Why Cellular Communication is The Key To Fixing Chronic Complex Illness with Eric Gordon, MD

Content By: Ari Whitten & Eric Gordon, MD

In this episode, I am speaking with Dr. Eric Gordon, MD, who has spent the last 40 years helping his patients overcome chronic complex illnesses by focusing on mitochondria and cellular communication. We will discuss the Cell Danger Response, mitochondria, lifestyle, and much, much more. 

Table of Contents

In this podcast, Dr. Gordon and I discuss: 

  • Why do doctors often disagree on a person’s diagnosis?
  • Why doing tests isn’t always valuable (especially if you are healthy)
  • The group of people who shouldn’t do yoga
  • The link between mitochondria and chronic illness
  • The Cell Danger Response (is it only a sign of dysfunction?)
  • And much, much, more…

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Ari: Hey, this is Ari. Welcome back to the show. In this episode, I am speaking with Dr. Eric Gordon, who is a unique person in many other ways. Unique in the way his mind works, unique in his brilliance, in his humility, in his extraordinary depth of knowledge and experience, particularly with chronic complex illness. He’s been in clinical practice for over 40 years, which is longer than I’ve been alive. I turn 40 later this year. He’s been actually in clinical practice longer than 40 years.

I don’t know how much longer, but maybe 43, 44 years. He’s been doing this a long time. He’s seen many, many thousands of patients. He really has a level of experience, particularly again, with chronic complex illness, that is hard to find anywhere else. I had the pleasure of meeting him for the first time a couple of months ago as I was one of the speakers honored that I was chosen as one of the speakers for his upcoming summit on long-haul COVID and chronic complex illness. We had a beautiful, fun, fascinating conversation.

Just the meeting of two minds with very different sets of experience and very different– I don’t want to say paradigms, but very different approaches to health and areas of focus created this wonderfully fertile ground for conversation and synthesis and creativity and new ideas coming out of it. We wanted to continue that by him coming on the show. I invited him to come speak here, and share his experience and expertise around chronic complex illness and chronic fatigue.

In addition to someone who’s been in clinical practice for over 40 years, he’s also engaged in clinical research. In 2007 to 2009, he created a series of medical symposia, bringing together leading international medical researchers and cutting-edge clinicians, focusing on me, CFS, Lyme disease, autoimmune diseases, and autism. He’s also worked directly with Dr. Robert Naviaux, who is someone that I often reference and cite, someone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and spending some time at his lab for mitochondrial medicine at the University of California, San Diego.

Dr. Naviaux Has done groundbreaking research into metabolomics and mitochondrial function and chronic inflammatory disease, autism, and chronic fatigue. In 2016, Dr. Gordon, who I’m interviewing here, was co-author with Dr. Naviaux on a groundbreaking study called Metabolic Features of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which is a study that I’ve often cited in my work. This is an absolute pleasure to get to interview one of the researchers of a paper that has been so central to my ideas and my work and the energy blueprint.

Just a wonderfully, brilliant human being with so much expertise to share with the world. If I can offer one bit of commentary or suggestion before you dive into this podcast, some of this conversation might be a little bit inaccessible. He and I are jumping in where we’re already talking about Dr. Naviaux’s work, the cell danger response. Maybe some concepts aren’t fully explained to somebody who’s never heard these ideas before. We’re kind of going into it with the assumption that the listener has some bit of pre-existing familiarity with our work or with this general topic.

Please forgive me for that. Normally, I think I try to do a good job of making things very accessible. This was something that just the nature of the conversation between him and I was such that it’s maybe a little less accessible than normal. In addition to that, I think as you’ll hear from him directly, the way his mind works is very circular and there are layers of ideas and connections are being made, in real-time. He’ll be talking about this and then he’ll want to connect it over here and sometimes I do the same.

