brooke: Yes. My website is BetterByDrBrooke.com. It’s “Dr” for doctor and Brooke with an “e”. Everything that I talked about in terms of the templates and that hormone hierarchy, the hormone hierarchy is on my Facebook page, it’s on my Instagram.

I get such good feedback for the hierarchy and the little template; the five, four, three, two, one. Because again, we’re just all so overwhelmed, like how do I even begin to pull this off most of the time. And then in particular, women want more information about the template or using the strength training, there is that guide on my website. BetterByDrBrooke is pretty much my handle on most social media.

Laura: Perfect. We’ll link to those resources, so your website, and your Instagram, and all that on the page for this episode.

But we really appreciated having you on today, Dr. Brooke. It was really awesome to be able to talk to you about PCOS. Like I said, I’m sure there was probably about 30 more questions we could ask so we’ll have to have you on the future.

Dr. Brooke: Anytime.

Laura: But again, thank you so much for your time and we’ll look forward to talking to you again in the future! I hope everyone has a great week and we’ll see you again soon.

Dr. Brooke: Thank you.

PODCAST: The Connection Between Emotional Trauma And Chronic Fatigue With Niki Gratrix

Thanks for joining us for episode 126 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are super excited to be interviewing  Niki Gratrix!

Niki Gratrix an award winning internationally renowned Registered Nutritionist, mind-body expert, and health writer helping people to optimize their energy. After a seven year career in financial services, she left to work in an environment with more heart and meaning and in ways that she could help more directly serve others.

In 2005 she co-founded one of the largest mind-body clinics in integrative medicine in the UK with patients from 35 different countries where she worked as Director of Nutrition until 2010. The clinic specialized in treating chronic fatigue syndrome, won the award for Outstanding Practice in 2009, and later published a preliminary study in 2012 on its results with patients in the British Medical Journal Open.

Niki has spoken in over 20 online health summits including the Abundant Energy Summit and has been the keynote speaker at live conferences internationally. You can find Niki at NikiGratix.com where she has tons of great content all about how healing emotional trauma can help you recover from chronic fatigue.

If you’re trying to break free from chronic fatigue, or wondering why health interventions aren’t working for you, today’s discussion is sure to be a game changer.

Today’s discussion is source of self discovery and empowerment as Niki Gratrix talks with us about the connection between attachment and developmental trauma in childhood and chronic fatigue. Not oly does Niki explain how how emotional trauma affects the HPA axis and how it can be inherited across generations, she also provides resources to help you determine if emotional trauma is affecting your health.

As you begin develop that awareness, you’ll be empowered to implement the techniques Niki shares to bring the body into a healing state. Just some of what you’ll learn is daily reset rituals, types of effective therapies, and the power that comes when we stop comparing ourselves to others and begin listening to our body’s needs.

Here is some of what we discussed with Niki:

  • [00:04:32] How Niki got started in the field of emotional trauma and chronic fatigue
  • [00:06:40] The spectrum of emotional trauma
  • [00:09:22] Data provided by The Adverse Childhood Event Study that backs up why those with fatigue need to address childhood emotional trauma
  • [00:12:12] How the majority of trauma comes from types of attachment and developmental trauma, and how it affects the HPA axis
  • [00:20:36] How trauma can be inherited across generations
  • [00:22:30] Findings of orchid theory research
  • [00:26:43] Aspects of diet and physical health to address to reverse the health effects of trauma
  • [00:31:54] Daily reset rituals that can help bring the body into a healing state
  • [00:40:54] The significant effect the type and quality of relationships have on healing
  • [00:45:25]  Exploring using the ACE questionnaire and Enneagram System of personality types
  • [00:51:31] Tips on how to choose a type of therapy and professional therapist
  • [00:59:50] Why it’s crucial to stop comparing yourself to others and start listening to your own body and needs
  • [01:05:57] How examining prevalent cultural belief systems and the origin of your values is part of recovery

Links Discussed:


Laura: Hi everyone! Welcome to Episode 126 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Laura Schoenfeld and with me as always is my co-host Kelsey Kinney.

Kelsey: Hey everyone!

Laura: We’re Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me, Laura, at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com, and Kelsey over at KelseyKinney.com.

Kelsey: If you’re enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that you never miss an episode. And while you’re there, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well!

And remember, we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health related question that we can answer on an upcoming show.

Laura: We have a great guest on our show today who’s going to be sharing her expertise about the connection between emotional trauma and chronic fatigue. This is a really cool episode and we’re really excited to talk about this important topic. But before we get into our interview for today, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

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Laura: Welcome back, everyone. I’m really excited to have here with us today Niki Gratrix. She’s an award winning internationally renowned Registered Nutritionist, mind-body expert, and health writer helping people to optimize their energy.

After a seven year career in financial services, she left to work in an environment with more heart and meaning and in ways that she could help more directly serve others. In 2005 she co-founded one of the largest mind-body clinics in integrative medicine in the UK with patients from 35 different countries where she worked as Director of Nutrition until 2010.

The clinic specialized in treating chronic fatigue syndrome, won the award for Outstanding Practice in 2009, and later published a preliminary study in 2012 on its results with patients in the British Medical Journal Open.

Niki has spoken in over 20 online health summits including the Abundant Energy Summit and has been the keynote speaker at live conferences internationally. You can find Niki at NikiGratrix.com where she has tons of great content all about how healing emotional trauma can help you recover from chronic fatigue.

Welcome to the show, Niki! We’re really excited to have you here.

Niki: Thank you so much for having me! It’s great to be here.

Laura: Awesome. The reason why we invited Niki onto the show was that one of our students in our Paleo Rehab: Adrenal Fatigue program had suggested her as a guest because we do cover emotional trauma as part of the program. I’m just really excited to have someone here who’s an expert in that since in that program we really only scratched the surface since there’s so much information and a lot to cover in just a week worth of the module.

But I’m really glad to hear you, Niki. Just because I’m sure a lot of our listeners aren’t familiar with you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the field of emotional trauma and fatigue?

Niki: Yeah, sure. This journey actually started for me back in 2005 when I co-founded this clinic and we were specializing in overcoming fatigue. We had the whole spectrum of patients and clients ranging from kind of people burnt out to adrenally crashed out to very severe chronic fatigue syndrome

It was actually my business partner and life partner at the time I co-founded the clinic with and he had been very ill with chronic fatigue for seven years. He had been bed bound and he found a way to recover. He had been looking at the psychology side. He did everything on the physical side. He had done diet. He had done crazy detox. He had done just everything. The piece that was missing for him was psychology, the psychology piece and actually dealing with some of the trauma aspects.

When he and I started, I kind of took over the nutrition. I was Director of Nutrition. He was the Director of Psychology. We always had these two divisions and we knew from the beginning with an illness like fatigue and all that spectrum of people that end up with fatigue, you can’t really, truly get to the bottom of it and resolve it without this multifactorial mind-body approach. It’s truly a mind-body system approach that’s needed.

We were tiny, we started in our front room. And then we ended up with thousands of patients, we had 10 practitioners, and got published in British Medical Journal. Now they’re doing an RCT, a randomized controlled trial as well.

I did run the largest ever online summit on overcoming fatigue back in 2015 where I interviewed 29 world leading experts. We covered the entire spectrum like what to do about diet, what to do about toxicity in the environment. But then we also got into the psychology side as well. We spent about 50 percent of the time covering the psychology aspect because it’s so important.

Laura: That’s awesome! We, like I said, scratch the surface with some of this stuff with our online program because we try to take a mind-body approach and not only talk about the exact diet and nutrition recommendations, but also the psychology of things.

Because like you said, there are some people out there that they might be doing everything right from a lifestyle perspective when it comes to the way they’re eating, the way they’re prioritizing sleep, the way they’re exercising, all of that, but then they’re still having this really bad fatigue and they don’t understand why. As you said, your business partner realized that the main missing piece of the puzzle for him was the emotional trauma piece.

How would you define emotional trauma? Because I think a lot of people that go through our program and in general out there listening, they probably think emotional trauma has to be something like PTSD for it to affect their health. Which obviously PTSD makes a huge impact on adrenal health even just from a physiological level, but I think sometimes it leaves people out there who would benefit from dealing with these kinds of traumas, but they don’t realize something has happened to them or they don’t realize it’s relevant.

So I would love to hear your opinion on that issue. What would you say is the spectrum of emotional trauma that people can deal with?

Niki: It’s much wider than people realize. You’re probably inferring that with the question as well. This idea like post-traumatic stress disorder is often defined as a single discrete incident that happens to somebody, or maybe more than once, but usually something that you can remember. For some people it’s repressed obviously, but it’s usually it’s a discrete incident that is a kind of single traumatic event. At the time it is too much to deal with, so parts of at least kind of stayed in the shock stage and we kind of suppressed other emotions related to it. Like it was too much at the time to deal with usually when we were children when it often happens. Most emotional trauma happens before the age of 18 in terms of the research. Obviously that’s not ruling out adult trauma. Adult trauma is important as well. But there is the most data that emotional trauma in childhood has the biggest impact on us.

With these discrete incidents, that might be things like physical abuse, or it could be a sexual abuse, or something you could see and it happened to you and it was physical. The types of symptoms you get from that will be just kind of…you do get stressed, you get into a hyper stress response, you can have flashbacks. But the truth is, that’s not where the majority of most emotional trauma is.

And before we go any more in depth, I always share the details about an extremely important study that’s totally relevant to anybody who’s dealing with adrenal fatigue or chronic fatigue just so that people have the context of what we’re talking about. And then I’m going to talk about what is the biggest chunk of what kind of makes up emotional trauma.

There was a study done called The Adverse Childhood Event Study and it was done by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente in the mid 1990s, which you can’t really get much bigger than those places. They were surveying seventeen and a half thousand adults and they basically were stunned with the results. It impacted everybody who was involved with that study. It kind of changed their lives and changes the lives of the researchers and the people who look at the study because they were essentially looking at adversity in childhood and the correlation of adult onset illnesses or chronic complex illnesses.

Essentially what they found, for example, is that you had if you had a high level of adverse childhood events, emotional trauma in childhood, you have a dramatic increased risk of 7 out of the top 10 causes of death. If you had a moderate level of emotional trauma in childhood, you have six ACEs…adverse childhood events are called ACEs…you have a 20 year reduction in lifespan. And the statistics went on.

You could have just four ACEs would lead to a 400 percent increase risk in things like depression. You would be 12 times more likely to be suicidal. You have a 400 percent increase risk of Alzheimer’s. And if you have eight or more ACEs, you have triple the risk of lung cancer and three and a half times the risk of heart disease, the top two killers in the west.

Now the thing is, ACEs in childhood, chronic fatigue is the poster child for ACEs in childhood as is fibromyalgia because essentially ACEs in childhood lead to a six fold increase risk of chronic fatigue in adulthood. This is the data that backs up why anyone with fatigue needs to be considering emotional trauma. And it starts in childhood. Don’t just look at what’s going on in adulthood.

In this study, what were they defining as an ACE? Well they originally came up with a list of 10 different things and those 10 items were just things where there had been research done. So it’s things like parents separating or divorce. I mean how many of us have had that these days? Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; physical or emotional neglect; domestic violence; mental illness in the family; substance abuse or incarceration by a family member.

Now at the time, the researchers said that wasn’t an exhaustive list. They missed off things like bullying, being a victim of things like homophobia, a traumatic birth, hospitalization if you are a young child. Very traumatic experience. It can be very traumatic for the child if they get ill and they end up in an isolation ward, things like this.

But what’s even more important is there’s a particular area called the area of emotional abuse and emotional neglect. If you speak to the world experts in trauma people like Dr. Bessel van der Kolk who’s the world’s leading expert in trauma, he’s the Head of Psychiatry at Boston Medical School, he’ll actually tell you that the majority of the trauma is coming from types of attachment and developmental trauma.

This is essentially is not bonding properly with your caregivers. And the problem is it’s not a single discrete incident like you get with PTSD. It’s more what we call ambient type of trauma. It’s a relational trauma. So it’s kind of present all the time and it doesn’t have the same symptoms as what you’ll see with PTSD.

So one of the things that attachment trauma will lead on to…attachment trauma is when we don’t bond with the caregiver anywhere up between sort of conception through to about four years old. Up to four years old, the brain is offline. We exist in a pre-cognitive state. We’re just an emotional being, a baby with emotions. At age four the cognitive brain starts to come online. So a trauma that happens at the emotional level before the age four is called attachment trauma. That leads on to developmental trauma. And this is really more what we see with people who can end up with burnout.

Developmental trauma is to do with, it can be a loss of sense of self and identity; trouble regulating anxiety, and emotions, and depression tendencies; trouble relating to others; trouble identifying needs and articulating them. Some people it leads on to even things like ADD, ADHD, that kind of thing, and self-esteem issues. Some people go down the rage route of route and kind of just basically difficulty in regulating emotions.

It also leads on to addictive behaviors. Now with a major trauma, stuff like physical neglect and things like this, we know that if you have a bad childhood, you have a sevenfold increase risk of becoming an alcoholic. You are eleven times more likely to use injection drugs. But there’s a lot of types of addictions that are much more subtle than that. Sometimes it’s an addiction to people pleasing. Sometimes it’s an addiction to anxious productivity. Sometimes it’s an addiction to feeling like you need to always be there for other people, it’s unsafe to express yourself and it’s unsafe basically to take care of your own needs.

This is what we found in the clinic where certain personality traits if you like that are more prevalent in the fatigue community where you see this, it was a coping mechanism for feeling unsafe, neglected, and abused in childhood.

Just a parent who doesn’t express love, doesn’t express compassion, doesn’t see you as when you are a small child, and support you, and express love caring connection. There’s nothing physical that happened, just that withholding, which is a form of emotional neglect, that leads on to the child not getting a sense of self, not getting a sense of safety, and then it leads on to this kind of problematic behavior.

If you look at monkeys…and they’ve done experiments with all kinds of animals; mice and monkeys, and they’ve recreated the circumstances of attachment trauma. They would take the baby monkeys away from the mother too soon, so they recreated separation and attachment trauma. What they found is that you literally, it resets the neuroendocrine immune system from the day the trauma happened.

In other words, you have a heightened stress response, you have an increased cortisol output to a lower level of stress. So your threshold for what causes you to have a stress response lowers and you have an increased stress response for longer. So your entire HPA axis is reset from the date the trauma happened.

Now the problem is for most people attachment trauma isn’t even in their memory so they can’t ever even remember it happened. But Bessel van der Kolk’s book is called The Body Keeps The Score. Very telling. You may not remember, but your unconscious remembers and your body remembers.

What you then might find is through childhood and into adulthood, you’ve had this heightened stress response. You’ve actually been in a level of what’s called complex PTSD, which is this other array of symptoms; anxiety, depression, difficulty regulating…it could be self-esteem issues. You become an over-giver, you become an overachiever, you become a perfectionist, these kind of behaviors and that leads on to basically a lack of self-care. And ultimately you set up your lifestyle in a way that doesn’t take care of you and you end up burnt-out. My business partner called it sort of energy depleting psychologies. It’s not your fault. It’s something that happened to you.

It’s a gigantic part of the picture when we assess. Essentially it’s when you get to compliance…like you put a protocol together and you want people to be compliant. These kind of traumas when they go unseen and resolved, you’ll find people sabotaging the protocol unless you deal with the trauma.

And you need to switch off the heightened stress response. So either they’re in high cortisol, or they keep being in high cortisol and then crashing, then they come back up again and get well again, and they go back into high cortisol. It’s learning to regulate the stress response which often can require going back into looking into things in childhood.

If we’ve had trauma in childhood, it reduces our resilience to the inevitable stressors that do happen in adulthood. Trauma does obviously happen in adulthood. How we are set up for whether we bounce back or not is often to do with, partly and at least, what kind of childhood we had as well.

Laura: Wow! That’s definitely a huge topic, obviously. It sounds like there could be just books and books written. We actually looked at Bessel van der Kolk’s book for our program and obviously, like I said, we just got a little bit of information in there and recommended the book to our students.

It’s crazy because in the research that we were doing, we saw that even traumatic or stressful events during the mother’s pregnancy can affect a child’s then later stress resilience, that kind of thing. So I always find it interesting. I work with a lot of clients who will try to make adjustments in their life and maybe they want to start exercising more intensely, or are they try to do a diet to lose weight, that kind of thing, and they basically tank their HPA axis. And they don’t understand why they can’t do something that someone else is doing at the gym the same exact way, and they look great, and they feel great.

I think this emotional trauma and emotional stress piece is probably something that affects a lot, a lot of people. Like you said, if there’s things like divorced parents that could cause this issue, that’s like 50 percent of the population in this country.

If you’re one of those people out there that’s questioning why things aren’t working for you the way that they work for other people, or if you go too low carb, or if you do too much CrossFit that you feel like garbage, then this might be something worth looking into. You might have that childhood stress that actually leads your body to not tolerate other stressors later in life. I think this is a really important topic for people to understand.

Niki: Speaking to what you just said there, the study, the big, huge CDC, Kaiser Permanente study found that first of all 67 percent of all adults said they’d had at least one ACE, and that was an underestimate because they missed out issues. But also when you actually ask somebody, were you emotionally neglected as a child, you don’t know if your mother had a trauma when you were in utero. You can’t remember. So it’s very difficult to self-report. Somebody might be listening to this and kind of looking back and thinks, well I can’t really think of anything.

The other thing to be aware of is that trauma is inter-generationally inherited. So third generation survivors of the Holocaust victims, for example, have the same physiological the psychological expression as the grandparents who were in the Holocaust. You find this wherever there’s been war or famine.

This major mainstream study is now showing that the impact of that, the epigenetic impact actually passes down sometimes between 7 and 12 generations of progeny. So if you think about perhaps mum was carrying something that she’s never told anybody, something that traumatized her, that it actually was in her energy field, it was in her DNA if you like, it changed the epigenetic expression. We do inherit some of the environmental changes that impact our DNA. Some of that does get passed on to our children as well. So it’s kind of something else to be aware of.

Another thing I’ll just mention as you guys also spend a lot of time on nutrition, just when it comes to emotional neglect, for all the people that are assessing…like if you ask somebody, how is your childhood? That’s like asking somebody, how’s your diet? They’re probably like to say, okay.

Laura: Yeah.

Niki: That’s about as far as it goes. As a skilled practitioner, you’re like can you please keep three days of diary and I’ll have a look. And then you look and it’s like, whoa, a lot is going on and it needs to be improved. And that’s generally what’s found with people with emotional neglect as well.

Part of the problem with trauma is that there’s a huge amount of disassociation that happens. It was too painful to feel at the time. But a little kid, a four year old being abandoned by parents emotionally, they’re going to take that as a feeling, there’s a level of abandonment, depression that comes with that. They need to do the work. It takes work. They need to kind of delve into it.

There’s one other thing that I’ll mention as well. It’s very relevant to this group, your group that you’re working with. There is a group of about 12 to 14 genes, SNPs, single nucleotide polymorphisms, gene mutations that appear in 50 percent of the population or less. There’s definitely a few SNPs around that actually cause an increased stress response.

In other words, it’s the group that they would call themselves often highly sensitive people. They’re just more sensitive. They’re more sensitive to other people emotionally. They’re more sensitive to chemicals. They’re more sensitive to basically everything in their biological environment as well as emotional as well. And they’ve definitely seen there’s a genetic propensity to that. These people that are highly sensitive types, they often might have this particular gene group.

But there’s some very provocative, very interesting, profound research coming through that actually shows…they’ve been talking about dandelion children and orchid children. Dandelion children are kind of you can throw the seeds anywhere in pretty rough land and the dandelions tend to grow and thrive anywhere. And then orchid children need special care. They’re the gifted ones. They are the ones with a specific…they need greenhouse care.

The amazing thing the researchers are showing is that when the orchid basically gets the bad childhood, they are most likely to be very negatively affected by it. If they don’t get good support, they wither. They are not like the dandelions. They will end up with some kind of chronic illness, or they’ll end up addicted to some kind of drug, or they’ll end up in jail. That’s what the research is showing. On the other hand, when the greenhouse care is given, they become some of the most successful, creative people in society and they surpass the dandelions.

I was so happy to see this because so many of my patients and clients have been, they’re kind of oh I’ve got all this sensitivity, and it’s a pain in the neck, and it’s a noose around my neck. They see it as a weakness. The truth is I can help people to reframe that into the fact that it’s actually a gift, believe it or not. It causes all this trouble, but in truth it truly is a gift and you’ll be able to do things that other people can’t do with the right environmental changes. These environmental changes, the sort of things that you’re talking about in your program, the things that I would recommend, the psychology and the physical side as well.

It was such amazing research. It’s called the orchid theory. We’ve been talking about that a lot in the chronic fatigue community as well.

Laura: I’ll have to get you to send some links to these because I hadn’t heard of that orchid and dandelion theory. I feel like it makes a lot of sense with a lot of the clients that I work with, and probably a lot of the people that I know, and myself personally where it’s like things that would probably not bother another person can cause a lot of stress, and a lot of anxiety, and a lot of that like perfectionism, that kind of thing.

Which if you’re just in the normal environment…at least in this country, I don’t know how other countries are…but in the United States where there’s a lot of pressure to perform and to have a lifestyle that’s very go-go-go especially for women, and mothers especially having that very self-sacrificial kind of expectation, I think a lot of people don’t thrive in that kind of environment. But they think it’s because there’s something wrong with them as opposed to looking at it like the way that you’re explaining where there’s nothing wrong with them. In fact there are some things that are really awesome about them. But you just have to set up your environment a little bit, well maybe significantly differently than somebody else might to get good results.

I feel like a lot of people really struggle to look at that in a positive way and to take control over their environment. And they try to kind of stick themselves, like you said, planting an orchid in a dandelion patch. It’s like you’re not going to do well in that kind of lifestyle, so you really need to make it an effort to make your lifestyle support your needs.

Actually, I think that would be a great segue to hear some practical information from you because I don’t want to necessarily freak people out and make them think, oh, 12 generations ago trauma affecting me now. I mean that would make someone feel like they have nothing to say or no control over their current situation. I always like to bring it back to what people can control.

What are some of the big environmental contributors to whether or not someone like an orchid type person is going to thrive?

Niki: Great question. By the way, I also tell people who are orchids, it’s like finding out what make and model your car is.  I talk Ferraris like the orchids of the forest. They don’t drive well off-road. The Land Rover can drive off road, you take it anywhere. But it can’t go 200 miles an hour down a straight road. So that’s just another way…feel empowered by their maker model.

In terms of steps, the great news is this is reversible. The impacts of early life trauma is reversible. You can change the epigenetic expression. There’s something called neuroplasticity so we can change the way that our brains are sort of wired and so on, which is the great news.

The fact that something was inherited…and anything that happens to you in childhood is not your fault. And that’s the message from the epigenetic piece as well. It’s not your fault. But in this moment it becomes your responsibility that you’ll have to sort of own it.

But what’s fabulous to consider, by the way, is that when you are resolving a trauma and you inherited it, you’re resolving it for your entire family lineage. You’re also ending it being passed forward to your children. Pat yourself on the back for doing this because it’s actually changing the kind of consciousness in your family, and ultimately even you’re changing the culture.

So much trauma is also culturally passed on. It’s just how we used to bring up kids. Some of the ways that we brought up kids in the 60s were pretty awful. There was a time where we’d leave kids just to cry and there was this idea like don’t intervene and pick up the child, things like that. It was emotional abuse doing that. Anyway, we only know that now of course.

But in terms of what people actually do, steps they can do. It’s very important, I always just emphasize when you have this early life stress or emotional trauma, it changes this neuroendocrine immune system which leads on to….when the HPA axis switches into a chronic sympathetic nervous stress response, basically you’re down regulating the rest, digest, detoxify parasympathetic side.

That will lead on to the [inaudible] that you showed in the data that will change your gut bacteria, that will lead to intestinal permeability. That will change your cortisol output such that it will suppress immunity and can allow opportunistic infections. It would trigger something called the cell danger response which is where the mitochondria start to switch off and they actually sort of bunker into a survival mode and they start to sort of under-produce ATP…a huge new area to look at in fatigue.

The point being that you do need to address and reverse inflammation. You do need to look at your diet. If you’ve got leaky gut, if there is intestinal dysbiosis, if you’ve got digestive symptoms, all of these things to do with rest, digest, detoxify, those should be addressed at the physical level because this is extra help to reverse that. These are things that could have been going on for many years and they need a physical intervention to reverse that. You’re reversing the physical impact. Seeing a functional medicine practitioner or seeing a naturopathic type of practitioner is all really important.

Things like inflammation, like chronic inflammation that may be coming from the gut, that will be a contributing factor to depression. The body is a system. So what may have started with emotional changes, your body starts to manifest that. Your body is like a mirror of what’s happening to you emotionally so it turns on the inflammatory pathways and so on. And now you’ve got that vicious cycle if you’ve got a physical cause of depression, but you might also have an energetic, emotional depression going as well. It can kind of get complicated.

The other thing is when we get this chronic HPA axis dysfunction, it will lead to blood sugar imbalances. It will lead to hyper cortisol or low cortisol. Going in there looking at the adaptogenic herbs, assessing for thyroid, balancing your blood sugar, looking at the diet that’s the right proportion of ratio of carbs to proteins, that’s part of recovery for the impact of trauma as well. Just kind of reiterating that that’s important.

The other thing that’s really so critical, it’s the most important thing, it’s so important for the orchids out there is you need to learn to, on a daily basis we need to bring our body into a what we call a healing state. Most of us don’t realize just how much of the time we’re in a stress state. So healing state, stress state, and everything you do on the [inaudible] won’t work as well if you’re in this chronic stress state.

Now if you have a lot of stuff, like you’re overwhelmed in your life around you, the type of stress that most people associate with stress; too many phone calls, demands from other people, kids, looking after kids. Just the day to day stress that the research actually shows looking at PET scans, that that is the equivalent of one ACE. If you’re living in that kind of thing constantly, it’s the equivalent of one adverse childhood event. That’s also having an impact.

We have to do what we call daily reset rituals. It needs to become a way of life. These sort of things I’m going to talk about are like ways of life ongoing, especially for an orchid. It’s things like you need a daily practice of timeouts 20 minutes a day, 20 minutes twice a day that are resetting the brain into a healing state. The big ones are tai chi, yoga, meditation. Qigong is another one. Another huge one is breathing exercises. There needs to be something you do every day. It’s part of what you do when you exist in the world.

If you don’t do it, the stress is going to accumulate. The HPA axis is going to be in a chronic state of stress. These kind of reset rituals, these are ones where they have a huge amount of data behind them. There’s a brilliant study…alternate nostril breathing, diaphragmatic breathing are all fabulous, simple, straightforward. You could do it five to ten minutes a day. They’re practical brain resets, HPA axis rituals.

There was a brilliant research recently that just came out and was published in Science, which is like the top journal in the world. It showed the neurons in the brain are observing how you breathe. And if you’re breathing very fast, those neurons tell the brain there’s a problem. It’s like the saber tooth tiger is coming after you.

So if you start to do the slow breathing or things like alternate nostril breathing, the neurons get the message everything is safe, so they tell the brain to calm down. That’s with this excessive thinking, overthinking, that kind of thing.

These kind of rituals, I encourage people to like feed your emotional soul. They’re not so much brain reset, but in a way they are. I get people to write a list of at least 10 things that makes them feel joyful that it’s not something where they have to work at it, they’re not proving themselves, anything, they can’t fail at it, they’re not competing with themselves over it. And it’s something not left brain. It’s something right brain and it’s just joyful. Because if you’re doing those kind of activities regularly, daily if you can, you’re sending a message to the amygdala and the limbic part of the brain, which is assessing for this stress and for survival, you’re telling the amygdala everything is okay now.

It could be sunbathing, it could be forest bathing, it could be swimming, it could be walking, it could be dancing, it could be spending time with uplifting people. For some people it’s sex. For some people it’s having a nap. For some people it’s actually making something with their hands, art, music, something like that. It might be having a hot bath with candles. For some others it might be a joyful sport, but it can’t be compassive. These kind of activities are just joyful.

We tend to forget the joy factor. We’re so busy on that program to lose weight or achieve, achieve, achieve. In a way you’re feeding that play time. You still have an inner child and the inner child is still there. Part of feeding the soul, the soul is very connected to the inner child. If you kind of ignore it, it will start playing up and there’ll be parts of you that cry all the time, parts of you that suddenly feel depressed all the time, parts of you feeling anxious all the time that the world’s not a safe space. You need to tend to your inner child. So that’s the kind of practical thing.

Laura: Yeah. I just wanted to mention that that’s something that I see in my clients a lot. It’s one of those things that I don’t think they’re even expecting when I ask them about it. Because I’ll ask them, I’ll start to get the sense that someone doesn’t really have anything in their life that they enjoy just from a fun perspective. And when I ask them about it, a lot of times it’s really hard for them to even come up with something that they think is enjoyable. You just gave a list right there some really awesome things.

Another thing that can be really tough, and I’m sure you see this a lot in the kind of people you work with, is that when someone’s really tired, they don’t feel like they have the energy to do something that’s fun. Can you just speak to that really quickly, like what kind of recommendations you would have for someone who maybe has chronic fatigue or is tired all the time, how can they start bringing some of that joy into their life even without having that physical energy to support it?

Niki: You’d big surprised. What can often happen is part of the difficult issue of pacing. You can’t recover from chronic fatigue if you’re not pacing your activities properly. What people are will end up doing is they’ll schedule in the work they can do and they just schedule in all the unjoyful stuff in the limited period of time they have.

I encourage them to go further that and say no, you’ve got to schedule in time for holiday, schedule in time for some joy stuff, schedule in rest time. And that means time you’re perhaps cutting back even more on some of the should’s, musts, and have to’s. But where possible for people, bringing in help for other people to do things that they can’t do so they can offload things.

The other thing I will just mention for people who are fatigued as well quite in a serious crash condition, that’s traumatizing in itself. It’s one of these that’s very overlooked and it’s actually part of the psychology work that my partner developed that we can get in a state of fearful about our own symptoms. We can get in a state of fearing of crashing. So what we’re actually doing is we’re now perpetuating the illness because of focusing on symptoms and the fear of crashing. The fear of crashing is more stressful on your system than actually physically just overdoing it having a bit of a blip.

We talk about bouncing the boundaries in pacing so that every now and again you do want to try doing a little bit more to see if you can. It doesn’t matter if you find you do too much. You just have a little blip and you’ll overcome that.

But what can happen is somebody is already got hyper stress response then they are in crash mode. I’m just saying there’s other patterns as well to look at. I’ll touch on this a bit more in depth in the last point that I’ll make about getting professional help. It’s my fifth point. I’ll talk about what people can do looking at that.

