Using The Paleo Diet To Cure Disease w/ Chris Kresser
Greetings, SuperFriends, and welcome to this week's show.
Today we are joined by the New York Times Bestselling Author behind the book, “The Paleo Cure” and the host of Revolution Health Radio Podcast. You might remember in the past, we had my friend and role model Robb Wolf on the show, who is considered one of the most central folks to the Paleo movement. Well, Robb called today’s guest the most knowledgable clinician in the paleo world – and for that reason, we just had to get him on today’s show.
You’ve seen him and his work in TIME, NPR, The Atlantic, and more – but it turns out that as a licensed acupuncturist and a self-described “health detective,” today’s guest has a lot more to teach us about health than just dieting.
In this episode, we talk about everything from the paleo diet, to how it can repair quite a bit of chronic health ailments, to the many issues with our modern lifestyles, and much, much more.
In this episode, we discuss:
- How Chris Kresser discovered the paleo diet – after a life-threatening illness
- What made Chris so sick, and why wasn't he able to recover?
- Why is it that the paleo diet is so incredibly effective at restoring health for so many maladies?
- The idea that nearly all forms of disease come from a dissonance from natural evolutionary conditions
- The many ways our conditions differ from how we're evolved to live – and why they make us sick
- In what ways, if any, does Chris Kresser agree or disagree with Robb Wolf and Dr. Loren Cordain?
- How has Chris' work as a clinician informed his approach to “the paleo diet”
- What kinds of disease has Chris Kresser been able to cure with the paleo diet?
- What is the most gratifying result Chris has ever seen in his work?
- How exactly do genes and blood type influence how you apply the paleo diet?
- What is “methylation” and why is it a core part of our physiology?
- An example of how genetic expression has been altered for billions of people
- How does Chris Kresser's understanding of Chinese medicine influence his understanding of the paleo diet?
- The 80/20 rule, and how Chris applies it to diet and nutrition
- A discussion of orthorexia, and when “clean” eating becomes “too clean”
- Thoughts on life balance, pragmatism, and what it means to be truly “superhuman”
- What 1 thing would make most people much better off?
- Which books have most changed Chris Kresser's life?
- A discussion on reading – and how Chris reads a staggering 3 books a week
- Where to learn more and download free eBooks
- What is the #1 biggest takeaway from this episode?
Resources Mentioned in This Episode:
- ChrisKresser.com (Formerly The Healthy Skeptic)
- Our previous episode with Dr. Loren Cordain
- Our previous episode with Robb Wolf
- Chris Kresser debunks the “blood type” diet
- Our previous episode with David Heinemeier Hansson
- Food Rules by Michael Polan
- Opening the Hand of Thought by Kōshō Uchiyama
- Turning Suffering Inside Out by Darlene Cohen
- The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss
- Essentialism by Gray Mckeown
- Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch
- Undefended Love by Jet Psaris
- Money by Tony Robbins
- Your Money Or Your Life by Joseph R. Dominguez
- Revolution Health Radio Podcast
Favorite Quotes from Chris Kresser:
Introduction: Welcome to the Becoming SuperHuman Podcast. Where we interview extraordinary people to bring you the skills and strategies to overcome the impossible. And now here's your host, Jonathan Levi.
Jonathan Levi: Before we get started, I just want to let you guys know that this week's episode is brought to you by my new online course Become A SuperHuman and yes, it sounds exactly like the title of the podcast. But this is actually an online course, where we go into the various aspects of improving your health, specifically your endocrine health.
More specifically, yes, more specifically, getting your testosterone up to the optimal levels. Now whether you're a male or a female, as we've learned in numerous episodes of the show, testosterone is the ultimate feel-good motivation, improved health, improved fitness, improved body composition, super drug.
Okay. So everything from your mood to your recovery time and everything in between is affected by your body's endocrine health and what my team and I have done is we've actually taken years of my own self-experimentation, years of research.
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Greetings, SuperFriends, and welcome to this week's show. You guys today, we are joined by the New York Times Bestselling Author behind the book, The Paleo Cure. Who is also the host of the Revolution Health Radio Podcast.
Now you might remember in the past, we have had my friend and role model Rob Wolf on the show who's considered to be basically one of the most central folks to the paleo movement. Well, Rob actually called today's guest the most knowledgeable clinician in the paleo world. And so for that reason, well, we just had to get him on today's show and talk about paleo again, but we actually talked about so much more.
We talked about preventing disease. We talked about dissonance between our lifestyles today and the way our bodies are designed to be used far beyond the realm of diet. We talked about reading, we talked about books, we really talked about a lot. So we're going to get onto the interview in just a second, just to let you guys know.
I do apologize for the audio quality. It is a little bit hectic as I'm trying to build a studio here, so we'll have better quality. So if there's any echo or traffic noise, I do apologize. So without any further ado, let me present to you, Mr. Chris Kresser.
Chris Kresser, welcome to the show, my friend, how are you doing today?
Chris Kresser: I'm great, Jonathan, thanks for having me absolute pleasure.
Jonathan Levi: We've been really excited to have you on the show and I've been looking forward to this one all day. So, I'm really, really excited to get into it.
Chris Kresser: Great, me too. Let's do it.
Jonathan Levi: Chris, tell us a little, little bit about your background more specifically. How did you get to where you are today and how is it that you came to discover the paleo diet?
