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Do you know your body can heal itself when you eat the right food? Corinna Bellizzi and Tia Morell Walden welcome William W. Li, MD, an internationally renowned physician, scientist, and Author of the New York Times bestseller Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself. In this episode, you’ll discover how nutrition plays an essential role in health and anti-aging. Eating the right food can elevate and boost your defenses. While eating the wrong thing can make you more vulnerable to disease. The most important thing about a healthy diet is to eat diversely. Also, remember that food as medicine is also about joy! If you want to learn more about nutrition and health, tune in!
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Tia and I are thrilled to introduce you to a legend in the world of anti-aging science, whose discoveries have changed the face of medicine. He's a different sort of MD than you might be used to. His inquisitive research-oriented journey led him on a different path towards nutrition and health. That's Dr. William W. Li. Dr. Li is an internationally renowned physician, scientist, and author of the New York Times bestseller, Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself.
His groundbreaking work has led to the development of more than 30 new medical treatments and impacts care for more than 70 diseases, including cancer, diabetes, blindness, heart disease, and obesity. His TED Talk, Can we eat to starve cancer? has garnered more than 11 million views. He's appeared on Good Morning America, CNN, CNBC, and The Dr. Oz Show. He has been featured in USA Today, Time magazine, The Atlantic and O magazine. He is President and Medical Director of The Angiogenesis Foundation and is leading research into COVID-19. In short, he's someone we should all be paying attention to. Dr. Li, welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me on.
I just have to say thank you. Some amazing thought leaders wrote reviews of your book, including Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Dean Ornish and big celebrities like Cindy Crawford and musicians like Bono and The Edge from U2. I honestly love what they wrote. Ultimately, what I took away from this work is that we have control of our own health if we'll just pay attention to what we eat. That’s the starting ground.
It's one of these things that I realized when I was in medical school, training to be a traditional medical doctor, we've learned the body parts and how they work together. We quickly switched to diseases and the drugs that are used to treat diseases. That’s where most physicians that are in practice wind up centering their careers around. For me, it was a little bit different.
I grew up in food culture. I loved food. I also did a gap year between college and medical school, where the thing that was interesting to me was the Mediterranean and Asia. I was interested in the strong, deep connections that those communities and cultures have between their food and their health and the traditions within their culture.
We're not talking about fancy food. We're talking about simple foods that have been around for hundreds and maybe thousands of years and what it meant for them to enjoy them. These were also tasty foods. That was also another important part of how I embraced food as medicine. Food is medicine and is also about joy, the joy of eating, not just like the chore of eating.
For me, as I developed my biomedical science background and not only did I prescribed medicines, I helped to develop lots of sophisticated biotechnologies, in parallel, I started to realize that the biggest opportunity was to prevent disease in the first place. We could use science to begin studying what food does to our body and how our body responds to what we put inside it.
That is the key to unlock the mysteries of food. It's not just about the food. It's not just about kale or tomatoes or celery or whatever it is. It's also about how our body responds the way you put it. When you put something bad in your body, there are consequences. When you put something good in your body, and that's what I focus on, what to add for your health, then your body's health defenses light up and we all become healthier.
I don't think a lot of people look at the joy of food. We are told a lot of times, “Don’t eat that. Don’t eat this. Force yourself to eat that even though you despise the taste.” You mentioned your studies and your work is based on human studies and trials with food as medicine. The fact that you go beyond those animal studies and drug testing and use that food along with the medicine is remarkable.
We have control of our own health if we'll just pay attention to what we eat.
It's not something that is done often. It's not common in the field of medicine. Typically, doctors are just looking at what prescription will mask that symptom and rather than treating or getting to that root cause. Were you always inspired to look at food as medicine from that human study standpoint? How did you get to that point of your work?
First of all, I've been privileged to be involved with developing cancer drugs, cancer treatments, and sophisticated ones. Cancer is one of these diseases where it's life and death. People need better treatments. For me, it was getting up every morning, feeling inspired to be able to help make the world a better place and help people overcome a deadly disease.
If you're going to be involved with something like cancer research and developing cancer treatments, I can tell you we do the work on the genes and the cells. We do work in the test tubes and there's animal work and all that kind of stuff. At the end of the day, the rubber meets the road. You know you've hit a home run if it works in people.
Something I've always realized is that anything before people gives us a deeper understanding at the molecular level, perhaps. Scientists care a lot about that. At the end of the day, what everybody else cares about is whether it works in humans. I've always prized the idea of the data, the evidence, as a work in people is the rubber meets the road. I will tell you also, you are marked on this idea of not just food versus medicine because that's a schism that I don't think needs to happen as well.