I’ve got very sick people and actually they’re so focused on the symptoms. Sometimes they can go do some art and then they forget all about their symptoms for 5 to 10 minutes. They go, I forgot that I can do that. It’s like yeah, because you’re so focused on recovery that you’ve made your entire life about recovery. Actually, what you focus on is what you get. Sometimes you need to distract yourself. What you’ll find is even if it’s just watching 10 minutes on TV…think about Norman Cousins who recovered from a very serious autoimmune condition through watching “Candid Camera.”

I have 10 things people should do to uplift themselves emotionally and like watching hilarious comedy YouTube videos even for 5-10 minutes a day, it’s like Norman Cousins kind of helped found psychoneuroimmunology, the study of mind-body medicine. He laughed himself to wellness. That was the healthy fact about him.

Usually I find when we start to dig into people say I’m too tired to do it, we dig in and then we find something, and we usually find a period of time they can do it. And then they do it and find out it’s like they totally forgot about the fatigue for 10 minutes. That’s a really healthy thing to do because we want to remember what it was like when we felt good and want to expand those periods of time. That’s part of recovery as well. It was a good question.

I have like five points that I usually have, like five practical types of steps. The other one that is really important, which is kind of like my point on before, is you really have to look at your relationships with other people. I call it the problem of OP, other people. You’ll be amazed. I mean you probably know this, you treat a lot of people as well. Essentially, think about the type of trauma. A lot of trauma is attachment trauma and it leads to in adulthood, having that type of attachment trauma often having people around us who aren’t always healthy for us. In fact, you might even call them energy vampires.

Type 2 on the Enneagram, and I’ll talk about that as well, they’re the giver types. One of the ways type 2s distract themselves from their own problems is they tend to give to others and they spend a lot of time caring for others. You want to kind of look at people around you and start to notice who makes you feel up and who’s actually bringing you down. Who’s not supportive?

There is there was a landmark study done of over 300,000 adults showing that the quality of your relationships was a bigger marker of survival and health than BMI, how much you exercised, how much you drank, whether you were diabetic or not, whether you smoked 15 cigarettes a day. Just take that in. So it’s one of the most robust findings in mind-body medicine is that conflictual relations actually directly suppresses your immune system.

Unfortunately, a high proportion of people who had emotional trauma in childhood, you’re more likely to attract the narcissists and actually energy vampires. I have people who their recovery stopped because they couldn’t get this person out of their life or they weren’t ready to walk away yet.

So be very careful about who you’re hanging out with. Who you hang out with is who you become as well. Consider that. So if you’re around people who don’t support you, or other sick people who aren’t positive, who aren’t doing anything to recover, who constantly just complain about it, these are the types of things that will bring you down.

Laura: One thing, just to jump in on that really quick, there’s definitely a double edged sword with these online communities of health issues. I’ve seen this in a lot of my clients who they’ll learn a lot and they get the support from other people who are dealing with a similar condition, but I’ve also seen it where it causes them a ton of stress to be constantly interacting with people who are always talking about health stuff or specific conditions, like maybe it’s SIBO, or maybe it’s chronic fatigue, that kind of thing.

I don’t want to discourage people from getting involved in those kinds of communities because I think having some level of understanding of other people is really important. But I think from what you were just saying, Niki, it would sound like if that’s your main support system right now and it’s just people who have the same health condition that you do, that could potentially be keeping you feeling ill or keeping you focused on your disease when maybe you should start working on focusing on other relationships that maybe you don’t talk about the illness or have some other level of positive support that have nothing to do with that person’s experience of illness.

Would you agree with that? I’m just thinking what I’ve seen in my own clients.

Niki: I think it’s hugely important. It’s this whole issue around…I’m for people if it’s appropriate and relevant to them, if they do have chronic fatigue syndrome, to get the diagnosis. I think that’s important because it tells you how to work with that and transcend it.

The thing we don’t want people to do is for it to become their identity. It’s like they become that and then they live there. That is pointing to what you just said there that there are some people where it does become their identity and it almost becomes something they don’t want to let go of because some people have been ill for very, very long…long periods of time. It comes to the point where it’s their identity and it’s almost like they can’t let it go because that fear of the unknown. It comes to that point.

It’s getting the balance right. There’s a balance between doing things and becoming aware of them so that you can transcend this condition, and at the same time spending plenty of time focusing on things that aren’t illness related if you can. Even if it’s just five minutes a day to start out with, it’s very important.

I’ve got two final points. One that I should have said at the beginning, very important. The number one thing, practical thing to do with this whole emotional thing, the emotional trauma side of things, step one is explore. Go and do the ACEs questionnaire. Go on my website, completely free. NikiGratrix.com/acescore. Completely free. You can total up how many ACEs do you have. I’ve got an extended questionnaire on there showing the ones that they missed off. I’ve got another extension on there saying, okay, what about attachment trauma? Is it possible I had attachment trauma?

Explore, ask your parents stuff. You’ll find out stuff that you had no idea about. Ask about their lives. Ask about their pregnancy. Ask about what their grandparents’ lives were like. Start to know who are you and what influenced you.

The other thing I encourage people to do, we use this system of personality typing called the Enneagram system a lot in our clinic. The reason is it’s a typing system. It’s not based on behavior. It tends to be based more on why people do what they do, not just what they do. The Enneagram type, “ennea” stands for nine, it means nine, and there’s nine different types. We found four particular types that are particularly prevalent in the fatigue sort of crash community. Perfectionist is type 1. Type 2 – the giver, type 3 – the achiever, and type 6 -the anxiety type.

There’s a brilliant book at EnneagramInstitute.com. You can do a questionnaire on there. The one they do there is 12 bucks. You’ll find free ones online as well. Enneagram Institute is probably the best one out there.

You’ll start to look at traits like, oh, I’m the giver type, I’m the perfectionist type, I’m the achiever type. But there’s a book called The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Don Riso and Russ Hudson who are the founders of the Enneagram Institute. Literally they take you on a journey back to this is what happened in childhood to somebody who ended up with perfectionistic tendencies. This is what happened in childhood, this is what the parenting was like for somebody who ended up going to the giver type, and so forth. You’re starting to find out who you are on this subjective level and it’s a journey of exploration.

Some people are like you’re going to end up typing me so I’m categorized. It’s the same thing. The reason we’re doing the definition, we’re giving you the definition, that’s power because that’s how you transcend it. By defining and giving you the definition, you can see clearly your own patterns.

It’s amazing, people who actually can’t pace or won’t pace because what it does is it causes them to go straight into some of the shame and fear based toxicity and the kind of abandonment depression that they had from childhood. Often this is this is unseen and unrecognized. It’s very unconscious in people especially with emotional neglect where it’s not like what someone did, it’s what parents didn’t do. It’s like what they didn’t do, and that’s so much bigger very often.

By the way, the emotional neglect piece, if you even talk to people who…there’s one woman, a lady called Teal Swan, she was tortured and raped, ritualistic abuse between age of 10 and 20. It was a terrible story. Anyway, she now is a spiritual kind of teacher and she talks about trauma. What you’ll hear from a lot of these people with very serious trauma, they say it’s the emotional abuse and neglect which is the worst piece, not the physical stuff that happened. The hardest thing is this emotional lack of connection that happened. John Bradshaw, the great inner child therapist, called it soul murder. So we need to be connecting back to that inner child, the soul self. But it’s layers that we end up going through.

So when somebody is sick and they can’t pace anymore, they can’t do what they did before, it brings up, it’s like they’re being unmasked. When we had this abandonment trauma in childhood, we come up with strategies to cope and earn love. So essentially when we get rejected or abandoned by our caregivers, we become perfectionists. We have to do something to earn love.

Or we have the giver type who they find they can only get love by giving it first. That’s what their childhood experience taught them. Or someone else, they can never get safety, they never feel safe and they must constantly worry about everything. It’s the if they worry, it will be okay, kind of thing. And then there’s the achiever the type; I must achieve and get status.

Now the thing is, when somebody crashes with fatigue, you don’t have that ego protection anymore. The giver can’t give. The achiever can’t achieve. What happens is that gets a mask and it brings up a lot of stuff. A lot of people, they actually find they can’t pace and that’s some of the reasons why they can’t stay compliant on a plan.

The giver will keep discounting their own needs and will keep helping everyone else more than themselves. Someone can’t do the pacing and you can’t recover if you’re not getting proper rest and you don’t put the joy time in. You’re not doing your daily reset rituals and you’re not taking the time to do the dietary changes. Do you see how those things they kind of smash into each other?

Laura: Yeah.

Niki: This is how people don’t stay compliant on the plan. And they’re also stressed anyway and nothing’s working as well because they’re in a stressed state. So yeah, exploration.

This is leading to the last point of journaling, by the way, writing about everything that you go through that.

Another site I’ll also…it’s a great site I came across recently: Adult Children Of Alcoholics. It’s AdultChildren.org. There’s an entire 12 step program for people who’ve had emotional neglect and abuse. I encourage people to go look at that website because you can actually join local meeting groups that are really positive. I’ve been looking into it.

Last point: what about getting professional help? Some people if it was a lot of trauma, if it was early, fairly intense, getting some professional help is a good idea. The good news is there’s plenty of good help out there and there’s plenty therapies which work. But you need to be picky and you need to remember you are in charge. When you’re looking into a type of therapy to do, interview the practitioner and make sure that you have a free 15 minute chat. If for any reason you feel uncomfortable or it’s not the right practitioner for you, you don’t have to work with them anymore. You can move on to someone else.

There are certain different types of therapies out there. If you know discrete incidents, you can remember discrete interests, and you think that they are things that happened, and you changed behavior after that, you know it wasn’t the same since, some of the therapies are really good for discrete incidents like that.

EMDR is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. That’s a conventional kind of energetic based therapy that traditionally trained psychologists do. There’s tons of information online about that. EFT: Emotional Freedom Technique can be very good for that, that’s those kind of specific incidents.

Sometimes going to speak to a trusted friend, or counselor, or a psychotherapist can do wonders, just speaking about things you’ve never spoken about before. That can really help too with, the trusted right type of person.

Bessel van der Kolk’s huge thing right now is he’s a huge fan of neurofeedback. That’s a more expensive type of therapy. It’s work for ambient types of trauma that’s more attachment relational type stuff. It’s expensive though. You probably need a couple of sessions a week for 20 sessions for it to reach its maximum and they might cost 100 to 200 bucks for each one. It’s an investment so it’s something you’ll want to look into.

It works really well for if it was a lot of trauma and it was early and you know there’s a degree of like developmental trauma that’s happened, that kind of neurofeedback can make an amazing difference.

I mentioned psychotherapy. The other one that’s really great is looking into somatic experiencing and that’s Peter Levine’s work, which is amazing work. Peter Levine is the world’s leading expert on trauma. He’s written a book well-worth reading called Waking The Tiger and it’s about how people, basically we have this fight, flight, and freeze response. But when we have trauma, there’s parts of us that freeze up and it freezes into the nervous system and the nervous system is stuck in a state of frozen stress. And this is where we get muscle tension. That kind of unresolved trauma that also manifesting into muscle pain and tension, that’s so much energy taken away from you holding that freeze state. That’s going to be fatiguing itself and no diet is going to fix that, by the way. This is why you need this kind of multi-factor approach.

His approach is a type of body work where you learn to sense into and feel what’s happening in the body and feeling emotions as well as how that manifests. How you hold tension? Where does anxiety exist in the body? How does it feel? And you gradually learn to release that. All the kind of mindfulness training…a lot of this work is mindfulness training, so emotional mindfulness starting to notice how you’re feeling, connecting with that daily, also mental mindfulness.

One last therapy I’ll just talk about touching on people if right now you are in a crash state of fatigue and you know that you are actually pretty traumatized by the condition that you’re in right now, so you’re focusing a lot on symptoms, you’re feeling out of control, you are constantly focused on symptoms and feel stressed by them, you’re in a cycle of stress, it’s affecting your sleep, you’re feeling hypersensitive to it, and you’re scared about crashing; that is really where there’s whole lot of what’s called stop techniques were created for people specifically with fatigue. It’s Neuro Linguistic Programming techniques.

One of the best ones out there is Amygdala Retraining by Ashok Gupta. There’s another process in the UK if you’re based around there in Europe, it was called the Lightning Process. They’re all based around the same thing. Annie Hopper has Dynamic Neural Training as well. There’s also a guy doing the same kind of thing, I think it’s Daniel Neuffer in Australia. It’s all the same thing. You’re basically doing an NLP stop technique to stop the feed of chronic thinking.

I have a free e-book that you can get where all of those resources are laid out with all the websites. If people want that, I can give out the link for people to go and find it. ‘

Laura: Yeah.

Niki: Its’ a free e-book and it’s everything I just talked about. It’s called The 7 Steps of Healing Childhood Emotional Trauma and Rebuilding Resilience. In the back there’s an appendix with all of the professional types of work including the Amygdala Retraining, Lighting Process, and all that as well.

Laura: That’s awesome! We’ll definitely link to where people can get that free e-book as well as some of the different things you’ve mentioned such as the ACEs questionnaire and some of the studies that you mentioned.

I think there’s just been so much information covered in this podcast and I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there that are hearing things that really maybe are sparking some thought that they haven’t really dealt with some of this stuff.

Kelsey and I both work with people on health and a lot of it has to do with nutrition, and exercise, and sleep, and all that stuff. I know for me personally, a lot of times I’ll be going through work with somebody and I’ll see this stuff. I’s not that I would say that I’m going to replace a professional help in this situation because this isn’t my area of expertise. I would definitely recommend if somebody has these kind of traumas to go find someone who does one of these techniques that Niki talks about in her e-book. But I feel like even just being made aware of this is really helpful for people because like you were saying before, a lot of people, they get into the situation where they blame themselves for not recovering well or not being able to be as productive.

Or like I know personally being a self-employed, entrepreneur type business owner, a lot of times I’ll get a little bit frustrated or stressed because I feel like I should be working harder or I feel like I should be achieving more based on what I see other people achieving in this kind of field. And I think what you had said before about recognizing what your needs are and being willing to prioritize those and not necessarily comparing yourself to what other people can do or like what kind of environment people thrive in is really important.

For me I know I’ll get sick if I work too hard. I know today I’m actually recovering from a sore throat. Last week I had worked a really, really busy week and I just feel like that was what happened is I got sick. And it tends to happen. I think that’s one of those things for me where I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that maybe I won’t have the kind of business that these other people have or I won’t be as successful financially as those people will. But having that understanding of what my needs are and what things actually really make me happy, which for me, yeah, money’s nice, but I would rather spend time with my husband, or my friends, or my church, that kind of thing than be on the computer working 50-60 hours a week.

I feel like when people get to the point where they acknowledge what their needs are and they acknowledge that there’s stuff going on that they need to deal with before they can fully recover, then they won’t waste their time comparing themselves to others. They won’t waste their time trying to micromanage their diet and exercise technique because it’s not going to give them the results that they’re looking for.

Like I said, we’re not looking to solve anyone’s childhood trauma with this podcast. But I think if there’s just some awareness that people develop from listening this, then I think it’s a successful outcome. Would you agree with that?

Niki: Yeah. It’s so interesting what you were saying there, Laura. I’m in the same position as you as well and it’s very interesting. It’s the FOMO, fear of missing out. The irony is what we need to teach others is exactly what you said which is if we want to help others, part of that is getting them to stop comparing themselves to other people.

It’s so unfair actually to you as an individual because your background and the childhood that you had is going to be so different from somebody else’s. When you just reduce yourself down to being compared to someone else that you have no idea about…often when we look at other people, how are we judging them? We’re looking at their Facebook profile, we’re looking at maybe what they look like they might be earning. And yet we really don’t know what’s going on in the inside of that person. They could be miserable.

Laura: Right.

Niki: It’s The Emperor’s Clothes idea, that let’s call them on it and actually they’re really unhappy. I think when you do get into the flow of happiness and you start listening to your own body, like you just said, you know that you can get a cold every time or you get a bit sick when you’re working too hard. Many people with fatigue, they miss those cues. They’re not connected to those cues anymore because they’re this externally focused thing.

Part of the recovery is learning to listen to your own body signals and then kind of respect it and say well that’s more important and what so-and-so is doing or whether I’ve achieved this, that, and the other. We’re were actually battling part of a cultural issue there. This cultural fatigue is happening and this kind of achiever. I totally relate to that kind of like, oh my gosh, I’m so behind everybody else! It’s like, hold on, hold on a minute.

And actually, I’ll just say this is very interesting. We could do a whole podcast just about this. But when you do start putting boundaries in place, and you start listening to your own body, and doing what makes you happy, more good things flow to you. It’s kind of this law of attraction type of  thing so you start sort of manifesting what you want through attraction, which means that you are happier, your energetic vibes, your vibrating at a higher level. So you’re going to attract people, incidents, things to you that are at a higher vibe. You’ll get sort of opportunities come your way, but you’re manifesting without all the effort.

It’s kind of like the last step in kind of recovery is when you go back out into the world….I call it manifestation through the heart. It’s like we need to bring the heart back into healthcare. That’s what we’ve been talking about this whole time. But there’s also bringing the heart back into manifestation and kind of our creative abilities as well.

It does really work. Emotions are magnetic and you’ll attract people, situations, opportunities that you won’t, ironically, when you’re working your butt off kind of feeling miserable and you’ve gone into this contracted state where know you’re fatigued.

That’s the other piece. The final piece of this jigsaw is when people do start going back out into the world, it’s so much like this thing…nothing’s more important than feeling good. It’s a little mantra that I often carry around with me to remind me to go and do the fun stuff every day and then amazing things come in.

I’ve got stories that will blow your mind about that, about achieving things, about getting into docu series, like after I had turned it down because I felt ill. It was this major documentary series and they wanted to interview me. It was a major guy whose like got the biggest health site in the world. I just felt really ill and tired, and I didn’t want to go into the middle of downtown L.A. in the middle of the weekend. So I turned it down and I felt sort of proud of myself. And then I thought, oh my gosh, I’m such a loser. There’ll be people who just think, why did you turn that down, that opportunity? Anyway, two weeks later they sent a film crew to my house.

Laura: Oh, nice!

Niki: They said we want to speak to so much, we’re coming to your house. I was like, thank you, universe. That’s just an example. When it’s meant to be, you attract it.

Laura: Yeah. I just wanted to mention before you said you don’t know what other people are experiencing or if they’re even happy. I feel like even if they are happy, like you could be looking at someone that you’re almost comparing your life to and it may be that they’re extremely happy and they really do enjoy their life. And it’s not that they necessarily have to be miserable or anything like that, but you have to think about would you be happy if you had their life?

I know for me, like I was saying before, I’ve worked with some business coaches and been in some entrepreneur type experiences where I hear stories about what other people are doing. And it’s funny because I know it’s supposed to be like that’s what an entrepreneur does, but when I hear stories about people working like I said up to 80 hours a week on their business, I just think to myself, I’m like that sounds awful. I would hate that.

And it’s so funny because it’s not that that person hates doing it, and maybe they get a ton of joy out of it and it just is like why they get up in the morning, and that’s awesome. But I feel like regardless of what other people are experiencing, if they’re happy, unhappy, working hard, successful, not successful, I feel like really at the end of the day you have to think about what your values are.

I just talked to another client about this like last week, for example, where he just felt guilty that he was taking time off from his business to spend time with his daughter, who I think is like two years old and she’s not in school yet. I was really hammering it into him that like it’s okay for that to be your value. And the fact that you’re just feeling guilty that you’re not earning a lot of money right now, that’s what’s stressing you out. It’s not the time with your daughter, because he really enjoys spending time with his daughter.

I think that that example just shows that if you can get really clear about what your values are, and what makes you happy, and what doesn’t make you happy, and like you said what makes you feel good on a daily basis, it doesn’t matter what that is. If that’s working 80 hours a week on your business, then great. But if that means that you work 30 hours a week and the rest of the time you spend with friends or you have a hobby that you enjoy, I really feel like people have to be much more focused on what their needs are and not be always comparing themselves to others and what everyone else is doing.

I think that’s really where the issue comes in is putting expectations on yourself to do something based on what other people are doing, or what somebody else makes you think you should be doing and not respecting what your boundaries and needs are.

Niki: I think I couldn’t agree more. There’s a lot of mindfulness often needed. Mindfulness in the sense of….That example you used of the client who was guilty about not working, where did he get that value from? And what’s very interesting, you could probably track that back. Maybe it was his dad, or maybe it was a teacher at school, or maybe it was multiple people all giving him that message and he just automatically took it on as a valid directional belief that he has.

So many of us have that and we’re not actually, saying hold on a minute. I’m going to examine this. Where did I get it from? What’s the validity of it? Does it apply to me in this present moment in my life right now? So what we’re doing is a lot of this recovery is actually unpicking cultural belief systems. This is where it’s like the relationships, who you hang out with, the social impact is so important.

Moms and women, we have the whole set of cultural things on us as well about who we should be at different times in our life, what makes us valuable or not. A lot of people that get sick because the cultural values are actually not supportive of the individual.

Being mindful, spend a lot of time kind of doing that. Question everything. So some of these come in, you’re feeling that, don’t take it for granted that that’s something that you have to live by. Where did it come from? It’s all been passed onto you from someone else. By the way, look at those other people’s lives. Were they happy? Were they healthy? Probably not. And they may be not living an example of a type of life that you really want.

That’s where the empowerment piece comes in. It’s giving yourself permission to choose your own values. We were incredibly programmed right now with cultural beliefs. It’s kind of an awakening process to that; awakening to oh my gosh, I’ve believed this my whole life and it was just because my mom did and that was faulty anyway, this kind of thing. Really important point you made there as well.

Laura: Like you said, I feel like we could do another hour talking about this stuff because there’s so much out there and it’s so interesting. And like I said, having really developed a business that’s focused on physical health, like just the amount that I see of the mind, and soul, and spirit piece coming in there and really making if not like more of an impact on a person’s overall health and happiness.

Obviously as a nutritionist I understand if you’re eating bad food you’re not going to feel good, but I feel like a lot of the work I end up doing is helping people realize that their diet is okay and they should move on from that and not worry so much about it anymore.

Like I said, I feel like we could do a whole other podcast, and maybe we will. Maybe we should plan to have you on in the future and we can cover some more of these awesome topics.

Niki: Yes.

Laura: But it’s been awesome having you on, Niki. I just feel like all the stuff you were talking about really resonates with the work that I’ve done with my clients and what I see at the ground level with individuals affecting their health. It’s just really cool to hear about all the different research that’s out there and the techniques that have been developed for dealing with this kind of stuff.

Because as we said earlier, we don’t want people to feel stuck or feel like, oh because my parents or my grandparents were stressed and had a bunch of issues going on, that I’m screwed. We want to make sure people understand that you do have control over what decisions you make at this point with the knowledge of what’s happened to you in the past.

So, really awesome having you! And like I said, I would love to send people to your website to learn more. Where can people find you?

Niki: It’s just NikiGratrix.com.

Laura: Awesome. Well we will put all your links in the show notes. But otherwise, it was so great having you. And like I said, we’d love to have you on again in the future.

Niki: Thanks so much, Laura. It was great to connect with you, too. I really enjoy it and be more than happy to come back if we think it’s a good idea.

Laura: Awesome. Thanks, Niki!

Niki: Bye!

PODCAST: Using Diet And Lifestyle To Get Your Period Back And Improve Bone Health

Thanks for joining us for episode 125 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are answering following question from a listener:

“Is there a case for taking oral birth control if you have amenorrhea? I have hypothalamic amenorrhea and early onset osteoporosis, so the supplemental estrogen would be for bone health. I lost my period at 16 and was put on birth control, but went off it a year ago to try and get my period on my own, but no luck. My bone density never improved while on birth control, but the doctor’s argument is that it could have been worse. Can post birth control syndrome last longer than one year, and is trying to get my period back with diet and lifestyle foolish considering bone loss risk? Some details” I’m 26 years old, 5’ 8”, 125 pounds. I’m 100% Paleo for 2 years, no refined sugar and moderate/low carb, for example, one piece of fruit and about a cup of starchy tuber tubers most days, slowly upping it.”

In an effort to treat amenorrhea and reduce the risk of bone loss in young women, many doctors prescribe birth control as the solution. But did you know that using birth control to regain your period and improve bone density is actually counterproductive?

If you’re on the pill for amenorrhea or considering starting, join us for our conversation today to hear diet and lifestyle modifications to get your period back and improve bone health.

Today’s discussion is packed with information and tips on how to regain hormonal and bone health such as key micronutrients and the importance of appropriate caloric and macronutrient balance. We also talk about the female athlete triad and other lifestyle factors that affect amenorrhea and bone density.

And be sure to listen as Laura introduces her new “Get Your Period Back” program for more in depth guidance in dealing with amenorrhea. You’ll hear an overview of the program and learn how to get started!

Here’s what Laura and Kelsey will be discussing in this episode:

  • [00:04:53] The lack of evidence in research that birth control improves bone density in pre-menopausal women with hypothalamic amenorrhea
  • [00:07:59] How bone loss in young women is most likely related to malnutrition
  • [00:08:56] Diet and lifestyle factors that are the most likely causes of amenorrhea and bone loss in pre-menopausal women
  • [00:12:09] The female athlete triad and how disordered eating is a main component
  • [00:15:31] How a woman’s period is a barometer for health
  • [00:18:45] The prevalence of post birth control syndrome
  • [00:21:32] How ensuring appropriate caloric intake with balanced macronutrients in relation to activity levels is key to help improve bone density and regain periods
  • [00:32:25] How a moderate level of exercise is key for hormonal and bone health
  • [00:35:12] Micronutrients that are important for bone and hormonal health
  • [00:37:39] Lifestyle factors such as sleep and stressors that affect amenorrhea and bone density
  • [00:45:09] An overview of Laura’s new “Get Your Period Back” program and how you can sign up

Links Discussed:


Kelsey: Hi everyone! Welcome to episode 125 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Kelsey Kinney and with me as always is my cohost Laura Schoenfeld.

Laura: Hi everybody!

Kelsey: We are Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence-based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me at KelseyKinney.com, and Laura at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com.

Over the next 30 to 45 minutes we’ll be answering your questions about health and nutrition, and providing our insights into solving your health challenges with practical tips and real food.

Laura: If you are enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that way you never miss an episode. And while you’re in iTunes, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well. And remember we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health related question that we can answer on an upcoming show.

Kelsey: Today on the show we’re going to be discussing the role that birth control plays in recovering bone density in women with hypothalamic amenorrhea. This is an incredibly important topic and we’re excited to tackle it today. But before we get into our question for the day, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

This episode is brought to you by Paleo Rehab, a five week online program designed to help you recover from HPA axis dysfunction, also known as adrenal fatigue. Is your perfect Paleo diet and lifestyle leaving you exhausted? Now is the time to start feeling the health and wellness you know you deserve. If you’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and are ready to take back your health, then head over to MyPaleoRehab.com to get your free 28 page e-book on the 3 step plan for healing from adrenal fatigue. That’s www.MyPaleoRehab.com.

Kelsey: Welcome back, everyone. Here’s our question for today’s show. This question is from Katie. She asks:

“Is there a case for taking oral birth control if you have amenorrhea? I have hypothalamic amenorrhea and early onset osteoporosis, so the supplemental estrogen would be for bone health. I lost my period at 16 and was put on birth control, but went off it a year ago to try and get my period on my own, but no luck. My bone density never improved while on birth control, but the doctor’s argument is that it could have been worse. Can post birth control syndrome last longer than one year, and is trying to get my period back with diet and lifestyle foolish considering bone loss risk? Some details” I’m 26 years old, 5’ 8”, 125 pounds. I’m 100% Paleo for 2 years, no refined sugar and moderate/low carb, for example, one piece of fruit and about a cup of starchy tuber tubers most days, slowly upping it.”

Laura: This is a great question and I picked it because I’m knee deep in the research on hypothalamic amenorrhea right now. Just the question that she asked about whether or not it would be foolish to try to make diet and lifestyle changes to get her period back rather than taking taking birth control, I just thought that that was a really important question becuase I think this is something that a lot of doctors unfortunately make their patients feel like they’re in danger if they don’t take birth control in that situation.

A lot of women don’t necessarily develop osteoporosis at this age if they have amenorrhea, but it is possible that that can happen. A lot of doctors will say if you’re not getting your period, you’re at higher risk for bone density loss, and here, take this pill to get the period back.

We had done a really awesome couple of podcasts with Dr. Jolene Brighton and Dr. Laura Briden on this topic. I just wanted to continue the conversation because I think this is something that it’s really unfortunate that this is the message that women are getting from their doctor that if you don’t have your period and you want to protect your bones, you better take birth control.

When I was doing the research for this question, I actually could not find any evidence that taking hormonal birth control actually improves bone density in pre-menopausal women with hypothalamic amenorrhea.

Actually there was some research showing that women in the 19 to 30 year old age group that their mean bone density was actually lower when they had longer birth control use. The bone density that they measured was lowest in women who had been using low dose birth control pills for longer than a year.

Kelsey: Wow!

Laura: Yeah. There really hasn’t been any research to support the idea that using birth control, or these synthetic hormones in general, that it would make any difference in bone mineralization in women that are pre-menopausal.

I feel like this is something that I wanted to get out that information to our listeners because that’s a main sticking point for a lot of women who basically get convinced to take birth control for amenorrhea is they’re worried about their bone health. But honestly, there’s really no evidence to support that it makes any benefit.

If your doctor is suggesting that you take birth control to recover your bone density, according to the research this isn’t actually going to help. Not only are you masking the problem that’s going on so you’re essentially covering up the symptom that you’re having of not having a period from potential diet and lifestyle reasons, but based on that research at best if it’s not doing anything, there’s no point of taking it. And at worst, it could actually be causing reduced bone mass in those women.

Using the pill to prevent bone loss in women, I think it’s kind of just crazy. What do you think about that Kelsey?

Kelsey: I’ve always been kind of mind boggled by this whole idea of oh you don’t have a period, here take this hormonal pill that will make you “have a period.” But it’s not a real period as we’ve talked about in our other interviews that you mentioned earlier.

And then this whole idea about bone density to kind of scare women into taking it to get their period back, yeah, it’s utterly crazy to me because as you just said, there’s no evidence that it does anything to help that situation.

Honestly, to me it does really feel like kind of a scare tactic when women are questioning like should I really do this? Is this really going to help anything? Or like you said, or is it just masking what’s really going on and I’m not going to be able to heal anything because I’m not seeing these symptoms and I’m not able to notice if any sort of diet and lifestyle changes help me to recover my period? I think it’s totally insane.

