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It’s the beginning of the new year, and that means we’re in the hopeful spirit to see through our new year’s resolutions! But why is it that after all the holiday cheer, we lose that motivation to actually make those resolutions happen? Why don’t they often work, and what can we do instead? In this episode, Corinna Bellizzi sits down with Naturopathic Family Practitioner, Dr. Aimée Shunney, to discuss how we can create better habits and ultimately achieve transformational success in this new year. They also discuss how you can use data to your advantage as you break through the noise in the health and nutrition space. Make 2023 your best one yet! Join this conversation and learn to turn those pipe dreams into a reality.
Key takeaways from this episode:
- Why new year’s resolutions often fail and what you can do instead
- How to create a resilient lifestyle
- How to get past the negative media that could derail your good habits
- Why it is important to get your levels checked
Guest Social Links:
How To Make Your New Year’s Resolutions A Reality And Create A Resilient Lifestyle With Dr. Aimée Shunney
We're going to dive into the topic of New Year's Resolutions, why they often don't work, and what you can do to make sure that the health resolutions that you make stick. We will also dive into negative media coverage around Vitamin D3, multivitamins, and more to tease through the noise and give you actionable intel as you move into the new year with strength. Ultimately, I am here to help with that journey. I know that this is something that we've covered in the past, specifically around Vitamin D3 as well, but ultimately I need a little support.
To navigate through this conversation, I’m joined by Dr. Aimée Shunney. Dr. Aimée is a family Practitioner and Naturopathic Doctor who has lectured extensively to physicians, retailers, and consumers throughout the country. Her writings have been featured in many national magazines and newspapers. She also appears regularly on radio, TV, and podcasts. Dr. Aimée, welcome to the show.
It's good to see you.
It’s great to see you too. Before we dig into how we create better habits and ultimately achieve New Year's Resolutions, instead of creating pipe dreams that never materialize, I want to hear your story.
I’ve been practicing naturopathic medicine for many years. I started when I was twelve, so it's been a long journey. I had no idea I wanted to do medicine. I did my undergraduate degree in Psychology and when I got out of undergrad, I went to Vanderbilt and I got my undergrad in Psych, I came out. I moved to Portland, Oregon, and I started working in some shelters with adjudicated youth and then eventually got a job working in an inpatient treatment facility for teenage girls.
I was about 22 or 23 and I was working with 13 to 18-year-old girls who were either on their way to the hospital or trying to step themselves down towards being back at home, in a home, sometimes a foster home. These were kids who had usually been through some type of terrible abuse, had been engaging in self-harm behaviors, and ended up in a place where they needed to be hospitalized and were stepped down into this inpatient facility where I was.
I was so young and these girls were not that much younger than me. It was a challenging time. What I walked away from that experience thinking after three and a half years was, “Is this how people heal? How do we lock them away and don't allow them to engage in touch, be touched, healthy touch, basically give them some therapy, give them a lot of medication, give them terrible food, don't let them outside?” It did not resonate with me on any level and it left me with the question of, “How do we heal?” That was not something I'd ever asked myself. At the time, I thought, “Maybe there'll be some holistic counseling Master's program I can go into.” I was ahead of my time because they exist now. Back in the early ‘90s, they did not.
It led me down this path toward alternative medicine. I was in Powell's Bookshop in Portland, Oregon, and I found this big gray book with red letters on it that said Alternative Medicine. Deepak Chopra wrote the foreword and every chapter was a different modality, something different than classic allopathic medicine. One chapter was about naturopathic medicine. I read this chapter. For me, it was like a light bulb went on. It's like this is everything. This is the anatomy and physiology and the scientific medical understanding to help me understand what's going on in that particular person's body.
It was layered with this very multi-layered mind, body, spirit, and holistic approach to solving that issue with the use of conventional medical modalities, but nutrition. When does nutrition become alternative medicine? Tell me that. Nutrition, supplements, herbal medicine, all these different modalities layered on top. I was like, “This is it. This is everything.”
For me, it was less, “I want to be a doctor and I want to do medicine,” and more that I stumbled upon this idea, this picture of what it could look like to help people heal. I was young enough and naive enough to be like, “I’ll go do that.” One of the very few accredited naturopathic schools in the country was in my backyard in Portland, Oregon.
I was going to say the Pacific Northwest is where a lot of that activity happens to be. You were in the right spot at the right time
There I was, right place, right time, and off I went. I graduated from naturopathic medical school in 2000 and I first went and practiced in New York and Connecticut and then came back to California in 2005. I’ve been here in Santa Cruz practicing ever since.
For those that are local to Santa Cruz County, you can reach out to Dr. Shunney directly. She has a simple website, DrShunney.com. You touched on a couple of things I wanted to talk about. One is terminology. We make something like a New Year's resolution and it's supposed to be this big giant thing that we're going to achieve in the next year. Often, by the 17th of a given month, we have fallen so hard off that wagon that we are, therefore, not going to get back up on the horse, so to speak.