Forgive us if the conversation feels maybe discombobulated or not as neatly organized and presented in this sort of step-by-step fashion. Having said that, if you have chronic complex illness, I really think that this episode is going to be very valuable for you. I even want to go so far as to suggest to you that you might want to listen to it twice to really get the different nuggets and start to make some of the connections here. I think there’s some gold nuggets here for sure. Stick with it. It’s a long podcast.

There’s a lot of back and forth between he and I, but again, if you have chronic complex illness, I think you’ll get a lot of value from this discussion. Enjoy this conversation with Dr. Eric Gordon.

Welcome to the show, Dr. Gordon. Such a pleasure to have you.

Dr. Gordon: A real pleasure to be here with you, Ari. I must say, the first time we chatted, I just felt, my God, I found somebody I like to talk to. Since then I’ve actually been listening to your podcast and I really love it. [laughs]

Why a 90% - 100% success rate of any treatment plan is misleading

Ari: Oh, awesome. That’s so great to hear. I’ve listened to podcasts that you’ve been on as well. I really loved our conversation as well. I’ve been excited to do this interview with you on my podcast. I think one thing that would be useful for listeners to understand is we had a lot of discussion in the initial podcast around our different approaches and areas of focus when it comes to human health. I’ve really focused on human optimization like how do we optimize the human function?

How do we go from the typical standard norm of society to a more functional brain and body and looking at how do we sleep better, how do we have more energy? How do we enhance our mitochondria, our brain function, our mood, all these kinds of questions? You’ve spent decades focused on working with the hardest cases in the world, the extremes of chronic complex illness that is incredibly difficult to figure out, and just endless webs of biochemistry and mechanisms and testing and endless complexity.

I think also there was something you said in our initial conversation that really stuck out to me about you. I think that this speaks volumes about the kind of person you are. You said something to the effect of anybody in your field who works with chronic complex illness, who tells you that they have a 90% or 100% success rate with their patients is full of S-H-I-T. Something to that effect. I might not be quoting you exactly.

Dr. Gordon: Wait, it just means that they’re not paying attention to their failures. It’s just because when people– What I find so exciting is that what your work with optimization, we need those same tools to help people who are ill just we have to approach it from a gentler beginning. This is the point is that it’s the same system when you’re– and everything we learn about the really, really sick people gives information that allows people who want to optimize their health to do it better and vice versa.

Actually, you sent me your breathing course, your breath course. What I loved about that is that you’re the first person I’ve seen who’s put out a course like that to really help people who are athletes but also had that section for like, “Hey, this same stuff is going to help you if you can’t get off the couch.” [crosstalk] You’re bedbound. You can do this. You just have to do it a little gentler because it’s– The cross-fertilization between the fields, I think is amazing.

Every time people come up with a new, I know you don’t like that word hack, but a new way into optimize, we find that, hey, if we modulate that a little bit, it really will help people who are really down at the right time. I think that is the other part is I have a saying that I made this up twenty-something years ago. I was at a meeting. I had moved into Santa Rosa and there were 40 people involved in the healing arts. Everybody, all different flavors. They went around the room when they said what they did and all I could say at the end was everything works sometimes.

The power of placebo

Ari: Even nothing works sometimes, the placebo.

Dr. Gordon: Placebo is to me and I’ve been playing with some different kinds of medicines over the last few years but still and I realize intention and the ability to connect to a higher power, whatever it may be. It could be emptiness, but the ability to connect to something more than you is the gate to healing for many, many people. That’s why people have prayed and prayer does work. Everybody needs something different but the intention because that’s what to me what placebo is, is intention.

If you want something to work, you’re talking to your body because one of the things we’re going to talk about today is the cell danger response and the reason is this is perfect. I was trying to think why is it important? It’s a story. The cell danger response is a story to explain how our body defends itself, protects itself. When you start thinking about it, you realize that the center point, if you will, or the key component that’s focused on in the cell danger response is the mitochondria.

