Health Benefits of Paleo Environmental Stressors Part 2

The missing link for optimum health and limbic system function with Scott Carney.

In today’s episode, investigative journalist Scott Carney takes us inside what he learned while writing his fascinating book The Wedge. He breaks down how we can use ancestral or paleo stressors to reprogram and improve emotional and physiological health.

In This Episode

Intro … 00:00:44
The Hypothesis … 00:10:49
PTSD … 00:15:52
The Limbic Librarian … 00:24:10
CO2 Therapy … 00:38:25
Auto-Immune Aspects … 00:45:15
Limbic Retraining Therapy … 00:51:23
Integrative Medicine … 00:56:06

Health Benefits of Paleo Environmental Stressors Part 2 - Podcast294b ScottCarney

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Hi everyone. Today I spoke with Scott Carney in a follow-up conversation, this time on his book, The Wedge. I have to say this book has fundamentally shifted my perspective on the importance of some of these paleolithic or ancestral stressors. In this episode I share with Scott my hypothesis for how I’m gradually becoming more convinced that for some patients who we may label as “highly sensitive” or “chronically ill” the missing item may not be, in some cases, mold or Lyme or MCAS or some other esoteric diagnosis. It may be a deficiency in the requisite ancestral stressors that prevent the body from having a PTSD-like response to not feeling well for an extended period of time. Because of this, I feel this episode to be, perhaps, one of the more important episodes that we have done.

I’m somewhat routinely recommending, in this cohort of individuals, that they read What Doesn’t Kill Us and then follow that with The Wedge, both again by Scott Carney, who we will speak with in a moment. We hit on some very important aspects like the limbic librarian and how exposure to things like intense exercise or sauna therapy have been well demonstrated to remedy PTSD, using PTSD as kind of a proxy for the emotional toll that feeling unwell for an extended period of time can take on someone. So I really hope that you will listen and take notes and take action based upon the conversation with Scott today. I have truly found his books to be paradigm shifting. Also, I want to mention that if this resonates with you, I’m developing, at the clinic, a way to personalize these recommendations. One of the things that I’d like to go beyond is just saying, well, do limbic retraining. That can be a fantastic and a very helpful intervention, 100%.

However, I’m becoming progressively convinced that we need a physiological stimuli along with the more cognitive or psychological therapeutic of limbic retraining or EMDR. So if you’re in need, reach out to the clinic, because this is something that I’m going to be kind of piloting. Just like we have the algorithm that we use for IBS and for SIBO and we personalize the therapeutics to the individual based upon their family history, their history of their symptoms, their onset, and their presentation more generally. I’m foraying into doing the same thing with some of these ancestral stressors. So I want to give you that as a resource and an option because, as I will open here with Scott in a moment, I do have some concerns that there’s a subset of individuals who are bouncing from clinic to clinic, guru to guru, or what have you, but this is being missed all the while. Certainly grateful for Amy Hopper’s work, Ashok Gupta’s work bringing this more front and center. I think what is missing still is a broader view on multiple avenues therapeutically and turning those into an almost sequential or algorithmic like application based upon an individual. So in any case, we will now go to the conversation with Scott Carney and I really hope you will give it a listen.

➕ Full Podcast Transcript

Intro:

Welcome to Dr. Ruscio radio, providing practical and science-based solutions to feeling your best. To stay up to date on the latest topics as well as all of our prior episodes, make sure to subscribe in your podcast player. For weekly updates visit DrRuscio.com. The following discussion is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease. Please do not apply any of this information without first speaking with your doctor. Now let’s head to the show.

DrMichaelRuscio:

Hi everyone. Today I spoke with Scott Carney in a follow-up conversation, this time on his book, The Wedge. I have to say this book has fundamentally shifted my perspective on the importance of some of these paleolithic or ancestral stressors. In this episode I share with Scott my hypothesis for how I’m gradually becoming more convinced that for some patients who we may label as “highly sensitive” or “chronically ill” the missing item may not be, in some cases, mold or Lyme or MCAS or some other esoteric diagnosis. It may be a deficiency in the requisite ancestral stressors that prevent the body from having a PTSD-like response to not feeling well for an extended period of time. Because of this, I feel this episode to be, perhaps, one of the more important episodes that we have done.

DrMR:

I’m somewhat routinely recommending, in this cohort of individuals, that they read What Doesn’t Kill Us and then follow that with The Wedge, both again by Scott Carney, who we will speak with in a moment. We hit on some very important aspects like the limbic librarian and how exposure to things like intense exercise or sauna therapy have been well demonstrated to remedy PTSD, using PTSD as kind of a proxy for the emotional toll that feeling unwell for an extended period of time can take on someone. So I really hope that you will listen and take notes and take action based upon the conversation with Scott today. I have truly found his books to be paradigm shifting. Also, I want to mention that if this resonates with you, I’m developing, at the clinic, a way to personalize these recommendations. One of the things that I’d like to go beyond is just saying, well, do limbic retraining. That can be a fantastic and a very helpful intervention, 100%.

DrMR:

However, I’m becoming progressively convinced that we need a physiological stimuli along with the more cognitive or psychological therapeutic of limbic retraining or EMDR. So if you’re in need, reach out to the clinic, because this is something that I’m going to be kind of piloting. Just like we have the algorithm that we use for IBS and for SIBO and we personalize the therapeutics to the individual based upon their family history, their history of their symptoms, their onset, and their presentation more generally. I’m foraying into doing the same thing with some of these ancestral stressors. So I want to give you that as a resource and an option because, as I will open here with Scott in a moment, I do have some concerns that there’s a subset of individuals who are bouncing from clinic to clinic, guru to guru, or what have you, but this is being missed all the while. Certainly grateful for Amy Hopper’s work, Ashok Gupta’s work bringing this more front and center. I think what is missing still is a broader view on multiple avenues therapeutically and turning those into an almost sequential or algorithmic like application based upon an individual. So in any case, we will now go to the conversation with Scott Carney and I really hope you will give it a listen.

