Coming up on this episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy.
Dr. Mark Hyman:
Ultra-processed food should have zero part of your diet, like zero, additives, chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, hormones, antibiotics, all should be completely eliminated. If you’re going to have sugar, that’s okay. Think of it as a recreational drug. Small amounts occasionally can be fine, but not as a daily staple. Welcome to Doctor’s Farmacy.
I’m Dr. Mark Hyman. That’s Farmacy with an F, a place for conversations that matter, and today, I’m bringing you a Health Bite to help improve your health by making small steps that can create big changes over time, and today’s Health Bite is about five simple steps that you can take for better health, okay? This is what I do every day, and if you want to know how I stay strong and healthy, if you’re wondering how I do that, and I’m 63 years old, and still going strong while many of my peers at my age are winding down, why I’m able to go skiing, and dramatically improve my tennis game, and build more muscle, and outperform my 30-year-old friends, biking up a mountain and lifting heavier weights, well, how do I do that? I’m going to tell you. The reason I do it is so I can have the ability to do things I want in life, to show up for my friends and family, to do the work I want to do in the world, to make the world a little bit better place before I die, and I want to trim my biological clock back.
So I’m 63, chronologically. I’m biologically 43. I want to try to get to maybe 30 or 25. We’ll see how it goes. We’ll let you know. So what are the five simple things you can do for better health?
What are the daily and weekly practices that I use to keep me biologically younger as I grow chronologically older? First is food. As you know, I’m a big food and medicine guy. I’m a practicing physician. I focus on nutritional medicine, functional medicine for 30 years on real patients, and I’ve used food as medicine, and I’m just blown away and humbled by how our human bodies work and how we need to personalize our nutritional approach, but there are a few universal principles that can guide you to the right diet, and I think there aren’t too many people who are on either spectrum.
I mean, maybe the extreme carnivore might disagree with some things I’m going to say, but most people, whether they’re paleo, or vegan, or keto, or whatever, agree on these principles. One, we should get rid of ultra-processed food. We need to dramatically lower our intake of refined starches, and sugars, and processed foods that are killing us. Two, we should be eating food that’s the highest quality we possibly can, and ideally, we need to personalize our diet, and we need to think of food as medicine, which is the guiding principle for all we’re eating. I don’t think there’d be anybody in the nutrition space who would disagree with any of those four ideas, and so when you personalize your diet, it should be based on your genetics, your metabolism, your preferences, obviously, but these are really simple principles.
So within that, there’s a lot of room for what you can eat. Personally, I think a balanced view, that’s not too extreme is what I call the Pegan diet, and it was sort of poking fun at the extremes of diet, of paleo and vegan, but we now know that these principles are, and I’ve written a book about it called The Pegan Diet, which lays out principles for eating in a nutritionally confusing world, and how do we optimize our health, by focusing on quality, focusing on food as medicine, and personalization. So first thing, we should be understanding that food is the single biggest bioregulator that we are interacting with. It’s the single biggest thing that modifies our biochemical, physiological, hormonal, neurotransmitter, pretty much every function, microbiome, everything that’s going in your body. Your gene expression is controlled by what you eat in real time, so you want to eat high-quality food as best you can.
Lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, not a ton of sugary fruits, but lots of good fruits can be fine if you’re metabolically healthy. Lots of good fats, avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds, really important. Also, people who eat more nuts and seeds have more longevity and better health. Animal foods are definitely a big question mark for people, but I think without going into too much detail here, ’cause we’re trying to cover all the five things, I think the data on meat, I’ve discussed deeply in food, “What the heck should I eat?,” in The Pegan Diet, and also in Young Forever, I talked about protein and the need for the certain kinds of protein as we age. So having good meat is important.
I recently visited a ranch out here in Texas where I’m staying, and it was called Roam Ranch, and they provide incredible care to these bison, that really, regenerated the soil and increased the water tables, and increase biodiversity. Bald eagles were coming back, creeks were coming back. They had been dead for generations. Plants that had been dormant for 100 years were coming back because of the bison poop fertilizing them was quite amazing, and they produce really healthy regenerative-raised meat, and there’s a company called Force of Nature, where you can get animal that were sort of raised in a way that’s in their natural habitat and their natural species as they have for centuries and provide really high-quality meat that’s full of phytochemicals, and protein, and vitamins and minerals and things that are really essential for us. I think eggs, also. Pasteurized eggs are great.
They had duck eggs on the farm, which I got, which are really great. If you’re going to eat fish, make sure it’s low on mercury and toxins. Eat, what I call the SMASH fish, sardines, mackerel, herring, anchovies, and salmon, small salmon ideally. If you’re going to eat grains, make sure you eat more heirloom grains. You eat whole grains, not whole grain flours, or some can be fine like Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat, completely minimally processed flours.
