Focusing on Fundamentals & Why You Shouldn’t Try to Treat MTHFR First
Treating your genes is a relatively new concept. And it can be tempting to think you can change the course of your health by simply discovering and addressing a dysfunction in one particular gene, say, MTHFR, COMT, or DAO. In this episode, Dr. Ben Lynch, a naturopathic physician with expertise in genetic health, walks us through why that isn’t the case, and why returning to the fundamentals is critical to optimizing your genes “upstream.”
Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Dr. Ruscio Radio. This is Dr. Ruscio. Today, I’m here with Dr. Ben Lynch, and we’re going to be talking about genes. And I’m very excited to have this conversation to hopefully dispel some confusion. So Ben, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Dr. Ben Lynch, ND: Awesome to be here, Michael. Thanks for having me.
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Dr. R’s Fast Facts Summary
Tackle fundamentals first to optimize genes “upstream”
- Targeting single gene can be detrimental, too complex
- Don’t fixate on MTHFR, DAO etc.
- What can you avoid doing so you prioritize the important things?
- People who are not a positive force in your life
- Over scheduling
- Over stressing about work
Top Lifestyle Factors for Healthy Genes
- Hydration, Electrolytes, & Nutrient Tracking
- Supplement OR
- Broccoli sprouts + radish sprouts: grow your own or eat within 1-2 days from store (rinse well)
- Environment: Air and Water Quality
DrMR: This is a conversation I’ve been looking forward to for a while. We just talked offline about the confusion regarding this topic. I’m looking forward very much to jumping into that and dispelling some confusion. In case people haven’t heard your name before, get us up to speed briefly on who you are, what your training has been, and what you’re currently doing.
DrBL: I’m a guy who likes to figure things out. I like to know the “why” behind things because if you understand the “why” behind things, it’s a lot easier to do them. You become more empowered to do them, and you might be more empowered not to do them if they’re harmful to you.
So understanding the “why’s” is what I do. I use the “why” of health, like chronic disease, or actually trying to prevent disease in unborn kids, by optimizing the life of the mother, the future mom, and the future dad. If you do that, then the baby can develop in the best environment possible within the womb, and then have a great life.
And if you understand genetics—because those are essentially the tools our body uses to function—then you can really support an individual. You look at the individual’s genetics and they can learn from that and really take control of their own life. We think genetics is, you’re born with them and you’re done. But I’m talking about genes that are not eye color, hair color, or skin color. It’s how you think. It’s how you sleep. It’s how you move. It’s how you move out chemicals. So I’m a naturopathic physician. Graduated from Bastyr University, and I got my cell and molecular biology degree from the University of Washington way back when.
DrMR: Now, all that is fantastic. I wholeheartedly agree with you, in terms of being someone who tries to figure stuff out. I think there is this tendency of people to take a little bit of information and try to run with it. And I’ve been watching this happen, frustratingly, in a number of different areas. One is my chief area of focus, which is GI. There’ll be the miracle bacteria that everyone’s jazzed about for a while, thinking that we can reduce down your healthcare decisions centered around this one bacteria.
Unfortunately, what I’ve seen that do, more often than not, is make people worse. Instead of listening to their body, they start making all their decisions around this one bacterial-centric sort of paradigm. And the same thing seems to be happening with genes.
Watching some of your work—especially in the early days when you were really, I think, trying to educate people on this—it seemed to me you were trying to educate people on some of the mechanisms underneath the hood, some of the particulars. Then people would take that, and it seemed like they were doing the same thing, running with, “Ah, well, MTHFR. This is now going to be the delineating and deciding factor about everything that I do in my life.” And it seems that that’s not really the best way to handle this issue.
Don’t Treat Based On One or Two Genes
Why don’t we start there? What would you want to say to people, to try to maybe pull them out of the lurch of obsessing over, “Well, I have MTHFR and COMT, read a bunch of stuff on Wikipedia about what those mean, and now I’m going to start changing a bunch of stuff—to the exclusion of any biofeedback that I have—based upon what I think I should do for those genes”? Where do you want to start people, to prevent them from that?
DrBL: Well, to understand the complexity, first of all. Let’s put it this way. If it was this easy to manipulate your body, and if everything was just important to one gene, say, MTHFR, and we’ll say even two genes, COMT… If these two genes were so, so critically important (and they are very important), these are the only two things that you focus on, the human species would not be on this planet right now. We’d be extinct. The body has adapted to be able to withstand all sorts of assaults from multiple different directions because we are complex beings.
And if you try to oversimplify things, you might get lucky and get some improvement. I’m trying to think of a non-gruesome example. If you have 30 garbage cans and you have one piece of gum, and you want to throw that piece of gum and try to make it into a garbage can, you’ve got pretty good odds. But if you’ve got one garbage can and one piece of gum, you’ve got lower odds.