DrMR:

Hi, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Dr. Ruscio radio. This is Dr. Ruscio back again with Scott Carney, and we’re going to be expanding upon this very important concept of paleo or ancestral stressors and how this may be one fundamental, but missing link to optimum health and wellbeing. Scott, super glad to have you back and looking forward to the conversation.

Scott Carney:

All right. Thank you so much for having me back. It was a great conversation last time. So let’s talk The Wedge.

DrMR:

I have to really start with a praise in that, it’s not often that I read a book that I feel fundamentally changes or enhances my perspective on something. The combination of reading, What Doesn’t Kill Us then followed by The Wedge was that impactful. In fact, so impactful I am somewhat routinely recommending patients at the clinic read these two books. So I just want to really thank you for making such a cogent argument about this pillar of health that I think has really been overlooked and calling attention to that.

SC:

Yeah. Thank you. It’s been a really fascinating journey because when I started this journey with Wim Hof and the Wim Hof Method, it fundamentally changed my life. I was an investigative journalist working on very different subjects before then. I learned in the ice water, because Wim Hof’s method is ice water and breathing essentially, that there’s this huge, impressive ability that we all have to interact with these subconscious parts of our physiology. I did the Wim Hof method, for about 10 straight years, in fact I still do it. Then I started thinking, well, how else can I apply those principles? The fundamental underlining ideas of Wim Hof’s stuff to take it outside of the ice and really look at every sensory system that we have, every stressor that we have and how that changes our bodies. Writing The Wedge was really important to me because I wanted to sort of lay out these arguments and these ideas as cogently as I was able to. Of course, and also make it sort of an entertaining read, which is always the balance that I’m trying to strike.

The Hypothesis

DrMR:

Absolutely. And I think the evolution between those two books was the Wim Hof method, which is awesome, but one could maybe argue, well, this is kind of a fad if they don’t examine it in the right context. That’s really what I felt was driven home with The Wedge. What I’d like to do here is just take a quick moment to pose my current hypothesis to our audience, because I think there’s a lot of saliency for our audience. Our audience is probably used to me periodically mentioning that there’s a certain patient subtype who, for lack of a more apt description, we may term as limbically imbalanced, or someone who’s just had a period of not feeling well. It really starts to take a toll on their psychology, on their emotions, on their ability to handle stress, leads them into this kind of frenetic obsession with how they feel, how they react to food, how the react to supplements, going down these rabbit holes of research.

DrMR:

When they come into the clinic, they are very difficult to help because there is so much fear and overreactivity. I think you actually provide a solution, so much so that I’m even starting to put together a specific kind of program and algorithm for this specifically. What I find so disheartening is I think these patients are oftentimes really disserved by the alternative and integrative medical field. On the one hand, I think everyone in the field is trying to help people. But as we’ve documented on the podcast before, when you start fact-checking some of these tests that the entire diagnoses are built around, you see that there is pretty shaky science. What ends up happening in my observation is someone’s not feeling well. They’re not feeling well for long enough to tip into this imbalance. Then they go from doctor to doctor, lyme guru, mold guru, inflammatory guru. Not to say that they’re not able to offer any helpful solutions, they likely are. I think the problem here is this limbic health and or ability to tolerate and buffer not feeling well without falling into this almost PTSD like scenario.

SC:

Yeah. It’s interesting. I have an integrative health practitioner that I go to as sort of my primary person here in Denver and one of the things that she likes to do, and I think that it’s not just her, it’s everyone out there, is they want to get as much data as they can on you. There’s genetic tests and there’s poop tests and there’s blood tests and there’s hormone tests and there’s all these tests. The idea is that we’ll just get all of the data and that will be right in front of us. Then we’ll look at this data and know what the problem is. When you get the data, it’s just too much information. It’s like reading tea leaves.

SC:

I feel like we’re not at a point in sort of reductive data science out there to know how everything interacts and when you actually have more and more data, sometimes it actually gets more and more confusing. I’m not saying that there is no role for data, obviously. But what I’m really trying to push and understand is what your subjective experience actually is and what your subjective experience of the world says about what’s going on inside of your physiology. I’m trying not to take that into crazy areas. Where your subjective experience is meaningless to what actually is your physiology, because it’s all about dragons, or all about fairies, or all about Q Anon or whatever. But it’s actually more like I have this sensation in my body, which is cold or which is heat, or which is love, or which is something that’s sort of emotional and that has some reflection on one’s internal state.

SC:

If we’re able to manipulate the environment around us, that creates new sensations in our body, you have another lever which you can pull to change your emotional state or change the way you respond to things. Sometimes some of these interventions, which don’t actually look like they’re helping you, do help. I have this section on throwing kettlebells back and forth, which looks sort of macho and bravado. How could catching a kettlebell help your anxiety state? Well, there are ways that it does. There are ways that varying stimulus affecting your body actually change the way that you respond to all environments.