We eat well. We could probably avoid the need for medicine, but if you were sick, you probably might need medicines because while that can be saving. We are different in our current year than we were during the Civil War. We also have a lot more than we had from the time that we were still dragging our knuckles on the ground 10,000 years ago.
We should take advantage of medicines where they can be helpful. The question is reliance only. There's some remarkable human evidence to show that it's not just food versus drugs, but sometimes you can add food with medicines in order to make the medicines work better. This is something that can't be ignored. There are foods that we can eat to make flu vaccines work better. There are foods that we can eat to make cancer treatments better.
This is the kind of research that brings the world together. It's not about allopathic versus naturopathic. These five items aren't that helpful because we're all on the same team. We're all just trying to take care of patients better. The patient doesn't care where it's coming from. They just want to know, “What should I take, doc? What should I eat, doc?” We should have that answer.
I do have to say, this entire show, the ethos of it, Nutrition Without Compromise, is nutrition without compromising your health, that of the planet, or even your morals. In some cases, people are making the choice to go more plant-based. They're learning more about how the dairy industry is operating, or they learned that there are health benefits to eating a diet that is more rooted in a plant-based approach. I'd love for you to comment on this potential worry they might have about not getting enough protein if they're making a shift from eating a diet where they had red meat or chicken or eggs or whatever other animal food that they were eating on a routine basis. Maybe they even just quit drinking milk and are concerned about that lack of protein.
First of all, the most important thing about a healthy diet is to eat diversely. That's what our bodies are designed to do. I have this healthy discussion all the time with people who are pet lovers and they're feeding the same kibble e single day their cats or dogs or maybe horses. It depends on how our bodies are built. Humans are built to eat across the spectrum.
We eat nuts and seeds, legumes, roots, leafy greens. We can eat seafood. We can eat meat, but our health defenses that support our health loves diversity. Our gut bacteria that protects and lowers our inflammation helps our metabolism even keeps us skinny or lean. It trims off our body fat. Chemicals in our brain also love diversity.
This idea that you got to eat only one thing, or you've got to cut everything out, and we'll just cut this one thing out, those extremes aren't helpful now. There's nothing more diverse, greater, richer, and more wonderful to dive into than plant-based foods. There are so many different plant-based foods that we can eat that traditional cultures have cooked, prepared, marinated, roasted, stewed together in combinations or alone, grown seasonally that makes for amazing meals. I always tell people who are a little skeptical about plant-based foods, they're afraid of the religion, the cult-like nature that can sometimes happen in healthy eating.
I always tell people, “I come in peace. I'm not trying to convince you to do something you don't want to do.” Take a look at a traditional culture like in the Mediterranean, Italy, Greece, Spain, and South of France. Type in something like a plant-based food you might be interested in and look for a recipe, or look for a video, watch somebody tell you about it, how it works in a culture and then cook it. You can see and you will start to salivate wanting to try that dish.
This diversity is important. The consciousness about planetary health is another important layer that was missing several years ago. Now we have yet another reason to think about eating more responsibly, not just for our health and feeding our families, but also for keeping the planet healthy because of the industrialization of our food.
We went as humans from foraging nuts and berries and twigs in the savannas and in the jungles to creating these factory farms. Some of them are factory forms of plants. Some of them were factory farms of animals, even factory farms of fish. In general, it's a better rule to not mess with Mother Nature, not to try to yoke everything down, to try to eat what nature provides us in the freshest, most seasonal way.
Let the creativity happen on the culinary side to make it delicious for us. Tia, this is what you were resonating with this idea that food should bring us joy. Science tells us what we should eat. We know plant-based foods are better. Our taste buds and our cultures, and our minds tell us what gives us joy. Our conscience should tell us what's good for the planet because we only got one. If you have ever seen those pictures, I have a friend who was an astronaut. She was to tell me the biggest lesson that she got from space. Her name is Nicole Stott. She read a whole book about this called Return to Earth.
She said, “From outer space, you see this incredible blue planet, but the thing that keeps us all alive that makes us different from any other desolate, deserted planet is this thin blue line that is our atmosphere. That is connected to the ground that we can either treat well or abuse. That's where our food systems come into play.” For all those reasons, plant-based eating is something that's healthy. I don't want people to feel guilty about it. This is not about judgment. This is just about doing something that tastes great and is great at the same time.
Food as medicine is also about joy.