If people have 19,000 garbage cans and one little piece of information, they think they can make an improvement. But the reality is, you have to get that one piece of gum into the specific garbage can. You have no idea which one of the 19,000 garbage cans it is. You are throwing methylfolate into that bin out of 19,000 and you have to be accurate. And you’re just guessing. MTHFR is one gene that does a lot of different things, but there are about 19,000 other genes that are also very, very important. If think that if you have the MTHFR variant and all you need to do is take methylfolate, or if you’re a practitioner and all you need to do is give methylfolate to the person with the MTHFR variant, you are wholly mistaken.
DrMR: Right. So I think this is a message that just constantly needs reiteration. It’s tempting to think about these things reductionistically. Even though we always criticize conventional medicine for being reductionistic, we often do the same thing with a natural treatment. When you do that, oftentimes you make bad decisions, because a lot of this stuff is better treated upstream or from a more global perspective.
DrBL: Yeah, and I think part of the reason why we do this, Michael, is because thinking requires calories. And calories require work on the human to go and get them, to forage and hunt. Somebody said something that really resonated with me, that we try to oversimplify things because it’s a survival mechanism. We are conserving calories, and we’re conserving the need to get out of our cave and to go hunt for food. It sounds stupid, but we’re actually not that far off from where we were 500 years ago, if you think about it.
The human genome has been around for a long, long time. But we’ve evolved in terms of industrialization and convenience so fast that our genome has not caught up. We are also trying to use our reptilian brain in complex matters, and our reptilian brain is still controlling us, saying “Oh, this whole genetic thing is too complicated. I’m going to conserve calories and just take methylfolate for my MTHFR.”
DrMR: Yep, I agree with that. And I think, also, if we extrapolate that out far enough, what eventually happens as we gain mastery on a topic is things become more simple. There’s this great quote, I think it reads, “Knowledge is the process of compiling facts. Wisdom is their simplification.”
DrMR: I think this happens in all areas. If you have the right person giving you education or helping you, they can see you through all the complicated collusion of the minutiae and actually give you a much more wise way of applying the knowledge. And I think that’s where we’re coming to with gene therapy now.
DrBL: Yeah, there’s an article published in… it may have been Fortune Magazine, about how genetic testing has come down in cost so fast. It used to be millions of dollars to get your genome done, but now you can get your whole genome done for 1,400 bucks or $2000 or what have you. And next year, it’ll be even cheaper. But the problem is how expensive it is to interpret that information. And how do you even interpret it?
DrBL: Everybody runs out and grabs genetic tests from somewhere. And then they think they know what they’re doing. They say that they’ve got training and what have you. And honestly, I’m grinding in this area. I’ve been working hard at it, and every time I read something, I’m like, “God, are we really getting anywhere in our knowledge of this, or are we just grasping straws?”
Treat Health with Outcomes Perspective
DrMR: Which is why one of the other ways I’ve commented on this is, if you try to treat mechanisms, your probability of failure is extremely high. If you try to treat based upon outcomes, “Okay, I am depressed,” you’re either going to treat the mechanism we think is causing the depression, or we’ll use an intervention and reassess your outcome of depression after a number of weeks.
So one is treating one of an infinitesimal number of potential mechanisms causing the depression. The other is trying to treat it from an outcome perspective and use outcome data, outcome measures compared to mechanism data and mechanism measures. And if we can focus on the outcome, then we’re likely doing the right thing mechanistically. We may not yet know exactly why, and hopefully one day we will, but that seems to be a much more sure path to the desired outcome.
DrBL: Well, I think that is a great point. A lot of people rely on medical research, which is important. It’s an important aspect that we should all continue to do. That’s where I get almost all my information, from published literature. From the National Library of Medicine, which is an awesome tool. But keep in mind that a lot of these research things are done by humans. There’s a lot of bias. There’s a lot of horrible methodologies, and there are also just the variables that go down in methodology.
So the research that we’re reading, that we think is so important, is leading us through certain areas. And it could be down the wrong road. So I think your point, Michael, that we need to look at outcomes, is very important, and I do use the research.
But I am looking so far ahead in trying new things, a lot of my work is purely theoretical, based upon published research. But it’s theoretical that we have to apply, try, and see if the outcomes are useful. And if they’re useful, then we go back to the research and try to explain why the outcomes occurred, right? Then you do another research paper later to try to see if your methodology, in the reasoning of why the outcome occurred, happened for that specific reason or not. So I may have just lost everyone with that statement…
DrMR: I think we can restate that. There’s this oscillation between mechanism- and outcome-type data, and we’re looking back and forth to try to fill in the gaps as best we can. Yeah, I’m with you.
DrBL: One drives the other.