PTSD

DrMR:

Yep. There there’s so much here to unpack. Let me throw out a couple of anecdotes that I’m hoping will really hook our listeners further into this conversation. You know, again, I’m just using a model of PTSD, because I think it offers us a good parallel and there happens to be a good body of research on PTSD. And so the other day I was thinking through this and I said to myself, these stressors — cold exposure, heat exposure, Wim Hof breathing, kettlebell throwing. They seem to provide almost a reset in that they’re really intense. And I remember back to when I had just graduated, I was starting a private practice and almost every workday, I hit this point at about six o’clock, where I felt so stressed and anxious and worked up that I just had to go work out. And that was the only way to reset myself to not feeling stressed. And so I said perhaps exercise is a method for which we can buffer the effects of other stress. And so I jumped into PubMed. And what do you know? There are Med analyses finding that those who exercise are less prone to PTSD. And I believe other data showing that intense exercise, vigorous exercise is a viable therapeutic for PTSD.

SC:

Yes, absolutely it is.

DrMR:

Yeah, and then you start pulling on the string and I think it was in your book, you mentioned that sauna therapy in one study was found to be similarly effective as ketamine for PTSD. Am I recalling that correctly?

SC:

I believe I was talking SSRIs, if you jump into a sauna, because that’s what they were controlling against. I do mention ketamine a few times. If you jump into a sauna and you take a long sauna, not to deadly extents obviously, it had the same effect as being steadily on SSRIs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, Prozac and things like that. It’s amazing that these environmental triggers come from heat because of ancestral things that sort of bond all mammals together. We associate heat with comfort, we associate heat with deep-seated emotions and it actually alleviates some fundamental underlying things having to do with depression. Another linkage that I thought was fascinating that I had to do a deep dive to even fact check on this was that depression correlates with inflammation in the body. And that if you are able to reduce inflammation, depression actually alleviates, and both sauna and cold through different mechanisms help reduce inflammation.

DrMR:

So then this kind of sets the stage for almost this terrible syndrome someone can find themselves in where if they’re worried and they start maybe exercising less, because they’re saying, “Well, I’m fatigued. So I don’t want to exercise too much.” Then they start doing less. It’s the death spiral. So the way I’m starting to look at this is, how can we lay out these different therapeutic options and personalize them to the individual, because not everyone might be able to do intense exercise due to age or injury. So maybe we go to sauna or maybe we go to cold exposure therapy. This is where you really brought this all to me. Mainly in The Wedge was where it culminated. And now I see this rich therapeutic avenue that we can bring these patients to. And I have a feeling that this is going to be the thing that helps them when nothing else has. It may not be a cure-all, but it’s going to be an essential part of their care plan.

SC:

Yeah, and I don’t ever suggest that my work is a cure to anything. Because I think actually in most cases there’s no such thing as a cure. It’s more like a journey that we’re on, with the exception of things like bacterial infections. Bacterial infections are cured with antibiotics, but with anything chronic, you’re always on a journey. There’s never a point in your life where problems don’t exist anymore. Problems manifest not only sort of external into the world, like worrying about your 401k, but the reason they feel like problems to you is because you have sensations in your body which you do not like. We say stress, but what does stress mean? What does stress feel like? Stress feels achy. Stress feels like energy that can’t go anywhere.

SC:

Stress has all of these correlated sensations that are the reason by which you don’t feel good. And I think that if we look at these sensations, we understand that sensations change when you’re feeling different things. Things come up internally, that’s called the interoceptive sensations. Sensations also come in from the outside world, and then there’s this sort of blending of reactions in your body. So when you’re exercising, you’re creating two sets of sensations. The sensation of moving so that your heart rate’s going up, maybe you’re releasing different hormonal cocktails. There’s the physical movement, the kinetic fascia moving, muscles moving. And you feel all that both consciously and subconsciously. And then there’s also the stimulus that’s coming in from the outside.

SC:

And together, one of the reasons why that alleviates those sensations of stress that you are having is because those sensations sets were happening in a static environment. And you’re building up these worries, looking on your computer or your office job or whatever it is that you were doing, and those sensations ancestrally always had a physical output. You know, one of the hormones associated with stress is, of course, cortisol. Another one is adrenaline. In the ancient times when you saw a bear, you dropped adrenaline into your bloodstream and then you either fought or ran away from the bear. You don’t have a stress hormone that’s related to an Excel spreadsheet. There’s no “excelerol” in your bloodstream. You just have adrenaline and cortisol to cope with that Excel spreadsheet.

SC:

So you’re giving it sort of a proper approximation of what it might’ve been useful for. And that’s why you feel better afterwards. There’s a challenge in writing a book because I do a lot of things that look extreme. I’m in a sauna for a ridiculously long period of time. I climb Kilimanjaro in a bathing suit. I throw kettlebells at people. I do all these things because I want to be able to show you viscerally with a copy of a book. I want you to feel something when you’re like that. And usually it’s like, “this guy’s an idiot, right?” But other things you might feel is “that’s an extreme event.” But the truth is that we are dealing with the interaction between your interior states and the exterior environment all the time.

SC:

There’s always this time for you to implant your wedge, between stimulus and response. And it just so happens that it’s easier to do that under things that put you under stress and where you feel a change of your state. And when you feel that change of the state, that’s where your mind can really get active. It’s sort of hard to do that if I’m just at my office because my state is mellow and my environment is mellow. So where does that contrast come in? So you introduce contrast by working out. Alternatively though, if you are the type of person who only worked out, you only were in the gym, you always stayed at that high state of activity, high state of stress, the contrast that you actually need is the chill out in your office contrast. Go watch Netflix for a little bit, man, cause you need to rest. The challenge of writing the book is that people think I’m this super extreme dude. And I am not. I am a person who works out normally two to three times a week. I do some ice baths, I do some saunas, but you don’t need to be Mr. Six Pack to get a benefit from this. In fact, that’s not who it’s written for at all. It’s for the ordinary humans out there, which most of us are.

