440: Gastroenterologist Prescribes Food Not Drugs For Healing The Gut
Dr. Will Bulsiewicz And Ashley James
- The biggest issue is the absence of fiber in the American diet
- Fiber is the preferred food of our gut microbiome
- Most powerful driver of gut health was the diversity of plants within your diet
- Human health starts in the gut
- Raw and cooked vegetables feed different microbiomes
- Prebiotic and probiotic
How important is fiber to our health? In this episode, Dr. Will Bulsiewicz explains the importance of eating a variety of plant-based foods to support our gut microbiome's overall health. He also shares how to increase our gut microbiome's biodiversity, the difference between prebiotic and probiotic, and the effects of these two in our gut.
Hello, true health seeker and welcome to another exciting episode of the Learn True Health podcast. I’m loving the series that we've been doing on gut health and healing the body by healing our gut. If you haven't already listened to the last episode, we did episode 439 as I think it plays really well into today's episode with a gastroenterologist who focuses on—instead of using drugs and surgery—using food to heal the gut. I know these two episodes play really well together. And then after this episode, so 441, is going to be an amazing episode about healing the gut as well and tests that we can order to fully understand the foods that we want to eat or avoid to properly feed the microbiome.
Why is it that your husband can eat one food but if you eat that same food you'd get bloated? Or why is it that some people can eat a certain way and be fine but other people are not even though those are both healthy foods? Well, that is going to be uncovered in episode 441. We're continuing our series on gut healing.
Something I found with the Learn True Health podcast is guests tend to book themselves all clumped together and it ends up being the same subject. I reach out to many different holistic health professionals. I give them a link and they sign up to get on my schedule, and they choose the date that works best for them. So many times it turns out that within one week, I’ll have several interviews that are all about the same thing, that are all about heart health, or all about gut health, and I didn't coordinate it. They don't know each other, and they don't know that they're doing it. But so many times, I’ve sat down and looked at my calendar and realized that I’ll have several interviews in the row about the same topic. Not covering the exact same information, but complementing each other. This is where I really feel that God and divine intervention are taking place on so many levels in our life, and I can see it when these episodes come together in such a wonderful way.
I believe the latest episodes that have been published and are going to be published really complement each other. And I invite you to look at your life and see where wonderful divine intervention is taking place, possibly the information you're hearing today. I’ve heard from several listeners, they'll contact me through email or through Facebook and they'll say, you know, I was just praying or I was just thinking about wanting this information and boom, I turned on your podcast and they were talking about exactly what I wanted to hear. That is so cool. I just love that. I love how what we focus on and what we want to have show up in our life we can create it. Neurologically speaking, it's the reticular activating system, which is a part of the brain that will seek out what we choose to focus on.
If you're someone who has anxiety or would love to learn more about how the brain works, and how we can optimize our life for success, eliminate procrastination, and eliminate anxiety, I invite you to take my course. So I’m a master practitioner and trainer of neuro-linguistic programming, and I spent 14 months putting this course together. It is a wonderfully fun course where you learn all these techniques—the behavioral change techniques for personal growth and development. Go to learntruehealth.com and in the menu click on the Free Your Anxiety course and take it. It’s phenomenal, I love it, and I do give a money-back guarantee if you take it and it's not your cup of tea. Although so many listeners have said it's been completely life-changing. So I invite you to check that out.
I also invite you to check out the course that I put together with my dear friend Naomi where we have filmed ourselves cooking in the kitchen delicious recipes, and we also include information on how to heal the body with teas, herbs, and different foods—both cooked and raw—and why those fibers or those nutrients in those foods are so healing for the body. So if you love listening to the podcast, you're going to love the Learn True Health Home Kitchen membership. Check it out, try it for a month, it's less than $10 to just try it for a whole month and get all the delicious recipes out of it. And if you continue to enjoy it continue being a member. You'll be supporting the Learn True Health podcast. This is what I do full time, and so you'd be supporting me to continue putting out these episodes, but also helping you and supporting you and your family to learn delicious recipes that are designed to heal the body and nutrify the body. So you can go to learntruehealth.com/homekitchen for more information about that.
Like I said, also check out the Free Your Anxiety course. It is very powerful. And please, come join the Learn True Health Facebook group. We'd love to see you there. We have a wonderful community of people that are totally into holistic health and healing, love to answer questions, support each other, share insights, and share inspiration. Whatever you're dealing with, whatever you're looking to heal or to optimize, we're a whole community that wants to get behind you and get to behind each other and support each other in our success.
Thank you so much for being a listener. Thank you so much for sharing this podcast with those you love. Continue to share the episodes that you know will make a big difference. We're going to turn this ripple into a tidal wave and help as many people as possible to learn true health. Enjoy today's interview.
[00:05:50] Ashley James: Welcome to the Learn True Health podcast. I’m your host, Ashley James. This is episode 440. I’m so excited for today's guest. We have on the show a doctor that specializes in healing the gut. And isn't that the first place we need to start when it comes to building our health? I’m really excited to have you on the show. Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, welcome to the show.
[00:06:20] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: Ashley, thank you so much for having me on the show. It's an honor to be here. I’m excited to talk about it.
[00:06:24] Ashley James: Absolutely. I’m thrilled that you focus on healing the gut when so many doctors just throw drug after drug after drug at people. I know in my 20s I was so sick. I had chronic infections, and every time I went to the MD, I got another antibiotic. And I’m sure that did not help. Years of being on antibiotics did not help my health. One of the first things I had to do was heal my gut and what a difference it makes. When you heal the gut first, so much comes into balance. So I’m really excited to hear your story though. What happened in your life that made you want to become an MD? Which normally, MDs don't typically go the route of holistic medicine, right? That's not a typical MD move. So what happened in your life that made you want to become an MD? But then what happened that made you want to help people heal their body and heal their gut with food?
[00:07:22] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: Yeah. Well, I think that when we have individual experiences, similar to what you described in your own life, those things motivate you and drive you to think outside of the box. Particularly when you have to go outside the box to find your solution, to begin with. So for me, how I became a doctor really starts from a really simple thing, which is the desire to do something where I would help people. I started down that path. I mean, basically made the decision when I was in high school—16 years old. This is what I want to do with my life, and that was the motivation. Truly, if it was about money, you should go on banking, not medicine.
So I started down that path and I didn't really get there until I was 34 years old. But during that process, it feels like I woke up one day and I was 30 and I felt like I was 60. I look in the mirror and I weigh 50 pounds more than I did in high school, which is for me a tough pill to swallow because I was a three-sport athlete, so I think of myself as an athlete. And there I am, looking in the mirror and I have this gut. I have high blood pressure, tons of anxiety, low self-esteem, and tremendous fatigue to the point that I’m basically caffeinated 24 hours a day like drinking coffee at 9:00 PM at night. Something had to change.
I trained at these great American institutions. I went to Georgetown for med school. I was the chief medical resident at Northwestern, one of the top internal medicine residencies in the entire country. And I went to the University of North Carolina for my GI training. And within my field in gastroenterology, many people consider UNC to be—if not the best—clearly one of the top two or three. I trained at these great institutions, but here's this problem that I have. I weigh 50 pounds more than I used to. I have high blood pressure, high anxiety, and I don't know how to fix my own issue.
At that point in my life, I was incredibly good at dealing with the care of an acutely ill person who is crashing in the hospital. That's what I have been built for, that's what I spent so much time training on, which is the person who might die unless you do something, then you do that thing, and you bring them back. That's what I was good at, but I was not good at conventional healthcare, taking care of the routine person, giving them dietary advice, and preventing illness as opposed to waiting for the illness to arrive. I wasn't good at that because the system didn't prepare me for that. So I needed a solution. I needed a solution in my own life.
So being a typical type A medical doctor type, I decided to try to work my way out of it with exercise, and I started showing up at the gym six days a week—30 to 45 minutes of heavyweights, and then jump on the treadmill for a 5K to 10K during the winter. Or if it was the summertime, go to the community pool and swim 100 laps. Did that six days a week. I could build strength. I could build muscle. I could build endurance. I couldn't lose the gut.
When things changed for me was when I met the person who actually is now my wife. Because we went on a date and I have to tell you, at this point in my life—I’m in my early 30s and I’d never been around anyone who was vegetarian let alone vegan. I honestly didn't even really know what the difference was. I see this person that I’m on a date with who's eating completely plant-based, and she's eating without restriction, cleaning the plate, loving her food, and completely satisfied. Meanwhile, I have a post-meal hangover, and I’m struggling just to keep up after because I want to go home and put on some sweatpants.
This relationship opened my eyes and made me think. Maybe it's the diet that I was raised on. Maybe the food that I have consumed since childhood is what is actually affecting my body in a negative way and holding me back. So I started to make changes in my nutrition. It wasn't a radical change. It wasn't going all the way to one extreme. It was just making simple substitutions. Instead of going out for fast food, I would go home and I’d make a big like 30-something ounce smoothie. Or instead of drinking a two-liter of soda, which I actually did back then, I would drink water.
And making those simple substitutions, next thing I know the fat is just melting off my body. The blood pressure issue goes away. The anxiety lifts, my self-esteem surges, and I start feeling young, vibrant, and alive again. It was so powerful that I said, why have I not heard anything about this? I trained in these great places. How come I was never taught anything about this? I turned to the medical literature thinking there must not be anything out there. This must be a space where we just don't have the studies yet. I was really shocked when I found there were literally thousands of high-quality studies that already were in existence, and I just hadn't been taught about them.