Chris Kresser: Well, I was traveling in my early twenties. After I graduated from college, I worked a little bit and decided that I would prefer to take off and see the world.
So, uh, I did that and I was surfing in Indonesia, I, which is a Mecca for surfers and was staying in a little village on a small Island called Simbaba. And some locals there had unbeknownst to some of the surfers in the village, dug a trench between a pool of stagnant water, where cows were milling around and deprecating, and the river mouth, which then carried all of that water out into the surf break.
And so. Right myself and several other surfers there got really sick, uh, classic tropical illness symptoms. And, you know, it was vomiting, diarrhea, delirious fever. Don't really remember much of those three days and Australian guy who was in the village had some antibiotics that kind of brought me back from the brink and I didn't really see a doctor or anything.
I was in a kind of remote area of Indonesia and was continuing to travel. After that, I went to the Maldives, islands off the coast of India. I went to Mauritius and Reunion Island and South Africa. And by the time I made it South Africa, it was pretty clear that things were going in the wrong direction.
I was getting worst instead of better and developing a lot of chronic symptoms, gut-related. After that episode in Indonesia. And even though I had planned to keep going to South America and work my way back up through central America, I ended up having to cut that trip short and come home because of the illness and cutting a very long story short that evolved into a decade long process of returning to health.
And along the way, among other things that I discovered that were helpful to me in that process, a paleo type of diet, although I didn't know that that's what it was called at that time. I just sort of discovered it on my own through a number of different things I was exploring was one of the things that really helped me to recover and feel well again.
So from there, I went back to school to kind of formalize the informal education that I had obtained in the school of hard knocks, as far as, you know, recovering health and decided to turn that into a way that I can help other people that were struggling with similar issues and started a blog when I was still in school, which was called the Healthy Skeptic originally.
And now it's ChrisKresser.com my main website and oh, one thing led to another and here I am.
Jonathan Levi: Amazing. So what was it exactly that you got from this runoff water or was it kind of one thing that we can during immunity that led to other things?
Chris Kresser: There are actually three parasites. So there was Giardia Blastocystis, and entamoeba histolytica, which is actually an amoeba.
So it was a trifecta of tropical organisms that don't play nicely in our gut. And having said that though. I think that was the trigger. I think the, there were several things that made me susceptible to that kind of invasion and not able to recover from it quickly. And I know that, for example, there were some other surfers that got sick there, who I stayed in contact with, and it was interesting to watch the different progression that their experience to, you know, some people ended up being sick for quite a long time.
Like me, other people recovered fairly quickly. And I think the way to explain that is, you know, what was the state of the host environment when those organisms were introduced? And for me, I took, you know, like many people in my generation, I'm 42. So my generation was the first to grow up, taking antibiotics, like they were candy now.
So we took a ton of antibiotics for, you know, anything and everything, you know, from a cold that was misdiagnosed as a sinus infection to, uh, you know, mild acne issues that I had, which teenagers don't love. Of course. Yeah, it was just like, at that time, there was no understanding that antibiotics were harmful.
And so my mom and dad were doing the best they could to help me. And I don't blame them on, I don't even really blame the doctors. It was just like, that was the deal. So.
Jonathan Levi: Absolutely. Yeah, it was on, I mean, I'm about 10 years younger than you. A little more. And I was on, I think it was a mock Sicilian for like, You know, three years for acne because that's just a normal thing.
I mean, that sounds ridiculous now, but 15 years ago. Yeah. That was like a normal thing that you prescribed to a 13-year-old kid.
Chris Kresser: That's right. 3 years of a broad-spectrum antibiotic, you know, that we now know even just one single course of amoxicillin can permanently alter the gut flora. So I think that in my day I was better than average, certainly much better than average when I was in high school and growing up, but it was still, you know, not what I would consider to be a, you know, an optimal diet.
And, and so I think I was just kind of primed for. Uh, colonization, really, if you want to be upfront about it by these parasites. And it was hard for me to get rid of them. And then, of course, the medications and herbs that I had to take to get rid of the parasites, I think ultimately were as damaging as the parasites themselves, if not more.
So sometimes the treatment is worse than the cure as they say. So then it was like the ten-year process of recovering was really like undoing. Not only the damage that had been done throughout my whole childhood, that predisposed me to getting so sick but also the damage that was done by the treatments themselves.
Jonathan Levi: Yeah. It's a common story. We hear, you know, people who were put on statins and have like nervous system issues and people who are put on all kinds of stuff. And I think it's something that's come up so many times is like the best situation is preventative medicine. Right. And not putting yourself in that compromised position.
Second, best is probably trying to heal yourself as naturally as possible. It sounds like you did a lot of that with the paleo diet. I want to touch on that actually, because for those who haven't heard our previous episodes with Dr. Cordain or Rob Wolf, could you maybe explain the paleo diet in your words really briefly and why you think it holds so much potential for bringing people to health as it brought you to health?
Chris Kresser: Hmm. So, all organisms are adapted to survive and thrive in a particular environment. And when that environment changes faster than the organism can adapt and a mismatch occurs. And now most evolutionary biologists. Understand that this mismatch is primarily what's responsible for all modern disease. And so put more simply every animal in nature is designed to eat a specific diet.