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Look at Fundamentals of Health First
So this may be a good segue. I want to pose something to you, in terms of what you potentially have seen as the evolution of—for lack of a better term—gene-based therapy. Let me offer what I’ve seen, and then I’m curious if you would modify that at all. It seemed maybe five-ish, seven-ish years ago, there was this focus on individual SNPs: MTHFR, COMT, DAO, whatever it is. And then we got even broader to several SNPs.
Then we evolved even further, to looking at a global genome assessment and trying to specifically treat the genes in whatever area the global genome assessment flagged. Now it seems that we’re looking at these global genome assessments, looking for “hot” areas or areas that are expressing dysfunction. Not so much treating them in a mechanistic way, but rather looking at more upstream interventions, at least as a predominant therapy. Probiotics, sleep, diet, lifestyle, inflammation, maybe a good multivitamin, rather than trying to custom turn up this pathway, turn down that pathway with a given vitamin. Is that how you’ve seen this evolution or would you have any modifications to that?
DrBL: I think you’re right. There’s a lot to what you shared there. But I do think that we did start simply, and I think that’s what you have to do. You have to start simple, and then you progress to things that become more complicated. I think that’s what you have to do in anything. Sports too, and in life, you’ve got to start learning to roll over before you can start to crawl, before you can start to walk, to run, to climb. You’ve got to start simple. I think the natural progression of what we’re seeing is great.
The problem is that we have to make sure that we’re progressing and we’re doing it the right way. We’re running when we’re supposed to be running, and we’re walking when we’re supposed to be walking. The genetic stuff is so complicated. And if we keep thinking it’s about the genes… it’s not. That is what’s so important. It’s not about the genes. It’s about what the input is. If you look at your keyboard on your computer, there are, like, 40-50 keys. You’ve got your numbers, you’ve got the letters, and you’ve got some other buttons to push. We all have the same keyboard, across America. English-speaking countries pretty much have the same type of keyboard, with some variant of configuration. It’s basically the same.
But your fingers put all sorts of different inputs on that. So if you think, if every single key has a specific gene, we’re all identical. But the input is so different, and we’re using the computers in different environments and at different times of day, and with different types of pressure and what have you. We have to keep in mind, it is not the gene, for the most part. Sometimes it is, but most of the time, it’s the input. That’s what needs–
DrMR: Another way of saying input, would you say, is an upstream factor, as I’ve been terming it?
DrBL: Yeah, it’s definitely an upstream factor. And we have to keep in mind that genes have jobs to do. If you are burdening a specific gene heavily… Let’s say you’re exposing yourself to a lot of red wine, cheese, and histamine-containing foods of strawberries and so on, or leftovers or fish. High histamine. And you’ve taken probiotics, then you’re going to be having this huge amount of histamine, possibly, in your gut. Let’s say you have an overgrowth of Blastocystis hominis, which also produces a lot of histamine. And you start getting runny noses, itchy skin, eczema and atopic conditions of all sorts, and you’re irritable and you just can’t eat all this stuff. And you finally read, “Oh, it’s the DAO gene. I’ve got the DAO gene. I’m plus-plus. That explains it all.”
You look at it and you’re like, “Oh, the co-factor for DAO is copper. I’m going to take some copper to fix my DAO gene because that’s what that gene needs,” actually the enzyme, “that’s what I need for that gene to work.” So you take some copper. It doesn’t work. You’re like, “What the hell? I’ve got the DAO SNP, but it doesn’t work.”
Well, the Blastocystis hominis that you just did a gut test for is a huge producer of histamine. So you blast it. It’s gone, and then you take some probiotics that break down histamine. You’re better. You reduce the red wine and the cheese, and you’re better. But then you realize that physical and mental stressors increase histamine release. So then you go on vacation and you’re even better. You calm the immune system by supporting yourself with sleep, better diet, and good relationships, and now your histamine problem is gone.
DrMR: That example is so right on. And I just want to underscore that for our audience. What you’re describing there is the upstream, the global interventions, rather than getting in there and trying to treat a mechanism. This is what’s so disheartening when I see a patient who may have been suffering from histamine intolerance for months or even years, and they’ve gone from article to article to the podcast to blog to video. And they’ve tried all these different cofactors, all these highly zoomed-in treatments for histamine intolerance, never piecing together that, termed loosely, dysbiosis is a major driver of histamine intolerance.
If they could have just addressed that one thing, in the context of also cleaning up other diet and lifestyle issues, that may have been the bigger global pillar that needed to be addressed rather than potential copper insufficiency, as you mentioned. That’s a beautiful example.
And I can’t emphasize how important it is for people who are interested in genes not to lose sight of these upstream or these input interventions, as compared to what might seem interesting, a mechanism like, “Oooh, maybe it’s copper. I’ll take a copper pill and that’ll solve all my problems.” Unfortunately, that just doesn’t seem to pan out for, I would say, the vast, vast majority of people.