Laura: I feel like this girl, Katie, or woman I should say. I don’t know how old she. Oh, we do know how old she is. She’s 26. Obviously her question being would it be foolish try to do it with diet and lifestyle, I’m not saying that there aren’t other things that she could try doing on top of that, but I actually think it would be foolish to not change her diet and lifestyle to try to get her back.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: Honestly, like I said, from the research that I’ve done and just the other type of conditions that can lead to bone loss in women that are younger, my feeling is that bone loss is far more likely to be related to malnutrition, especially in Katie’s case, than it would be low estrogen levels.

There’s a lot of evidence supporting the connection between eating disorders like anorexia and bone loss and osteoporosis in women that are in the 18 to 30 year old range. That’s not a normal disease for women at that age to be getting.

Like I said, if you’re getting it and you don’t have your period as well, it’s a pretty good sign that malnutrition is likely at least part of the problem. That’s why I think diet and lifestyle not only isn’t foolish to think about, but it’s probably actually the most important thing that this lady could be doing to get her period back and to recover her bone health.

Kelsey: Yeah. I have a question for you, Laura.

Laura: Sure.

Kelsey: When I see women who aren’t having their period, typically the most common things that I notice across the board with them is, like you said, malnutrition. A lot of times there’s tons of stress and then potential over-exercising. Are there any other factors that encompass diet and lifestyle that you tend to see that people should be considering here?

Laura: Yes. The ones that you mentioned are definitely going to be the top factors. The calorie balance piece is probably one of the biggest. I just wrote a blog post on the female athlete triad, which I can talk about in a second, but that’s a super common cause of amenorrhea especially in the populations that I work with, I’m sure in the population you work with as well where it’s a combination of over-exercising and under-eating. It’s that calorie mismatch of burning too many calories and not eating enough that actually leads to the loss of the cycle. That tends to be one of the bigger ones.

And like you said, stress is definitely involved. I don’t often see women that lose the period for more than a month or two from just stress.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: Certainly you can be irregular because you’re stressed out, but to develop amenorrhea without some other factors is I would say less common. We’ll talk about other things that affect bone health because I wanted to give Katie some ideas about how to improve her bone density. But a lot of those things actually make a big impact on the amenorrhea issue as well.

There’s things like circadian rhythm entrainment, which I’ll talk about in a few minutes. Stress definitely is going to impact both the menstrual function as well as actually bone density because cortisol directly acts on bone. Stress and sleep. I mean it’s kind of all the major things that we normally talk about on our show. But essentially malnutrition, appropriate training, stress management, sleep, and circadian rhythm entrainment.

And then there are some things that can also trigger amenorrhea that maybe aren’t as obvious. I’ve seen things like SIBO that was maybe not causing a amenorrhea directly, but perhaps preventing somebody’s period from coming back especially in a post-birth control syndrome type situation. That’s I think largely to do with the impact of the bacteria in SIBO blocking estrogen clearance in those women.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: That’s one that can cause amenorrhea, which that tends to be more of a PCOS type amenorrhea for those women. It’s not always, but it seems to be whereas this kind of low bone density hypothalamic amenorrhea tends to be in those women that are over-training and under-eating.

There’s so many different things that can help with getting someone’s period back, but ultimately the foundational stuff for most women is really going to be their food intake and their exercise routine.

Kelsey: Yeah, got it. Cool. I just wanted to sort of overview that for people who maybe weren’t sure if there were other factors they should be considering here.

Laura: Yeah, absolutely. Like I said, I just published a couple of weeks ago an article which I’ll link to that in the show notes so people can check it out if they want. But again, it’s about the female athlete triad and specifically athletes who lose their menstrual cycle.

The female athlete triad is three different symptoms or situations that come together to form this syndrome essentially. It’s defined as disordered eating, menstrual dysfunction or amenorrhea, and premature osteoporosis. The osteoporosis they believe is caused by a drop in estrogen production. I do think that some of that is directly impacted by malnutrition during that disordered eating.

Women don’t have to have a diagnosed eating disorder to be defined as disordered eating. They may just be under-eating or a little bit overly conscious about their diet. They may have some level of orthorexia. So it’s not that they have to have anorexia, or bulimia, or anything like that. They just have to have some level of inadequate food intake that’s kind of purposeful. I mean accidentally under-eating can happen, but that doesn’t usually happen unless somebody is purposefully restricting certain types of foods, so that would be disordered eating.

Kelsey: Yeah. I see that a lot. I don’t work with generally people who are currently dealing with an eating disorder, but I deal with tons of people that have sort of more minor issues with disordered eating but still lead to really big symptoms and problems like hypothalamic amenorrhea. I assume you do as well. Do you work with people with eating disorders as well?

Laura: I would say I’ve worked with women who had been through treatment for an eating disorder and still had some disordered eating. I don’t normally work with women who are in the midst of a serious eating disorder because I think those kind of issues really need one on one in person or even like inpatient treatment at an eating disorder clinic.

But if somebody has a history of eating disorder, I’ve worked with those kind of women before. A lot of them have made big strides, but they don’t necessarily have everything under control or they still have some lingering problems that are affecting their hormonal function.

I actually feel like this female athlete triad is an issue that’s really under-recognized in the Paleo community. I know Steph Gaudreau from Stupid Easy Paleo has brought it up a couple of times. She has like this women’s strength summit group that I’m a part of and she’s mentioned it a few times. I’ve seen it in some circles. Probably the Paleo For Women Podcast talks about this kind of thing.

But honestly, I feel like it’s something that probably doesn’t get as much attention as it should and one of the reasons is likely because of these women who are using these hormonal contraceptive options that actually masks the symptom. So if you don’t get amenorrhea because you’re taking birth control, you wouldn’t even know if you were getting the female athlete triad. Most people are not aware of disordered eating in their own situation unless it’s really severe to the point where they seek help.

And osteoporosis, I mean honestly unless you’re fracturing bones or you’re getting bone scans, you’re not going to know if you’re losing bone density. So really the menstrual cycle is the only thing that most women can have as a direct sign that they’re developing this female athlete triad, and using birth control totally takes that out of the picture. You’re masking the symptom.

I like to say that having a period is sort of a barometer for young women’s health. So if you’re not having a period, you can assume something’s going wrong.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: I don’t want to scare women. I’m not trying to say this to be like freaking women out, but it is something that I think is not taken seriously enough. And again, a lot of doctors, the solution they give you is birth control pills and we’ve already established that that’s not actually going to solve the problem. It’s just going to mask the symptoms.

Kelsey: I think periods, they kind of suck, obviously. I think a lot of us would be happier without them generally. But I think because of that many women view a period as kind of just this like nuisance thing that we have to deal with rather than having, like you said, a barometer of her health.

I think that’s a really important point to bring up because it is such a marker of what is going on inside your body whether your body is happy and in a non-stress state enough to the point where it can think about longevity and the future of bringing children into the world. That’s what your body needs to feel to be able to create a period basically. That’s a really, really good marker to pay attention to. Yes, periods are annoying, but they give us a lot of really great information that we should be paying attention to.

Laura: I think the other issue is women who aren’t planning on getting pregnant any time soon, or maybe at all, they don’t really tend take it seriously. I find that a lot of the women that come to me with amenorrhea, it’s because they want to get pregnant and obviously that’s a huge barrier to getting pregnant if you’re not menstruating. So that’s when it becomes serious for them where it’s like, okay, I really need to do something about this because it’s preventing me from getting pregnant.

Whereas a lot of women that are younger, or again, if they are looking at the menstrual cycle as being an annoyance or a nuisance, then they probably don’t care if it’s missing. I don’t blame them. Like you were saying, having a period can be kind of annoying.

Now if you’re having bad periods, that’s a sign of something going wrong, too. So if they’re like super painful, or really heavy, or just like you feel awful on the day of, that’s another sign that there’s stuff going wrong. I’m not going to touch on that because that’s like a totally different issue than amenorrhea. But it is something where if you’re not having relatively comfortable menstrual cycles, then that’s potentially a sign of some hormonal imbalances or other issues going on.

But like we said, amenorrhea for sure is a sign that something’s not working. And like you were saying, with energy reserves and your body being comparable with the possibility of getting pregnant, if it’s not, if there’s anything going on with the energy intake, or if you’re under a lot of stress, you’re not sleeping, whatever’s going on that your body perceives as something that would be dangerous to pregnancy, it’s going to slow down or stop your menstruation. That’s why it is such an important indicator of overall health for women and not something that you should just like not care about if it’s not happening or if it’s super regular.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: She had asked about post-birth control syndrome. That was something that Dr. Brighten….It’s funny because it’s Brighten and Briden, and I’m like which one is it? Maybe Dr. Briden and talked about it, too. Honestly, both of these podcasts are ones that women should listen to.

But I remember Dr. Brighten was mentioning that if a woman goes on birth control for irregular periods, that she has I believe it’s a 37 percent chance of not getting her period back on its own when going off birth control.

There’s a lot of stuff that can be done to help that post-birth control syndrome, but that lasting longer than a year is not unusual. It’s not great and if you haven’t had your period and in three to six months after stopping the birth control pill, you need to be figuring out what’s going on. Is it amenorrhea? Is it a gut infection? Is it detox issues? But definitely not unusual to see that happening for longer than a year if nothing’s being done about it, which it sounds like Katie is at this point where she’s not even sure if she should be doing diet and lifestyle changes for this issue.

I’ve definitely seen quick recovery of menstrual cycles in a post birth control syndrome state when things were put in place to not only support health, but also to support hormone detox, that kind of thing.

I did want to address Katie’s concerns about her bone density since I know that’s what her main question was is how to not only get her period back, but to help with this osteoporosis since it is somewhat of a dangerous condition especially at her age.

Osteoporosis is generally an older woman’s disease. I think the stat I saw is that 1 in 2 women at some point in their life when they’re post-menopausal will develop osteoporosis. So it’s very common in older women, not that it’s healthy or normal. I think osteoporosis probably develops in later life due to a lot of things including hormone balance when we’re younger, malnutrition, that kind of thing, not exercising enough, all that.

But if you have it when you’re in your 20s, that’s pretty scary because you’re not supposed to have a major loss of bone density in that time. In fact, you’re really supposed to be putting your peak bone density on in your 20s up till basically age 30 is when women get their peak bone density. Setting yourself up for good bone density by your 30th year is going to help with your bone density across the rest of your lifespan. I’m not saying this to scare people who have low bone density. I just want to make it clear that this is something that’s important for long term health as well as short term health.

With bone density, there’s a couple different things that can really help with young women that have amenorrhea to not only get their periods back, but also to improve their bone density. I do have an article on Chris Kresser’s website that I’m going to link in the show notes that talks about general strategies for improving bone density if you’re on a Paleo diet. That one is just general for all ages. It’s not necessarily specific to women who have the female athlete triad level of osteoporosis. But it is relevant because it’s similar in terms of the types of nutrients that help, the types of issues that cause it.

Again as I was saying before, eating enough calories to match your physical activity levels is probably the number one thing that I would say women need to figure out. For some women that means they need to simply just eat more and they can keep doing the activity that they’re doing. For other women, they actually really do need to reduce their activity levels significantly to be able to match the calories in/calories out.

That’s just because if you’re eating a Paleo diet or any sort of whole foods diet, it’s really hard to get enough calories without supplementing or without doing some kind of non-food option to match really high activity levels. I’m thinking about women who are like training for marathons or doing CrossFit 6 days a week, something like that where you might need like 3,000 calories a day to support your activity.

Kelsey: I even seen people who maybe they’re not even doing that level of activity, buy maybe they’re doing like 4 or 5 days of CrossFit a week or something like that, and otherwise they’re fairly sedentary so they feel like they’re not moving all that much and not expending that many calories.

But for somebody who feels like they literally can’t get 3,000 calories in or 2,500 calories in, I find that sometimes the better option is to actually bring down their exercise at least for a time until they get used to eating more that’s a little bit higher than where they are right now. But they don’t have to go all the way up to like 3,000 where that feels totally ridiculous to them at that time.

Laura: Right. I mean really it’s just about the balance. So if somebody is able to eat enough to support their activity levels, then great. And if they’re not, then the activity has to change.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: A lot of women I work with, probably similar to you where they don’t think they’re super active and they’re confused, they’re like I don’t feel like I work out that much. Why would I lose my period? They don’t realize that they’re still just under-eating for the amount of activity that they’re doing.

Kelsey: Exactly.

Laura: That helps with amenorrhea, but it also helps with bone density simply because if you’re not getting enough food intake, you’re just not going to be in an anabolic state in general. And if putting on bone density or bone tissue is your goal, you do need to be more anabolic state for that to happen.

Same goes with muscle. I mean any part of your body that you’re trying to rebuild, you need energy to build it. So if you’re under-eating in any sort of energy, either not eating enough or exercising too much, and then being in the calorie deficit, that’s going to affect your body’s ability to build anything, and bone is definitely part of that.

Another issue, and I don’t know if this has more to do with the amount of calories women get or some specific benefit of balanced macros. I don’t know how it would have an impact bone health beyond getting enough protein, but I do find that most women if they’re too low fat or too low carb, it’s just impossible for them to get enough calories to match their activity levels. So that’s why I think balanced macros can really help with bone density just to make sure you are eating enough. And again, higher protein intake can help with increasing bone density just because bone is made of a lot of protein as well as minerals. So a low protein diet actually can reduce bone strength.

And the other side of the coin there when we’re talking about amenorrhea…and like I said, I mentioned this in this blog post on the female athlete triad…is that insulin signaling actually tells our body whether or not we have enough energy to reproduce.

If you’re eating super low carb and your insulin is always low, you’re actually telling your body even if it’s not true from a calorie perspective, you’re essentially telling your body that your energy stores are low, that you don’t have a lot of food available, and that ovulation wouldn’t be something good to invest energy in. So low insulin levels from very low carb diets, especially if you’re active, that can potentially trigger amenorrhea even if your calories are not super low.

Low fat is the same way where if you’re really low fat or if you’re just eating junky fats and not eating whole food fats, and saturated fats, monounsaturated, some polyunsaturated from whole foods, having any sort of fat deficiency can affect how well our bodies are able to create hormones.

I don’t see that as much in my clients because I feel like we tend to get the Paleo crowd that’s all about the healthy fats, but it is relevant to include that because some people still do avoid fat because they think it’s bad for them.

So just getting balance macros in general is really good for both amenorrhea and bone health. Do you have anything to add about the diet side of things there?

Kelsey: I guess I’ll just put a little hope out there in that I have worked with so many women where like that’s all it takes. And I think we’ve talked about this before, but I think for some women it can feel really overwhelming to kind of start to work on this and get their period back and oftentimes they’re very scared of increasing calories or increasing carb intake, things like that.

But seriously, I’ve had so many women that like the increase in calories, once they’re consistently doing that…and consistency is very, very key here because we want to basically tell the body that it’s okay to ovulate, it’s okay, there’s no stress, we’ve got enough food, things are good. That does so much and I’ve had tons of women who just get their period back with increasing calories or increasing carbs. Oftentimes that goes hand-in-hand with maybe a little bit of lowering of exercise and focusing on stress, but the big underlining key here is that calorie intake.

I just want to throw that out there that I know this can seem really daunting when you’re first starting this and it can be scary to increase your calories and kind of change your macronutrients around, but it makes such a big difference. And it’s often at least from like our end in terms of figuring out what’s going to help people, it tends to be a really, really easy fix for many, many women. Of course there are others where we really need to start thinking about other things that I’m sure you’ll go into in a second, Laura. But for many women it can simply be that they’re not eating enough calories.

Laura: Yeah. It’s funny, it’s fun for me to work with those kind of clients because I’m like, oh yay, don’t have to do like a million functional tests and like rack my brain for what’s possibly going wrong with this person because it’s fairly easy to fix those situations.

Now of course, not everyone is that easy. There are some people who they do this and they don’t see the results and this is where some other factors can come in that can help. But I always like to hammer home the calorie balance piece because I felt like even when we say it, it’s it still doesn’t always translate to people and they still have a really hard time with the implementation side of things.

Kelsey: One other thing just harping back on that consistency piece, I’m wondering if you see this a lot, too, Laura, where like sometimes I’ll have women they get their period back for like a month, but then like it will go away for a little while. And usually once we do a little digging, we find out that you know they were tracking their intake for a while making sure they were getting enough calories every day, and then that sort of went to the back burner. They kind of forgot about the tracking and suddenly like the period is gone again.

To me, I just often see that it’s hard for people to be really consistent with the calorie intake especially if you tend to under-eat unless you’re tracking to make sure that you’re eating enough.

Laura: Right. When somebody gets their period back, I think they’re in a few months’ worth of this somewhat fragile state where they go back to old habits, or something happens that’s stressful, or something like that that they can lose it. So it’s always worth going back and checking what does my food look like right now? What does my exercise look like?

I mean again, not the only things that affect it. I’ve had some clients before that had all that on the right balance and were doing what they needed to do there, and they had a gut infection, or they had hypothyroidism, or they were traveling a lot and they were changing time zones, stuff like that.

It’s not always just the food, but it’s always worth checking back and making sure that you are still being consistent. I don’t want people to think they have to be perfect and get like if you need 2,400 calories every day, then if you get 2,300, you’re screwed or something like that. It’s not that hardcore as far as like every day needs to be perfect, but it’s just an overall trend of eating enough that really makes a big difference for women.

And it all depends on the day. I mean if there’s a day that you’re not really doing much and you eat a little less, should be okay. If there is a day you’re pretty active and you eat more, that might be better for you. So it’s not something that has to be so rigid.

It’s just when I work with clients, a lot of times they just don’t have any idea what they’re supposed to be eating and they’ve never even looked at what they’re currently eating as being a problem. Or they think because their plate is full of food that they must be eating enough. Or the fact that they eat to appetite, then of course I’m eating enough because I’m not hungry.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: But if somebody has any sort of history of disordered eating or under-eating, their appetite drops and maybe their stomach size shrinks a little bit so they don’t have as much room for food. They feel full and they feel not hungry, but their body is still in a calorie deficit.

It can be really complicated and confusing, but it is something that again, once you’re able to fix the problem, for a lot of women it turns around pretty fast. We don’t want people to feel like it’s impossible, it’s just it takes some level of effort and awareness and not just again eating to appetite or eating what you think is enough without double checking for sure.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: The exercise piece is interesting because I think there’s a lot of information out there that for hypothalamic amenorrhea suggests that women shouldn’t exercise at all. That’s something that I don’t find to be the case for most of the women that I work with. A lot of them do have to reduce their activity levels and that’s usually women who are training a lot or just really, really active and really need to bring it down a couple of notches.

But for most women, a normal just moderate workout routine where they’re doing some strength training a couple of times a week, maybe doing a little bit of moderate endurance….I say moderate endurance, generally that is more short runs, so not long distance running, but maybe a couple of miles at most, longer walks, that kind of thing, cycling. Generally not longer than an hour per activity I would say I would keep in the moderate category. If you’re doing much longer than that every day, that’s getting into the more endurance training type of exercise.

And so if they’re doing a couple of days a week of a combination strength training and moderate endurance, and then they have a couple of days off, for most women that’s perfectly fine. And again, if you’re calorie balance is there and you’re training several days a week, but not every single day, I don’t think that generally leads to amenorrhea for the average person.

And with bone density, strength training is something that’s super helpful for improving bone density. So that’s why I wouldn’t want someone to not exercise at all if they have osteoporosis or if they’re heading in that direction because I feel like even though you might get your period back faster if you just totally cut out exercise, you may have a worsened bone density because exercise in moderation does help with improving bone density.

I just like people to be aware of that because like I said, if you Google exercise and amenorrhea, a lot of times it comes up saying don’t exercise, like just stop exercising for months. I just feel like even if that is helpful, I don’t feel like it’s realistic for a lot of people. I know I would be pretty unhappy if somebody told me not to exercise for a couple of months.

Kelsey: Yeah, I’m sure.

Laura: Which both of us have experienced in the last couple of years with our car accidents where we had to stop exercising for a period of time. It’s like no! So miserable.

That’s something that you just have to get into a routine that is appropriate. And again, that’s going to depend on the person, going to depend on how stressful their life is, what they’re able to eat, any other concurrent issues. But I don’t want people to just lay around all day when they have a memory. That’s usually not helpful for more than like a week or two.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: And then again, I have this article, so I don’t want to go into a ton of detail. But it’s the one that I was mentioning with Chris Kresser and it’s called “How To Keep Your Bones Healthy On A Paleo Diet”. But I do talk in more detail about some micronutrients that are helpful and it’s ironic because these ones are also helpful for amenorrhea.

Calcium and magnesium are two minerals that are…I mean everyone knows that calcium is important for bone health, not everyone knows that magnesium is as well. But both of those are pretty important nutrients for bone health. A high mineral intake in general can be helpful.

I have a post on my website about calcium and how there may be a lot of women doing Paleo, or doing dairy free, or something like that that actually don’t get enough calcium. I think it is a little bit more common than the Paleo community admits and I have some solutions in there for figuring out what your calcium intake is and how to bump it up to what’s appropriate.

But I’m not opposed to calcium supplementation if somebody is not getting at least 800 milligrams a day. I don’t think you need to be taking like 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams of calcium supplementation. But if you get like an average of 500 in your diet, then taking a couple of hundred extra to get up to 800 for most women I think is not a bad idea, especially if they have poor bone density.

You definitely want to combine that calcium with the fat soluble vitamins. Vitamins D and K2 are the ones that help make sure that calcium gets into the bone and doesn’t get into your arteries. D and K2 are more directly involved in calcium metabolism in that way, but I do think vitamin A is another nutrient that doesn’t get quite enough attention in the overall nutrition community. I find A is extremely helpful in an amenorrhea, too. So hormone production, any hormone deficiencies issue, I think vitamin A is a great thing to look at either in your diet or in your supplementation. And then again, the D and K2 is going to help make sure that calcium gets into your bone where it needs to be.

So those are just some basic nutritional guidelines. Again, they’re not complete. There are certainly other supplements and dietary strategies that can help with amenorrhea and bone density, but those are some of the more basic ones that I think are important. Anything you wanted to add there Kelsey?

Kelsey: That was perfect, Laura.

Laura: Okay. And then like I said, there are some other lifestyle factors that will affect both amenorrhea and bone density. Sleep is always important for everything. We just had a great podcast interview with Dan Pardi about sleep and how circadian rhythms in general affect your health. Those definitely affect both amenorrhea and bone density.

Sleeping well directly impacts bone density because it affects melatonin production. Melatonin actually impacts the actions of these cells called osteoblasts and osteoclasts, which are the cells that essentially build up and break down bones. It also interacts with estrogen. If you’re not sleeping well and you’re not producing enough melatonin because you’re not sleeping, that may actually affect how well your body is able to build up its bone.

And again, circadian rhythms, I feel like they impact everything.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: It’s unfortunate because I feel like in my own personal life they’re probably like the least well controlled of any of my health inputs. But they are so important and if you get a lot of disruption there, that can have a huge impact on your hormone signaling, but it also would impact your melatonin.

We did have a bunch of really good tips with Dan Pardi’s interview, so definitely listen to that one. But basically you just want to get your circadian rhythms into an appropriate 24 hour cycle. Lots of different ways to do that. Things like reducing your exposure to artificial light at night, getting daylight during the day, getting out about eight hours of high quality sleep in a cool dark room. Dan talked about meal timing and being consistent there as helping with a 24 hour cycle entrainment. You can do things like camping. If you get out into the wilderness for a couple of days with no electricity or Wi-Fi, you can actually reset your circadian rhythm. These are all things that can make a big impact on both bone health and amenorrhea.

And then as Kelsey was mentioning before with stress, stress is funny because again it can cause women to miss a period if they get super stressed for some reason. That’s pretty typical. I feel like I know I’ve been there before where I had a late period because of stress. I don’t know, Kelsey, if you’ve experienced that before.

Kelsey: Yes, I have actually, weirdly enough.

Laura: Really? Mine was in college. I just was like under a lot of stress and I missed a period. It was a little freaky. But personally I’ll just see irregular periods if I’m stressed. I’m trying to think when this was. I feel like it was either last year or the year before. I was having really long cycles because of stress. I was getting like 36, 37, 40 day cycles, that kind of thing.

Now I actually track using the Daysy monitor that we talked about with Dr. Briden. I think I’m like pretty consistently 32, which is considered normal. I don’t necessarily skip whole periods anymore. I’ve only seen that happen maybe once or twice, but definitely seeing that lengthening of a cycle was pretty typical for me.

That’s pretty common for a lot of women to see an irregularity in their cycle if they’re super stressed. And then again, some people can miss a period or two from stress.

Now stress again also impacts bone density. There’s evidence and it’s pretty well supported that using like drug versions of cortisol actually puts people at high risk for bone loss. So we can kind of extrapolate from that that if you have chronically high cortisol, that you may actually have the same issue with bone density. There is some research suggesting that high cortisol can lead to decreased bone density. Again, all of this is in that article that I have on Chris’ website where I have a little bit more details about that.

But stress management, I mean honestly we talk about that so much with our Paleo Rehab program and in this podcast in general. There’s so many different things that cause stress. I find that in my amenorrhea clients, a lot of times their disordered eating is a main stressor in their life. It’’s not just that you’re not getting enough calories, but the stress of trying to follow this like super perfect, Instagram worthy diet actually is a huge stressor for them.

That’s why when I work with these women, a lot of times I’m working on taking restrictions out of their diet within reason. If somebody has celiac disease, obviously I’m not going to tell them to eat gluten or something like that. But a lot of women are avoiding foods that they really don’t need to avoid.

Katie might be in that situation. She had mentioned that she eats one piece of fruit a day and a cup of starch, and that’s she’s slowly upping it. I’d question if she has a fear around carbs. That’s what it sounds like to me. Of course I don’t know this person and I don’t want to make assumptions, but that’s what it does sound like.

Fear around food is a stressor. Being in a calorie deficit is a stressor. Not sleeping well is a stressor. Having inflammation is a stressor. Gut infections are a stressor. If we have all these stressors that are compiling, and your body, again, when it’s stressed it doesn’t want to do things that aren’t essential to survival. So your period is going to be one of the first things that shuts down.

Kelsey: Yeah. That’s something I see a lot in the type of clients that I tend to work with. Of course a lot of them have digestive issues and I do also work with a lot of women who are trying to get their period back. Or that’s sort of like one thing on their list of many symptoms that they’re having is like, oh yeah, also I don’t have my period and I haven’t had it for like five years.

Laura: It’s like a side note.

Kelsey: I know, exactly. But I am glad that you bring up this piece about just that there’s so many different internal and external stressors that your body can be dealing with. And it’s important that especially if things like just increasing calories or decreasing exercise don’t bring your period back, that you do really start to think about some of these other stressors on the body like infections and things like thyroid issues, just kind of figuring out all the other body systems and how they impact first of all your cortisol levels, but then also your hormone levels is really, really important.

Laura: Yeah. I would say those are going to be the basics for most women. Like we said, there’s going to be some deeper issues that might be going on that might be contributing to a missing cycle. In those situations working with someone one on one really makes a lot of sense because there’s testing you can get done, there’s treatments that can be done. Like I said, I’ve had clients before who had digestive issues or gut infections that once those were treated or resolved, they actually saw their period come back.

There’s a lot of things that can impact the menstrual cycle, but what we talked about today is really just foundational things that most women if they’re not dealing with appropriately, they’re at risk for amenorrhea, or irregular periods, or that female athlete triad syndrome.

That is just kind of like I said, the overview of what I would suggest to Katie. No, it’s not foolish to try to get your period back with diet and lifestyle. I think that’s a really good idea and hopefully these recommendations that we talked about today will be helpful there.

I also wanted to mention since this is right in the thick of my program launch right now that this podcast is coming out, that if all of the stuff that I talked about today sounds overwhelming to you or you’re not even really sure where to start, I actually this week have launched my new online program. It’s called “Get Your Period Back”. Super creative, I know. But that’s what it’s about.

It’s about helping women who have amenorrhea, mostly hypothalamic amenorrhea, but also women who have things like PCOS, or just have irregular cycles, super long cycles, that kind of thing and they don’t want to use birth control to try to fix that problem, which as we said earlier is really not a solution, it’s just masking your symptoms. If you’re ignoring that symptom or if you’re not even experiencing it, you’re not going to be able to get to the root of the health issues that are driving that problem.

I can talk a little bit about it. It’s going to be a six week program. This comes out on a Thursday. We’re going to be starting the program on the Sunday after this period comes out…Ah! This podcast!

Kelsey: You’ve got period on the brain.

Laura: I know, it’s really scary. It’s just all I’ve been doing for a couple weeks at this point. We’re going to be starting on the Sunday, which is October 15th. I think this podcast is coming out on the 12th. So if you hear it and you want to get into this round of the program, you definitely want to jump on that pretty quick because I’m going to be closing registration soon. I’m going to be opening it again later, but I just have a shorter registration period for this launch that I’m doing.

Basically like I said, it’s a six week program and it covers what I have called my 4 R Protocol. The protocol like I said, 4 Rs, so the first R is Refeed. Refeed just means that you’re nourishing your body with the right amount and the right types of food and nutrients. That’s calories, that’s macros, that’s micronutrients, any supplements that would be helpful. That’s the refeed component of the 4 Rs.

Number two is Rest. Rest is funny because I think a lot of people think about sleep as rest, which is for sure. And I’m going to talk about improving sleep, and how to make sure you’re getting enough sleep, and getting good quality sleep so you’re entraining your circadian rhythms.

But also rest is somewhat of a mindset as well. Rest is going to cover resting appropriately during a training regimen and setting up a training regimen that includes enough rest both in the actual workouts themselves as well as the days off that you take. So incorporating rest into your routine, incorporating that restful mindset into your day to day life, giving yourself downtime, giving yourself breaks, that kind of thing. It’s not just about sleep, it’s about giving your body rest and recovery.

The third R is Relax, which is a little different than rest because it’s more about that stress piece, what we were just talking about where you’re getting maybe stressed about food, you’re stressed about your exercise, you have some body image stress, maybe stressing about your career, or finances, or relationships. Anything that can cause stress in your life, we want to just relax.

There’s going to be some talk about food restrictions and how you can relax on those. There’s going to be talk about body image. Again, just anything that’s potentially contributing to high levels of stress needs to be dealt with as part of a period recovery plan.

And then the final R that I’m going to cover in this program is Repair. This is where I’m going to just cover some of the deeper functional treatments. I’m going to just touch on them since a lot of them you really do need to work on a practitioner with. But I like to give people some information about what might be going on for them that is beyond just like the eating enough, sleeping enough, exercising appropriately, all that.