If they’re in the original heirloom state, they’re higher in protein, lower in glycemic-triggering starches. They have higher levels of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. I love Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat, but I definitely would not be eating flour for most sources, and I would definitely be avoiding gluten mostly, especially from the American dwarf wheat. Some ancient forms of grain can be fine if you’re not gluten sensitive. Beans are great, and I think they can be a great part of a healthy diet.
Obviously, you can’t get as much protein from beans and grains as you would from like four, six ounces of chicken or meat. You can get 30 grams of protein. You’d need six cups of brown rice and two cups of beans, or two cups of beans to get that same amount, so it’s a little harder as we get older. Sugar, obviously, processed food sugar, that’s just a problem. Ultra-processed food should have zero part of your diet, like zero, additives, chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, hormones, antibiotics.
All should be completely eliminated. If you’re going to have sugar, that’s okay, but just think of it as a recreational drug. Small amounts occasionally can be fine, but not as a daily staple, and eat real sugar. Have maple syrup, have honey. I mean, have sugar, but don’t eat all those artificial weird things.
Refined oils can be a problem. I think there are expeller-pressed oils, there are higher oleic oils, there are oil that have good mixture of omega-3 and 6s, so I think the sort of narrative, it’s all seed oil are bad or nut oils are bad, I think it is problematic, but we have to be more specific. It’s a little nuanced, but I talk about what that is in my book. Dairy can be great if it’s from sheep or goat, and if you’re not allergic, but most traditional cow dairy is pretty bad for you, not because of all the hormones in it, because of the A1 casein was just super inflammatory, where as the casein, which is the protein in milk that’s in sheep or goat is much less inflammatory. So that’s sort of the high level on diet, and if you follow these principles, you can eat lots of different ways, but they’re just really core principles of what you should be eating.
Next is sleep. Sleep is so important, and we don’t prioritize sleep in this culture. When we think we can cheat sleep and still do well, we can’t. We need to practice good sleep hygiene. So what does that look like?
Again, people say, “I have insomnia,” “I can’t sleep well,” they often don’t practice good sleep hygiene. So go to bed and wake up at the same time every day as best possible. Use your bed for sleep, and romance, or sex, not TV or work. Create a nice environment in your bedroom. Really limit all the clutter and distractions.
Keep it serene, muted colors. Get rid of all that crap. Make sure you have blackout shades, or at least an eye mask. Light plays a huge role, and even if our eyes are closed and it’s bright out, light will get in, and it can affect our melatonin levels and affect our ability to sleep. Now, keep it quiet. If you’re living in a noisy area, use earplugs.
Get grounded. I think one of the things that we don’t realize is the electromagnetic frequencies can be a factor, and there are actually grounding sheets and grounding tents in New York City. I had a Geiger counter, which measures … Basically not a Geiger counter, but basically like EMF detector. Essentially, it measures the ambient EMF or electromagnetic frequencies, and it basically says, “Danger, danger, get out of our apartment,” ’cause of all the Wi-Fi, and there’s all these buildings and all these people with their own Wi-Fi, and there’s like 100 Wi-Fi things going on, and so we put a, kind of like basically like a Faraday cage, which is it blocks all the EMFs, and you couldn’t make a phone call inside the tent over your bed, so I encourage you to either shut off your Wi-Fi at night to get a kind of Faraday tent for your bed or something like that, and try to keep all the electrical stuff away from your bed, and don’t check your devices, and just get your device out of bed.
Also, get rid of blue light exposure at night. You can use red light bulbs at home at night. You can use blue blocker glasses. You want to avoid computers, smartphones, tablets at least two hours before bed. Really, use a blue glasses after sunset.
It can be great. Caffeine can be fine for people, but if you’re a slow metabolizer, you can have a cup in the morning, and that can affect your sleep at night, so it can really interfere with sleep. If you’re really struggling, I would encourage you to get off caffeine. Alcohol, I occasionally like to drink, but it is a super bad sleep disruptor, and I can tell when I wear my aura ring or when I use tracking in my sleep. When I drink something at night, my sleep is always much worse, and I actually feel worse the next day, so I’ve pretty much given up mostly drinking.
Occasionally, I’ll have a shot of tequila, but not on a regular basis. Also, make sure, in the morning, you get light exposure. Getting 20 minutes of bright light exposure in the morning, it activates the light receptors in your eyes, it affects your brain, your pineal gland, and sets rising cortisol levels and lower melatonin, and kind of helps you actually reset your system so you can get a deeper sleep at night. Also, don’t eat three hours before bed, so give yourself three hours before your last meal and bed. I can’t always do that, but having a heavy meal and going to bed, it’s going to screw up your sleep.