I’m probably mixing too many analogies here. We are not on our way to achieving that goal that we aspirationally set at the end of December as the ball was dropping to think, “This is the person I’m going to become and here's how I’m going to do it. This is my big lofty goal.” Why does this type of goal-setting not work, and how can we flip that on its head and create something that's better for us?
There's not one of us that has real faith in the creation of these New Year's resolutions. As we all know, you can feel like this incredible exercise in futility. Part of what I do every day with patients in my practice is make resolutions and goals. I also happen to have a fourteen-year-old. Part of what we do all the time is talk about goal setting and making goals. What I’ve learned over the years is that if we want to achieve goals, if we want to make changes, particularly if they're behavioral changes, they need to be small, very specific, and quantifiable. They need to be sustainable in the sense that we can repeat them enough that they become a new behavior.
Some people say it takes 21 days or it takes three weeks. I don't know what the exact number is. That number gets thrown around a lot. Clearly, repetition and practice are important. People come in, we've got these test results back, their blood sugar's high, the cholesterol isn’t optimal. “I don't want to take anything, so I’m going to eat better and exercise more, and then can we retest?” I get that question all the time.
Absolutely. That's a fantastic idea. Let's get specific about what eating better and exercising more mean. We'll get extremely granular. It will be something like, “I’m going to stop drinking soda, I’m going to eat a salad every day, and I’m going to make sure that I’m increasing the good fats in my diet.” Why would I add that to that list?
Good fats make us feel satisfied and like we've had something delicious and it tells our brains that we've eaten enough and we can stop. It's a satiety response, not to mention that healthy fats are good for us for a bazillion reasons, which we can talk about more. That means I want you to have an avocado every day. I want you to put fresh olive oil on your salad. I want you to have a piece of fish 3 to 4 times a week, not once a week. I want it more.
I get very specific. Small, specific, and measurable because then you can say, “Did I do it? Did I have a salad every day this week? Yes, I did. No, I did not.” It's very easy. Giving people minutes. Great. The bulk of the data on exercise suggests that we should be having about 150 minutes of exercise a week. I would say that's a low bar, but that's a great place to get people up to.
I love that we have these big broad ideas of whom we want to be and what we want to do better. It's nice to have those high-level ideas, but we often make the mistake of not bringing them down to a more granular, actionable level where we create these bite-sized pieces that are quantifiable and sustainable in our lives. We give people a chance to succeed because otherwise, we set ourselves up for failure and then we get to go, “I can't do that.” It confirms all that negative self-talk. Small, specific, measurable, and repeatable.
Even when it comes to something like meditation, somebody might say, “I’m going to meditate daily.” What does that look like? If you don't get granular on that, they're going to forget. I have used a mindful minute perspective where every hour, I try to pause for a minute and breathe and literally not do anything but pay attention to my breath and make sure I’m breathing deeply. I’m expelling my air as opposed to holding half of it in my lungs as I am wont to do when I’m dealing with a stressful situation.
I will hold my breath a little bit and then your shoulders are hiked up. Same thing when I was running marathons. If my shoulders were creeping, I would suddenly start to feel the tension across my shoulders. Being aware of that and choosing to make these more granular is absolutely critical. What do they say? SMART goals are specific and measurable. What is the A in SMART?
Actionable, Repeatable. I’m guessing. I don't know this acronym, but it sounds great to me.
No, I think it is. The last one, T, I think is Traceable.
Acronyms are great. This stuff isn't sexy. It's much sexier to have these, “I’m going to become a kinder, more generous, patient person this year. That's what I’m going to become, but how?” We have to get past the Instagramableness of these big pieces and bring it down because then you can do It.
You can break it into pieces and achieve one at a time. This is also what you can refer to as incrementalism. Small incremental changes are more likely to stick with time than the big grandiose idea. If you break it down, if you have a big idea, if this is the overarching thing I want to achieve this year and then break it down from there, then you can create actionable goals that can get you there.
We mentioned SMART. We also mentioned fish. Since this is a subject near and dear to both of our hearts, I want to talk for a moment about fats and about fish. I’ve had a long history working with fish oil. Many people think, “I’m going to eat fish,” and they go for the tilapia or the cod filet, the fish and chips. That's not what we're talking about here. I want to share with people why and then get your feedback. The primary reason is that certain fish don't have higher levels of Omega-3 than Omega-6.
All fish are not created equal.
Tilapia’s levels of Omega-6 are a little higher than their Omega-3s. Consuming tilapia will not help you get back into balance. Let's take a standard cod filet. Most of the oil in that fish is in its organs. That's why you have cod liver oils out there. If you're eating the fish meat itself, it's very low in Omega-3. It’s a great source of protein but low in Omega-3. What do people often do with cod? They batter and fry it. Now you're getting a truckload of seed oils. That's a lot of Omega-6. You're doing something that's worse for your health and ultimately, it doesn't solve the problem. Another acronym that is often used is SMASH fish, so that's Sardines, Macro-Anchovies, Salmon and Herring.
