The Human Longevity Project with Jason Prall
Sometimes, looking at difficult health issues holistically and asking good questions can uncover surprising paths to wellness. Jason Prall of the Human Longevity Project docu-series focused his career on lifestyle medicine after working to help many patients with complex issues. In additional to health practices like exercise and sun exposure, he has also seen powerful healing effects from psychedelics on the nervous system, both personally and in others. One high-impact activity you can incorporate right away is a daily 30-45 minute morning walk outside, which will set your circadian rhythm, lower your blood sugar, help regulate your thyroid hormones, and more.
Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC: Hey everyone, welcome to Dr. Ruscio Radio. This is Dr. Ruscio. Today I’m here with Jason Prall, and we’re going to be talking about longevity. He is the mastermind behind the Human Longevity Project, which I’ve heard a lot of good things about. And he’s also doing some other cool stuff, which we’ll get to in a minute, as he currently connects with us from Costa Rica. But Jason, welcome to the show. Happy to have you here.
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Dr. R’s Fast Facts Summary
Psychedelics may help patients with trauma
- Ayahuasca has helped many deal with past trauma, deeply rooted emotional issues, and mor
- MDMA has shown remarkable results for those with PTSD
- Psilocybin “Magic Mushrooms” has shown to help those who suffer from depression and anxiety
- WARNING: these therapies should NOT be tried without the supervision of your doctor, practitioner, expert (shaman) in the field
Healthy Lifestyle Tips for Circadian Rhythm
- Get outside more
- Reduce screen time at night
- Use blue blocking glasses
- Use candlelight or salt lamps around the house at night to start to calm your mind and slow down your thoughts
- Have your last meal a few hours before you go to sleep, giving yourself a fasting window, this helps the body rest and repair
- Try adding in a quick morning meditation as a part of your morning routine
- Try a walking meditation – get outside first thing in the morning (tremendously helpful for circadian rhythm)
Where to learn more about Jason Prall
- Get help using this information to become healthier.
- Get your personalized plan for optimizing your gut health with my new book.
- Healthcare providers looking to sharpen their clinical skills, check out the Future of Functional Medicine Review Clinical Newsletter.
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Jason Prall: Thanks for having me.
DrMR: Yeah, it’s a pleasure. One of the things that I think we really connected on was, you’re interested in the microbiota—I’m, of course, interested in the microbiota—but we also have a pretty good filter setting. I was thinking about the movie Interstellar, where Cooper was asking TARS, “What’s your honesty setting? What’s your humor setting?” That got me thinking about how people look at information in healthcare. It’s important that we have a decent filter setting there also.
As we were discussing before we got on the recording here, some of the promises in functional medicine don’t always pan out. So it’s good to be able to question those things and try to get a better sense of what is speculative, what is more proximal to the truth, just so people can cut through some of the noise.
JP: Yeah, absolutely. I think for me, with a background in engineering and science, it’s always been imperative to ask the good question. Coming up with the answer is sexy, and people love it. We’re always looking for a guru to give us an answer, right? And that’s okay. But at the same time, when it comes to science, medicine, in particular, things like the microbiota in the gut and the function of these systems, we’re in such an infancy period. I think we need to be continuing to ask good questions, as opposed to thinking that we can find answers. Especially if they are associative answers, like “this is correlated with that. When we see this disease, this strain is present.” We’re getting out ahead of our skis a little bit.
So I think one of the things that drew me to you, when I first heard you talk on something—I didn’t know who you were— heard you answer some questions, and discuss some things, was, “Dude, this guy is actually asking good questions, and he’s not pretending to have all these answers. And yet I can tell he’s smart as heck and knows a lot about the gut.” I always get drawn to those people that can ask good questions, that can spark a good question in my mind, get me to think differently, question my beliefs. To me, that’s really, really important.
And I think that’s where we are in science when it comes to the microbiota. So the filter is huge. I think we need to let our ego die a little bit, take a step back, really see what’s going on. We need to let the evidence speak for itself in the personal setting (in a one-to-one setting), as opposed to trying to apply all this speculative science to every individual, because it’s just not working.
DrMR: Right. Amen to that. Can you tell people a little bit about your background, in case they haven’t heard your name or of the Human Longevity Project? Get people up to speed on some of that?
JP: Yeah. I started off in engineering. Did that for 10 years and always considered myself sort of a math guy, a problem-solver. And at the end of the day, my passion just was not in that field. Coincident with that, I had some health issues in my early 20s and 30s that involved joint pains. And chronic from 13 years old, I had skin issues that were repetitive—showing up and really peaking in my early 20s—that forced me to question everything about the medical system, and all these ridiculous solutions that the doctors were giving me. The supposed experts in skin couldn’t give me the simplest answer. So that really prompted me to dig on my own to find the answers. Yeah, I mean, I had skin issues on my face… it was a vanity. Really what drove me to find the answer. But I started uncovering a lot of this stuff that was all lies.