This motivated me to start devouring nutritional information, and I was studying in my free time. I was doing it at night. I was staying up to do it. And then I was bringing what I found into my medical practice, using it to take care of my patients with digestive issues, and seeing radical transformations in their life on par with the way that it changed in mine. And that was so provocative that—I mean, I have to tell you. I never in a million years thought that I would be on this podcast with you, talking about my New York Times bestselling book, or having an Instagram account with 150,000 followers. I never thought of any of those things because it wasn't the plan.
I’m the guy who creates plans. I think they're going to happen, and all of a sudden here I am—and this was like 2016—and I just felt like I had to share this story of what was happening in my clinic. I didn't really like social media at all. I still don't, but I felt compelled to share. So I started posting stuff and not really thinking anyone would be interested. One thing led to another and in 2018 I did a podcast interview that went viral. 300,000 people have listened to this podcast now. When that happened, the energy was so profound surrounding these ideas that I was putting out there. There was so much energy that I was like I have to compile this into something so that people can get the whole story in a structured, organized fashion. And there's really no better way to do that than to write a book.
That's when I decided, in August of 2018, that's what I wanted to do. I spent basically the next year and a half doing it. Investing everything that I had, all my effort, waking up early—5:00 AM in the morning writing. I was at Starbucks here in Charleston, South Carolina from 5:00 AM until 7:30 PM. They know me really well at Starbucks. I know the deals. I know that you can get a free refill if you want it, and basically wrote this book. And then it came out in the middle of a pandemic. I just had to adapt to that. But the bottom line is that here it is, it's arrived, and two months after release 35,000 people have bought a copy of this book.
[00:16:14] Ashley James: Nice.
[00:16:15] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: Yeah, and I’m getting messages. If you just go back to that 16-year-old kid who sat there and said I want to help people. That has been what's motivated and driven me this whole time. People, they may or may not know this, a book itself does not pay the bills. I paid the bills with my medical practice. I’m a full-time gastroenterologist, but to get messages from people from around the world who have read the book and are healing their digestive issues—healing their autoimmune, their hormonal, their metabolic, or their mood issues, restoring function to their body. To get those messages on a daily basis is incredible, it's a dream come true for a doctor.
[00:17:11] Ashley James: You have a clinic as a gastroenterologist. What does that look like? Are you doing colonoscopies? What does it look like to go to you if someone has gut issues?
[00:17:24] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: So I spend about half my time doing procedures. So during that time that I’m doing procedures, I do colonoscopies and upper endoscopies. For example, an upper endoscopy, it is typically a five to ten-minute procedure, and it allows me to look in the esophagus, the stomach, and the small intestine; allows me to, for example, take biopsies for celiac disease, which these days, unfortunately, our blood tests for celiac disease—I don't know how much people realize this, but the blood tests are completely inaccurate or completely inadequate in terms of testing for celiac disease.
So the endoscopy is the gold standard that allows me to firmly know whether or not a person has that. I also spend my time doing colonoscopies. A big portion of that is colon cancer screening. But then the other half of my time, this is part of what I love about my field. One of the things that I love is I get to use my mind, to be very personal with my patients, and have relationships. But I also get to use my hands, and that's kind of fun. So half of my time is spent in the clinic talking to people, hearing their health history, breaking down what the problems are, creating complex plans of how to attack them, and finding solutions.
[00:18:48] Ashley James: I have an interesting guest. Have you heard of Chef AJ?
[00:18:53] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: I love Chef AJ. She's a dear friend.
[00:18:55] Ashley James: Okay, great. So she tells her story in one of our past interviews. She's been on the show twice. I think it was the first interview I had her on. And she shares that although was vegan for ethical reasons, was a junktarian, ate lots of junk food. She went for a colonoscopy cancer screening and her doctor found pre-cancerous polyps—bloody polyps through her whole colon and her colon looked just totally destroyed. She's so afraid of surgery that she decided not to get surgery to have them removed, but she ended up going to a center and doing a deep cleanse, doing a raw food vegan. Whole food but the foods are alive. She did that, and then she came back six months later and had her colonoscopy. Her doctor got very angry at her. Have you heard her story when she tells it?
[00:19:52] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: I don't think I’ve heard this one.
[00:19:55] Ashley James: Okay. So her doctor gets really angry at her. I imagine the doctor was the same kind of profession as you are. So he's sitting there, he's doing the colonoscopy, he just starts getting angry, and he goes, “Who did your surgery? And she said, “What are you talking about? You're my doctor. I have insurance with you. I wouldn't go to a different doctor. I’m terrified of surgery. If I were to get surgery it would be with you.”
And he's sitting there, the camera, staring at her colon and going, “Someone did surgery on you. I knew where every single polyp was and all the pre-cancerous polyps and none of them are here. They're all gone. Your intestine, your colon looks like vascular and healthy like a newborn baby. It used to look just disgusting and purple.” Whatever color it looked like before. He was visibly upset at her because he did not believe that she healed her body with food. But there was another doctor who was maybe a resident or something from India. She whispered to Chef AJ. She goes, “I believe you.” Because this doctor had seen coming from India where it's more acceptable to heal the body with food.
It was interesting. I’ve heard many stories, and I’ve had my own personal experiences where MDs just do not believe you can heal the body with food. That it's part of the training. So what happened in medical school? Did you have teachers say to you like no, you can't heal the body with food? Do they actually try to tell you guys that? Or why is it that most MDs don't believe you can heal the body with food. I love that you have broken away. It's kind of like you came out of the Matrix and you're able to think for yourself and go no, we can heal the body with food. Drugs are a tool but they're not the only solution. Since we're putting something in our mouth that our body is using to build healthy cells, shouldn't we look first to food? Did any part of your education try to tell you that we can't heal with food?
[00:22:04] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: I think that there's a pervasive culture of allopathic Western medicine that stands in the way of accepting these types of ideas, and that's unfortunate. It's something that is hindering the quality of care and also the quality of the relationship with the individual patient. Because at the end of the day, if you try to tell a reasonable, rational person that the food that you eat makes no difference, any reasonable or rational person would say that's BS. That's BS. How can you possibly say that the food that you eat makes no difference? It’s very obvious that the food that you eat does make a difference. So if it does make a difference, how much of a difference does it make?
The modern science shows us that if you look across all of humanity on our planet, and you were to quantify health and disease, you would discover that just 20% of actual disease is driven by genetics. I mean, look, there are individual diseases, don't get me wrong, like down syndrome. If you have the gene, you have the disease. But if you look across all humanity, just 20% of disease is driven by genetics, which means that 80% is driven by our environment, driven by diet and lifestyle. The 80,000 pounds of food that we are going to eat during our lifetime, that will always be far more powerful than a couple of milligrams of medication. And you can't prevent disease effectively with medication. There's very little evidence to support that that works.
You can't overcome a bad diet with medication. You can't make someone back to net neutral. The best that you can do is cover it up. That's the best you can do is just cover up the problem with the medication, and that's not really addressing the root of the issue. If our problem exists because of our diet and lifestyle, then to ignore our diet and lifestyle in the treatment plan is to never actually address the root of the issue.
So from my perspective, we need to go there. We have to go there. Now I can't say that there was ever any conversation where people said, that there was formal teaching, that no, diet is worthless, or diet is not important. That was never said. It's more so that if you withhold the education on diet and nutrition, if you never actually provide that information to people, and all you do is ask them to study and learn the side effects of all these bazillion drugs and the indications, and you know how to do this surgery, if that's all that you teach them, then it’s unrealistic to expect them to just automatically transition. As intelligent as medical doctors are, they're not trained and taught how to have a conversation about conventional nutrition. That's the problem.
[00:25:36] Ashley James: Yeah, absolutely. In college, when I took anatomy, my teacher was actually a retired neurosurgeon. When it came to studying the joints, he said once someone has—because we also studied pathology with him—arthritis, when your client has arthritis, they cannot regrow it. Once you have damaged your cartilage you cannot regrow cartilage, no supplements work, and he got kind of angry. Supplements don't work and diet doesn't work. Nothing works. When someone has arthritis that's it. They're done. You can't regrow cartilage. Obviously, he must be smarter than me. He was a neurosurgeon. He knows what he's talking about. And I just thought it was really interesting.
Years later, I met a naturopathic physician who regularly helps his patients and clients reverse arthritis. I know a friend of mine, her mom, in six weeks on a whole food plant-based diet, all of her arthritis symptoms went away. It's amazing what the body can heal, and it's also amazing that we're taught by people we put on a pedestal—people that we put in authority—were told that we can't heal.
Now as a patient is on your table, you're doing a colonoscopy, and you see they have polyps. Let's use Chef AJ's example. Their colon is bleeding a little bit. It definitely does not look vascular and healthy. Maybe it looks just discolored and they've got some polyps that you identify as possible pre-cancerous polyps. What’s your next step with them versus other doctors? What do you do with them to help them to heal their body?