I would probably personally remove salmon from there because most of that is farmed these days, and there are problems with sea lice and other environmental impacts that we could dig into deeply. I’m going to throw that out. Low on the food chain fish, preferably not the carnivorous fish because they're not going to bioaccumulate as many toxins, and they're going to be highest in Omega-3 S, EPA and DHA. Those fish get their EPA and DHA from the algae. If you are worried about consuming fish that many times a week, then you can also supplement. That doesn't replace a healthy diet, though, so you have to be going to food first. Have I said anything that you don't agree with?
No, I agree 100%. When I worked with women who've got little kids or men too, but I have mostly women in my practice, they're always like, “What else? What other advice can you give?” I’m like, “If you can get your kid to eat sardines, you'll be doing them the favor of a lifetime.” As you said, that is where it's at. If you want to try to get these essential fats from fish, you can get them from algae, which we can talk more about.
That's becoming more and more available and accessible to consumers, which is fantastic. I haven't heard the SMASH acronym either. I’m learning all these acronyms. If you can do sardines, that's wonderful because it's inexpensive. It takes two seconds to open it up and throw it on a salad and it is going to be the highest Omega-3 content and very sustainable from a planetary angle.
Low on the food chain is best when it comes to those sources. If we're also thinking about trying to get a young one to take Omega-3s, I will say that a lot of the solutions out there are gummies. You're adding sugar and you might have some fiber in there too, but it's training the child to like sweet treats over other things. I personally love going to something that isn't sweet for something like a healthy thing. Do I have to give them a gummy vitamin in order for them to get the nutrients they need? That's probably not the best solution for their own palate and for their health long-term.
The gummy industry is fantastic in certain ways because it certainly is filling a niche that's very difficult to fill without it. There are lots of children and adults who don't want to take pills. To your point, supplements are supposed to be supplements. They're supposed to be something that is supplementing a healthy diet. Especially with kids, if we can figure out how to get healthy foods in them, that's always going to be beneficial. Adults too. It goes without saying.
Supplements are supposed to be supplements. They're supposed to be something that supplements a healthy diet.
I’m going to break here for a minute and share with people a word about the company that sponsors this show, Orlo Nutrition. We produce an algae-based Omega-3 in the polar lipid form. Look at how small these soft gels are because, to that point about not liking to swallow big pills, I’m in that camp. I will also tell you that my son now takes one of these every day. He reminded me as I was getting him ready for camp because we're in the Christmas holiday period, and everything shut down. He said, “Mommy, you didn't give me my Orlo.” He pointed it out to me, I got him his little pill out and he ate it with the milk that he had along with his egg.
Does he bite it, or does he swallow it?
He doesn't bite it, but it's not an entirely unpleasant experience. I’ve had some parents tell me that they take the soft gels and they put them in the smoothie and they let their Vitamix blend it up because they don't want to deal with the potential for the no, and it's fine. What's also unique about this particular product is it's dark green and that's because it comes from photosynthetically grown algae.
You are getting other phyto compounds with that, and they all aid in the digestion and absorption of the Omegas in there. What we are seeing when we compare our product to fish oil is 2, sometimes 3 times more absorption. It depends on the form of the fish oil and everything else, but we're midstream and doing a steady specifically to demonstrate that.
That's wonderful because I’m a big fish oil fan as you know and I’ve used algae for years as well, usually as something for my vegans. Some people won't take fish oil but it has not escaped me that the sustainability aspect and the contamination aspect and choosing the right fish and how much fish costs. There are so many other things that make it very difficult for people to get enough fish and the right fish if they're getting enough. There are a lot of obstacles there.
It does not escape me that as the industry grows and we can grow algae more sustainably and in a more controlled environment, I’ve always guessed that it would eventually take fish oil over. I don't know how long it'll take to do that, but it won't surprise me at all because I think most people like that idea very well. I’m so impressed that your young son swallows a capsule.
He does. I taught him to do this after a friend of mine in the natural products industry taught me many years ago how to swallow multiple pills at a time because it was something I was never able to do. He says, “Your throat opens when you put your chin down. Put them in the back of your mouth, put some fluid in your mouth, tip your chin down, and swallow,” and they go right down. I taught my son to swallow his pills this way and I said, “Did it go?” He's like, “Yeah, it's not my mouth anymore.” It’s a total surprise to him.
Don't go back. Go forward.
It opens the throat, which makes sense. You don't eat and chew and swallow like this. If I didn't know that trick, I wouldn't be able to teach him. They're small. They're only like 500 milligrams, so it works. I wanted to get your perspective when it comes to, as you're building your New Year's resolutions, as you're trying to stay healthy and strong throughout the year, a lot of people are making resolutions about their health, their immune system, perhaps their stressed, being resilient. What would you say to people about specifically architecting something as a goal that would be attainable and fulfilling and that would potentially even support a more resilient lifestyle?