I’ve heard you speak about that you really fully get Dr. Naviaux’s worked that mitochondria is not just energy-producing but it also has a big role to play in how your immune system works and how your body defends itself. One little factoid and I hope I’m right this is a correct one is that when you go to sleep your energy production in your body drops about 25% within like six seconds, something like that. There’s communication from up here that affects every cell in your body really rapidly. When your will is attuned, everything’s going to work better. That’s basically placebo.

Mitochondrial Psychobiology

Ari: There’s a field of research. I don’t know if you’re familiar with this research that exists and these researchers. This field of research is called mitochondrial psychobiology. I’ve had one researcher on the podcast. His name is Martin Picard. He’s done a number of interesting studies in this field of mitochondrial psychobiology but they look at exactly this, exactly what you’re talking about. They do experiments to figure out what’s going on in the mind psychologically is affecting the mitochondria and it happens, as you said, within seconds.

Dr. Gordon: I love it. Thank you. I’m going to explore that. We do work, that’s what I mean. I call them toys which is really inappropriate probably but all the devices that doctors and people try trying to optimize their health use all the different lights and from lights out here to putting lights into your veins to radiating your blood. It’s energy and water. There’s so many ways of talking to the body. The trick is to find what notes your body likes, what you resonate with. It’s just like anything in life.

If you hate living in the cold and damp if you move you actually feel better and do better and some people love the cold and damp. We’re different. It’s the refusal of medicine to acknowledge the difference in people is what leads to the debacle. Actually, I don’t want to go down this rabbit hole too much but we were talking a little bit to debacle of vaccines and COVID is the refusal to acknowledge that we’re biochemically a bit different and sometimes radically so. You have to have a discussion that allows for difference.

In our current medical situation, we’re treating people as though we all came off the same assembly line with the exact same parts.

Why doctors often disagree on a diagnosis

Ari: Yes. There’s two possible regressions we could go on right now. One is vaccines and COVID. I think we’ll leave that one aside right now because it’s so polarizing and we have a problem of– I’ll do a very brief treatment of it, but just as from a meta-perspective, not taking any sides here or expressing my own views, but I think the problem with even entering that discussion right now, is the whole topic of COVID has become so politicized, we have a scientific topic, that should just be explored dispassionately objectively, from a scientific perspective.

Then we have political parties that have politicized the crap out of it and created totally distorted scientific-sounding narratives. Such that these two political parties, the people in them, and who are listening to news from their particular bias, are now operating in totally different realities, where they both think that they’re in possession of the scientific truth. They’re both extraordinarily unaware, and blind to the fact of just the extent to which what they think is the science of COVID and vaccines, has been politicized has been propagandized, and all these forces that have shaped these narratives.

If we enter that discussion, we will necessarily piss off a lot of people who are not in whatever realities we’re talking about. We’ll leave that aside.

Dr. Gordon: Yes, I just join you in that is to say, is that there is no black and white. In a way, and you’re like, you throw the e-chain. You’re like, there’s only 80% is gray, at least and science is politics, it always has been. It’s more akin to religion when you get to medical science because if you build the bridge you’re going to get a hundred engineers, they’re all going to agree that that’s a reasonable bridge. When you have a sick person, and you get ten doctors, you’re going to get probably seven different opinions and they will be all kind of right.

Ari: Sorry, go ahead.

Dr. Gordon: In engineering, we’re using science that we created because engineering works best when we use substances that we create, like concrete, steel, but when you build things out of wood, then you have to deal with the fact that it’s alive. It’s wood and changes over time in ways that you can’t always predict because we don’t know how things work. I think that is the thing that’s so difficult is most educated people think that doctors and medical science know things in much greater detail and precision than we do.

We are very good at bullet wounds, heart attacks, broken bones, yes, we can put you together but when it comes to how you heal, we don’t know how that happens. That is what people don’t get is that yes, we can keep you from dying, but then getting well and healing, that is the work of approximation. Again, finding your own truth and your own body of what works for you. We have lots of ideas. Again, all your work about body optimization gives us a good lens these are probably reasonable things to do.

