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Dr Jonny Bowden is the co-author of The Great Cholesterol Myth and in this book he and Dr Stephen Sintra get to the truth about cholesterol levels.
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Allan (1:15): Dr. Bowden, welcome to 40+ Fitness.
Dr. Bowden (1:21): My pleasure, Allan. This is round two. I enjoy it the first time.
Allan (1:26): Yes, it is. The first time was great, and I’m very, very happy and feel privileged and honored to have you back on.
Dr. Bowden (1:33): Thank you.
Allan (1:34): We really had a good discussion about cholesterol in that one. And the name of this book is The Great Cholesterol Myth. We’re going to talk about cholesterol some more today, but I think what I took out of this book that was a little different than other, I guess, anti-cholesterol books or those kinds of books in general…
Dr. Bowden (1:55): Cholesterol skeptic books, let’s call them that way.
Allan (1:56): Skeptic books. Okay, let’s call it that. You and Dr. Sinatra didn’t just say cholesterol doesn’t matter. You took us to that next step to say, “Here’s how you can use those numbers in some way.” But then there are these other four things that are actually what we ought to be paying attention to, and we’re being distracted by this number.
Dr. Bowden (2:21): And those four things I call “The Four Horsemen of Aging”. And here’s an interesting factoid. When we did The Great Cholesterol Myth, we looked at the factors that actually promote heart disease – the real ones, not cholesterol; that’s a minor player – but the real factors, and we isolated four of them. But what I want to tell you that I think is interesting is a previous book of mine, which was originally written in 2008, called The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer, is now being revised in a revised and updated edition for 2019. And guess what? The same four factors are what contribute to early death. So not only are these four factors that I’m about to tell you major promoters of heart disease, they’re major promoters of every disease. In fact, every degenerative disease you don’t want to get, whether it be Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease – they all have these four factors playing in some proportion or another. So these are not just about heart disease. Now I guess you want to know what the factors are, right?
Number one is inflammation. Inflammation is a silent killer. We’ve known that since that famous Time magazine cover about 20 years ago that said, “Inflammation: The Silent Killer”. Nobody knew what it was back then. Now people are talking about it, but I don’t think people really understand the enormity of the contribution of inflammatory processes to just about every disease they get. We get stuffed noses and colds – we know we’ve got inflammation. We get a splinter caught in our shins, and we know we see inflammation. We see it will get all red, but we don’t really comprehend the damage and destruction of chronic inflammation that flies under the radar. Not the stuff you see – not the abscess on your tooth, or the growth of a pimple or any of the inflammation signs that we’re all very familiar with, but the stuff that goes on under the hood – in our arteries, in our veins that we don’t see – that’s the inflammation that kills us, and that is the number one of the four things that we identified as The Four Horsemen of Aging. Inflammation.
Now we can stop right there. I’ll give you the overview. And I’m sure these are many things that you’ve covered on your shows, because these are core subjects that everybody who’s interested in health looks at at one time or another. So inflammation was number one. Number two is oxidative damage. So everything you ever heard about antioxidants – they’re all about fighting this Horseman of Aging – oxidation, oxidative damage, the kind of thing that happens inside your body that parallels what happens when you leave metal out on your front yard and in the rain – it rusts. And when you rust from the inside, you’ve got oxidative damage. So, fighting that is one of the big goals I think of any kind of “anti-aging” program, or any heart disease program for that matter. The number three is something you and I were talking about offline, which is stress. And I know we have a lot to say about stress, so let me put it in context. It’s one of the four biggest promoters of disease, magnifiers of disease, amplifiers of disease, causes of disease. It’s just an enormous factor in all diseases, especially in heart disease, and I can give you some examples of that a little bit later on. And the last one is something that people may not be as familiar with. It’s called glycation. And actually they’re not in any order, because all of these are equally destructive. The fourth Horseman of Aging is sugar, because there’s no glycation without sugar, so we might as well forget about the biochemical process known as “glycation” that ages you from the inside and outside, but let’s talk about the cause of the glycation, which is sugar. So there they are, The Four Horsemen of Aging – inflammation, oxidative stress or oxidative damage, stress, and sugar.