As I got into that stuff and started to figure things out, I felt like I was finding some answers, solving some of my own problems. Eventually people looked at me as sort of a semi-expert in my close circles.
Solving Tough Health Issues with Lifestyle
Then the story kept going, to the point where I ended up deciding to quit engineering, going into an integrative, functional medicine type of practice, where I ran all the labs that the functional medicine doctors run and practiced in that way. And I really, really found some enjoyment and success in that. Yet at the same time, I kept running into walls. The better I got at what I was doing, the more I attracted difficult clients, right? The ones with four autoimmune conditions, who’d seen 18 functional medicine doctors, three acupuncturists, five nutritionists, on and on. I would get those patients more and more. And they were tough. I couldn’t get the answers.
And so it eventually led me to discovering a couple key pieces that most people were not really addressing when it came to those clients. One is really looking at lifestyle. What are they doing, not doing, how are they behaving in their world around them, that is either exacerbating their current issues or contributing to them in new ways? That was a huge component. The other one is emotional traumas and developmental traumas. They are sometimes obvious things like sexual or physical abuse. But sometimes they are subtle and small… your mother (when you’re the age of five) tells you, “Stop being so sensitive.” So all of a sudden, you’re not safe in who you are, you’re being told not to be yourself, and all these things. So these developmental traumas can really create a lot of problems, both behavioral and physiological, as we are now seeing with the science. Those two components, I think, were the big things that I thought were not being addressed enough. Eventually that led me to really focusing on lifestyle medicine.
And instead of disease-based solutions, I wanted to give people an idea of what health is and where it comes from, how to induce health. Because resolving disease is not the same as inducing health, right? That’s like saying, by paying off your debt, you’re becoming wealthy. It’s not the case. It’s a good thing to pay off debt, to get back to neutral, but it’s not the same as building wealth. So that’s where I decided to shift my focus and to teach people lifestyle medicine, to both resolve their chronic issues and also build ongoing health. That’s really how the Human Longevity Project was birthed. It’s a nine part docu-series you can see online that goes through a variety of aspects of lifestyle, seen through the eyes of elders and centenarians from all around the world, who live differently but also share a lot of things in common.
And so we explored that, similar to the Blue Zones work. But at the same time, we explore it with a scientific eye, a medical eye, from a lifestyle and behavioral standpoint. Also—which I think is really forgotten about in the Blue Zones work—we wanted to explore it from a timeline perspective. The way people are living in, let’s say, Icaria, Greece or in Sardinia, Italy in 1920 is not the same as the way people are living today. So we can’t look to that as an answer to our 2020 problems. We wanted to put things in context from a historical standpoint. I think that was an important piece of what we wanted to bring through, as well. That’s really the story of the Human Longevity Project.
Where I have gotten to in my career, if you will, is really more on the education side of how to live in a more harmonious way, so that a person can bring in health, happiness, and also not harm the people around them, the environment around them, etc. Because we often take a pretty self-indulgent look at our own health. The reality is that everything that we do, externally or to others, is happening to us, right? That includes the environment. We can’t have health and longevity if we are trashing the environment. So it’s all kind of inner work there. That’s really where I’d like to live when it comes to podcasts, making film, and all this type of stuff.
DrMR: Love it. And there’s a lot more here we want to try to get through in lifestyle, in longevity, how the microbiota ties into longevity, mitochondria and skin, and just general lessons you’ve learned from putting that project together.
Psychedelics, the Nervous System, & Healing Results
But before we go there, there’s something that we were just talking about offline, which I think is really interesting and worth elaboration. One of the things that I think practitioners struggle with are these highly challenging cases. And in my estimation, the majority of those—if you really know what you’re doing clinically—you can get through. I want to make sure that I frame this correctly. In my experience, I’ve seen so many patients now that have been to a bunch of other doctors, and this includes other functional medicine doctors. They’ve helped them and they’ve been well-intentioned. That’s all fine and good. But they didn’t have, I think, the real specialization in the gut and they weren’t able to go as deeply as some of the people needed them to. And when they got to the right provider, they were able to get the results that they wanted to see. So that’s important to contextualize.
But there’s that smaller subset of patients for whom it’s not really, in my mind, a biological issue. It may be a psychological issue. We’ve discussed the conditioned defense response in the past with Ashok Gupta, and how there are techniques being pioneered to reset this faulty neural programming (for lack of a better term). Some of that might be from proximal issues. Some of those may go all the way back to childhood, as you alluded to earlier. But you touched on something, which is the use of ayahuasca being very helpful for some people who had what seemed to be past trauma, or even fairly recent trauma that they couldn’t get out from underneath. The ayahuasca really helped to jolt them out of that. And there has been research published with MDMA, I believe, that has shown—from what I understand, I haven’t read this first-hand myself—pretty remarkable results for those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
So there does seem to be something about psychedelics being able to jolt people out of those situations. For me, always trying to find the easiest path forward for people, if it’s weeks and weeks and weeks of therapy, or you do a course on psychedelics and have this cathartic experience and you get yourself jolted out, that seems like it may be a lot easier path forward. So tell people, first, if you want to more technically define what ayahuasca is and then what it is you’re digging into in this regard, because it’s really fascinating stuff.