As you well know, there are some exercises open like this. If you’re hypermobile we’re can talk about this little at the end, I hope. If you’re a hypermobile person, or not even hypermobile, but if you’re 60 years old, and you can still palm the floor without doing a lot of exercise beforehand, you’re a little more mobile than the average pair. Just being that means probably that doing yoga five days a week is probably not the best exercise for you. It’s that simple. You should be doing some weight training, you should be, carefully.

Ari: That’s exactly right.

Dr. Gordon: That’s the kind of simplistic thing and that level that the world doesn’t pay attention to. People think we know about people and when we don’t, because we– I’m ranting here. That’s it. Let’s move on to the [crosstalk]

Ari: I want to talk more about that. I think it’s actually an important point that you’re bringing up there because I find that there’s an astounding gap between the general public’s perception of how “evidence-based” and how scientific modern medicine is, versus the reality of it. My criticism also extends actually to functional medicine. I’ll build this out with a few quick examples. Well, there are so many examples. How about this? As one point of reference, in order for drugs to be approved, they go through this process.

Usually takes like an average of five years for them to do all of this efficacy, animal studies, and then long-term safety testing in humans before we get a clear-enough picture that that substance is safe enough to be sold and prescribed to the public.

Dr. Gordon: Yes. That’s more like 10, 15 these days. [laughs]

Ari: Okay. Except in the case, we could go on a digression [crosstalk] here of drugs and vaccines. Then how quickly they’re approved, and liability, and how that plays into it. Whether they can be sued for damages, and how long the drug companies want to study something for safety, depending on whether they can or cannot be sued for harms from it. We’ll leave that aside, [chuckles] again for reasons explained earlier. After it goes through this 5, 10-year process of safety testing, of those drugs that are deemed safe and effective and get approved, something like–

I’m forgetting the exact number, but it’s somewhere between 30% to 40%. I think it’s around one in three drugs that go through all of that process are later found to get a severe-enough warning that they either receive a black box warning, which means that there’s some very severe side effect of concern, or they’re removed from the market entirely. All you have to do to really understand how “scientific things” are, and I should say more directly, to understand how little we actually know. While at the same time, people are saying, “We know everything there is to know.

We’ve studied this for five years. Of course, we know it’s safe,” dah, dah, dah. Or worse, “We’ve studied this for six months,” and we’re claiming to know it’s safe. Even in cases where we do have that long-term research, still, something like one out of three drugs ends up later getting a black box warning or is removed from the market. You see that our perception of how much we know changes dramatically just by extending things out a few years later. It’s like, oh, looking back a few years ago, oh, we actually didn’t know that Vioxx causes strokes and kills a bunch of people.

We thought it was just an effective painkiller, right?

Dr. Gordon: Yes. It was an amazing, effective medicine-

Ari: Yes, absolutely.

Dr. Gordon: -for what it’s supposed to do, with the little problems on the side. I just want to throw in one thing here. Counterpoint to this is airplanes. We make airplanes. How many airplanes fall out of the sky because of mechanical error? Not many, considering the hundreds– If we don’t make drugs anywhere near as well as we can make planes because even like the MAX 737, it was a screw-up and they didn’t have pilots trained well enough to override it. Still, this doesn’t happen when we built stuff. [crosstalk] to the point. [crosstalk]

Ari: We can certainly engineer amazing things, I agree with that, engineer amazing technology, but it’s different when you’re tinkering with the human system.

Dr. Gordon: Well, that’s my point. Unfortunately, in society today, because people have gotten used to their iPhones working, and their laptops working and dah, dah, dah, dah, dah they don’t get that they’re still more complicated and we don’t understand them. That’s a problem.