They evolved eating that diet in their natural environment. And as long as they eat that diet, you know, they're predisposed to health. If the diet that, that organism or animal evolved on changes very quickly, faster than their genes can adapt, then there's a problem.
Jonathan Levi: Precisely.
Chris Kresser: That's the philosophical underpinning of the paleolithic approach to nutrition, which is just, Hey, look, our bodies are built for certain kinds of foods.
We have a long history of eating meat, fish, wild fruits, and vegetables. It's nuts and seeds and some starchy plants. We've eaten those for thousands and thousands of generations. Our body knows how to process them and extract nutrients from them very well. And they're not harmful or toxic to us. And today the top six foods that Americans eat are like sugar-sweetened beverages, grain-based desserts, alcohol, totally chicken dishes, primarily fried chicken nuggets, and bread.
So these are completely outside that evolutionary template. And in addition to being energy-dense, meaning lots of calories and nutrient-poor. They also contain a lot of substances that our bodies just don't know what to do with, and it can be toxic and harmful. So totally. That's the basic idea.
Jonathan Levi: And I want to touch on one thing you said, which I thought was really interesting. I've never heard before this idea that like all disease comes from a dissonance between how the organism was evolved and kind of evolutionarily designed to live. I mean, I think we all kind of realize that now, but. As you were saying that I was thinking about, you know, Hey, chickenpox, smallpox, measles, mumps, all this stuff, swine flu, black plague.
All these things came from our movement as a species. Into cities living with livestock. I mean, we never lived with livestock into crowded quarters, into, I mean it all, and one could argue also, you know, cancer can come from that kind of thing and a dissonance from our, our natural environment. So I think that was a really interesting thing to mention.
Chris Kresser: Absolutely. And it, the important thing to understand, I always like to make this clear, as it extends far beyond diet. The diet is just one aspect of our environment, but you can apply the same evolutionary mismatch theory to all other aspects of the modern environment that are making us sick. So just to use a few examples, number one is light exposure, you know, for the vast majority of evolutionary history.
We lived in equatorial region with roughly equal amounts of light and dark. You know, we woke up when the sun rose and we went to sleep shortly after the sun went down. We were not exposed to bright lights throughout the night. And we weren't like awake when it was dark pretty much. And you might think that that's not a big deal, but actually, it's a huge deal because every organism on the planet down to the most simple single-celled organism evolved in a certain 24-hour cycle of light and dark.
Jonathan Levi: Absolutely.
Chris Kresser: So we're talking about billions of years of evolution here. So, and only in the last 150 years. So we started to mess with that with artificial light and artificial lights had a lot of benefits, no doubt, but it's really messing with our physiology and there are tons of studies connecting exposure, artificial light at the wrong times. You know, everything from doing shift work to like staring at an iPad right before you go to bed with increased risk of obesity, diabetes, cancer, neurodegenerative disease, et cetera.
Jonathan Levi: Yeah, no doubt.
Chris Kresser: And then, you know, sitting in a chair. Humans did not sit in chairs for the most of our evolutionary history.
And we're not our bodies. Aren't really designed for that. And they're certainly not designed for a sedentary lifestyle and we're suffering the consequences of that. So we can go right down the line from there to stress and pleasure and social grouping, you know, like the, we live primarily in isolating alienating, social environments now nuclear family, which is totally new for human history.
Monogamy, but now, I mean, you look at the whole template and you see that our modern lifestyle is really a complete aberration from the environment that humans evolved in and evolutionary biology recognizes that that is going to cause significant problems. And so here we are.
Jonathan Levi: Yeah. I love it. You just did a wonderful review of the last 90 or so episodes of the show and kind of one paragraph and even, yeah.
In the coming months, I'm going to be on the paleo solution podcast with Rob. And we're going to talk about this idea of paleo learning. Like why do so many people struggle with their memory and struggled to remember things and struggled to learn things? And it's exactly that it's like, if you want to really learn from a book, you need to relate to that book, the way that, you know, your paleolithic ancestors would learn new information and that's a much more tactile vision-based form of learning.
Chris Kresser: So I like that.
Jonathan Levi: Yeah. I think that's really, really kind of the way things are going is this return to not only like tribal wisdom, but paleolithic wisdom.
Actually, on the note of Rob Wolf, I want to ask you a really tough question that I asked Tim and I asked Dr. Cordain and I even asked Mark Sisson, which is, I think it'll maybe help our audience for in the episode a little bit better. So in the paleo space, where do you see yourself fitting in, or in other words, how is your work different and where do you agree or disagree with those folks?
Chris Kresser: Yeah. So for me, it's a pretty straightforward question actually. I mean, I'm really good friends with both Robin and Mark and you know, anything that I say here, I would say, right. If they were sitting right next to me, so totally Loren Cordain, I don't know as well. And we differ the most. I'm not interested in the paleo diet per se and actually the diet that I recommend he would not consider paleo.
And he's actually been quite vociferous in his objections to my rotations of paleo. For me, paleo is just a word. It's a word that points at a particular approach to nutrition. And I think it's a word that carries a lot of baggage with it. And in fact, you know, even when I wrote my book and decided to use the word and the title originally, I was not going to use the word paleo in the title because I was very much aware of the baggage that it carried with it.