There’s things like gut imbalances or gut infections. There’s thyroid issues, especially hypothyroidism. There’s adrenal dysfunction, which we talk about all the time with our podcast and our Paleo Rehab program. And then immune health so if someone’s got an auto immune disease or any sort of immune issues that can potentially be affecting their menstrual cycles. There’s things like endometriosis, or really any autoimmune disease can potentially affect menstruation.

That’s that Repair part of the 4 R Protocol because again, you want to get your foundation set with all the good habits, and eating enough, sleeping enough, chilling out, treating your body well. But some women, they do all that and they don’t get the results. And that’s because they have deeper things going on that need to be tested and treated. I’ll just cover those briefly and give some tips about what kind of testing to look for, maybe some alternate therapies that can be helpful while you’re making these diet and lifestyle changes just to get the results faster because a lot of times if you’ve not been having a period for a year or something and you’re on a little bit of a rush to get it back, it’s not a bad idea to kind of hit every angle and do things that might help spur on your period a little faster.

That’s the general gist of the program. Like I said, it takes about six weeks to go through all the material.

Kelsey: That’s awesome and so comprehensive!

Laura: It’s funny because it’s one of those things that it came from the type of work I was doing with my clients to deal with amenorrhea. Some of it’s inspired by stuff we did in the Paleo Rehab program, but a lot of it’s also just more specifically for the sex hormone balance and amenorrhea, and the kind of things that women who have amenorrhea are dealing with specifically.

So a little bit of different things like supplements, for example, are going to be different. Some of the food recommendations are going to be a little different, especially because some women who have amenorrhea need to gain weight, some of them need to lose weight, so covering all those issues there.

I’ve been working on creating a guide to figuring out your own meal plan, which was kind of a funny endeavor because on one hand, I do it with my clients all the time so I knew what to do to create meal plans. And when I say meal plans, I mean like meal templates for people. It’s something that I do a lot with my clients. I think you do meal templates, too, right?

Kelsey: Yeah, I do.

Laura: I basically spent a couple of hours trying to figure out how to translate that into a DIY guide. I had somebody test it and she was able to get the results I was looking for. So I feel pretty confident that it will help women who aren’t Dietitians figure out what their general food intake should be. We have some awesome visual macro guides to help women understand what a portion of certain foods look like.

Like I said, I have some specific supplements I recommend. It’s DIY, but it’s very handholding because I think that’s where a lot of women struggle and something that I’m sure you see, too, where they know what they need to do, and they’ve heard it, and they listen to our podcast, and they have all this information, but they really struggle with the implementation side of things. Or they’re really not sure, okay, do I need 2500 calories, or do I need 2000, or what do I need? Helping them figure that out in a way that’s very practical is the goal of my food guidelines for this program. I feel like I did a good job on that.

Kelsey: It sounds great!

Laura: Yeah, I feel pretty happy with the way that came out. And again, I’m trying to avoid getting people into this like calorie counting, macro counting mindset. So giving them a way to create a template that helps them put together meals for themselves that meet their guidelines or meet their goals without having to really count things I think was my hope for this. So again, I’ve put together some resources to help with that.

And then for this launch period, I am offering weekly live Q&As. I don’t know how many times I’m going to do that. I’m sure, Kelsey, you’ve experienced with your group program, it can be a little time consuming if you’re always doing Q&As with every single person that joins the program. So I wanted to offer that as a bonus to the people who enroll with the first round of the program.

That’s something that I think having that support and ability to ask questions really is helpful. I know in our Paleo Rehab program we had a lot of people really enjoy that component and they really appreciated having the opportunity to interact with us. So that’s going to be a part of the launch.

I’m going to have a Facebook group, which again, kind of standard for a lot of these online programs, but it’s just one of those things that helps you talk to other women and get some ideas about things that have been helpful, get some encouragement, see what other women are doing to get their period back faster if there’s any resources that they found useful. I feel like the community aspect is always super helpful to just have that support and to have that communication with other women who are dealing with the same problems so.

I think that pretty much covers the gist of the program. If people are interested and want to get signed up, the website that you can go to is at my website, LauraSchoenfeldRD.com/GetYourPeriodBack. Pretty easy. We’ll link to it in the show notes as well. But that’s where you can register for the program.

And again, we are starting on Sunday the 15th, so would love to have anyone with me doing that if you are listening to this podcast and you’re in the same situation as Katie was where you don’t have your period and you’re worried about things like osteoporosis or other long term health issues.

I did find it a little crazy when I was doing research for this program that if you aren’t getting your period, you’re at higher risk for things like cancer, so endometrial cancer and breast cancer as well as heart disease and heart attack.

Kelsey: Wow!

Laura: Yeah. I don’t know if that’s the hormone thing or the malnutrition thing, but there are some longer term risks associated with not getting a menstrual cycle. This is one of those things that we were saying before, maybe it doesn’t feel like it’s that important right now, but it’s important for both your short and long term health.

Kelsey: Absolutely.

Laura: I’m hoping that through this program I can help people really get what they need as far as the support and the practical guidelines for going through the process we discussed today. I’ve had some really awesome results with some clients that I’ve worked with. And I have a couple of like baby pictures on my page of the babies that we helped create with these amenorrhea clients. I just love being able to see women who were really freaked out that they were told that they would never have children and all that, and then they’re able to get their period back.

And again, it’s not only for women that want to get pregnant. Personally, I don’t plan on getting pregnant for a couple years. I’m not like trying to force fertility on women, but it is something that if you’re interested in getting pregnant in any time in the future, getting your period back and getting it regular will make a big impact on your fertility levels.

Kelsey: Well congrats, Laura! That’s really exciting, first of all on a personal level.

Laura: Thanks!

Kelsey: But also just I’m really excited to be able to refer people to that if they can’t work with someone one on one to start with and they just want to get through starting this process on their own. I think that’s going to be a really, really awesome resource.

Laura: Thank you. It’s kind of like when I get someone who can’t necessarily work one on one, I’m like go do Kelsey’s Build Your Biome program. It’s kind of the same thing where it’s like it’s not necessarily going to replace working with a practitioner for some women, but I think they can get a lot of really great results from these kind of online programs.

Honestly, I think for this kind of issue, a large majority of women can get results without working one on one with someone.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura:  I mean I love working with these kind of women and it’s one of my favorite issues to work with, but I also want to make this more accessible to a bigger number of women. That’s why I’m really excited to have the program launching. It’s my little baby that I’m birthing. It’s the only baby I’ll be having for a while, knock on wood.

But I’m really excited about it. And if you join me, then like I said, this time around we’ll do the live Q&A. I do have a discount on the price for this first round. So definitely if you’re thinking about it, this is the best time to join.

Kelsey: Cool!

Laura: Well, I am done pitching my program. I know we haven’t done updates in forever, so we might have to. I know you were traveling for a while. So next time we do our Q&A podcast, we’ll have to hear about your trip since you were in Colorado and Europe I think.

Kelsey: Yep, exactly. Colorado and Portugal.

Laura: Lots of traveling. Awesome. Well like I said, maybe not this episode just because we’re probably at the end of this hour, but next time we’ll definitely want to talk to you about your travel.

Kelsey: Cool! I’ll talk to you then, Laura. Take care.

Laura: Alright. Thanks. You too, Kelsey.

PODCAST: How To Enjoy Wine Without Negative Health Effects With Todd White

Thanks for joining us for episode 124 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are excited to be interviewing Todd White!  

Todd White has been a serial entrepreneur and creator since he was age 17 years old. Today after 15 years in the wine business, his life is dedicated to educating and helping people make better choices about food, nutrition, and how they think about consuming alcohol.

He’s the founder of Dry Farm Wines, a writer, speaker, and a leading authority on healthy organic natural wines and the importance of micro dosing alcohol for health, longevity, and vitality.

Todd’s passion is unlocking the best way to best way to enjoy alcohol and how to enjoy the benefits of moderate consumption while avoiding the negative outcomes.

Enjoying a glass of wine with family and friends over a meal is one of life’s simple pleasures. But for many of us, the unpleasant effects that follow prevent enjoyment.

If this sounds like you, you’ll want to join us today for our conversation with Todd White of Dry Farm Wines. We’re thrilled to talk with Todd about how to enjoy the benefits of drinking wine while avoiding negative health outcomes.

Listen as Todd reveals surprising truths about the wine industry and shares how Dry Farm Wines differ in quality and health benefits. We also dive into how alcohol affects a ketogenic diet and uncover the real reason why wine can cause headaches and hangovers even in small amounts.

As an added bonus, you hear how to take advantage of Todd’s generous offer to our listeners. This is an episode you don’t want to miss!


Here is some of what we discussed with Todd:

  • [00:4:01] How alcohol can be part of a healthy lifestyle
  • [00:09:01] The problem with most commercial wines and how Dry Farm Wines is different
  • [00:13:21] The definition of natural wine and why organic wine isn’t necessarily natural
  • [00:21:24] Why there aren’t any wine makers in the U.S. that meet Dry Farm Wines health criteria
  • [00:26:14] How the U.S. does not screen wine for mycotoxins
  • [00:27:50] How the alcohol content stated on a bottle of wine may not be accurate
  • [00:32:17] Why wine can cause headaches and hangovers even in small amounts
  • [00:41:38] The difference between champagne and natural sparkling wine
  • [00:49:50] How alcohol affects a ketogenic diet
  • [00:56:17] How you can try Dry Farm Wines

Links Discussed:


Laura: Hi everyone! Welcome to Episode 124 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Lara Schoenfeld and with me as always is my co-host Kelsey Kinney.

Kelsey: Hi everyone!

Laura: We’re Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me, Laura, at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com, and Kelsey over at KelseyKinney.com.

We have a great guest on our show today who’s going to be talking with us all about how to enjoy the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption while avoiding the negative health outcomes that many people experience when drinking. We hope this interview will help answer your questions about how to enjoy alcohol safely.

Kelsey: If you’re enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that you never miss an episode. And while you’re there, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well!

And remember, we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health related question that we can answer or suggest a guest you’d love for us to interview on an upcoming show.

Laura: Before we get into our interview, here is a quick word from our sponsor:

“This episode is brought to you by Paleo Rehab, a five week online program designed to help you recover from HPA axis dysfunction, also known as adrenal fatigue. Is your perfect Paleo diet and lifestyle leaving you exhausted? Now is the time to start feeling the health and wellness you know you deserve. If you’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and are ready to take back your health, then head over to MyPaleoRehab.com to get your free 28 page e-book on the 3 step plan for healing from adrenal fatigue. That’s www.MyPaleoRehab.com.”

Laura: Welcome back, everybody! I’m really excited to have with us today Todd White. Todd has been a serial entrepreneur and creator since he was age 17 years old. Today after 15 years in the wine business, his life is dedicated to educating and helping people make better choices about food, nutrition, and how they think about consuming alcohol.

He’s the founder of Dry Farm Wines, a writer, speaker, and a leading authority on healthy organic natural wines and the importance of micro dosing alcohol for health, longevity, and vitality. Todd’s passion is unlocking the best way to best way to enjoy alcohol and how to enjoy the benefits of moderate consumption while avoiding the negative outcomes.

Welcome to the show, Todd! We’re really excited to have you on.

Todd: Laura, I’m super excited to be here and I have lots of great wine facts to share with your audience!

Laura: Awesome! Well, I know that I am a wine…I don’t want to say fiend, but I’m definitely a wine fan. I had first been exposed to your product ironically at a business conference with Steve and Jordan from SCD lifestyle and they your wine at some of the gatherings that we had that weekend. I really enjoyed it and then that was what promoted my decision to reach out to you and see if we get you on the show. I’m really glad that we can have you on.

Todd: Awesome.

Laura: Especially because alcohol is one of those funny conversations in the health community because on one hand obviously binge drinking and drinking lots and lots of alcohol wouldn’t be good for you. But if we’re thinking about just moderate consumption, there’s probably a fine line between what would be considered health promoting and what would be detrimental.

I think it will be helpful for us to talk about that about that today so our listeners can get a better understanding of how alcohol can play into a healthy lifestyle. You’re the wine expert and alcohol in general, so what are the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption?

Todd: There are many cardiovascular and neurological benefits to moderate consumption of alcohol. Here’s the problem: most people who drink don’t necessarily enjoy moderate doses of alcohol. Part of the problem there, look, alcohol is toxic and poisonous and it can kill you. So can oxygen and water in the wrong dose. So dosage really matters on all of the things that we drink. We really have to think about the dose.

This is the reason that we always sell and drink low alcohol wines. I don’t drink spirits. So if you’re Paleo or if you’re interested in a clean diet as we are – I happen to be ketogenic, so in fact I’m in Austin now at KetoCon where I’m speaking tomorrow on the ketogenic diet and eating in restaurants. We’re super sensitive to what we put in our body and we’re very, very fanatical. That’s how we got in this business. So if you’re going to drink alcohol, we recommend a lower dose.

There are tons and tons of studies on the positive benefits particularly of drinking red wine. There is over 800 polyphenols in red wine. The most famous is called resveratrol which has been shown in lab animals to extend life and so it is helpful, in very high doses though. It’s a bit of a red herring and misleading for the wine industry to say that you’re going to get beneficial doses of resveratrol from drinking red wine. That’s simply not true. You can’t drink enough of it. But there over 800 other polyphenols included.

Most of the polyphenols come from contact with the skin. When you make a red wine, red wine gets its color from skin contact. So the juice from a red wine grape, like the juice from a white wine grape. is clear. The reason that red wines are healthier for you than white wines is because they contain these polyphenols and the polyphenols do not come from the from the grape or the juice, they come from the skin contact which is how you get color in red wine.

Anyway, there are many, many, many benefits to moderate – primarily cardiovascular and neurological. Moderate doses of red wine, or wine, or alcohol. Even spirits in very low doses have been shown to have positive benefits cardiovascularly. So it’s not just wine. It’s just that wine contains these other compounds called polyphenols that are particularly helpful for you.

But the primary benefit of wine, and I know you can appreciate this. We’ll call you a wine aficionado. As an aficionado, you know that the primary benefit in addition to many wines tasting delicious, and being super friendly with food, and enhancing the dining experience, what wine really does, and particularly in in low doses, is that we just have an increase in euphoria, an increase in creative expression, we have a little opening in our vulnerability window.

This is particularly useful in social settings. In our case, we drink generally around the dinner table, which is where we generally drink wine. Wine just elevates that experience. It just makes us a bit more open, makes we’re vulnerable, makes us a bit more loving. This kind of euphoric lifting of the human experience is really the primary health benefit from my point of view because anytime we can love more, and be more vulnerable, and be more open, and laugh more, and really celebrate that that community with family and friends, that’s the real benefit of wine. Do you know what I’m saying?

Laura: Yeah, and I would think that you don’t need a super high alcohol content of the wine for you to get that benefit since I think for most people they can imagine just even half a glass of wine is enough to start loosening it up and making you feel a little bit more warm and fuzzy.

Todd: Here’s the problem with commercial wines today: The wines you’re buying at your wine store and the wines you’re buying your grocery store, there’s a whole bunch of problems with them. That’s the reason that we’ve been endorsed by virtually every health leader in the country who’s influencing the way people think about their health….Dave Asprey, JJ Virgin, Robb Wolf, David Perlmutter, Dr. Mark Hyman, the list is really long. I’m sure you’ve seen a bunch of this on our website.

The reason that we’ve been so widely embraced in the health community is because what’s happening in the wine industry. What’s happening in wine is exactly the same thing that’s happened to our food supply. So there’s been mass corporate consolidation, massive industrial farming. Those two are both being driven by greed. In addition to what your audience doesn’t know is that there are 76 additives approved by the FDA for use in winemaking.

The reason your audience doesn’t know that is because it’s the wine industry’s dirty, dark secret and there’s no contents label on a bottle of wine, so you don’t know what’s in it. Now the reason there’s not a content’s label on it is because the wine industry, or more specifically the Wine Institute is as it is known has spent tens of millions of dollars in lobby money to persuade politicians not to put a contents label on a bottle of wine.

There’s a simple reason why they don’t want that label on there is because it would look like the rest of processed food labels. It would have a whole bunch of chemicals and additives and compounds that you’ve never heard of and can’t pronounce. What they want you to believe is that it’s just fermented grape juice. That’s not true. It’s this nasty factory product.

When I mention mass consolidation earlier, what’s happened in the wine business is that 52 percent of all the wines manufactured in the United States are made by just three giant conglomerates, just three, and the top 30 companies make over 70 percent of the wine made in the United States.

They don’t want you to know that either so they hide behind thousands of labels and brands, these massive companies do to have you believe that you’re drinking from a chateau or a farmhouse. The fact of the matter is you’re drinking from a massive factory.

Again, wine is sold through story and image. That’s kind of romance. That’s how wine is sold. These multi-billion dollar companies are very clever at having you buy into this romance when in fact you’re drinking from these massive factories.

In fact, we don’t even sell any wines made in the United States. I don’t drink domestic wine, I don’t sell domestic wine because there’s no wines made in the United States that meet our strict health criteria. They’re all made in Europe on very small family farms.

When you drink these wines…and they’re called natural wines. I know that’s a little confusing to most people because they’re like well, aren’t all wines natural? For the reasons that were just explained to you, no, they’re not. There’s a few hundred, less than five hundred natural winemakers in the world. They’re primarily in Europe. We exclusively sell these natural wines.

Natural wines are a very specific winemaking protocol and a very specific farming protocol. And so again, it’s not profitable. You can’t make a lot of volume of it. That’s reason there’s not many people who do it. Only a few hundred, between four and five hundred winemakers in the world. There’s a couple hundred thousand winemakers and a couple hundred thousand labels in the world. There’s less than five hundred of these winemakers.

But for your audience, if they search natural wines online, they’re going to find a very specific category for this type of wine. They’re very difficult to find at retail unless you live in a major market like New York, or San Francisco, Los Angeles, a little bit in Chicago. Unless you live in like one of these major, major markets for food and wine, they’re just not going to be available at retail.

They are not available at Whole Foods. Whole Foods is an example; you might find an “organic wine”. You may see organic wines at retail, but organic is not natural. Organic is describes the farming practices. You can have you can have an organic wine that’s still filled with additives. You wouldn’t know that because it says organic and you think it’s clean, but in fact it’s not unless it’s naturally made.

Naturally means that it has no additives and that it’s fermented with wild native yeast. Almost all wines in the United States and globally are fermented with genetically modified commercial yeast, not the native natural yeast indigenous to the vineyard. All natural wines are fermented with native natural yeast and that’s very important. It’s also very difficult.

On the skin of grapes, yeast already exist on every grape skin. If you pick some ripe grapes off the vine and you just throw them in a bucket and the skins break, the grape juice will begin to ferment without you doing anything else to it because there’s already yeast present on the skin of the grape. Those are called native wild yeast that are indigenous to the vineyard where they’re grown. Yeast is floating around in the air and they stick to the outside of the grape skin.

This is Mother Nature. So when you think of natural wines, natural wines are also dry farmed meaning they don’t have any irrigation. That’s also very important. The name of our company is Dry Farm Wines.

Laura: Yeah, I was going to say that’s the name!

Todd: Hence all of our wines are dry farmed. It’s very important to have dry farming. Irrigation, think of it this way: When you think about natural wine or natural food product, let’s talk about natural wines, irrigation is the very first intervention into nature’s logic. Grape vines have been living for over 10,000 years all over the world in some of the hottest, driest climates in the world and never been irrigated. Irrigation in fact didn’t come into grape farming in the United States until 1973. So prior to 1973, all vineyards in the United States were on unirrigated.

There’s a reason why you irrigated a grape vine. In fact it’s illegal to irrigate in most of Europe. It’s against the law. I mean punishable. It’s a crime. I mean they take their great growing very seriously. Europeans who have been making wine for about 4,000 years know what I know, which is the moment you intervene in nature’s logic and irrigate a grape vine, you fundamentally changed the physiology of the plant and most particularly how it ripens fruit.

But the reason you irrigate and the reason that almost 100 percent of U.S. vineyards are now irrigated is because it’s more profitable. The fruit yields more and it weighs more when it’s filled with water. Fruit is sold by the ton so we irrigate for greed. It’s a prevailing theme throughout our food supply and now the wine supply in the United States is about greed and it’s about more money.

Same thing when you talk about industrial farming. The active chemical Roundup, which is as you know glyphosate, is illegal in Europe. Roundup is the number one administered herbicide in U.S. vineyards. Just last year a study was released by Better Moms For America that took samples and screened them for glyphosate in U.S. wines in three California Appalachians…and the study is online, it’s Better Moms For America, glyphosate in wine – super simple. You get a ton of results on that search. And 100 percent of all the wines tested both in organic and non-organic farms tested positive for glyphosate.

The reason that they think that is the case is it’s believed that it’s coming through that irrigation, not through overspray When Roundup is applied in a vineyard, it’s not applied the same way that you would have in a wheat field where it’s sprayed from above from a plane. That’s how it’s applied in wheat as an example. But in grapes, it’s applied very close to the ground. It’s not sprayed from above so it’s very closely applied. You don’t really have much of an opportunity for classic overspray in a neighboring farm.

When you do have overspray…it’s a critical problem in the Midwest. You have overspray from these crop planes. I don’t know if you’ve read about those. It’s this terrible problem for organic farmers who are farming near industrial farms.

But anyway, so all of these things matter: the additives, the glyphosate, the irrigation, the manipulations, the coloring agents. Have you ever gotten purple teeth? Have you ever seen people get purple teeth from drinking red wine?

Laura: Yeah, I have.

Todd: Okay, well, that’s not a natural process. When you drink our red wines, your teeth will not be stained. You will not get purple teeth. That purple color, guess what? It’s coming from a color agent called Mega Purple. Color agents are commonly used in red wines in the United States. Here’s why: Because Americans perceive…and you may even have this idea or thought of this…Americans perceive that the darker a red wine is that the better and richer it’s going to be, so they associate darkness with the quality of red wine.

There’s absolutely no truth to that. But because of that, these color agents, and stabilizers, and body agents are commonly used to give wine more structure. But those are additives. That’s not a natural process. So anyway, there’s just there’s a whole bunch going on there.

Laura: Yeah. It’s funny because I’m just thinking about the kind of wines that I’ve gotten, even the ones that like you said are organic. You think you’re getting a good product because usually with food, if it’s organic, it’s going to be better than the conventional. But it sounds like even that organic label isn’t really improving the product a whole lot.

Todd: At least you’re not drinking something that’s been industrially farmed, so i’s chemical free in farming. Buying and organic wine is certainly an enhancement, certainly an improvement over industrial farming. But the point is just because it says organic, in most cases even though the fruit is organic, the wine is not clean. Both wines are going to be not clean. I’d rather drink did not clean wine that at least had chemical free farming. Does that make sense?

Laura: Definitely. Why do you think there aren’t any natural wineries in the United States? What prevents people from getting started with that kind of winery?

Todd: There’s a handful, we call them a handful of natural winemakers in the United States, primarily in California and a couple in Oregon and Washington State. There are a handful. Here’s the problem: Their wines don’t meet our health criteria. Just because a wine is naturally made does not mean it meets our very strict standards. Our standards of purity are higher than just the natural bar.

Dry Farm Wines, we do independent lab testing on every single wine before it’s accepted into our program. As I mentioned earlier in the podcast, one of the criteria in addition to as I just mentioned, almost all U.S. vineyards are irrigated. We will not sell the irrigated wine. A wine can still be largely naturally made but have some irrigation. It won’t qualify for our program.

Also a wine can be naturally made and still contain sugar, and we only sell sugar free wine. We commonly reject wines for sugar even though it might be naturally made. We test wines that are grown in Europe all to our specifications and would meet our criteria except it contains sugar. We’re really anti-osugar. We think sugar is the most damaging toxin to the most abused toxin in American health. I think it’s probably public health enemy number one. We’re sugar free. We recommend that people abstain from eating or drinking as much sugar as they can.

We test for a whole bunch of things, and I’ll cover some things that we test for, but sugar is one of them. Alcohol is another. We don’t sell wines over twelve and a half percent alcohol. Most of the wines I drink personally are between ten and a half and eleven and a half percent alcohol. The reason being is as I covered earlier, alcohol is toxic.

I don’t want to have a glass of wine. I want to drink a bottle of wine or a half a bottle of wine. I want to sit down and drink a bottle of wine over dinner over the course of several hours. By lowering the inherent dose of alcohol in the bottle, then I’m able to drink more and not have the negative remnant effects of a higher dose of alcohol. I happen to like the taste of wine and I like drinking it throughout the meal and throughout my evening with my friends and family.

If I lower down the dosage, the inherent dose in the bottle, then I can drink more and have a more pleasant euphoric kind of creative buzz. Once we cross over this plateau of sort of euphoric creative expression, and excitement, and kind of happy fun, once we get too much alcohol then we start going down the other side where it’s not as rewarding, and we’re not as cognitively connected, and we’re not as creative.

Most people don’t have a half a glass or even a glass. Let’s be clear. Most wine drinkers have several glasses, or two, or three. There’s five-five ounce glasses in a bottle of wine. So over a course of four or five hours, five-five ounce glasses is not a terrific amount of volume over the course of the night. Alcohol is a super dangerous drug. Used responsibly, it’s super enjoyable and a whopping lot of fun.

I drink a bottle of wine every night, so no big deal. The other things to make sure you eat when you drink. We don’t drink during the daytime ever, which is very unusual for people in the wine business. We don’t drink in the daytime. I don’t recommend people drink in the daytime. Be sure and eat when you drink. It’s super important to get something to eat. I only eat once a day. I do 24 hour intermittent fasting. I must eat before I start drinking wine because I’ve been fasted since the night before.

The other thing to be mindful of if any of your listeners follow Dave Aspry of Bulletproof, they’ll know about mycotoxins or molds in coffee. Molds are also quite common, I was just reading an article yesterday in San Francisco Magazine, molds are quite common now in cannabis. In California where cannabis is legal as it is I guess in 15 or so states, there’s a huge mold and bacteria problem in cannabis plants as there is in coffee.

Here’s the interesting thing: In the United States, screening for mycotoxins…and the real poisonous one is called ochratoxin-A…is not required. We screen all wines for ochratoxin and other mycotoxins which are molds that are present on the vine and they get on the fruit. But in Europe it is required. It is required that all wines are tested for mycotoxins.

In the United States, it is not a required test and no wines are tested. The only time a U.S. wine gets tested for a mycotoxin is if it’s exported to Europe where they have to submit a mycotoxin test on the wine before it before it will be accepted by the EU imports.

Anyway there’s just lots of craziness. Here’s another fun fact. This is another awesome fact to know about the government and the wine industry. Most of your listeners and as most of our interactions with people, most people don’t even notice, they don’t really even know how much alcohol is in a bottle of wine. People ask me all the time and I say we don’t sell anything over 12 and a half.

The next question is, well, how much is in regular wine? Well, it usually ranges between 14 and a half and 17 percent. That’s the general range. Wines categorically can range from 7 percent to 28 percent. That’s a categoric legal range of what would be considered wine. But most commercial wines are between 14 and a half and 17 percent. There’s a big difference between 11 and 16. It’s a huge impact on your cognitive function and your intoxication level. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a huge deal.

But here’s another fact between your friends at the government and the wine industry. The wine stated on the bottle by law is not required to be accurate. So if it says 15 it can be as high legally as 16 and a half, and they’re always understated.

The reason that that law exists and the reason it’s legal…and by the way, there’s no compliance, there’s no enforcement or compliance on what’s stated anyway and commonly they are more than a point and a half off. But I’m just saying by law they can be as much as a point and a half higher than what’s stated. The reason that happened was post Prohibition when the testing labs were very inconsistent so you could test alcohol at one lab and you get tested in another lab and there would be variance in the actual measurement because the technology was not that precise. Of course today the technology is super precise, but the wine industry doesn’t want the law changed. They still want to understate the alcohol in the bottle.

So it’s all of this kind of craziness that people don’t know about. We’ve kind of uncovered all this as we started biohacking wine and figuring out how to drink healthier. The more you dig in, and the more you investigate, and the more you understand, and the more you kind of pull back the covers, the scarier it gets.

Laura: Yeah!

Todd: I mean it’s kind of alarming. But this should not be a surprise to anyone because all of these same issues are going on in our food supply. Right. Just three years ago Monsanto was able to get a 25X, not 25 percent, a 25X increase in the allowable traces of glyphosate in our food supply. This is just three years ago. It’s like this is going on all the time. I mean is super hard to avoid these toxins.

Laura: Yeah. It’s interesting, on our show we try to teach people how to do their best within the confines of what’s available and what’s even an option for a lot of people. So on one hand, we definitely want people to be educated. We want people to understand that there are risks of these industrial produced foods, and alcohol, and cosmetics, and all that stuff. And then on the other hand, we obviously want people to understand that they have options, and they have things that they can do to reduce those risks, and decisions that they can make.

One decision could be abstaining from alcohol, not drinking wine and not being exposed to those issues. And then another option is finding wine that maybe is a bit more expensive but does provide this reduced health risk or even health benefits that maybe this industrial wine doesn’t.

I think it’s really important for people to remember that they have options. Just being able to find alternatives to what’s commonly available or even knowing what to look for I think is really helpful when somebody wants to be improving their health.

We have a couple of questions from listeners. I have a few that came in through Instagram. A bunch of people were asking the same thing. I want to see if you have some insight into this one question that kept coming up. I’ll just pull this from Amy who wrote this in on Instagram. She asks, “Wine, even small batch wine from local wineries, consistently gives me headaches and migraines. Do you have any suggestions for this?

This was just an example of a question that a lot of people are asking. Just in general, why does wine in particular cause so many people hangovers and headaches even if they don’t drink that much?

Todd:  Very common question, pretty simple answer. First of all, I’m going to tell you what isn’t causing it. It’s not the sulfites. It is commonly believed, it is a consumer myth, but it’s commonly believed that sulfites in wine cause hangovers. That’s simply not true and there’s a ton of science to support that that’s not true.

Now if someone has a legitimate sulfite allergy…and there’s sulfites and all kinds of foods; fermented foods, dried fruits, potato chips, packed full 50 times the amount of sulfites found and most wines but in other foods. If somebody has a sulfite allergy, they’re walking around with an epi-pen in their pocket, that’s less than 1 percent of the population. Sulfites do not cause hangovers.

For women particularly, the number one cause of hangovers, and headaches, and also flushness, tightness, and maybe not quite a headache, but a tightness and pressure right at the forehead just above their nose, sometimes flushing this in the cheeks headaches…and this is particularly for women…it’s histamine and other and other bioamines including tyramine. It’s histamine and tyramine that is the cause of most of these problems and that’s because of how wines are made. Our wines are super low in and these biogenic amines. You’re still going to have some, but they’re super, super low. There’s a huge noticeable difference.