The issue with testing healthy people

Ari: Now, let me add one more layer to this. I don’t want to speak too long here, but I think it’s worth building this out for people. Then I want to get your feedback on this landscape as somebody with so much expertise in chronic complex illness. I went personally to a functional medicine doctor recently maybe six months ago because I was interested in just going through a panel. I’d actually never done a full functional medicine workup. I wanted the works and I wanted to see- I went to a very highly regarded practitioner.

I said let’s find out if there’s anything that I can work on anything I can optimize. Let’s do very comprehensive testing, nutritional panels, gut microbiomes. Give the works, so organic acids everything. I know some things about this area, the guy wanted to do a gut microbiome test on me. I said, “Well, I’d actually like to do two others. In addition to the one that you’re saying you want to do. I want to do two others using different technologies because I know that certain technologies will arrive at certain conclusions.

I want to crosscheck. Any findings that you tell me that I have going on with my gut microbiome I want to crosscheck and verify with other tests.” It was very interesting that I did that because when I got back those tests I had not just one but probably at least five or six examples of massive discrepancies between the results on these tests. One told me I had high Lactobacilli count. The other told me low, high Bifidobacteria, the other told me low. One told me that in terms of short-chain fatty acids, I have almost no butyrate production.

The other one told me I have off-the-charts butyrate production and on and on. I could give you five or six more examples of key discrepancies. Anybody who knows about the gut microbiome knows those things. I’m talking about Lactobacilli, Bifidobacteria, butyrate production. These are not trivialities of gut health. These are key findings. If I had not done those other tests, this doctor would’ve read this report to me this very very scientific-looking report that we would assume this is very advanced technology.

This is giving me a window of insight into my physiology that it looks very impressive very sciencey, yet who knows? He would’ve given me a report of what’s going on and prescriptions based on that who knows if any of that is actually real or not because I did the another different test that gave me totally different results. How many people are out there who are getting tests like this done and who are getting diagnosed with something based on those tests, and then getting the whole regimen and a whole protocol a whole set of prescription?

Being put on drugs and all sorts of things based on test results that may not even be real.

Dr. Gordon: Yes. You see that’s why I treat sick people. No, seriously this is really funny. I did regular medicine. I call it regular medicine hospital-based medicine for about 12 years. This was my dream. I always studied with Jeff Bland in the ’80s before he was Jeff and 10 other people. Anyway, but I was still doing regular medicine at that time. Then in ’92, I jumped. I went for it Anyway. One of the things that just made me uncomfortable right off was people would come to me for health optimization and I didn’t know what to do because at that point I had been interested in diet since I was a teenager.

I went to medical school actually to learn about what the right diet was. Six months I realized that was a waste.

Ari: They fooled you. Through several years and discovered they didn’t teach you anything about [crosstalk].

Dr. Gordon: It took three months. I was in medical science. They had no clue. I invited Ann Wigmore, ever heard of Ann from my medical school in my freshman year. That went over well. Anyway but the point was is that what stopped me was I didn’t even know what the right diet was for people. I quickly did– and the testing we had back then was relatively primitive to now but still, there was a lot. We had stool tests back then. Great Smokies was the test that later became Genova. Anyway, the point is that it was clear to me that we didn’t know what was normal. We didn’t know what was optimal. I didn’t know if somebody’s cholesterol should be high or low. Sick people were easy. Because they were sick, I needed to help them fix something. When I did a stool test on a sick person and it was really way off and it fit them, I didn’t mind doing something about it. Like you said, when I do– We did some of the more esoteric testing on cytokine levels and inflammatory markers.

When people are healthy, what are you doing? Sometimes you can see something way off. If it’s just within- we shouldn’t be fixing what we don’t know is broken is the bottom line. That’s the problem with exactly what you said because I have done that many times. We did the with– The difficulty is that sometimes these things are so useful. We did that with allergy tests. In the ’90s I worked with Norm Shealy for a year. People maybe don’t know who Norm is, but he was a neurosurgeon. He was the guy who developed the implantable of spinal stimulators back in the ’60s.