And I was also very much aware that the diet that I recommend is not strictly paleo, at least what Dr. Cordain would consider, paleo. And we can talk more about that but for example, I believe that, uh, full-fat fermented dairy and even properly prepared grains and lagoons when consumed in moderation can be part of a healthy diet for some people.
So that's probably the biggest difference between myself and Dr. Cordain, Rob and Mark and I are much closer in terms of what we believe and recommend in terms of diet. I think particularly over the years, Rob would tell you that he has softened in his approach. He probably started out closer to Dr. Cordain, which makes sense because Dr. Cordain was his mentor in college and he spent a lot of time with him. And I think over the years, Rob has come to agree or see that. In some cases, these foods that which would be considered anathema and totally conventional paleo paradigm actually work well for people.
So, yeah, Mark has kind of always had that approach with dairy and, you know, maybe less so with grains and legumes, but neither Mark nor Robert are dogmatic. And that's why I think we all get along so well. You know, we are really interested in what works for people and a lot less interested in dogma. And I think that comes from a direct experience of working with people in all of our cases, but really like, I think what differentiates my approach somewhat is that I'm first and foremost a clinician.
So I, I treat patients. I have a functional medicine practice in a very busy practice in Berkeley. And I've treated thousands of patients over my career that are dealing with complex chronic and often mysterious illnesses, just like I had and that clinical work really informs my approach.
So one of the things that I've always been, you know, really a big advocate of is the idea that there's no one size fits all approach, that you really have to tailor an approach to diet and lifestyle and supplementation based on each individual's unique needs.
And I think that perspective comes directly out of working with patients because it's easy. If you just, for example, write books and you don't have any interaction with patients and fail people to kind of get really attached to your ideas. But if you're a clinician and you have a chance to actually see every day how those ideas work and don't work in clinical practice, you very quickly learn to let go of even your most cherished ideas.
If your primary goal is to help people. You know, I do know some clinicians that if their ideas don't work, they basically just try more of them or, you know, find something wrong with the patient that's causing their ideas, not to work rather than adapting their ideas. But in general, most clinicians I know are much more open-minded about their approach because they have a laboratory in which they get to actually test their ideas.
Jonathan Levi: I really like that. And I also, I definitely see the trend in Mark and Rob's work that you've seen, you know, reading Rob's book and then talking to Rob a couple of years or five years after he wrote it almost a different animal. And he even admitted, you know, for some people, rice works really well.
He granted me permission to eat, uh, homeless, which I thought was really, really great. It was like the happiest moments for me on the podcast. So let's dive into the clinician thing a little bit though, which is, let's talk about your book more specifically, The Paleo Cure: Eat Right For Your Genes, Body Type And Personal Health Needs — Prevent and Reverse Disease.
It's a long title. I'm going to let the audience check out the full title, but yeah, I'm sure your audience has heard about paleo his ability to shed pounds. And I think that's what so many people talk about is, you know, shed pounds have more energy, feel healthier. I didn't even know. And I'm a big paleo efficient natto.
I didn't know that besides like, you know, celiac flare-ups paleo could reverse disease. So talk to me about the kinds of diseases that you've seen and been able to reverse with just good old fashion. You know, a hundred thousand-year-old diet.
Chris Kresser: Yeah. So this is one of the reasons I answered your earlier question with a step back and a look at the evolutionary biology context of paleo, because when you get that virtually all modern, chronic inflammatory disease is caused by a mismatch between the environment that we evolved to live in and our current modern environment.
Then it's easy to understand that returning to not only a diet but also a lifestyle that's more in sync with our evolutionary template could not only prevent but actually reverse virtually all diseases. So I have patients with Parkinson's disease, for example, that have not just slowed the progression, but actually recovered function, you know, gone from, you know, Having tremors to not having tremors from addressing their diet.
I have children with autism, you know, pretty severe on the spectrum that had never touched their parents go from that to actually hugging their parents, which is probably the most gratifying. If that's the only thing that I ever accomplished in my life, that's worth it. You know, I've seen people with a wide range of autoimmune diseases from Hashimoto's to MS to rheumatoid arthritis, to inflammatory bowel diseases go from being almost completely debilitated, hospitalized to not needing any medication at all.
Now, in those cases, they're not necessarily cured. But they're able to manage their condition without a lot of toxic drugs that sometimes, you know, we talked before about the treatment being worse than the cure.
A lot of the drugs that manage those kinds of conditions are that way. Kids with epilepsy that is almost crippling in part because of the anti-seizure drugs, which are notorious for their horrible side effects, going from, you know, needing to take those medications and being just zombies to not needing to take any medication at all.
So some pretty amazing. I'm picking, of course, the most dramatic example. It's not always that dramatic, but I've seen some pretty remarkable changes across the board with virtually all chronic disease.
Jonathan Levi: Yeah. I was going to say, as I asked the question, I realized, you know. In fact, definitely, diabetes comes up a lot, type one type two hyperinsulinemia, stuff like that. But then, you know, I think when you use the word disease, it's the stuff you're thinking of or talking about Parkinson's, Hashimoto's stuff like that and I think it's just absolutely incredible that you can cure this kind of stuff with paleo. I mean, yeah, if you tell someone like, just cutting out gluten is what's going to make the difference.