[00:27:16] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: Well, I think that from my perspective, the solution is in having a conversation about diet and nutrition. That's where the opportunity lies. And a big part of the issue, from my perspective, is the absence of fiber in the American diet. If you look at the consumption of fiber in the United States, we may be the culture with the least consumption of fiber in human history. We certainly are probably about as close as we could get to the worst. The average American is consuming 15 grams of fiber per day.
Now to put them into perspective—15 grams—the minimum recommendation on a daily basis for women is 25, for men is 38. Actually, it's really embarrassing when we do these fiber studies because the way that we'll set them up is we'll say let's compare high fiber consumers to low fiber consumers. And what you'll see when the study is done in the United States is you'll see the high fiber consumers are getting 22 or 23 grams of fiber per day. And most people don't know enough about fiber including the doctors to register the point that even the high fiber consumers in these studies are not even getting the minimum recommended amount on a daily basis. It's embarrassing. 97% of Americans are not getting enough.
When I say fiber, by the way, I’m talking about fiber from real food. Fiber comes from plants. Plants have a monopoly on fiber. And the way that you should get your fiber is by eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes. The reason that I want to motivate fiber consumption is that I know the vast majority of Americans are wildly devoid of fiber in their diet. And also, because I know that there is a direct connection between fiber and the prevention of colon cancer. So let's unpack that a little bit.
When we eat fiber, we've been taught that fiber goes in the mouth and just goes through, sweeps through the colon—some people describe it the way it sweeps through, and it just comes out the other end as a torpedo. All right. That's like sort of the traditional teaching on fiber. We always think of grandma stirring the orange drink so that she can have herself a bowel movement. We need to update our definition. We need to understand the actual way that fiber works in the body, which is that there are many different types of fiber. They're not all the same. We have oversimplified fiber by just counting grams or just calling it soluble or insoluble fiber. And the reason why we've simplified it so much is because fiber is incredibly biochemically complex.
If you were to look at fiber molecules—I was a chemistry major in college—I look at them just like what the heck is that? Because of that complexity, we try to keep it as simple as we can and we look at it as soluble and insoluble fiber. Well, insoluble fiber does what we traditionally think of fiber. It just goes in the mouth and it comes out the other end. But soluble fiber is a totally different story. Soluble fiber passes through the small intestine—untouched—and it arrives into the colon. When it gets there, your gut microbes, which reside predominantly in your colon, they get into an absolute feeding frenzy. They go crazy because fiber is their preferred food. You're feeding your gut. And when you feed them, they consume it, these microprobes become stronger, and they become energized. Because of that, they are more capable of upholding your human physiology.
These microbes are so central to the way that our body works. We need them in tip-top shape to help us out if we want to be healthy. When we feed them fiber, that's what we get. We get healthy microbes that are strong, energized, and ready to help us, and they help us immediately on the spot. Because what they do is they take that soluble fiber, they consume it, and they transform it into short-chain fatty acids. Short-chain fatty acids like butyrate, acetate, and propionate. These short-chain fatty acids, we can unpack them. We can talk more about them throughout the entire show. I am obsessed with them. They are an entire chapter in my book. I honestly think this is the biggest secret in all of the nutrition that no one is talking about, and we should all be talking about it.
We can get distracted by all these other red herrings. We should be talking about why we need more short-chain fatty acids in our life. And when we talk about colon cancer itself, in the study of colon cancer, we discover that short-chain fatty acids have been shown to directly impair the development of colon cancer. So it creates this mechanistic pathway, which is that fiber comes into the colon, connects with the gut microbes. When you put these two ingredients together—prebiotic fiber and these probiotic microbes, you combine them, and they basically will create for you these post biotic short-chain fatty acids that will directly impair the development of colon cancer.
It's no surprise that colon cancer is the number two cause of cancer death in America because we're completely fiber devoid. If you compare African Americans to native Africans, native Africans consume a very high fiber, low-fat diet. African Americans, typically, traditionally, consume a very high-fat low fiber diet. Before I even tell you the number to frame this, if you said there were two times the risk of developing colon cancer, in the cancer world, that would be a lot. If you said three times, you go whoa, that's crazy. If you said five, you go this is completely bonkers.
All right, the number is 65. African Americans have 65 times the colon cancer that native Africans have. It's absurd. That's ridiculous. And it's because we're not taking care of our diet, we're not taking care of our microbiome, and we're not feeding our microbiome what it needs to give us these protective molecules, these short-chain fatty acids. And when you zoom out and you apply this mechanism, it's more than just this connection from an epidemiology perspective between African Americans and native Africans.
You can find studies from around the world, different cultures showing us that high fiber consumers—when I say high fiber I mean actually high fiber meaning definitely more than 38 grams of fiber per day. High fibers consumers have virtually no colon cancer, and there was a major, major, major review done that came out in January 2019 by Andrew Reynolds, and I wrote about this in my book, where it was basically a mega meta-analysis. So a meta-analysis is where they compile studies. We have a hierarchy of evidence, and the hierarchy of evidence says that the highest quality evidence comes from a meta-analysis where you compile studies to answer questions. And in this mega meta-analysis where he did multiple meta-analyses, Andrew Reynolds and his science team found numerous benefits to fiber for longevity, for heart disease, and for cancer, in particular—no surprise—colon cancer.
Photo by Cole Patrick on Unsplash
[00:35:57] Ashley James: That is something to wrap our brains around, isn't it? I’m fascinated by the microbiome. It's about six pounds of bacteria that live in our gut that help us. It actually makes nutrients for us. It helps us digest our food and make nutrients for us. And we live in such a sterile world, especially now, everyone's using hand sanitizers. We're constantly thinking about how to sterilize our food and food is just dead. The average household is eating packaged food, and the food is just dead. It's void of life. It's void of healthy bacteria.
You're saying we need to adopt a diet that works with our microbiome to get the nutrients the body needs. And that's great. The fiber, it just doesn't go in one end and out the other. It's doing so much more for us. I loved learning that fiber helps bind to the toxins that the liver has excreted through the gallbladder and helps to remove the estrogen that the body is getting rid of. It helps to remove all of the chemicals, the pesticides, and everything that the liver is trying to excrete. And it also binds the cholesterol in the gallbladder. The bile juice, it’s binding to all that and bringing it out. And that people who are constipated or eat low fiber, the colon can reabsorb it. And we see that in studies where people do fasting.
I had a guy on the show where he did different things with fasting. They took blood and they found that the body would reabsorb certain pesticides because they were testing for chemicals and pesticides. But with fiber, when there was something to bind to it, the body wouldn't reabsorb it. So it becomes very exciting. Are you saying everyone should go and start drinking Metamucil? Is any fiber good? Or are certain fibers better than others? I’ve heard that there's a kind of fiber from potatoes, for example, or there's non-resistant starch. There are all these different kinds of fibers, which one should we eat?
[00:38:27] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: I have so much I want to say. I’m so excited to talk about all this.
[00:38:33] Ashley James: You have the floor.
[00:38:36] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: I’m a nerd, I’m a nerd. I love everything that you just said. I want to get into it more. All right. So to answer your question and try to not get distracted by so many tangents that I would love to talk about, let's talk about fiber and optimizing fiber, okay? It starts with exploring the relationship between fiber and these microbes, which is an incredibly important relationship for the health of our gut microbiome. Fiber is their preferred food. But let's talk a little bit about what that means. Let's define the gut a little bit first.
Your gut is made up of 39 trillion microbes. That's a ridiculous number. How can we put that into a number that makes sense? Okay, try this. We live in the milky way, that's our solar system. Take our solar system with every single star that exists in the sky—every single one—and you have 100 solar systems worth of stars living inside of you right now that are microbes. Mostly bacteria, but they also include yeast, archaea, sometimes parasites, and I’m not counting viruses in this number 39 trillion, but there are viruses too. They all live there in harmony and balance. This is an ecosystem. Your gut, microbiome this community of microorganisms that by the way are as alive as you and I are, they are.
There's an ecosystem in the same way that the Great Barrier Reef and the Amazon Rainforest are also ecosystems. And if you're a biologist, there is a simple rule that applies to every single ecosystem and is a measure of the health within that ecosystem, which is biodiversity. When you have a more biodiverse Amazon Rainforest, a more biodiverse Great Barrier Reef, you have an ecosystem that is resilient. It is strong. It is prepared for any challenge or perturbation that you throw at it.
Let's go to the Amazon for a moment. I don't like snakes. They terrify me, I used to have nightmares when I was a kid like snakes being in my bed. I don't love mosquitoes, they annoy me. I don't like these creatures, but here's the issue. If you remove all snakes and all mosquitoes from the Amazon Rainforest, you're going to create a biological hole that the other animals are not designed to fill. And there will be a ripple effect that will have negative consequences on the health of the entire Amazon Rainforest because of that.
So biodiversity is key. We need all these players. We need as much diversity as possible, and that applies to our microbiome too. We need a diversity of species, as many different species as possible. So how do we get there? Okay. Let's understand how they live because they're alive, which means they need food. They got to eat and their preferred food is fiber, but not just generically fiber. There are at least millions maybe even billions of types of different fibers that exist in nature. Every single plant has its own unique types of fiber. And these microbes, they're just like us. They're picky eaters. All right.