JP: Yeah, I’m in Costa Rica right now about to do an ayahuasca week, essentially. Four days of ayahuasca. And this is the second time I’ve been down here at this retreat center doing this type of stuff. I got tremendous benefit before and it even taught me some lessons about the gut which I’ll share. When you look at the research, things like psilocybin, a more clinical term—which come from, let’s say, magic mushrooms—MDMA or ecstasy, are being studied now. And they’re in phase three clinical trials. MAPS is doing some amazing work. When we see things like MDMA, done in the right setting, it’s really, really profoundly affecting PTSD and some of those particularly traumatic issues. The military are having really high success rates with that therapy. I’ve even talked to people that have done MDMA-assisted therapy and resolved cancer. So I think we can have some profound realizations when we look at this stuff honestly.
Psilocybin is the same way, it has really been remarkably effective for things like depression and anxiety. When you look at things like psilocybin and again, magic mushrooms, they affect the default node network of the brain. So these things are affecting the nervous system. They bind to a receptor in the nervous system. So when we look at the study of something like psychoneuroimmunology (the way that thoughts and emotions affect the nervous system) and the immune system, or psychoneuroendocrinology (the way that thoughts and emotions affect the nervous system, which affect the hormones in the glands), there’s a lot of research out there. Anything that’s going to affect either the nervous system or the immune system, or the thoughts and emotions, can start to alter this network. I think it’s a really interesting area of study. And something like ayahuasca is a little bit more intense and serious, and I don’t think it’s for everybody. I don’t think any of this is for everybody.
I think if you’re called to it, it can be a good thing. There’s a tremendous amount of respect that goes into it. It must be done in the right setting, it must be done in the right way with the right people, and you must feel safe. So there are a lot of caveats to doing this type of thing. But I will say that I’ve seen remarkable things happen with hundreds of people at this point. People have really, really remarkable health effects reversed, psychological issues reversed. It’s not magic, there is work. It seems like an easy thing, you just show up and do this stuff. We think about that in terms of psychedelics, because we see things sometimes, and all this stuff. But really, there are deeper realizations going on, there are deeper realities. I don’t know that we can fully understand how this stuff works.
If you talk to the shamans, they will tell you this stuff is amazingly deep. You cannot figure this stuff out. As soon as you think you’ve got it figured out, it goes deeper. So I won’t pretend to be a tremendous expert on this. All I can say is that I’ve had experience with it. I’ve had amazing experiences personally, I’ve seen amazing things happen. And it continues to be an amazing teacher for me, on how to behave, how to think, how to live, how to emote better. It’s also resolved some things physically for me.
The Gut, Emotions, & Psychedelics
One of the things it actually did the last time I was at this retreat center was download information, almost like with Neo in the Matrix. I cleared an emotional trauma, some grief from a past relationship that I was holding onto. And the medicine showed me that I was holding it in my enteric nervous system. And this enteric nervous system (the nervous system that’s associated with the gut) can operate independently of the autonomic nervous system… the sympathetic and parasympathetic response. So this is a second brain, if you will. These are the neurons in the gut. And the medicine showed me that I was holding an emotion of grief in the gut, in the enteric nervous system.
And when I cleared it, it showed me how the medicine works. It showed me how I stored the emotion: after this breakup, I did a lot of exercise, I worked out, I hit the gym, I did yoga, I ran, thinking that was a healthy response instead of drinking or something like that. But the medicine showed me that actually drove the emotion into my body. Essentially, I wasn’t able to process it, and it got stuck. It started to affect the enteric nervous system.
If that’s true, and I’m not making this stuff up and it’s not this grand hallucination, let’s just theorize that it’s interesting that an emotion can affect the enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system—as you know, probably much better than I—has dramatic impacts on gut function, on the microbiota itself, the population therein, and the immune system in the gut. All these things are going to be affected.
So it’s a very interesting postulate. Let me put it that way, because I don’t pretend to think that this is the ultimate reality. It’s not a scientific study. It’s just a personal experience. And it’s an interesting thing to think about.
So I love to think about how we can use certain natural substances like magic mushrooms, psilocybin, like ayahuasca, like peyote, like San Pedro, there are so many of these things. It’s amazing to me that we can use those things, and they’ve been used for thousands of years in the jungle, by shamans and all around the world. What an amazing tool, what an amazing gift, to be able to use those things to address some of these deeper issues that maybe are psychosomatic, that are in our heads, that are in the way that we think and we emote in the world. So if we can do that, all of a sudden—as you mentioned—if you’re a really skilled clinician, you can resolve some of the things for a lot of patients, like the difficult patients that come in your door.