The Limbic Librarian

DrMR:

Right, exactly. And exercise, I think poses a good entry point into this conversation of the limbic librarian. We could maybe say that when you’re exercising, you’re feeling some pain and you’re feeling some fatigue and some weakness, but you’re associating that to this beneficial, positive experience. So maybe that’s a springboard into what I thought was an awesome section of your book on the limbic librarian and how we can fall into this pattern of mislabeling sensations. And for our audience, this is a lot of the limbic retraining courses that we’ve talked about, the Gupta program, the DNRS, this helps patients by helping them recalibrate. But yes, this was a fascinating part of your book.

SC:

Thanks. And so this really emerges out of a conversation I had with two neuroscientists at Wayne State University, Vaibhav Diwadkar and Otto Muzik. So there’s real neuroscience here, but I’m going to use metaphors to explain it. And the question is, how do you experience anything at all in the world? How does that get stored in your brain? What is the fundamental unit of experience? And to describe this, I like to use the example of an ice bath because we can all imagine what that feels like, although this really works with any stimulus. And I also want you to at least for the length of how I describe this, assume that you are sensation naive, as if this is the first sensation you have ever experienced, and it is an ice bath.

SC:

So I know that the actual human anatomy is a little more complex than this, but let’s just imagine that you are a human, and the first thing that ever happens to you is you get dumped into an ice bath. And you have no experience of the outside world, all you are is like an internal human. And when you jump into that new environment, you were probably in a warm environment before and now you’re in a stressful environment. The ice water touches your skin and your skin detects this. It’s like, okay, new environment. That’s your peripheral nervous system. This is all the nerves that are external. And that signal then transfers through electric and chemical currents through your arms and your external system into your central channel up in the spinal cord.

SC:

It rockets up into the very lowest part of your brain and is transmitted as purely data. It has no meaning; it’s a very loud signal. There’s probably a lot of nerves are firing, and it gets to the lowest part of your brain. The lizard part of your brain gets this new information. It’s like, “Hey! Sensation! I have no idea what this means. What does it mean? It looks like it’s loud.” It has a volume number sort of associated with it. Ice water is an 11 on the 10 scale. So it goes into your brain and then it ends up in your limbic system. And this is the center of your emotions. I like to think of the limbic system as a sort of library. And we said that this the very first sensation that’s ever existed.

SC:

It actually has no books in its library, but there’s a librarian there and she looks at this and she gets through the book drop, the very first sensation. She’s like, “Huh, what does this mean? I don’t know what this means because I’ve never seen a sensation before.” So what she does is she kicks it up into a different part of the brain. And she’s like, “I got this data. I know it has loud attached to it.” But there’s some sort of quality to that sensation, which is the ice water, which she can’t figure out. So it goes to something called the paralimbic system, which is sort of like a bookbinder who says, “Well, I’d like to find out what this means.” And the bookbinder takes that sensation, that quality and pairs it with your current emotional state.

SC:

Now in ice water, you have some sort of automatic instinctual responses, which make this a very heightened, high adrenaline, high cortisol state, where it’s essentially the worst thing you’ve ever felt in the world. And because it’s your first sensation, it is the worst sensation. It’s also the best. So it binds it with utter terror and horror and all the worst things. So it says ice water means this. And then the bookbinder kicks it down to the limbic librarian and we have this new bound symbol so she can identify what the meaning of that ice water is. She puts it in her library and the books are filling up. Now this creature or this human proceeds to live its life, and every sensation comes and goes through that process. You know, first kiss bonded with love. Boom, we have that on the bookshelf.

SC:

We have first driving the car, all the sensations around motion and whatever. Boom, bound, until you filled up this whole limbic library. Now the second time this person jumps into ice water the data pulls through all the arms. It goes up into the very lowest part of the brain, and the limbic librarian says, “Oh, look, I felt this symbol before. It’s ice water.” And she pulls off the old book from the shelf, has identified it, and what’s critical here is that she does not kick it up to the bookbinder because she already knows that this means unmitigated terror and horror of your first experience. This means that everything you feel, or most everything you feel unless it’s new, means you are living in your emotional past because those emotions and those sensations are bonded. And we can think of these things as like bits and bytes in a computer program. Literally the fundamental unit of human experience is sensation bonded with various subjective emotion kicked through your nervous system. And when you have enough of these sensations, you can build up to complex thought. Just like in a computer program a one and a zero doesn’t mean all that much. But if you have a billion ones and zeros, all of a sudden you can make cool video games that we can waste our time on.

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DrMR:

So I think this is an area that people don’t always fully connect to the fact that a sensation like bloating may be perceived by two different people completely differently. For me, a little bit of bloating happens every once in a while. I ate a little more of this or a little more of that, or just kind of whatever, every once in awhile you have a little bit of bloating, but for other people, it bypasses any other sort of filtration system and automatically gets tagged as this distressful alarm signal. And you also discuss in your book, people can get stuck because of these hyper-reactive feedback loops.

SC:

Yes, totally. And you know, this is one of the main things with PTSD that keeps on coming up. Usually PTSD actually starts because of an actual trauma. Something really bad happens to you. And let’s just for the sake of argument, we’ll say it was a car accident. And you’re driving in your car and, and all this limbic information is coming in. And let’s say it’s a nice day; the sunshine’s coming through the window and that makes you feel happy because of prior experiences. Warmth, that’s good. Motion, hey, wee, this is fun. All of those things are sort of wiring into you and it’s always going into your brain. It’s always being wired and then reassessed through the librarian and through the limbic system. And then out of nowhere, you get blindsided by a car and you have this ringing in your ears and you’re maybe minorly injured, but you know, it’s bad enough that you feel really bad about it. All of those sensations are also being wired. Your heart’s beating really, really fast. All of these things happen. You become aware of your body and your emotions. And all of that gets wired into this process with the limbic librarian and the bookbinder. You’ve had a bad experience; it’s a crappy day.