DrBL: Yeah, it doesn’t. And, you know, I don’t want to say I’m guilty of leading to a lot of the confusion, and maybe I am. When you have a website called MTHFR.net, and it’s only focused on MTHFR, people get a mindset that it’s only about MTHFR. But I’m very clear on that website that it’s not only about that. It’s a lot about other things. And the good thing is, we are updating it as we speak, to make it even more clear that it’s not just about the gene.
I did a conference back in 2013. It was called Methylation and Nutrigenomics. And I talked about MTHFR, folate metabolism, detoxification, reactive oxygen species, and mitochondrial health. I talked about a lot of stuff, but it was really heavy on folate genetics. It was really heavy on folate transport genes, MTHFR, MTHFD1, and SHMT.
I really got into the minutiae, because that was what was hot and what was new. And raccoons love shiny things, and so I was all into shiny things. I was in on all the MTHFR stuff, the folate genes. And I was going in, and I had this conference. It was sold out. It was amazing. Doctors were excited.
And then I got emails. Like, “Ben, I stopped folic acid on my patient, and I gave them methylfolate and they got worse.”
I was like, “Well, did you address other things?”
“Did you address the diet and the lifestyle and the environment?”
And I kept getting email and email after email about this from the attending docs, and I’m thinking, “Are they stupid?” You’ve got to do the fundamentals. You can’t just focus on MTHFR and SHMT.
I went into that conference thinking that all these doctors were already doing the fundamentals, and I was just teaching them additional tools. I was just giving them another tool for the tool shed. But that’s not what they did. They just picked those tools, went into their garage, and gave everything to Goodwill. So they just had these few tools, and they were using them for everything. I was like, “Wow.” I was blown away.
And so then I did part two. I said, “Okay, write a part two.” Right at the beginning—this was the next conference—I said, “Folks, I did you a disservice last year. I talked about MTHFR, SHMT, MHD51, and all these folate SNPs. It was useful information, but you missed the big picture. You can’t do that.” We talked about the big picture, and we talked about that for half the conference. Then I went into the minutia again. And Michael, I shifted to only the big picture for every conference. I don’t even talk about SNPs anymore.
DrMR: It’s great to hear you say that because that was one thing I was a bit concerned about. I think I either went through that conference or a remote version of that conference. And it did seem to be very in the minutia. One of the questions I asked myself is, “Where is the clinical corollary here, and where does this plug into the greater clinical picture?”
But the way you described that story, it’s so understandable. Here’s one specific niche of information that you were excited about and you were eager to share. But that was mis-contextualized by patients and providers.
And I guess it had a good ability to provide you with that feedback that you got. To course-correct and understand, boy, we’ve got to make sure to continually reframe where this fits into the overall clinical picture.
It almost sounds to me like you’re saying the real thrust of the work and the focus should be all these inputs or upstream factors like we’ve been talking about. Then for some patients, who maybe are floundering and need a little bit of fine-tuning here and there to get them over the hump, that’s when you pull out this scalpel-type precision. But that’s only ever done on top of, and in conjunction with, this foundation that some people (unfortunately) just glossed right over.
DrBL: One hundred percent. I tell people so often, practitioners as well, that I do not want you starting with genetic testing. It’s going to put you into the minutia mindset. And you are not going to think about, “Oh, I’m in a crappy relationship. Oh, I’m fighting with who I think were my close friends, but they’re actually not my close friends, and I need to move away from that group,” or “I’m sleeping in a room that’s got black mold, and I haven’t addressed it because I’m nervous about the expense of it.”
I think a lot of people use genetic testing because they’re excited that they might find that singular variable that’s causing all their symptoms.
DrBL: I think they’re using it and saying, “MTHFR caused this,” because then it’s not on them anymore. It’s because they were born with MTHFR. It’s given them a reason to say,” Oh, MTHFR caused this.” No, it didn’t. It may have increased susceptibilities and various other things, but it also has benefits for other things.
So it was not MTHFR. Maybe it was MTHFR in the individual who was eating well, who didn’t have the mold, who had good relationships, and they were still having recurrent miscarriages. And they started adding some methylfolate to their diet, eating more liver, and wow, they got pregnant, carried a beautiful baby boy or girl to term. And that was the missing thing. But you can’t start there.
Have You Really Tried the Basics?
DrMR: And I think one of the things that elude many patients is when we say start, the definition of that can vary wildly from person to person. I reflect on patients who’ve come in. Let’s say they’re with Kaiser insurance, they’d been to three to four Kaiser doctors. They’ve been to three alternative doctors, one acupuncturist, two nutritionists. They come in: “I’ve done everything.”