Chef AJ is vegan, I’m vegan too, but we don't eat the same food. She's got her preferences, and I have mine. Guess what, these microbes are just like that. They have their preferences. They don't all eat the same. They don't just generically eat fiber. So when you eat a particular food, let's use the black bean as an example. You consume black beans, you send these black beans down to your microbiome, and there are specific populations of bacteria that are going to thrive because you just fed them. They will grow, they will be more strongly represented within your microbiome, and they will reward you with whatever it is that they do best, which may include the production of short-chain fatty acids. They will go to work helping you.
But the opposite of that is also true. If you say I am going bean-free, no more black beans. Okay, well this population of microbes that are waiting to be fed black beans, they're not being fed. And just like us, when you don't feed them, they starve. They grow weaker. And at some point, they grow weak to the point that they're incapable of holding up and doing the job that your body needs them to do. And potentially it can get to the point where they go extinct. Just like the loss of mosquitoes and snakes within the ecosystem, when you have bacteria within the ecosystem that are not able to do their job, you create a loss of balance where that ecosystem, that gut is not able to keep up with the rigors of supporting human health anymore. And that's what dysbiosis is.
Dysbiosis is a damaged gut that's out of balance. Some people call this leaky gut, and we're basically talking about the same thing. So we want to maintain that biodiversity. And the way that we do that is by recognizing each unique species of bacteria has its own way of eating, and they like fiber. But not all fiber is the same. Every single plant has its own unique types of fiber. So when we eat as many different varieties of plants as possible, we are delivering as many different types of fiber as possible to our microbiome, and therefore supporting the dietary preferences of the broadest diversity of microbes possible. This is a core idea in my book, this is my central philosophy for human health and diet, and this is the most important thing that I’m going to say in the entire episode, okay. Not that I want people to turn off after I’ve said this, I got more to say. But if there's only one thing that you take away from our episode today, let it be this.
And this is more than just Dr. B's idea. This is actually scientifically validated in the largest study to date to make a connection between diet and lifestyle and the health of our microbiome, which is called the American Gut Project. In the American Gut Project, they found that there was a clear-cut number one predictor of a healthy gut. The most powerful driver of gut health was the diversity of plants within your diet. So it's a change of philosophy where this is not about grams of fiber, and this is certainly not about consuming mono fibers like Metamucil.
This is about getting as many different types of fiber into your diet as possible so that you can support the biodiversity of your microbiome. And as a result, just like the Amazon Rainforest, just like the Great Barrier Reef, you create a lush, biodiverse, stable, and strong microbiome that is prepared to uphold the pillars of human health, which are digestion of your food which basically is access to nutrients. What's more important than that?
And these microbes, beyond that, are also connected to our immune system, our hormonal balance, our metabolism, and even our mood and the way that our brain functions. Human health starts in the gut. And the most important part of human health isn't even human, it's these microbes, and we need to feed them. We need to feed them, and we're just not feeding them in the United States. We're starving them. Then we're surprised when we have an epidemic autoimmune disease.
[00:47:11] Ashley James: That came out of nowhere. When you and I were kids, autoimmune disease was not as pervasive as it is today. It's definitely on the rise. Would you agree with that? Would you say that the illnesses that we're seeing now are in no way the same numbers as when even when you were in medical school? That we're seeing an increase in these illnesses. I mean, the question is, is it that they're getting better at screening? Of course because technology advances, right? However, there weren't this many autoimmune issues 20, 30 years ago, was there?
[00:47:55] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: Yes, there definitely was not. People can argue the statistics in whatever direction. And if they have an agenda, they'll figure out their way to argue the statistics to feed their agenda. But if you take a step back and you just look objectively, think about something like ulcerative colitis, which presents with profound profuse diarrhea that's bloody, and it occurs around the clock. You wake up in the middle of the night because you got to go number two. That to me is not something that you would miss for years on end. That's not detection bias. It either exists or it doesn't exist.
In Brazil, it's quite fascinating to do epidemiology case study looking at third world countries as they modernize into first world countries. Brazil westernized really ramping up from the late 80s through the 90s and into the 2000s. They really started to ramp up and westernize. And during that period of time, they saw an 11%-15% increase in ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease on literally a yearly basis. Think about that growth. That's absurd. And these doctors that were down there, they had never seen this before. We were very used to treating this in the United States because our epidemic was already fully here, but down there, they had never been seeing this. So they had to start basically flying up to the United States and attending our meetings and hearing how we treat these patients because they had no experience.
[00:49:50] Ashley James: Because the diet changed so quickly because the country became more Americanized and their diet changed to more of an American diet?
[00:49:58] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: They just changed to more of an American diet. This is starting to unfold in China too. Not that we have reliable statistics coming out of China, but they’re starting to westernize and follow the same patterns. Ashley, I know you would agree with me that it's more than just diet.
[00:50:17] Ashley James: Yeah.
[00:50:18] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: Diet is the number one driver, okay. Let's take a step back and think of our life in the context of how radically things have changed in 100 years. Think about your relative, whoever that might be, your great grandparent or your grandparent, whoever that may be. A hundred years ago, for them, there was no processed food. They knew the farmer more than likely. Everything was locally sourced and in season. There was very little use of pesticides—at least the modern pesticides had not been invented yet. The animal products that they consumed—if they did consume it, most of them did—at least those animal products were not hyped up or pumped up with antibiotics and hormones.
Lifestyle-wise, think of the percentage of people who walked to school back then compared to the percentage that walks to school today. Radically different. Think about how they entertained themselves. We do Twitter at 10:30 PM at night and expose ourselves to the blue lights, which by the way disrupt our circadian rhythm and suppress our melatonin. So that even if we do sleep, we're not getting good sleep. We are watching television. We're sitting on couches. We're sitting in offices and working on computers all day. That's not the way that they lived back then. They were very active. They didn't have access to vehicles for transportation as readily as we do these days.
Here we are, and there's just been this radical lifestyle and diet transformation that has occurred in the last 100 years where now, the average American, their diet is 60% processed foods that didn't exist 100 years ago. And 30% of the American diet is animal products that are hyped up on hormones and antibiotics. And literally just 10% of the American diet as fruits, vegetables, whole-grain seeds, and nuts. And perhaps the saddest part of it all is that when I say 10% actually most of that is french fries.
We have made huge, huge changes in a very short period of time. It's putting an evolutionary strain on these microbes, and none of the changes that we've made have been advantageous to our microbiome. All of them have inflicted harm. And now, here we are.
[00:53:05] Ashley James: About 15 years ago, I read a really funny book. So if anyone's looking just to kick back with a funny but true story, The Sex Lives of Cannibals. Have you ever read that book?
[00:53:16] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: No, but I love the title.
[00:53:19] Ashley James: Yeah. I bought it because of the title. I was like, what is this? But it's a true story. So a man travels with his wife—I think it was actually his fiancé at the time—and they go to the South Pacific. There are island chains in the South Pacific like Vanuatu and Christmas Island. He talks about how hot it is, obviously, down there. I think she works for Red Cross or something and he's a journalist, and so he thought this will be fun. I’ll bring my typewriter or whatever. I don't know if he brought a laptop because it was spotty whether they would ever have access to electricity.
They get down there and the first island they land on after—I think they came from New Zealand—they land on a bigger island and it is definitely Americanized. He couldn't believe how many fast food joints from America he saw because he thought he'd be exposed to a different culture, and yet it just felt like he was in Hawaii with all the American food. And he also noticed the people kind of looked like they were from Hawaii or looked like they're from the United States. And then they ended up going on a smaller island where there was all the people who lived there ate the way they've eaten for hundreds of years. And they all gardened, fished, and lived off the land. And they were all very healthy and they didn't have any access to McDonald’s.
He just noticed the two. He just noticed it was interesting. He didn't go deep into it, but that planted that idea in my mind of I wonder what it looks like. It's probably been long enough since he wrote that. I think he wrote it 20 years ago. I bet we could go and collect the information—because they're all Polynesians. They're all genetically similar, but we could go look at this one island that's 50 miles away from this island and see okay, well this island people have been eating for the last 20 years McDonald’s and more of an American. They have constant access to electricity so they can watch TV. They have more influence to eat the way we're eating in the standard American diet. And they have more access to oil, more access to meat, the potato chips, and whatever.
And then we go 50 miles away, these people are still eating—and they're not vegan by any means—coconuts, fish, and whatever vegetables they can grow. They have very little imported. And we look at how they've been doing the last 20 years. I think that would be really interesting. Just from the microbiome standpoint, the people who stuck to the diet that their ancestors have been eating—a whole food diet—versus a diet that's been disrupted, the microbiome has been disrupted by lowering fiber and consuming oil, which also affects the microbiome. And then eating food that's dead, that's microwaved, that doesn't have any bacteria. Because they've disrupted their microbiome, how's their health as a people changed
I think that would be a really interesting study, and I’m sure people are doing it like you said. Looking at those from Africa versus those born and raised in America but have their ancestors are from Africa and seeing the differences. And I’ve heard of people from Japan. Japan used to have an incredibly low rate of heart disease and now they don't. Okinawa used to be a blue zone and now it's not. The people have changed their diet enough that people are no longer living in their hundreds on a regular basis super healthy.
I would like to address the urgency that we need to turn this ship around on a personal level. Okinawa, in one generation, is no longer a healthy population. We can't wait any longer. Things are going downhill. We need to take individual responsibility and turn this around right now.