SC:

Fast forward three weeks, and you’re having these panic attacks. You’re like, “Why am I having these panic attacks? I’m reliving that experience.” And what can actually happen is you can experience something like that same quality of light coming through the windshield, which has also gotten bonded with the trauma of that moment and it can actually trigger bringing you back to that sensory past, because that quality of light no longer has just that positive, it also has this negative tinge to it as well. You also might have heard your heart, or maybe your heart got elevated just like it did after the accident. Usually we don’t pay much attention to our heart, but we have internal structures that are always monitoring your heartbeat, your entire set of emotions, and that could give you this recurrence to PTSD. Sometimes we’ll just narrate in our mind that there’s something about the accident that brought me back, but we don’t realize that it’s actually our sensory system which has reinforced these negative associations, which actually can trigger these things.

SC:

So what I looked at in The Wedge which was fascinating were people who had intense PTSD and in order to treat them they went into flotation tanks, which are these sort of saltwater, immersive, dark places where you, don’t really sense much of the outside world. It sort of forces you into looking inside, where people soon become aware of their breath and their heart rate, aware of perhaps that low-level tinnitus that they might have. They become aware of all of these different things, and they’re able to create new associations with their body, which then had remarkably dramatic effects on their PTSD after leaving the tank. Not only directly after, but persisting for many months afterwards, even after just one experience, because they’re able to reassign new meanings to these recurrent patterns that their nervous system codes.

DrMR:

Yes, and the awesome promise is the ability to actually correct these things. Because I think it’s important for people to understand that if you’re having an overreaction to somewhat normal stimuli, that’s a problem. You can’t probiotic your way out of that necessarily. That’s why I find so much allure to this because there’s actually this documentation, again, PTSD, probably being the best model, but that these therapeutics actually work and they help people. And just using the example of bloating again, what I’m trying to prevent people from doing is saying “I have chronic bloating.” So now they go to another clinic and they do another workup and it’s another $5,000 of lab work, and it’s another three to six months of treatment. Not to say that there’s no benefit there, but I think when you get to a certain level of sensitivity and reactivity, we’ve got to be thinking about trying to recalibrate the system and reset some of these limbic cues.

SC:

Right, and it’s always going to be a mix. You’re absolutely right; there is the physiological issue of bloating, but there’s also the emotional response to bloating and people can have totally different responses. If you have a negative response to bloating emotionally, that can actually be different than you, Dr. Ruscio, having a mediocre response to bloating, because what that very stressed out person does is they’re going to have a hormonal and physiological reaction that actually emerges from their emotional state to bloating, which could actually lead to negative, stressful side effects down the line. It’s this death spiral. It doesn’t usually lead to death, but it certainly leads to worse health outcomes, produces more stress, which recruits worse health outcomes, which recruits more stress and sort of goes back and forth and back and forth.

SC:

And if you’re able to acknowledge that the sensation of bloating in the first place doesn’t necessarily mean the worst case scenario, you can help alleviate that progression. Sometimes, some sort of medications do stop the physiological presentation of bloating from appearing and that might kick that in the butt, because that could’ve been the initiating thing in the first place. But on the other hand, usually we have lots of things that can spark that same anxiety. If I wasn’t feeling bloating, that I would assign this negative state to something else.

CO2 Therapy

DrMR:

Right, and then unfortunately this can really get compounded by picking up your phone and searching, and then you get all these WebMD things. Well, it could be a cancer, it could be gastritis. It could be. And that’s really where I think the information plenty that we have comes against us quite severely. There is one anecdote here from your book that I think would really drive home the power of some of these trainings on the ability to reset how we respond to certain cues. I’ll just set the stage here, but I’d love for you to kind of fill it in. There’s this researcher that is using exposure to carbon dioxide gas and using that as a potential therapeutic for anxiety. But essentially the short story is even people who had almost no fear response, I believe it was due to mental disorders, when they inhale some of this gas would freak out. And then you’re about to do this, and as I’m going through the book, I’m like, “Oh my God, what’s going to happen to Scott? Is he going to be okay.” Do you want to tell people about that experience?

SC:

Yeah, so CO2 administration is actually really useful in something called cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT is where if someone’s suffers panic attacks routinely, what you could do is you could expose them to CO2 in a mixture in a safe setting and they’ll have a panic attack because you’ll physiologically respond to CO2 as panic. This is a deep evolutionary well-understood mechanism, but the way CBT therapists use it is you’re actually often times more afraid of the panic attack than you are of the physiological sensations of it. So you think of a panic attack, all that happens. Those sensations build, and then the panic attack sort of becomes this feedback loop, where it incapacitates you. So you can dose somebody with CO2 in a safe setting and show that those sensations alone don’t necessarily lead down this rabbit hole of horror where your brain will take it. And so it’s a useful intervention for people in that therapeutic setting. So we know that CO2 works, and at this place where I went which was a neurological center.

SC:

It was Justin Feinstein’s lab in Oklahoma. He was curious about the effects of CO2 to see if it affected everyone. These patients had limbic damage, which means they’re basically biologically immune to fear. You put them on a cliff, they just looked down like “Huh. Yeah, I guess I could die. That would suck.” But they don’t really have the emotional physiological chest tightening feeling. He took one of these people, dosed them with some sort of high-density CO2 mixture, and they freaked out because they’d never felt fear before, but the CO2 triggered something that was so primal, that even fruit flies are afraid of or fear. So if you go back to our common ancestor with a fruit fly, they al so fear CO2 buildup.