DrMR: I can’t tell you how, with many of those people, I don’t even reach that deep into the toolkit. In some of these cases, two, three months later, they’re saying, “Wow, I never thought I could feel this good,” and we haven’t gone into anything too deep.
So sometimes I think what happens is, a patient—according to their paradigm and what they can see—thinks they have done everything and now it’s time to jump to the more exotic. They haven’t had, I guess, a broad enough view on their healthcare and they’re missing some of these fundamental pillars.
DrBL: I love bringing it back to sports because I love sports. I coach soccer and I’ve coached basketball too. Let’s talk about basketball. I was assisting coaching for my son’s basketball team and the main coach was running plays at the second practice. These are nine-year-olds!
DrMR: Haha. How did that go?
DrBL: It was horrible. I was like, “Coach, they don’t know how to dribble. Coach, they don’t know how to pass. Coach, they don’t know how to rebound. They don’t know how to set a screen. They don’t know the direction. They don’t know anything. They don’t know how to pivot! And we’re running plays!”
You’ve got to do the fundamentals. With the teams that I coach for soccer, we heavily, heavily focused on passing the ball. That was it. We worked so hard on passing the ball. I coach those three different teams. We’re light years better, just because we can pass the ball. The rest happened. Nothing fancy.
So you’ve got to know how to practice fundamentals. I really like to say, the first place to start is the letter A, avoidance. A lot of people stress by adding things to their life. Totally get it. So what things can you cut out of your life and avoid? And you start there. There was a great book called Essentialism.
DrMR: Love that book.
DrBL: Yes, phenomenal book. The first chapter, he talks about going into your closet and cleaning your closet. That’s step one. Then, we talk about our priorities in life. The word priorities didn’t even exist, Michael, remember he talked about that? How could you have more than one priority? That’s what you’re working on. “That’s my priority.”
DrMR: It’s a luxury, yeah.
DrBL: And then priorities came. They had to be defined. Like, “Well, I have multiple priorities.” You can have multiple priorities, but you can only really prioritize one of those priorities at a time. Thinking that you can multitask is not true. You’re lying to yourself.
DrMR: I’ll just throw in, really quick here, another musculoskeletal sports-type analogy. I’m someone who’s played sports my entire life, even up at the collegiate level, and I’ve always been pretty fast. On most of the teams, I’ve either been one of the top two or three fastest people. Maybe not in long term endurance, but in shorter sprint speed, I’ve always been pretty fast. And I don’t say that to gloat, but I say it because I didn’t think I had any potential to really improve my sprinting.
Now, in working with Mike T. Nelson, who’s very, very sharp, he had me do one simple exercise. It’s known as a psoas march. You lay down on the ground. You get a resistance band that’s maybe the diameter of a basketball. You put it around your feet and you raise one leg as you extend the other, which is kind of what you do when you sprint, right? One knee comes up and the other leg kind of goes back. And I’ve been doing that for a little while to get one glute to activate while the opposite side psoas activates, which is exactly what you do when you’re sprinting. I also have been doing arm drills, just making sure I have good arm swing during my sprint. After those two things for three weeks, I went out and sprinted for the first time. I felt like an Olympic sprinter. The rotation was taken out of my arm sway, the activation of my glute and psoas were better, and I just felt like I looked like watching the Olympics. I probably didn’t, but I felt like I looked like an Olympian, in terms of, everything seems straight, powerful and dynamic.
The point being, I took two basics. I thought I had all this dialed in. Then I thought my sprinting form was pretty perfect. I played sports my whole life, yadda yadda yadda. Yet two simple exercises for a few weeks made a noticeable improvement in my sprint ability. So sometimes we think we’ve done everything when we clearly haven’t. And sometimes we need to look more to some of the frontline interventions before we go to these more exotic places.
DrBL: And there’s always room for improvement.
DrBL: Always. I was just talking with a family about breathing. And I just did a Facebook Live, prior to being on your podcast here, Michael. And I talked about how I would rate my breathing at about 80%. But I can’t ever rate my breathing at 100%, because I don’t know what that is. Like, how could you say that your sprint was 100% effective or you were at 100%, you’ve reached your limit? How do you even know that? What is your limit?
So, 80% breathing. I’m just rating based on how I’ve had stuffy noses before. But 100%, I have no idea what that is. I don’t know. Where is your sprint cap? It exists somewhere. There’s a logarithmic curve return, but…
Michael, I think you’re saying the same thing. There’s always room for improvement. And don’t think that focusing on minutiae is going to get you there if you haven’t done the basics. It’s actually going to hurt you. You’re going to get worse, I think.