It sounds so far-fetched, but then you realize so many people are so chronically malnourished on a micronutrient level that like if you spin it the other way and be like if I completely restricted vitamin C and iron and zinc and magnesium from your diet, is it reasonable to assume that you would get awful diseases like Parkinson's and so on. Yes, of course. Well, that's what a Western diet is doing to you, right?
Chris Kresser: Absolutely. And I mean, you mentioned gluten, and gluten gets picked on a lot. And so to some extent, it can seem a little bit overblown, but I'm telling you in cases, even when people don't have celiac, they have non-celiac wheat sensitivity and we've seen just that single step of removing gluten can take someone from being you know, nearly hospitalized or, or almost totally debilitated to being totally functional.
So, you know, it's not often in my experience that easy because I get the most complex patients and most of my patients who come to me have already been following my work for years, they read my book. They're already not eating gluten and they're still struggling, but occasionally I will get that patient who doesn't know that they're gluten intolerant. We discover that they are, we remove it and their life changes almost overnight. Yeah. It's pretty incredible to watch.
Jonathan Levi: Absolutely. So I want to touch on another aspect of the title of your book, Chris, which is eating right for your genes, body type, and so on.
And I'll tell you why I want to touch on that because a lot of times, you know, I talk to people, I pitch people on the paleo diet actually have it in my learning course, my productivity course because really you'll be more productive. You'll learn faster, you'll have higher testosterone, all this stuff.
And so I talk about it and a lot of times people kind of pull out ideas like, Oh, but yeah, different blood types should or should not eat meat. And from, you know, I understand that from a microbiome perspective, we all respond differently to different foods. I mean, I grew up eating X, you grew up eating, Y your bacteria respond better, but shed a little light for me on genes. And I know microbiome can express gene expression, but in terms of actual genetic makeup out of the box, the day you're born buddy type stuff like that, how does that influence the variability of how you might apply the diet?
Chris Kresser: Yeah. So first of all, there's no evidence to support the blood type idea. And actually one of the first podcasts I ever did with episode number three, I don't even know what episode I'm on now, but it's, this is way back in like 2011, maybe 2010 was debunking the blood type diet. So if someone just, once you search for Kresser blood type, it will come it's the number one result.
You can click on that and there's a transcript and the podcast. So if you want more detail on it, doesn't work. Yeah. I mean, you'll find that the more typos. Say that it works and guess why typo is a paleo type of diet. So anyhow, moving on to genes and diet. So one of the best ways of explaining the relationship between genes and environment is the same genes load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.
So, what this means is that our genes can predispose us to certain responses to the modern environment, but it's really the modern environment. That's the problem. And we know this because our ancestors who were virtually free of chronic inflammatory disease, as well as modern Hunter-gatherers that have been studied, shared most of the same genes, about 90% of the same genes.
And yet they didn't have these diseases. So that tells us that something in the environment. That's interacting with our genes that is causing these problems. Now, having said that our genes do predispose us in important ways to problems. So just to use a few examples, there are genes that affect carbohydrate tolerance, and this can explain why some people appear to do better on a lower-carb diet while others when they eat higher, carbohydrate diet will be more susceptible to developing diabetes or obesity or other problems like that.
There are genes that affect our methylation status. Methylation capacity. If someone has polymorphisms in those genes, they may require higher amounts of nutrients that support methylation. And if they don't get those nutrients, they can develop a lot of conditions that are related to poor methylation.
Jonathan Levi: I'm sorry, what is methylation? That's a new one for me.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, methylation is a process. It's a little tricky to explain, but it's the addition of a methyl donor to a compound in the body. That's the scientific definition, but it happens about a million times a second. It's very core part of our physiology and it turns gene expression on or off, essentially.
So yeah. It's like the on or off switch for gene expression and genes are running the show. So, you know, genes express, they produce enzymes and enzymes run everything. So how your genes are turning on or off basically governs your health, whether you're sick or well, and so methylation is very important and there are genetic polymorphism to the effect that, and then there's a whole nother layer where there's an exchange that's happening between the microbiome genome like the genes of all of the microorganisms in our gut and our own genes.
And this is only been newly discovered. And this is kind of what determined some of the crosstalk that happens between our gut microbiome and our own bodies. So it's really fascinating. But at the end of the day, I think the way to understand it is that your genes kind of determined what road you'll go down once you're exposed to the modern environment.
So one person might get type two diabetes. Another person might develop rheumatoid arthritis. Another person might develop MS and its genes that determine that. But it's. Whether they are exposed to the modern environment. And to what extent they are that determines whether they go down any of those roads. Does that make sense?
Jonathan Levi: Makes total sense. So in short, I mean, give us some examples of, you know, if you have this genetic makeup or maybe you're from this ethnic background, you would modify it this way. So for example, Rob wants told me, you know, If your people, I believe you said if your people, your ancestors came from East Asian cultures, then you'll do better with rice than a westerner.
Might, do you have any other kind of examples that you've observed in the clinic over and over to where. I mean, basically, I'm just looking for another free pass to eat Mediterranean food as much as I want.
Chris Kresser: All right. Well, so dairy is a really good example of this. So humans up until about 10,000 years ago, humans, did not continue to produce lactase, which is the enzyme that breaks down dairy products after childhood. Every baby, even today still produces lactase because they consume mother's milk. That's, you know, from an evolutionary perspective, we needed to be able to digest lactose and mother's milk as babies.