Then he went on to realize that, again, intention and teaching people how to be happy is the way to treat chronic pain. He had a chronic pain clinic. He was actually a neurosurgeon but was a big devotee of intricacy of all things. It was an interesting world back then. The point is, we did allergy tests on people and we had patients who said, “I don’t believe that.” We did double and we would get different answers for food allergy testing, which is real. On the same token, I still do them but with that, is it real, is always in my mind.

The really good doctors out there do that. The problem is we’re training a lot of people to just use these tests as though we’re doing CBCs complete blood counts. A complete blood count, even that changes day to day a bit, but a complete blood count if the number is way off, it’s probably real. We’ve done these on billions of people, billions by now so we have some– We’re doing so many of functional medicine tests are checked on 50 normal people once in the beginning, when they start running them.

Then they run them on tens of thousands of people. That’s not good enough. You really need thousands of controls. Nobody spends the money on this. I didn’t mean to be airing the dirty laundry of functional medicine but I think that is a big issue. I’ve often felt that the companies that are making literally fortunes on these testings, if they really wanted to be honorable, they should be spending a significant amount of money on validating their tests over and over again.

Ari: Just that point is very interesting because when I was younger, for example, I would make the assumption that if a test exists, the company who created that test must have sent it through years and years and years to make sure that it’s valid. To make sure that it’s accurate, to make sure that it’s repeatable and that any doctor who is using it must have also verified that it’s accurate and valid, and repeatable. You get older and you learn more about these things.

For me, it’s just been shocking to realize that all these assumptions that I made about how rigorously scientific stuff was, it’s just not at all that way.

Dr. Gordon: No, it is not. That is what patients don’t want to hear or understand. I can’t blame them because these tests are expensive. I sometimes see people spend several thousand dollars on tests that I know are only okay, but because I’ve used them for a long time, they give me information. If it triangulates with other pieces of information and the patient in front of me and they respond, it means something. We have this issue even with–because many of the biochemical tests, they’re valid in the sense if you send something away for a mass spec, they have the clear. They have pathologists who come in and they check and make sure that those machines are running, and so the results are “accurate” but what does that mean in your body? That’s what we don’t know. The issue with the PCR and the next-gen sequencing is how much valid– a few companies really do validations but I don’t think all of them do. I’m not sure at what level they’re and I’m not sure at the level of their clear, how often they have to send out samples and make sure they’re valid. I don’t know.

For the blood test, I know they have to be but for some of the tissue samples like stool, I don’t know. It’s a good point. It’s a difficult world because it costs too much money to do things as perfectly as we’d like so we want to be careful. What happens is we don’t want to do what the FDA has done. The FDA has made it– I knew a guy who made this incredible neurofeedback device using the tongue. It was brilliant. It was so good. He made the mistake of thinking that he could get it approved by the FDA.

He got investors and the last I met him, the last time I spoke to him was like four years ago. He had spent $36 million on test because it cost a fortune to do good studies on people. They’re very expensive and he still hasn’t approved. He just should have just marketed as another stupid biofeedback device [crosstalk]

Ari: Instead of a medical device.

Dr. Gordon: Instead of a medical device. He would be out there A, making money but B, most importantly, his device was really cool. It really works really well because you’re hooking right into three of the cranial nerves. You stick it on the tongue. It’s a cool– Anyway, that’s the problem is that when you raise the bar too high it becomes that only big pharma has a playing field and they’re doing the same thing with the herbal things. They’re going to make it harder and harder for entry. We have to find just like we were talking about in the story about COVID.