Allan (6:16): Okay. Now, one of the things I harp on my clients, and I probably shouldn’t harp on them because it probably stresses them out a little bit, but I explain to them that we get ourselves kind of locked into one metric. And that metric for most of my clients is going to be their weight. They want to lose some weight, so they’re focused on that one metric. And I keep saying, “If you’re eating whole foods and the scale is not moving, what are the things that are happening inside your body that are good because of what you’re doing, that you just don’t see?” I think inflammation and oxidation and glycation are all those internal things that we could go decades without recognizing that it’s killing us, but we also can go decades when we’re improving our health to just not see the needle move. What are some things that I can look for under the hood? I can go in for blood tests, other things. What are the things I can look for to know that I’m kind of on the right track with regards to those three?
Dr. Bowden (7:26): First, Allan, I want to emphasize and underline what you just said because it was profoundly true, and it’s something we forget about because we’re in such an instant gratification kind of environment. We all are programmed to want results and want to see results overnight. And the drug culture amplifies that, because we all know if you take a Tylenol, your headache is gone, so it’s an instantaneous kind of result. What you were just talking about so wisely and so correctly was the fact that there are many things that don’t show up for a decade or more. For many men – I don’t have the figures in front of me, but they are available, they’re in the National Institute of Health, you can look them up on Google – I’d say it’s for a double-digit percentage of men, a heart attack is their first symptom of heart disease. The heart disease didn’t start with the heart attack. Diabetes has no symptoms. I’m not sure what the number is. I’m not as much of a data nerd as I guess I thought I was, but a very high percentage of diabetes cases are undiagnosed because people have no symptoms, so they don’t go to the doctor. High blood sugar doesn’t have a symptom, neither does high blood pressure. And these things are destructive forces in the body. I often use the smoking example, because people get that right away. If I started smoking tomorrow, I wouldn’t get cancer on Wednesday. I might not even get it in a month or two or six, but I’m going to get it, or I’m going to have my odds of getting it increase by 80%. So, understand that there’s a latency period on a lot of these measures, and that doesn’t mean they’re not important. They’re damn important. You just might not see them as readily as you would see a change in your weight. I just wanted to underline that because you said that.
Now, what are some of the things we can look for since we’re not seeing it on the scale, for example? I always start with energy. There is not a person who has a ton of energy in the world who’s feeling bad, so energy is a good marker for how you’re doing. You can’t fake it. If you’re not getting it from some external source like a drug or a lot of caffeine or something, your energy is going to be generated naturally, and that’s a very good metric for how you’re doing. How you are sleeping is a pretty good metric. How you are feeling about life and about people is a good metric, because your brain and your emotions and different centers of fear and pleasure in your brain are all effected by your environment and your nutrition. So I’d look at those basic ones. How do I feel? How am I feeling about life? Do I wake up with any kind of energy and spring in my step, or do I wish I could sleep 10 more hours? Those are the metrics I’d look at while you’re waiting for the scale to change.
Allan (10:05): I think that’s really hard to do – the energy part of it – when you’re constantly in this state of eating sugar or simple carbs. It’s one of the beautiful things when you start understanding what healthy fats are, because they’re fats that are not going to cause the inflammation or oxidative damage. Can we recap what some of the good fats versus the bad fats are, so we don’t fool ourselves?
Dr. Bowden (10:35): I would love to do that, and I would urge everyone listening to understand the division between good fat and bad fat that I think more and more people are accepting. Even people I know that really know nothing about nutrition and you talk about fat in the diet, they say, “There’s good fat and bad fat.” It’s like everybody knows that, right? Here’s the next level of knowledge. You’ve got to understand that what we think is good fat and what we think is bad fat, is not good fat and bad fat. We have been taught that bad fat is fat from animals. Bad fat is saturated fat. Good fat is anything that doesn’t come from an animal or isn’t saturated, like vegetable oil and corn oil. Big, fat lie. Big, fat deception here.