DrMR: Yup. Wholeheartedly agreed. And I’m just really happy to have you saying this because I know many people go to your website for information on genes. So I think this will be helpful in case anyone’s taking one slice of your information and misconstruing that. Hopefully, this will be helpful for people in not losing sight of that big picture.
Let’s go to the opposite end of the spectrum, now that we’ve really established how important these fundamentals are. Are there a few top changes, therapies, or interventions that you would want to make someone aware of?
DrMR: Well, let’s quickly go over the fundamentals. And then, let’s say, after the fundamentals, if someone’s struggling with some chronic GI stuff or some chronic brain fog, or people who are doing pretty good with the fundamentals, is there a top three to five interventions that you find helpful for this subset of people?
The Importance of Breathing
DrBL: I don’t think a lot of people are breathing properly, Michael. And I think we’re also missing it clinically. I talked about this in SHEICON 2015, a conference I did. Actually, it was supposed to be a conference on mitochondrial health. I was focusing on the genes for the mitochondria and the complex one, two, three, four and five and all these crazy complex pathways within the gene, each complex, and what the genes were, and all these things.
And I started doing the research on these genes. I started understanding that these genes were not very commonly polymorphic. If there was a variation in these mitochondrial genes, you had a serious condition. And they were rare and they were identified typically at birth. So I’m sitting here planning to do a conference on mitochondrial dysfunction, talking about mitochondrial variations in people’s genetics. But I quickly realized, looking at the diagrams, that oxygen was a big player. So I just zoomed back and I said, we need to look at breathing.
When I did that, I went from minutia back up to the huge mountain view. And it really opened my eyes.
Walk around. I invite you to walk around. And when you’re driving your car or you’re waiting for a plane or you’re on a plane, wherever you are in the public, look at people. How are they sitting? Are they sitting forward, or hunched forward over their phone with their knees to their chest? They’re not breathing well. Are they walking down the aisle in the grocery store with their mouth hung open, just dazed and confused? They’re not breathing well.
I think breathing is underrated. And if you’re not breathing properly, you’re going to be tired. You’re not going to be sleeping well, you’re going to be irritable, you’re going to have brain fog. I think breathing is one of those things that really, really needs to be harped on. And I got to say, ancient medicine of Ayurveda and acupuncture and Chinese philosophy have known this for a long time. The science of breath is important.
DrMR: It’s funny you say that because we’ll be having. We’ve also had on Ashok Gupta who cited, I believe, a Harvard study where there was a 48 or 49% reduction in the use of the medical system when people meditated. Obviously, when you’re meditating, you’re doing some pretty good breathwork at the same time. So yeah, that’s one great pillar.
Hydration, Electrolytes, & Nutrients
DrBL: Yeah. And then I would say hydration. I think water is extremely important. And it’s not just water, it’s electrolytes. Part of the importance of water is actually not just swallowing it, but getting it inside your cell. That’s not easy to do. Then with that, getting the electrolytes inside your cell is also extremely important. 40% of our body’s energy, almost half of our body’s energy at rest, is simply moving potassium and magnesium inside of our cells. That’s ridiculous.
And if you don’t have that ATP or that energy available, or you’re overtraining or you have fibromyalgia, you are dehydrated and your cell to cell communication is poor. Your potassium levels inside the cell are poor, your magnesium levels are poor. And then you’re going to have calcium leaching out and causing all sorts of cellular death and inflammation and high glutamate release in your brain. This is a common, common problem. I think dehydration is a massive problem. 99% of women are potassium deficient. 99%! And 90% of men are potassium deficient. That’s just insane. That is the number one cation in our cell. So it’s just mind-blowing.
DrMR: Now, one quick thought here for people. Not to say that I would disagree with supplementing with something like sodium, magnesium or potassium. But one quick alternative thought. I’ve been tracking my nutrition in Cronometer and they give you this nice data report on your micronutrient profile. You have to be careful to make sure that you use a good version of the food. Taking spinach as an example—spinach might be a bad example, but we’ll just use it for conversation’s sake—you want to make sure that you’re using the input in the database for spinach that has the full nutrient profile listed. Or there may be spinach in there that doesn’t have the complete vitamin list added.
But as long as you are careful of that one caveat—and we’re going to do a podcast on this in the near future—you can input all your food and then look back after a month and see where you are low. If it’s magnesium, let’s say, then you can look up foods that are high in magnesium and incorporate more of those into your diet.
That seems to me to be a really good way to prevent and address nutrient deficiencies, rather than trying to do red blood cell analysis or what have you. Again, those, I think, have their time and their place. But again, that’s going to the nuance when we’re overlooking the basic what you’re putting in your mouth.
DrBL: I believe lab testing should be there to confirm your suspicions, not to identify them.
DrMR: Well said.
