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Dr. Stephanie Gray is the author of Your Longevity Blueprint. On this episode, we talk about nutritional supplementation, hormones optimization, and how to find a doctor to help you stay healthy.
Allan (1:06): Dr. Gray, welcome to 40+ Fitness.
Dr. Gray (1:10): I’m excited to be here. Thank you for having me.
Allan (1:12): Your book is Your Longevity Blueprint, and I really enjoyed the read. A lot of great information and put in a way that I think is very understandable for quite a few people. But the book in my opinion is not actually about so much longevity as, how do we maximize our health and wellness so that we actually enjoy living longer?
Dr. Gray (1:37): Well said. Yeah, I would agree. I was really trying to create some nine actionable steps for readers to optimize their health, because unfortunately many individuals don’t even know functional medicine exists. They don’t know that testing options exist to help them optimize their nutritional status or help them detoxify their body or increase their hormone levels. So I was hoping this book would really introduce the audience to functional medicine.
Allan (2:03): Yes. And I think most of us go to a doctor when we’re sick, we’re not feeling well, and the doctor asks what are you symptoms and you tell them fatigue, brain fog, several other things that are kind of going on in your life, not sleeping well, maybe some migraines. And the doctor says, “Well, here’s some Prozac”, or whatever. It’s a symptom-diagnosis. It’s like there’s a chart in the back of their office, or maybe they’ve memorized it. If they’re thinking you have this – this is how you fix it, with some form of medicine. But the reality is, medicine isn’t really designed to fix us. It’s designed to fix a symptom.
Dr. Gray (2:50): I totally agree. We need conventional medicine, especially unfortunately if you get in an accident. We have great emergency care here in the United States. In my book I reference Dr. Patrick Flynn’s analogy that conventional medicine is more of the fire department approach. So if you have a fire, conventional medicine can help you put out that fire, but really only using two tools – drugs and surgery. Unfortunately, when you have a symptom like fatigue that isn’t really an emergency, conventional medicine doesn’t necessarily help you get to the root cause of the problem. Like you mentioned, a lot of times they’ll just recommend taking an antidepressant or a stimulant medication, when that’s really not getting to the root cause. It’s not really explaining the “Why” to the fatigue. That’s what makes functional medicine different – we do explore the “Why”. We try to explore if the patient has low thyroid or low sex hormone status or maybe their nutrition is terrible, but we want to get to the root cause of the problem and not just give the patient that Band-aid approach to their health care.
Allan (3:50): It’s very interesting to me. Hippocrates said it a long, long time ago – “Let food be thy medicine.” And now it’s changing. It feels like it’s changing – more and more understanding that the food which we put in our mouths in volumes can do a lot more for our health than the one little pill or 12 little pills that we’re taking over the course of a day. I think a lot of that is because when we’re fueling our body and we’re building our body with better stuff, we end up being better. But a lot of folks don’t actually recognize that they have nutritional deficiencies. A lot of my clients will come to me and say, “Allan, should I be supplementing with something? Should I be taking an iron supplement, or should I be taking vitamin B or C?”, or whatever the cool thing is today. And my short answer is, “I have no clue, because I don’t have your blood test to see if there are any deficiencies. I don’t really know the quality of your food to know if you’re getting most of the vitamins you need. I don’t know if you’re getting outside to get enough sun exposure to have the vitamin D that you need.” Can you talk a bit about the nutritional deficiencies and some of the symptoms we might be seeing some of the things we can do, what to look for with supplements? Because you said it in a book, one a day actually isn’t one a day. You would need to take four of them just to get what your basic bodily needs are. But even then I’m not sure we actually get all of that from that one a day, just based on total quality and everything else. I know that’s a lot to throw out there, but could you tell us a bit about nutritional deficiencies and how we can recognize them and what we can do?