The mind that when you get to that space where you have what they refer to as planetary awareness, the astronauts who reach outer space, and you're able to see that membrane, I've always been reminded of a book by Lewis Thomas that I read in college called The Lives of a Cell. He basically makes this series of essays relate how a cell works to how our social systems work to how the planet works and the atmosphere itself being like that outer rim of a cell wall.
When we look at nature and how everything operates, we can start to see the beauty of how all these systems work together. If we're careful about the things that we put into our body, if we're mindful of looking at them as nutrition, as nourishing, as opposed to satiating, then we'll get to a space where we can reach that best health.
I'm so appreciative of this work in particular because of that 5x5x5 framework, there's a ton of food there, for example. I have gone through and picked a few things. I'm like, “I haven't eaten that for a long time.” It would be nice if I could add that to a recipe or two, which you also provide in the book. I wonder if you could comment on, for one, getting your diet dialed for nutrition, but also if there are particular supplements that you tend to go to for specific people. For instance, let's just say somebody doesn't eat a lot of seafood or they're worried about the heavy metals that might be present in the fish that they're consuming, particularly when they're pregnant. Are you recommending an Omega-3? Are you going to a plant-based source? What do you like to do?
I think about what the body needs. There are some elements that supplements are a convenient way of getting them. Sometimes that's shaped by whether you're a vegan or you're afraid of heavy metals, if you're pregnant, for example, or it's just your philosophy. Supplements, by the way, are intended to give you an alternative or to top something off. Even if you eat diversely, you might not eat enough.
I'm all for supplements, but in general, what I suggest is going for the whole food whenever possible. You've got to take a look at the source. There are some things that are incredibly important to be able to top off in your body. Omega-3s have been shown almost in every type of study to benefit. It lowers inflammation, helps your stem cells, is good for your gut microbiome, improves your circulation, and protects your brain.
There's hardly anything that we've looked at from a research perspective where Omega-3s haven't been contributing to your overall protection of health or improvement in health if you're sick or if you're dealing with a health condition. It's pretty hard to eat a lot of Omega-3s from fish. If you were just doing it on a regular basis, say 3 ounces of fish, which is about a piece of fish the size of a deck of playing cards, that size of fish is not difficult to eat, but you got to buy it and prepare it. Not everybody grows up by the shore, comfortable with seafood. Although frozen fish is perfectly fine if it's flash-frozen at sea.
In those cases, if you want to just get an Omega-3 supplement, that's totally fine. That's a perfectly good way of getting those. If you don't eat fish often enough, have some Omega-3 fatty acids. That's good. When it comes to supplements, I do tell people that you should do your research or homework on the quality of the supplements. If you're going to buy something, do your research, go for reviews, find out what brands are credible and have high quality and people aren't complaining about it because you don't want the heavy metals or toxins in your fish.
You also don't want contaminants from the factory from poorly run supplement companies to be in your supplements, either. That's equally important. Another example of something that is hard to get a lot of from diet is Vitamin D. Most of our bodies get Vitamin D from sunshine, but a lot of us don't live in a bright, sunny place year-round. We're indoors or it's gray over. We don't get a lot of sunshine. Vitamin D is another area of supplementation. Those are two examples, and there are more where supplementation can be a convenient and valuable thing.
Thank you so much for that, doctor. The reality is I do take an Omega-3 and Vitamin D every single day because their health benefits are so broadly proven. I'll just make one comment. Generally speaking, if you're going to buy supplements, buying them somewhere like Costco or Walgreens may not be your best bet. Bulk doesn't always mean better. Do your research and look at what you should be putting in your body. Make sure you know the source. That's critical. Tia, I know you are burning to ask a few questions.
I was just wondering if you could touch more if you have any thoughts on the supplement of Omega-3s from like an algae source versus a fish source, something that isn't necessarily coming from that fish source directly, and if you have any research on that or thoughts in general.
This is something that most people are surprised by, but Omega-3s are ultimately plant-based because they come from the algae. Fish don't make Omega-3s. They come from algae. They come from the sea at the lowest level. They’re plants. You can get Omega-3s also from plants that are out of the water as well, plants, nuts and seeds. It comes with linolenic acid. Your body converts them into Omega-3. At the end of the day, Omega-3s do come from plants. It's always good to eat lower on the food chain whenever we can. An algae form is perfectly fine. It's more elemental if you wanted to think about it going through the digestive system of fewer species.