DrBL: And I also believe that Cronometer is fantastic. Nutrient Optimiser is fantastic, by Marty Kendall. I recommend both of those in the appendix of my book, Dirty Genes. I do believe food is foremost important. Dr. Hyman says, your best medical tool is the fork. I think that is a great statement.
I’m a huge, firm believer of Cronometer and Nutrient Optimiser. And there is a buddy of mine, Paul Saladino, who is a carnivore.
I was like, “What the heck is a carnivore?”
He was like, “Well, I eat meat.”
I said, “Well, what else?”
He goes, “Nose-to-tail animal. That is it.”
“Nope, no plants.”
I was like, “Wow, okay.” And I said, “You gotta do Marty Kendall’s Nutrient Optimiser thing.”
And he was found to be deficient, I think in 10 vitamins or something, and a couple of minerals. Or maybe eight. But overall since he eats a lot of organ meats, he was doing amazingly well. And he’s an exceptionally healthy-looking guy, super fit. So it was pretty cool seeing where those deficiencies were.
DrMR: Yeah, I think it’s a great and simple tool for just making sure that what you’re doing every day isn’t going to lead you to a deficiency. Because let’s say you do a blood test and you’re deficient in something. And all you do is take a vitamin for that. Okay, that’ll work for a little while. But then as soon as you stop using that vitamin, you’re eventually going to start drifting back to that insufficiency.
So it makes sense that, foundationally, we want to make sure that you’re not grossly deficient constantly in anything in your diet.
DrBL: Let’s talk about that for a second. Because medicine is so huge, and I don’t know where you wanted this podcast to go, but here we are.
DrMR: Yeah, we could go forever!
DrBL: So if you find out with a lab test that your red blood cell zinc is low and your iron is low, and then you take zinc and iron and you actually feel worse, you’re like, “Well, what the heck?”
Your body actually might be purposefully keeping that iron and zinc low, because your microbiome is a mess. So your body will actually naturally sequester those things so that bacteria don’t get them and use them for themselves, for their own nasty reasons.
My wife was a perfect example. She had just chronically low ferritin and low zinc. Every time she tried to take zinc or iron, the best forms possible always kind of make her gut feel not so good. She would get worse symptoms in her joints and more inflamed. And I started reading the research on zinc and iron. I was like, “Wow, the body actually upregulates the sequestration of these nutrients during bacterial infections.” Wow, that’s really interesting. So you’ve got to be careful.
DrMR: Power of the gut.
DrBL: Yeah. You’ve got to be careful.
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Sprouts for Glutathione
DrMR: Well, I know we’re coming up on time here. Are there a couple of other treatments that you’d like to at least mention to people? I’m sure people are asking, “Well, if I could reach into Ben Lynch’s head…” and see when you do have to reach into the toolkit to some of these nuanced interventions, what are the few that seem to be most often effective? Do you have anything that you want to offer there?
DrBL: Yeah, I would say electrolytes are key. Electrolytes are tough. I say, start with electrolytes. And if you use Cronometer and Nutrient Optimizer or broths or what have you to get your electrolytes, or specific salts, go for it. Be careful with coconut water because it’s very high in carbohydrates, especially if you’re drinking quite a bit of it. But I would say electrolytes are very, very key. And across the board, I’m seeing improvement.
Another one, liposomal glutathione, or glutathione. There’s a website called Sproutpeople, and you can buy broccoli sprouts and radish sprouts. That combination is pungent. It’s very odiferous in the home, and it’s very pungent to eat. But you’ve got to have the radish sprouts, for the sulforaphane and all that. It’s complicated science, but basically, you just eat the radish and the broccoli sprouts. Dr. David Quigg, chief medical officer of Doctor’s Data, calls it poor man’s glutathione.
DrMR: They sell them together? Is it one combination product?
DrBL: Sproutpeople has got a lot of cool stuff. So they might. I don’t know if they have that or not, but that’s actually a great point to do, but you can get them both. They do have quite a few mixes, but I don’t think they have that.
Maybe. I bought them separately and then I got all crazy and grew too much. I stunk up the house and ate them and it hurt my stomach. Ah, it’s so strong. They’re so strong.
DrMR: When you say sprouts, are these sprouts that you would put directly in a salad or are you using them to grow?
DrBL: Yeah, you get the seed from Sproutpeople and then you can get the tools for sprouting from Sproutpeople as well. And now that it’s summer here—it’s a crummy summer in Seattle though this year—I like eating sprouts in the warmer months. Chinese medicine frowns upon eating cold things when it’s cold, right? Or certain doshas or what have you, for ayurvedic medicine. So I eat sprouts. As I’m talking about it now, I kind of want to go and grow some sprouts. But they provide the tools to do it as well. Stainless steel sprout containers and so on. It’s very easy.
DrMR: Any problem if you just bought the sprouts already, like you can do at the grocery store?
