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Episode 523
The Doctor's Farmacy

How To Use Food As Medicine with Dr. William Li

Open the Podcasts app and search for The Doctor’s Farmacy. If you’re viewing this site on your phone, you can just tap on the

Tap the subscribe button and new shows will be added to your library.

If you’re using a different device, our show is available on the following platforms.

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Humans have coevolved with food and its medicinal actions on our bodies, meaning we have actual cell receptors for specific food-derived molecules.

So why aren’t doctors trained in how to use food as medicine? 

We’re taught all about using pharmaceuticals to affect our biology, but the power of food is left high and dry. I think this is a foundational area of medical training we need to change. 

That’s why I’m so excited to talk to one of my favorite people and thinkers in the world of food and medicine on this episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy, Dr. William Li. 

Dr. Li is constantly breaking open new frontiers in the science of using food as medicine. He explains how compounds in our food interact with our biology, and shares his research on how to use our knowledge of pharmaceutical mechanisms to prescribe effective “farmaceutical” alternatives or complementary protocols.

Our microbiome is an essential part of how we extract powerful information from food. Dr. Li and I discuss what that process looks like, from that first bite of food entering the mouth. The microbiome is now being researched to enhance food-based immunotherapy for cancer and Dr. Li shares how his own mother was able to heal from cancer using this approach.

Health is not just the absence of disease, it’s the presence of optimal function and feeling. Dr. Li is a wealth of knowledge on how to use food as our greatest ally for achieving an optimal state of health and healing from states of dis-ease. 

We also discuss how to combine nutrition and pharmacology to prevent, address, and treat Covid and the symptoms of long-Covid, and so much more.

This episode is brought to you by Mitopure, InsideTracker, and Cozy Earth.

Mitopure is the first and only clinically tested pure form of a natural gut metabolite called Urolithin A that clears damaged mitochondria away from our cells and supports the growth of new healthy mitochondria. Get 10% off at timelinenutrition.com/drhyman and use code DRHYMAN10 at checkout.

InsideTracker is a personalized health and wellness platform like no other. Right now they’re offering my community 20% off at insidetracker.com/drhyman. Cozy Earth makes the most comfortable, temperature-regulating, and non-toxic sheets on the market. Right now, get 40% off your Cozy Earth sheets. Just head over to cozyearth.com and use code MARK40.

I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD
Mark Hyman, MD

Here are more details from our interview (audio version / Apple Subscriber version):

  1. Dr. Li’s journey to understanding the power of eating to beat disease
    (6:53)
  2. How food can activate our body’s healing defense systems
    (15:56)
  3. Why Dr. Li changed his mind about organic foods
    (20:44)
  4. The benefits of nutritional diversity and eating “weird foods”
    (25:45)
  5. Research showing how eating tree nuts benefited colorectal cancer patients
    (30:18)
  6. Combining food and pharmaceutical drugs
    (34:06)
  7. Prescribing food as medicine
    (44:01)
  8. Reimagining our approach to Covid and long-Covid
    (52:37)
  9. Foods that lower inflammation and boost the immune system
    (55:22)
  10. Three ways to start using food as medicine
    (1:09:46)

Guest

 
Mark Hyman, MD

Mark Hyman, MD is the Founder and Director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of Cleveland Clinic's Center for Functional Medicine, and a 13-time New York Times Bestselling author.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

 
Dr. William Li

Dr. William Li is a world-renowned physician, scientist, speaker, and author of Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself. He is best known for leading the Angiogenesis Foundation. His groundbreaking work has impacted more than 70 diseases including cancer, diabetes, blindness, heart disease, and obesity. 

His TED Talk, Can We Eat to Starve Cancer? has garnered more than 11 million views, and he has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, Martha Stewart Live, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, Voice of America, and has presented at the Vatican’s Unite to Cure conference. An author of over 100 scientific publications in leading journals such as Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, and more, Dr. Li has served on the faculties of Harvard, Tufts, and Dartmouth Medical School.

Find Dr. Li’s Eat To Beat Disease Masterclass at drwilliamli.com/masterclass and get a copy of his book, Eat To Beat Disease at drwilliamli.com/book-li/.

Transcript Note: Please forgive any typos or errors in the following transcript. It was generated by a third party and has not been subsequently reviewed by our team.

Introduction:
Coming up on this episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy.

Dr. William Li:
There are foods that actually can lower inflammation. I mean, simple foods containing vitamin C lower inflammation strawberries, guava, tomatoes, red bell peppers.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Welcome to the Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman, that’s Farmacy with an F, and today we’re going to have a conversation that really matters because we are talking to one of my favorite people and also one of my favorite thinkers and scientists in the field of medicine and food, Dr. William Li, who’s a well renowned doctor, scientist, speaker. He’s author of Eat to Beat Disease, one of my favorite books, The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
He’s best known for leading the Angiogenesis Foundation and his groundbreaking work has impacted more than 70 diseases, including cancer, diabetes, blindness, heart disease, and obesity. His Ted talk, Can We Eat to Starve Cancer, has been seen over 11 million times. He’s coming on the Dr. Oz show, Martha Stuart, CNN, NPR, Voice of America. He’s been at the Vatican’s Unite to Cure Conference where he invited me. I spoke virtually during COVID. I wish I had got to go. Maybe next time. He’s the author of over 100 scientific publications, including ones in major journals, like Science, New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet. And he’s on the faculty of Tufts, Harvard and Dartmouth. No slouch. Welcome, William.

Dr. William Li:
Thank you, Mark. It’s always a pleasure to be back and to have a conversation about things that we both care about.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Absolutely. So I think the real challenge is that people don’t really get what food is. Most people understand they need to eat to live and need to actually have the ability to choose foods that are nourishing and have not too many calories, but people don’t understand the power locked in the kingdom of plants and even animals that are medicinal. True drugs in the sense of pharmacologic activity.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And as I began to think about this science years ago, when I was studying functional medicine, learning about food is medicine. I’m like, what does that mean? And I began to look at the biochemistry and biology and the pathways and how these plant compounds somehow know to bind to specific receptors in our body. It doesn’t even make sense. It makes sense that you have testosterone bind to testosterone receptor, insulin bind to an insulin receptor in the body, but why in the heck would we have a broccoli receptor or a seaweed receptor?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And yet the body has co-evolved with these compounds that we don’t think of as essential. But I think of them as conditionally essential. You’re not necessarily going to get a deficiency disease, but you’re going to get a chronic disease if you don’t eat them. And there’s massively protective foods. And we were chatting earlier before the podcast that right now in science, and it’s advancing so fast that we are understanding the mechanisms by which food actually has its action and how we can use it in a pharmacologic way.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s not like, oh, just eat healthy. Just like there are thousands of drugs, there are thousands of molecules in food, and we can use those in very specific, targeted ways to do different things in the body to create health, or if we do the wrong things to create disease.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So you’re this extraordinary scientist, you’ve been published in all the major medical journals at Harvard, Dartmouth, and Tufts. And somehow you come back to this simple notion that Hippocrates said 5,000 around many years ago, let food be their medicine and medicine be like food. What made you take that left turn? Or maybe it was a straight head, everybody else is going left. And how do you begin to unpack this notion that was so critical for you to understand that you could eat to beat disease?