Dr. Gray (5:35): Sure. If you don’t mind, I might go off on a little tangent here. I think first we should clarify why we are so nutritionally deficient, because a lot of my patients say, “Why did my grandma never have to supplement, but I do?” Sadly, our world has really changed. The nutritional value that used to be in an apple grown in your grandma’s backyard unfortunately was better, much higher in nutritional content as compared to an apple today. Our apples might be three times the size, but they’re not packing that nutritional punch that apples used to. Unfortunately, our food sources are just not as nutritionally dense. We have very deficient soil, and even the USDA agriculture figures will show the decline in over 40 crops that they’ve been tracking for years. We know that the food that’s growing in this deficient soil is now deficient. Soil should be rich in antioxidants and vitamins and minerals, producing in foods the same, and that’s unfortunately not always the case. I even have patients who are growing their own food in their backyard and it’s organic, and the foods still, again, don’t pack that nutritional punch. That’s not our fault, but unfortunately that’s working against us.
The processing of foods also depletes nutrients. Half the time the food we’re eating has been harvested or picked days, weeks, even months before we’re eating it. And so, as you can imagine over time the nutrient content in those foods is declining. And then sometimes we even cook with really high heat, high temperature, and that’s blasting our foods, destroying some of the nutritional value. So, we’re unfortunately set up to be nutritionally deficient. And then when we add things like some lifestyle choices – if we choose to consume alcohol or caffeine, or smoke – those are all going to use up or deplete our body of nutrients. And if we take medications, many of my patients are shocked to know that the medications they’re taking are depleting them of nutrients. Many individuals are aware that drugs like statin medications for cholesterol can deplete CoQ10. And CoQ10 is a very important antioxidant in the body. It can help us with energy, and many patients who are taking a statin medication end up with myalgias or muscle pains, because their body has been robbed of that CoQ10. And that’s just one example. All sort of medications, even things like birth control, one patient might feel is just a basic medication, actually does deplete B vitamins and even magnesium.
So, very quickly, I just wanted to go over some of the reasons why we unfortunately are so low on nutrients. Then you add maybe exercise, or if you have a very stressful life, and again, what’s happening – your body is using up those nutrients. So, unfortunately we now, in our world today, need to supplement more than ever before, more than our grandma decades ago. That’s part of why we need the nutrients. But in my book, Your Longevity Blueprint, I try to describe nutrients as working in our body like putting a key in a keyhole. The nutrients are going to unlock certain processes in the body. I tell patients to think of nutrients as what you need, literally, to produce energy in that Krebs cycle, if you remember that from high school science class. You need nutrients to make hormones, hormones that make you feel good. So you just don’t want to be set up to be nutritionally deficient. The list of symptoms, I could go on and on, but fatigue is obviously one symptom. We could go nutrient by nutrient and discuss the symptoms that can exist.
Allan (9:25): For the core ones – vitamin D, C, B, the core ones. Maybe some of the minerals. I think this would be quite valuable, because I do believe that people will know if they don’t have enough iron, they may feel a little anemic and their energy will be low. Sometimes the doctor will pick that up in a blood test and say you’re low in your iron. That’s a fairly common test that a standard doctor would do, but it’s not often that a doctor will do a full blood panel to look at how deficient you might be in these various vitamins. So I think us having some basic recognition of when we might be deficient in a vitamin, so we know we at least need to start doing the diagnostic work.
Dr. Gray (10:03): Sure. So, B vitamin deficiencies are very common. B vitamins are what help our adrenals, they help us adapt to stress, they help us produce energy. One of the first supplements I’ll have a patient, especially an athlete start if they’re really tired is just a B Complex to see if that’s helping. Some patients can even have symptoms in the nervous system, so if they’re getting tingling, burning symptoms, whatnot, a lot of times they will need the B vitamins as well.