As Corinna was emphasizing, do your research. Make sure the source of that is good. Unlike pharmaceuticals, where there's so much regulation about what has to be bottled before you can inject it, the big challenge with supplements for consumers is that it doesn't take much. There isn't a big barrier of entry for people to flood in there to try to sell huge bulks. The quality varies tremendously. What I tell people is that if you care about the quality of the food that you eat, and you should, you've got to also care equally as much about the quality of the supplements you take.
Having worked for over twenty years in the world of nutrition and supplements, in particular, there is such a broad array of quality, Amazon with their direct fulfillment ability. There are companies that basically specialize in helping brands launch products on mass. There might be 10 or 15 different products all offered that are essentially the same soft gel, just with a different label on it, marketed to touch on the points that you think you need. Sometimes you have to take a critical eye to those things and dig into, “Who manufacturers what? Where does it come from? Is it third-party certified? Do I trust it?”
I'll tell you a little anecdote that I had. I once took a tour of a supplement factory. I don't think they are around anymore, but I saw this with my own eyes. I'm a researcher. I'm used to being in a white coat with all the right gloves and sterilization and everything else. I went to see a factory tour of a supplement. They were talking about how clean and how rigorous everything is.
As they were talking excitedly, this is the head of this place, accidentally knocked off a bottle of supplements from the conveyor belt and it fell on the floor. Literally, he just picked it up and dusted it off, the whole thing. He dusted it off on his jeans, screwed the cap back on and put it back on the conveyor belt. It was that moment that I realized this is an industry that doesn't have quality control tightly locked down. Everyone needs to be aware that quality does matter.
That's why we have things like CGMP-certified facilities that are carefully managing these products. I've been on a few plant tours myself. There were simple rules. You can't even wear a watch when you're on the line. You go to one plant or another and you see people wearing a watch or they're not wearing the beard guard. All of these things should be monitored.
The most important thing about a healthy diet is to eat diversely.
I would love to get back into the five defense systems of our bodies. If you could provide us a breakdown on that, what are the basics that we need to know about the body? How do they all interact together or should we look at them individually, like Western medicine tends to do?
People who are deeply into research realize that you can’t isolate systems. They all work together. There’s a field called systems biology, which means, in simple terms, basically everything is interconnected. If you move something on one side, it will cause a reaction to the other things. You have to look holistically. That’s the way to think about food and health. However, you can break down how your body protects its health, which is a result of five of our body’s health defense systems.
One is called angiogenesis. Angio is blood, blood vessels. Genesis is how our body grows blood vessels. Angiogenesis, 60,000 miles worth of blood vessels, the highways and byways of oxygen and nutrients from the food we eat, delivers it to every single cell and organ. It’s an important health defense system. The foods that we eat can either help us grow more blood vessels where they're needed or can mow down extra blood vessels to prevent blood vessels from feeding diseases.
Another health defense system is our stem cell system. When we're born, we have some few leftover stem cells from when we were in our mom's womb because we were all originally made from stem cells. We have about 750 million extras. They get packed away. It's like an extra can of paint. If you're painting your room, you always have to buy a couple of extra cans, so you don't run out. Our extra stem cells are stuffed in our bone marrow and packed into our fat as well.
When we need to repair ourselves, they come out into our bloodstream to help repair us. We regenerate from the inside out. Foods can help coax out our stem cells to assist us and regenerate. That's one of the most amazing things. Some parts of the body also can hijack stem cells, and they become nefarious and evil. Evil stem cells are cancer stem cells, which is why cancers can keep growing back.
There are some foods that can kill cancer stem cells. There's no drug or pharmaceutical that can do that, but there are foods that can do that, like purple potatoes, as an example. Matcha Tea can kill a cancer stem cell. It's quite remarkable. You can grow stuff. You can call out stem cells that are helpful. You can get rid of bad stem cells. Our gut microbiome is our third health defense system. Thirty-nine trillion bacteria in our body help our metabolism, lower inflammation, help us heal faster, and communicate with our brain.
Our bacteria, by the way, has this incredible ability to text message our brain and help our brain release social hormones like oxytocin that makes us feel better. It puts us in a better mood. What we eat when we eat something, we're feeding our human selves, everything we don't digest goes onto our bacteria in our gut, further on down.
When we feed our gut bacteria, it's like feeding your pet at home. You have a cat, a dog, a goldfish, a lizard, whatever it is that you have as a pet, you take good care of that pet. Every single day, we have to take good care of our gut microbiome. Our gut bacteria pay us back by releasing metabolites called short-chain fatty acids.