SC:

So they freaked out and Feinstein was like, “Wow, this looks like a sort of a very primal, central thing that bypasses many of the parts of the human brain. So let’s dose Scott with it.” And I was like, “Cool, let’s go do it.” One of the things that I do with the Wim Hof Method is I do a lot of breathing, like a hyperventilation, very fast breathing, and then you hold your breath until you feel like you have to gasp. You just keep on doing that. You learn to hold your breath for really long periods of time. Usually about three minutes is where I get to when I’m doing this. So when Justin dosed to me with the CO2, usually the way the test works is you’re supposed to press the CO2 release button, inhale, and then he just watches you freak out. And you’re supposed to press that button three times over the course of, I think, 20 minutes.

SC:

It usually takes everyone the full 20 minutes because they have to recover, and he has to soothe them. It’s sort of an intensive thing. So I press the button, I inhale and I’m like, “Whoa, this is great. This is just what it feels like when I’m at the end of a long breath hold with the Wim Hof Method. Lights are sort of firing, I feel sort of woozy, but I feel really alive.” And so I was like, that’s great. And then I press the button again and again and again, and over the course of probably 10 minutes, I’d probably pressed it eight times. He’s like, “I’ve never, ever seen that before.” Because what I had done through the course of just doing these sort of breath retentions and breath work is I had reassigned what that primal feeling was from high levels of CO2 to being actually a positive experience. He’s actually now working on subsequent studies about the way I was actually able to change the way that the information coming from the chemo receptors in my lungs, nose, wherever those chemo receptors are that detect CO2, actually I have a physiological different response to it. And he was fascinated.

DrMR:

That was amazing to me that you essentially smiled after the first or second hit, whereas everyone else described at that research center had a freak out of mild or moderate or even severe intensity. So that was just such a powerful example of how these things are trainable and it’s something that we can change.

SC:

And also one of the things with anxiety, it could be when you have feelings of anxiety and your brain goes “Why am I feeling anxious?” And you think, “Oh, I had this fight with my mother a few weeks ago. And my mother always makes me so mad because she’s so like this or so like that.” And you think “My mother makes me anxious,” and you start running down that rabbit hole. However she may not have been the trigger. The trigger might have been the whole time you were breathing really shallowly. And because you breathe really shallowly, your CO2 levels dropped off or built up your system, and that is actually what caused the panic attacks. So you actually can misattribute the real effects of things like anxiety into the wrong things. And then that leads you down some different rabbit holes.

Auto-Immune Aspects

DrMR:

One of the areas we should probably tie into, because I know our audience is really interested, is the inflammatory autoimmune aspect of this. We talked about this last time you were on the show with the pretty compelling anecdotes of Wim Hoff and the Method with some of the endotoxin injection and some of these autoimmune conditions like RA and Crohn’s, but anything further that you feel The Wedge ties in from an immune, auto-immune inflammatory perspective that’s worth elaborating on.

SC:

So I don’t remember exactly the full breadth of what we had spoken to before, but I think that auto-immune illnesses always start with an insult to your immune system. Something comes in from the outside. Your immune system looks at it and says, “All right, I’m going to go kill it.” And then once it’s killed it, it just keeps killing it. It stays on, and then it goes around and starts eating various parts of your body. So rheumatoid arthritis, it’s eating your joints. Multiple sclerosis, it’s the myelin sheath on your neurons. It just never really turns off. With alopecia it’s skin cells. And the way I think of it is that auto-immune stuff is sort of like an anxiety disorder for your subconscious. It’s an anxiety disorder for your immune system.

SC:

Your immune system is linked to your emotional system. We know that when you’re run down emotionally, your immune system gets messed up as well. Everything in the body is connected; no shock there. When we’re able to train our subconscious using external stimulus, you can actually sort of talk directly to the subconscious systems. You know, we often use words and our brain gets in the way. Our brain likes to think in stories and likes to think in words, but these subconscious parts of your body don’t have the benefit of a brain. All we have are immune cells, and immune cells don’t really think, but they do respond to an environmental stimulus. They do respond to the world, the environment that you create inside of you.

SC:

So when I jump into ice water, I dump adrenaline and cortisol and things that sort of modify my responses to that adrenaline, cortisol, and whatever other hormones go into my body. Even though my immune cells, like the macrophages and T cells, B cells, all that stuff, are not jumping into ice water, they experience that ice water through the hormones that I drop into the bloodstream. And then we know that the immune system responds to dopamine. We know it responds to adrenaline. We know that they actually function differently in those different environment chemicals soups that we put them in. So if we are able to put ourselves in a stressful situation physiologically, and I’m not talking about mentally, but just a physiologically stressful situation, and then change the way we respond to that.

SC:

So instead of jumping into ice water and saying, this is the worst thing that has ever happened to me; this is just horror, if I’m able to jump into that and have that external stimulus saying horror, but my internal response is “This is okay. Maybe this is even good. Maybe I’m actually getting good stuff out of this,” you’re sending a different set of hormonal soup into your immune cells. And it makes them think about the world in a different way. And that’s what we learned out of the endotoxin experiment. That’s why I no longer get cankers, these big mouth ulcers, which are an auto-immune illness. It’s because I have reframed the environmental stimulus for my body. I get people writing me all the time about how that reframing has actually changed this subconscious thing that’s going on in the body. But it’s really hard to get gold standard medical studies that look at this across every condition. That’s just never going to happen in our current medical system.