“Jason Prall of @LongeviTFilm explains how we can use natural substances like magic mushrooms, psilocybin, ayahuasca (and others) to address the trauma that may be at the root of many health issues, especially difficult cases with multiple autoimmune issues”
Now, those things may have been a result of something that happened in the past. In other words, a stain on a shirt. You can clear the stain, but what if it is psychosomatic? What if it is emotional, what if it is trauma? You can clear up the stain, but the stain is going to come back, right? And then you keep washing the clothes, and they keep resurfacing. Then you’re just chasing your tail. So being a skilled clinician and cleaning up past things is really, really important. But if it’s something that’s ongoing, then no matter how much work you do, you’re not going to get anywhere. So I think this is where some of these things come in: hypnotherapy, craniosacral therapy, adult attachment repair models, EMDR. There are all these new and exciting ways to address psychosomatic traumas, etc, that I think are affecting our physiology. And science is starting to elucidate some of the mechanisms by which that occurs.
DrMR: Yeah. This is clearly a burgeoning field. And what I find so attractive about this is, (if this ends up playing out the way that I hope it will) again, with a punctuated course on some type of natural psychedelic compound, people might be able to hit the same level of benefit of therapy in a much shorter period of time. Rather than if someone had to do weeks, or more likely, from what I understand from some of the interviews we’ve conducted, months of fairly intensive therapy (not that I think, in any way, that would be a bad idea, but it is a fairly lofty commitment in terms of time, attention and resources).
Michael Pollan has discussed this. I believe he really drove this home. He’s done many interviews, of course. But this was his interview on the Sam Harris podcast. It was about how what’s being seen is, people get to this same level of awareness or enlightenment (or whatever you want to call it) using these medications as some practiced meditators may take years to be able to build up to. It’s a little bit of a different scenario. But the point is that you’re able to acutely get to that level of realization.
It fades post-intervention. But if we combine a few of these observations… if someone needs to get to the realization to get past the issue, and if they can get to that realization and resolve it—like with the post-traumatic stress disorder, military using MDMA— that may be a much simpler way for someone to move forward and not have to undergo two months of treatment. So I definitely am going to take steps to get a researcher–
JP: I’m going to get you down here. That’s my goal.
DrMR: Well, I’m absolutely open to it. It’s something that I think I want to explore because of all that I’ve heard, like many things that I’m trying, red light therapy or even going as extreme as the pulse ultrasound that can help to increase circulation to your nether regions. I’m always experimenting with these things.
Yeah, it’s something that I’m probably going to explore personally. And I’m going to see if we can get a really solid researcher on, who’s looked into this, who can help our audience better understand what to use, maybe where to go, how to use it. You have the center. Will you tell us the name of that center again, where you are?
The Future of Psychedelics?
JP: This one is called Rythmia Life Advancement Center and I do give them my full endorsement. They invited me down. They wanted me to sort of promote their center and I said, “No chance. I’ve done ayahuasca, I appreciate the medicine, but I’m not going to endorse your center until I know what you guys do officially.” So they brought me down and I went through it. And I was like, “Wow, you guys dialed it in. This is amazing.” It involves circular breath work, meditation, yoga. This is all part of the program. They have discussions and talks about how it works, they have amazing organic food that adheres to a lot of food sensitivities, and they also have a medicine workshop (you don’t want to be taking MAOIs and all these things).
They’re medically licensed down here in Costa Rica. They have a doctor check you out before. So it’s official and it’s an amazing place. There are a number of amazing places. But this one is very catered to the West, which I think is really, really helpful for a lot of people that are dealing with some pretty tough stuff and can’t go into the jungle because they have severe traumas or whatever it is.
We like to say this is the therapy or that’s the therapy. But imagine a world sometime in the near future, hopefully, where you can say to somebody that has Crohn’s disease, and maybe a couple other autoimmune diseases, “Hey, let’s do some psilocybin-assisted therapy.” (And also anxiety and depression. How many of those people that have gut issues have all kinds of associated psychological issues? Almost everybody, right? Because the gut and the brain are so interlinked.)
So they do the psilocybin, they get amazing things to happen and have some realization. And by the way, during that experience, we actually do see neurogenesis, we see the neurons change. There are lasting effects to this stuff at the nervous system level.
But let’s say that happens. And then we also do some talk therapyalong with that, with somebody who understands how to do some of that work. Then they would see somebody like you, who actually knows how to do clinical stuff with the gut. So now we’re cleaning up the gut, we’ve done some psychological therapy, we’ve done some plant medicine stuff. And then let’s say they listened to some of the things I talk about, in terms of lifestyle medicine and how to live a more harmonious life.
So now we got lifestyle taken care of. We’ve got a doctor who really knows his s*** and can get into the inner workings of the gut, really get some resolution at the biochemical/bioenergetic level. We’ve got somebody who addresses the psychology, and we’ve got plant medicine, which addresses another whole realm of existence. That’s a pretty robust treatment plan. And it’s not one or the other, right? So to me, all this stuff is so allied. And I think if we can really open our minds to using these things, I think we’re going to make so much more progress.