Vitamin D deficiency can also lead to fatigue. Actually I live in Iowa, so many of my patients are very low in vitamin D, just because we don’t have the sun year round. Patients who are low in vitamin D are going to be more likely to get sick, get the flu through that flu season, so that’s one of the first nutrients we try to optimize in our patients come fall time, so they can get their level high to protect them through the winter. I’ve had even patients young, in their 20s and 30s have fractures, and it’s not normal to have fractures when you’re young. One of the first things we’re then looking at in those patients if they end up with osteopenia or osteoporosis, is their vitamin D status. Sometimes, shockingly, even young patients are very low in vitamin D. Vitamin D helps greatly with bone density, so not just in the young populations, but also in the older populations we want to make sure we’re increasing vitamin D. Vitamin D greatly helps with mood, so if we think of seasonal affective disorder through the winter, that makes sense. Patients get more depressed when there’s no sunlight, they’re not getting their vitamin D through the winter. Those are some of the symptoms of low vitamin D.
And then you mentioned vitamin C. Vitamin C is great for immune support also, so that’s typically also a nutrient that I’m going to recommend through the winter, just to help support the patient for not getting sick. Many patients will bruise very easily, so one of the first nutrients we’ll recommend for them is also vitamin C. Vitamin C helps strengthen the capillaries so that they don’t bruise as easily. And then, do you want me to keep going?
Allan (12:08): A couple of the minerals I think would be valuable too, because there are some of them that are quite important and if we’re not monitoring those, there’s going to be some risk there.
Dr. Gray (12:19): So magnesium is probably the most important mineral in my opinion. It’s important for I think, over 300 different enzymatic pathways in the body. I recently wrote a blog on magnesium and all the different types, picking the best type of magnesium and whatnot. But I use magnesium in my patients because it’s a very calming, relaxing hormone. So if they’re having any symptoms of overstimulation, meaning anxiety, if they can’t sleep, if their legs feel kind of creepy crawly, if they’re having restless leg symptoms or cramping in the legs, we’ll give them magnesium to calm down the cramps or calm down the mind or calm down the heart. So magnesium can be extremely beneficial, even to calm the gut. If patients have constipation, magnesium can help relax the bowels to facilitate daily bowel movements in the morning. Magnesium also helps produce your hormones. So you don’t want to be low in magnesium if you have low hormones, which we all do. Hormones decline as we age, so supplementing with magnesium can help prevent some of that loss.
Allan (13:4): I was really happy in the book that when you got into the discussion of hormones, you didn’t go just one way or the other. I’ve seen so many books where they say, “Let’s focus on the sex hormones because that’s what people care about.” And then other people say, “I’m dealing with people that have thyroid issues, so they’re looking for a book on thyroid issues.” It’s not very common that someone will say, “Let’s just look at this whole thing together.” To me, they’re the one to punch vitality and feeling and being the best you you can be. If your sex hormones are not optimized, you don’t feel as good as you could, and obviously if you don’t have the thyroid hormones working, you’re not going to have the energy level that you need to have to do the things you want to do. So, to me they’re both just as important. I understand when someone has an issue on one side or the other, they’re going to be more focused on that, but if we’re coming at this looking at it from a “How to stay as healthy as we can” versus “How do I cure illness”, I want to look at both. And I’m glad that you did. Could you take a little bit of time to talk about hormones? How do we actually go about optimizing our hormones so that we can be the best we can be?
Dr. Gray (14:38): Sure. I think the first step is to really know your body and know, “What symptoms am I experiencing? Have I had hair loss? Have I had brain fog? Am I more cold? Have I had weight gain or more fatigue?” Those are all low thyroid symptoms. If you’re thinking you may have some low hormone symptoms, find a provider who can help you order a comprehensive hormone panel to get your levels checked to see where you’re at. And I would love it if my patients would have had levels checked in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, so we could track subtle changes, any subtle decline that’s happening each decade or half decade, whatnot. Sometimes patients’ levels are really low end, and I don’t know if that’s their baseline, I don’t know if that’s where they’ve been for years, or if their levels are barely in the reference range, is this a dramatic decline? Years ago, were they very high end of normal and now they’re low end of normal? So, it’d be really nice to be able to track those levels over the years so patients could detect if their levels are declining.