[00:57:49] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: Yeah, I totally agree. I totally agree. Let me talk a little bit about what you just laid out with the South Pacific, which by the way, I love that idea and I find it to be fascinating. I think the South Pacific is very interesting too, by the way. But there's actually a guy, his name is Justin Sonnenberg, who's a microbiome researcher. World-class, one of the leading microbiome researchers. Wrote a great book by the way. It's called The Good Gut. And he endorsed my book Fiber Fueled. He was fully in support of everything that I wrote in my book. Sonnenberg has done these studies on a population of people called the Hadza. And they live in Tanzania in Africa. They are tribal and they are pre-agrarian meaning that they are hunters and gatherers.
He has basically taken a look at their life, the way they eat, and then he also has done microbiome analyses on them. First of all, let's talk about their diet. Again, they don't have crops. There's no farm and they're not part of organized society. They're not going into the supermarket. They don't have dollars and cents. They're, as described, foraging for their food, and then to a degree, hunting. And they're not vegan. They’re eating an omnivore diet. But if you look at what they eat, they eat more than 100 grams of fiber per day. More than 100 grams of fiber per day.
I said before the diversity of plants feeds a diverse gut microbiome. If you look at the diversity in their diet, they eat 600 varieties of plants on a yearly basis. A lot of this seasonal. So berries come to the season, they start eating berries again. And then something else comes in the season, they eat that. 100 grams of fiber per day, 600 varieties of plants. Ashley, let me ask you a question. All seriousness. Give me just ballpark, rough estimate, off the top of your head, how many different plants do you think you eat on a yearly basis?
[01:00:11] Ashley James: Oh, geez. I just went grocery shopping at Costco this morning. We have a great Costco with organic broccoli, cauliflower, corn, spinach, mixed greens—so there's maybe three different kinds of greens in there. We eat potatoes, brown rice, brussels sprouts. I think I just rotate about 20 different vegetables. I probably eat 20 different vegetables a year, maybe 30, but on a regular basis probably 20.
[01:00:51] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: Okay. Does the number 30 include whole grains, seeds, nuts, legumes, fruit?
[01:01:00] Ashley James: I would say vegetables. Probably 30 different kinds of vegetables a year. I get a variety of potatoes. I like different potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, different squash, and gourds. Maybe 50 or 60 different. I really do try to get a variety, but maybe between 50 and 60 if you include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and beans.
[01:01:25] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: Yup. Okay. I don't have an exact number. I don't track my—
[01:01:30] Ashley James: I’m going to write it down. I’m going to start thinking about that.
[01:01:35] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: Okay. We can talk a little more about what number people should have in mind on a weekly basis, but just to continue the conversation with regard to the Hadza, if I had to estimate for myself, I would probably guess I’m 60 or 70. For most Americans, certainly less than 50. And the Hadza over here are having 600 on a yearly basis—600 different plants. So that would lead us to believe, if my theory from the prior conversation is correct, they should have a more diverse microbiome. And guess what, they do. It's radically more diverse. In fact, they have 30% more diversity than the average Brit, and they have 40% more diversity than the average American.
We are born with a 40% deficit in terms of biodiversity—the measure of a healthy microbiome. We are born with 40% less biodiversity than you find in this population of native tribal people. That shows you how much things have changed on a radical basis. And there's actually a doctor who's associated with the American Gut Project who has created this. I mean it's kind of interesting to think about, but it's also terrifying. He's created a doomsday microbe bank. Basically, what he's done is he said, “I’m worried that we're killing too many species too fast. I’m worried that we're eroding our microbiome so fast that we're just going to be disease-stricken.”
The sad thing is these Hadza, the tribe is falling apart because just like in Okinawa, the younger generation doesn't want to carry on the tradition. They want a cell phone. They want a job. They want money. They want to watch television. I mean, they're not living in someplace where they don't even know that real society exists. They know it's out there. They're choosing to continue what they have. So the tribe is eroding. The concern that they have is that we may lose these microbes forever. So they've created this doomsday microbe bank where one day, if we need to open up the bank, multiply these microbes, and bring them back, we have the ability to do that if we need to.
Going back to the urgency of this, there are a few things that I want to talk about with regard to this. and part of it is individual health, which is that if you wake up one day and you have Crohn's disease, you can't just walk that back. You have it. I personally believe, and I take care of these people for a living, there's no such thing as a cure. Once you have Crohn's disease, there's remission. That's the best that you can do. And you may be able to put yourself into a deep remission and keep yourself there effectively having the appearance of a cure, but there is no cure. You're always vulnerable to the recurrence of Crohn's disease.
You don't want to wake up one day and have this. Even in health, it becomes imperative that we nurture the health of our microbiome. The second thing, Sonnenberg who is the doctor from Stanford who is studying the Hadza, he's done some other studies that I think are super fascinating. If you think about the transfer of microbes from mother to child, that's where we get started in life. If we pass through the birth canal instead of the cesarean section, the birth canal is our first exposure to the outside world, and it's designed to basically inoculate us with these microbes. So there's an inheritance that occurs as a result of mom passing down microbes to the child. And there's a question, could we alter the inheritance of microbes in a way that's detrimental to future generations? We all care about our kids. Many of us care more about our kids than we do about ourselves.
Sonnenberg, you can't recreate this study in humans because a generation of humans takes 25 years. But you can do this study in mice very quickly using human microbes—the same microbes that we have. So Sonnenberg did mouse studies looking at generational differences in the microbiota and the biodiversity. Again, biodiversity is key to the health of the ecosystem. And what he found is that if you withdraw fiber from these mice, there is a generational loss of species that compounds. So for example, if grandma has 1000 species but she's not eating fiber, then by the time she has mom, she's down to 700 species. So mom starts with 700, and by the time mom has you, she's down to 400 so you start at 400, and you start at a 60% deficit relative to grandma. And that deficit may be enough to make you far more fragile to developing the disease than grandma was.
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
[01:07:22] Ashley James: Wow.
[01:07:23] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: So the concern is there's this generational inheritance of the microbiome that could have negative consequences that perhaps some of the issues that we're seeing in 2020 or in our generation are the results of the initiation of a low fiber diet that started with our parents and even our grandparents’ generation. And what's interesting is, a ray of hope here, let me just say—
[01:07:53] Ashley James: We're all doomed. The end.
[01:07:55] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: Yeah, as scary as that sounds. I mean, look the framing of the question was why do we need to do it today? We have to have at least a little doom and gloom in there. But the ray of hope here is that if you reintroduce fiber, you can get the species back, all right. You just have to do it early enough, so do it today. Why wait? Do the fiber today and support your gut microbiome and support the gut microbiome for future generations to come.
And then the last thing that I wanted to say is this. This is the third thing. I can't help but say that we need to think about the impact that we're having in our environment. I usually don't like to go there because I feel like as a medical doctor it's not my place, but increasingly, I’m starting to feel like we can no longer deny the connection between our environment and human health. And if that connection is there, then it's my job as a medical doctor to make people aware of that connection. Consider human population growth, we have 7 billion people on the planet right now. We will have 10 billion people in 2050. So in 30 years, we will go from 7 to 10 billion people.
Guess how many people there were in the year 1800. One, there was only one billion people on this planet in 1800. We're about to have 10 times that number in 250 years. Humans are resource consuming on a very heavy basis. We consume resources like crazy. The planet is reaching a point of saturation in terms of our consumption. And we need a food supply for 10 billion people. And how are we going to actually accomplish that? And they actually got together a bunch of scientists recently. They wanted to try to understand what is going to be the best way for us to preserve our environment, preserve the resources, and not flog this planet to the point that we destroy ourselves.
It was called the EAT-Lancet Report, and one of the big issues that people need to realize is that 80% of the agricultural land, which we are currently sort of stretched and maxed out, 80% of that land produces just 18% of the calories that we consume. So we have a very inefficient system. And what I’m referring to, by the way just to be totally clear in case it's not, is animal agriculture. There's a huge loss of efficiency when we build a diet around animal products. And that loss of efficiency has to do with the fact that if you have 10 calories when you start, and you feed those 10 calories to the cow, the cow is going to burn a certain percentage of those calories. The cow is going to use a certain percentage of those calories to build joints, bones, eyeballs, and stuff that you're not going to eat. The cow is going to fart and poop out a certain percentage of those calories. And then a small fraction of it is what actually goes into creating the food product, which is the meat.
So there's a huge loss of efficiency there where when you could have just had a human consume 10 calories. You could just feed that to the human. Why give it to the cow and run it through that system with that huge loss of efficiency? And this is how you end up in a scenario where 80% of our agricultural land produces just 18% of our calories. So when we see the Amazon Rainforests burning, let's not be naïve. That is a rain forest. It doesn't burn like California. This is not a forest fire. These are man-made fires for forest clearing to create more land because you need more land if you want to expand that business. The land is already fully consumed. The only way to do more is to get more land. And so how are we going to do that with 3 billion more people? A 50% jump. How are we going to do that?
[01:12:22] Ashley James: Yeah, we're going to lose all the rain forests. And this is what they think happened to Africa. I saw a really interesting—I don't know if it was a TED Talk—but Africa and the Sahara desert didn't use to be a desert. We just think it's always been a desert. It actually wasn't. They cut down all the beautiful huge giant trees to make wood ships—500 years ago, 600 years ago. And because of that, the moisture that the forests used to create helped to make the clouds and make rain on the inland of Africa. And with all the forest cut down for all the ships they built it, it completely changed the dynamic of that continent. That’s what they're thinking is going to happen to South America. That they're cutting down enough rain forest that it will forever change the ecosystem of an entire continent again.