The other reason we know conclusively…and common sense will tell you that it’s not sulfites because sulfites are actually higher in white wines categorically than in red wines. And almost everyone who complains of wine hangovers and ill effects from wines, almost all of them complain about the red wine hangover.

What you have with red wines is you have the way wine making styles are made now, particularly in the United States, you have very long extractions and macerations (That is contact with the skin. This is again how red wine gets its color) in an attempt to get the wine to have higher body, to have more viscosity in the mouth, have these long finishes, to have to have darker color. The longer the wine has contact with the skin, the darker the color will be and the higher the body of the wine will be, but also much higher histamine and other biogenic amines.

So it’s a winemaking style. It’s the way these wines are being made that are making people sick and it is super common. People do not have these effects from natural wines. They do not have these effects from drinking our wines because they’re not made that way. They taste different. They don’t have that big fruit bomb. They’re not super dark like that. They’re health products. They’re made in a natural way so they taste different. From my perspective, they taste better because I eat clean. I have a clean diet. I have a clean palette.

One of the first things that…particularly people who are conscious of their health…one of the very first things they say is oh wow! This tastes so clean! Because the way wines are being made, they’re not clean and they’re super high in these biogenic amines. That’s what’s making people feel bad.

This is not Todd’s opinion. If you search red wine hangover on Google, you’re going to find a whole bunch of articles that will talk about hangovers being caused from two things primarily: these biogenic amines tyramines and histamines, and then also alcohol. The higher the alcohol content is going to lead to potential hangovers primarily from dehydration. Again, lowering down that dose of alcohol has a huge impact on how you feel the next day.

Laura: Do you ever find that people that drink the Dry Farm Wines, can they get to a point where they still get a headache or a hangover from that if they’re sensitive to things like histamines?

Todd: I don’t know the answer to that question. I can tell you that I drink and have drank lots of this wine. And my staff, there’s 12 of us, we’re all ketogenic. There’s women and men and we drink copious amounts of this wine without any without any ill effects.

Now if I drink a lot…a lot would be say three, four bottles.

Laura: That is a lot.

Todd: Maybe five. Yeah, you’re going to have some remnant effect. It wouldn’t be like drinking four bottles of traditional wine, but you’re going to have some remnant effect just because you consumed a lot of alcohol. I mean it’s clean, but there’s still a lot of alcohol. Alcohol creates dehydration. The process of cleansing your body of alcohol is pretty nasty. It’s converted aldehyde.

When you have a lot of alcohol, I don’t care what form it comes in, you’re going to feel bad. You’re not going to feel as bad on these wines because it doesn’t contain all the other junk and it’s also lower in alcohol. But that’s the reason most people get good hangovers.

Here’s what I’ll tell you. Here’s what we tell every customer because we’re the official wine for most health conferences like the one you went to, and Paleo f(x), and Bulletproof, and KetoCon. I mean it’s a long list. We do over 100 events a year where we’re the official wine primarily in the health and performance field. We have contact with lots and lots of people and we do tastings at these events like the one you went to. Oftentimes they’re multiple day events.

It’s usually women actually who come up and say I just can’t drink red wine anymore. I can’t drink wine. Or I love wine, but I can’t drink it, it makes me feel bad. I’m like, here, I guarantee you this will treat you differently, so have some wine tonight. Let me know tomorrow how you feel. It’s always the same answer. It’s like, oh wow, I felt great when I got up this morning. No negative effects. It was just awesome!

The other thing we tell a customer is look, if you buy our wine and it makes you feel bad, keep the wine and we’ll give you your money back. That’s just how comfortable we are with this just never happens. The two cases I can recall were both women. Women seem to be more adversely affected by this because I think they’re more sensitive to histamine than men. But just a couple out of thousands, and thousands, and thousands of people that that we sell wine to can I remember calling up and saying hey, this wine, I’ve still had a negative experience with it.

But listen, if you buy wine from us, you get it and it makes you feel bad, call us, tell us. Keep the wine, give it to your neighbors, give it to your friend and we’ll give you a hundred percent of your money back.

Laura: I can only imagine these people at the conferences who have usually bad experiences with wine and you’re saying I promise it won’t make you feel sick. And they’re like, well, here goes nothing! They probably have a presentation to do the next day and they’re like fingers crossed that the wine doesn’t cause them problems. I’m sure they’re super excited when they wake up the next day and it’s like oh, I don’t feel terrible. That’s awesome.

I remember we had some of the champagne from you guys at the event and it was funny because we had enough to the point where they had a little extra and nobody else wanted to take it, so I just took some and my husband and I had it. It was really good.

It’s funny, I think champagne tends to be something that kind of makes me feel a little loopy really fast, which I’m sure other people experience that, too. I didn’t feel that way on the champagne that was from your company. I would imagine is that partially because the alcohol is lower?

Todd: There’s a whole bunch going on in champagne. Here’s the problem with champagne and how natural wines, which are not champagne, they’re actually sparkling wines. Champagne itself in order to be called champagne must be grown and made in the Champagne region in France. All other wines are just known as sparkling wines.

So that being said, the way natural sparkling wines are made, they are made completely different. First of all, there is no organic, sugar free champagne in the world. The whole Champagne region is filled with industrial farming. And in addition to that, it’s also high in sugar. This is another reason that it’s causing you to feel bad.

The other thing is that the bubbles…I don’t know if you remember the sparkling wine that you were drinking from us, but it’s a creamy or a smaller bubble. It’s not as effervescent. It’s not as hyper carbonated and so the bubble is very small so it has an almost creamy texture to it. You’re not getting as much of this exaggerated carbonation which is like kind of forcing and pushing more alcohol into your system. This is one of the reasons.

Also they’re sugar free. Sparkling wines that are sugar free are very hard to find. We only have been able to find maybe 20 in the world that are sparkling, delicious, and sugar free. So sugar is another cause of that problem for most people with champagne. And also it’s just not clean. It’s not a clean product.

You need to find a natural sparkling wine. Natural sparkling wines are so rare and impossible to find even in major markets. I mean natural wines increasingly are getting difficult to find because we buy them all. Well we’re the largest reseller of natural wines in the world.

Laura: It’s funny, I always forget that the champagne thing is specific to the region. I knew that and it’s one of those things that I feel like I’m just so used to calling it champagne. I’m sure this is pretty common with most people that aren’t wine experts. But yeah, now that I’m remembering it was just the sparkling white wine. But it was really good. I’m turning into what else…I think we had red and white wine from you guys, too.

It was one of those things were a lot of the people at the business conference were not people that drink much because of the kind of health issues that they have. So it was cool that they were able to without having problems because a lot of the questions that I got on the Instagram question kind of round-up that I did were people that have issues like the headaches. One woman mentioned that she ends up getting really bad flushing and tachycardia.

Todd: That’s histamine. I talked about that earlier. When you’re having this flushing that is a histamine reaction. We’re endorsed by you the largest histamine blogger who is this histamine chef. We’re endorsed by a bunch of histamine bloggers because you just simply don’t have the same effect that you have with commercial wines. But the splotchyness, the flushness, the redness, again this slight tension right in the middle of the forehead, this is these are histamine reactions.

It’s funny because the woman who asked that specific question, her name Stephanie, she says that she lives in Concord Country in Pennsylvania and she wants to be able to enjoy her local wine.

Todd: I don’t think she’s going to be able to do that.

Laura: She says I love the idea of someday being able to chill with a glass of wine out on the porch. It’s like maybe she won’t be able to do her local wine but it sounds like she could at least try out this Dry Farm Wine and see if that is something that works for her.

Todd: Absolutely, absolutely.

Laura: That’s kind of a bummer though. I feel like there’s all these wineries around the U.S. and they’re fun to go to as far as just like the experience of being at a winery. But it sounds like it would be pretty hard to find one that also had the kind of product that you guys sell at the same time.

Todd: Yeah, for sure.

Laura: Let me see if I have any other questions from because most people, like I said, they’re asking about the headaches and the migraines. Somebody asked how to find a good low sulfite wine. It sounds like maybe sulfites are not quite the problem that we’ve been led to believe, but maybe having really high levels of sulfite could potentially.

Todd: We experimented with different levels of sulfite consumption. I will tell you natural wines do not have added sulfur dioxide which sterilizes and preserves the wine. So when you think about these big wine manufacturers, what they’re trying to do is create a shelf stable product that can withstand all kinds of conditions. And they also sterilize it. They also sterilize it to produce more of a consistency and taste so they want every bottle to kind of be the same. It’s kind of the McDonald’s approach to wine.

My experience is that sulfite really has little to do with how I feel, but it certainly has a huge impact on how the wine tastes. We’re really tastemakers. It’s not just about health, it’s about aesthetic. I mean I want delicious wine, interesting wines. I want sophisticated and elegant wines that have soul, and character, and depth.

When you sterilize a wine, you rob it of its soul. Health is one thing, but we’re also super into taste, which is why we eat from farmer’s markets, and why we eat at farm to table restaurants, why we eat real food, why we eat real extra virgin olive oil that’s current harvest, why we eat grass fed butter. These things all matter because we’re super into taste. I mean we’re in the taste business, so it’s not just about our health. It’s about having an amazing taste experience as well.

These are handmade artisan products. They’re also not expensive. We sell wines that are all the same price. We sell them all for $22 a bottle. For a handcrafted artisan product, for a fine wine product, they’re relatively inexpensive.

Laura: Right.

Todd: Even if you go in your grocery store and you buy a bottle of Mondavi, which is a big commercial wine in your grocery stores, it’s going to be between $30 and $35. And those are just big commercial brands. You can get their second tier labels for $12 to $18 or whatever. You can get their second tier kind of Central Valley Mondavi stuff that’s cheaper. But if you buy their commercial flagship product, it’s going to be between $30 and $35 on your grocery store shelf. I’m sorry, you were going to ask me something?

Laura: That’s okay. I was just going to totally shift gears because you had mentioned that your company, and you in particular, are big into the ketogenic lifestyle. I was just curious with alcohol, and I don’t know if this is an issue with just the sugar in wine or the alcohol itself. How does alcohol normally affect people who are doing a ketogenic diet? Is that something that as long as there’s no sugar in it, it doesn’t kick you out of ketosis? Or does that actually affect your ability to stay in ketosis even with a sugar free wine?

Todd: It does not. I don’t drink spirits, so I can’t really comment on drinking spirits as an example. I understand that it will not take you out of ketosis as long as there’s no sugar. In fact Robb Wolf kind of developed what’s known as the NorCal Margarita. It’s tequila, and club soda, and lime. So it’s sugar free. My understanding is that clear, not brown, but clear alcohol, ethyl alcohol like vodka or tequila will not take you out of ketosis.

I personally don’t have any experience with it because I don’t drink spirits because they’re too high on alcohol. But our wines definitely do not take you out of ketosis. In fact we do daily blood testing for a whole bunch of different experiments for measuring our ketones in milimole/liter as you know.

We also do glucose testing because we believe that the primary chronic health problem affecting most of modern civilization is the hyper production of insulin and insulin resistance. Ketones are one objective for us because we believe that they are a cleaner fuel source and a healthier source of energy them than glycogen, which is the stored blood glucose. But we also want to keep our blood glucose very, very low and stable and insulin secretion as low as possible.

But no, I don’t believe that ethyl alcohol takes you….Now brown liquors contain sugars. There’s a whole bunch of stuff going on in brown liquors like bourbon, and whiskey, and Scotch. That’s different. But clear ethyl alcohol like vodka and tequila to my knowledge will not take you out of ketosis, but I don’t have any personal experience testing it.

We do test our wine. In fact there was a major diabetic blogger who just who just did a series of tests and published it all online a couple of weeks ago on our Facebook feed that did blood glucose testing with our wines and had no impact on their blood glucose. No impact on blood glucose is going to be no impact on ketone production either.

Laura: Cool. I think it’s one of those things that I would imagine most alcohols that people are drinking will have some kind of sugar in it unless like you said it’s a sugar free liquor added to sugar free base.

The fact that your wine could be drank by someone who may need a low carb or ketogenic diet, or at least has some level of insulin issue that having sugar containing alcohol would make worse, it sounds like it would be a much better choice for them than the typical one they’re going to find in the grocery store.

Todd: If you’re on a ketogenic diet, I mean if you’re that fanatical about your health and your performance outcome…I mean most people begin a ketogenic diet to breakthrough a weight loss plateau. That’s the reason most people experiment with it. That’s certainly what happened with me, but that was four years ago. And you remain committed to a ketogenic lifestyle because of the cognitive performance and enhancements because ketones are just simply a more efficient energy for the brain.

There is a ton of research on Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, and other neurological diseases being successfully treated with a ketogenic diet. In fact a ketogenic diet was originally invented in the early 1920s to treat seizures in children.

Anyway, but my point is if you’re that kind of disciplined about your health and your performance outcome, you’re likely not drinking high doses of liquor anyway because that’s just not your lifestyle. You know what I’m saying? You’re a wine drinker most likely because wines are just healthier and wine contains other health benefits.

If you’re in the ketogenic world, we are the official wine for everything ketogenic. We’re endorsed by Dr. Dominic D’Agostino who’s the leading ketogenic researcher in the United States. If you’re in the ketogenic lifestyle, you’re drinking our wine specifically becuase you know about us and we’re endorsed by every leading figure in that space.

We’re also the official wine for the most important ketogenic conference, which is actually a medical conference in Florida called Metabolic Therapeutics which is a study of therapeutic metabolic diets, which is the ketogenic diet. If you’re in that world, then you’re drinking wines already.

Laura: Right. Well it seems like they would have to if they were wanting to stay in ketosis and be able to enjoy wine at the same time since most wines at the grocery store at least would probably kick them out.

Todd: For sure, for sure.

Laura: Well it sounds like there’s a lot of information that I know I learned about wine and just the wine industry in general from our conversation today. Like I said, I’ve tried the wines. I know I at least had the white and the sparkling. I can’t remember if I had the red or not just because it was like 98 degrees in Boulder when we were there, so I just felt like the chilled white wine was a little more appealing at that point because I was sweating. I do remember really liking it and just feeling like it didn’t lead to any sort of a hangover the next day, which was great. I definitely enjoyed it.

I know that a lot of the listeners that are on the podcast today will probably enjoy it as well. If they do want to try out the wine, what are their options for purchasing Dry Farm Wines?

Todd: I have a special offer for your audience today for them to get a free penny bottle. We can’t give alcohol away for free. It’s against the law. But we charge one penny for it so they can get a free penny bottle by going to this link: dryfarmwines.com/ancestralrds. They get a penny bottle of wine.

We are a wine club. Our wines average $22 a bottle and shipping is included, it’s free. We have basically two programs: a six bottle subscription for $159, and a case or 12 bottle subscription for $299. They can choose any frequency of delivery that they want. Or if they also go just sign up on our mail list on our website, we occasionally offer one off special purchases that do not have a subscription. Also the subscription has no obligation to it. You can order and cancel the same day. If somebody just wanted to try a box, they could order a box subscription, log right back into their account, and cancel it just minutes later, cancel the subscription. ‘

It’s super flexible. We’re not trying to trap people into subscriptions. We sell wine basically to pretty regular wine drinkers and they just prefer to get a regular shipment from us. That’s kind of who our customers are.

Also we’re a community of health enthusiasts. Everybody’s title at my company is the same. It’s called Health Evangelist. We’re really kind of fanatical evangelists about health and promoting health and we have the community around that. We promote other healthy information and we just want to help people live a better life. We’re not really just like an online wine store. That’s not what we’re trying to be. We’re a community of people who love performance, and health, and living a better quality life. It’s really a community.

Laura: I think it’s really nice to know, like you said, if the person gets a box of wine and they start to drink it and they’re finding that they are having those health effects that normal wine is giving them…which again, haven’t seen that in real life yet, but it could always potentially happen…it’s really nice to know that you guys will give that refund. Because I think a lot of people that do have these health issues, they kind of get to the point where they’re like afraid to try anything because they don’t want to waste money, they don’t want to have a bad experience.

Todd: That’s right.

Laura: I think it’s really awesome that if somebody is dealing with bad outcomes from drinking normal wine, that they can try out this box of wine that you’re selling as part of that membership. And if they if it doesn’t work for them, then they don’t lose anything. And if it does work, then they can decide whether or not they want to stay on that monthly or however frequent subscription that they can get it for.

Todd: Yeah, they can get it every other month, whatever they want. It’s on our website. We have a very simple what we call our 100 % happiness guarantee. If they’re not happy with a bottle, we will replace that bottle, no questions. You don’t have to return anything to us. Just call us, send us an e-mail, send a pigeon, text, any way you want to communicate with us and we will just simply replace a bottle.

Or again, if they’re having negative effects from it, which just like never happens, as I said we’ll keep the wine and we’ll give you all your money back. It’s that simple. I can tell you these things because this never happens. We replace out of thousands of bottles, thousands and thousands that get shipped from our warehouse every week, we replace a handful primarily from shipping damage. It’s like like something happened to the wine in shipping and people are like I think this wine got damaged or something. We just replace it, no big deal. But that does happen and we just replace it, no questions ask. Nobody has to return anything to us or anything like that. Drink the wine, drink it all and we’ll replace it anyway.

Laura: Hopefully you guys can check out that Web site at dryfarmwines.com/ancestralrds and get your penny bottle, which is cool. I’ll probably take advantage of that discount myself.

But we really appreciate you coming on today, Todd. It was awesome to hear not only all this information about what’s wrong with the wines that we normally buy, but also how to get some really good wines that we can actually enjoy without health issues.

Todd: Awesome. Listen, I really appreciate you having me on the show today. It was a great time. I hope your listeners learned something. Drink wine, enjoy in moderation, spread love. Drink more wine with your friends. I really enjoyed our show today, Laura. Thanks so much for having me.


PODCAST: How Posture Affects Health With Esther Gokhale

Thanks for joining us for episode 123 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are thrilled to be interviewing  Esther Gokhale!  

Esther Gokhale who known as “The Posture Guru of Silicon Valley”. Esther is the creator of The Gokhale Method, author of 8 Steps To A Pain-Free Back, and host of the nationally televised program Back Pain: The Primal Posture Solution. She has taught her methods at companies like Google and Facebook and today she’s here to share her knowledge with us.

We’ve all heard the instruction to “stand up straight.” While the typical response is to put our chin up and chest out, this is actually the opposite of what is required for healthy posture.

Esther Gokhale is with us today to enlighten us to the postural habits cultivated by our modern culture and share with us how to relieve back pain and improve health using techniques of the Gokhale Method.

Join us today to hear Esther share what she’s learned by studying ancestral and indigenous populations, how improving posture benefits more than just physical health, and why ergonomic chairs are not the solution for those of us who sit all day at work.

If you think isolated exercises are necessary to stretch and strengthen your way to better posture, you’ll definitely want to listen as Esther explains how her techniques are integrated into everyday activities. You’ll even learn the stretchsitting technique to start improving postural health today!

Here is some of what we discussed with Esther:

  • [00:03:10] What lead Esther to developing the Gokhale Method
  • [00:09:01] Trends in posture Esther noticed when looking at ancestral and indigenous populations of people
  • [00:11:46] The origins of the altered posture of our modern culture
  • [00:15:35] Physical and psychological health benefits of improving posture
  • [00:20:33] Indicators of poor posture
  • [00:22:34] Esther’s take on the belief that sitting is the new standing and how to get a variety of movement for those who sit at a desk all day
  • [00:26:55] A walkthrough of the stretchsitting technique
  • [00:31:49] Why an ergonomic chair is a bad choice for back support and how the technique of stacksitting is helpful regardless of the type of chair
  • [00:25:20] The technique of stretchlying
  • [00:37:47] A description of the Gokhale Method and how the techniques are integrated into everyday activities instead of isolated exercises

Links Discussed:


Kelsey: Hi everyone! Welcome to episode 123 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Kelsey Kinney and with me as always is my cohost Laura Schoenfeld.

Laura: Hi everyone!

Kelsey: We are Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence-based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me at KelseyKinney.com, and Laura at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com.

We’ve got a great guest on our show today who’s going to share her insight into posture and the many ways it affects our health. We’re so glad Esther is joining us and we think you’ll really enjoy this episode.

Laura: If you are enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that way you never miss an episode. And while you’re in iTunes, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well. And remember we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health related question we can answer or suggest a guest that you’d love for us to interview on an upcoming show.

Kelsey: Before we get into our interview, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

This episode is brought to you by Paleo Rehab, a five week online program designed to help you recover from HPA axis dysfunction, also known as adrenal fatigue. Is your perfect Paleo diet and lifestyle leaving you exhausted? Now is the time to start feeling the health and wellness you know you deserve. If you’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and are ready to take back your health, then head over to MyPaleoRehab.com to get your free 28 page e-book on the 3 step plan for healing from adrenal fatigue. That’s www.MyPaleoRehab.com.

Kelsey: Welcome back, everybody!  I’m very excited to have with us today Esther Gokhale who is known as the posture guru of Silicon Valley. Esther is the creator of The Gokhale Method, author of 8 Steps To A Pain-Pree Back, and host of the nationally televised program Back Pain: The Primal Posture Solution. She has taught her methods at companies like Google and Facebook and today she’s here to share her knowledge with us.

Welcome Esther!

Esther: It’s wonderful to be with you.

Kelsey: We’re super excited to have you! I know that you yourself dealt with back pain during your first pregnancy it sounds like so. Is that what kind of started this whole journey for you?

Esther: Yes. Short answer, yes. I go back earlier to discover insights, to recall observations from my childhood in India from my mixed parentage. My mom is Dutch, my father is Indian. I had to navigate different cultures all my life so I have developed resources and a bank of observations from that background.

But the first time I became aware of back pain as a problem and used those memories, and resources, and further research to help deal with it was when I was pregnant with my first child. That’s where the story begins.

Kelsey: Was that the beginning of your creating of The Gokhale Method? How did that inform what that method looks like today?

Esther: Well it didn’t start out as a method and creating a method. It started out as a solution for a very serious problem of mine. I had no method in mind. I was just desperate and in pain and trying to find a solution for it and not wanting to be a cripple for the rest of my life.

Kelsey: How severe was your back pain at that point and did you start some of this research then and started implementing some of the tactics that you figured out from your research?

Esther: The pain was extreme. I was unable to sleep for more than two hours at night without waking up with severe spasm. And then I had to sort of hobble out of bed and start walking and walk around the block outside a few times before the muscle spasm would ease enough for me to be able to go to sleep again. That was my life for a period.

I started out by exploring all the current therapies. Conservative, alternative, you name it. That included of course physical therapy, and stretches, and strengthening exercises, chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, me checking my head, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, all sorts of things that are currently available.

My problem was that nothing made a dent on it and I was forced to have surgery which was very counter my mindset. I didn’t do that casually, but I was really desperate. I had a large L5 S1 herniation. By the time my daughter was nearly a year old, I would have been unable to pick her up and unable to even hold a cooking pot without extreme pain. My mother in law had to come in and bail me out.

At that point I was desperate enough. I underwent surgery, gave me some relief, but within a year I had the same disc re-herniate. I had to cast an even wider net. I was being offered a second surgery but I realized that that wasn’t a solution either. That’s how I started coming to the conclusion that I need to not look for a Band-Aid solution because those don’t really work. None of them had worked for me and I need to get to the root of the problem.

It’s a combination of things that set me looking to ancestral populations, and indigenous populations, and young children it turns out who share a common architecture, a primal architecture you could say.

But before I came to that, I was studying other methods that also look to what you’re doing with your own body as a solution, and that resonated for me. It’s like it’s got to be something I’m doing. I’m only in my mid 20s. Why did this happen? It just can’t be that it’s chiropractic that I was missing. That just wasn’t a satisfying answer.

I really went on a quest. Certain techniques resonated for me and I delved into them more deeply. The common denominator was look to your own structure and what it is you’re doing against nature that is causing this problem.

Long story short, by using all the techniques that I sort of assembled and I did many, many things including search the medical literature, eventually travel around the world photographing, filming, interviewing, studying all the techniques that made any sense to me and absorbing bits and pieces that either work for empirical reasons or make sense. Finally I put something together that really made a difference for me.

I never needed that second surgery. It’s been now over 20 years. I’ve not had a backache, or a twinge, or ache, or pain. Nothing. Now I get to help other people which is really a pleasure, a privilege, and a duty really.

Kelsey: I think that’s amazing. You triggered something for me when you were talking about looking at our ancestors and looking at young children and sort of how their posture is different from ours. What are some of the trends that you noticed when you looked at those populations of people?

Esther: Well, number one they have their behinds out behind them. You figure it’s called a behind for a reason. When that part of our anatomy was given the name, people knew that it was supposed to be out behind you and not like where you sort of slink and slide and begin your steps with your hips kind of tucked in and set out in front. That’s one very striking characteristic. Their behinds are extremely muscular and they’re not going to the gym to get that. Every step is a rep. It’s just one of the things I now teach.

And also the baseline curvatures in the spine are different than what you find in modern populations and interestingly also different from what we’re taught is normal. That’s more surprising. It’s easy to accept people aren’t doing things right, but it’s a bit strange that what we’re taught to do is usually diametrically opposite to what these people are doing.

We’re taught tuck your pelvis. We’re taught S-shaped spine. I teach J-shaped spine because that’s what these populations have. We’re taught chin up, chest out and that arches the neck and arches the lower back. Those are the two most fragile areas of the spine. I teach chin angled down and rib cage not stuck out with an arch in the back.

To teach people, to train them out of these habits that have been cultivated by everyone around them…when we tell our kids to sit up straight, stand up straight, we’re basically telling them to thrust their chests out, arch their back and develop a back problem. It’s very sad.

It’s strange, but in the field of posture that is pretty uniformly the case. Even the exercises that we’re taught to do like crunches and sit ups are actually really damaging for the spine. I figure crunches are well named, they crunch your discs, they crunch your nerves and they’re terrible exercise.

Kelsey: That doesn’t sound very good. Do you think that the reason that we are taught these specific exercises and this kind of posture, did that come from an aesthetic that we now think is better than maybe we used to be standing or sitting?

I think that’s part of the reason. I think somewhere around World War 1 the flappers and so on made tucking and slumping kind of look like casual and ease. People needed a new look after all the devastation they had just been through and the fashions reflect this altered posture and associate with it with ease, casualness, modernity, the new way.

But I think it’s also that we have lost our kinesthetic traditions because we transplant ourselves and we no longer have our grandparents to model for as what is good posture. We no longer have them holding babies and assisting in the family. And now grandparents are part of that flapper era distorted posture sect, so grandparents no longer could serve that function anyway.

But at an earlier phase with all the running around that happened in modern culture, we lost that unbroken thread of wisdom, of body wisdom, and we didn’t substitute for it with a set of guidelines. Nobody tells you how to carry your baby and how to provide healthy furniture as they grow. We don’t even do it for adults. We provide ergonomic chairs that insert exaggerated lumbar curve all in the name of good posture, you’re supposed to have lumbar support, lumbar cushion. And that’s actually creating an exaggerated arch in your lumbar area.

I’ve created a lumbar support cushion that goes higher. It’s a thoracic support cushion and instead of creating curve, it actually lets you hook to it. It has little sticky knobs and you’re hooking your midback to it so that your lumbar area elongates instead of curves. So you’re stretching yourself out instead of forcing a curve there. Opposite philosophy. Easing the vertebrae apart giving more room to the disks and the spinal nerves.

It’s pretty common for people in their first lesson, we have a six lesson course that’s taught all around the world. First lesson we teach stretch sitting and they hook up either to the chair that I’ve designed which has these sticky knobs sewn into the backrest, or we have an inexpensive little cushion that you can hang from any chair and it has these sticky knobs sewn into it. In any case, you hook there and now you’re in traction.

We have so many people just say I don’t feel my psychotic pain or wow, this feels comfortable. I could sit here a long time. I haven’t been able to sit like this for more than ten minutes in a long time. We get a lot of people with back problems. That’s kind of what we targeted as our first group of people who will listen because they have pain in their face.

Kelsey: It sounds like originally, or at least the intention originally was to work with people with back pain. I’m curious to hear from you in working with people with back pain and improving their posture and obviously lessening their back pain, I want to know were there other benefits that you noticed in people’s health as they started to improve their posture that were outside of back pain?

Esther: Yes, absolutely. The most obvious and least unexpected other effects were benefits in other muscles and joints: neck pain, plantar fasciitis, bunions, hip problems, knee problems, etc.

What was perhaps less expected were physiological benefits like breathing better, asthma attacks gotten less frequent, digestion improved, irritable bowel syndrome episodes less frequent and less severe, things like that.

And then the third set of benefits was in the psychological realm. People feel more confident, they have more energy, they feel like they are a new person, they love their connection with others, things like that.

That is not totally crazy if you think about the animal world. The way we judge animals is through their posture. So as a human animal, that posture would be relevant or related to mind situation is not so crazy and there is increasingly research supporting that link.

Kelsey: You’re right because when you do think about the animal world, it’s like that’s how of course they relate to each other. That’s how they read cues and signals. So you would imagine that that probably should be true for humans as well.

Esther: And we are doing it. People notice these things. They can always name it, but my students will come back and say someone asked her if she had lost weight, and she hasn’t. Or someone asked her if she’s changed her haircut. And no, what she’s changed her posture. But we don’t read that very accurately. We just see something is different. We sense it, we respond differently. People open up to you differently. It’s been very beautiful to see these changes in students.

Kelsey: Yeah. I would think too, going back to what you said about digestion, I work a lot with people with digestive problems and I think you’ve got a really good point there. If you improve your posture, I would imagine that just all your organs kind of fit together more normally.

Esther: Exactly.

Kelsey: You’re not crunched in and everything.

Esther: Totally.

Kelsey: So especially the digestive stuff, I would think that would make a huge difference for people.

Esther: Huge difference! The most common thing people do in modern posture, a most common error is to tuck the pelvis. This reduces your pelvic volume by I’m estimating about a third. So you’ve got twenty two feet of intestines sitting in there and all these other organs that have suddenly lost a third of the natural volume. Well that doesn’t function as well.

Kelsey: Right.

Esther: Not to mention that you’ve influence the blood supply and the nerve supply to all these organs. Everything gets compromised when you change your structure. Structure of course informs function. When people drop their pubic bone by relaxing the rectus abdominals instead of just tightly scrunching it up all the time, they find that oh my chronic constipation got better, and my irritable bowel syndrome got better, my periods don’t hurt so much and such.

Kelsey: That’s pretty amazing. I think you’re right. It’s like once you start to actually think about it, it’s like, yeah, that that does make sense. But I think a lot of people probably initially going into this think, at least somebody with back pain, they’re like I’m doing this from my back pain. I don’t think it’s going to do anything to any other part of my health.