Dr. William Li:
Yeah, well. Mark, like yourself, as an MD, we’re trained to identify diseases, diagnoses diseases, and write prescriptions and patients to specialists to take care of the disease. But we all know that the ways that we have been trained in medicine fall short of what it is that patients really seek. And if you’ve ever been a patient yourself, you certainly know what we want is really to be healthy and to be well.

Dr. William Li:
It’s okay to get sick once in a while. But if you are, you want to bounce back. And so that led me as an internal medicine doctor to ask the question that nobody in medical school ever taught me, which is what is health? Health is not just the absence of disease. That’s an extremely unsatisfying definition, the absence of something. What’s a good day? It’s the absence of rain. That doesn’t make any sense.

Dr. William Li:
So you want to actually have a definition, and the working definition that I came to emerged out of 25 years that I had involved with drug development, I’m still doing it. But the idea with drug development is that we have to understand the body inside and out. We have to those molecular pathways, those receptors, the Achilles heel of disease. Well, turn that inside out, upend that idea, you still need to know what the mechanisms are and the receptors are, but rather than looking at the Achilles heel of disease, let’s take a look at the struts that support, the infrastructure that support health. And if you take a look at everything that is unpharmaceutical, with a PH, you wind up actually with farmaceutical, with an F, which is why I love being on the Doctor’s Farmacy.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
With an F, right.

Dr. William Li:
Right. So look, I mean like you and I have had many of these conversations before, and for me, I’ve been involved with developing treatments that help to control the blood supply of cancers and blindness in the eye. I’ve been involved with diabetes treatments for complications like chronic wounds and cell therapies and gene therapies to treat these really ambitious diseases that we don’t have successful cures for yet.

Dr. William Li:
Along the way, what I realized is by looking at the … going back and walking that path that I was on, that these same pathways, same receptors that drugs have a very tall reach for. And most of them haven’t actually climbed the ladder yet, mother nature beat us to the punch. There are foods that already hit these receptors, and usually not one at a time like we do with pharmaceuticals. Mother nature actually basically puts a gatling gun of these natural biochemicals that activate our health. So treating disease, you send a heat seeking missile in, but activating health, you basically take this cluster of incredibly wonderful, blooming, health blooming molecules, to be able to make our bodies do what they want to do.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s sort like a shotgun versus sniper rifle kind of. Right?

Dr. William Li:
Right.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
But actually what you said was so profound, I want to highlight it because most people might have missed it. What you said is that these pharmacological targets are actually embedded in our biology. They weren’t designed for drugs. They were designed for our internal metabolic processes, but also to work in this co-evolutionary way with plants and then with animals that eat the plants, this is a whole nother conversation, which is fascinating about how we now know they’re activated metabolites and biochemical compounds in meat and milk from animals that eat a wide diversity of forage. So we’re now learning that they’re actually phytochemical compounds in animal foods. So it’s not just plants where you can get it and they may even better for you. And I think that the concept of these compounds as acting on key aspects of our biology that are designed to create health is a really radical idea.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And often people don’t understand that these molecules were not created by the plants for us, they’re their own defense mechanisms. They’re their communication systems. They’re there to attract pollinators. They’re there to track seed collector. I mean, there’s reasons nature does this. They’re there to communicate messages to the neighboring plants, to ward off predators. I mean, plants have 20 different senses, which is just remarkable to me.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And these plant compounds, we’re really using them because our biology is lazy and is only doing what it absolutely has to do. And so we’re going to borrow, like we get vitamin C from food. We borrow these phytochemicals to regulate key processes in our body, from the immune function to the microbiomes health, the detoxification, the hormonal regulation to our brain chemistry. And what you’re talking about is so important. What you’re talking about is taking food in a different context to create health. That most medicine is about trying to push down or shut down or block or interfere with some pathway to mitigate disease, not to cure it usually. Unless we have an antibiotic, but even that doesn’t always work. And so we really have a whole different framework now about how to use food as medicine. It’s not some theoretical concept. It’s actually a scientific, proven model of what to do to add actually activate healing systems in the body.

Dr. William Li:
Yeah. And honestly, this is actually how medicine was practiced back in the days of these ancient food cultures. I mean, I know that you have, like me, a great affinity for the Mediterranean and Asia, both of us share lots of travels in that area. And you go back to 3,000 years ago and you go back to Hippocrates or you go back to Confucius and the people who actually wrote the first tomes relating to health and medicine, look, people cared about health going way back, but they didn’t have pharmaceuticals.

Dr. William Li:
A lot of people don’t understand how recently pharmaceuticals actually were. Before all we had was the material around us. And everybody knew inherently stuff that you eat, that there are stuff that you eat that your body doesn’t agree with. It’s going to make you sick.

Dr. William Li:
A great example is just like poisonous mushroom in the woods. People learned how to actually avoid those. Well, somehow we’ve lost the defensive mechanism to avoid poisonous things on the grocery shelves. Yet we could recognize that deadly ring mushroom, blue mushroom in the woods. And I think what we’re trying to do now is regain our own natural instincts. So they’ve always been with us. We’re just bringing it to the forefront. And the one thing that I think is new is we are bringing some really deep science, which is where I come from. I’m a vascular biologist. The science is actually helping to illuminate a new depth of understanding. It’s not just a what, but it’s the whys.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. So tell us, going on the rabbit hole a little bit, of what some of the biggest discoveries have been of how food modulates our healings systems and how it actually helps us create health.

Dr. William Li:
Yeah. Well look, when I set out to study food as medicine the things that I reached for was what I knew was proven in the pharmaceutical world. We know that your blood supply’s important, and think about what cardiologist spent all this time doing, trying to get better blood flow. Or in oncology for cancer treatments they’re trying to cut off the blood supply to cancers. And so that was one of the things that I thought, “Well, maybe let’s see what food does.” So throwing food and food extracts and food bioactives to the same systems used to develop medicines used by cardiologists and oncologists yielded really a whole new playbook of how to actually use foods to help improve our circulation, which happens to be one of our body’s health defenses, which is what I write about in Eat to Beat Disease.

Dr. William Li:
What I actually say is that when it comes to food and health, it’s not just about the food, it’s about how our body responds to what you put in it. That goes to stem cells, that goes to our microbiome, it goes to our DNA repair mechanisms and it also goes to our immune system, which is both … it’s a double edged sword. You’ve got the inflammatory side, you’ve got the defense fighting the defensive side as well. And so when I think about how foods benefit us, I try to insert that lens into the thinking process to say, all right, so which of our health defenses does any particular food activate?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And give us some examples of how a particular food will activate a particular defense system and what those defense systems are, because I think it’s important. You’re one of the few doctors out there. I mean, I just had a conversation with Andy Weil yesterday, he talked about the body’s own healing systems in a very high level, but you go really granular. And you’re one of the few doctors who about how the body has its own healing mechanisms and that we’re not doing enough to activate those healing mechanisms. We all know that we have that. If we cut our skin, it heals. How does that happen? It’s not a miracle, it’s biology and that doesn’t happen only on the outside. It happens on the inside. So how do we activate our healing systems? What are those healing systems, and how to specific foods activate different healing systems?