We have to learn from our history. We have to learn. I love that you're addressing this. A good documentary to watch would be Cowspiracy. I think it's still on Netflix. It's a good documentary because they do cover—in more detail. I’m a very visual person so with graphics they show what you're addressing. But someone might say eating animals is healthy for me. It's a necessary step. Isn't it healthy for me to eat this? I should have dairy because that's how you build strong bones. I should have eggs, that's a good source of vitamins and vitamin D. I should eat animals because that's where I get my protein and my energy from.
This is what we've been told since we were children. It's like a necessary evil. Cows are beautiful and I don't want to hurt the environment, but then if I didn't eat cows, it would be harmful to my body to not eat it, so I have to keep eating it. This is the mindset that many people still have because it's what we've been told our whole life through all of the marketing. So maybe you can address that because people are afraid to give up meat and eat more fiber because they think it would be harmful to their body. That they wouldn't have energy, they wouldn't have protein, they wouldn't have those vitamins that they're getting from dairy, eggs, and meat.
[01:15:02] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: Yeah, let's start with the marketing campaign. Marketing is incredibly powerful. Most food industries and also supplement industries have discovered that you're far better trying to attack people's emotions through marketing campaigns than you are actually conducting clinical research. Clinical research is expensive and it may not support the perspective that you want. It may in fact show the opposite, right? Why invest your money into that when you can invest your money into marketing campaigns that are designed to prey on people's insecurities or their emotions and build fear? Got milk, the entire campaign, which most people understand comes from our government. Maybe you don't. That was a government-run campaign. “Got Milk” was subsidized by the US government.
“Beef. It's what's for dinner.” That was a US government subsidized campaign. Now, what is the government doing getting involved in what food we choose to eat? Well, that's the issue. There is lobbying that exists that is tremendously powerful. There's a reason why organic fruits and vegetables are expensive. The reason is that they're not subsidized at all. If you have allowed animal products to be their true cost, the true cost would make them prohibitively expensive, and we wouldn't have problems with people who are of lower socioeconomic status who, as part of being lower socioeconomic status the vast majority of time that also means lower educational level. And they don't have the ability to see the big picture, which is that going to McDonald's and getting the $3.99 Happy Meal that your kid is jumping for joy, they're kissing you, they're thanking you, and it's an easy dinner, that's actually hurting us.
We have made it readily accessible. We've made it cheap. We've gotten rid of all the barriers to people consuming these unhealthy foods. And so you make the choice simple for people who fail to really have a complete understanding of what the big picture is and how that's going to hurt them in the long run. When it comes to consuming these foods, here's the thing that I’ll say. First of all, if you read my book, I really truly believe in meeting people where they are. And so I’m not in the business of saying this is all or nothing. This is not black and white. I’m in the business of saying the path to optimal human health is with plants. All of the healthiest cultures in human history are predominantly plant-based.
The blue zones—all five—90%+ plant-based. It's the tie that binds them together. They are all predominantly plant-based. So the evidence is clear. Science repeatedly shows us that when we substitute and we use plant products instead of animal products we live longer with less disease. It's consistent. I mean, how many studies do we need to say the same thing? I feel like we're in the era 50 years ago where the tobacco industry was pushing back maybe 60 years ago. Seriously. Do you know how many studies they had to do to convince people that smoking actually caused lung cancer?
[01:18:55] Ashley James: Oh my gosh.
[01:18:56] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: There is no randomized controlled trial to prove that smoking causes cancer. It doesn't exist. Do we all agree that smoking causes lung cancer? It is so obvious. But they had to do a bazillion studies to convince people this is the truth, and the problem is that you had a big tobacco industry that was extremely rich, was buying lobbying power, and was basically mobilizing their resources to create confusion and tried to make this less clear. And now the exact same thing is repeating itself when it comes to our food.
You have big industries that are tremendously powerful that have bought influence. And they're also intentionally running and conducting studies or doing marketing campaigns to create confusion so that ultimately, the status quo reigns supreme. Here we are, and the average American eats 220 pounds of meat per year. That is simply not sustainable. And the problem is that we get upset when we see the amazon rainforest getting cut, getting burned, and we go do something about it. And we turn to our government.
They're not going to do anything about it. First of all, they can't. Second of all, there are not motivated to because the lobbyists are convincing them to do otherwise. But I want everyone to keep in mind, at the end of the day, we have the ultimate power, not them. The government can do whatever it wants to do, but we are the consumer. And every single dollar that we spend is a vote for an industry. And when we choose to spend our money on purchasing 220 pounds of animal products, guess who we're making rich? That industry.
Instead, if we cut it back—literally consider this. Consider this picture, Ashley. American diet right now—10% plants, 60% processed, 30% animal products.
[01:21:04] Ashley James: Oh my gosh.
[01:21:04] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: Okay. What if we did this? What if we went to drop the processed food and replaced it with plants? Now we're 70% plants, 30% animal products. Gosh, that's pretty good. But hold up. 220 pounds of meat, that's absurd. Do we really need that much? So what if we cut that down by 65%? What if we took a third of that? We're still eating more than a pound of meat per week. Right now, the average American eats more than their own body weight in meat per year. It's gross. And what if we cut that down to where we are consuming one-third of that—70 pounds, 75 pounds. You can still have your meat, and now you have moved into a blue zones diet where you are 90% plant-based, 10% animal products.
But the truth is this, and this is what happened to me. My favorite foods, if it was my birthday, I was going to have a rib eye and a glass of red wine. That was my food. All right. The interesting thing about it is as I started to change my nutrition and the weight was melting off my body and my anxiety was lifting and my blood pressure was dropping and my confidence was soaring, as I was doing that I wanted more and more and more. I wanted to keep feeling better and better and better. So there's no reason to stop. You just keep ramping up your nutrition and doing better and better and better emphasizing progress, not trying to be perfect, and you keep moving in this direction. I’m just going to tell you, if you get to 90% plant-based, first of all, that's a healthy diet. Second of all, you're going to want more. Why would you stop? Keep going.
For the people who live in fear of I don't think I can do it, I don't think I can be 100%, you don't need to go and be 100% starting today. You need to take an honest look in the mirror of what you're currently doing and say where can we do a little bit better? I just want to start this week. Give me one meal that's plant-based. Start with that and let's go from there.
[01:23:23] Ashley James: I love it. So there are two things to consider in terms of the microbiome of the gut. You're a gut doctor, you're a gut specialist so it's best to talk to you. There's the prebiotic and the probiotic. The probiotic is the alive bacteria that are digesting our food, making nutrients, making the short-chain fatty acids, and helping prevent disease in our body. The prebiotic is the fiber that we're eating that feeds. I’ll use this as an example because I had a guest use it as an example. The six-pound gut biome is like having a chihuahua. But I wanted a panda, she wanted a kangaroo. Anyway, it's a six-pound animal. People take care of their dogs and their cats more than they take care of themselves. I’m a pet owner, I will go out and buy the best food and the best everything.
I know a woman who spends hundreds of dollars a month on handcrafted organic treats for her mastiff. We really take care of our animals. Imagine your gut biome is your pet. It's your pet. You take it for walks. Go take it for a walk. Put it on a leash, take it for a walk because when you go for a walk, you're taking your pet by microbiome for a walk. But the food you feed it is the food that's either going to allow it to thrive or it's going to kill it, right? And the prebiotic, the fiber you eat is feeding it. Now my question to you is about raw food versus cooked food versus a package supplement like taking a Metamucil as a fiber.
We want to increase the biodiversity of the gut biome, and how we do that is by eating a variety. But if I eat cooked broccoli versus raw organic—I’m always organic because of the pesticides. Does raw broccoli have an advantage overcooked broccoli in terms of feeding the microbiome and also introducing new healthy bacteria?
[01:25:41] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: Okay. There's a lot that I want to tackle, but let's start here. First of all, raw versus cooked. All plants contain fiber. Each plant has its own unique types of fiber, and that fiber is specific to the way that the plant is being served. So there is another well-regarded microbiome researcher named Peter Turnbaugh who did a study. This is fairly new. This is less than a year old. The study is fascinating where he basically looked at the effect on the microbiome of cooking the food, so raw versus cooked. And here's what he found. The key is there was a difference. You wouldn't describe necessarily that one is superior to the other. Instead, what he described is when you cook your, food you're creating different types of fiber that feed different microbes. We want to feed all the microbes.
So the key is rather than choosing one versus the other, we should have both. So if you are cooking your food one of the things I talk about in my book is the health hack, which is that if you are cooking your food, you should have a nibble of the raw food before it's cooked. If you're going to braise your greens, braise your kale, just make sure you chop up a couple of pieces of that kale and nibble on it while you're cooking, while you're braising those greens.
[01:27:33] Ashley James: Yeah.