DrMR:

Yeah, like we talked about last time, there’s a lack of financial incentive making this difficult to get to beyond just your small sample size of 20-ish individuals. But nonetheless, there’s some pretty powerful anecdotes. And also I love the analogy you use about this in your book, which is if your immune cells are like wolves, they need chew toys; they need something to do, or they’re going to chew the rug, chew the couch. So some of this exposure is kind of like giving these wolves chew toys to preoccupy them so they don’t start chewing on the house, which would be analogous to the tissue of your own body.

SC:

Exactly, exactly. And remember this chemical soup you drop in means you’ve initiated these wolves because there’s insults always going on in your immune system, and then they just don’t ever shut down. But you’re also always passively dropping adrenaline and cortisol because you looked at your spreadsheet and your spreadsheet made you angry that your tax bill is going up. We’re always looking at things that are stimulating us emotionally, but we don’t have any physiological outlet for it. Exercise is a great one. I love exercise, but there’s all sorts of other stimulus that also create physiological responses. My dream is for people who read The Wedge and also just follow this work is that you’re able to start learning the language of sensation in order to reprogram your negative responses to the world. As you get better and better at that, you find that your health improves. Not only your physiological health, but also your responses in general to stressful things. So it’s psychologically and physically better versus something like talk therapy, which doesn’t really work very fast.

Limbic Retraining Therapy

DrMR:

And that’s why I think this assortment of stimuli umbrella-ed underneath the term The Wedge poses such a nice coupling to something like limbic retraining therapy, which is very cognitive in nature and can clearly be helpful to patients. We’ve seen very good responses, but it doesn’t have that strong physiological coupling. And that’s where I think these other facets of the program of The Wedge, offer people a really comprehensive plan. It’s almost like saying if you’re going to exercise, you’re only limited to this one type of exercise. You’d probably be much more fit if you had a multitude of different forms of exercise. And so this kind of goes beyond just doing the limbic retraining therapy to having this broad tapestry that we can pull from for an individual.

SC:

Yeah, absolutely. And it’s also very important to understand that every individual is different. We all have created differently curated limbic libraries. And so while one set of experiences worked very well for Scott Carney, you may respond to a very different set of experiences. It still means you should try different experiences. You get out there and if this doesn’t work at all, but you’ve actually tried it, then you’re allowed to go choose something else. That’s totally fine. But everyone’s health journey going from bad health to better health or better health to worse health is your own journey. No one can be replicated. I think we have to look at people as individuals versus a one size fits all treatment. And that is what’s wonderful about integrative medicine in general.

DrMR:

I agree. That is one thing that integrative medicine does do a good job with. And that poses a question I’m kind of selfishly asking, because this is one of the things that I’m kind of embarking on in the clinic, which is putting these together into a personalizable program for individuals. There are somewhat intuitive ways that we could personalize these things. If someone has a lot of musculoskeletal problems, we probably can’t push too hard on the exercise stimuli. But have you seen anything in your interactions that have led you to any conclusions about certain types of people that pair best with certain types of stimuli?

SC:

I am not a health practitioner in the same way that you are. So I don’t think I can put people into categories that make any sort of medical sense. I think that, again, everyone does have their own health journey. And I think that even in the most traditional, most Western medicine headspace person — let’s say you have some sort of weird chronic condition, like Crohn’s disease or lupus or something like that, or Lyme, and you’re going to go to a doctor and they’ll run a test or whatever they do. And they’ll be like, “Okay, this is the solution. This will fix you.” Then you take that thing that they gave you, and then it doesn’t work, because usually, honestly it almost never works with chronic illnesses at first.

SC:

Then you’re like, “Oh, that didn’t work.” You go back to the doctor and you’re like, “Huh, give me something else. Give me another thing.” And then he looks at you, does another test and says “No, this will work this time.” What we don’t realize is we put our mind on the idea that there is a solution coming from an external person and that the first one just didn’t work and the second one will work. And so it’s always outside you, but what we’re not realizing is that’s actually also part of a mindful journey because you sense something in your body that you didn’t like, and then you went to the doctor and he gave you something. And then you went back to your sensory system and said, “Oh, look, this is still not working.”

SC:

Let me try something else. And you’re actually going back and forth and, and you’re paying attention to your body until hopefully you find something that does work. Most likely the solution to the chronic illness was not just that external solution that they chose, but it was actually also what’s coming up from your own body. People call that the placebo effect. It was just for whatever reason, the body fixes itself somewhere between 5% of the time and 80% of the time without any real medical intervention. You’re bringing part of yourself to this therapy, and I think that’s very, very important to realize that. You doing things and you paying attention to yourself is oftentimes as important as what goes on from the practitioner side, which is what they give you.

Integrative Medicine

DrMR:

Agreed and also empowering. And I think that’s another indirect by-product of doing some of these things. We hit on these last time we spoke, which is that it’s empowering to know that I can go outside in 20 degrees in a T-shirt and be okay. Maybe you don’t want to do that every time, but it’s empowering to know that you have this strong body strong mind, or if you don’t feel so strong, gradually developing that sense of strength. It really does feel like it brings one back in partnership with their body, because a lot of this is stuff you have to feel your way through. You sit down and you do the breath work, or you go in the cold shower and you have to listen to your body and see how you feel. And I think there’s, there’s something really beneficial to putting people more in the driver’s seat of their healthcare scenario.

SC:

Yes, absolutely. And paying attention to how we feel, because honestly, if someone told me “Scott, your blood sugar was ridiculously high,” something that was really bad, and they gave me a number. I actually don’t know what number’s associated with blood sugar, but let’s say it’s 3000.