Dr. William Li:
Yeah. Well, okay. Let’s follow a piece of food that we’re going to put in our mouth, right? So we’re chewing it up. Guess what? Our food actually interacts with the healthy gut bacteria that lives in part on our tongue. So our tongue has healthy gut bacteria as well. The gut starts in the mouth and it goes all the way to the anus. And so when we eat foods like a beet, for example, or a piece of spinach and we’re chewing and enjoying the beet, it turns out that the nitrogen that the plant naturally absorbed in a soil gets converted by our gut microbiome that live in the little recesses of our tongue. So think about it. You get up in a morning and you’re brushing your tongue. It’ll grow back.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I don’t do that. I think it’s supposed to … who brushes their tongue? I don’t know. It’s a thing, but you know.

Dr. William Li:
But people actually use this like dentist-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I know, tongue scrapers. Yeah.

Dr. William Li:
Gives mouthwash, and they actually kill all the bacteria in your mouth with the intent of actually preventing cavities. Well, look, if you have good, healthy gut bacteria in your mouth, which is one of the body’s health defense systems, it actually works for you. It doesn’t work against you. And it actually suppresses cavities by itself. So eat a piece of spinach or beet, chew it up, the bacteria actually change the nitrogen into a form that when you swallow it gets absorbed in your stomach. We’re following the food along, of a chemical form that is nitric oxide. Now nitric oxide suddenly is absorbed in the stomach in your blood vessels, carried by the circulation, which causes vasodilation. Now your blood pressure falls. And why is that important?

Dr. William Li:
Because for every … I mean, hypertension, one of the big causes of stroke, for example. And for every single point we can lower that top number in the blood pressure, 140/90, we decrease our risk of stroke by 5%. So it’s meaningful. So a nitric oxide also has other benefits for our body as well. It actually calls another defense system, stem cells to help us heal. So the stem cells, little bit a bone marrow have nitric oxide. Now they fly into the bloodstream like bees and a hive looking for organs to actually repair.

Dr. William Li:
So just eating a spinach or beat for example, will immediately help our cardiovascular system, help us, our regeneration system. It also can help grow blood vessels that we need to heal. That’s just one example of how we can track … it’s like going on safari in Africa. You’re in a Jeep with a camera and trying to follow on what’s going on. And we’re to understand there’s this incredible journey that it happens in our body with foods that we eat and they activate our health defenses.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. One of the favorite things I love to talk about is how we’ve lost our nutritional wisdom. And historically, we were attracted to the right foods. Now we’re not because our brain chemistry hormones and our microbiome all been hijacked and are sending chaotic signals to our brain about what to eat. But historically we crave the right things. And when you eat in a certain way, you don’t actually look at food the same way. I mean, I see processed food or I go by a Starbucks and I see all the muffin doesn’t look like food to me, I’m like, “Well, why would I eat that? It’s like eating a rock.”

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It doesn’t even interest me. And it’s not because I’m depriving myself. It’s because I’ve changed my nutritional wisdom in my innate biology to crave the right things. And what happens is when you look at this phytochemical story, the flavors in our food come from these molecules. So actually the more flavorful a thing is naturally, not when you put all kinds of stuff on it, but naturally actually the better it is for you, the more medicine is in the food.

Dr. William Li:
Well, and when you treat the food with medicines, like putting pesticides on foods, for example, you might make it look a little bit nicer, but in fact … I always like to talk about this example. I used to be a skeptic about organic foods. And the reason is because it was so much marketing on there telling me to have less something bad doesn’t attract me. I want to know, like I want a different reason. And so I certainly talked to a horticulturalists and they told me something really important. They said that a plant like a strawberry or a coffee bean when they’re existing in a wild and the pests, the little bugs, insects nibble at their leaves and stems.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. They produce more chemicals.

Dr. William Li:
They produce more chemicals because they view the little nibbles as an injury. So in response, as a wound healing response, they create more ellagic acid in a strawberry or more chlorogenic acid in the coffee bean. And sure enough, when you actually put the pesticides on a strawberry or a coffee, which is conventionally grown, you wind up … they don’t need to make more of those chemicals. And so what you wind up having is something that looks like a coffee bean and something that looks like a strawberry, but it’s actually relatively deficient in what mother nature would’ve otherwise served up that’s actually good for our body. And so I started to changed my mind more good as opposed to less bad. Now that actually attracts me.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s true. I think the other point to make on the back of that is that when we put these chemicals on the soil, it kills all the life in the soil. So when you till the soil, when you put fertilizer on it, when you pesticides, herbicides, it literally kills the microbiome of the soil and the plants are in an intimate relationship with the microbiome of the soil. They’re feeding the microbiome by bringing carbon dioxide, turning in that into metabolizable starch. And then in turn, those bacteria are helping the plant extract nutrients from the soil, minerals, vitamins, all kinds of stuff that the soil has that benefits the plants.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s this mutualism that occurs that when we break that cycle, we end up, as we see now with many of our fruits and vegetables, having dramatically lower levels of nutrients than they did even 50 years ago. And that terrifies me because these nutrients are not just window dressing on our food. They’re critical molecules that they call them vitamins, vital for life. That’s what Vita means. And that was the whole point of these things that you get sick and die if you didn’t eat them. So, we’re in a pandemic of that.

Dr. William Li:
Well, and I totally agree, because I think you and I were at a meeting once where we both heard there was like only 60 harvest left in top soil in America. Just think about out that, you can count that off with a family member, our hands and fingers and toes, that is truly scary. And so I think that the more we’re alert to the fact that if we want to take good care of ourselves, we don’t want to get more complicated. We want to get more simple. We want to actually follow our bodies instincts to eat those things that are more natural, that are less processed, that are plant based. And ultimately you were talking earlier about animals eating plants, even these delicious seafood, oily fish that people actually eat, at the end of the day, it’s big fish, eating smaller fish, eating smaller fish, eating plants, and that’s where the omega 3s come from.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Exactly, the algae, right.

Dr. William Li:
Exactly.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. It’s so true. I think the interesting thing that I’ve been learning about is that the animals left to their own devices, they’ll eat three or four main crops are foods. But if they’re free to eat and forage for a wide variety of plants, they might eat up to 50 or 100 different plants. And they’ll sample little bits of each one, like taking their vitamins or their daily pharmaceutical drugs, and those animals … so if you take a feed lot cow, it takes an enormous amount of investment to keep it healthy, antibiotics, hormones all kinds of very aggressive measures because they’re not eating their natural diet and the molecules in there that we want aren’t there. And there may be inflammatory molecules.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
When you take a grass fed cow better, but if it’s only eating one or two kinds of grasses, that’s not great. And they need extra support. Whereas, regeneratively raised cows forging on maybe 100 different plants, actually don’t need medicines. Don’t need antibiotics, don’t get sick. If the plants are the right plants, they actually grow to their ideal weight as fast as feedlot cows and don’t release as much methane. I mean, it’s really fasting when you get into the science of the biology of how much the inter-relation between soil, plants, animals, and humans exist.

Dr. William Li:
And the concept of diversity, what you’re talking about is so important, because we do want to protect the species and the diversity of species in our planet. But actually this is how we’re hardwired as well. We, our human body loves diversity. Our gut microbiome wants to eat lots of different things. Our health defense systems, our five health defense systems, all crave different types of stimuli to activate them, to keep them agile and active and in shape and working on our behalf.