For people without back pain, I think most of us probably don’t think about our posture a whole lot in terms of how it relates to our health because there’s no severe, imminent pain that we’re experiencing that makes us pay attention to it.

Esther: True. It’s only when they improve they realize it wasn’t that great before.

Kelsey: Right.

Esther: We’re used to the way we are. If it’s sluggish or if it’s you’re sort of living half mast, that’s all you know and it isn’t until things improve that you realize things can be a lot better.

Kelsey: Yeah. Maybe for somebody without back pain currently, what would you say to look for in terms of figuring out if your posture is not very good or if it’s doing okay? I know you mentioned the rear, talking about that’s not how we’re supposed to be. Your behind is supposed to be behind you. Anything else that you can think of that is a clear indicator that says that your posture is not very good?

Esther: Well if you find yourself having to fidget, and tossing and turning at night, and not getting restful sleep, and unable to stand in the museum for long periods, or you feel like if you aren’t exercising all the time that you don’t feel your best, you have to size to get your blood to circulate, those are pretty good signs that there’s something in your structure that is impeding the natural flow of blood even when you are sedentary. It should be that you can sit, stand, do whatever for extended periods of time. That’s one indication.

But also if you feel like there are sort of bulges or a little unsightly here and there and you are eating pretty well but you’re not satisfied with your shape, it could be structural. It could be that you have arranged your parts in such a way that certain muscles are underused, others are overused and it’s not working out all together in a pleasing functional way.

I think human beings are naturally elegant, naturally beautiful just the way cats and horses are. It’s worth really taking care of our most important art object, which is our own structure.

Kelsey: Now you just mentioned a point that you’re saying you should be able to stand, you should be able to sit, you should be able to be sedentary for long periods of time with your blood circulating well if your posture is good. So I’m curious to hear what you think about this idea that sitting is the new smoking and that it’s something terrible for our health.

Esther: Sure. It goes without saying that sitting like a lump on a log eight hours a day or more behind a computer is not a great recipe for health. It’s natural to change it up. You want to sit, stand, move around to some extent. But sometimes we need to sit. You’re on a long journey or you’re an Inuit seal hunter and you can’t be moving around and scaring away that seal through the air vibrations and whatever.

And so you want to be able to do all those things. That doesn’t mean that’s what you want and choose to do every day all day. So change it up is a much better way to live your life. You sit, you stand, you walk all with good posture, and not because you have to escape the bad nature of sitting, or standing, or staying still. Because you also have these sayings like the next position is the best position and that’s really a big copout, like every position is so bad you have to be running away from it all the time.

I think the opposite is true. Each position is wonderful for you if you do it well, if you do it in moderation. You want to be able to do it for extended periods of time without choosing to do that all the time like as part of your sort of daily habit.

Kelsey: Right. So it’s more like do your normal type movements. You don’t need to do anything special to take care of your body necessarily. Like you were saying, you don’t need to be doing all sorts of exercise and necessarily have a healthy body but you need to do the things that we are naturally meant to do; so sitting, standing, lying down in a way that supports good posture.

Esther: True, but most people in modern lifestyles don’t have very much variety in their work situations for example. A lot of people have to be behind a computer for eight hours or more. So yes, then you want a sit/stand desk, you want to get up, go get water, and so on. But even that isn’t very much variety.

What I recommend is in that case you supplement according to what your job is. You supplement appropriately so you’re getting a little bit of moving your heart fast, of stretching beyond where you would otherwise stretch just sitting at a desk or reaching for a file cabinet.

You want to sometimes be running away from something or be running after something. If you don’t have that anymore, which is most of us, then do it in a pretend fashion, maybe sprints and weights. Sometimes you want to be lugging an animal home. Well we don’t do that very much anymore and so instead we got weights in a gym, or kettlebells, or you take up some arduous sport, or you have gardening as a passion, something so that you’re pushing yourself in various ways throughout your routine.

Kelsey: Got it. Variety is key it sounds like. We always talk about on our podcast that variety in your diet is key, but it sounds like variety in movement is also key.

Esther: Very much so, and pushing a little bit in different ways is also important I think. You don’t want your scope diminishing as you age, so it’s important to stretch, to strengthen, to go fast, things like that to keep that all from shrinking on you.

Kelsey: Right, makes perfect sense now. If somebody has identified that they don’t have good posture right now, and I’ll throw myself into that category I think. I probably don’t have the greatest posture that I probably could. What are some of the next steps that they can take just like if they’re not maybe necessarily ready to jump into your course quite yet? What is what are some things, some techniques maybe that they could just use at home to just sort of start sitting and standing better?

Esther: I have a lot of free services. There are videos on YouTube. We do a free online presentation that is one hour that is very content rich. It teaches people to stretch, sit, to roll their shoulders back. That’s a good one and I can teach that now if you’d like, although I always like it to be visual as well.

Kelsey: Yeah, I think the visual part is probably a great aspect of it I would think, but we can maybe talk about some pieces of that.

Esther: We can. Stretch sitting is easy to describe. So instead of just sitting against your back rest for example when you’re driving your car, you could be stretch sitting. You could use the backrest like a little traction device. For that I did create the Stretchsit Cushion, but you could also just put a towel back there in your midback. If you have a fabric chair it won’t slide, or at least not too much. It should be a towel that has some friction.

And then you want to lengthen your back, and that does require a technique. You first come away from the towel and then you kind of curve your upper body forward in such a way that you undoing any sway you might have in the low back and flattening and lengthening that area out.

And then in addition, you use your arms to kind of push your hands on the seat maybe to push the top of you away from the bottom of you. So your bottom stays in the chair and then you’re elongating the back of you the back and then attaching the back to the towel, or the Stretchsit Cushion, or whatever you have that has friction. They are behind you and now you feel a very nice boost.

The Stretchsit Cushion or the towel is elongating your lumbar spine and it feels really nice and it makes it a pleasure to drive, or sit watching a TV, or just sitting at a computer desk. If your back is getting a nice stretch as you work, it’s a pleasant feeling and it’s also very therapeutic.

Kelsey: I’m sort of like trying to do that as you’re talking through without a towel. But I would imagine that that is kind of stretching the lower portion of your back. Is that correct?

Esther: Exactly. And if you stretch the lower, then the upper part will position better because whatever excess curve you have in your low back gets reflected as kyphosis or a hunch in your upper back, and then your neck is obliged to have an excessive lordosis or concave curve.

All of those excessive curves do mischief on your discs and nerves and such. All these spinal nerves need room and they need gaps between the vertebrae. If the vertebrae are all kind of curving around, then there’s less room and things can get pinched. And that’s no fun at all.

Kelsey: Right. I mean that sounds incredibly easy and it sounds like it makes a huge difference. That’s a great way for people to get started. I’m thinking I’ve got to start doing that right when we get off the call.

Esther: You hit it on the head. It’s not necessarily easy. It is very simple and it’s one of the easier things we teach, but it’s still nuanced because people will misinterpret length because we’re taught so repeatedly that length means stick your chest out. If you think about it, that’s actually shortening your back, shortening your low back. But it’s still what we’re conditioned to do.

It’s very common for people as they’re trying to lengthen their lumbar area to somewhere along the series of steps that I describe to stick out their chest and then lose the length that they just created. You really want to be curving forward and thinking about your lumbar spine kind of hooking your back up against the backrest like it’s a picture hanging from a wall and then getting that nice comfortable stretch.

Kelsey: Got it. For many of us who do sit eight hours a day at a desk, when it comes to chairs do you feel like there’s a special sort of chair that people should be get? Or do you think it’s just a straight back and then adding that towel, or cushion, or whatever you want to help you do that stretchsitting? Is there anything we need to keep in mind?

Esther: Yes. If you know the technique I call stacksitting, which is much more nuanced and not a good one for me to just lead people through on a on a podcast, but when you do know how to stacksit which involves placing your pelvis just right and then letting the vertebrae stack effortlessly on top, then it’s very versatile. You can sit on a rock, you can sit on a stump. And if you get your pelvis situated well, then you’re home.

It needs a few other things. You need to externally rotate your legs, you need to have your shoulders rolled into position and your neck transported back in place, etc. etc., and you need to have relaxed muscles in the low back for example, which is why I like to start people with stretchsitting. Because if they’ve got all these curvy-wurvy stuff going on in their spine, then you don’t get to stack no matter how well your pelvis is positioned.

Assuming you’ve done your homework and you’ve stretch stretched out all of your low back muscles both with stretchsitting and stretchlying because there you’ve got eight hours a day to capture, to improve your back. That is a very low hanging juicy fruit that I love for people to understand how to pick and avail themselves of. But assuming you’ve done all of that and your back is all nice and stretchy and able to stack, then stacksitting requires nothing.

Kelsey: Got it.

Esther: It doesn’t matter what the chair is. Almost any chair will work. But it’s not fun to sit that way for hours and hours. It’s nice to change it up and stretchsitting is very nice. Then you have to have something behind your back to stretch up against because most chair backs won’t work. So I like to change it up.

Ergonomic chairs do the worst job of supporting you well because they tend to have exaggerated lumbar support. The one that’s kind of won the cool race is Herman Miller’s Aeron and that’s my least favorite chair of all because it has mesh at the bottom and behind. Behind it gives you no purpose. Even with the Stretchsit Cushion it’s a little hard to get that stretch.

And then at the bottom what it does for your legs is the same thing that umbrella strollers do for a baby’s legs which is turn them inwards because you have a sagging mesh. That is the worst position for the legs to be in. You want your legs externally rotated so your pelvis has room to settle between the legs and is not impeded from this position because of the legs.

A lot of chairs are not great. The moment they try to support, they do some opposite stuff because we got the wrong philosophy.

Kelsey: I see. Okay, makes sense. You had mentioned stretchlying is another nice low hanging juicy fruit. Could you explain that term to our listeners?

Esther: Sure. The idea is that instead of just lying plunking yourself down on your bed, which will then carefully maintain all that tightness that you’ve been cultivating all day long, what you want to do is reset all that tightness. You use your elbows to dig in and as you lay your spine down going from the bottom up bit by bit, so chunk by chunk, you want to introduce extra length. You’re sort of stretching yourself out as you unroll yourself onto your bed.

And this doesn’t require any extra equipment. The bed becomes your traction device. Whatever mischief you did during the day, tightening too much, aligning poorly, whatever, at night you could reset all that.

There are different ways to do it on your side and on your back, I have all of this very well illustrated in my book which is extremely inexpensive.

Kelsey: Yeah. We’ll link to your book.

Esther: 8 Steps To A Pain-Free Back. It’s available wherever books are sold and it has eleven hundred images and takes you step by step to all these techniques because they have little nuances. But with the illustrations people learn stretchlying and stretchsitting pretty well on average. And then beyond that, a coach is very useful.

Kelsey: Right. The stretchsitting and the stretchlying, it sounds like those are the basics. And then beyond that, you kind of need somebody to be hands on with you and tell you where there are some issues. Right?

Esther: Yeah. It’s like learning to play tennis from a book. You’re only going to get so far and that’s not very far. You need someone who really knows what they’re doing to guide you; No, no, this is not the correct way, or more on this side, or push here and there, and so on.

Kelsey: Tell us a little bit more about your method that you’ve created and sort of how that works if somebody wants to get into that.

Esther: It’s step by step and the way it’s designed is that the earlier steps give a lot of bang for the buck. Little effort, hours of results and makes a real difference so people feel encouraged to proceed. They are excited like I got rid of 10 years of sciatic pain last night. That’s pretty exciting and it happens often.

So first length, that’s the first project, and then appropriate strength. Like in the abdomen for example it’s not the rectus you want. It’s not crunches and sit ups you want to do, but it’s the three deeper layers of the abdominal muscles you want to strengthen so you become slenderer, taller, and more protected for whatever activities you are taking on. And then glute strength is very important and foot strength is very important.

With all our techniques we’re teaching people how to do this not in exercises that take them out of their lives but rather integrated into their lives. It doesn’t take any longer to walk well than walk poorly. Every step that you take in walking should be a glute strengthening exercise and a foot strengthening exercise because you are grabbing the floor. Even if you wear shoes you can do the same technique of grabbing the floor and pushing the ground behind you in order to go forward.

We teach all these strengthening things and then we teach people how to reshape their spine, how to get their behinds out behind safely, how to do all these other reshaping of the spine. And then we teach them how to preserve their new length, and strength, and shape in movement while they’re bending.

Bending looks very different from how modern people do it and also very different from what we’re taught to do, which is bend with the knees. If you look at the professional benders in the world, they’re not bending with their knees, they’re doing something quite different and that’s what we teach.

Kelsey: Interesting. Got it. I really appreciate that about your method in that you don’t have all these exercises that you have people do. I was in a car accident about two months ago and I’m going to physical therapy and everything. Even though I know that it’s very important to do these exercises, we get caught up in life and sometimes it’s hard to keep up with those things.

I can imagine that if I was being taught things that would just keep me aware of my posture and like telling me things that I can change about the way that I’m just walking, or standing, or sitting in my everyday life, that I could do a lot more often obviously than having prescribed exercises that I have to do a certain amount of times per day. So I really appreciate it.

Esther: I think exercises have great use, but very limited use. It can get you to a threshold length or strength and accelerate the process of you being longer and the hamstrings, stronger in the back, whatever.

But if you’re using an everyday thing you’re doing anyway, and it’s not by doing it in some contrived way but learning how to do it in a natural way, and you get that exercise covered… like I hip hinge to load my dishwasher and I am so covered for a hamstring stretches. I don’t need to be pulling a band and pulling my leg up into the air, even though that is something we teach our people who are super stiff just to get it going.

But the expectation is they’ll do it very limited amount of time because pretty soon their technique of bending is their hamstring stretch and their technique of walking is their glute strengthening exercise. And then they’re not getting 30 reps or 40 reps, they’re getting like 5000 reps. No matter how conscientious you are, you can’t match that with an exercise routine.

Kelsey: Absolutely.

Esther: It’s just so obviously a better an approach to use your everyday life, everyday activities when and where possible. And it’s very possible to cover most exercise if you move around at all. If you’re walking and bending and you’re at all active, you’re covered for most stretches and strengthening exercises if you do it well.

Kelsey: What I’m going to do is I’m going to link to the stretchsitting video that you mentioned and I’m going to link to your book so that people can learn how to do the stretchsitting and also the stretchlying and kind of get those other tasks to get there. We’ll link to your website as well. But is there anywhere else that people can find you and your information online?

Esther: I’ve done a lot of talks and if you just look up my name you’ll find all kinds of things under video. We have a channel on YouTube and on our website we have a video section on the main menu and you can find oodles of stuff. We’re very generous with our information.

If we could do it all in all over the net, we would have done it. But the truth is there comes a point where it’s like you cannot learn this well just on the internet. And so that’s the point we invite people to come to our classes which are extremely low priced, reasonably priced for what they’re getting. That’s a point we hope to bring everyone to because we want to see back pain be rare on the planet and we totally think that that’s possible. Thank you for getting the word out.

Kelsey: Absolutely, my pleasure. I think this is really important. You’ve inspired me to think more about my own posture.

Esther: Wonderful!

Kelsey: It’s something that I think you’re totally right about in that like just the way that we see people standing and sitting currently is probably very different from what our ancestors did or even people probably 100 years ago were sitting and standing.

Esther: Totally.

Kelsey:  It’s so important to realize, be aware of it first of all and then take steps to correct that. I’m very grateful for the work that you’ve done and are doing. We’ll link to everything we talked about today so people can get started on their own. And then if they do want to take a class, I assume they’re able to find a local class for them on your website as well, correct?

Esther: Yes. They just type in their zip code and they can see everything that we have. We also have a newsletter that sends invitations to our online videos. That’s a good one to sign up for, no spam.

Kelsey: Excellent! Perfect. Well thank you so much for being here, Esther. I think this is all amazing and it was really great to talk to you about this stuff.

Esther: Thank you so much!

PODCAST: Our Updated Recommendations For Saturated Fat

Thanks for joining us for episode 122 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are answering following question from a listener:

“Hello! I really love the podcast and I’ve listened to every episode multiple times. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us all. I know this might seem like an old topic, but could you do an episode on saturated fat and what the most current evidence says? Does it depend on the type of saturated fat like oleic acid versus lauric acid etc.? I know fat in general is good, but when it comes to saturated fat do we need to get it in the diet or can we just make it in our body ourselves? And if saturated fat is in fact great for us, is there a minimum or maximum amount that you would suggest getting each day? Should people with certain health conditions be wary of too much saturated fat?”

Even though recent research shows that saturated fat is not the villain it has been made out to be for decades, it’s still a topic of controversy. Most in the Paleo community tout its health benefits and enjoy it liberally while others warn to take a more cautionary approach.

So what’s the deal with saturated fat? Should we really make a habit of putting coconut oil in our coffee?

Join us today as we share current research and our updated recommendations on the topic of dietary saturated fat. Some of what we’ll be discussing is who should be cautious about the amount of saturated fat in their diet, the effect of saturated fat on the microbiome, and how consuming excess isolated fats differs from eating fats in whole food sources.

If you want to decide for yourself how much saturated fat to include in your diet regardless of popular food fads or phobias, this is a conversation not to be missed!

Here’s what Laura and Kelsey will be discussing in this episode:

  • [00:04:33] The definition of saturated fat and which foods contain it
  • [00:06:50] The lack of evidence supporting the belief that saturated fat has a negative impact on health
  • [00:13:26] While saturated fat is not an essential nutrient in our diet, saturated fat is essential to our body
  • [00:19:55] How saturated fat can be part of a balanced diet for most people
  • [00:21:57] Genes that can affect the way the body processes saturated fat which affects cholesterol levels
  • [00:24:00] Lipoprotein particle levels in addition to total cholesterol that are markers of cardiovascular disease risk
  • [00:27:33] Research that suggests saturated fat can reduce insulin sensitivity as compared to monounsaturated fat
  • [00:29:17] The effect of saturated fat on the microbiome
  • [00:33:32] The importance of differentiating between excess isolated saturated fats and saturated fats found in whole foods, and why you should reconsider the belief that unlimited dietary fat is healthy
  • [00:38:46] Our general guidelines for including fats in a diverse diet that is optimal for health

Links Discussed:


Laura: Hi everyone! Welcome to episode 122 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Laura Schoenfeld and with me as always is my cohost Kelsey Kinney.

Kelsey: Hey everyone!

Laura: We are Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence-based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me, Laura, at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com, and Kelsey over at KelseyKinney.com.

Over the next 30 to 45 minutes, we’ll be answering your questions about health and nutrition and providing our insights into solving your health challenges with practical tips and real food.

Kelsey: If you’re enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that you never miss an episode. And while you’re there, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well. And remember, we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health related question that we can answer on an upcoming show.

Laura: Today on the show we’re going to be discussing the latest evidence around saturated fat and recommendations for how to approach saturated fat in your diet. But before we get into our question for the day, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

This episode is brought to you by Paleo Rehab, a five week online program designed to help you recover from HPA axis dysfunction, also known as adrenal fatigue. Is your perfect Paleo diet and lifestyle leaving you exhausted? Now is the time to start feeling the health and wellness you know you deserve. If you’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and are ready to take back your health, then head over to MyPaleoRehab.com to get your free 28 page e-book on the 3 step plan for healing from adrenal fatigue. That’s www.MyPaleoRehab.com.

Kelsey: Welcome back everyone! Here’s our question for today’s show:

“Hello! I really love the podcast and I’ve listened to every episode multiple times. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us all. I know this might seem like an old topic, but could you do an episode on saturated fat and what the most current evidence says? Does it depend on the type of saturated fat like oleic acid versus lauric acid etc.? I know fat in general is good, but when it comes to saturated fat do we need to get it in the diet or can we just make it in our body ourselves? And if saturated fat is in fact great for us, is there a minimum or maximum amount that you would suggest getting each day? Should people with certain health conditions be wary of too much saturated fat?”

Laura: I think this is a really good question. To be fair, it’s kind of like a multi-part question. I’m not sure if we’re going to get to every single thing that they’re asking. But we did want to do a show just overviewing saturated fat and answering some of these questions like how much should we be eating? Is it really good for us? Is it really bad for us? Because there’s so much back and forth in the nutrition world about saturated fat and I think we can kind of go in either direction as far as saying it’s bad for you or it’s good for you depending on what information you’re looking at.

We just wanted to give kind of a basic review of like what saturated fat is as far as where in the diet it is, what saturated even means, and then also talking about who should worry about saturated fat. I hate to use the term worry, maybe who should be more considerate of the saturated fat in their diet versus who might not be as worried about it.

But first, like I said, maybe we can just do a quick little review of what saturated fat is and where it is in the diet. I think most of our listeners probably understand this, so I’m just going to do very high level overview.

Saturated fat is referring to the type of bonds in the fatty acid chain. There’s different types of bonds between the carbon molecules and a fat fatty acid chain and basically they’re either going to have single bonds, which is just basically one electron as a bond versus double bonds, which has two electrons is the bond. And again, this is like really basic chemistry over here. It’s not going to get deeper than that. You guys can go to Chris Masterjohn’s podcast if you want the deep nitty gritty of the biochemistry.

For saturated fat, it has all single bonds in its fatty acid chain and saturated just means all of the bonds that can have hydrogen’s attached to them, do. This makes the fat rigid and more structured than other types of fat such as the mono and polyunsaturated fats. In monounsaturated, there’s one chain that has a double bond instead of being fully saturated with hydrogen. Polyunsaturated has multiple bonds. There’s a lot of structural differences between these fats.

The main thing you’re going to notice in the real world with these fats is that saturated fats are solid at room temperature because of these saturated bonds, whereas things like monounsaturated, polyunsaturated fats, so oils essentially are going to be liquid at room temperature. That’s the main thing you’re going to notice between the two fats in the real world.

Foods that are higher in saturated fat would include things like beef, lamb. Pork has not as much as beef, but it does have a higher amount. Coconut is almost entirely saturated fat. And then full fat dairy products like butter, and cheese, and yogurt, that kind of thing are going to have saturated fats as well. Most of the saturated fats in the diet are going to come from animal foods, but there are some plant foods that are pretty high like coconut and palm.

As far as what this person says about saturated fat being great for us, I think we have to kind of break down the pendulum swing that has been happening over the last couple of decades when it comes to fat. Again like I mentioned the beginning, there’s kind of that concept that fat is bad and excess fat is the root cause of all these health issues, it causes heart disease, especially saturated fat, cholesterol, that kind of thing. And then there’s the other side of the spectrum which has been a little bit more popular lately that saturated fat is great for you, and it’s like you should eat as much of it as you can, and it’s super stable, and doesn’t cause oxidative stress, and all this stuff.

We want to talk about kind of where our beliefs lie and why we feel this way based on evidence. I would say that saturated fat in general has gotten a bad reputation in the last couple of decades because of a lot of population studies or generally these studies that don’t necessarily translate to humans. There has been a lot of poorly executed research studies and there’s been a lot of industry influence over the last couple of decades as far as showing which type of fat is healthier.

There’s a lot of history that goes into the belief that saturated fat is very bad for us. And as far as that goes, there’s actually very little evidence that moderate amounts of saturated fat in the diet has a negative impact on our health. So it’s not as simple as saturated fat clogs our arteries and causes heart disease or stroke. I think that was like kind of the basic understanding of saturated fat up until the last decade or so. And the most recent evidence that’s been published really shows that saturated fat intake in general is not associated with cardiovascular disease or stroke.

And again, I think we’re talking about more moderate amounts of saturated fat, nothing super extreme. A lot of these things are population studies, or if they are randomized controlled trials, they’re not necessarily putting people on like very, very high saturated fat diets. They’re just looking at kind of a normal amount of the percentage of calories coming from saturated fat.

Kelsey, I know that one of the things you wanted to mention here when it comes to chronic diseases talking about fat versus sugar as being a trigger of things like heart disease and stroke, that kind of thing.

Kelsey: Yeah, definitely. Like you were saying, there there’s been this whole idea for many decades at this point that fat, and especially saturated fat, and cholesterol, and those sort of things are the main drivers of cardiovascular disease in particular. Some more recent research is showing that sugar is way more problematic when it comes to heart disease than saturated fat or even just fat in general is.

I think that the tune is changing quite a bit on this whole idea that fat is the problem and fat is the main driver of chronic disease in our society. But I think what can happen and what we see at least in the Paleo community and kind of the real food community is that it’s almost like we’ve kind of gone to the other extreme where we just, I’m sure you see a lot of people in your practice that come to you and I do as well, that are just on very, very high fat diets, very low carb.

They kind of think that the research how it’s going now where it’s saying that sugar is a problem and refined carbohydrates are a problem extends to all carbohydrates and that all carbohydrates are bad. And I think that’s definitely a misconception that’s out there. It really is more about these refined carbohydrates and things like sugar that are particularly problematic. Real food carbs, fruits and vegetables, plant matter, that sort of thing when it’s not highly processed is definitely not nearly as much of an issue. But it seems that a lot of people just blanket everything under that category of carbohydrates and think that all carbohydrates are bad and that if sugar is a problem, then we shouldn’t be eating even things like fruit that contain natural sugar.

I think we have kind of gone to this other extreme where we have vilified carbohydrates in general especially in the Paleo community. I think that unfortunately and fortunately, it kind of goes both ways, it’s a lot more complex than that. Unfortunately, it’s complex so not everybody fully understands all the different nuances that go into this, but fortunately it does mean that there’s some degree of flexibility here. It’s not so black and white and that there is kind of a middle ground that I think makes a lot of sense for most people when it comes to preventing chronic disease.

Laura: We did a show on sugar a couple weeks ago, so definitely check that went out if you want to hear more about our perspective on sugar.

But I think in general, and we’re going to talk about this a little bit more, it’s this pendulum swing that causes the problem. It’s not that sugar in moderation – and we can definitely talk about moderation as like an episode in itself – but sugar in moderation, or foods that have carbs or natural sugars in them, they’re not necessarily driving chronic disease. And then fats in foods, they’re not necessarily driving chronic disease. We will talk a little bit about excessive amounts of these things. Certainly in combination, which I think the Western diet is pretty high in both, it tends to be high in sugar and fat, that tends to be a problem too.

We just want to make sure it’s clear that we’re not saying sugar in any amount is like going to cause heart disease. It’s just if you’re chronically getting lots of sugar and probably also getting a lot of fat on top of that, that’s going to be much more of an issue than having a little bit, I don’t even mean a little bit, like a normal amount of saturated fat in your diet compared to the other fats.

This person had asked about if we need saturated fat in the diet or if we can just make it in the body ourselves. That’s a little bit of a loaded question just because technically we don’t need to eat saturated fat.

It’s not an essential nutrient. Essential in nutrition just means that our bodies can’t create it itself, or it can’t create enough of it, I should say, to meet our needs.

Technically saturated fats are not essential fats. Our bodies can produce all the fat it needs from de novo lipogenesis if necessary. De novo lipogenesis is just the process of creating saturated fat from other….well it would be saturated, generally, what we’re creating. But just in general, creating new fats in the body is going to be from things like carbohydrates and maybe some protein as well, but usually just carbohydrate.

Now that’s not necessarily something that the body does a ton of unless we’re eating a very low fat diet and we need to create new fat, or if we’re eating a ton of extra calories and we need to store those calories as fat. That would be the two times when we’re going to be doing more de novo lipogenesis.

I don’t really think that’s something that most people eating a whole foods diet need to worry about that they’re not going to eat enough saturated fat to meet their body’s needs. Most people are not going to have a completely devoid of saturated fat diet. Even other fats that are more monounsaturated sometimes have some saturated fat in them. Having like a zero percent saturated fat diet would be pretty tough.

Kelsey: Yeah, you’d have to try really hard.

Laura: Right. But if you had a zero percent saturated fat diet, it in and of itself that would not cause like a major nutritional deficiency. The downside of avoiding saturated fats would be the fact that a lot of foods that contain saturated fats have a lot of nutrients in them that are difficult to get elsewhere. So particularly the fat soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, and K-2, those tend to be in higher amounts in foods that contain saturated fat. If you’re totally avoiding saturated fats, you may actually be challenged to get adequate amounts of those micronutrients from food. Well really A and K-2 are the biggest concern because D we can get from the sun.

So I would say that it’s not the fat itself that would be essential, it would be more the foods that contain those fats that would be potentially essential to be eating if you don’t create those nutrients super well. Things like vitamin A, our body can convert beta carotene into, but I think there’s some stat that like 50 percent of the population can’t produce enough vitamin A without getting some pre-formed.

So again, essential versus optimal is definitely a conversation that is important to consider here because we don’t need saturated fat from our diet, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t help us to get some. We do need saturated fats in our body. It’s not that we don’t need those fats, it’s just that our body can create them if we do need it.

Saturated fat does play a lot of essential structural roles in our body. That’s why our body will tend to create a lot of saturated fat as part of its fat production process when it’s creating new fat or if it’s turning carbs into fat if we have an excessive calorie intake. Our body can use saturated fat to both store energy as well as create cellular structures like the cell membrane. So we just want to make sure that aware that it’s not that saturated fats are not essential in the body, it’s just that as far as an essential nutrient, they’re not technically essential.

And that again is not super relevant to somebody eating a whole foods diet because you’re not going to be getting a completely devoid of saturated fat diet if you have a mixed omnivorous diet and you’re just eating a variety of foods. I would say that in that situation, when I’m talking about a normal amount of saturated fat intake, I’m considering the people who just eat a variety of foods including higher saturated fat foods like beef, and coconut, that kind of thing. When we start getting into trouble nutritionally is when we’re either going way in one direction or the other. So maybe we’re either completely avoiding all foods that have saturated fat in them and maybe avoiding fat in general, or for at that other end of the extreme where it’s like you just look at saturated fat as this super food that you should just eat as much of it as possible and the more the better.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: I don’t necessarily think our listeners have that very extreme mindset, but I have seen it in my clients where they for whatever reason don’t look at fat as being something that they should be controlling portion-wise whereas they look at carbs as something that they should. As an example they’ll put coconut oil in their coffee, but they won’t eat more than half a banana because they’re worried they’re going to gain weight from eating a banana. I think that’s the level of extremity that I tend to see in my clients. What about you, Kelsey?

Kelsey: Yeah, same sort of thing. I think that again goes back to this idea of what you’re saying about that pendulum swing. First we thought that fat was the problem and now we’re really on the other side of carbs are the problem. There never seems to be a balanced discussion about it. It’s either vilifying one or the other. I think that just creates a lot of problems mindset-wise when you start thinking about food and putting that mindset into practice obviously into what you’re actually eating on a daily basis, you tend to see these kind of behaviors come out where it doesn’t even cross someone’s mind to think about I’m putting in a lot of calories from fat into my coffee, but I’m worried I’m going to gain weight from half a banana, which is what? Like 60 calories.