Cause that was our primary food source. But once in the paleolithic era, once a baby was done breastfeeding, they didn't need to continue digesting milk because none of our ancestors at that point consumed dairy products, they had cows had not been domesticated. So a lactase production stopped after weening, but then about 10,000 years ago or 11,000 years ago, there was a spontaneous mutation in the gene for lactase, which often is how evolution works. The mutations are spontaneous and that allowed, you know, some people just to be able to digest lactose and in an environment where food scarcity occurred and where drought occurred and famine occurred early on during the agricultural period, being able to digest milk.
Which was a source of hydration and a source of calories and a source of nutrients that were hard to come by and other foods like calcium and fat-soluble vitamins would have been an advantage from a survival perspective. And so that gene then got selected for over and over again, until it became more and more prevalent.
And today, lactase persistence, which is the production of lactase into adulthood, which allows you to digest lactose and milk is about a third of people around the world have this. And they would be the people who would be fine in most cases with dairy products, but the prevalence of lactase persistence, various tremendously from place to place.
So I just said it's 30%, that's an average in Scandinavia can be as high as 97%. So if you're Swedish or Norwegian, there's a pretty good chance that you can digest lactose because of those statistics. But if you are Asian, for example, the lactase persistence is really low. It's like, you know, 15 to 20% there.
So people of Asian descent often don't do well with dairy products. And in Africa, it depends on where in East Africa, lactase persistence is very high, but in Southern Africa or West parts of Africa, not so much. So, so that's probably the best example of how this works with genes and environment.
Jonathan Levi: It's really interesting cause I had been told long ago and I often bash on the nutrition classes that I took back at Berkeley. For just the, you know, giving us the, you need to eat X, many servings of grains a day, but we were told, you know, why is it that Asian population specifically, China don't have lactase persistence.
What's cause they stop eating. You know, they don't integrate milk products after weaning off milk. And you're saying it's actually kind of a chicken and the egg, but that it's reverse that they'd reason that you don't find milk and cheese in Chinese foods and dishes like you do in Indian foods is because, in fact, such a low percentage of the population has lactase persistence.
Chris Kresser: Yeah. Or another way of looking at it is the selective pressure for them to develop lactase persistence was lower than it was in the areas where it did develop. Maybe they were better nourished at that time and had less of a need to develop that as a survival advantage. So the mutations, although they, no doubt occurred because they occur spontaneously, they weren't selected for.
Um, and that's probably because they didn't domesticate cattle and consume those, those products. And didn't have that as an available food source and there wasn't a selective pressure to develop, you know, for those mutations to become more prevalent.
Jonathan Levi: Interesting. So while we're on the topic, Chris of China and specifically Chinese and integrative medicine. I know that you have a background in Eastern medicine and acupuncture. So maybe walk us through because you're the first person I've ever met. Who's had this paleo optimizer, like let's fix your diet approach and also the entire kind of different hemisphere of your brain, which is thinking in terms of Chinese medicine.
So walk us through maybe a little bit of an analysis of the paleo diet but through the eyes of someone who's studied Chinese medicine as extensively as you have.
Chris Kresser: Yeah. Well, to be honest, I haven't maintained that perspective. I think there are a lot of things that are great about the way that food is looked at and Chinese medicine.
I think what I took away were more of the general guidelines and principles and their specific approach to food. So for example, in Chinese medicine, there's an idea of foods that create heat and foods that create dampness, and foods that are cold. And I'm not saying there's nothing to that. I'm just saying it's not a lens that I like through at this point, but the things that I did take away from my study of Chinese medicine with regards to diet were the general principles.
So for example, the Chinese recognized 2,500 years ago that the idea of recommending one diet to every single different person is just ridiculous. You know, like there's so much individual variation. The diet could change based on somebody's health status, their age, their goals. You know, whether they are physically active or not physically active, and you have to really customize and tweak the recommendations based on all of those factors. And that was written about in their textbooks, you know? Couple of millennia ago. So that's a really important principle.
Another one is there's a saying that I've often repeated in traditional Chinese medicine that goes, it's better to eat the wrong food with the right attitude than the right food with the wrong attitude. And that is something that I think is really important to understand that there's a strong relationship between emotions and psychology and how we process food that is not really talked about much in this culture.
And that doesn't mean that if you're gluten intolerant, And you love pizza and beer, that you'll be able to eat pizza and beer with abandon and not suffer the consequences, but it does mean that obsessively focusing on what you eat and not experiencing pleasure or joy when you eat is probably not going to be helpful and may even be harmful.
And so it leads to what I often recommend. And I wrote about in my book, which is the 80/20 rule when it comes to diet. And the 80/20 is I use not because I think the numbers should be exact. They have to be customized to depending on your situation, but it's a concept. Most people now have heard of the 80/20 idea, which is that you know, if 80% of the time you'd follow pretty closely the guidelines that I set out in the book. And then the other 20% of the time you loosen up the restrictions a little bit, maybe when you're out to dinner with friends or you're traveling or something like that. If you're generally healthy, that will work pretty well for most people.
And there's diminishing return. In that last 20%, the closer you get to a hundred percent, the more the returns diminish and the more it tends to lead to what I would see as almost orthorexia, you know, like an unhealthy obsession or focus on clean and healthy eating that takes away from life in other ways.