Dr. William Li:
And here’s, I think the really good news for people that are watching this is that ancient cultures, ancient food cultures that revered, treasured tasty foods, mostly plant-based foods actually understood this. And that’s why so many of the foods from the Mediterranean, or from Asia, if you go back and look at traditional foods. I mean, you and I talked about this before. This idea of Mediterranean cuisine, there’s a lot of unhealthy eating that goes on in modern Mediterranean countries today.

Dr. William Li:
We’re talking about traditional eating patterns, same thing in Asia. We’re talking about going back to basics. And so we’re entering this era where we’re in a way, I think that we’re all shedding the artificial skin that we’ve grown over the last five decades that what we are sold in media or in the supermarket is actually better for us. And when you shed your skin, you get back to basics. The more authentic instincts that we have about what we should eat happened to also taste better as well.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s so true. I went to a Chinese doctor the other day and I had just a check up, I just wanted to get my pulse checked and get a tune up. And afterwards, she sent me a prescription, which was after feeling my pulse and seeing where I was out of balance. She was, “Oh, you need to build up your blood for this or that, or the other thing.” So she said, I should eat bison and beets and duck and liver and cuddle fish, avocados, and black sesame seeds. And then she said, I should eat walnuts and almonds and woodier mushrooms, all mushrooms, olives, natto, and seaweed. And of course she said, cherries, goji berries, Mulberry, persimmon, and then all this other Asian food, like [inaudible 00:24:03], Lotus fruit, burdock, mountain yam, sweet potatoes, soba noodles, oily fishes, and so forth.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And I was like, yeah, she’s giving me a drug prescription. Because each one of these foods, and you probably could talk about each one of these foods for an hour in terms of what’s in them and why she prescribed them. And we don’t think of the diversity and all these … I always say, eat weird food. The more weird it is, probably the better it is for you. And many cultures incorporate all sorts of foods, but 60% of our diet comes from 3 crops and the rest comes from 12 and we used to eat 800 species of plants. And it’s ridiculous. We need to be actually having a way more diverse diets, way more strange vegetables, things that we’re not used to eating.

Dr. William Li:
And we also need to think about foods that are sometimes regarded as snacks as important main components to our diet. So we’re kind of, we can deconstruct this idea. You have to have three square meals a day, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and they have to be a particular way. You need an entree, you need an appetizer. I think that, let’s appreciate food for what it does for our body. We can feel the benefits.

Dr. William Li:
I always talk about this incredible study that was done by mainstream oncologists, about 14 medical center cancer centers, where they were looking at 826 people with stage three colorectal cancer. This is very advanced cancer getting surgery and chemotherapy, and they follow these people out and they just wanted to see how well they did. That’s a very reasonable thing for oncologists to do is to look at their own track record to see who did better. Now, every oncologist will tell you that some patients do better than others, and when you ask them why they don’t always know. Well, so in this particular research study, which was presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology, they actually did one thing that most oncologists don’t do, which is to ask, what did they eat? They used statistics to figure out what they ate. I mean, look, I always ask my patients what they eat, because when you do a history and a physical, that matters. So anyway, they found-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I mean, not only matters, it’s probably the most important question we have to ask as doctors that we never ask.

Dr. William Li:
Exactly. I mean, and that’s where I think that we’re at an inflection point in the whole training of doctors, the next young generation of people going to medical school, they themselves are beginning to have a more … they’re more in touch with healthy eating themselves. And I think that’s actually the only hope we have of being able to change the system from the inside out. But so in this study of 826 patients, they actually found the people who did best were those who ate two, one ounce servings of tree nuts a week. And they wound up having a 57% improvement in survival when they followed them over six years. And so this is a meaningful improvement.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Basically two handfuls of nuts a week, basically.

Dr. William Li:
One ounce of tree nuts. So one of these servings is like seven whole walnuts, right? So it’s 14 half pieces, or it could be macadamias or it could be almonds or it could be pecans, diversity matters. But now we actually can understand what it’s actually doing because you’ve got healthy oils and healthy fats in the nuts. You’ve got some bioactives, for example, walnuts have a chemical that is in there that actually kills colon cancer stem cells, which is important for colon cancer patients for long term outcomes. And that’s just got a huge amount of dietary fiber. And we know the fiber that we eat, it goes all the way down to feed our gut microbiome, our gut bacteria. When we feed them, it’s like putting flakes for your goldfish, our gut microbiome thanks us for feeding them properly by producing short chain fatty acids. This is another metabolite within our body that our bacteria make. And those short chain fatty acids, lower inflammation. They boost our immune system. They help us heal, all those things that cancer patients need.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And they turn off cancer genes, the P 53 oncogene. Butyrate actually shuts that off.

Dr. William Li:
All these things are so … at the scientific level, they make sense. And if you disguise the fact it was a tree nut that was doing this and you gave it an experimental drug name. Yeah, yeah. Investors would go after it. And here it is, mother nature’s already given us the greatest return on investment we can imagine, which is that something that is … these are medicines that are hidden in plain sight in our pantry.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s so true. My daughter started medical school and she texted me like the first week, she said, “Dad, there’s a food is medicine study group.” I’m like, “Yeah, thank God.”

Dr. William Li:
Organized by the students.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Exactly. But it should be just part of the curriculum. Absolutely. In terms of the way that foods and drugs work together, I think you were bringing up a very interesting point here. I think there’s a lot of conversation about drug interactions and how you shouldn’t take certain things with certain … like people say, oh, don’t have fish oil if you’re on a blood thinner and it’s more a negative, but it turns out that there’s a lot of power in combining food with medicines to activate the power of the medicines, but also to mitigate some of the effects and side effects of the medicine, because they contain compounds that help to benefit.

Dr. William Li:
Yeah. Well so what is the first thing that doctors learn when they enter the clinical phase of medicine? Is that old adage, first do no harm. Well, I actually think that’s the wrong priority. I think the first thing we should do is to deliver benefit, and you flip that around to first deliver benefit, all right? Why are we thinking about the bad stuff when we can actually focus our stuff, our minds under good stuff.

Dr. William Li:
If you’re going to first deliver benefit, you have to think about food. And this is where the reliance on the prescription pad that so many people encounter when they see their primary care doctor. I think every patient knows that there’s something that’s not being discussed. There’s something that is so important that isn’t being part of the dialogue. Well I can tell that my mind opened on food and medicine, not food versus medicine. So you got these kind extremists who are the guy that quit clinical medicine, they stand up at a soapbox and they wave a frond of kale. And they basically say, “Eat this and everything will be cured.” And I think that is as wrong as somebody who only writes prescriptions.

Dr. William Li:
We all need to bring … first do good, first deliver benefit. What we need to do is to think about all the tools in a toolbox we can give them. And so one of the studies that I thought was really interesting was done by the university of North Carolina, where they were taking young, healthy people who were just getting a flu vaccine. Wintertime flu vaccine. And they wanted to see if they gave them some food on top of that, if it would make a difference in terms of how well their immune systems responded to the vaccine. So they actually took broccoli sprouts, baby three to four day old broccoli plants, which contained lots of sulforaphanes. These are the natural biochemicals, a sprout, broccoli sprouts contained 100 times more sulforaphane than the grownup broccoli.