Bad fats are damaged fats. It has nothing to do with whether they’re saturated or not. There’s been a wealth of evidence since 2010 that has absolved saturated fat from a causative role in heart disease. It’s damaged fat. It’s overused vegetable oils that get rancid and form carcinogens and trans fats and things like that that are really, really bad. And vegetable oils do not get a free pass. Just because it came from a vegetable like corn or soy or cottonseed or safflower does not necessarily make it healthy. Those fats are actually pro-inflammatory, and the Omega-3s are actually anti-inflammatory. So we need to be in a balance. We’ve got to forget everything we learned about saturated versus unsaturated. Here are two great examples. Coconut oil is a saturated fat that is really good for you. People are beginning to get that. But one of the ones they’re not yet really getting on board with enough, as far as I’m concerned, is Malaysian palm oil. That still suffers from all kinds of bad ideas from 20 years ago, and a different source of palm oil and a time when it was tainted. Modern Malaysian palm oil is a health food. First of all, it’s got all these tocotrienols, which are healthy for the brain. It’s a sustainable fat. It’s made without a lot of high heat or chemicals. It’s non-GMO. And people worry because it’s a saturated fat. It’s a great fat. I use Malaysian palm oil all the time. I use coconut oil all the time. And I use saturated fat from healthy animals all the time, like grass-fed beef and pastured pork and free-range chickens. Those are not the fats you need to be afraid of. What you need to be afraid of is too much of those fats that look all healthy and they come in those plastic things, and they’re corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil and soybean oil. Too many of those lends towards inflammation, not towards anti-inflammation. And we want anti-inflammation. So that’s the first thing about fats. What else did you want to talk about?
Allan (13:26): I guess the other side of was… And this is always the funny thing. One day I’m probably going to just say this to my doctor if he tells me to eat egg white omelets again. I’m just going to say, “It sounds like I shouldn’t try to lose weight, because I’m pretty sure that the body fat that I would be trying to lose would be saturated fat, and I don’t really want that as a fuel.” That’s one of those things that always strikes me, is why would we store fat as a saturated fat if we weren’t supposed to be eating saturated fat?
Dr. Bowden (14:04): I’d ask your doctor even more pointed questions. This is what amazes me about these guys that tell you to eat, whether they’re doctors or not doctors, anyone who continues to advise egg white omelets – my question to them is, even by their standards, and their standards are that anything that raises cholesterol is going to be bad because cholesterol causes heart disease – even by that outdated, wrong theory, we already know that eating cholesterol doesn’t change your blood cholesterol. So, why are they still telling us to throw away the best part of the egg? Even the National Institute of Health and USDA no longer consider cholesterol a nutrient of concern, because the data is in – dietary cholesterol doesn’t affect your blood cholesterol. Even the people who still believe in this cockamamie theory, why are they still advising egg whites?
Allan (14:55): I guess it’s just really hard to walk away from a paradigm you’ve been telling patients forever. Our prior generations, when they went to the doctor, the doctor told them, “Here, put this leech on you.” They would take the leeches.
Dr. Bowden (15:15): My parents’ generation would let them. My parents’ generation believed anything. Then the doctor was in the community, we knew him, they were in big, impersonal places. We had a relationship with them, and there was kind of, “Doctor knows best.” With my parents, you could not question anything that Dr. Leo said; you just couldn’t. I hope we’ve come a little further than that. They are not the keepers of the faith and the guardians of our health. They are members of our healthcare team and we need to be more proactive and stop buying into every paradigm that they give us that was given to them by the pharmaceutical industry and it’s kind of out of date right now.
Allan (15:52): Yeah. Talking in terms of pharmaceuticals, a question I’ll often get from my clients is, “Should I supplement, and what are some things I should supplement with?” I always direct them and say, “You can go get some blood tests for the basic vitamin D, vitamin B, some of these other things to kind of just see.” But in the book you do go through what I would call some of the core supplements. There are things, like you said in the book, that are going to help you have a healthier heart. The first one is Coenzyme Q10.