But having comprehensive thyroid hormone levels done is extremely important. I describe this in Chapter 6 of my book. TSH is thyroid-stimulating hormone, which should be checked. But I said my book it stands for “too slow to help”, because by the time TSH is high, many times T4 and T3 are very low. So you only have T3 receptors in your body. T4’s whole role in life is to convert to T3, and many doctors never check T3. They only check T4, and if T4 looks good they assume the patient’s good to go. And that’s not the case. So, a big take home is to make sure you have a free T3 checked – that’s the gas pedal on your metabolism and your energy. You want your gas on hard. You don’t want your reverse T3, which is the brake pedal on hard. You want those flipped. It’s also important to have the reverse T3 checked, and then thyroid antibodies. If thyroid antibodies are high, that indicates your body could be attacking itself. Those are some autoimmune markers. The more that your body attacks the thyroid, the more thyroid function is going to decline. Even if your thyroid function is holding steady but your antibody levels are high, that’s great information to have to know, “I need to stay ahead of this to prevent my thyroid hormone levels from further declining.” I can speak to sex hormones as well, but just from a thyroid standpoint, those are great tests to have your provider run, to give you a gauge on where you’re sitting today, to know if low thyroid is a problem for you currently.
Allan (17:18): Okay. And then on the sex hormones, how would we go about optimizing those?
Dr. Gray (17:25): Again, the first step is to get your levels tested. I think a lot of women think they don’t need testosterone, but actually they do. I have women very young who already have zero testosterone due to big stressors in their life or whatnot. Sometimes it’s difficult to maybe admit that we lose hormones as we age, but men aged 30 to 70 are going to lose 1% to 5% of their testosterone every year, and women aged 20 to 40 lose 50% of their total testosterone production. So it’s important to have testosterone levels checked in both men and women, and also estrogen levels checked in both men and women. A lot of guys think they don’t have estrogen, but many men convert their testosterone over to estrogen, and that’s what men don’t want. We need to have lower estrogen, higher testosterone in men. So, checking those hormones is important. And then in women also checking progesterone. Progesterone’s the most soothing, calming hormone, great for sleep. Many women in their 30s and 40s get put on antidepressants or anxiety medications, and really the root cause of the problem was low progesterone, but no one ever assessed it. So, asking your provider to check estrogen, progesterone, testosterone is a great start.
Allan (18:40): Cool. And then from there you can decide how you want to address some deficiencies or some low numbers through the help of your healthcare provider.
Dr. Gray (18:51): Yes. And there are natural ways to boost hormones. We could talk about optimizing, again, nutritional status. Also, many times herbs can be very effective for patients who haven’t had hysterectomies, who still have all their organs. Using herbs can help to produce hormones. But in my clinic we do specialize in natural hormone replacement therapy for both men and women, and there are lots of options for those patients.
Allan (19:16): One of the things I really do want to recap here is that your standard doctor, bless their heart – they are going to go in and try to take care of you when you go and say you’re not feeling well. You may go in for regular checkups, so they’ll do the normal stuff, but the normal blood panel is going to be looking at your cholesterol and maybe they’re looking at some organ function, particularly if they know there’s some lifestyle things going on. They may check some bits and pieces of the data that you might want to have. But when you’re really looking at this, I think it’s worth at least once a year, maybe once every two years, if you need to push it off, is to go out get a full-on panel. What are my potential nutritional deficiencies, what are my potential hormone issues?
And I say this even if you don’t feel like you have symptoms, because one of the funny things is, you might think you’re normal – you might think, “This is my normal day. I wake up, I have trouble sleeping, I feel a little groggy in the morning. I do my coffee and I’m good to go for the day, as long as I drink coffee until 3:00 in the afternoon.” And that’s the normal day. And you say that’s normal, but you get yourself tested and you realize that your testosterone is a little low, perhaps your vitamin D is a little low, and your vitamin B, particularly B12 is low. If we actually supplement for these things, now you start to realize what actual normal should feel like, because you get back up to stability and you get up to where you’re now optimized.