Dr. William Li:
And so you turn them into a shake and they just gave them two cups of shake, two shakes to drink every day. Plus they got the flu vaccine and they gave half of the people a placebo shake with broccoli sprouts. Probably didn’t taste very good. And then they measured, they swabbed their nose to measure the number of bacteria or viruses that were present, flu viruses. And then they did a blood test. So this is just like you would do in a pharmaceutical trial. They took out blood and they measured their natural killer T-cells, which is what your vaccines do. And they here’s what they found. They found the people who had the flu vaccine plus the shake had 22 times more of the natural killer T-cells.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Wow. For the people listening, that’s 22,000% more. That’s an insane result. Because we get excited in medicine when we see a 20% improvement or a 30% improvement, we’re talking about a 22,000% improvement. There’s no drugs that do that.

Dr. William Li:
Right. And we think about like how to make the medicine do its job better. Well, look, here’s the difference between foods and medicines and we’re talking about making them work together. Medicines don’t give you joy. They give you some effect that you hope to have. Foods can give you that effect and the joy as well. And then when you put them together, you’re getting more effect and you also get a little bit of the joy of life as well. And so one of the studies that I always refer to say we can’t ignore food as medicine.

Dr. William Li:
And the other thing that I think that is … I’m a cancer researcher, I’ve done a lot of cancer research over my career and I’ve had cancer in my family. I talk about my mother who actually had all of her cancer successfully eliminated by immunotherapy using her own immune system to get rid of it. And we had given her pomegranate juice, we’d given her other foods that actually helped to grow good bacteria.

Dr. William Li:
Well, the latest study that I think is a jaw dropper was published in Nature Medicine. It was done by the MD Anderson Cancer Center. One of the top cancer centers in the world, Jim Allison, Allison who’s actually one of the researchers [crosstalk 00:33:46] won the Nobel Prize for his work in immunotherapy. That group is studying the immune system, the microbiome, what you eat and cancer. It’s like the holy quadrinity of what we want to actually start to do in cancer research.

Dr. William Li:
So here’s what they found. They took 200 patients who had malignant melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer. And these patients were getting immunotherapy, a kind of infused immunotherapy that when it works, it works great. The problem, only about 20% of people respond to this type of immunotherapy. So they wanted to find out what the difference between responders and non-responders were. And this is starting to be the pattern of the research done in this field. They found the responders who benefited from an immune therapy that jacked up your own immune system to go after the cancer and therefore you do better. You cancer starts to go away and you live. Had one bacteria that the ones who didn’t respond didn’t have, and that bacteria is a Ruminococcus.

Dr. William Li:
Now on a past podcast, I talked about Akkermansia. Well, Ruminococcus is starting to pop up as another significant player in the microbiome space. Now I started to take note of Ruminococcus about a year and a half ago during the pandemic. People were studying, why did some people have more antiviral cytokines in their bloodstream if they weren’t getting COVID. And it turned out that those people had more Ruminococcus in their stool as well.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Wow. Not only cancer, but also COVID.

Dr. William Li:
Yeah. And so what was interesting is that in the study in China that found this during early days of COVID also asked what were these people eating? And in China, the study for the COVID study showed that the people with more Ruminococcus and more interferon gamma, the natural virus killer, they were drinking more green and black tea, not just green tea, but black tea. And they were having more omega 3 fatty acids, both from plant-based foods, as well as seafood. Now flip back over to the cancer.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Japanese food with sushi and green tea is a good thing.

Dr. William Li:
Exactly. That’s the carryout. The cancer study is much more sober because now we’re talking about a different life or death. And the surprise with this Ruminococcus bacteria, now what they did is actually asked the people what they were eating. And because the microbiome of course is strongly influenced by the food we eat.

Dr. William Li:
Turns out that these people were eating many different, mostly plant-based foods with tons of dietary fiber, if they were getting Ruminococcus, if they were responding. And so then they began to calculate how much dietary fiber you would need to get an effect. And what they found is that for every five grams per day of dietary fiber you ate … how much is five grams of dietary fiber? That’s the average amount you’d get in a medium sized pair. A pair a day would give you five grams lower.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And by the way, the average American eats about eight grams a day, which is terrible.

Dr. William Li:
But even five grams in this setting would actually to lower the risk of tumor progression and lower mortality by 30%. So now they calculate it out. If you actually had 20 grams, up to 20 grams of fiber, you really maxed out your ability to actually respond to a medicine, a cancer medicine. And so every cancer patient always asks their oncologist, “Hey doc, what should I eat?” And oftentimes they’ll say, “Just eat anything, go to Mickey D’s or whatever.”

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Or they say, eat ice cream and milk shakes. And it’s like, terrible.

Dr. William Li:
This is where science is. Science is giving us the answer to those questions that patients want to have. And I think that this is what responsible doctors who are current and who are forward going, this is where our society has to go. It’s beginning to get those answers, to be able to tell patients how they can help themselves.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, it’s interesting. We talk about dietary fiber, but that’s a very big bucket. There’s soluble fiber, insoluble fiber, prebiotic fibers. Did it matter? And how do they figure that out?

Dr. William Li:
They were looking at mostly fruits and vegetables and they considered mostly soluble fibers that were in this study. And so this is now the next layer. So real scientific research doesn’t deliver all the answers in one fell soup. You go back and you get back into the batter’s box and you hit another one out in terms of research. And so that’s really, I think, a place to watch, MD Anderson looking at this work that they’re doing on the microbiome and diet and looking at the response to cancer therapy.

Dr. William Li:
So, I mean, look, these kinds of efforts are going on all around the world, but they underscore this idea that the food that we eat does matter, and it can matter a lot to help the medicines that have been the product of all this research to help get the result that we want to patients. So first deliver benefit. And I think that’s something that is really important for doctors to hear.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So I think if this is true, and I clearly believe it is, and you believe it is, and I don’t even know what’s a belief because it’s scientifically proven. I could believe in God or not, but that’s hard to prove scientifically or how many angels dance on the head of pin. We can argue that all day, but this is science. And given that science, then if food is medicine, how should doctors prescribe medicine? What’s the dose, the amount, the frequency, and for what diseases?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I mean, it’s a whole new field of inquiry. And it really requires a whole new curriculum for medical school that we haven’t even come close to formulating. And your book is probably the closest curriculum there is to actually laying that out. So, how do we get from here to there? Because right now we’re here. And in 10 years, where are we going to be? And how are we going to get there?

Dr. William Li:
Yeah, no, I’m glad you brought up this whole issue of food dosing because if food is medicine, medicine always has a dose. So as doctors we’re taught to write prescriptions, what is the name of the medicine? How much do you give? How often do you give it? And then what are we actually looking for? And so to do this for a drug, you design a clinical trial and you test different doses. There’s a completely different way to come at this when it comes to food. And that is to look at the research studies that have been done. And we talked about a couple of them, and then to look at the result and then to calculate based on the result, you work backwards to figure out, so where did we start from?