Dr. Bowden (16:28): If I may, let me back up one step before we go there, and just put supplements in an overall context. I’m going to guess you’re more like me than the average person, but I probably take 38 to 40 something pills a day, or potions or drinks or some combination of nutrients in different delivery systems. I’m probably taking 40 or 50 things a day, and have for most of my adult life. They’ve changed, depending on what I’m particularly trying to do and what I’m experimenting with. I’m a very committed biohacker that way. I don’t recommend to people that they start out with 40 or 50 things. They don’t need 40 or 50 things. Most of the people who I interact with on Facebook, Facebook Live, my website – JonnyBowden.com, “Ask Dr. Jonny”, our Clean Eating Magazine – they are generally well-informed consumers who really don’t want to take a lot of pills and they want to know what’s the best overall program they can be on with the least number of things they have to take. So I would like to at some point address that, and then we can go onto what you mentioned, which is I’m sure going to be Coenzyme Q10 and L-carnitine and things like that, because those are specifically chosen for people who have issues around their heart. And those were things that Dr. Sinatra has also found to be incredibly helpful over the years, but he also, I’m sure, would agree with me that you’ve got to start with your basic stuff.
Not everybody needs all the nutrients for the heart, not everybody needs all the extra support for the liver, like some people who might have hepatitis. Not everybody needs additional support for the brain. It would be lovely to take all these things, but you’d be taking about 100 things a day. You’ve got to do a little picking and choosing when you decide how to target things. All medicines might be great, but you don’t take them for every single disease. It’s the same thing with this. You want to cover your basics, which I can talk about in a minute. I can do that with four items and it’s pretty easy for most people to wrap their minds around. And then we can talk about how these additional nutrients like Coenzyme Q10 or L-carnitine might help someone in a particular situation, such as strengthening their heart.
Allan (18:38): Yes, please do.
Dr. Bowden (18:42): Here are my four basic supplements – a multivitamin, magnesium, vitamin D and fish oil. I just gave you the headline, and if you want to stop listening, that’s all you’ve got to know – a high-quality multiple, an absorbable magnesium, a good vitamin D, and a high-quality fish oil. Now, let’s get into why one brand over another or why you would make one choice over another. Multiples usually range from… I’m not going to disparage a brand, but we all know the kind – you take one every day and the big-box store has it. This is minimum wage nutrition; it’s generally the cheapest form of the nutrients – for example, magnesium oxide instead of magnesium citrate, that kind of thing. And it’s usually the minimal dosages that are really RDA. There isn’t a nutritionist alive who believes the RDAs make any sense or that they are in any way optimal levels for people to take. So, a high-quality one means one that is really well-formulated by people who know what they’re doing, and use the right dosages and the right amounts. I have brands for all of these and I’m going to tell people, because these are the ones that I use. For multiples, I’m 100% for Rainbow Light’s Vibrance line. That’s like your Lexus line. They were the first company to do vitamins from foods only, the cold food vitamins. They’re very advanced in the advisory boards that they use. And I’ve looked at their formulas. Those are the ones I recommend to friends – the Rainbow Light Vibrance line for any multiple. They make a teenage boy, a teenage girl, a young woman, young man; they make it for every stage and age in life, and they’re very well-formulated.
Magnesium. We’re going to talk later about stress, and magnesium is one of mine and Steve Sinatra’s number one remedies for stress. But what we’re talking about here is a basic. I like at least 400, if not 800 milligrams of magnesium a day. I personally prefer to drink mine. I use Natural Vitality’s Calm. It’s a drink that fizzes up, and I kind of like the whole ritual of it because actually it’s interesting where it dissolves and that’s the oxygen combining with the carbonate and making your magnesium citrate available to you. It’s kind of cool, but it’s one less pill I have to take. It’s easy to remember, and I take them in the little travel packets that go with you. So I take the Natural Vitality magnesium.
Then vitamin D – I’m not partial to brands because it’s a very easy nutrient to make, as long as you get the D3 form. And the actual dosage is going to vary. The Vitamin D council has some good recommendations for how to bring your vitamin D up, but I would recommend to everybody that they get the OH-25 vitamin D blood test when they get their blood test, because we should all know our levels. The people who I think are the most accurate and are thinking about this in the most clear way are recommending that your ideal level will be around 50. It’s not 20 or 30 the way the government says it should be. So, you want to bring that level up, and it’s very easy to do it with supplements, assuming you receptors work well.