That helps us with all of these helpful parts of our body. We've got to protect them. Fourth health defense systems, our DNA. More than a genetic code. Our DNA protects us from the environment by fixing damage to the DNA. If we didn't fix our DNA, we'd be mutating and have cancers all the time. Most people think about, “Maybe I become an X-Men and get superpowers.”
More likely, if you had lots of mutations, your DNA wouldn't be fixed. You'd wind up developing tumors all over the place. Thank goodness our health defense has fixed us, slows down cellular aging, and also is able to uncloak hidden parts of our DNAs called epigenetics. Foods that we eat can also do all of these things, help our DNA fix itself, uncloak useful genes to create proteins that can protect our health and slows down the impact of age on our DNA.
Our fifth health defense system of these five is our immune system. It's almost like when you talk about immunity now, say no more. We know how important this is that our immune system protects us from invaders from the outside, like bacteria and viruses. A lot of people don't realize our immune system protects us from invaders on the inside of our body, like cancer. We want to feed all five of these health defense systems.
My 5x5x5 framework is not a diet. This framework is just intended to help us all understand we've got five health defense systems. Every day, we should be eating some food that supports, props up, and activates one of our health defenses that’s going to be good for our health. It’ll help us live longer and better. We're going to be more vibrant.
The third thing is that we encounter food about five times a day, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a couple of snacks. We wing by and pick up something. Each of those times we encounter food is a shot on goal that we have to make a good, healthy decision that can boost our body's defenses. That's what the 5x5x5 system is all about.
I have to know, given all of that complexity, how did you create this matrix? Were you sitting and putting pins on a corkboard on the wall or building out a whiteboard, something like that? I wondered how you even got to the space of creating this 5x5x5.
As a scientist, we try to create lots of diagrams in order to understand how things interconnect. I did create lots of diagrams on a whiteboard, as a matter of fact. I had these whiteboards that were the size of a whole room wall. They were all over the place. I kept on adding to them and tweaking them. I stared at it for a long time. As a doctor, I realized that my job to help people is to make things as simple as possible. The job of the scientist is to unpack the complexity. The job of a good and effective doctor is to simplify that complexity into something that everyone can understand. I had to take the complex and try to make it as easy as possible.
That 5x5x5 is the simplest way that I could boil it down so people can remember something and take it around with them. What I tell people in my book, there are 200 foods that all activate your health defenses. You don't have to memorize them. In fact, what I tell people is that if you have the electronic version of the book or the hard copy of the book, take a screenshot or take a photograph of the book, circle the foods that you like, and then take a photograph of it. Now you've got it on your phone, take it shopping. You can take a look and pick out the foods that strike you that are good for you.
Navigate through life in a way that works for you at any given point in time.
I guarantee you it'll make for a tasty meal. This whole other dimension that we haven't gotten to is how we get people to not eat to live, which is sustenance and feeling satiated, but how do we maybe practice a little bit of what other food cultures do, like in the Mediterranean or Asia. They live to eat. They look forward to it. They enjoy. They take their time.
They invest in having good quality food. They take the time to put it all together. It's part of bonding. Here in America, sometimes, I'm as guilty as anyone else about this. When you're super busy, you're racing around and picking up something and you're just chucking it down and you keep on going as if that's the most important thing to do that day.
If you go to a food culture, like a village in Italy, or you go to a village in Japan or in China, the most important part of the day is towards the end of the day, you get to sit down with your family and your friends and you get to enjoy fresh freshly prepared food in delicious, healthful ways. To some extent, those two things couldn't be any different and you can't replace one with the other.
Your 5x5x5 framework gives permission to people to start where they are and to move forward in their health journey in a manner that fits their current lifestyle. You even go into details to provide practical tips for different lifestyles without any judgment. One of the tips you mentioned is that extreme measures can lead to short-term gains but long-term consequences for your health. In the culture that we have with these fad diets and just diet culture in general, people are looking for that quick fix. They want to drop those 30 pounds in 30 days. They're not looking for the health benefits of it.
You help people with that freedom of choice and flexibility. It can fit into their busy lifestyle that busy working mom can grab food that fuels her body in the way that she wants to while still making it to that next game for her child or make it to that next meeting for work. I love how you make it so simple that it's almost like I would not at least try it because it's clear that it's not a fad diet and a quick fix. This is a lifestyle change for people. I was just wondering, is this something that you still use for yourself daily, or is this something that we can graduate from?
The whole idea of personalizing your health respects the fact that we're all different, you're different than me. I'm different from my neighbor. We're all individuals. We know that now, from a science perspective at the genetic level, our genetics are all individual and different. As a doctor, I was trained to diagnose this disease in men or in women and you give the same prescription.