Dr. William Li:
So I like to talk about a study of 36,000 people, a health professional follow up study that looked at men who were ultimately, were all men at risk for developing prostate cancer. And they wanted to find out for the people who didn’t develop prostate cancer, what were they eating? And they had a hypothesis that lycopene in tomatoes might affect prostate cancer because it’s antioxidant. It kills cancer cells, and it cuts off the blood supply feeding cancers. And so when they did the study, they found that men who ate two to three servings of cooked tomato. Now what’s in a serving? You can calculate this. When you look at the study, it’s a half cup serving size. So two to three half cups of cooked tomatoes. Now you even have a way of preparing the food over the course of a week. That’s not asking a lot, two to three of half cups of servings of tomatoes lowered the risk of prostate cancer by 29%.

Dr. William Li:
And so now we have an outcome. And again, I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask people, patients, healthy people to go into that medical research to dive into it. But for those of us who are doctors and trained to do this, we have that ability. And so I think that you’re absolutely right. What we need to do is to train up the ability for healthcare providers, that patients are supposed to trust to give them the tools to be able to actually go in and wade into that complicated stuff to make it simple for patients. So with someone asked me about tomatoes and prostate cancer, I just say, “Look, you want to have something with tomato sauce in a two to three times a week. And it only needs to be a half cup. That’s not a lot.”

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. Yeah. And I had a patient once who did not want to take any supplements, and she came to see me and she’s, “Look, I know I need this much zinc and I need this much magnesium and I need this much folic acid and I need this.” And she so basically showed me, she’s like, “I need 17 pumpkin seeds. And I need like 12 almonds.” I was like, “Wow, that’s impressive.” Because she literally did the research to find out what nutrients are in the food. Now, hopefully she was getting it from sources where actually the food she was buying had the nutrients that they’re supposed to be in there. But it’s really quite amazing.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
William, I think that most doctors don’t understand the power of food, because if I said, “Oh, do you have a headache, William? Okay, well I’m a doctor. I’m going to prescribe aspirin for you, and you need to take 650 milligrams of aspirin. That will help your headache.” But if I just gave you a milligram of aspirin, I would conclude that aspirin doesn’t have anything to do with headaches, but we are not prescribing the right drug in the right dosage.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And I think we don’t see the outcomes that we can see, such as reversing heart failure, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, chronic digestive problems, skin diseases, mood disorder. I mean, you just go on and on down the list and it’s like, wow, we’re missing this entire pharmacology that is so critical.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Years ago, I wrote an article called Food is Pharmacology Eating Your Medicine, basically based on this Chinese meal I had in a restaurant in Hong Kong that was like Ginko nuts and Chinese woodier mushrooms and this thing and that thing and everything had its medicinal properties, and Chinese folks have known this forever. In fact, the word for take your medicine is [Chinese 00:43:41], which means eat your medicine. Which was the name of a PBS show that did really well. So I think that they’re onto something. I feel like it’s so critical.

Dr. William Li:
I think you’re right. And here’s something in real time I can tell you that I’m in the process of working on, and you’re going to like this because this comes from one of your home base institutions at out of Ohio. So there was a study that did computational analysis, artificial intelligence to take a look at what medicines might be associated with lowering the risk of some serious disease like Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. William Li:
And so here is the Cleveland clinic. They were taking a look at 7 million people’s medical records, and putting a computer program into mine and see like 1,600 different medicines that people are taking, all these different disease states that people are having and trying to figure out was there any connection, interconnection to the pattern at the genetic level. And what they found was truly amazing because at the end of the day, and here’s the punchline for this study, they found surprisingly that men who were taking Viagra, Sildenafil, had a 69% decrease in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Wow. Okay.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So more sex means less dementia, or was it something else?

Dr. William Li:
Clears your mind?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, actually I read a study once that men live longer if they have more sex, the same is true for women, but they have to like it.

Dr. William Li:
Well, so here’s the thing. How is it that Viagra, Sildenafil, could actually be helpful for Alzheimer’s disease? So these researchers went back into the lab. So sometimes can take an observation, whether it’s through dietary studies or through medicine studies, and go back into the lab and check it out. So what they found actually with the Viagra, which produces nitric oxide, the same thing that spinach and beets actually help our body produce, actually stimulates regeneration and nerves, will actually start to sprout new nerves.

Dr. William Li:
And it actually down regulates the gene that creates a protein called Tau that builds up and clogs up your brain in Alzheimer’s disease. And so now we have going backwards to try to find an explanation for something that a computer helped us figure out. Now, and this is the wait for it moment, so what I’m trying to do now is to figure out on the basis of the doses of Viagra that create nitric oxide, can we then jump to a different silo to say, well, Viagra can create this much nitric oxide, how much can spinach and beets create? Because then we can actually do that, take out the ph for pharmacology and put the F.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Right, because they have natural nitrates that get converted to nitric oxide in the body.

Dr. William Li:
Exactly, exactly. And so now what we can actually do is to try to figure that out. And this is, I think those of us who are working at an advanced area of food as medicine are really trying to break open new frontiers by doing this research. And what I would say is that it’s like mixed martial arts. You don’t want to just use one style of fighting, one set of moves. You want to use every tool at your disposal in order to be able to get that match, win that match.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. So true. And I think the exciting thing is we are starting to understand how to use medicine from foods in a more precise, deliberate way. And you mentioned the 22,000 full percent increase in the benefit of eating certain foods and the flu effectiveness.

Dr. William Li:
Broccoli sprouts.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Broccoli sprouts. I want to take a little bit of left term, but not really because it relates to food in the immune system and some of the discoveries we’ve made around COVID and long COVID. Right now we know, for example, our friend Dariush Mozaffaria published an article in Tufts research that showed that 63% of cases of hospitalizations in deaths from COVID were because of poor diet, lack of protective foods, too much bad food. And so the question is, with our understanding now COVID, and now this post COVID phenomena, what are we learning? And what are you learning that may combine both nutrition and also pharmacology to help us reimagine our approach to preventing COVID, treating COVID and actually dealing with what we call long COVID?

Dr. William Li:
Yeah. I mean, it seems like we’ve been mired in COVID, in this pandemic for a long time. Yeah. And yet, when you really look at it’s only been about three years or so that we’ve been wrestling, arm wrestling with this thing. And in three years, we’ve learned a lot.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Only two years, but it feels like three years.

Dr. William Li:
Yeah. Well, the thing is that we started with zero knowledge and I think that’s what’s amazing. And to speak to your point about food is medicine. I remember distinctly staring out the window at the very beginning of the pandemic in March, 2020, realizing that as a medical doctor, as a highly trained medical doctor that actually develops medicines, that here was a moment in human history where we have all this technology, all these drugs, all this knowledge. But we were confronted with a new disease for which we had nothing. Hospitals couldn’t offer anything. Doctors couldn’t offer anything, pharmaceutical companies couldn’t offer anything. And it was just us.

Dr. William Li:
And the only thing that we all had to do as humans was to go out and get our food and bring it back home and to prepare it. And so this was that moment that I started to realize like, okay, there is a real important mission for what it is that you do, Mark, and what I do, and which is to get that message out. People need to understand, we could be confronted with something new around the next corner. And at the end of the day, we have the agency as a individuals to make better choices on our own body’s behalf for immunity.