I went to a dinner party last night, and I’m, like I’m usually the guy that wants to eat at 6:00, and we didn’t eat till 9:00 at night, and I came home, and I went to bed at 11:30. I was still … By the time I finished dinner was 10:00, got to bed at 11:30. It wasn’t enough time, and I definitely could feel all the effects today of not having as good of sleep. So don’t workout at night.
Exercising at night will stimulate you and interrupt your sleep. Also, get the crap out of your head that’s spinning, so write down your worries. Maybe an hour before bed, do a little journaling. Write down what causes you anxiety. Get stuff off your head that you’re worried, your to-do list, what your plans are.
Just free up your mind a little bit. One of my favorite hacks is a hot bath. I use Epsom salt and lavender oil to lower cortisol, and hot water helps to raise your body temperature, which helps you fall asleep faster, and magnesium is absorbed through your skin, which helps you relax, and it’s great. So you get the cortisol lowering effects of lavender, and it’s just a great, fun way to kind of wind down at night. Also, if you can, stretch at night.
Do a little yoga, stretching. If you’re lucky, get a massage. Some of the best sleeps I’ve ever had were when I got a massage at night, and then go to bed. It’s like I just go into a whole different state. Also, heating pads can be great.
Warming your middle, a heating pad, a water bottle, a warm body helps. Don’t take medications that mess up sleep, sedatives, antihistamine, stimulants, cold medications, steroids, often headache medication that takes caffeine in them. Be careful of those. Those can screw up your sleep. Try some herbs, passion flower, valerian root, magnolia.
A lot of these things can be very helpful for sleep. Magnesium is one of my favorites. Take magnesium before bed, two to 400 milligrams. You can take magnesium citrate if you tend to be constipated. Glycinate if you’re more likely to just have normal bowels.
Something like melatonin, half a milligram to two milligrams can be helpful for some people. Other things, amino acids like GABA, theanine, 5-HTP, really helpful. Try guided meditation. Sometimes I’ll listen to Binaural Beats at night, which is you can listen to them online and get a headphone, and it really helps to really reset your brain, a yoga nidra, guided relaxation, whatever you like, but I would encourage you to try that, and try my Sleep masterclass. You can go to drhyman.com/sleep. So sleep’s important, and exercise, also important, obviously.
If there was a longevity pill, it would be exercise, certain types of exercise, or for more effective for optimizing your health, or metabolism, or lifespan. Aerobic conditioning, strength, keeping your muscle mass being flexible, being agile, super important for staying healthy. You want to be able to do what I call the Centenarian Olympics. Basically, Peter Attia talks about the decathlon, which is like, “What do you need to do?” Get up off the floor, play with your grandkids, tie your shoes, but that requires you to be fit, and agile, and flexible, and build muscle, so really important.
It has really powerful effects. It’s like a stress, and it’s this hormesis strategy, which is a stress that doesn’t kill you, that makes you stronger. What are the main ways we need to do with this? One is by boosting your VO2 max. Your VO2 max is basically how much oxygen you can burn a minute, and that is an indirect measurement of your fitness level, and also your mitochondrial function and your metabolism.
So the higher it is, the longer you’ll live. The way to get it up is by high-intensity interval training, and like sprints. Also, muscle super, important. Maximizing muscle is key, so strength training 30 minutes three times a week minimum and having adequate protein after, getting flexible, yoga classes, stretching, key to keeping your body supple. The stifled man syndrome is a real thing, so make sure you keep your muscles, and tendons, ligaments pliable, flexible.
It’ll help with your mobility, agility, balance, living pain-free. Yoga’s really great, so I encourage you to pick up some yoga. You can do online classes. It’s easy to do. What do I do?
Well, I do four to six days of cardio with interval training. I do road mountain biking. Tennis is my favorite, ’cause I don’t even know I’m exercising, hiking, sometimes I do classes, swimming 30 to 60 minutes session. I do strength training. I use TB12 Sports resistance bands.
Sometimes I use weights. I’ll do that 30 minutes four or five times a week, and yoga. I love yoga, so hot yoga, vinyasa yoga a couple of times a week, stretching a little bit every day, but I definitely get into the yoga. I wish I could do that every day, actually. And so one of the last major things is building community and a sense of purpose.
A lot of us don’t have a deep community, and loneliness and isolation are big risk factors for disease and early death, and also your mind. What happens between your ears determines so much about your health, so develop a growth mindset, learn about the world, explore and be curious about yourself in the world. Figure out what’s not working in your life and take action to fix it. Create a vision statement for yourself, like what matters to you? What are your goals?