DrBL: No, but just don’t go crazy like I do sometimes. If you buy sprouts at the grocery store, great. Rinse them really well first. And then you’ve got to eat them fast. These are very, very natural products. They’re not Wonder Bread sitting on the shelf.
DrMR: So, within two to three days, would you say?
DrBL: I would say two days.
DrMR: Two days, okay.
DrBL: Yeah. Because the third day, you’re already going to see some nastiness there. I would say two days, tops. Try to buy them the same day if you can, for optimum usage.
DrMR: Gotcha. All right. Do you have a third you want to throw in there, to round us out?
Be Mindful of Toxins in the Air
DrBL: I would say focus on the air you breathe. You’ve got to know what that is. If you drive a lot, if you’re commuting a lot, you’re in traffic, make sure your windows are up and your air’s on recirculation while you’re driving. If you’re out in the country and there’s nobody spraying chemicals or tractors or crop testers spraying chemicals, you can put your windows down. Or if the traffic eases up and you’re not going up a hill, roll your windows down and get some fresh air.
But otherwise, you’ve got to be very, very proactive. You’re using up a lot of your antioxidant system and you’re creating a lot of inflammation and cardiovascular disease, neurological dysfunction and other things, by breathing in these toxic chemicals that we’re all surrounded by every day.
Dr. Stephen Janis, an amazing environmental doc outside of Canada, told us in a conference, “Look, we worry a lot about the sunscreen that we have on us. Make sure it’s natural. We worry that we don’t use the underarm antiperspirant with aluminum and we worry that we should have lead-free lipstick. That’s great information. But you breathe about 11,000 liters of air every day.” So it’s important. It’s key. And if you’re using those scented dryer sheets to make your clothes smell good… clean is the absence of smell. It’s not the presence of smell.
DrMR: Yeah. Well said.
DrBL: So you’ve got to remove those things from your life. And you’ve got to be proactive that the air you breathe is clean. I just finished remodeling my home. There are a lot of people aware about mold and they’re not aware that flooring and paint in couches and cabinets and all this is just emitting huge amounts of formaldehyde and making them sick.
Air you breathe is key and the water you drink is key. So these are really key fundamentals. I cannot tell you how many times over and over and over and over again, people have gotten all their weird symptoms better just by doing these few things. If you have a plethora of symptoms that no one can figure out and your hormones are all whacked, you’ve got to be thinking environmental.
DrMR: Yup. Well, I think that’s a great note to close on.
Do you want to point people anywhere on the internet or to your book if they want to learn more?
DrBL: Yeah, my specialty in naturopathic medicine is environmental medicine. So Dirty Genes is the book. Michael and I talked a lot about key things here and Dirty Genes does talk a ton about the fundamentals, but then it also dives into the minutia, has quizzes in there to see which genes may or may not be dirty, ie. not functioning very well. And it gives you a targeted place to start and teaches you that genes don’t work in isolation. So you learn all that throughout the book. So I highly recommend that you read Dirty Genes and I highly recommend that you don’t read it like it’s a fairy tale or a fiction book, go cover to cover and read it like, “Okay, I read it but that didn’t help me.”
Health is a four letter word. W. O. R. K. It’s a lot of work. And so when you read something in the book or any book for that matter, it doesn’t matter what book it is. If you read something in a book and you think, “Wow, I should do that, I need to implement that,” you put the book down. You go do it. The book’s not going anywhere. Read one thing, grab something that’s of use to you, put it down. And it’s different for everybody. So don’t judge yourself, put it down and go do it.
After you’ve implemented it, it becomes a habit. Like you said earlier, Michael, when something is new, it’s more difficult. It requires more work. But eventually it’s going to become easy and second nature to you, and it’s not going to take any mental bandwidth. You’ve implemented it, it’s part of your life. Then you pick up a book or any book and you add something to your life. But I would also start with the book Essentialism. If you’re nervous about adding things to your life or adding tasks to your life, read the book Essentialism and have courage first.
DrMR: Yep. Well, that’s pretty sage advice, guys.
And again, Ben, thank you for the conversation and also for sharing some of the things you’ve learned along the way in terms of educating people on this and where people may have misconstrued or overshot the mark. I think that’ll help some people who maybe haven’t gotten that update to make sure they use these more nuanced therapies in the appropriate context.
So, yeah, it’s been a great conversation. Really enjoyed it. Thank you again.
DrBL: Thank you.
What do you think? I would like to hear your thoughts or experience with this.
Dr. Ruscio is your leading functional and integrative doctor specializing in gut related disorders such as SIBO, leaky gut, Celiac, IBS and in thyroid disorders such as hypothyroid and hyperthyroid. For more information on how to become a patient, please contact our office. Serving the San Francisco bay area and distance patients via phone and Skype.