Resilience is the name of the game, isn't it? COVID brought the term resilience to the forefront in a different way. Lots of fun words from pivoting and all of that. Yes, resilience. In many ways, that's what many of us are striving for. I feel like there are lots of places in the Venn diagram to choose for your New Year's resolutions. Honestly, I think that one of the places that reap the most benefit for us across all systems of health, mind, body, and spirit is focusing on the nervous system and the stress response. That is directly tied to resilience.
I feel like stress resilience equals immune resilience. They're the same. I feel like in this day and age with the rate at which we go and produce and the amount of time we work and how much we're on and what's expected of us. As women, the incredible expectation of us as caregivers and people in the workforce at the same time, it's an exceptional load and we should meditate or we've got all these things that we think that we should do.
These questions all become personal to an extent. What do I think about in the new year? What do I hope for myself in the new year? It's to continue to build on creating more space to be able to come down, respond, and take space back so that we can then move into the world to give more. I feel like we have to program in more time to recover. We can't have resilience without recovery.
We can't have resilience without recovery.
What does that look like? There are different things that look like for everybody and there are things that we can give away and things that we can't give away. That can be a practical conversation, too, in regard to, “What can I let go of?” A very simple example, personally, I have two jobs. I have more than two jobs, but my two main jobs are doctoring and mothering.
The second half of my day is often involved in chauffeuring. I take off my stethoscope and put on my chauffeur hat. What I decided for my birthday was that I asked my mother if she could pick my son up one night a week from his parkour training session. She said, “I would love to do that.” I do find that people often want to help when they can, and asking for help is not something that I do particularly easily and I don't think I’m alone in that. I delegated that to her.
Sometimes we can do the nuts and bolts of looking at our lives, looking at where things get particularly impacted, where you could have a moment of downtime for yourself and trying to create that. There are some logistics to this. I would say that sleep is crucial. People come to see me in my practice for a whole host of reasons, but if they're not sleeping, that goes to the top of the list. We must get them sleeping because that is when so much recovery happens.
You can't be resilient if you're exhausted. You're more likely to get COVID if you're in this constant state of having a stress response. I want to share with people a personal experience that relates to this because, for a while, I was burning the candle at both ends of appointments. I was on edge and it would manifest in a simple way. My kids would come into my office and it's after dinner, but I came down here and was trying to take care of some stuff and they're asking for my attention and I snap. I’m like, “That was not the best moment.”
This is a manifestation of me spreading myself too thin, over-committing, and doing too many things, and I’m not able to show up for that also most important job of being a great mom. I will tell you that I realized I was having a physical response to this stress that reminds me of hitting my funny bone. You know how when you hit your funny bone is like you feel the nerve frazzle all the way to the ends? I’ve had this happen before when I sneezed super hard and I almost feel it in my nerves. It's the same thing where I realized I could feel my nerves throughout my body go spazz for a second.
That was my indicator that I needed to rebalance my life. I needed to set some boundaries and put some clear defining moments into my day where it was like, “Here is the transition between morning mom to workday, and then this is when I’m going to go ahead and take a moment for myself.” This is where I was specifically talking about that mindful moment because even going through a simple exercise for one minute of breathing and focusing on breath, there has been study after study that shows that concentration improves and that your work productivity can go up. These are not things that should be ignored in my nerves in my body anymore because I implemented some of these simple strategies. My Omega-3 supplements were not enough to get rid of all that.
The Omega-3 supplements are incredibly important for both stress and immune resilience. We've got to put other things in place. You can talk about the importance of eating a healthy diet and minimizing sugar, alcohol, and caffeine and making sure you're heavy on veggie content. You've got adequate protein throughout the day. You're getting your healthy fats. You can do that. There are not a lot of rocket scientists to the dietary advice that I give people these days.
Exercise is super important. I went through probably twenty years of my life saying, “Exercise is my meditation. It's my antidepressant. It's my everything.” I do still very much rely on exercise, but exercise is not enough either. What I have to do is I have to build in that recovery time. I love your moments in the hour.
I’ve gotten away from it a little bit, I’m realizing as we talk, but it's something that I will go back to because I always do. I will get up ten minutes before I have to, and I will wipe the cobwebs out. I’ll go sit downstairs in the dark, nobody else is up and I will listen to a meditation for five minutes. I can handle ten minutes. Tell me if I have to get up half an hour or an hour before.
A little bit there, I discovered something. I’m not wearing it now, but it’s something called an Apollo Neuro, which is a wearable device. I know you happen to know my good friend Dr. Joseph Maroon out of the University of Pittsburgh in the Neuroscience department there. Joe's an old friend. Joe was involved with the studying of this device at the University of Pittsburgh in the Neurology department.
It sends these little vibrations and beats. It doesn't track you. It's not a biometric device that's tracking you or measuring your heart rate variability or anything like that. It is acting upon you with different vibrations and frequencies. It has seven different modes. There is a sleep mode, but there's like a focus mode, a social and open mode, and a recovery mode. I’m sorry but do this to me while I’m in my life, yes, please. I don't have to stop. In some ways, it's ironic because, in some ways, it's fueling my behavior patterns that might not be so healthy.