DrMR: Agreed. The one caveat I would build into there is, the real key—in my opinion—is trying to figure out who needs what therapy, rather than all therapies, all people. Because that’s one of the main problems with functional medicine right now. Everyone gets everything, all the time. I think we’re on the same page there.
JP: Yes. And I definitely don’t think that everybody should do psilocybin, or MDMA-assisted therapy, or ayahuasca, or any of that stuff, they’re all–
DrMR: They’re all on the table and then we’ll personalize per the individual.
JP: Absolutely. Yeah.
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Why Diet Is Not All It Appears
DrMR: You mentioned lifestyle. You’ve done a lot of research here, of course, and we’ve talked about some of these topics on the podcast. We’ve talked about some of Dan Buettner’s work with Blue Zones. And we’ve talked about living near Blue Zones or Green Zones, that time in nature, the need for community. We’ve touched on Shelley Taylor’s work where women tend to tend and befriend, whereas men do a fight or flight. So women more often require and rely on tribal relationships in times of trauma, stress, and injury than men, although they’re important for both. And we’ve talked about how time on devices is pulling us away from personal connectivity and making us more anxious, depressed, and tired. But I’m assuming you’ve got some real pearls in having gone to the depths that you have. So wherever you want to start… let’s launch into some of this lifestyle.
JP: Yeah, I think you know, I love the Blue Zones work and what they did. Michelle Poulain is the demographer that was really behind the statistical nature of that work. And the thing that I think was missing, that I wanted to go find out personally (so that’s why we went there), was I wanted to see what their life was actually like. I wanted to hear the stories of how they were raised. And if you go back and look at how they were raised, it was drastically different. They were outside all the time, they were all birthed naturally, they didn’t have vaccinations, they breastfed for up to seven years sometimes, with some of the people. They had, of course, tight social groups and all that. But they ate dramatically different foods too. What’s really funny about the Blue Zone type of work, which I really, really love—throwing it in the face of functional medicine right now—is that they all ate foods that we would consider harmful.
In fact, that was the basis of their diets. So when we look at Costa Rica, we have things like corn, beans, rice, a lot of fruit, a little bit of fish, hardly any vegetables, a little bit of squash. That was the basis of their diet, mostly corn and beans. Corn was the big one. And then you look at some place like Sardinia, they ate bread non-stop. Non-stop. That was like the fundamental food for them. So I love that stuff, because it allows us to enter the conversation and really discover where we’ve gone wrong in the U.S. You probably would agree with me that I don’t think most people should be eating bread, grains, and wheat in the U.S. I don’t think most people should be eating the corn.
And there are a lot of foods I think we should probably stay away from. Dairy is a big one too. So all these things that we’re starting to demonize here in the West. I think it’s the correct thing, but I don’t think it’s for the right reasons. So we have to look at the entirety of the lifestyle when we talk about the foods, and what’s really going on there. That’s really where a lot of our discussions are centered in the West, what foods to eat and how it’s all done. But we destroy our environment, we destroy our foods, we modify them, we process them. The whole thing is different. That’s a really big caveat that I think we need to really explore a little bit more deeply. And we tried to do that in the film series. So I just want to make a note on that.
Healthy Lifestyle Tips: Circadian Rhythms
But maybe where I can start with the lifestyle is circadian rhythm. This idea that we are operating on a 24-hour cycle guided by the sun, and we need sunlight in our eyes and on our skin. Sunlight on the skin raises cortisol, right? We know that getting sun in the morning kickstarts all kinds of hormones, a whole cascade. Thyroid hormone has something like 900 and some odd genes that get turned on or off with the thyroid alone when it comes to the light and dark cycle. There are so many things happening. When we think about the gut and the entirety of the function of the gut, it’s so intimately related to circadian rhythm. I think, this is one of the areas where, when we look at the Blue Zone work in particular, they don’t address this because it wasn’t an issue back then, right? The Blue Zones, and the people that live in Costa Rica, Icaria, Greece, and Sardinia, and Okinawa in 1940 or 1950 or whatever it was, they didn’t even have electricity. So they never had to deal with the circadian rhythm problem.
When it got dark, they went to bed. They may have put on some candles and told some stories, and done whatever, but they went to bed. Then when the sun came up, or just before, they got up. So these are the new modern problems that we have, when it comes to lifestyle. They’re primarily due to the fact that we are staying inside all the time. We are manipulating our lighting environment in a huge, huge way. And this is creating a physiological nightmare, that has to do with every cell of our body, including the way the gut functions. So I think this is a really, really big area of focus for me when it comes to the lifestyle equation.
DrMR: Yeah, I mean, unquestionably. We recently spoke with Satchin Panda, who’s done some great pioneering work here. I think, hopefully, everyone who’s either listening to or reading this understands the importance of getting exposure to the sun, or at least some type of light early in the day. And then trying to really mitigate your blue light and artificial light use at night. Use blue light filters, dim your lights, and opt for yellow bulbs if you can, and try not to snack too late into the night to give yourself a bit of a fasting window. But it’s always good to have a reminder of that.