[01:27:34] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: All right, that's one of the things. Yeah, kind of cool. There are a couple of other topics that you brought up. You're bringing up so many great points that you just get me really excited to talk. Let's talk about organic versus non-organic in the context of living food. Now, when I say living food, to the average person they're going to hear fermented. And that's true, fermented foods have microbes. But guess what, all life—most people have not thought of this—has a microbiome. All life either has a microbiome or you are a part of the microbiome. Those are the two choices. If you're alive, you're one of those two things.
[01:28:19] Ashley James: Oh wait, are we the microbiome of the earth?
[01:28:21] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: I think we kind of are. I hate to say this, actually, I kind of think we're a virus because we've grown exponentially and we're destructive. All right. Think about that growth—1 billion in 1800, 2 billion in 1900, 7 billion today, and 10 billion in 2050. That's exponential. That's the same thing that you see with viruses. All right. But all life has a microbiome, right? Take an apple, for example. They've actually studied this. They've discovered that an apple has about 100 million microbes as a part of the apple. The tremendous diversity of species. Actually more diversity on an apple than you will find inside the human body. A couple of paradoxical or interesting things. Out of curiosity, Ashley, because I’m guessing you're going to give the answer that anyone would including me. Where do you think the microbes are on the apple?
[01:29:28] Ashley James: On the skin.
[01:29:29] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: Exactly. That's what I would say too, and it's not a bad answer. Anyone would say that. But actually, most of them are in the core.
[01:29:36] Ashley James: In the core? The thing we throw out and don't eat?
[01:29:39] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: The part that we throw out. That’s where most of the microbes are.
[01:29:42] Ashley James: So we should be juicing them, right? Or blending them? How would you?
[01:29:48] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: Or just eat the core.
[01:29:48] Ashley James: Eat the core.
[01:29:50] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: Yeah, why not? What's stopping you other than tradition?
[01:29:56] Ashley James: I guess there's a minor amount of arsenic in the seeds.
[01:30:01] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: Yeah. You could throw out the seeds. You don't have to eat the seeds if you don't want to. But what's interesting is this microbiome that this plant has serves a purpose to the plant in the same way. There are parallel tracts that exist where these microbes are there to support plant life in the same way that these microbes support us. They're the architects of life on this planet—these microbes. We rely on our microbes to support us as we grow from newborns all the way to grown adults. And the same thing happens with these plants. From flower to fruit, the microbiome of the individual plant is evolving and it's helping to facilitate the growth of the plant.
So this apple has a hundred million microbes in a tremendous diversity of species, and they've looked at organic versus conventionally raised. What's cool is the organic—to me yet another reason to motivate to consume organic—apple had more diversity. Okay. So more biodiversity on the apple, that's a good thing. That's a measure of health. And also, the organic apple had a stronger representation of species that are known to be probiotic. Because the word probiotic does not just mean bacteria. To be considered probiotic you have to actually demonstrate a health benefit in humans.
Eating that apple goes back to this idea—eat an apple a day keep the doctor away. We're now learning there's a lot of truth to that, and this is part of the reason why—these microbes.
Photo by Matheus Cenali on Unsplash
[01:31:50] Ashley James: Fascinating. I’m so excited. I’m going to start eating apple cores now with my apple.
[01:31:55] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: And then the other thing that I wanted to say really quick is the debate about prebiotics and probiotics. I’m moving a little bit into the supplement space. So before I move into it let me just say above all else that diet always comes first. All right. Diet and lifestyle come first. You can't supplement your way from a C- gut to an A+. That's impossible. You can't keep a junk diet and have an A+ gut. That's impossible. If you want a good gut you have to take care of your diet. It's the only way. All right. But that being said, there is a place for this prebiotics and probiotics. So let's talk about this.
All right, probiotics. So everyone's heard of probiotics—living bacteria that as I just said, they have a health benefit in humans. So we always think you got to take this capsule that has this probiotic, but that's again a construct of marketing convincing us that the path to gut health is through a supplement. That's what they've taught us. That's not true.
[01:33:02] Ashley James: Well, they've taught us to go to the doctor, get a pill, and you'll be fine, right? I believe medications have their place, but we're overusing them 90% of the time. I believe that supplements absolutely have their place, but the problem is people have the mentality, like you said, you cannot up out supplement a bad diet. Just like you can't out-drug a bad diet. A bad diet is a bad diet. I know everyone listening probably eats way healthier than the average person and genuinely wants to eat even healthier than that. So if we could incorporate a good diet and then find a supplement just to kick-start us or get us an edge, I’m sure we're all interested. So we understand the advice you're about to give is has to go in conjunction with a really good gut health diet.
[01:33:57] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: Yes. A supplement is meant to be the word. It's a supplement, right? It's done in addition to a healthy diet. And there's definitely a place. Going back to your point, I just want to double down on what you said, which is we should not live in a world of absolutes. Meaning we should not choose to live in a world where we are fully reliant on pills and procedures for our health. That doesn't work. And we also shouldn't live in a world where we believe that diet alone is a silver bullet. That's not true. The optimal approach for human health is to optimize diet and lifestyle, to fully support and potentially even extend your health with the use of supplements that are targeted, and frankly, not excessive. I don't believe in taking 20 different supplements because you just don't know what the interactions are.
But supplementation—where appropriate—to optimize our health, and then engaging with the health care system—where appropriate—to protect ourselves. Anyway, we've been sold to this idea that probiotics are the source of gut health. The problem is you, for example, Ashley, have a completely unique gut microbiome. There's literally no one on the planet with the same microbiome as you including your mom. It's like a fingerprint. When I give you a probiotic I am prescribing a generic formula. And what I’m doing is I’m really crossing my fingers and hoping that when this generic formula mixes with your completely unique gut microbiome, that we get good chemistry. And you just don't know.
There are some people who benefit—no question. There's also a lot of people who spend a lot of money and they get nothing. So we have to understand this limitation of our current approach, but the second part is we should understand that these probiotics already live inside of us. We don't need to introduce it from the outside with the hope that we're introducing something that our body is missing. Instead, we just need to acknowledge that the microbes that live inside of us, we could use them and just make them stronger. Make them more powerfully represented.
And that's where prebiotic comes into play, which is that Ashley, once again you have a completely unique gut microbiome. And although I don't know the nooks and the crannies and the details of what's there and what's not, what I do know is if I feed your microbes with a prebiotic, I’m going to be selecting for specific healthy bacteria. I’m going to be selecting for the probiotics. And we're going to enrich them, we're going to make them more powerful, more well represented, we're also going to be feeding them. Fiber is requisite for feeding these microbes, and then they're going to have the ability to transform that into short-chain fatty acids.
Just to step back for a moment and reconsider our big picture. If we had probiotics but we did not have fiber, there really wouldn't be much of a point. If we had fiber but we were sterile creatures, which we’re not, there really wouldn't be much of a point to fiber. But when fiber, specifically prebiotic fiber, connects with these bacteria, specifically probiotic bacteria, magic takes place. And what we get are postbiotic short-chain fatty acids. And the entire point of this relationship is not one or the other. The entire point is what happens when you connect the two. And that's why I’m a bigger believer in prebiotics than probiotics.
[01:37:54] Ashley James: Because you already have a gut biome. I’ve heard someone reference the Americans have the micro Simpson of gut biomes because it's so not diverse. We need to have something more complex and intelligent, or we have to incorporate and support our microbiome to have many more species, so be much more diverse. And we can do that, over time, by eating a variety of plants that are organic because we take on the microbiome, like you said, you eat the core of the apple with the apple. Your gut is taking on those bacteria that become part of your healthy and diverse gut biome. But the most important thing is to feed it. Feed it first. So we have to feed it before you just take a probiotic.
I heard this study once that they had people take a probiotic, like acidophilus. We all heard of acidophilus. They examined their stool a month after they had stopped taking it and they found that the acidophilus was no longer there. They thought for sure taking the probiotic, taking acidophilus, or whatever probiotic would have then continued to live in the gut right. It doesn't probably because they didn't change their diet to incorporate enough fiber to feed it to continue its development. So you're saying the most important thing is to start by feeding the gut the healthy fiber, variety of fibers—both cooked and raw—so that the gut can get fed, so that microbiomes can get fed.
I know you've got to go, and I definitely want to have you back on the show because I have this whole list of topics and questions I want to explore. How to reverse chronic constipation? How to reverse diarrhea? What about people who have IBS or have a really irritated bowel and they can't tolerate it. Every time they try to eat fiber they can't tolerate it. These are topics I want to go deep with you. So I’d love to have you back on the show to explore that.
You keep mentioning hormone balance as well, that's something I’d like to go deeper and have you explain why is it that healing the gut, fiber, and the microbiome affects our sex hormones and our stress hormones. Why does it affect all of the hormones in our body? Interesting that I’ve heard that 25% of our T3, our thyroid hormone, is converted in the gut. What without a healthy gut we have significantly low T3 levels. So low in fact that then someone's put on medicine. And isn't that a shame that there are so many doctors out there that prescribe a synthetic T3 drug without even addressing gut health? Because the root cause could be in that person's gut, and likely statistically is, given how little fiber the average person eats.
There are so many more things to explore, and I definitely want listeners to know about your website. Theplantfedgut.com. The links to everything that Dr. Will does is going to be in the show notes of today's podcast at Learn True Health. I definitely am going to encourage listeners to buy your book as well, and the link to your book will be there. And people can also go to your website The Plant Fed Gut. And it says right there, want the ultimate plant fed super snack, put in your name and email. And they get a little booklet from you. That's really cool. And of course, they can follow you as well on Instagram. I saw some of your Instagram posts that I really, really appreciated them.