That doesn't hold true anymore. We know every single person, even in healthcare, has to be dealt with in a unique way, even for cancer. I can tell you as a cancer researcher and taking care of cancer patients, we now don't just call it colon cancer or breast cancer. We're able to take a tumor from a patient and individualize it to understand what makes that tumor special to that individual at this point in time.
That's personalizing disease. We can also personalize health. Beyond the biology and the science of it, there are also preferences. I call food one of the most intimate things in our lives because it's the first thing that we did when we came out of our moms. We crawled up her chest, and we had a mouthful of breast milk. Ever since then, we have developed our tastes. Food is intimate because no matter who you are, everyone can remember that smell that came from your mom's kitchen that you loved, that takes you back to childhood.
Our food and our preferences tell us about our family, our childhood, our community, and ultimately our culture because we're all from some place. That individualization is so important for us to respect and pay homage to, which means that if there are foods that you resonate with that are healthy for you on that list of 200 foods, go for those by all means because that's who you are.
I'm a busy person. I used to travel all the time before the pandemic. I would have to figure out how to adapt myself to a restaurant and airport, a quick trip to a farmer's market I would be winging by. Once the pandemic hit, I was at home a lot and less now, but when I was home a lot, I would have to figure out what I would want.
I put it into my larder, what I would shop and bring back home. This idea that you can be versatile and use different styles to fit your preferences and who you are, your own ability, and circumstances are important. It's not a fad or a trend. It's a habit that you just learn how to navigate through life in a way that works for you at any given point in time.
I'm just applauding at this point because I feel like that's exactly on point. Towards the end of the book, after you go through the 5x5x5 framework, you offer us a quiz, something we can take to assess our own health and our own risk levels. Personally, I was a little nervous taking it at the end of your book, having read everything. I smoked for many years.
I quit before I got married at 28, but I also have hypothyroidism. I learned that I have a couple of spots on my face that were actinic keratosis. Looking at all of these things, even if I'm living a healthy life, my risks for certain things are starting to elevate partially because of my age and partially because of my heredity. Now, I hike and jog. I like weightlifting.
As you note in your book, old damage is still damage. I cringed. As I completed the survey, I then started, towards the end, realizing, “I'm good because I've been living such a healthy lifestyle for so long because I am active.” I scored around a 5 or a 6. That's full transparency. Dependent on a couple of things in hereditary, I might be 6, but under the 10-point. I would like to hear from you, what would you have to say to those, let's just call them uber-competitive people like me who are evaluating their health with this quiz and looking at what they can do to change it?
The reason I put that quiz in there is because it's always good to test yourself objectively and see where you fall and stand. It's like when people are nervous sometimes, they step out of the shower, they step on the scale just to check out. People are nervous about that, but that's okay. It's fine to have an objective measure. Sometimes that's enough of a prompt to make you remind yourself that you maybe do something a little bit differently for the next period of time. I do recognize that some people are always looking for how to get to the next level.
What I would say is that we can always do better for ourselves regardless of our past. It's never too late to improve your health, no matter what your past is. Whether you've been healthy your whole time, you're an ultra-marathoner, you can still improve. That's part of just exploring with foods and looking at your health defense systems and making better choices. If you're somebody who has bad genetics, we now know that your genes don't determine your fate. If you don't do anything about it, maybe they do, but now we know that you can eat foods that can alter the way that your DNA works. It's called epigenetics. You can tip the odds in your favor. Who wouldn't want to do that?
Inspire people to get on their feet and eat better.
If you knew you could play the lottery and you could do something to get a better ticket, why wouldn't you do that? That's basically what I think our diet can do. If you're somebody who has had environmental exposures, work exposures, used to work in a factory, used to be an artist and used to be surrounded by fumes and oil paints all the time, I always remember I used to draw when I was a kid.
You remember those fumes and magic markers when your face is down on the paper and you’re coloring, those are not good for you. However, the good news is the body is so resilient. Your health defenses are so good at fixing damage, repairing, regenerating, doing workarounds that we are the result of our lives.
That's okay. We have to live the way that we have to live. The good news is that our body's resilient. These health defenses help us get to our better selves. As long as we take care of our health defenses, we're going to be in good shape and we can feed them and encourage them and get them to be in a better place.
I do think maybe this is the time to also just remind people, we can do things that can take down our health defenses every single day and we don't even know it. If you stay up all night, if you pull late-night stretches all the time, that does wear down your health defenses. If you're emotionally stressed out all the time and live in a constant state of emotional stress, and there are all kinds of reasons that you could be in, that will wear down your health defenses.