In my estimation, there are two types of people. People who just get this and it feels so unnatural that they never drift back. And then other people who have to be reminded of it constantly, so that they don’t drift into this perpetual light all-the-time sort of mode. So it never hurts to have that reminder.
What’s funny is, sometimes you go to these foreign places where they may not have as much light. And we go, oh, it’s so romantic. It’s so cozy. Well, yeah! You could do that at home!
JP: I say the same thing. My clients would complain to me. I’m like, “Okay, so you’re complaining about me suggesting you have candles, fire, and salt lamps,” and then they finally do it. And they’re like, “Oh my God, it’s so soothing.” I’m like, “Well, yeah, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.” So, I agree. It’s funny. We fight it, but at the end of the day, it’s what we crave. I don’t think that we realize how much we crave the darkness, how much we crave calm, how much we crave slowing down and quieting down. It’s the yin/yang, right? Think about the US and the Western world. We are on all the time. We have a million things hitting us constantly. We’re overloaded in every sense of the word, and we’re overloaded in the yang direction, right?
So we’re on. There’s too much light. We don’t get the darkness. We don’t get the shutting down, the time out, the slowing down, the quiet.
Meditation Balances Western Lifestyles?
DrMR: That makes a good question. Obviously, in certain regions of the world meditation’s going to be a fairly standard practice, but do you see that globally? Is that a common trend? Or do you feel that maybe in some areas, they’re just living with some of that downtime built into their day-to-day, and therefore they don’t need meditation?
JP: That’s just it. You’ve hit it on the head, 100 percent. And note, I don’t know what the percentage is, but I would say, I don’t know, 25 percent of the world meditates. It’s just not a lot of people. Every country we visited, nobody really meditated. Part of it is because their life was so hard. They had to struggle to survive. And… I wouldn’t say struggle is the right word. But everything that they did was about survival. They don’t have leisure, they don’t have all these arts and things to occupy their time. They’re working with their garden, their food sources, maintaining the home, raising children. It’s a constant life process.
So because they work hard on that, they also sleep hard. They take siestas. A lot of the cultures we visited would take a siesta. And this is pretty common. Then when they weren’t working, they would just sit. It was so funny to us. We’d be in Sardinia, in the middle of this little village. And we’d walk through and would just see these old guys—these, like, 85-year-old dudes—and they’d just be sitting on a bench, by themselves. Just sitting there. These are small villages, so they probably know everybody in town. And they’re just chilling, just sitting. I’m like, “Wow, what is he doing?” Like, how long is he going to be there? This is a foreign concept to see somebody just sitting, doing nothing, not saying a word. They just quieted down. So I think we have to bring in more meditation to compensate for all our hyperactivity, and I think it’s a really, really valuable tool to do that.
But there are also other forms of meditation. I know some meditation purists will get mad at me for saying this, but just walking. You can do a walking meditation, something that takes your mind off of constantly racing thoughts, constant worry, in the future, in the past. Just doing a walking meditation. So that’s more my style. I do meditate with a seated style, and I love that.
Why You Can’t Afford *Not* to Prioritize Health
But sometimes I just like to get outside and go for a walk. And I would say—tying that back into circadian rhythm—it’s the most powerful thing that you can do lifestyle-wise in the modern world, to get up in the morning, pretty much first thing, and go for 30 to 45 minute walk. You’re getting outside, you’re moving your body, the blood is flowing, you’re getting the natural light in your eyes, which sets your rhythm, which helps boost melatonin production at night. Turns on hormones, does all kinds of stuff. And it lowers your blood pressure, lowers your blood sugar.
It just regulates everything in a positive way, improves gut function, improves the microbiota, all this stuff. Walking is probably the most therapeutic form of exercise and we just don’t do it.
DrMR: And if you’ve got a family, I can only imagine how great it would be. I’m picturing my brother taking his kids for a walk every morning, and how great that would be from a bonding perspective. But also, just so they go to school, and they’re not bouncing off the walls. They might feel a little bit more kind of grounded. And I think it’s important to remember kids need to stop just as much as adults.
DrMR: And sometimes it’s easy to say, “Well, I can’t. I have kids. I’m so busy.” Well, include them, right? It’s even more important that you include them so you start solidifying these habits in them at an early age.
JP: That’s just it. In the lifestyle thing, I get it. I get the argument. “I don’t have time. I can’t…” I understand the argument. But you also don’t have time for cancer. You don’t have time for Crohn’s disease, you don’t have time for autoimmunity, you don’t have time for diabetes.
DrMR: But even just being anxious. You can make the argument that if you neglect enough of these—let’s say again, using the family example, I don’t have enough time because of my family—you don’t have enough time to bring an anxious, high-strung parent to a family. That’s going to have a negative impact on your children forever.
JP: Absolutely. And the perception of not having enough time is a symptom of the problem that we’re talking about. It’s a perception. Everybody’s got time, it’s just, do you want to make it?