And then the fourth supplement that I think is a must for everybody is fish oil. I am an enormous believer. My great nutrition teacher, the great late Robert Crayhon used to say, “If I could do one thing to increase the health of the American population, I’d put every pregnant mother on fish oil.” And I know, knowing him many years, that he really meant that for the entire population. But you could certainly start with pregnant women. And I’m a big fan. I just think they’re the most anti-inflammatory molecule, they undo so much damage of inflammation on so many different levels. They help with circulation, they help with the brain, with the heart. There’s a form of them that I recommend, because so many people tell me they burp them up or, “My kids won’t take them. It’s brutal hard to get them to take them, and they need it very badly.” There is a formula called Seriously Delicious Omegas. It’s an emulsified Omega-3. It’s made by Barlean’s. In fact, the children’s version just won the next year award at Expo East for the most innovative product in children’s products. It’s an emulsified Omega-3 that actually tastes a little bit like a fruit compote and it’s delicious, and you can get kids to eat it and it’s actually even better absorbed than the oil form. So, those are the four things I recommend – the Rainbow Light Vibrance brand for multiples; whatever your particular demographic is – if you’re young, old, middle-age, there’s a formula for you. The Natural Vitality Calm magnesium drink. Vitamin D by any reputable company that makes a vitamin D3. And Barlean’s Seriously Delicious Omegas for the Omega-3. That’s my four cornerstone products that I can pretty much recommend across the board, and they’re going to benefit about 99% of people. Now we can talk about some of the specifics for things like heart or liver or brain, as we’ve been talking about the heart.
Allan (23:47): Yeah. I don’t take quite as many supplements as you do. I really do base it on my blood test, on the time of the year. If I’m eating a lot of fish, then I’ll probably take less fish oil. If I’m getting outside like I am now, and it’s still 90 degrees and hot, humid here… I get out and get some good sun from my walks that are half an hour to an hour, so my vitamin D levels are smack on. When it starts getting cooler, then by all means, yes, I’ll start doing that. So, those are also the four that I would say I take the most often. I don’t take them every day, or it’s just a standard stack regularly. I do base it on what my current nutrition profile is and lifestyle and everything else. I probably need to kick up my magnesium, and we’ll get into that in a minute. But let’s jump into these others, because I hear about these, but we really haven’t spent a lot of time talking about them. Coenzyme Q10.
Dr. Bowden (24:49): Great. So, Coenzyme Q10 is called a ubiquinone, because it’s ubiquitous. It’s in every single cell in the body and it’s manufactured in every single cell in the body. The best and simplest way to think of it is a spark plug that creates energy for organs that need it and cells that need it. And there’s nowhere where it’s more needed more consistently than the heart, because the heart doesn’t get a vacation; it beats 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, constantly. It’s a huge consumer of energy. It’s like the American fossil fuel – we just consume the oil. And like many things, nature plays a trick on us and we make less of it as we get older. It’s one of the many things we make less of – collagen being another one, hydrochloric acid in our stomach being another one, testosterone being a third. And sure enough, Coenzyme Q10 is one of the things that we don’t make as much of as we get older. And of course the heart doesn’t stop needing it. So, for cardiologists like Steve Sinatra, Coenzyme Q10 is like a spark plug of energy and very, very important for our heart.
A second more insidious reason that it’s important is that statin drugs, which is what all the conservative, all the mainstream, the conservative wing of the American medical establishment is still very much in the throes of the cholesterol hypothesis. They still very much believe blood cholesterol is a causative factor in heart disease and must be controlled by statin drugs, which they think are the seventh wonder of the world. So, you are very likely to be prescribed a statin drug if you are an American going to a conventional doctor for elevated cholesterol. This is not the approach I would take or that any of my colleagues would take, but it is the approach that much of mainstream medicine takes. So if you are very likely on a statin drug, your Coenzyme Q10 is being depleted, because one of the things statin drugs do, they’re called HMG reductase, coenzyme reductase inhibitors. They inhibit an enzyme that makes cholesterol, but it also makes Coenzyme Q10. Too bad for you. So now when you need it the most, you have the least amount of Coenzyme Q10. So Steve recommends that people who are on statin drugs take at least 200 milligrams of Coenzyme Q10 a day, and that’s a lot. I recommend about 100 for everybody who’s not, just as a preventative or as a general antioxidant, 60-100. But if you’ve got issues with the heart, and God knows if you’re on a statin drug, you need more.