So those are probably the two biggest concepts that I apply from Chinese medicine in general, to, you know, approach to nutrition, specifically.
Jonathan Levi: Yeah, it's really, I have to say refreshing to hear you say that because so many people in the kind of dieting community are talking about, well, if you want to get it right way and measure, make sure you're hitting all your proper nutrients every day.
And I personally like I've, I've had friends who were pretty severely orthorexic and for those who don't know, orthorexia is where you have like an obsessive kind of, uh, approach to the quality of what you're putting in your body. Right? So like anyone who needs to read a label fully and understand exactly how the cow was raised and everything before they put something in their mouth might likely be an orthorexic. And I can just say that it can be psychologically, just as damaging as being obese.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, let's face it in the general population. The problem is not enough focus on what they're eating, but amongst people who are listening to this podcast and other podcasts and particularly my podcast, I think the other problem is maybe just as prevalent, you know, where I have patients who I talk in the book about the importance of focusing on the weakest link in the chain. So I have a lot of patients, for example, who know an enormous amount about nutrition. They've tried paleo, but not only paleo, they've tried, auto-immune paleo, low-FODMAP paleo, you know, all kinds of variations of paleo.
They got their diet completely dialed in, but they're almost entirely ignoring stress management or sleep or physical activity or some other aspect of our lifestyle and environment that absolutely needs to be dialed in in order for someone to be healthy. And so, you know, an obsessive focus on any of those things, whether it's diet or physical activity, which are the two things that most people tend to get obsessed with can be harmful.
Jonathan Levi: Absolutely. I really liked the way that you explained that you know, when I did our marketing guy had me do an explainer video of like what the podcast is about why we want you to tune in. And it was exactly that, you know, the old definition of superhuman is someone who can, you know, do crazy feats of strength.
But I think our definition on the show is someone who's just a well-rounded human, who has everything, as you said, dialed in from the health, the sleep, the exercise, the nutrition, the relationships. And I think that when you really meet someone, you know, we had David Heinemeier Hansson on the show. Who's someone who I have long thought to be SuperHuman.
And this guy has his work life, his hobbies, his family life, his financial life, everything, every aspect of his life is so well put together and well balanced that I think that's what makes him SuperHuman.
Chris Kresser: Absolutely. And yeah, I don't have much to add to that other than it's the easiest thing that gets overlooked.
We all tend to gravitate towards the things that. We are either good at, or that come easily to us. And it's a lot easier often just to, even though diet change is not easy for most people, it's easier to change your diet or even change your supplement routine than it is to cultivate more meaningful social interactions or manage your stress because those things often require a deep change in your approach to life and who you are.
Whereas changing your diet and your supplement regime, you can still continue with your, you know, ingrained patterns of behavior and change your diet and the pills that you take without really addressing those things.
Jonathan Levi: Right. It's like you said, you know, the first 20% really like eat more fresh fruits and veggies.
That's the first 20%. And it may not be 80%, but you're going to feel a hell of a lot better just from that. Yeah, exactly. So awesome. So, Chris, I want to ask you to complete the sentence for me, and it goes, most people would be much better off if they just dot, dot, dot.
Chris Kresser: Eat real food.
Jonathan Levi: Ooh, solid one.
Chris Kresser: Just three words.
I mean, I sincerely believe that if people eat real food, The vast majority of our health problems would disappear. I really like Michael Pollan's twist on that, which is cooking at home because if you're cooking at home, you're eating real food. You know, most people aren't going to buy a lot of highly refined and processed stuff and go home and cook it.
You know, it's like, so if you're cooking at home, you're using real ingredients, you're eating real food. I think that's 80% of the way there.
Jonathan Levi: Michael Poland's food rules was the first book that I read, I think on dieting ever. And he brings it down so simply right. Eat food. Not too much, mostly plants. And his definition of food is not inclusive of food-like substances.
Uh, Twinkies, not food. So food, real food, and not do much and mostly plants. Chris, can you share with us a few books that have changed your life on this topic of books?
Chris Kresser: Oh, yeah, that's always a great question. I'm a voracious reader. So it's always hard for me to answer that question and it depends on what sort of area realm we're talking about, but I think for me, the books that have changed my life on the deepest level have been books about spiritual practice and meditation, Opening The Hand of Thought by Kosho Uchiyama Roshi, which is a book on Zen practice. And that's been my primary practice for many, many years now is a really powerful book. Turning Suffering Inside Out by Darlene Cohen is a book that I recommend to any of my patients that are struggling with chronic illness as I was for many years.
And Darlene was my Zen teacher, but she also had debilitating rheumatoid arthritis and cancer twice, which was ultimately what took her life. But she was just one of the brightest spirits I've ever come across in my life, despite being in really intense pain for most of her life. So that's an incredible resource.
For productivity and work, there's so many good books a long time ago. Right? When it came, I read the Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, which I'm sure a lot of your listeners are familiar with. It's not so much that I recommend that book today as a contemporary expression of those ideas, but many of the ideas that I was introduced to in that book, like batching email, and, you know, the productivity tools and strategies that he pointed toward in that book that I later then you know, further developed on my own or read additional books or resources on were, were really helpful and a big part of my productivity approach.