It's not annoying to wear it. It's soothing,
I’m a little bit like Pavlov's dog with it. I put it on and I feel my nervous system respond. This is the third generation of these biometric devices. Now we're not tracking but we're affecting.
You're giving feedback essentially. It sounds like it's almost like a tuning fork, in a way. It’s like re-tuning.
A little bit, or like a. The beauty of it is that it's simply something that you wear and I can wear it while I’m seeing patients. What I love to wear is exactly what you mentioned earlier, which is those transition times which are crucial. I see patients all day. I get right in here and then I go home and everybody wants to talk to me and I don't want to talk to anybody because I’ve been talking all day.
I’ve got my fifteen minutes in the car. I put my device on and I put it on the social and open mode. By the time I get home, I’ve come down. I’m not suggesting everybody go out and buy an Apollo Neuro. They're lovely. The point is that these added pieces, 10 minutes in the morning, 1 minute in your hour, a wearable device, having a playlist in your car that you listen to instead of the news. All you have to do is be a citizen of this earth and be stressed out.
There's not even any place to avert your eyes. There are ten tragedies for everybody to look at. We need to know what's going on and we need to do the things that we can to try to make the world a better place. We also have these precious, beautiful lives that need to be lived and we have to find the things that allow us to shift back to here.
Yes, diet. Yes, exercise, but it's this nervous system input that I think getting outside in nature. Can you get near the water? Can you get to some trees? There's data that shows that these things calm down our nervous system. We're joking about sleep, but sleep must be prioritized. If you want to shoot for eight hours of sleep, which is what most people need, I would say 7 or 8 hours is a sweet spot.
You need to have more than eight hours in bed because it's going to take you some time to get up. You're going to get up and pee maybe more than once if you're a person of a certain age. You're going to have dogs, children, and things like that. We need to prioritize that. We need to step back from our screens ahead of time. These things, again, are not sexy when we talk about New Year's resolutions but they are sexy.
When you can bring your nervous system down, when you recover, when you are resilient, then you could be sexy and be more present. Whether that's literally sexy with like libido because that's a huge issue, which is completely drained out of us if we're exhausted and we have no vitality. We lose even the juiciness for non-sexual or non-romantic connections if we don't recover. All of those things can get us to that place.
I love guys, too and I see them in my office. It's that I deal with a lot of women. What I say to women all the time is, “You get your butt to the gym. You make sure you've got good food on your table. All those things that are important. Here's what's equally important. Pick three activities that make you feel joyful and nourished when you walk away from them. Pick 3 relationships or at least 1 where when you're with that person, you can let down. You can be bitchy, you can cry, you can laugh, you can be yourself, and you walk away feeling more full.”
We all have relationships that drain us. It's part of life. We have things to do and we have relationships that drain us. That's part of how it goes. If we could pick and prioritize activities and relationships that fill us up and then figure out how to put those in, just like you get to the gym, just like you get to the store and make sure there's good food for everybody to eat, those things pay you back in spades because they make you feel human. They connect you in and you remember who you are. You want activities and things to help you remember who you are.
It sounds to me like you're also recommending people reinforce their self and don't forget to put that at the center of what their resolutions might be because otherwise, you might wake up ten years from now and realize you don't even know who you are anymore.
A lot of us do that, don't we? When we get to 50 and our kids are getting older and we go, “Wait, what?”
That's when somebody's marriage might also dissolve because they're now no longer with a partner that they remained connected to over all those years. That's fantastic advice.
These can seem like big out-there ideas. If this is resonating with anybody who's reading this and they're like, “Yeah,” I would say, “That sounds good. Now bring it here.” What are you going to do? “I love spending time with Leanne and I haven't seen Leanne in six months. I’m going to call Leanne and I’m going to say, ‘Make me happy. I want to set up a monthly date with you. If we have to do it over Zoom, I’ll do it over Zoom.’” “I’ve got Leanne. I’m going to go get one of those Apollo Neuro things because it sounds great. I’m going to get one of those and try it. I’m going to get granular.” Love the big sexy idea here and then bring it in here right to your heart and get specific.
Some people may even appreciate getting themselves a gift, whether it be for a specific occasion or not. I once got myself a gift to a local spa or float spa here in Santa Cruz called Equilibrium where you go into a dark room. Super salt water. It's very buoyant and it's warm and float for up to an hour. You're outside of your head space. It's meditative, it's calming, it's nourishing in a way that the rest of my life may not be because mom life, work life, all of those things converging on one.
I love that and I appreciate that you've given people a clear idea of how they could get there. One of the things that I have confronted, and I’ve also talked about this on the show, is you could be trucking along doing all the things that you think are right for you and then all of a sudden, let's say, there's some negative press out there that says, “Meditation, not as healthy.”