Dr. William Li:
And so I will tell you the things that I started to look, now I’ve also been involved with like the vaccines and antivirals and all that fancy stuff that is in a realm of pharma for COVID, but what here’s some basic things that everyone should know, what does this Corona virus do when you have COVID? It causes massive inflammation in your body. There are foods that actually can lower inflammation. I mean, simple foods containing vitamin C lower inflammation, strawberries, guava, tomatoes, red bell peppers. These are the colorful foods that actually can begin addressing some of those things.

Dr. William Li:
We also know that people who had vitamin D deficiencies actually were more vulnerable to actually developing COVID or becoming infected with COVID and getting sick. Well, mushrooms are a good source of vitamin D and if you actually take a mushroom and slice it and expose it to sunlight in the window cell, before you eat it, the mushroom will actually make more vitamin D.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Give your mushroom a suntan?

Dr. William Li:
Not in a suntanning salon, and don’t rub any olive oil until you’re ready to cook it.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I love that. No sunblock.

Dr. William Li:
No sunblock.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
The porcini mushrooms are the most potent sources of vitamin D.

Dr. William Li:
That’s right.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
But they’re hard to find. I only had fresh porcini mushrooms when I go to Italy.

Dr. William Li:
Well, the dried ones actually are also still good because not only do they taste great, they have a lot of dietary fiber. And if you take a look at dried porcini mushrooms, there’s some caps of the mushrooms, which are good, but stems actually have more of that soluble fiber than the caps do.

Dr. William Li:
Again, go back to ancient food cultures, porcini mushrooms, why should you eat them? Because they taste great. And then let’s talk about the other reasons that are equally important, but so you can actually supplement, use food to get your vitamin D levels up. You can actually have citrus and other foods to lower your inflammation. And then the other thing we’re beginning to realize too, that what this virus does to your body is it actually does two things that need to be addressed.

Dr. William Li:
And this is relevant to long COVID. Yeah. Because most people actually recover from COVID. There’s millions of people that have recovered from COVID, but they’re walking around, I believe, and the research actually shows potentially as time bombs, because even when the virus has left the body, it may not have left. It may have actually stayed hidden inside your body. We believe that people who continue to suffer from long COVID, which is this odd syndrome, more than 100 symptoms, they can’t be easily explained. They can arise. They stick around for, and they can even appear a month after you recover from COVID. They can last for months or years, they can be mild or crippling. We don’t understand too much about it, but there are some common themes.

Dr. William Li:
Number one, it seems like there’s chronic inflammation that’s going on in the body. We think the chronic inflammation is due to auto antibodies that the virus stimulates. So this is like, COVID tries to give you lupus by triggering auto antibodies. And then the third thing we do know that COVID does is it gets … it’s very sneaky. It gets into your blood vessels and damages, scrapes up your blood vessels cells, the endothelial cells and damages them. Now foods can heal endothelium. The Mediterranean diet has been studied with a cardio pref study to improve endothelial health. Dark chocolate can improve endothelial health. These are some of the foods that we need to think about, oh, spinach or beets with natural nitrates and bok choy can improve endothelial health. These are important things to think about.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s what I’m having for dinner, beets and bok choy.

Dr. William Li:
There you go. Hydroxytyrosol, which is actually one of the highest level polyphenols that are found in olives and in olive oil, actually has been shown to interfere with the binding of the SARS-COV-2 coronavirus with human cells. And so again, when you stop thinking first about the food and start about the mechanisms, the biology of health and disease, it allows us to step back and look at what’s going on and say, all right, if that’s what’s going on, how do we start to choose the foods to be able to put into play?

Dr. William Li:
And I think this is where we are in 2022. We have an opportunity now to take a look about at all the science that has been done. All the research that’s been done, and to realize that at the end of the day, the answers really are still … there’s a lot of answers that are still in the hands of people and they involve food.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, it’s amazing. So I know you’ve been involved with thinking beyond food because you have a inquisitive mind. You’re the doctor that everybody goes to when no one else can figure out what’s wrong with them. And you come up with the solutions, you’re a medical detective, Sherlock Holmes, Dr. House guy. And you’re in that process of looking at, what is our current pharmacology and what within that can help us to address this whole phenomena post COVID? And we talked about things a little earlier, before the podcast. Could you share what you’re discovering, what you’re finding, what you’re advising your patients to do?

Dr. William Li:
Yeah. Well, I mean some of the basic things that I think very current doctors who are keeping up with the latest research, this is where we are at the taping of this podcast and things may change, because that’s the other thing is that things are changing, been changing very quickly over the last two years, but here’s what we have that we didn’t have two years ago, we have vaccines and then … but people still get COVID when they have got vaccines. They just don’t go to the hospital and die. But then when you have it, you don’t want to have the autoimmune response. You don’t want to actually have the vascular damage. So what can you do to get rid of the virus?

Dr. William Li:
Well, these antivirals like Paxlovid, which was just approved and authorized by the FDA not too many months ago was specifically designed to intercept the coronavirus and knock it out, decrease the ability to the coronavirus. It’s literally the Z-Pak for COVID. And so that’s now available.

Dr. William Li:
And then the question is, if you really wanted to think as a prescribing doctor, what you would do, what I’ve been telling people is that we do know that COVID, mild or severe causes a lot of inflammation in your body. So in addition to the food and supplements, take the things, the cold medicines that actually make you feel better. If you have muscle aches or headaches or fever, the high dose nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories can be beneficial. And so what I believe is that if you’ve gotten COVID, even if you don’t have a lot of symptoms, it’s still worth it to take high dose anti-inflammatories to lower body inflammation, as much as you can.

Dr. William Li:
So if you take an ibuprofen, what’s a high dose is like 800 milligrams. If you take that at the max that you can actually take it for a few days, that will actually help your body recover better. Secondly, if you take a look going further down the stream and after you take five days of your Z-Pak for COVID, okay. When at the end of that, what should you be doing? We don’t know who actually develops those auto antibodies, but I’m sure concerned about them. Like in pediatric in kids who have had COVID, there’s a twofold incidence of developing type one and type two diabetes. They found this, and people who didn’t even get very sick. Auto antibodies are one explanation. So what could you do? And again, as a thinking man’s doctor to come up with a MacGyver solution for that, look, low dose prednisone, a short course that won’t set down your adrenals, probably a good way to just stamp out the fire.

Dr. William Li:
It’s like pouring water at the end of the evening, after your campfire, before you go into the tent, go ahead and put a bucket of water on that. So a few days of low dose prednisone is an example.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
How many days, how much is a low dose?

Dr. William Li:
2.5 grams, like you can’t give medical device on a show, obviously.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
2.5 milligrams.

Dr. William Li:
2.5 milligrams is a baby dose. You don’t need to actually titrate off of that. For I would say until we think the virus goes away, which is like day 10 or maybe even a little bit beyond that. And then the other thing that I think for people, I’ve seen such horrible vascular damage from COVID and recently in Nature Medicine was a paper that looked at 11 … from a study from the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center in St. Louis. They looked at 11.5 million people. That’s a monster study.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
A lot of people.