I definitely see that a lot in my practice as well. It’s something that just takes a little bit of education about. That’s what we’re hoping to talk to you guys about today so that you think about the research behind this, you can think about sort of the mindset that you should think about these things with so that you can make a decision for yourself that makes the most sense for you and your goals.

Laura: Definitely. As far as the average healthy person goes, I would argue that consuming these saturated fat containing foods on a regular basis is perfectly healthy for most people and there’s no need to be afraid of these foods in the diet in general.

Now we can talk a little bit about some people who may benefit from a reduction of saturated fat intake, but the average person can eat saturated fat containing foods just across a mixed diet. Of course they’re not going to be eating all beef, or all coconut oil, or coconut products, or something. There’s going to be a mix of other types of animal foods like fish, and chicken, and things like that that have other types of fats in them. There will also be fats from plants like olives, and avocados, that kind of thing.

We’re not necessarily getting an extreme amount of saturated fat intake from these foods. Even something like pork, I think actually the fat is primarily monounsaturated if you look at the percentage of fat in their in their fat. Generally if you’re eating a mixed diet, you’re not going to get the bulk of your fat calories from saturated fat. It’s going to be fairly balanced across the three different fat types.

Now there’s two things we want to talk about for the rest of the podcast. We have the concept that there are some disease states or some genetic states that might benefit from reducing their saturated fat intake, maybe not 100 percent avoiding it, but definitely not making up the bulk of either their calorie intake or their fat type intake.

And then there’s also like we were saying that trend in the Paleo community where people are generally just eating as much as saturated fat as they want, particularly from isolated added fats, things like coconut oil, butter, that kind of thing. We need discuss if that is something that is supported by the evidence as being healthy or if maybe that is a behavior that is worth changing for people listening to the podcast.

Like I was saying before, there is a small subset of the population who could benefit that have chronic diseases that are potentially impacted by excessive saturated fat intake. There are genetic factors that affect the way our bodies process saturated fats. For some people, a higher saturated fat intake actually raises LDL cholesterol and may increase their weight as well.

It’s not everybody and I don’t want everyone to be listening to this thinking that if they eat saturated fat it’s going to raise their cholesterol or cause them to gain weight. But there are some genetic profiles that actually do see a higher risk of this.

So if you want to do genetic analysis, they have some programs out there that can look at your susceptibility to these issues. Of course the genetic risk is not the same thing as the actual outcome. If you’re eating a higher amount of saturated amount of saturated fat in the diet but your calories are appropriate, it’s unlikely that you’re just going to put weight on with no excess of calories.

But if you’re eating a super high saturated fat diet and you have one of these genetic factors, even just a little bit excess may be more likely to cause weight gain and in that kind of person than someone that doesn’t have those genetic factors so.

And then with the LDL cholesterol increase, there are some people that have that like saturated fat sensitive cholesterol levels, so if they eat more saturated fat, they’ll see an increase in their LDL cholesterol, they’ll see an increase in their total cholesterol, they’ll see an increase in their particle number. It’s not only increasing the total cholesterol, but there’s more cholesterol lipoprotein particles. That is something that’s a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. That would be something if you’re noticing that your LDL shoots up on either low carb or high saturated fat diet, that might be an issue where you need to reduce your saturated fat intake.

Kelsey: One thing to consider with that in particular is I know that there has been a lot of talk about how total cholesterol and even LDL cholesterol aren’t necessarily the markers that you should be looking at. But like Laura was mentioning, there’s a lot of other lipoprotein particles that can kind of give us a better indicator or they’re better markers of cardiovascular disease risk.

This is something that I see a lot in my practice, and I’m sure you do too, Laura, where you’ll see somebody come in and they’ve noticed that their total cholesterol and maybe their LDL cholesterol has gone up since they started eating more fat. What I usually recommend is that they do like a lipoprotein particle tests so they’re looking at things like ApoB and just they’re different particle sizes and overall particle counts. Again, those are generally considered better markers of cardiovascular disease risk.

But the first thing that somebody will tend to see of course is that total cholesterol and their LDL cholesterol going up because those are the things that are being regularly tested by their doctor. So if that is you and you have seen that pattern going up more and more over the years as you’ve been on a higher saturated fat diet, it’s a great idea as the next step to just get one of those lipoprotein particle tests. One of the ones that’s out there that’s pretty easy to get I think it’s called an NMR, like the letters, NMR lipoprotein particle test.

That just gives you a really good overview of all those different particles I just talked about. And again, much better indicator of whether or not you’re actually at risk for heart disease based on originally seeing your total cholesterol and your LDL go up.

Laura: Now I will say that generally like a total cholesterol and LDL number can be useful information if it’s super high. That 200 nanogram…I forget if it’s milligrams or nanograms. I think it’s milligrams per deciliter. I don’t even remember. I should know that. For cholesterol, 200 is kind of like that cut off point for medication for a lot of doctors. I think that’s definitely too low as far as the cut off point is concerned, especially for women.

But there are people out there that are walking around with total cholesterol levels higher than 300 or LDL numbers above 200 that they believe that that doesn’t matter for their heart health. And it’s not necessarily that that number is the say all end all of cardiovascular disease risk. But if you have a number that high, there’s a better chance that you are actually at higher risk for cardiovascular disease.

Kelsey: Exactly.

Laura: We need to be mindful of again the extreme opinion that total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol doesn’t mean anything with heart disease because very high levels are very dangerous. I mean there are people with familial hypercholesterolemia that have higher risk of heart disease just because they have higher amounts of cholesterol in their blood.

I just want to make sure people aren’t thinking that it’s completely useless, it’s just not as useful as some of these other tests.

Kelsey: Right, that’s a good point.

Laura: Anyway, so that would be a person who may want to adjust their saturated fat intake, maybe reduce it, maybe keep their oils to more of those monounsaturated fats.

There also is some evidence that saturated fat can reduce insulin sensitivity if compared to monounsaturated fat. It doesn’t necessarily affect blood sugar per se, but what they found in research is that if you replace monounsaturated fat with saturated fat, your body has to produce more insulin to get the same blood sugar control as if it was just normally producing insulin.

So even though there is a couple of steps in between that and anything like diabetes, or metabolic syndrome, that kind of thing, if somebody is already dealing with insulin sensitivity issues or if they have actually diagnosed insulin resistance, then eating a super high saturated fat diet may actually contribute to that. For those people, replacing some of those saturated fats in the diet with monounsaturated fat could be helpful in increasing insulin sensitivity.

Again a little bit theoretical because we don’t know what that means for the long term as far as does it matter if you’re producing more insulin and you have the same blood sugar control? But I would say that anyone with insulin resistance could benefit from more monounsaturated fats compared to saturated fat.

I would say those are some of the two major health conditions. So cardiovascular disease, higher cholesterol, both total cholesterol and then the particle count, and then as well as just general metabolic syndrome, diabetes. If somebody has like insulin resistant PCOS, they may want to reduce total saturated fat intake and increase monounsaturated fat.

Again, that’s not super controversial.

Kelsey: I was going to throw in a controversial one in here too, which is just your microbiome in general. I do think that if you’re somebody who’s suffering from microbial imbalances, things like dysbiosis, whether that’s in the large intestine, well I guess we don’t know quite as much about SIBO in particular. But I would say if you have dysbiosis and you’re trying to balance out your microbiome that depending on how high of a fat intake you’re consuming right now, it may be beneficial to reduce your I would say overall fat intake, but saturated fat certainly is part of that because there has been some research that shows that high fat diets do have a negative impact on your gut bacteria.

I think that’s partially why sometimes that they do find higher fat diets to be problematic for things like weight gain and for connecting it with cardiovascular disease too because there is a high degree of correlation between having just dysbiosis and then also having things like metabolic syndrome or cardiovascular disease because they are connected in that way.

It may be that that’s sort of the connection between the two, between the amount of fat that you’re eating and those disease outcomes is at least partially related to how your microbiome is responding to that dietary input.

There’s definitely been some research showing that there’s a negative impact on your gut bacteria. The reason I say it’s a bit controversial is because a lot of the research when they’re looking at those high fat diets, they’re using vegetable oils as the majority of the fat that is part of that kind of western high fat, high sugar diet that they’re looking at.

We all know that those are highly inflammatory, things that you wouldn’t want to be eating and so we can kind of expect that that would be problematic for the gut bacteria. But there is also some other research that does show that saturated fat itself especially in high amounts can also cause those unfavorable shifts in gut bacteria.

It’s controversial in the sense that we don’t entirely know how much of an impact saturated fat in particular is having on your gut bacteria, but I think there’s at least enough information out there that I’m even less inclined to recommend that people just eat saturated fat to their heart’s content. We’ll talk a little bit more about that later, but I do want to throw that out here when we’re talking about what conditions may benefit from reducing fat intake, and particularly saturated fat intake, that if you have dysbiosis, and then especially if you have dysbiosis and you have another condition that Laura was just talking about like higher risk of cardiovascular disease or you have metabolic issues, I think those two in combination makes it even more important that you really think about the saturated fat intake that you have in relation to its effect on your gut bacteria and then your gut bacteria’s relationship to any of those disease outcomes.

Laura: Yeah. It’s interesting because I feel like you could look at it as a total high fat diet versus high saturated fat diet and both of those have some potential problems with the gut microbiome. So it definitely adds a monkey wrench into things because like you were saying, it can actually be one of the potential driving forces of the higher cholesterol, and the insulin resistance, and fatty liver and all these things that come from a high fat diet in the research. It just adds some complexity.

It’s not like we’re saying that everyone that eats a higher fat diet is going to develop gut dysbiosis, and obesity, and metabolic syndrome, that kind of thing. It’s just something to think about if you either have any of those conditions or if you’re at higher risk for it based on your genetics.

I think again we need to talk about this in the context of the Paleo community because I don’t think anyone saying that eating a normal food appropriate amount of saturated fat is a problem for the average person. We’re really more talking about an excess of added saturated fats here. And again, this is particularly from oils and added fats like butter or coconut oil, that kind of thing, not as much as just eating full fat dairy or eating some coconut products.

This is something that we see in the Paleo community as being really strongly recommended, things like Bulletproof coffee or just like not worrying about fat at all and only thinking about your carb intake as being a problem. As you can tell, Kelsey and I don’t necessarily agree with that perspective. We don’t necessarily look at putting coconut oil in your coffee or dousing your vegetables in butter or even your starches and butter if you’re eating them. We’re not seeing that as the same thing as having like a fattier piece of beef or eating full fat yogurt at a meal.

Those isolated fats, they’re really not necessarily benefiting people if they’re just doing lots of them. We would rather see people eating foods that contain saturated fat like beef, and dairy, and pork, that kind of stuff rather than adding tons of extra fat to foods from these saturated sources.

If people want to hear a little bit more about some of the research behind that, we did just do an interview with Stephan Guyenet where we talked about the potential issues with adding excessive added fats to food. If you want a little bit more about that, just listen to that interview.

The main take home point from that conversation was that most of these added fats are not actually very nutrient dense when we consider the total calories that these fats provide and the amount of micronutrients they contain. They’re very high calorie products. A tablespoon of butter is about 120 calories and that’s what would be in like a whole banana, for example. There are some nutrients in some of these fats, but not as much as I think people tend to think.

And then things like coconut oil, is that’s actually a rather nutrient poor fat. There’s really not much micronutrients in coconut oil at all. If you’re having a large percentage of your calories come from coconut oil, I wouldn’t really say that’s a great move for optimizing your nutrient density in your diet. It’s not that we’re saying that coconut oil is bad for you. I think that whole cooking oil controversy that came out a couple of weeks ago made everyone think that coconut oil is bad. It’s not that using coconut oil as a fat to cook with is so awful, it’s just using it in just like indiscriminate amounts where you just think I can put as much of this into things as I want, or if I get hungry I’ll just eat coconut oil instead, that’s not really a great nutritional strategy to optimize the nutrient density of your diet.

I just think it’s interesting. I’ve seen on some of these food packages like coconut oil fried potato chips and stuff where they call coconut oil a nutrient dense oil. That’s not true at all. I actually am surprised that they’ll put that on products. So just people keep that in mind if you’re eating coconut oil. It’s not a big deal, it’s just one of those things that I don’t want people looking at coconut oil and even like lots of butter or ghee as being super nutrient dense because they’re really not. For a lot of people they’re just adding a lot of extra calories that maybe don’t contain the most nutrition.

If you’re super active and if you need a lot of calories, added fats can definitely come in handy for getting your calorie intake up. But for people that don’t need to be getting a lot of calories, or if they’re struggling with weight loss, or if they’re gaining weight on a Paleo diet, it’s going to be difficult to keep a healthy weight or to lose weight if you’re adding multiple tablespoons of added fat at each meal.

Because we have to remember that calories do matter and the belief in the Paleo community that fats are just healthy in unlimited quantities ends up leading to people overindulging especially in saturated fats like butter and coconut oil. It’s really easy to forget about the extra calories that come from these fats either if you’re cooking with it or adding it to vegetables if you’re not paying attention to the amount that you’re using or if you think like you can just use as much as you want with no problem.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: That’s a little bit of a tangent, but I just want people to keep in mind that if you’re struggling with weight loss and you’re thinking I should try going keto or cutting more carbs out, it might be that you’re just getting too much added fats in your meals that aren’t necessarily benefiting you and reducing those could actually be a better strategy than cutting out carbs.

I wanted to kind of remind people about that and just addressing that thought that saturated fats are just amazing and in any quantity, and it doesn’t matter how much we use, and they’re totally healthy, and all that nonsense about fat being bad for us just has no merit, which again, not necessarily true. That extreme of an opinion isn’t based in reality. And like usual, there is context that affects whether or not you can be liberal with saturated fat or if you need to be a little bit cautious with the amount you’re using.

Kelsey: Yeah. I would say granted I work with a lot of people with digestive issues so I think that colors the way that I think about sort of the optimal diet. But I think it really applies to general health as well and perhaps that’s because of the effect that gut bacteria has on all other aspects of our health as well.

But, Laura, you can tell me if you feel the same way about sort of a balanced diet. The way that I think about it is you know that people should be eating lots of plant matter, different types different colors, like as much variety as you can put in there and just eating a lot of plants, and then high quality proteins, and then fats coming from your proteins as the majority of your fat. So small amounts of add added extra fats of any type basically other than vegetable oils are perfectly acceptable, but the majority of your fat coming from the proteins that you’re eating or like Laura was mentioning before, full fat yogurt, things like that.

We’re not saying that you need to now go on like a “low fat” diet where you’re relying on these low fat products like low fat milk, low fat yogurt, fake butter, and all that sort of stuff. You can certainly use full fat products and I think that’s still the way to go. And small amounts of extra added fats if you need the extra calories or if you’re enjoying them and they fit within your overall caloric needs, then I think that makes sense, so coming from things like butter, olive oil, avocado oil, and even coconut oil. Even though it doesn’t have a whole lot of nutrients, as long as it fits within your overall plan for calories, I think that makes sense.

That is the kind of diet that’s really going to benefit your microbiome. It’s going to make sure that you have a healthy, diverse, and balanced microbiome which is going to help a lot of other health conditions as well. That’s why, at least for me, that’s sort of what I feel like is the optimal diet. And of course there’s nuance within that, like some people are going to be more on the higher carbohydrate side, some people are going to be more on the higher fat side. There’s certainly variability that can come in within that. But as a general overview of like my basic diet philosophy, that’s sort of where I stand. I’m curious to hear what you think about that too, Laura.

Laura: Yeah. I definitely feel like I’m on the same page. We’re not saying that you should never have any added fats. I feel like I look at added fats a lot of times as more of an enjoyment food than something I think is like crazy healthy for me or anything like that. So it’s not that you and I totally avoid butter and never use coconut oil or anything like that.

If I’m going to use butter, it’s because I want to make something taste a little bit better and I understand that I probably should be moderate with it and I don’t need to use a ton of it. Sometimes there’s days where I don’t use it because I don’t think I need to be enjoying every single thing that I eat.

It’s very difficult to make any sort of generalization for any particular person especially because like I said, for people who need a lot of calories, added fats can really come in handy. But like you said, for the average person, eating a lot of plants, eating carbs from plants, eating high quality proteins and having some fat from whole food sources is generally what’s supported by the research as far as the optimal diet. Which again, it’s not rocket science. It’s just you have to kind of be willing to ignore some of the trendy fads that come into the nutrition world. Because again, it’s like there’s just this belief that you can just put as much fat on things as you want.

I’m saying that in the context that I used to do that when I was in college and right in the beginning of grad school when I was like full gung-ho Paleo. I was like I’m just going to have coconut oil instead of a meal or something. It’s not necessarily the best way to live.

But like I said, I think there’s a lot of stuff we could talk about with this question and we weren’t able to get to everything. If people want any sort of follow up information about this topic, please go to TheAncestralRDs.com. There’s a contact tab that you can click to submit a question or if you want some extra discussion on saturated fat because there’s lots of things we could talk about. But hopefully this is a good overview for people and we hope that the information we provided is helpful for making positive decisions with what you’re eating.

Thanks for joining us, everyone. We will see you around next week.

Kelsey. Alright. Take care, Laura.

Laura: You to, Kelsey.

PODCAST: The Relationship Between Food And Sleep With Dan Pardi

Thanks for joining us for episode 121 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are thrilled to be interviewing  Dan Pardi!  

Dan Pardi’s life’s work centers on how to help people live healthfully. He is the CEO of humanOS.me which leverages a novel behavior model to promote health fluency, skill development, and lifestyle insights to help people master their health practice.

He does research with Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Department at Stanford and the Departments of Neurology and Endocrinology at Leiden University in the Netherlands where he investigates how lifestyle factors, like sleep, influence decision making, cognitive performance, and metabolism. Dan also works with Naval Special Warfare to help the most elite fighters in the world maintain alertness and capable mental performance under challenging circumstances.

He currently serves as Board Member for StandUpKids.org, as a Council Director for the True Health Initiative, and Advisor to several health oriented companies, an editor for The Journal of Evolution and Health, and formerly as Board Chairman for the Investigator Initiated Sponsored Research Association.

We know that what we eat and how much sleep we get are major factors in health. But did you know that food and sleep are intricately connected so that the quality of one has a direct effect on the other?

Dan Pardi is here for a conversation packed with information about the emerging science of chrononutrition. Just some of what discuss is how what we eat is just as important as when we eat, food components that affect circadian rhythms, and guidelines for food timing. You’ll also come away with insight into how much sleep you should really be getting and how factors involved in sleep affect your daily performance.

You won’t want to miss this episode as Dan shares insight into the science and translates it into practical tips you can implement to optimize your health.

Here is some of what we discussed with Dan:

  • [00:04:56] The concept of chrononutrition and how this influences what and when we eat
  • [00:13:48] The value of animal and epidemiological research
  • [00:15:51] Guidelines for food timing
  • [00:25:16] The importance of understand your eating behavior when adjusting meal timing
  • [00:28:51] The effect of light exposure on the master clock, and the importance of finding consistency when experimenting with fasting cycles
  • [00:36:07] Food components that affect circadian rhythms
  • [00:44:27] Addressing the myth that you are more insulin sensitive later in the day
  • [00:49:15] Research that suggests eating protein and fat in the morning and carbs later in the day is a good meal timing strategy
  • [00:52:42] The recommended amount of sleep you should be getting and how factors involved in circadian rhythm and sleep processes affect your daily performance

Links Discussed:


Laura: Hi everyone! Welcome to Episode 121 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Laura Schoenfeld and with me as always is my co-host Kelsey Kinney.

Kelsey: Hey everyone!

Laura: We’re Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real nutrition, and sharing evidence based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com, and Kelsey over at KelseyKinney.com.

We have a great guest on our show today who’s going to chat with us about the influence of food on sleep quality, and sleep on food quality. It’s a great interview and we know you’ll enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed recording it.

Kelsey: If you’re enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that you never miss an episode. And while you’re there, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well!

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Laura: Welcome back, everyone. I’m really excited to introduce our guest for today, Dan Pardi, whose life’s work centers on how to help people live healthfully. He is the CEO of humanOS.me which leverages a novel behavior model to promote health fluency, skill development, and lifestyle insights to help people master their health practice.

He does research with Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Department at Stanford and the Departments of Neurology and Endocrinology at Leiden University in the Netherlands where he investigates how lifestyle factors, like sleep, influence decision making, cognitive performance, and metabolism. Dan also works with Naval Special Warfare to help the most elite fighters in the world maintain alertness and capable mental performance under challenging circumstances.

He currently serves as Board Member for StandUpKids.org, as a Council Director for the True Health Initiative, and Advisor to several health oriented companies, an editor for The Journal of Evolution and Health, and formerly as Board Chairman for the Investigator Initiated Sponsored Research Association.

That was a mouthful! Dan, you’re busy!

Dan: I am. I do too much.

Laura: And you’re a dad, so you do it all!

Dan: Yeah, exactly. Those are my priorities: work and be a good dad.

Laura: Awesome! I was stumbling a little on some of that stuff, but hopefully I pronounced everything. Is it Leiden University in the Netherlands?

Dan: It’s pronounced Leiden.

Laura: Darn, I thought I got it. Oh well. Well anyway, you’re very busy. You have a lot of lot of different pots in the fire and a lot of different interests. I know for us, we were going to talk about sleep primarily today, but you have lots of great information on your website about not only sleep, but things like nutrition, just general tips for improving health, exercise, that kind of thing. We just love the work that you do, so that’s why we’re really happy to have you on the show!

Dan: Thank you.

Laura: Like I said, today we’re going to really focus on the nutrition and sleep connection. The connection is interesting because it definitely goes both ways and we’ll talk about kind of a bi-directional relationship there.

When we were looking over your blog before preparing for this interview, we saw you had this really interesting concept that you had talked about recently called chrononutrition. Can you explain to us this concept and how this influences what and when we eat?

Dan: Absolutely. This is one of those subjects in health, I almost think of it like the microbiota, so these are all the gut bugs that we have that we are now beginning to appreciate the importance of this relationship between the bugs in our gut and how our systems function in our body.

Similarly, circadian rhythms is now one of these bigger fields that we’re appreciating its value to our health. Ten to fifteen years ago neither of these two components that are getting so much attention in press were a part of any health model that was prescribed or just describing why health happens and when it doesn’t. It’s pretty cool to now see how our scientific advances are leading to new areas of opportunity and deeper understanding into how the body works.

So what is chrononutrition? Well, the bigger field is circadian rhythms. A circadian rhythm is a repeatable 24 hour process that is mostly orchestrated by light coming into the human eye. We have a master clock in our brain and that master clock is synchronizing with a light/dark cycle of the environment. When we don’t get adequate light, adequate being according to what our ancestors had perceived over the millennia…so light dark cycles depending on what season it is, bright sun during the day, dim in the evening, dark but with some moon light at night. Anyhow, that has a very powerful effect on the timing of our body rhythms.

We have this master clock in the brain and there are then clocks, they’re called clock cells that are in every tissue, every cell of our body, and that master clock will help to synchronize those peripheral clocks and that will let the body know what time to do what function. These are things like cell cycle repair and growth processes, when you feel like eating or going to the bathroom, sleep itself is actually a circadian rhythm. The reason why we tend to sleep more at night and be up during the day is because that pattern is trained by this master clock system that we have.

We’re now appreciating something called chrononutrition, which is the influence of food on these different peripheral clock tissue cells and how that will then determine or influence how well we process them and overall the state of health. It’s another important contributor to the state of health.

To give you a little more sort of specificity, the body tends to want to be able to not do competitive processes at the same time. There’s the terms anabolism and catabolism. Anabolism is the building up of tissue and catabolism is the breaking down of tissue. The body wants to separate those so it’s not doing both simultaneously, it’s doing one during one period, and then another during another process.

All of this is meant to sort of orchestrate energy production to meet energy needs. When we’re up and physically active, our body has a way of creating energy that is then helping us go about our daily activities. And at night, t’s sort of the opposite. There’s different energy that is being used and in different quantities, and it’s also expecting a long fast because we don’t eat while we’re sleeping.

That’s generally the concept. Why this has sort of become more interesting aside from just the scientifically understanding how the body works is because we also know there’s two very big topics right now that are also emerging into our understanding of health and how to promote it which is fasting and time restricted feeding.

Fasting can be a lot of different things, but it’s basically the period of time when you’re not taking in calories. Everybody endures an overnight fast. It’s the time between your last meal of last night and your first meal the next day.

There’s some evidence now that extending that window is good for things like cancer. Depending on the length of that fast, it might trigger a process called autophagy which is an intercellular process that will break down broken down proteins, and protein aggregates, and viruses, bacteria. It’s generally a housekeeping process. In fact, I believe the 2016 Nobel Prize went to a man whose life’s work was on understanding the subject better. Really, really important to human health. That’s a pretty hot topic right now.

But then there’s also the timing of your food. I’ll mention one other thing. So then there’s a shortened eating window or time restricted feeding, and that means that you eat all of your meals between a certain window every day. So just for simplicity sake, let’s say that window is between 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. There’s some thinking that well, what happens if you actually narrow that window and let’s say ate between only 11 and 6, or noon and 5? That’s one question is how narrow can that window be? Can you actually get some health benefits from that?

And then what is the timing of that window? So is it if you only ate between let’s say 1 and 7, would that be the same as even if the window was the same length, but it was shifted from between let’s say 8 and 1 in the afternoon and you didn’t eat otherwise until the next morning?

There’s a lot of research that’s going into that right now and we’ve been exploring that. Greg Potter, who is somebody who does some writing on my team, and he has a Master’s in Exercise Physiology, and he is doing a Ph.D. in chrononutrition which is the feature of this several part series. And we also have recently done a podcast together, which is not published, with Jeff Rothschild who is an RD. We talk about this, so fasting, and when should that period of time where we’re eating happen, and all that.

But it’s really, really interesting and it all kind of came back to some earlier research that noticed when mice eat at a time when they’re typically sleeping, even if they’re eating the same amount of calories over a 24 hour period, they’re expending the same amount of calories, or at least in terms of having the same amount of physical activity as a control group. That is essentially doing the exact same things, but eating at a time when they usually eat. Well that group that is eating when they usually sleep, they will become obese in the course of six weeks and have a significant weight change relative to the group that that was just eating during the regular time.

That had then been repeated and explored in a lot of different ways. Even just having bright light on or some light on at night was…this was some work by Laura Fonken…that caused the mice to become obese as well because it shifted the timing of their food intake to later in the day.

And so, yeah, this is a really promising area to both explore further in science and then to turn into health interventions that can help us better control over metabolism and weight.

Laura: I think that’s a great segue to the next question since like you said, this topic is really hot in the research field. Anytime there’s a topic that is getting a ton of research as a timely way, like the microbiome, chrononutrition, that kind of thing, there’s going to be a lot of data that comes that isn’t necessarily translatable into real life.

So we always like to take these kind of bigger research topics and say, okay, what can you actually learn from this that affects the behavior or the choices that you make during the day? Because at the end of the day, we don’t want to say this is the perfect thing to do and this is what the research says if it’s not a fully supported theory. But there are probably a lot of things that come from that research that are just generally good practices.

On that note, are there some general rules of thumb for food timing that you feel are pretty well supported by the research at this point? Or do you think that this question needs to be individualized to the person that is making this decision?

Dan: It’s a really good point about research. It sort of makes me frustrated sometimes when I hear on the interwebs people talking about this is terrible research if it’s epidemiological or animal. All research has its place and it enables us to answer or ask and address certain types of questions. When some people will sort of over impute value to just one animal study or the epidemiological work, that can be problems.

But the way that we do science is we ask these questions in different manners and then you look at the totality of the evidence to try to piece those tea leaves together to say, okay, what does this body of work tell us? And you usually have hopefully a clear, but imperfect direction about what you can do to intervene.

That’s pretty much how science typically works, but it’s cool because a lot of the animal work can unveil mechanisms that help us understand what’s sort of happening in the background and that might enable us to engineer lifestyle interventions and/or drugs that could sort of help people do better. That’s how I sort of see that. I just wanted to address that real quick.

But what was the question again? I forget. Sorry.

Laura: No, that’s alright, I get it. I think the science piece, like you said, it’s not the scientists that are doing bad studies or saying that this one mice study should then inform an entire population’s decision about food. I think that’s just the typical, almost like the pop culture end of the science where any time a study comes out, they want to kind of blow it up into this like, what should we do about it?

The way that science works is definitely a positive force for learning. It’s just I think in the age of Google, it just tends to be something that gets too quickly translated into prescriptions for people that might not be totally accurate or fully understood.

So for you, knowing what you know about the research, and knowing about like how much of this research has been replicated and applied to humans, that kind of thing, are there general rules of thumb for food timing that you think apply to just the general population? Maybe not everyone, but most people. Or do you think that this timing question is really dependent on the individual?

Dan: When talk about food timing, it has a lot to do with your biological time which it’s a difference between the actual time of the day.  Some people might just wake up later and go to bed later, so their biological timing is different than perhaps yours and mine.

There actually are some dependencies. So if for example, you go to bed really late and you eat really late, and obviously if that’s the pattern that you maintain, you’re getting artificial light. If you were sitting in darkness, well darkness will trigger a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin will suppress pancreatic beta cells from releasing insulin.

And what does that do? If you have any carbohydrates in your meal, it allows them to circulate for longer without being stored in various tissues throughout the body. That’s a great mechanism for the body to be able to keep blood glucose levels higher across the night when you’re fasting. It is all very much orchestrated, and so there is this important relationship between our natural environment and then the behaviors that we’re engaging in. I just wanted to mention that.

But what I would say are some signs that we have right now of ways to sort of intervene is it appears that eating your calories earlier in the day is favorable over eating them later in the day. That’s one indication. So whether it’s animal studies or moving into human work, then we see when this is sort of probed in various ways, that that seems to be pretty consistent when you have a shifting of the total amount of calories that you are eating to later in your day, that can be problematic.

There’s two questions there. Is it that you eat more calories later in the day because you’re sort of tired and you’re more likely to make poor food choices? Possibly. Are you also more likely to then disturb your sleep with a big meal late at night? Possibly. And then is your body just simply handling those calories less effectively? Are you inducing less metabolic thermogenesis or body heat in response to food and then therefore storing more? That’s also a possibility, too. You’ve got multiple different factors that are at play.

So if you eat the same amount of calories earlier in the morning, you tend to both have more physical activity throughout the day…and a lot of this stuff may or may not be perceptible to you. It might just be things like fidgeting or non-exercise thermogenesis, so you’re expending more calories in a subconscious manner. You also might recognize that you might be more physically active as well. You sort of get fewer calories from what you eat by eating them earlier in the day.