What are your dreams? Do good things for other people. Altruism is actually a medicine, literally. It affects us in a positive way in our biology. Our brain circuits, get rewarded with dopamine like they do with heroin and cocaine with altruism, and it’s much safer and much healthier, so find something that matters to you.
Be part of making the world a better place. There was a well-known Indian guru named Neem Karoli Baba, who said, “You could reach awakening with a simple plan. Love everyone, serve everyone,” and he added, “Feed everyone.” So that’s pretty simple rules for living. Volunteer.
Give your give back to your community. Practice kindness to those around you. Also, there’s a way to take your struggles and your pain and transform them into a purpose. Many of us have had traumas in our lives. We’ve experienced hard things, and we can use those things to help others.
I certainly did that. I got very sick when I was in my 30’s. I had chronic fatigue, and that led me to understand the body in a different way and discover functional medicine. I saw how many people were suffering that don’t need to with solutions that are available to them. Also, find out what makes you happy, what lights you up, what you’re passionate about, and do those things.
I love to play tennis, I love to be in nature, I love to hang out with my friends, I love to listen to music. So I find those things that give me joy and I go do them. Find out what you care about and what your dreams are, and follow those dreams. You can reinvent your life at any age, so just make sure you take the time to explore your life and make those changes that you need to actually bring more passion and joy to your life, and make sure you’re connected to community because that’s so powerful. It’s a part of our medicine, is community is medicine.
Many of us are, as I mentioned, are socially isolated, and it doesn’t matter what it is. It could be a book club, it could be bowling buddies, it can be anything, but the more connected you are to people, the healthier you are. The more your relationships are solid in your life, the better your health’s going to be, and the longer you’re going to live. Also, find out and seek people who inspire you. You’re only as healthy as the five people you spend the most time with, so if all your friends are eating at McDonald’s and drinking soda all day, somebody called it diabetes water, then that’s probably what’s going to happen to you, but if all your friends are watching, and watching Netflix and binging on junk food, you’re probably going to be in trouble.
If your friends are drinking green juices and doing yoga, probably, and they’re focused on growth and development, you’re probably going to be healthier too. Also, be nice to yourself. Most of us are pretty hard on ourself, and if we actually talk to our friends the way we talk to ourself, with our inner dialogue, we probably wouldn’t have any friends. Ram Dass talks about this idea of non-judgmental, loving self-awareness. How do we recognize our negative inner dialogue, and how do we overcome that?
Also, prioritize your own self-care. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. The more you take care of yourself, the better you can be in your life for others. So you’re going to become a source of energy and life for yourself and for others, and I think focusing on productivity is not the answer. It’s on filling up our hearts and our souls, so do those simple things that bring you back to yourself and support your health, and I know for me, it’s super important.
So after this, I’m going to go for a walk with a friend, and then I’m going to go play tennis late this afternoon. I invited some family members over for dinner tonight, so I try to do this on a daily basis to add those things that bring value. Also, learn how to manage your stress response. We can’t stop stress. It’s happening all the time, but we can manage it, and we have to learn those techniques.
It can be breathing techniques, meditation, yoga, guided meditation, forest bathing, we should call it taking a walk in the woods, writing down your feelings, journaling, super helpful. Gratitude journal, super important. It’s actually data on this. It’s not just some goofy idea. It’s actually something that where there’s real data on practicing gratitude as a method for healing your body and healing yourself.
Martin Seligman talks about this in his book, Flourish, where he unpacks the science of gratitude, and it’s how it affects your health and happiness. So focus on what’s right and good, not on what’s wrong and bad. A lot of us are focusing what’s wrong, instead of what’s right, and I think we just shift our focus and we’ll often be much happier. Also, build your friend network. Take time to invest in your friends, whether it’s gatherings you have weekly, it could be a breakfast club, it could be on Zoom gathering you have with your friends all over the country or world.
Just make sure you invest in that. Massage is great if you can do it. It helps breathing out stress. I love mine. My favorite technique is you can trade massage with a friend, with a partner.
You can get a professional massage if you can afford it. Exercise, also a great way to reduce stress. So there’s so many things, the five different things you can do. They’re so important, what you eat, exercise, your sleep, your meaning and purpose, and learning how to manage stress, all super important for living a long and healthy life. That’s it for today’s Health Bite.
I hope you liked it, learned a few things. It’s a lot, but if you follow these guidelines, I think you’re going to find yourself healthier and happier and living a longer, better life. So please share it with everybody. We’d love them to learn too, and we’ll see you next week on The Doctor’s Farmacy.
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.