You saw this new study that shows that people who meditate die early. I’m not saying that happened, but we've seen negative press gets a lot of leg. We saw this happen in the case of Vitamin D when there was an ancillary study from the vital research that showed that Vitamin D3 didn't reduce the likelihood of bone breaks in women who would supplement with Vitamin D. This piece gets out there and people think, “I was taking Vitamin D because I was worried about osteoporosis and now women are going to have as many bone breaks supplementing with Vitamin D. I’m going to stop taking all my supplements because I’ve lost faith in them.”
This is a health risk for people to stop good habits if they are in the space of engaging with a good habit. I'd love your thoughts specifically on how to look at that when something might derail you from your current resolution. You think you're on your path. It might be the negative press or it could be someone else's opinion about what you're doing and they're judging it and saying, “You don't need to do that.”
There's a little of that out there.
Everybody has an opinion. What do they say about that? I’m not going to say the word.
No, but I got you. These days, everybody's an expert. Here's the thing. It's great that people are doing studies. It's great that consumers are more geared toward looking at studies. Everybody needs to understand that studies can be done poorly. Studies can be reported in a very subjective and biased manner. The media loves to take headlines and run in either a very negative or a very positive direction, sometimes overly so.
It's great that consumers are more geared toward looking at studies, but everybody needs to understand that studies can be done poorly and can be reported in a very subjective and biased manner.
The bottom line is that it's extremely important to do your homework. I would say that you've got questions about statins, hormones, fish oil, Vitamin D, or whatever it is that's on the chopping block that day. Everything I mentioned has incredibly positive studies and negative studies about it too. How is your average person supposed to sort that through? In my fantasy, everybody would go to their doctor, who would have a wonderful integrative perspective and be able to share with them, “Here's what I think about what these positive studies say. Here is what I think about what the negative studies say. Now let's talk about you and what makes the most sense for you.”
In regards to Vitamin D, for me, it's way too premature to stop giving Vitamin D to people. One of the reasons that we give Vitamin D is to maintain bone mineral density, which has the effect long-term of hopefully preventing osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures. There's also a host of reasons why we give Vitamin D, which is crucial for a healthy immune response. It's a prohormone. It's important for cardiovascular health, blood pressure, mood, and on and on.
I feel like there are so many good studies that when a negative study comes out, it's important to look at it, it's important to understand it, but I think it would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater to simply stop taking Vitamin D. What I do still see a lot of is people taking 5,000, 10,000, 50,000 IUs of Vitamin D every day. I see the same thing with fish oil.
They take too much and then they end up with an issue. Often what happens if you way over consumed Vitamin D is you'll end up with kidney stones, which are terrible. It’s an awful feeling, or you can get too much buildup of calcium and spots in your body that you don't want, like your soft tissues.
It's completely avoidable. If you're working with a doctor who's monitoring your Vitamin D, best studies show that you max out on your benefit somewhere between 50 and 60, you can see where somebody is. That range of normal at your regular lab starts at 30. People have a Vitamin D of 32 or 29 and their doctor goes, “That looks pretty good.” I would disagree with that. We know pretty specifically that for every ten points, you want to raise your Vitamin D. You need about 1,000 IUs of Vitamin D.
You can do this very systematically. You can keep people in the 50 to 60 range. You can educate them about, “Here in Santa Cruz, we are not close enough to the sun between September and May to make Vitamin D in our skin.” You may want to take a little more Vitamin D in the winter. You can ease up in the summer and we can talk to them about healthy ways to get it from the sun so you're not getting a sunburn.
Why don't we do that? I’ve heard all sorts of things from naked sunbathing as being one of them but making sure that you have your inner arms and your stomach exposed is being key because those areas of your body seem to be more sensitive to the production of Vitamin D. Is that correct?
I don't know if that's true. What I have read and understood is simply having a large surface area part of your body exposed for 15 to 20 minutes and doing it before peak sun hours or peak UV hours before 10:00, after 3:00, or something like that. It could be your back. It could be your stomach. I haven't heard that about the particular parts of the body, but I suppose it's possible. By the way, I do the same thing with Omegas with people. I’ll test their Omega-3 index when I do my standard blood panels every year and then we talk about, if necessary, the ways in which they can improve their Omega-3 status with either algae or fish oil, and how to include more fish.
Your readers probably know this. Part of what the Omega-3 index looks like is the balance between Omega-3 S and Omega-6 s in that particular person's diet. There are many things at play that we don't fully understand about th3at. We know that what that person eats is important. What we don't understand as well is how their genetics, microbiome, and other things about how they assimilate those fats impact the makeup of the cell membranes and the balance between the Omega-3s and 6s. I find that seeing, “What do your actual blood levels look like,” is way better than me saying, “Everybody should have 2,000 milligrams of EPA and DHA combined a day of fish oil.