Sorry to interject there, but I think so many people just go in and say, “Well, my doctor…” And the generation before us I think was so much more, “My doctor said it so it’s the absolute truth.” I think we have to be engaged as a part of our health care. The normal doctor isn’t necessarily inclined to want to go that route initially because he has seven minutes with you. He has to figure out what’s wrong with you, he has to prescribe medication, and then he has to move on to the next patient. But a holistic functional doctor is really going to have more opportunity and a more holistic view of health. I need to go find that person because my current doctor in my own town might not be that person. How do I find a contractor? In your book you say “contractor”, like doing the house stuff, but how do I find the right person to treat me for optimal health?
Dr. Gray (21:54): Good question. That’s the topic of the last chapter in my book. My book is about building a healthier body using functional medicine. So just to clarify to the audience here, I’m comparing how we maintain our home – we’re mowing the lawn, we keep hair out of the drain, we make sure we’re changing our furnace filters. We do all these things for maintenance for our home, but yet we don’t always do, or we don’t always know even what maintenance is available for our body. So, the last chapter of the book I discuss finding a contractor, who I describe as being a functional medicine provider, to help them rebuild and repair their body. We need conventional docs. If you have strep throat, if you have an emergency, we need them to be available, but unfortunately they don’t have a lot of training in nutrition. So again, they may tell you all your labs are normal – your blood count, your kidney, liver function, your cholesterol, as you were referring to, but they have never looked really deep. They haven’t really explored what a functional medicine provider could explore.
In your area usually, hopefully, you could find either an anti-aging, a regenerative or a functional medicine provider. You can search by your zip code on either the A4M, which is the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine’s website, or the IFM – Institute for Functional Medicine website, and hopefully find someone. Even if they’re not real local, a lot of these providers will see patients virtually, over the phone, or you can make a day trip to go see one. In a lot of the larger states, functional medicine is growing very rapidly. So, Florida, California, Texas, are states that are going to be easier to find providers than in the Midwest, where I’m from. There are probably only five or six in my state. But they are available; you just have to be able to find them. And they have the training. I have masters in Metabolic and Nutritional Medicine. Many of my colleagues have this training where they’re more understanding, they interpret the labs differently, and they have access to functional medicine labs. My primary care provider unfortunately can’t order a nutritional analysis; it’s just not available through our local hospital systems. But I have a contract with the functional medicine lab so I can run a fancy nutritional analysis on my patients. It’s 20 pages of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants. We can literally test glutathione levels, which is amazing, and even looking at their omega-3 fatty acid levels in the blood. So, the unique thing about these functional medicine providers is that they do have some specialized testing that can really optimize your health. You just have to find the provider to work with.
Allan (24:33): Yes. I think that’s so critical because we can’t depend on the current medical system to make us well. If we’re injured, if we’re sick – yes, they’ve been doing that, they know how to do that. But if you really want to optimize health, you really want to feel well all the time and you really want to have longevity, like you say in Your Longevity Blueprint – but the reality is if you want to have a wonderful life and really enjoy it – these are some valuable tests for you to check out. Even if you’re not really having major symptoms – I do want to stress – get out there every once in a while and find out what your numbers are. I’m not going to advertise any of them here, but you can go look online. There are some sites that you can actually do full panels yourself. You just go to a local lab and they’ll draw. So a local phlebotomist will draw it and they’ll send it off to these labs, and they’ll do a full workup for you and send it to you. And it’s written in plain English to help you interpret what you see. At that point you can either have a conversation with your primary physician, or you can seek out a professional that’s going to understand what you’re going through and what you want to try to accomplish. Dr. Gray, thank you so much for being a part of the 40+ Fitness podcast. If someone wanted to reach out and get to know more about you, where would you like for me to send them?