SC:

You’re at 3000 blood sugar, but if I felt totally fine and my life was great and I had no actual negative side effects, then I don’t care what that number is. It’s not the data, or some sort of arbitrary external decider that decides what your health is. You decide what that means. Obviously if that 3000 number ended up breaking you, you would feel something. You would be like, “Oh, actually I have gout,” or whatever it is that shows up from that. And then there would be a sensation that would be very meaningful having to do with that. We should really keep the patient at the center of any of those experiences, because what our objective numbers mean is so different for every person who’s out there. There is an external reality. If I shoot you with a gun, I might mindfully be able to say, “Hmm, that bullet was beautiful and I loved it. And it was great.” It still means you died, or had some sort of negative side effects. So there are certainly limits, but we need to pay attention to that subjective understanding and also understand that subjective understanding creates hard physiological changes in the body.

DrMR:

Yeah, very well said. Especially important in the realm of integrative medicine with some of these progressive labs where the meaning of a marker still hasn’t been mapped out yet. So people just see a high or a low or something in red or in bold, and they freak out a little bit. It’s really unfortunate that oftentimes the more you know about a test, the less worked up you get about the test, because you realize this calprotectin comes back elevated in this stool test all the time. There’s probably some methodological error, so we don’t really freak out about it. But the person who saw that one week before they came for their follow-up visit was reading all about calprotectin on Google and thinks they have inflammatory bowel disease. This is why we have to really take a grain of salt and be careful. There are some things that are much more mapped out, blood sugar being one of them, probably. So there are some things that are more clear cut, but I think for a lot of our audience are probably doing some of the genetic testing and these kind of bell and whistle data mines, and we have to be very cautious with how much limbic activation we get from those.

SC:

Yes, very well said. The human body is so ridiculously complex. If you’re just looking at insulin levels, you’re like, “Well, in some levels higher do this and lower do that.” It’s pretty well mapped out. But when you realize that there’s insulin and there’s hemoglobin, and there’s cortisol, there’s adrenaline. There’s just so many things going on in your body at once that it can be like reading tea leaves. We don’t have the big super computer. We probably honestly never will even have the computing power to understand how every variable interacts with absolutely everything. There’s this whole numbers theory called complexity theory which says at some point you can’t look at the details. You have to look at the whole because with the details there’s just so many of them that they’re not understandable.

DrMR:

Sure. The mapping of the microbiota would be a good example of that. There’s just so much data that assigning meaning to that is incredibly challenging. So definitely on the, on the same page there.

DrRuscioResources:

Hi everyone. This is Dr. Ruscio. In case you need help, I wanted to quickly make you aware of what resources are available to you. If you go to drruscio.com/Resources, you will see a few links you can click through for more. Firstly, there is the clinic, which I’m immensely proud of. The fact that we deliver, cost-effective, simple, but highly efficacious, functional medicine. There’s also my book, Healthy Gut, Healthy You, which has been proven to allow those who’ve been unable to improve their health, even after seeing numerous doctors, to be able to help them finally feel better. There’s also our store where there’s a number of products like our Elemental Heal line, our Probiotic line, and other gut-supportive and health-supportive supplements. Health coaching. We now offer health coaching. So if you’ve read the book or listened to a podcast like this one, or are reading about a product and you need some help with how or when to use, or how to integrate with diet, we now offer health coaching to help you along your way. And then finally, if you are a clinician, there is our clinicians’ newsletter, the Future of Functional Medicine Review. I’m very proud to say, we’ve now had doctors who’ve read that newsletter, find challenging cases in their practices, apply what we teach in the newsletter and be able to help these patients who were otherwise considered challenging cases. Everything for these resources can be accessed through drruscio.com/Resources. Alrighty, back to the show.

DrMR:

Scott, what’s next. I feel like this is a really rich area that a lot of people could benefit from. Are there any cool future plans, new books or other things that you’re working on?

SC:

Yeah, I am working on so many different things. You know, I feel like for a little bit, I’m not going to write another bio-hacking book, for a little while. I’m going to take a step back. I might start working with some integrative practitioners to sort of look at different sets of experiences that might create changes in the body. In fact, one study that I would love for someone to help me on, or to do in my stead actually, let me be honest, would be to try to look at what the hard physiological responses are to certain sensations. If I feel cold, what does that mean? Well, I know that it means at least in part that my metabolism is going up. So the sensation of cold correlates with metabolism. Cool to know from an objective standpoint. Or as I was mentioning to you before we started recording, I’d love to see frustration and curiosity probably correlate with some things like neuroplasticity. And if we could have people trying to combine subjective experience with objective variables, I think that would be really interesting. But that’s not what I’m working on next. I actually have a book about climate change that I’ve finished and it will be coming out in 2022. I’m working on three or four different podcasts. I have this media company called Foxtopus Ink that does lots of very weird things that have nothing to do with what we talked about today.

DrMR:

Well, keep me posted on the climate change book. That’s something that we had one, I don’t want to say debate, but we had two people with different perspectives on climate and how that’s influenced by agriculture. And it was interesting to kind of get two different perspectives and give them a chance to compare rationales. So I’ll throw that out there for something if you’re looking to add one more podcast to the list.

SC:

Keep tabs on me. I’m at Instagram @SGCarney and Twitter and all those places @SGCarney and my website’s Scottcarney.com.

DrMR:

And for our audience, at the clinic I’m recommending to a decent subset of patients to read What Doesn’t Kill Us, and then follow that with The Wedge both from Scott, obviously. So definitely something that I’ve found very helpful and just great stuff, Scott. I really appreciate you putting in all that hard work and hiking Kilimanjaro in a pair of shorts and all the other crazy stuff that you’ve done. Any other words you want to leave people with?

SC:

No, just thank you so much for having me on; it’s been a lot of fun. Have me on anytime.

DrMR:

Awesome. Thanks again.

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