Those days are over. We don't need to do that anymore. As you said, with the Orlo algae product, you guys are doing studies that are looking at bioavailability with much smaller milligram doses of EPA and DHA. Clearly, it's not just the milligram amount of the EPA and DHA. It's the source, it's the form, and then it's what's going on in that person's body that either enhances or maybe even diminishes their ability to assimilate properly. At the end of the day, what we want to do is test and see what we're working with and how we're doing
That OmegaQuant test, if you go to OmegaQuant.com, you can buy the test for $49. There are tests that are more comprehensive and more expensive on their site that start at $100. If you drill down to the specific test, you can get it for $49. You can test it at home. You send it in. It's a little blood spot test. They give you results within six weeks and they generally show you where you compare to other cultures around the world. The minimum level they want to see you at is about 5.5. Is that right? Is that what you could shoot for?
It depends on the company because the different indexes and ratios are a little different from company to company. The one that I use is a different number. It must be related to that particular company. Definitely look at those ranges. You could get confused. It's not always apples and apples, the different tests you're looking at. Make sure you know.
Also, to mention, Quest Diagnostics has an RBC, Red Blood Cell, Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids. I throw it in on my regular annual blood work. You could ask your doctor to do it too. It's often covered, especially it's going to be covered if you've got any cardiovascular issues or issues with blood pressure, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes or cholesterol. You can usually get those covered too. It's so great that for $49, you can get that out of pocket.
I like putting the tools right in people's hands. I did not know that Quest Diagnostics offered that, so I may ask for it as part of my panel.
Most doctors don't even do it. Now with this new Vitamin D test, now people can't get their Vitamin D levels run anymore because doctors are stopping. Medicare immediately changed its rules around covering Vitamin D. It's unfortunate.
I didn't know that because of this vital study.
Sometimes these studies come out and we roll our eyes because they're so badly done, and it'll set an herb or a supplement back years. Think about kava. People are still so freaked out about kava. A decade ago, a German study was retracted.
The retractions never get covered.
Everybody's like, “Isn't kava bad for your liver?” Even the labels on kava supplements will recommend not doing it long-term because of a study that has since been debunked and retracted. All that to say, the vital study was not terribly done. It needs to be repeated and we need to remember that there are many reasons that we take Vitamin D. There are so many factors to throw it out with that study.
When I read the research, I was specifically thinking that vitamin C automatically helps to build flexible bones, and iron builds strong bones. What about the other markers? What if they didn't have enough Vitamin K2 in their system, too, so they weren't sending the calcium to the right spots? Who knows? There could be so many things getting in the way of their optimal bone health that weren't covered in this piece.
We need more information because we've got so much good information on Vitamin D. It's like you said. Something comes along and disrupts a healthy habit. It's like when a negative Omega study comes out, I’m always like, “Okay, but we have tens of thousands of positives.” Where does this fit into that? Let's look at the big picture.
To your earlier point, absorption is key. I’m not somebody that goes out there and recommends, “We take fifteen supplements a day.” There is a situation, too, where we need to understand that some people might need more than other people for all sorts of reasons. If you get your levels checked, you can make an informed decision. If you've already started supplementing and you've started supplementing with an Omega-3, then I would recommend to keep taking it for a few months and then have your levels checked and see if you need more. Maybe if you're screaming good, you could even take less and fine-tune your regimen for what your body needs.
My understanding is that for fat-soluble nutrients, which both Vitamin D and Omegas are, you want to give it somewhere around three months. Test your levels and take about three months of a specific dose to get those levels up. As you said, you can either increase or decrease based on that.
Wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to take anything?
Yeah, data. I love data.
I’ve been looking at a company called Viome which is doing a comprehensive analysis of your blood, your spit, your saliva, and your feces. They are running their test for a few hundred dollars and then will create specific supplements for you. I remain a little skeptical because personalized nutrition has got some way to come still. Generally speaking, they're coming up from one perspective that what's healthy for you may not be healthy for me.
Broccoli, for instance, is a very healthy food. I eat it and I’m in immense pain. My system shuts down and I get cold sweats. I have to force myself to get it out by whatever means necessary as quickly as possible. That's the sad truth. Would I like to be able to consume broccoli? Yes. I replace it with other crucifers but it's not healthy for me. One day, perhaps I’ll get through that.
I like that aspect of what Viome is doing and the many companies that are following suit. My beef with Viome is that it's a direct-to-consumer test. When they were doing stool only, that's before they were doing blood and saliva, they were generating a 92-page report.
They expect you to read it and understand it.
They expect the patient to read and understand it. That's very difficult. If the patient reads it, what they often walk away with is, “I need these 25 supplements and I need to follow this diet,” which for some people can be very extreme. They often go to bring it to their doctor if they've got somebody like me who would take the time to look at such a thing. I look at it and I don't even understand these metrics. I don't understand exactly what it is that they are measuring to make this supplement recommendation. It ends up being very difficult.
If people from Viome are reading, I would suggest that if you're going to do direct-to-consumer, you need to make it more granular, bring it in, and make it more actionable and understandable for your consumer. If you want to do this high-level testing and recommendations, then you need to approach licensed healthcare providers. Teach them what it is you're doing and how to properly interpret it for patients.