It also depends on like what you eat as well. The research indicates that high fiber, high protein has a satiating effect so that you take in less calories over the course of the day by not only eating earlier but having those having a higher protein, high fiber for breakfast.

So that’s one. That is your, I would say like the when do you want to eat. So that’s earlier. Now does that mean as soon as you wake up? I don’t think that it has to be like that. In fact, I usually wait several hours before I eat. I’m not really hungry right away. I did experience or explore just not eating. For a lot of people it’s natural to just not have breakfast because you’re not that hungry in the morning. So if you have a cup of coffee, you can get on with your day.

Unfortunately, because that is an easy way for people to do it, there are some signs that it’s not that healthy for you. It’s disappointing to see that. Again, because the way that the research looked at it, if you maintained that pattern all the time, so you just didn’t eat till noon and your body was used to that pattern, then some of those acute effects negative effects that you see from skipping breakfast might actually disappear at once your body acclimates to that regular eating behavior. That’s one possibility.

The other possibility is, or the other opportunity is to try to eat at the same time pretty much every day. So instead of having lunch some days at noon and some days at 3:00, that’s kind of a broad window there, but you actually are eating like pretty regularly.

In response to one of the articles that was published, a person who I know wrote in who was a track coach and she said that’s so interesting. She was a coach at Rutgers for over 30 years and she said one of the big coaches at the school who was pretty famous, he said just good athletes are like clocks; they eat the exact same time every day. She was sort of reflecting on her own experience coaching people with this new science. I thought that was pretty interesting.

So yeah, that’s one thing. Part of what the circadian rhythm is trying to do is prepare the body for activities, behaviors based off of previous experience. So if you’re eating lunch at noon every day, then your body is going to generate enzymes that prepare for food intake and nutrient breakdown. And when you eat out-of-phase, then the body doesn’t handle that as well. Very erratic eating behavior can then lead to probably less efficient metabolism. So that’s another idea.

We talked about eating calories earlier in the day versus eating calories later in the day. We talked about eating sort of at the same time, trying to eat around the same time that you did the day before, and the day before that, that you might handle calories better. And then the last is then what about that eating window? How long should you allow for that period, that off period if you will, of no calories at all?

This is an area where it’s still being explored. But some good work that took place out of Boston in breast cancer showed that women that had a 13 hour overnight fast had less cancer incidence, had better cancer outcomes if they were diagnosed with breast cancer, and less remission. That is pretty exciting because 13 hours is not hard.

Laura: Right.

Dan: I mean if you eat at 7, that means you’re not eating again until 8 the next morning. People can do that. I try to eat as early as I can every night. I tend to make, I have a very high fiber, big salad and then usually some fish and a little bit of starch, and then I try to eat early. And I drink a small glass, I would say two to three ounces of red wine every night. I like Dry Farm Wines. I just did a podcast with those guys. They’re doing pretty interesting stuff. I have no relationship with them, but I do like their product. I try to eat early and give my body some time to digest. Then I’ve been monitoring my sleep. And then what I also do is I’ll have some tart cherry juice sort of after my meals as dessert and then some chamomile tea maybe a little bit later.

That’s been my pattern for a while. I really do notice a difference between if I eat, for me I’m very sensitive to alcohol. If I drink too much or too close to bed, not good. And if I eat a big meal closer to bed, then the likelihood of having worse sleep is higher.

Laura: Cool. It sounds like the general consensus would be consistency is really important for people, which I would say depending on the person’s schedule, maybe it’s not so much about a certain perfect time of the day to start and stop eating, but get it consistent.

Dan: Yeah.

Laura: So don’t like eat breakfast half the week and then don’t eat breakfast the other half, or something like that. And then also just generally, now when you say calories at each meal, would you suggest having breakfasts that are larger than dinner? Or is it just more about not going the other direction?

I know for a lot of people they don’t have as much hunger in the morning so maybe they’re not going to eat of huge breakfast, but at least balancing their calorie intake across all three meals is better for them than hardly eating anything at breakfast and then eating a massive dinner.

Do you have any thoughts about is it that the breakfast actually has to be larger, or it’s just more balanced?

Dan: This is where human behavior comes into play. You’re right, it depends on people’s schedules. You can try to understand the physiology and you can adjust your behavior. If you tend to be somebody who just has one big late dinner and you’ve done “fine” with that, or let’s say that that’s how you typically eat but you’re actually looking for some opportunities too lose some weight or improve your health in various ways. Then yeah, you can adjust over time.

I also know that there are plate cleaners. If you skip breakfast, then that’s one opportunity to not take in more calories because you’re not that hungry, but then you eat lunch and you eat dinner. And if that person were to eat breakfast, maybe they’re not as hungry at dinner, but because the food was served to them they’re going to finish it because that’s their behavior around food.

Laura: Right.

Dan: That’s part of the problem with humans right that we could absolutely eat even in the absence of hunger, we can eat beyond fullness. Many of us do. I grew up in a generation where my parents were plate cleaners. There are starving kids around the world, finish this and my plate too. That really set a behavior for me. So I have to be mindful of that, but I also have to sort of work around my own tendencies.

So yes, I think it’s an important point where you can understand the science, but then you have to understand yourself, too, and then try to figure out what works. If you’ve always done something one way, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it another way. It might just mean you need a period of time to entrain to a new pattern. And once you’ve acclimated to that new pattern, it can be as natural as your former one. Having little patience with it too is good idea.

Laura: Right. It’s funny because I think with the concept of fasting as being good for circadian rhythms, a lot of times when people think about fasting, they’re imagining skipping breakfast and like you said having their first meal at noon. But from what you said, you might consider a fast just 13 hours and that really doesn’t make a huge impact on having breakfast or not. You can still have breakfast. Maybe it’s just a little later or maybe if you eat dinner a little bit earlier.

But I think there tends to be this belief in the Paleo community that to do fasting, that it has to be that like 16:8 style. Which for people that I work with, ones that are a lot of times struggling with eating enough or dealing with health conditions that can benefit from a higher calorie intake, a lot of times skipping breakfast actually impairs their ability to meet their goals.

There’s this belief that fasting is good for you, but then again it gets kind of narrowed down to this one particular style of fasting when the research doesn’t necessarily say that that’s the only way to do it. It’s cool to know that there are some different options for fasting that don’t require skipping breakfast or maybe just affect the way that you’re timing your meals.

We were mentioning that food can affect our circadian rhythms. It sounds like maybe both the central clock and the peripheral clock are impacted by food. Or is it just the peripheral clocks that get impacted?

Dan: It’s just the peripheral clock, yeah, the peripheral clocks.

Laura: So the central clock, is that 100 percent dictated by light exposure?

Dan: The numbers that I’ve heard is it’s above 98 percent entrained by light exposure coming into the eye.

Laura: Okay.

Dan: We have about one to two percent of the cells in the retina are non-visual photosensitive cells.  Visual photosensitive cells are like rods and cones that see light and transmit that information to the visual cortex.

They are cells that basically do the same sort of thing in terms of turning light into a nerve signal, but they go to the master clock instead. That’s their destination. And that will then affect the translation and transcription cycles of the genes that are located there, which then will have an effect on behavior, or hormones, or humoral factors, so things that are released into the blood, and also your autonomic nervous system. In those various ways, it can have an influence on the different clock proteins.

But one thing that happens sort of during these fasting and feeding cycles is we do have these fluctuations in humoral factors, or factors that are in our blood and like what sort of nutrients are circulating. These nutrients can be sensed by an enzyme called AMPK. This is an enzyme that’s actually, you want to induce it. A lot of the benefits of fasting come through the induction of AMPK. What this does is it will help to stimulate cellular energy production when energy availability is low. This is an energy sensor that is detecting when energy is low.

What AMPK does is it will tag these molecular clock proteins with phosphate groups. And when that happens, those phosphate, those now tagged substances are broken down more quickly. What that does is it sort of kind of enhances the oscillations of the circadian element of nutrient breakdown.

When your body is used to doing a behavior every single day, it does it better, it’s usually at the same time. A good example actually is alertness and awakeness. If you are if you are used to being up between let’s say 7 and 11, then you can do that well. When you then are trying to be up hours later than you used to, you can feel your body struggling to do it well. Similarly, then if you’re trying to eat nutrients at a time that your body is not used to it, then your body is not going to do that as well either. But that’s how this interaction takes place between the nutrients that are coming into the body and the clock proteins that are available.

Kind of going back to that main point, eating out of phase is tough. You could really see how people exploring with fasting could sort of mess themselves up if they’re having very erratic patterns. I think probably a better way to do it is to find a narrow eating window, a more narrow eating window. Perhaps instead of eating at 7:00 a.m., you wait until like 9 or 10 and then try to eat dinner early and just keep it there. You do not eat before 9 or 10 and you do not eat after 7 or 8, or whatever that might be. That is something that’s consistent.

Occasionally you might want to do longer fasts because other benefits can come from that. And again, the protocols for that are not perfectly detailed. But Jeff Rothschild, who I mentioned previously who was on the podcast that I did with Greg Potter, he is the lead developer of our fasting course, which humanOS is not launched yet, but we spent months working on that. We talk about what are the different benefits you get from different fasting cycles, the 5:2, every other day fasting, shortened eating windows, periodic longer fasts.

It’s a really exciting area. There’s more coming out on a daily. And yet like so many things, there’s more to learn. But I’ve come to think that fasting is a missing component to our health practice.

Laura: Interesting. I’ll have to check that out when it’s available. We have a podcast that we talked about the different types of fasting. I’m sure we don’t go into the detail that you guys are going to go into in that program, but it’s just really crazy when you actually start digging into the different perspectives on fasting, how many different ways of fasting that can be done.

It sounds like generally what you’re saying the research suggests is that just routine is ideal and that’s going to help our bodies function better if we’re doing something consistently than if we’re playing around with all these different one day doing a fast and the next day eating breakfast super early and kind of bouncing all over the place is not going to work as well for a lot of people.

And that actually may also describe or explain why a lot of times when you make a big shift in your diet, like if you suddenly change some significant factors like your macronutrient ratio, or your meal timing, anything like that you may not do as well in the beginning because of these circadian things that need to get kind of shifted to your new routine. But once you’re in a routine, it’ll start to work better.

Dan: Yeah.

Laura: It’s interesting what you said about the AMPK. Is it an enzyme? I’m trying remember exactly. AMP Kinase, so it’s an enzyme.

Dan: It is, yeah.

Laura: That that topic is something that I know Chris Masterjohn has been doing a lot of podcasts and little videos about energy status in the cell as being an indicator of whether or not we use insulin and glucose utilization, that kind of thing. Adding that extra complexity of the circadian rhythm on top of that, I know it makes it sound more complicated, but it kind of it’s cool to just hear how that can affect basically the cell’s utilization of energy. And maybe that translates to that obesity issue that happens when animals are eating outside of their normal day and night cycles.

Just kind of thinking about all the different ways these things can connect, but it’s just interesting because I feel like people tend to oversimplify the concept of calories in/calories out or insulin versus non-insulin promoting foods and how that affects obesity. It sounds like there’s so much complexity that also is driven by circadian rhythms that if you just ignore that, you’re not going to get the best results. It’s just cool to see how these different topics can all kind of interplay.

Now actually, I wanted to ask you if you know are there certain food components beyond just calorie intake that actually affect our circadian rhythms more than others, like certain macronutrients or micronutrients, anything like that that will impact our body’s clock system?

Dan: Yeah, there’s been some work that’s been done. It’s definitely basic science, so it’s early, but showing that saturated fat can actually have a deleterious effect on circadian functioning. Whether or not that actually has a real effect in the human body, is yet to be told.

But I found that pretty interesting in that work when they then applied a polyunsaturated fat in addition with the saturated fat, it actually had a mitigating effect so that the polyunsaturated fat actually prevented the negative impact of saturated fat on your circadian timing. That was one element, some research that is early, but interesting.

For example, so what do I do then for now, because sometimes the science….The way that I think about it is even if it’s just one animal study or basic science, I always try to translate it. Okay, if you were to actually make this actionable, what would that look like? Because that actually helps to stimulate hypotheses.

Laura: Right.

Dan:  If the risks are low to just trying it, if it’s not like hey, we’ll take this one animal study, they took this drug and then there was positive effects. Ehh, I’ll wait until the human trials.

But it’s a matter of having some DHEA and EPA with my burger at night if I have some meat and that might actually have a sort of positive impact on the negative effects the saturated fat could be having on my circadian timing, why not? Easy.

Laura: Right.

Dan: Unless it’s causing a problem, which it doesn’t, there’s no evidence that it would appear to, then it seems like the worst thing that can happen is I’m out a couple of bucks. So that’s one element.

There’s some other evidence that saturated fat however is not great for sleep. I know we’re talking more about the circadian rhythms, but there’s been a lot of research looking at how inadequate sleep, so whether that is truncated sleep time, or disturb sleep, so whether you’re having a lot of arousals or you’re not getting depth of certain stages, lots of ways that sleep can be disrupted. But anyway, inadequate sleep can have a negative impact on both metabolism and then eating behavior. My research looks specifically at that.

There’s less work looking at the impact of food on sleep. But some has been done. Marie-Pierre St-Onge is a researcher who’s done a lot of great work. She published in The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine a study where she had people in an inpatient unit and for four days…inpatient meaning they were able to monitor their sleep closely, monitor everything that they were eating…and they gave them a controlled diet for four days. On the fifth day the patients were able to choose their own food and eat whatever they wanted. Like most people, when you’re given access to cafeteria food, you might not make the best choices.

What they did is they looked at, they measured everything that they ate that day and then they looked at their sleep that night. They had that four day control period and then they said, okay, does sleep change the night where they were able to eat whatever they wanted? 1 -What did they eat and how did that differ from the control diet? And then 2 – How did sleep change?

What she found is sort of the three most notable factors were things that have an influence on sleep are dietary carbs, fiber, and saturated fat. The more fiber that you have, you had increased deep sleep and less shallow sleep. And we want that. I could go on for a long time about the importance of deep sleep, but this is essentially where the body is in a high state of repair, you are removing components that make you sleepy. When you don’t get a lot of deep sleep you might wake up the next morning with some of yesterday’s sleep burden, so you still feel sleepy. It also is really important for purging potentially neurotoxic substances out of the brain like protein aggregates like beta amyloid which accumulate with Alzheimer’s disease.

As we age there’s a natural declination of slow wave sleep the to the point where we’re getting maybe 15 percent of what the highest amount that we were getting earlier in our life when we’re around 60. And so there’s a lot of interesting science now that’s going into science and technology that’s looking at how can we amplify slow wave sleep because that actually might really resolve the burden that our society now faces with increased Alzheimer’s disease. Great podcast that I just did with Bryce Mander at UC Berkeley, in detail conversation about that.

But point being here is that more fiber across the day, didn’t have to be just your dinner meal…they looked at total amount of food that was eaten across the day. Higher fiber intake led to more slow wave sleep and less shallow sleep. That’s good.

More saturated fat was had the opposite effect. It decreased the amount of slow wave sleep, or I should say this, it associated with decreased slow wave sleep. None of this study was able to determine causation, but just looking at associations. If you ate more saturated fat, you saw that there was less slow sleep.

Laura: Quick question.

Dan: Go ahead.

Laura:  I was going to say what these changes, is this from baseline per subject, or is it just generally these people were getting less sleep? I guess my question is did they test them before the diet change to see what their baseline was, and then when they just ate whatever they wanted, then they saw a change for the negative there? Or was it comparing this subject to that subject?

Dan: It wasn’t with a subject design.  But other research has done just that where they did it with subject design. In this case they were looking at the group and they were looking at it to see, okay, this is what they ate and this is generally what the sleep was like. And then what happens to this group when they make these dietary changes? And yes, for those who ate more saturated fat, you did see these kind of changes in slow sleep and more fiber, etc.

One study, again, does not…this could be wrong. But it’s an indication that we have now. And we also saw that more sugar and non-fiber carbs across the day led to more arousals at night. Now these tend to be bad, so having less slow sleep or more arousals across the night, that is an indication of sleep fragmentation. Problematic? Hard to tell. I wish there was more research on this.

And then there’s always the longer term impact of good nutrition on the brain. While it’s very difficult to just look at how one day of food intake…it’s interesting to look at how one day of food intake will impact sleep tonight, but it’s very difficult to then look at four years of dietary, like sticking with a Mediterranean diet for example associating with let’s say better quality sleep. You could do that, but it’s harder to do it in a controlled fashion is my point.

Laura: Now I’m curious with these different macronutrient impacts on circadian rhythms and sleep quality, that kind of thing, there is the concept of carb backloading, which for those listening that are familiar with that, it’s the technique of eating very low carb throughout most of the day and then eating the bulk of carbs at night. There’s lots of people that believe that that’s a better way to take carbs in, and that you’re more insulin sensitive later in the day, and all these like circadian rhythm impacts.

What does the research say about timing of carbs? Do you find that later carbs do actually benefit the circadian rhythms? Or is there a negative impact? If there is any science on that, what do you see in the research?

Dan: Well you’re not more insulin sensitive across the day. One thing I would first say is that again remember that timing matters. But now let’s just say your last meal, you’re now observing consistent timing and it’s not too close to sleep, again, I try to eat dinner close to five as I can. It’s not always possible, but I try.

I’ll get back to this question, but my pattern my whole life is that I’m hungry at 5:00, and then I’ll snack, and then I’ll wait till dinner and then I’ll eat again.

Laura: Right, because you’re like I need to wait until dinner. I can’t wait until dinner, so instead of just eating dinner earlier, it’s like let me snack until dinner time.

Dan: Yes. I mean growing up I was basically stuffed by the time dinner happened and then I would eat two dinners. It’s definitely why I’m interested in the subject because I was overweight as a kid and so it simulated the desire for me to understand what was going on.

But yeah, so then to go back to the carbs. We also know that with dim light and melatonin production you’re going to have less insulin sensitivity, or you are going to be producing less insulin for clearing. The carbohydrates that are available in your circulatory system are going to stay a bit more available than they were if you were in bright light setting. So that’s one factor that matters.

Now if people are sort of having experience with it, a positive experience with it, I would want to look at it directly, but those are two things that I would say. So maintain watching timing. I wouldn’t have the idea of I’m going to have a huge bowl of carbohydrates right before bed because some people have felt like well that’s going to then cause me to get sleepy. I’d be a little cautious about that.

But the cool thing is that there’s a lot of cool technology that’s coming onboard where we are going to be able to look at our blood markers with much greater fidelity and frequency. We’re going to understand things like heart rate variability, and heart rate and readiness. There’s a lot of cool stuff that’s coming that’s going to help us be able to figure out what’s working for us well and what’s not.

Actually one friend of mine, Tim, wrote to me. Because after this series that we’re doing on fasting, he wrote back and he said this is so interesting because I’ve been experimenting with fasting so I don’t eat breakfast. He’s tracks like crazy. He’s like my blood markers have been really out of whack and I’ve been wondering what’s going on. He’s like so I’m going to make some changes and actually sort of try again. That I think is going to really enable us to sort of back up our theory about what is going to be good for us with some hard data that can help course correct.

Laura: Cool. There’s going to be more information that will help individuals make decisions that are best for them rather than just assuming it’s best because what tends to work on average.

Just to back up for a second with the carb backloading, are you saying that you don’t think that that’s accurate as far as the circadian rhythm perspective is concerned? Or you’re just not agreeing that you’d be more insulin sensitive?

I definitely understand with the circadian rhythm that the insulin sensitivity is the highest during midday I’m sure just kind of when we would naturally be eating during the day and not at night. I’m wondering if there is any sort of role of the cortisol awakening response that can affect insulin sensitivity at least early in the morning? Is there any thought there as to carb timing? Or maybe it’s just meal timing in general that’s affected and not necessarily worrying about carbs.

Dan: The dance of processes and hormones that takes place across the night in order to maintain blood glucose levels, which is a priority for the body because the brain wants steady supply of blood glucose and is very hungry, 25 percent of our calories that we take in go towards the brain. So it’s a very small part in terms of weight and it has a disproportionate share of energy usage mostly in the form of carbs to supply and support brain processing activities.

If you have disrupted blood glucose regulation, that can actually lead to problems of sleep because your body’s not getting the energy it needs over the course of the night in order to be able to maintain the active process which is sleep. The brain doesn’t just sort of go into this quiescent period where it’s not really doing much. It’s actually doing very active stuff. Part of that is it takes energy to rebuild, repair, to go through the different sleep cycle stages that we do.

And then there is some evidence that the timing of food or what sort of nutrient that you’re taking in actually does matter. I think that carbs at night totally make sense. There is some work that was done by Adi Neufeld-Cohen and what she looked at is the enzyme carnitine palmitoyltransferase. It’s an enzyme that shuttles fatty acids into the mitochondria. What she found is that this protein is produced at the highest rate when mice are awake and physically active. And again, this indicates that the mitochondria are best able to use sort of lipids during the wake period.

That is indicating that a high fat breakfast might actually be good for us because our mitochondria are then sort of getting the nutrient that they want at the time of day that they’re going to be using it. Now sort of conversely, so that’s carnitine palmitoyltransferase. But if you look at pyruvate dehydrogenase, which is an enzyme that turns the rate of glucose utilization, similarly mice produce the highest amount of this enzyme during sleep. That means that if you were to translate this to humans from mice, then you would say, yeah, a higher amount of carbs at night might actually make sense.

In fact, her team tested this hypothesis. By supplying the mitochondria with glucose, the metabolism of sugar was at its highest level as well. Eating fat and protein in the morning and in carbs later in the day might be a great strategy. Again, don’t eat too close to night, watch your timing. But that idea that you’re more insulin sensitive later at night is not true.

Laura: Yeah. Like I said this was things that the carb backloading community tends to say. Like you were saying, the insulin sensitivity piece, definitely not necessarily going to be more insulin sensitive at night. But there are maybe some benefits from eating carbs that have more to do with the brain’s utilization of glucose and what our body might prefer to run on either fat or carbs during the day versus at night.

I feel like that could be its own podcast probably. If you haven’t done one on that, you should because I know that our listeners would love to learn more about that.

I feel like I have like a million questions I could ask you. One thing I definitely wanted to find out because I know there is a lot of controversy about this question, and it might be a little bit too late in the podcast to get a ton of detail on, but how much sleep is actually really necessary for optimal health? Is there an amount of time that is agreed upon in the evidence?

Dan:  Yes. The National Sleep Foundation recommends getting a sleep period of seven to nine hours. Now sleep period and sleep time are different. If you were to report to me how most people would report sleep, I went to bed at midnight, I woke up at 8, therefore I slept eight hours. Nobody reports sleep as I went to bed at midnight, I woke up at 8. I had 85 percent sleep efficiency, therefore I slept six hours and forty two minutes and I had an hour and a half of wake time after sleep onset. That’s what a sleep study will tell you. But people don’t report sleep that way.

Some very interesting work was done by Jerry Siegel looking at hunter gatherer populations, the Hazda, the Tsimane, and the San, three different hunter gatherer populations that are remote from each other and they found that in studying them, the expectation was that they are going to sleep more than modern humans, and they didn’t find that. In fact they found they slept on the lower end, 5.7 to 6 1/2 hours of sleep time per night. That got a lot of press.

The problem is that’s actual sleep time, but their sleep period, so the time that they were in bed sleeping was about 7 to 8 1/2 hours, right in line with what The National Sleep Foundation finds. The idea is while sleep efficiency always sounds like a good thing, efficiency is something that like nothing’s being wasted, well it’s just natural for the body to have 15 20 arousals across the night. You turn over in your pillow in the morning, you don’t even remember them. Actually you remember them more as you age, so it sometimes feels like you’re waking up more even though you’re not. Sometimes you are. But anyway, that’s an important point to write down.

What I like to say is that you want to try to get complete sleep. So if you’re waking up by an alarm clock in the morning, then try to get to a situation where you’re going to bed early enough where your alarm clock is sort of like a stopgap. It would be rare that you would need it, but if you don’t wake up by this time then you’re going to be late. Give yourself enough time in bed to get that sleep that you need. You’re not going to sleep 8 hours if you’re in bed for 6. That’s a simple one, and then try to wake up naturally.

Under the condition of just sort of no external influences that’s promoting and the sort of insomnia or you’re not dealing with a particular issue, then just having really consistent timing of your sleep, just like with food, and then an adequate sleep period. There’s also individual variability. It’s not that you’re going to sleep the same amount every night. It’s going to change. Are you fighting an infection? Did you have a hard workout? Are you excited about something and your mind is ruminating?

All that stuff is natural, but what I would say that probably one of the most important things kind of like with food, just like with food, is that the timing of your sleep is going to have a surprisingly important impact on how well you feel the next day and how well you perform.

In fact, there are aspects of cognition that are dissociable from whether or not it is being influenced by your circadian or sleep timing and light timing processes, or actual sleep pressure which is how much sleep did you actually get. The point is if you usually go to bed at midnight and wake up at eight, and you have that rhythm every single day, but you go to bed at midnight and you wake up at like let’s say seven, so you missed an hour, you still might perform just fine because the timing of your alertness rhythm is really well entrained because you do the same thing every single day.

It’s complicated. It’s easier to explain this when you see something with some graphics because you can see the different components. But that’s an important point here is that your circadian rhythm and your sleep processes are sort of doing this dance. They’re actually working independently, and sometimes together. But overall your level of alertness or sleepiness at any point during a 24 hour period is primarily determined by this dance of circadian timing and then how much sleep pressure you’ve built up.

Once you understand sort of the more fundamental components of it, then the guidance is pretty simple. But it enables you to empower that guidance and to make sure that you’re getting not a lot of light before bed sleep, timing is consistent, you’re spending hopefully adequate amounts of time to get complete sleep so your body wakes up naturally versus by an alarm clock. I would say that’s pretty good general advice. There’s a lot to go into the subject though.

Laura: Well, like you said, it’s a lot of different interplaying things that can affect whether or not somebody is going to have the same outcome as another person. It’s weird, it gets super complicated, but I also think it gets really basic. It sounds like the most basic takeaway from this podcast is that consistency and routine is really optimal. So whatever you choose to do, if you can get that consistent it’s going to be much better than if you’re playing around with a bunch of different things or if like let’s say on the weekdays you’re sleeping 6 hours and then on the weekends you’re sleeping 10. Consistency seems to be the take home point today.

Dan: Yeah. That’s actually a different subject. If you’re getting six hours of sleep during the week, do you want to get recovery sleep? There’s different ideas around that. But I would say that if you’re getting 6 hours every night during the week and you can sleep 10 hours, that’s called your weekend differential and it’s an indication that you’re not getting enough sleep if you can sleep that much more during the weekend.

I would say in that scenario, you can mess up your circadian timing. But I would try to get that extra sleep because you’re going to perform better the following week.

Now how many times can you repeat that process? 6 hours then 10,  6 hours during the week, 10 hours the first night, and then 9 hours the second and then you feel groggy as heck Monday still. That is being investigated directly by saying, okay, it’s this process, can you continue to repeat this before you only recover 95 percent, then 90 percent. You’re not fully recovering. You’ve hampered your body’s ability to fully recover.

There is some evidence, there’s some research that shows that extended wakefulness, which is the same thing as sleep deprivation, actually has a neurotoxic effect on wake generating neurons within the central nervous system. So your ability particularly at the locus coeruleus, which is the primary center or loci of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine which is very important in orchestrating wakefulness, if you’re damaging those neurons, then that could influence how much alertness you can generate the following days.

It’s a great need we have because of how technology intervenes, and how we live, and how different that is from how we used to live for so long. And so knowledge is power. There’s a great tech coming, but the whole sort of point of what I do with humanOS is saying how do we harness the world’s best health information and then how do we actually empower people to then both use that and good technology that can help them?

For example, Fitbit, I’m a big fan. But so many people will buy it and then three weeks later it’s just collecting dust in their desk drawer. If you don’t really understand its value, then you’re not going to use anything even if it has no friction. You’re only going to use it if you’re like, oh I get it.

Laura: Really bought in.

Dan: Yeah, bought in, you’ve got to buy in. I mean I’m using mine five years later. I charge it. All that “friction” you could say of like having to charge a device every few days, it’s sort of de minimis if you think it’s very valuable.

Laura: Right. Yeah, you’re speaking to the girl who’s Fitbit is definitely done and dusted so would need an upgraded one if I was going to be using it.

Well Dan, I know you have a lot of really awesome information on your current website and it sounds like you have some really cool projects in the works. Where can our listeners find you?

Dan: Depending on when this comes out, currently publicly the website is DansPlan.com. I’ve not worked on that for about 18 months because all of my effort is going into humanOS unless. You could think of Dan’s Plan as almost like a beta tool in a way that is all based off of a behavior model that I developed in order to help people adopt and sustain different things that influence their health long term so it becomes a part of the process.

humanOS is going to launch very, very soon and we’re doing all sorts of course stuff, peer reviewed health courses. We’re launching a course on fasting, and the Mediterranean diet, and weight loss, and one called Road Of Health. Doing a bunch more, basically just scientific assessments, but done in a way where it’s more of like an executive summary that you can just get to the main point quickly and understand it for a lifetime.

Laura: Awesome.

Dan: That’s one thing we’re doing. A bunch of tracking tools and recipes. So it’s a really three dimensional approach to accompanying you on a day by day process to keep you healthy and help you upgrade your health smarts.

Laura: Very cool. If people go to DansPlan, is it DansPlan.com or DansPlan.org?

Dan: DansPlan.com. If we’ve made the switch, it’ll redirect to humanOS. If you go to humanOS.me now, it’ll just redirect to DansPlan.

Laura: Right. That’s what I was thinking because we had gone to the humanOS webite to look up what you were doing to prepare for the podcast and it redirected us to DansPlan. So it sounds like people will be able to find you, and we’ll make sure we have the updated link in the podcast notes for this episode. If people want to see Dan’s most updated work, we’ll have the link there. If we were just publishing today, what would be the best website for people to go to?

Dan: Just go to humanOS.me because it’ll either be humanOS.me or redirect and that’s the one you should remember to bookmark. So do it that way.

Laura: Awesome. That’s the new one. That’s where people are going to want to go if they’re listening to this in let’s say 2018.

Cool! Well thank you so much for joining us, Dan. Like I said, I feel like I could have asked you a thousand more questions. I had a few on my list that we didn’t get to, so maybe we’ll have to have you on in the future especially as these courses come out because they sound super interesting and I would love to check out some of them to not only learn for myself, but also to help my clients implement better lifestyle habits. Thanks again for your time. And we will look forward to having everyone here next week

Dan: It was a total pleasure. Thanks for having me on, Laura.