Allan (27:27): Right now I don’t want to go down that argument of the statins, because I had such a horrible experience with them. I’m not a cardiologist, I’m not a doctor. I had my experiences with them and it was horrible.
Dr. Bowden (27:39): I’m not telling anyone to throw their statins away. That’s got to be done under medical supervision. But I can certainly point you to the research on side effects, that they are quite considerable, they’re under-reported. This is all in the research. It’s all documented in our book, The Great Cholesterol Myth, complete with the studies that show this. They do have a lot of side effects. And in my opinion and Steve’s opinion, their benefit is way less than we’ve been told it is, and it certainly doesn’t extend to a lot of the population who are getting prescriptions for statin drugs and they really never show any benefit from them. So, I’m all for trying to see if we can decrease the number of prescription drugs we’re on. I think as a general rule that’s a good idea.
Allan (28:19): But if you’re on a statin and you can tolerate it and you’re working with your doctor, Coenzyme Q10 is going to be something you want to make sure you’re taking.
Dr. Bowden (28:27): Yeah. And by the way, that’s not controversial. Merck got a patent for a combination of statin and Coenzyme Q10, or for Coenzyme Q10 – I’m not sure which it was, but they didn’t pursue it because they didn’t think anybody really knew about it or cared about it. But it is very well-known and noncontroversial. Even your conservative doctor, if you bring it up, will admit that in fact statin drugs do deplete Coenzyme Q10. That’s not a controversial piece of information.
Allan (28:58): Okay. Now, I’ve had Dr. Know on the show and he and I got into D-ribose. I know that D-ribose is one of those helper cells for mitochondria. It helps mitochondria. How does it help my heart?
Dr. Bowden (29:18): D-ribose is a sugar, and it appears to have some energy-producing. I’m using that in the most general sense, because that’s not how science talks about it. But what people report is that it seems to help them with energy. It works with Coenzyme Q10. I guess the best way to say it is, there is a currency called ATP – that’s the cellular currency of energy. We run our economy on money, on cash, on checks; the cells run the body on something called ATP. This substance, ATP – it stands for adenosine triphosphate – is actually the cellular currency of energy. So you need ATP to blink your eyes, you need it to run the marathon, you need it to sleep. We need it right now to be talking on microphones. ATP is needed for any movement, any thought, anything that the body does. So how does it make it? D-ribose is one of the ways that it actually helps your little cellular energy factories, which we call the mitochondria, to produce more ATP. It’s like we said in the book – metaphorically D-ribose acts like a little elf shuttling the material needed to make ATP to the factories where it’s made. So, they’re a great adjunct in the creation of cellular energy, and that’s why they’re in the book. D-ribose.
Allan (30:47): Okay. And then L-carnitine?
Dr. Bowden (30:50): L-carnitine is like a shuttle bus. So, I live in LA; I’ll use the Hollywood Bowl analogy. You can’t ever really get too close. The bus drops you at the bus stop and then you take a shuttle over to the Hollywood Bowl, so that you don’t have to park there. Carnitine is like a shuttle bus. What it does is it shuttles fatty acids into the mitochondria, of which we have been speaking, which is basically the energy-production organelle in the cell. It shuttles the fatty acids into the mitochondria so that they can be used for energy. I will say there’s a good argument that most people have enough carnitine from their diet. This is not true for vegetarians, by the way, or vegans, because carnitine is not in anything but meat products. Sorry. So if you’re a vegan or a vegetarian, this doesn’t apply to you, but many people do have adequate carnitine stored. However, it has long been thought that since it plays such a central role in the transport of fatty acids into energy-burning factories in the cell, that people who are either overweight or maybe whose heart is not working at top performance levels could possibly use a little bit of extra help with that shuttle bus.
Allan (32:08): Alright. So now, the topic that’s really kind of near and dear to my heart. I guess of all the things that you can focus on for health and wellness – be it food, exercise, sleep – my current focus now is really much more on stress and stress reduction. Why is stress such a bad player when it comes to heart health? It’s one of The Four Horsemen. How did it get that title of being part of The Four Horsemen? Because there are other things – obviously the inflammation, the oxidation, and the sugar – we see that time and time again. But stress now, in your book you’re indicating, it’s just as big a player.