One, in particular, was about racial equality, and you address that we cannot have racial equality until we have medical equality. And if we really look statistically, our medical system is so skewed, especially in the United States. Other countries it is less, but in the United States it's so skewed and it is not a fair system. We need to change. We need to make sure that our medical freedoms are protected for everyone, and that medicine is available to everyone. I don’t want to get into politics, I love that you addressed that while we're all really conscious of it's in our daily consciousness to be addressing and looking at and trying to change racial equality, we should know and we should also address that medical equality needs to be addressed in order to fully help everyone of all races.
Thank you so much for everything that you're doing. I love your message. You're speaking out. You're kind of a black sheep. I’m so excited that you're here talking to our community of listeners, we're all the black sheep. Let's just say we are all on the same page as you. At times, if you ever feel like you're the odd one out because you're the MD that doesn't want to give people drugs first but wants to really, really help people on a root level, heal their body, and do it in a way that is radical. It's radical to tell someone to eat plants and not meat. It's totally radical. You're going to get more and more and more results the more we go down this path.
I just interviewed an MD who's been a plant-based doctor for 39 years. I love that you and your career and you're seeing how you can help people and then you can even go do a colonoscopy and see that these diets actually work and they help heal the body from the inside out. Knowing all the science of exploring the microbiome, it's so fascinating. Please come back on the show. I’d love to have you back. I’d love to continue to learn from you.
[01:44:04] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: I appreciate it, Ashley. I definitely would love to come back. I’ll be honest, I don't feel like a black sheep. I mean, seriously. I guess for me maybe it just seems so obvious.
[01:44:21] Ashley James: Right?
[01:44:21] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: It just seems so obvious so we need to talk about it. And I’m not afraid to share how I feel about these kinds of things because it's really important for people. If this is the way to heal people, then we need to put it out there. And that's been something that has been a part of me and everything I’ve done and it's brought me to where I am today. I just wanted to add real quick a couple of things, I hope you don't mind.
[01:44:45] Ashley James: Please do.
[01:44:46] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: At theplantfedgut.com, we have a COVID-19 guide. We have a guide to clinical research. I really think that one of the big issues—this is why I wrote this guide—is people are confused by the conflicting information that they receive. On a consumer-level, we have to have protections in a place where we become smart enough to sniff out fraud, to sniff out something that's fake, to sniff out an agenda, and to see the truth. Because the truth exists but there's a lot of noise. Because the truth brings us to health. Truth is the compass that guides us to health, but the only way to find that is to get rid of the noise. You can't believe every single word that every person puts out there. We have to start discriminating because we have excessive access to information these days.
And then the other thing I wanted to add is probably by the time this episode airs I have a course that I’m starting in late August that I’m super excited about. Basically, what this is is an opportunity to connect deeper with me and my ideology to go beyond the book. When I see problems I go, okay, how are we going to fix this? One of the problems is I only get 30 minutes with my patient, and I wish I could have a day to just completely educate and give them everything. And that's where this course comes in. It's a structured way for me to give you over seven weeks all of the information that I think is necessary to actually understand gut health and to understand how to navigate our health care system to make yourself well.
What's cool is I’ve been working on this course for about a year, and I’m just releasing it for the first time. But I’ve beta tested it twice in private with small groups and had amazing results. I’ve had people who have suffered from issues for more than 10 years who have healed because the course empowered them with the right information to know how to talk to their doctor, what questions to ask, and then we found solutions. I’m super excited about it because it's just another way for me to connect with more people and provide the information and education necessary to help people to heal so that they're not overly reliant on a system that's not giving it to them. Let me step in and intervene and give you what you need.
[01:47:33] Ashley James: I love it, I love it. And so many symptoms people don't realize are related to gut issues like the thyroid we had mentioned, but also serotonin levels. So depression and anxiety often the root is in the gut because there's a direct relationship between serotonin production, gut health, and the nerves that connect the brain to the gut. Skin issues—so psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, and the list goes on and on.
You had mentioned hormones, but our brain fog, our energy, our weight gain—there are so many health issues that you don't realize start in the gut. By making sure we have the healthiest gut possible, we may actually be resolving mental, emotional health issues and strengthening our mental and emotional health, strengthening the health of our immune system. 70% of our immune system surrounds our gut and is directly affected by our gut and by the food we eat.
I’m sure you have this information on your website, especially because you have a guide to COVID and maintaining optimal health through this. Listeners can go to theplantfedgut.com. They can fill out their information to get your super snack guide for gut health. And then once your course is available, you just email them? Is that the best way for them to be notified on your—
[01:49:06] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: That’s right, theplantfedgut.com
[01:49:07] Ashley James: What's the name of your course? Have you named it yet?
[01:49:11] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: Yup. It’s the Plant Fed Gut Online Course.
[01:49:13] Ashley James: Okay, great. Easy enough to remember. Awesome. We'll have all that information in the show notes of today's podcast. Thank you so much. Please come back to the show. I’d love to have you back.
[01:49:23] Dr. Will Bulsiewicz: I would definitely will. Looking forward to it. Thanks, Ashley.
[01:49:25] Ashley James: Thanks so much. I hope you enjoyed today's interview with Dr. Will Bulsiewicz. It was amazing. I did not know that fiber in the gut creates short-chain fatty acids that are so important for overall health. And there are so many fascinating things to learn about how we could support the microbiome through our diet.
Coming up next in the next episode, we're going to dive even deeper and learn more about how we can support the microbiome of the body with the food that we eat. And how we can actually use tests—special lab tests that you can do in your own home that will tell you all about what foods to eat and what foods not to eat to best support your microbiome in producing special chemicals that heal the body and boost the immune system. It is so fascinating.
Now, as you listen to the episodes of all these amazing people and you think to yourself you would love to learn more about holistic health, you'd love to learn more about how you can heal your body and also help others. If you're interested in augmenting your own health or changing your career becoming a health coach, I highly recommend checking out IIN, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. I went through their program, I absolutely loved it.
Many people go through the program just for personal growth alone, and I had such an amazing time with the personal growth that I got out of it that I would have just done it for that alone. But on top of that, you also learn a whole career. So you can do it just for yourself and your own personal growth, you can do it to help your friends and family, or you could do it to shift careers. Or maybe you already work with people and you want to have another tool in your tool belt, IIN sets you up to be successful as a health coach, they train you how to do it. They guide you, they hold your hand, it's an amazing program, it's very nourishing, it's all about holistic health on, not only a physical level, but also a mental, emotional, spiritual, and energetic level. It's a fantastic program.
Why don't you just try a section of their course for free? Go to learntruehealth.com/coach. That's learntruehealth.com/coach and they'll give you a free module for you to try out and see if you like it. See if that's something that you'd be interested in. And if you're interested in it, call IIN. Just google IIN, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and talk to them. Make sure you mention Ashley James and the Learn True Health podcast because they give a huge discount to our listeners. I’ve been just raving about them for years because I had a wonderful experience with them, and so many of our listeners have gone through the program as well. They've given all of our listeners a really fantastic discount.
You can go ahead and check out a free module by going to learntruehealth.com/coach and you can just give them a call. Just google IIN and call the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Everyone you talk to on the phone has gone through their program, so they can actually sit down with you almost like a coaching session. And they can help you plan out your goals. They genuinely want to help you. There's not like a sales pitch when you get on the phone with them. It's not like a high-pressure sales pitch. They really lovingly and genuinely want to support everyone to make the right choice for them. And if IIN is the right choice, then they want to help you with that.
So go ahead, check it out, give them a call, and see how you like it. I highly recommend it and encourage you to check it out if you're looking to do some online learning, especially these days when we can be home more, learning more, absorbing more great information to better ourselves. What a perfect time to do that. To take this time to go into our cocoon and transform ourselves.
We can choose to be a victim or we can choose to be a cause in our world, and I choose to be a cause in my world-transforming myself. When the times get tough, I’m going to transform myself. I’m going to choose to learn and grow and be even better when times are hard. And I know you want to as well. Have a fantastic rest of your day. I’m looking forward for you to listen to the next episode. It's going to be fantastic, I can't wait. Please share this episode with those you love and continue sharing so we could help as many people as possible to learn true health.
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Health Coach, Podcast Creator, Homeschooling Mom, Passionate About God & Healing
Ashley James is a Holistic Health Coach, Podcaster, Rapid Anxiety Cessation Expert, and avid Whole Food Plant-Based Home Chef. Since 2005 Ashley has worked with clients to transform their lives as a Master Practitioner and Trainer of Neuro-linguistic Programming.
Her health struggles led her to study under the world’s top holistic doctors, where she reversed her type 2 diabetes, PCOS, infertility, chronic infections, and debilitating adrenal fatigue.
In 2016, Ashley launched her podcast Learn True Health with Ashley James to spread the TRUTH about health and healing. You no longer need to suffer; your body CAN and WILL heal itself when we give it what it needs and stop what is harming it!
The Learn True Health Podcast has been celebrated as one of the top holistic health shows today because of Ashley’s passion for extracting the right information from leading experts and doctors of holistic health and Naturopathic medicine
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