Right now, it's this huge dump of information which, as you said, so astutely, I think is good at its top-level intention but has such a long way to go and ends up creating confusion and leading people to spend tons of money. Somebody's got to make a clinical decision. Nobody needs to be taking 25 supplements. I’m sorry.
There's another piece to this that I wanted to also share because if we're talking about trying to test to develop even what your resolutions might be for the year when it comes to your health, then I don't know that you can even get there through some of these analyses. I’ll give a for instance. I took the Everlywell test. I was curious to see what it would say about broccoli, for instance.
Is that a food sensitivity test like an IgG test?
Yeah, but because I haven't consumed broccoli in years, it says nothing about it. In fact, it says it's fine but, of course, I know it's not because if I consume it, I get painfully ill. Whether or not I consumed something over the stretch of the last few months would dictate what that result would be. What I suspect is that the same thing is also true of the Viome testing because if you haven't consumed it, it's not going to be able to tell you what you should consume or shouldn't consume if you haven't eaten it.
We're talking about we're measuring the microbiome. At least with the stool part of the test, we're measuring the microbiome. How often does your microbiome change? What did you eat? Where did you go? What were you touching all over yourself? Who were you hugging? Who were you kissing? Who's in your house? What medicines did you take? Did you travel? I love where it's going. I love the idea of understanding this microbiome, this vast complex city we carry around with us everywhere we go and how it affects our health.
We are so not even close to understanding how to properly measure and optimize it. We've got little ideas, but these kinds of tests, in my humble opinion, are throwing that fishing rod out way too far for where we're at right now. I agree with you. It's so changeable. If we're looking for a food allergy, we have to have eaten the food. There are also food sensitivities and there are food intolerances. These are adverse reactions to food that don't create antibodies. That's not how they work. They're not immune-mediated responses.
You could have a food sensitivity to broccoli that will never show up even if you're eating broccoli because that is an IgG antibody test. When it comes to like, “I want to take a test to find out which foods I can eat,” the bad news that I deliver to patients on a regular basis is, “There is no one test that will tell you that. There are tests that you can take that will give you pieces of that picture. There is no comprehensive because we don't properly know how to measure food sensitivity. Food intolerances are things we can't digest.”
People who have lactose intolerance don't have an allergy. They don't have the enzyme that breaks down the lactose. In order to see that, you have to think enough to go order a blood test for lactase. Your milk's not necessarily going to come back as an allergy on your test. Trying to figure out what foods we should eat based on testing is very challenging.
The thing that has proven to me time and again that your body knows best is that you react to it. An elimination diet is effective. You get to the basics, real simple diet and then see what starts to aggravate you. I’ve happened to know for a long time that when I consume wheat products or bread, if I eat too much of them, I’ll start to feel disconnected from my stomach like something's not right. It's not talking to the rest of my body so much.
I’ll start to limit my grains and suddenly, I feel better. My waistline looks a little smaller and everything because I’m dealing with the fact that I had too much of something, and it was creating some inflammation in my system. When it comes to broccoli, I can't eat that. I also know I can't eat quinoa. I don't know, I’m not going to get to the bottom of this anytime soon, but I ate a lot of quinoa for a while, and my body said, “Enough. Maybe able to come back to it in another day.”
Much of this comes back to listening to our bodies, listening to those wise voices, the ones that tell us say, “No, it's time to rest.” The ones that say, “Don't eat that. You don't need that glass of wine. You should take a break from your coffee.” We become so good at not listening to ourselves. In fact, the whole world around us is set up to get us to stop listening and we go back to the concept of intuitive eating.
We become so good at not listening to ourselves. In fact, the whole world around us is set up to get us to stop listening.
To me, we get back when we make time for recovery, when we are sleeping well, when we're doing things to manage our stress, and when we are making sure we have time with that girlfriend. We walk out of there feeling like three inches taller. That's when we start to listen to ourselves better and make better choices for ourselves. We look to our doctors, we look to our experts, we look online, we look to tests, and all these things are important. I wish that we would also listen to ourselves too.
Listen to the wisdom of your body and your experience. I can't think of a better note on which to end this conversation. Thank you so much for joining me, Dr. Aimée.
This is great, Corinna. I hope we can do it again soon.
I hope so too. If you have questions about what we covered or topics that you'd like us to dive more deeply into, hit us up on social channels at Orlo Nutrition, or you can send me an email note always to Hello@OrloNutrition.com. As we close this episode, I hope that you'll raise a cup of your favorite beverage with me as I say my closing words. Here's to your health.
- Dr. Aimée Shunney
- Alternative Medicine
- Apollo Neuro
- Quest Diagnostics
About Dr. Aimée Shunney
Dr. Aimée Shunney is a family practitioner and board-certified naturopathic doctor who has lectured extensively to physicians, retailers, and consumers throughout the country. Her writings have been featured in many national magazines and newspapers. She also appears regularly on radio, tv, and even a few podcasts.