Dr. Bowden (32:57): You have to think of what happens in the body when you’re under stress. There’s a number of ways to demonstrate this. Here’s a fun one. Have your listeners Google the term “voodoo death”. There are documented cases of voodoo doctors putting hexes on people and them dying. Why do you think that happens? It doesn’t happen because something magically goes in the airways and poisons their food. They die from the stress of knowing, because they buy into that system. They very much believe in that whole, whatever the religious order is that allows that to happen – they believe in it and now they believe that somebody with authority has just put a hex on them, and the stress level kills them. It’s called “voodoo death”, and it’s been documented.
Everyone should understand that what we think about has a profound effect on our physiology. This has been demonstrated a zillion times. You can demonstrate it for yourself by sitting calmly and picturing something peaceful, wonderful, loving, feeling safe and protected, and watch what happens to your heart rate and your blood pressure. And then if suddenly you were to think about a horrible car accident with someone that you loved possibly in it, what would happen? You would not have moved from your chair, but your blood pressure will have gone up, your heart rate will start to elevate. If we were measuring your hormones, your cortisol would be above the roof. Your adrenaline would be pumping. So, what we think about, these stress reactions, which involve very powerful adrenal hormones – they have a profound effect on our health. They’re inflammatory, for one thing. Cortisol has an effect on belly fat, it has an effect on energy, it has an effect on insulin sensitivity – all things which we all know to be major factors and players in heart disease. We have to think, Allan, what did nature, or the genome organizing device, or God, or however you conceptualize it – why were we given these stress hormones? What were they supposed to do? When you think about it, they were supposed to get us out of an emergency. So, if we’re a caveman and we hear some rustling in the leaves and it’s a wildebeest coming to eat us for lunch – immediately our heart rate goes up, our blood pressure starts to rise, the blood starts to pump into the legs instead of the digestive system, because we’ve got our start to run like hell. They are the “fight or flight” hormones. They are meant to either let us fight and prepare our bodies for that, or let us run and prepare our bodies for that. That’s what the “fight or flight” hormones work for. They’re short-term solutions to a danger. They’re like first gear on a car; they get you out of a ditch. Here’s the problem. We’re running on the 405 North at 70 miles an hour in first gear, because those stress hormones are only supposed to be elevated for a minute here and there to get you out of an emergency. Then it’s good and adaptive stress. We live under 24-hour stress. It’s chronic stress. It doesn’t stop. It doesn’t even stop when we go to bed. And that kind of chronic elevation of these stress hormones wrecks metabolic disaster. So that’s how stress kills. It starts a cascade of events that we’re fine if we’re on short-term, like first gear, but if you drive in first gear for a long time, you’re going to strip your transmission. And that’s what happens in the body.
Allan (36:21): I like that metaphor, because I think so many of us can relate to the fact that we’re in this stress perspective and there’s nowhere to really run. I was writing a story, putting it together for the book, and I was thinking in terms of, I’ve had moments of chronic stress and I’ve had moments of the acute stress, just that moment where my boss calls me on the phone and says, “Come up to my office, I need to talk to you.” Suddenly your heart rate’s going and everything and you’re like, “I can’t go and burn this off. I can walk up the stairs or I can get on the elevator and I can go up there and see him.” Then afterwards I know I need to go to the gym and burn that off. But I was in a situation where the CEO was not really happy with me; we were constantly at odds. And every day I knew I’ve got to sit in front of this guy and I’ve got to do my job and I’ve got to just not react to what my body is screaming at me to do, which was fight or run away. Neither one of those would have been a good solution.
Dr. Bowden (37:31): Right, but that energy stays in you; it’s not like it just dissipated into the ether. It’s now running its hormonal game on you and all kinds of things are happening physiologically that are probably not the best for you.
Allan (37:45): So, if we know we’re in a situation and we can’t, in the short run, do something about it – get out of that job, get out of that relationship – what are some things you would advise people to do to manage their stress?