And it’s hard. Changing habits is hard. So I’m not going to suggest that this is all easy stuff. Changing anything is difficult. But if you just start to work with it, I promise you that one of the most powerful things you can do is just get up in the morning and go for a 30 to 45 minute walk. It’s so simple and so powerful. It will change your mood, it will change your weight, it will change every lab marker that you can imagine when you run these functional tests. It’s so critical.
But again, these things aren’t sexy, they don’t make a lot of money when you put them in a course. It’s hard to make money off of these things, so they’re not getting talked about enough. And people don’t listen, because they feel like it’s not worthy of their time, money, and effort.
DrMR: And there’s a mantra I want to share. You said they’re hard, and I think it’s a great word. There’s one quote I took away from Tom Bilyeu’s interview that went out a few months ago. He said that people who have a successful mindset value the hard. So that’s a mantra I’m repeating to myself: value the hard. I think we all get that in certain contexts like exercise, right? If you want to be able to run faster, jump higher, squat more, or not even have knee pain anymore, you need to strengthen your glutes. So you start doing some exercises. It’s going to be hard at first. But people who have the mindset of knee pain being unacceptable could say, “I’m going to value this hard work, because on the other side of that is a better me.”
JP: And it’s a muscle. Sometimes saying I’m sorry is hard, right? I think we can all probably agree to that. And yet the more you do it, the easier it becomes, and the more benefit you get. I’m about to do some ayahuasca here. Anyone who’s done ayahuasca realizes there’s some hard stuff that comes up. And it is not easy. It’s easy to drink, but there are things that can come up. And the good shamans, the good people that have experience with this, will tell you, go to the hard things. Don’t run from them. If you come up against something hard, go toward it. Run at it. Heart-of-a-lion type of thing.
DrMR: It’s that old Nietzsche quote, “That which you most need will be found where you’re least willing to look.”
JP: Absolutely. And what you resist persists. So look at the things that you hate, look at the things that are challenging, look at the things you’re afraid of, and see what’s under those rocks. I think it’s a really important thing and what you’ll find is some magic on the other side of that, like you said. So again, lifestyle can be really basic and simple. But man, there’s so much reward that comes from living a really simple life, that’s easy. It doesn’t have a lot of strain, stress, worry, and difficult physiological and biological issues. So, it’s really, really worth it when it comes down to these simple lifestyles.
DrMR: And are there any other aha, eye-opening, different, or novel things that you uncovered with your research that you think are noteworthy?
JP: I think the biggest one that I took away was simplicity. These people that we interviewed, we saw live a really, really simple life. I think it’s something we can learn from, especially in our complicated world. We’ve really created our own problems. Complexity breeds more complexity. We create complexity, and we look for a complex answer to resolve this complex issue that we created, and on and on we go. I think we can just simplify.
Think about the diet in particular. The more simple you can make your diet, the more likely you are to heal. I’ll give you an example of this: a lot of people go to an organic store, and get the organic apple chips for five bucks. Why not just get an organic apple? Or better yet, why not pick one off the tree nearby that you know is organic? There’s a huge difference there. It saves you money, you’ve got microbiota on the outside of this apple, you’ve got a living thing. If you were to take an apple chip and plant it in the ground, you’re not going to get anything. You take an apple and you put it in the ground, you can get a tree, right? So there’s something living inside it.
So the simplicity of the diet… really, really important. The simplicity of what’s in your environment… really, really important. I think that was a really huge one for me. How can I simplify my life when it comes to possessions, the things in my closet, the products that I’m using, the food that I’m using? I already did a pretty good job with this, because I’ve been at this for a while. But it really allowed me to take a deeper look at some of that stuff. And how can I simplify my calendar, my email inbox, my social media nonsense? The more simplicity that I create in my life, the more opportunity, the more time, the more space I create for the things that I actually want, for the things that I love. For the downtime, for the quiet, for all these things that we’re talking about. So simplifying life really, really hit home for me when it came to being around these people.
DrMR: Yeah, and that’s incredibly well-said. It also parallels something that I’ve been trying to espouse in functional medicine, which is a more simplified model that focuses on the most important tests and treatments, and really filters out the unnecessary. I can say that’s served me extremely well in clinical practice.
JP: 100 percent. Where are the big levers? As you know, the smarter you get, and the more research you get, you can go down these rabbit holes that get you into biochemical pathway after biochemical pathway. It’s like, the deeper you go, the more complicated it gets. And it gets infinitely more complicated, it doesn’t get easier.
So I think there’s a value in going deep into that stuff. But there’s also a value in understanding where the levers are, instead of trying to manipulate every single little enzyme and pathway. How can I realize where the levers are and do the big things that affect all these other things downstream, while also satisfying my curiosity, and getting a better understanding of the biochemistry, physiology, and all that stuff? But not acting necessarily from a functional medicine perspective on every little thing that you’re trying to understand and figure out, and these realizations you have at such a small level…
DrMR: Yeah, completely agree. And man, 45 minutes has gone by like that. I feel like we barely scratched the surface. But I do want to be respectful of your time, and your hopefully very enlightening journey you have ahead of you here. Are there any closing thoughts that you want to leave people with? And then, please tell them where you’d like to point them on the internet. The Human Longevity Project… or if there’s anything else, please.