Dr. William Li:
And they found that … and they controlled it for people who didn’t have COVID, had COVID, historical and they found that there were elevated risk of heart attack, like by 75%, of stroke by like 85%. Twofold increase of cardiac arrest one year later, and lots of atrial fibrillation of ventricular … lots of rhythm problems that were in the 70s and 80% higher in 11.5 million people.

Dr. William Li:
And so it’s driving cardiologists crazy because they’re suddenly seeing patients that shouldn’t have these problems suddenly come up with these problems post COVID. And so one explanation, and we’re not 100% sure of this, but I’m pretty sure is it’s vascular damage, damage to the blood vessels, feeding the heart in the heart, feeding the nerves to the heart that are in the brain that are causing all these kinds of problems.

Dr. William Li:
And so what can you do to repair blood vessels? And this is where going back into the food research. We near that dark chocolate, Cacao actually is endothelial repair. We know the Mediterranean diet can actually do it. We talked a little bit about beets and spinach and bok choy is actually ways of actually inducing nitric oxide. But let’s go back to that Cleveland Clinic study, you got Sildenafil, Viagra that can be given at low doses.

Dr. William Li:
And so this is when I went back in my research, and I’m still doing it right now. So this is not medical advice, but it’s medical research and you and I are having a conversation about how researchers who are doctors think about this. In pediatrics, there are conditions involving high blood pressure and damage to the blood vessels in the lung, pulmonary arterial hypertension in pediatric patients. And they are using Viagra-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Viagra.

Dr. William Li:
Low dose Viagra to treat kids to heal up their blood vessels. So an interesting research question that’s easy to put into practice is to say, well, can that actually be one of the ways to repair blood vessels as well? Yeah. Again, it’s sort of, I think this whole conversation we’ve been having is really about how important it is to activate the potential of the body for healing.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. It’s so important, William. And I think the era we’re going to be emerging into is really a deep understanding of health. You and I went to medical school and learned about disease. We learned about zero when it came to health, and even less when it came to nutrition, and what we’re now entering is an era where we’re really discovering the underlying biological systems that drive both disease and health and how to work with those systems.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And the biggest thing that drives transformation in those systems, something that we do every day, if we’re lucky, most of us on the planet anyway, is eat. And food is the biggest signal transduction system, cell messenger system that we interact with. Literally we’re eating thousands and thousands of foreign compounds that are all somehow intelligently floating around in our blood, doing exactly what they were supposed to do, keeping us alive, optimizing our immune system, fixing our microbiome, helping us detox foods, helping balance our hormones, improve our brain chemistry, help our mitochondria function better, build our tissues and structure.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
All of it is really derived from the raw materials of food and the quality matters. And just like the study you talked about, depending on where the food’s grown, how it’s grown, how it’s stored, transport, shipped, all of that, how it’s cooked, all that matters. And I think now that we’re beginning to understand this from a scientific point of view, it’s no longer a platitude to say that food is medicine, but it literally is medicine.

Dr. William Li:
Right. Well, I mean, and I think that again, we have just come through this really, really dark tunnel that we’re starting to really get back to see the light, that again this medicine, this form of medicine, food is something that doctors are not prescribing for us because they don’t need to. It’s something that we can actually do for ourselves. This is the power, the agency of actually food. It’s something that we can take control of our own lives. And that’s one of the things that happened to me personally is that, as I was staring out the window, realizing that pharmaceuticals were not able to play a role at the very beginning of the pandemic, I started realizing that at the messages that we deliver, you and I and many other people that work in our field out there, is an incredibly important thing for us to be able to share with the community.

Dr. William Li:
And so that’s one of the reasons why I started to deliver this free masterclass. I just realized that we should be getting this message out to practical information to people from a trusted source that’s based on science and people don’t need to be charged for it. There’s nothing more democratic than the ability to understand what we can take to do for ourselves. And so I’ve been really overwhelmed by the amount of interest because I think I’ve had a masterclass where I had 8,000 people sign on for a single hour just to hear about what’s going on.

Dr. William Li:
And so what I’ve been doing is like some of the things we’re talking about now, every time there’s new research and I wait for it to build up a little bit, let’s do a masterclass and let’s talk about what we’re learning because this can change people’s lives.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. It’s so important. And I think everybody should check it out, go to DrWilliamLi, that’s L-I, .com/masterclass. It’s free, which is awesome that you’re giving this information away. And your knowledge is so deep. We’ve just really been able to scratch the surface. So for those of you listening, if you want to get more downloads on how to use food as medicine for you, check out Dr. William Li’s masterclass, DrWilliamLi.com/masterclass. Also for sure, his book Eat to Beat Disease, The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself, which is one of the most important books written in the last 50 years, I think. Just to close, tell us what are your top recommendations for people who want to get started to activate their biology through food is medicine?

Dr. William Li:
There’s three things that I always tell people that are super easy to do. And it, again, it has to do with the biology and understanding your body. First, you want to unburden your body’s biology. Let your health defenses work for you. So you want to cut down the things that actually sit on or squelch your body’s defenses. Let’s start with a clear, clean playing field. So start to cut off things like sodas and ultraprocessed foods and lots of processed meats, things like that. It unloads your body and allows your body … It’s like taking all the dirty laundry off the floor, and let’s start with a clean room, number one.

Dr. William Li:
Number two, what I think is that find foods that you love of that are healthy for your health defenses. And that’s one of the things that I did in my book is to create lots of tables and charts. I tell people if you have my book and you flip open to the tables, take out a Sharpie, okay, and literally start circling foods that you already love. This is not hard to do. It’s super easy. It could be a tomato, it could be bok choy, it could be on my mushroom. It could be whatever it is, start circling it.

Dr. William Li:
And I tell people, take a picture of it with your cell phone, because the thing is make it easy for you to remember what you love that’s already good for you. That’s the key thing. Start with things that are easy that you already love. And then the third thing that’s really important is to be physically active, because no matter what you eat, if you’re sitting around like a lump your body is going to be very unhappy about that. So physical activity, eating things that you love, and then just taking the laundry off the floor. Unburden your body, unpack that body, have a clean start. Those are three really simple things to start with.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Amazing. Well, I’m going to go have tonight broccoli, shiitake mushrooms and beets, and now I’m going to go, it’s snowing out. I’m going to go get on my Peloton and work out.

Dr. William Li:
That’s a great move.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Thanks, William. It’s so great to see you again and thank you for being such a visionary leader in this space and leaving me feeling like there is hope, because I’ve been crying in the wilderness for decades and finally there’s scientists like you who are way now, way ahead of me on this and are just doing such a great job to tell a story of why food is so important, why food is medicine and why this podcast is called The Doctor’s Farmacy. So thanks, William, for joining us.

Dr. William Li:
Thank you for having me.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And if you’ve been listening to this podcast and you love what you heard, please share it with your friends and family. Subscribe wherever you get your podcast. Talk about how you’ve used food as medicine, leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you. And of course, we’ll see you next week on the Doctor’s Farmacy.

Closing:
Hi everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner. If you’re looking for a functional medicine practitioner, you can visit ifm.org and search their find a practitioner database. It’s important that you have someone in your corner who’s trained, who’s a licensed healthcare practitioner, and can help you make changes, especially when it comes to your health.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

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