Dr. Gray (25:55): They can check out YourLongevityBlueprint.com/40. That is a link to a page on my website where we’re offering a 10% off storewide purchases code. The code is thanks40. You can certainly check me out there. I do have a free PDF to download on three top tips to boost your hormones naturally. I talk about reducing stress, reducing your toxin exposure and fixing nutritional deficiencies. And you can certainly see my book in our book trailer video right on that website – YourLongevityBlueprint.com/40.
Allan (26:31): And as you said, there’s a lot more in the book than we could ever, ever hope to cover in a podcast. So, do check out the book. There’s a lot of valuable information in there for you to kind of understand what’s going on in your body, and some great actionable items for you to use in building your health and fitness. As I said before, Dr. Gray, thank you for being on the podcast.
Dr. Gray (26:52): Thank you. And to all the listeners – know there’s hope. If you don’t feel right, there’s an answer. Find a provider who can help you get those answers.
Allan (27:05): I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Dr. Gray. I certainly did. Really, a lot of good information there. The book is well worth the purchase, so I would encourage you to go out and get Your Longevity Blueprint. It’s a really, really good book. It’ll teach you a lot about yourself and help you be a big partner and big lead – the driver in your wellness journey.
So the last week I went to Panama – actually, it was an island set called Bocas del Toro. Spend some time with my wife, just kind of unwind, enjoy ourselves, learn a little bit about the place and the culture. It really does interest me, and maybe might end up being a place that we spend a lot more time than we had originally thought. We’re looking into that; more on that later.
I wanted to also let you know before we go that this is going to be the last week that I’m going to leave open the waiting list for The Wellness GPS. If you want to be a part of the launch team, the team that goes through and does their Wellness GPSs with me walking you through step by step, you need to go to 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/GPS. If you’re not on that list, you’re probably not going to hear about this because the list is filling up and there’s almost enough people on there now that it will fill the 20 slots. I can only work with 20 people because this is hands-on. I’m working with you daily for the seven-day challenge as we go about putting together our Wellness GPS. If you’re interested, you need to go there today and sign up – 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/GPS. I’ll announce it there when I open it, it’s going to be open until the 20 slots are filled, so it’s probably just going to be people that are on this waiting list that are going to get the opportunity to be a part of this challenge. It’s not an open challenge. It’s going to be open only to the individuals that are on this list until I fill the 20 slots, and then we’re done. So again, 40PlusFitnessPodcast.com/GPS.
And then finally, I know I’ve been talking about it for the past few weeks, but we’re working on getting the final bit of manuscript together for The Wellness Roadmap book that I’ve been working on. And I’ve also put out a base site for the book. You can go to WellnessRoadmapBook.com to learn more about the topic matter of the book, learn a little bit about me. I am setting up a mailing list that’s going to be specific for the book. You won’t be getting other mailings from me; this is going to be my launch team. When you write a book, it’s really not an individual thing. Yes, I do spend a lot of time alone, writing and editing and typing and redlining. I’m not the most efficient writer out there, so it does take me a little while. So there’s a lot of alone time – don’t get me wrong – but launching a book is really a team sport, and I need you on my team. I need you to help me make this book a success, and the way we do that is we coordinate our work, we coordinate what we do. And the best way for me to do that with you would be through this mailing list. I will only mail you on that mailing list information about the book, the progress on the book, things like that. But I won’t be mailing you other stuff. So this is a very private, single-source, single-use email list. If you want to be a part of the launch team, please go sign up today. You can go to WellnessRoadmapBook.com, and at the bottom of that page you’ll see where you can give me your name and email and I can make you a part of the launch team. A launch like this can be a lot of fun, working together, getting things done. You’ll get some special discounts on the book, you might get some additional freebies and bonuses that I can throw in there. I’ll be looking at what I can do and what I can’t do, but this is the group that’s going to help me launch the book and make it a success, and I want to do as much for you as I possibly can. So go to WellnessRoadmapBook.com and go ahead and join the launch team today. Thank you.