Genomic Systems & Potential Insights
JP: Yeah, I think I’ll just Ieave some parting thoughts, and hopefully questions for people. One of the things that I found interesting in this project that we did, and my research, and the things that interest me, are the interactions between microbiota and mitochondria. And also other systems that play a role. So mitochondria has DNA. We have mitochondrial DNA. We have our microbiota, which has its own genetic code. We have our own somatic cell DNA (our own human DNA). Then we have another DNA system that we constantly interact with, which is the food that we eat, the micro-RNA that comes from food and the genetics there. Then we have our external world, right? That involves viruses, bacteria, fungi, mold, and all this other stuff. So what I love to think about is the dynamic and complex interaction between these systems. We know that microbiota talk to mitochondria, and they use things like hydrogen sulfide and short chain fatty acids, like butyrate and a ton of other things.
In fact, reactive oxygen species are a method of communication. So they communicate back and forth and mitochondria do the same to the microbiota. There is constant two-way communication between those two sets of organisms, as well as our DNA. Mitochondria talk to our DNA and our microbiota talk directly to our DNA, with some of these metabolites. And then we have the micro-RNA from food talking directly to our DNA. So there’s this four-way dynamic complex interaction between genomic systems. And if we can figure out how to optimize those things—using the simple aspects of lifestyle, diet, and these type of things, working with functional medicine people and integrative medicine people, complementary medicine and Chinese medicine—and live in a better way, with the understanding that all these systems are talking to each other, and it’s a dynamically complex system… that’s some cool stuff.
I just wanted to introduce that concept—and some of the things that really make me think about this stuff—and really ask some interesting questions on how this stuff works. How turmeric might work, and be digested better by somebody with Indian heritage compared to Irish heritage, because they have mitochondria that was more adapted to hear the signals from microbiota that are able to metabolize that stuff. I think about these things, and think there may be something there. We know that the Japanese basically adopted an enzyme from the sea, from fish, to be able to break down seaweed. So I think there’s such a complex interaction between local environments. And that’s why I think being in touch with your local environment is really important, to interact with all these systems in a harmonious way.
So I wanted to leave that out there because we weren’t able to get to it. It’s such a fascinating area of interest for me, to think about the holobiont, all the genomic systems working together in the body like a big rainforest. To think about parasites and all this stuff in different ways. And “bad bacteria.” Maybe they’re not bad, maybe they’re just out of balance. Maybe they’re doing something that is beneficial, because you have excess lead in the body or whatever. There are so many things happening, I think to think about these things in new ways is really important. I’m just going to leave with that.
And if anybody’s interested in the Human Longevity Project, we’re going to be launching the film series for the last time, actually, in mid-June so. We’re going to be launching it for free online and we’ll provide your audience with a link to that, where they can sign up and watch it for free . We cover all this, mitochondria and microbiota, sleep and circadian rhythm, child birthing, the environment, food, emotional traumas, the advantages of social dynamics, community, connection. So we cover as much as we can, and hopefully in a concise enough way that is digestible. But it is fairly geeky. I know you’ve got a geeky audience, so they probably would enjoy it.
DrMR: Awesome. Yeah, we might have to organize a round two, because there is so much more I had on my list. We got into the ayahuasca, which is a fascinating topic. But then for some of these other, equally important things… I had a feeling that we weren’t going to be able to get through everything.
JP: Well, I’ve got some questions for you too. So I would love to have another chat, because I want to ask you some of the things that have been weighing on my mind. I’m sure you probably have some good answers for me.
DrMR: Awesome. All right, we’ll get that in the books, definitely. And we’ll get the link to the next airing of the Human Longevity Project. And for the audience, I’m going to keep pursuing this quest about more regarding psychedelics. We’ll see if we can get a good researcher on. And I may end up going–
JP: I’m going to try to get you down here.
DrMR: Yeah, I may have to come down to Costa Rica, so more to follow there. Jason, thank you again for taking the time. Thank you again for all the research and hard work you’ve been doing. I’ve heard great things from my patients about the Longevity Project, not just recently but when it aired the last go around. Maybe about a year ago?
JP: A year ago, yeah.
DrMR: Yeah, I had a lot of patients asking about it. So it seems like it’s really making a positive impact out there.
JP: Well, I appreciate it, and likewise. Like I told you from the beginning, I’ve been a huge fan of yours because you ask tough questions, and challenge the narrative. And I honestly appreciate it and sincerely honor you for that, because not many people are willing to challenge the prevailing narrative in a lot of these scientific spaces. So thanks for having me on and allowing me to share my thoughts. It’s always a pleasure.
DrMR: Awesome. Well, thank you. Been a pleasure, and enjoy your Costa Rica trip.
JP: I will. Hopefully, it goes well.
DrMR: All right. Good luck, buddy. Talk to you soon.
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