If you are sedentary and you aren't physically active, that's going to wear your health defenses. If you drink a lot of soda and sugar-sweetened beverages or artificial sweeteners, you eat a lot of processed foods, a ton of red meat, and lots of unhealthy fats, that's also going to wear down your health defenses. Here's an opportunity to do less of the bad stuff, more of the good stuff, no matter where you are in your health journey. It's going to make you a better person, take you to that next level on a day-to-day level.
If that doesn't encourage you to pick up this book, I don't know what will because honestly, this book has so much packed into it. Dr. Li, I wish we could talk to you for hours on end, but one thing I just wanted to wrap up the show with is I understand you're offering a free 60-minute masterclass to the public to help them further gain control of their health. Can you tell us a little bit about that? How's it going? How can we gain access to this valuable content?
I started doing these masterclasses because I realized the one thing that we can all do, and during the pandemic, when everybody was locked in, everybody started to use Zoom and virtual communications. I used to fly to different parts of the country and I would lecture and give talks and try to inspire people to get on their feet and eat better. I might talk to a group of 500 people or 5,000 people, but there's only so much scale you can do.
I realized during the pandemic, during the lockdown, that things like Zoom and virtual things, you could touch on thousands of people. I started doing these masterclasses for free, usually in the evening. They're taped. You can watch them to be able to bring people the latest information about the five health defenses about human research that can make a difference in people's lives.
I would bring new research to it. This is how it changes every single time. What was wonderful was that we could impact lots of people all at the same time. I had a masterclass that had 8,000 people sign up from 38 countries. Unless you are a rock star playing an arena, there's no way you could impact that many people without using a virtual system. These masterclasses are free.
They're intended to help everyone. There's something useful for you no matter where you are in your health journey. It's something that I just feel is part of my mission as somebody that feels that knowledge can be turned into power if you hear about it, and you can understand it in ways that are as simple as making a decision of what to eat anytime you encounter food.
Dr. Li, this has been an incredible time. In your interview with Dr. Mark Hyman, I heard that you two enjoy a cup of gelato from time to time. Even having that treat now and then, I'll just add this to my bucket list wish. I hope that one day I get to have a cup of gelato with you.
I would love to.
Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate all of the work that you're doing. On your YouTube channel, you do things like introduce people to foods that they might not have known about. It reminded me of the time I went with my child to the grocery store, and he's like, “What's this?” It was a Buddha's hand, which is a citrus that I'd never seen before. I just invite everybody who was a part of our audience, stay curious, and get to know your food, read this book. It's honestly a page-turner, even though it's packed full of research and information. Thank you so much, Dr. Li.
Thank you, guys. It’s a pleasure.
He is so easy to talk to and has so much knowledge, but the fact that he can break it down and make it digestible is not something all doctors can do. That's for sure.
Especially a researcher. What I'll say about the book for anybody who does make the commitment to go out and read it, I checked out the audio version, the audiobook, and audio file. I checked it out from my local library and the book arrived later. I was able to get through a lot of the content by listening to the audiobook. It even goes through the appendix, the questions that are covered and everything else. You could check it out from your local library. Sign up for his newsletter. You don't necessarily have to go out and buy the book, though I will say it's an incredible reference tool.
I wanted to share with everyone a couple of my takeaways after having read it because I think that it's helpful for us to hear some of the things that we might've heard, these old wives' tales for a long time, like an apple a day keeps the doctor away. What we learned in the book is that Red Delicious and Granny Smith are the two best apples to keep the doctor away. Two apples a day is even better at preventing cancers.
I need to find a new love for Red Delicious because I've been either going to the Gala apple or Pink Lady, or I'll go to a Braeburn. I have not had a Red Delicious in forever. This altered my shopping habits. I went and I got a bunch of both Red Delicious and Granny Smith at the store. My kids tend to go through a couple of apples a day. I'm giving them more of a chance. I might prefer a different apple and I'm sure that's just fine too. It probably has most of the same health benefits, but I can only eat so many apples a day. I'm going to Granny Smith and Red Delicious.
The book, for me, having it in print, didn't make a difference with looking at the list of everything, which you could get on the audio file. I liked it in the book because I'm one of those people that having in hand is different for me, but looking through that list and seeing how many items on this list repeated for every one of our defense systems.