Dr. Bowden (38:03): I would start with deep breathing. I think I told you offline – Michelle and I started meditating last July, so we have just completed a year and a month or so of meditation. It’s taken me my entire life to be able to find a context, a way to do that. I was one of those people who found it incredibly difficult, and I could not keep my mind still and I couldn’t concentrate and do all the other stuff they tell you to do. And I found a method that works for me and I do it every day, twice a day and really, really rarely ever miss. I think even if you’re like me up to a year ago and you couldn’t do the full round of meditating twice a day or even once a day for 10 or 15 or 20 minutes – try deep breathing. Try this little thing I used to do myself for years, where it’s just like a four-minute timeout. You sit at your desk and you literally close your eyes and you lower your heart rate, and you just breathe in deeply on a count of four – 1, 2, 3, 4, and you hold just a bit, maybe another count of four, and then you exhale on a count of seven. Just long exhale. And the number doesn’t even matter; you could reverse it, but the point is to keep some number in mind, say seven, inhale on four, hold for six or seven counts, exhale. You set the timer on your iPhone for four minutes and do that a couple of times a day. It’s so little time out of your day, but it will act as a partial reset of your brainwaves, your blood pressure, your cortisol levels. It will be like a mini vacation. I think that it would be great if you could work up to an actual meditative practice, but any kind of deep breathing.
Walks in greenery seem to have remarkable restorative powers. There’s an entire discipline of psychology and it’s called ecotherapy that has to do with seeing greenery, walking around in your neighborhood. If you’re lucky enough to have trees, look at them, because there are studies even showing that in hospitals, those who have views of lawns have better metrics. There’s something about seeing greenery that really is stress-reducing.
I am a big fan of, going back to supplements – Natural Vitality’s Calm. It’s called Calm for a reason, because actually magnesium’s very, very calming. Anybody who’s ever had intravenous vitamin drips knows this, because if you have an intravenous vitamin drip with magnesium in it, you will sleep like you’ve never slept in your life. And I speak from personal experience. I used to have these drips all the time. So, I’m a big fan of taking that Natural Vitality Calm. And I like it also because for me there’s something calming in the ritual. It’s not just popping a pill; it’s pouring a spoonful of this into some mortar, watching the fizz, wait until the bubbles come up. There’s a 60-second ritual to doing it. And I’m a big believer that rituals are calming as well. I try to do my same four or five things every morning like clockwork, and it tends to be very calming and grounding. So, I think all these things can be helpful to reduce stress. Exercise certainly can help; walks can help; meditation can help; better sleep can help; and certain supplements can help, like Natural Vitality’s Calm as one example.
Allan (41:29): Alright. This is episode 343. Are there any links or anything where you’d like for me to send people to learn more about you and what you’re up to?
Dr. Bowden (41:41): I’d love them to come to the website, especially in a couple of weeks when it’s being all redesigned. There’ll be all kinds of good, cool free stuff and e-books and things like that. So just check in with my website, JonnyBowden.com. And you can follow me on Twitter @jonnybowden. Just remember, no H in Jonny.
Allan (41:57): Cool. As I said, this is episode 343, so you can go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/343, and I’ll have those links there. Dr. Bowden, thank you so much for being a part of 40+ Fitness.
Dr. Bowden (42:11): Allan, it’s my pleasure, anytime. You were just a wonderful interviewer, so passionate. You actually know so much, so your questions are so pointed. Your listeners are very lucky to have you, and I’ve been just honored to be on your show. Thank you.
Allan (42:23): Thank you.
I’ll have to admit that I wasn’t quite sure that I would get this episode out on time. As you may know, I live in Pensacola Beach and we just had a Category 4 storm – Hurricane Michael – come through and did a lot of damage. Fortunately, we were on the safe side of that hurricane and sustained almost no damage or problems around here, other than the scare of it. But my heart and prayers go out to the people who were affected in the panhandle of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. I know this is a devastating storm and has done a lot of damage, and I’m sure there’s going to be some loss of life involved. So again, my heart goes out to you if you’ve been affected by this. It is a time of year. We don’t typically get storms of that magnitude, so this was kind of a freak one. I hope that it’s not something that we have to deal with. I hope the season’s over for 2018 and we can move into a better time of the year.
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