Jonathan Levi: Absolutely.
Chris Kresser: Along those same lines, but in a different vein, I really like a book called Essentialism by Greg McKeown. And this is a book about productivity, but from a different perspective, it's not about doing more, more productively.
It's about actually doing less as a productivity strategy and learning what is essential and what really needs to be done. And actually letting go of things that don't need to be done because it doesn't make sense to productively do meaningless stuff.
Jonathan Levi: Yeah, absolutely. I think you and Ari Mysel would get along very well in that room.
Chris Kresser: Yeah. Yeah. So I'm familiar with this word. For relationships, I like Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch and Undefended Love by Jet Psaris, PSARIS. And then for money, I really like Tony Robbins' book on Money, which I was surprised by was not very familiar with Tony Robbins previously and actually, Rob Wolf recommended it.
And Rob and I share similar tastes with books and have a lot of, you know, think the same way on a lot of topics. And so I, I read it based on his recommendation and I really enjoyed it.
Jonathan Levi: Interesting, okay. Cause I had heard that it's like a pretty strong upsell to a financial services company, which he has an interest in, but which admittedly is like much more honest than your average financial service company.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, because they're fiduciary advisors.
Jonathan Levi: Exactly.
Chris Kresser: Which means they're legally bound to give you good advice and not just sell you the products they want. Yeah. There is that element and that's why I've always been, I'm a little bit wary, but if you get beyond that, there's a ton of really helpful information.
And that's one of the most important things that people can take away from that book is that in the most financial advisors, even though I'm sure many of them are good people it's as Upton Sinclair famously said, it's difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary is dependent on him, not understanding it.
Jonathan Levi: Exactly.
Chris Kresser: If a financial advisor is their livelihood is based on selling you certain products. It's just humanly very difficult for someone to provide objective information on that situation. So, and then there's the tried and true Your Money or Your Life, which is really the core takeaway there is that the key to achieving financial independence is not necessarily making more and more money, although that is helpful. No doubt, but is actually spending less. So that's one, that's pretty popular and well-known, but it's, it had an influence on me early on.
Jonathan Levi: It's a solid laundry list. It sounds like you're quite the speed reader as well.
Chris Kresser: I could go on and on and read about three books a week on average.
Jonathan Levi: You're kidding me. Let's talk about that. I mean, are you a speed reader? Cause I teach speed reading and I only have time to read about one a week.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, well, certainly that dwindled a little bit when my daughter was born because that quickly became my priority in terms of spare time, but there's still quite a few hours that she's not awake and I can't engage with her.
So, you know, I wish I had something that I could tell you, Jonathan, about this, but I never had formally did any speed reading training. But most people who know me well and, you know, would say that I am definitely a speed reader.
Jonathan Levi: Yeah. I have a feeling if I were to observe you reading and actually watch your eyeballs and stuff like that. Yeah. Probably what I like to call kind of a natural. Where you figured out the same things just by brute force, uh, you know, trial and error.
Chris Kresser: I think that's it. I had such an appetite for reading, even from a very early age that I think I just want, you know, was passionate about finding ways that I could read more in less time.
And that just naturally happened. So.
Jonathan Levi: I love it. You know, we haven't had a guest on the show. I don't think who doesn't read. And I think that's a really big indication of the kind of, you want the habits of success. It starts with the book.
Chris Kresser: Absolutely. I couldn't agree more.
Jonathan Levi: So Chris, where can people learn more and get in touch with you? If they want to check out the stuff you're doing?
Chris Kresser: Yeah. So ChrisKresser.com is my primary website and we've got free eBooks on a variety of health conditions, digestive problems, weight loss, you know, blood sugar regulation, et cetera. So lots of great resources there. My podcast is Revolution Health Radio on iTunes.
And then, uh, last year I launched a program to train the next generation of clinicians in functional medicine and evolutionary approach to diet and lifestyle, which we've been talking about on this show and that's KresserInstitute.com.
Jonathan Levi: Awesome. And Chris, we'll close on one last question, which is, if people take away just one message from this episode and they carry it with them for the rest of their lives, what would you hope for that to be.
Chris Kresser: Hm. I think the concept of mismatch is probably the most important thing for people to understand because it informs everything. It's a lens that we can look through to evaluate virtually any aspect of diet, lifestyle and behavior. And it's not that we're trying to recreate a paleolithic era. You know, we don't have to put on a loincloth and sleep in our backyard to get the benefits of this approach, but we can alter our current diet and lifestyle to be more in sync with our evolutionary template.
And that is the best way to prevent and even reverse disease and ensure a long and healthy life span.
Jonathan Levi: Awesome. I think that's a brilliant note to end on. Chris Kresser, I want to thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your wisdom.
Chris Kresser: Jonathan, it was a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Jonathan Levi: You take care.
Chris Kresser: You too.
Jonathan Levi: All right, SuperFriends that's it for this week's episode. We hope you really, really enjoyed it and learn a ton of applicable stuff that can help you go out there and overcome the impossible. If so, please do us a favor and leave us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. Or however, you found this podcast.
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Closing: Thanks for tuning in to the Becoming SuperHuman Podcast. For more great skills and strategies, or for links to any of the resources mentioned in this episode, visit www.becomingasuperhuman.com/podcast.
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