We can eat flax seeds or chia seeds that are going to help our angiogenesis defense system, our immune system and our microbiome. We can have that in one smoothie. We can have that in one meal and realize that it doesn't have to be this overwhelming, overpowering thing of, “I need to eat all of this variety of food or I'm not going to be the healthiest. I'm not going to hit that optimal health point that I hope to.”
What I also loved was that he does cover those key supplements from within but talks about how specific nutrients are in specific foods. For instance, if you like cheeses, you're more likely to get Vitamin K2 from some of these soft or hard cheeses than from something like the grocery store cheddar. He's giving you some actionable ways to go ahead and address your health but then also pointing you at the specific supplements that can be helpful. Vitamin D and Omega-3 were two things we talked about.
A big part of the reason that doctors or registered dieticians often tend to tell you to go to food first and maybe supplements last is because they aren't necessarily always in the same form that they are in food. Your body doesn't recognize it the same way. There are so many supplements now that are essentially extracted from food.
In the case of what we're doing with Orlo, we're cutting out the middle fish. You're getting directly to the algae Omega-3 and it’s got polar lipids, phospholipids and glycolipids that make your body recognize it like the food and the nourishment that it is. You have a 3X absorption over anything that you would get in a fish oil supplement, which is incredible. You don't have to go to krill. You don't have to go to overfished waters. You can literally go to a simple supplement that you can take every day with ease and safeguard top off your levels of Omega-3. I love that perspective.
I love that he does push quality on, especially supplements. Not all supplements are created equal. It's important to do your research. Trust the brand that you're buying from. Don't just go to the big box store and pick up whatever it says because it doesn't necessarily mean that's what's in that capsule. Pay attention to what you are putting into your body.
Buying from Amazon may not be the best bet. You can often go directly to the companies. If they don't have their own website, they're only available on Amazon, that tells you something right there. The credibility automatically, when I see that, for me, drifts down like, “This is a direct-to-consumer brand that is working with a manufacturing facility that's doing the encapsulation, shoving it in a bottle, putting it directly in Amazon warehouses.”
They're never touching. They're just taking the profits from it. That tends to mean that they aren't necessarily paying the same attention to the quality of the ingredients they put in that is more marketing and hype. In the end, I don't trust that as much. I encourage people to do their research, look at what's available in your local health food store, or go to something like the company's website and dig in. Ask questions. If they can't answer them, that might be a problem.
Use your skeptic's guide. If a red flag goes up, pay attention to it and listen to it because that is there for a reason.
Tia, I know we have to wrap. We could keep this going for a long time because I'm seriously inspired by this work. Also, the nerd in me digging into the stem cell research and learning about how these different foods impact these different systems. I feel like I have to go back to it and read it all over again. I probably will before I hand it off to my dad because I think he needs to read it.
Our conversation with Dr. Li was amazing, but I feel like we barely scratched the surface on everything that he knows and everything that's in this book. I would definitely recommend getting the book, renting the audio, doing whatever to get your hands on it because the information is important. You will use it and be able to implement it into your life.
One last thing I will say, if you go to Dr. William Li, that's DrWilliamLi.com, sign up for his newsletter. He gives you a five-step guide or the five foods to help combat the COVID-19 and support your immune system. If your immune system is healthy that you're going to be set up for the best chance of success, he gives you five foods to do that. There are common things that you can cook with. He even gives you recipes for each of them.
It could be a fun way to get into the kitchen with your family, eat some foods that you know are going to be health-supportive. This isn't going to guarantee you don't get COVID or anything like that because, at this point, we're all going to experience it at some point, even if we haven't already. It's like the seasonal flu in a way, but you can cook with these five things.
One of them is olive oil. Another is broccoli sprouts. I'm going from recollection here. I know mushrooms were on the list and then there were two more. Do that. You'll get that. You'll also be on his email list so that you'll get alerted when he's running these free masterclasses. You'll probably see me in the audience of 8,000 people. That's a wrap. Thank you for joining us. This has been an interview with Dr. William Li. We just love him. Thank you.
William W. Li, MD, is an internationally renowned physician, scientist, and author of the New York Times bestseller “Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself.” His groundbreaking work has led to the development of more than 30 new medical treatments and impacts care for more than 70 diseases including cancer, diabetes, blindness, heart disease, and obesity. His TED Talk, “Can We Eat to Starve Cancer?” has garnered more than 11 million views.
Dr. Li has appeared on Good Morning America, CNN, CNBC, and the Dr. Oz Show, and he has been featured in USA Today, Time Magazine, The Atlantic, and O Magazine. He is president and medical director of the Angiogenesis Foundation and is leading research into COVID-19.