We have to find a little common sense and a little place where people can accept a little ambiguity when necessary. If I’m going to give you something that could kill you or could just get you really sick, I got to be really sure. I got to get those ducks in a row. I need a lot of proof before I’m going to give you an intervention that could hurt you. If I’m going to give you something that may hurt you because you have idiosyncratic reactions but you’re not going to die from it, I’m not so worried. I said in my patients nothing is safe. Water can affect some–

Actually, I have two or three people who water is too much. The point is–

Ari: You tell them to go eat an apple. An apple a day keeps the doctor away and 20% of your patients will report that they have extreme negative reactions to eating apples.

Dr. Gordon: Apples. Well, maybe not 20 but maybe about 5 but the point is, is that something’s happening. The thing is I’m still willing to risk the apple. I’m not willing to risk the thing that could really lay them in bed for two weeks. We can’t get the authorities to understand levels of risk.

Ari: Yes. Not to digress into COVID again, but I’ve been shocked at the level of scientific illiteracy when it comes to being able to do basic risk-benefit analyses. It’s been absolutely shocking to see– It’s understandable at the general public level but to see how many medical professionals have been incapable of doing risk-benefit analysis on– it’s astounding.

Dr. Gordon: It’s usually maybe a lecture or maybe a course in medical school if you go to a really highfalutin school on statistics. Doctors think they’re really good if they know the difference between sensitivity and specificity. Once you go to relative risk and absolute risk, you’ve lost. That’s why they get away with this absolute BS of confusing the two. It’s like there was a 20% decrease in death but it was from five people to four people.

Ari: Right. Exactly.

Dr. Gordon: [crosstalk]

Ari: Yes. Five out of a thousand versus four out of a thousand.

Dr. Gordon: Yes. It took 20% decrease. That’s the thing they sell all the time.

The biggest challenge with big pharma and the FDA

Ari: Exactly. Pharmas are masters of manipulating the statistics to come out with some impressive-sounding stuff that once you actually look at the data you realize is total nonsense.

Dr. Gordon: They bury the data. I’ve known many types of pharma. Pharma has gotten close to evil. I don’t want to say that because I hate it. It’s [crosstalk]

Ari: I don’t want to speculate on intentions but based on actions, we would say it’s somewhere close to evil on this spectrum.

Dr. Gordon: What it is, is that, and again, this is a great example of like I don’t think there was a conspiracy because it was the government who said that pharma had to fund the FDA but that very action of funding the FDA gave them more and more control over the FDA. Now the FDA is coming after our favorite, our most useful substances. The things that we use every day that change people’s live, the simple IV nutrients because IV nutrients in the right people. If you’re healthy– I was never a big IV nutrient guy because I never felt them.

I’m one of those people you give me any IV, I don’t notice. I feel fine. I don’t feel good before. I don’t feel bad before but I have so many patients that IV nutrients and it’s like, God, the light comes back on. IV phosphate [unintelligible 00:41:34], they start to feel– the world lights up again. That’s real for a subset of people and FDA is really working hard to take that away. That they’re looking to take away all of our compounded hormones and things. Just stuff that not everybody needs, but the people who need it, it’s life-changing life-altering and they’re doing it.

One day you should have if you ever want the download on how this works, Dr. Paul Anderson who is a great naturopath who teaches, he’s been testifying in front of the FDA since 2011 on this thing. The story, it’s just incredible how science is left to the wayside.

The Cell Danger Response

I really want to get to the CDR for a reason [crosstalk]-

Ari: Let’s get there right now.

Dr. Gordon: -is because it ties in what we’re talking about. Just let me just a little– My main point is the cell danger response is something that Dr. Naviaux who gave it its name. I don’t think he loves it anymore but he’s stuck with it. The first thing people have to understand about it is it’s just a story. It’s a framework for understanding how our body works. The reason I emphasize that I’ve spoken about this in medical symposium here and there at meetings. People come up to me and ask me and ask afterwards, “Is this the CDR?”

When they’re having a patient and it’s like I guess I’m not very good at explaining it. The point is the cell danger response is the immune response that’s choreographed by your mitochondria. That’s how you defend yourself against all threat. It doesn’t matter if it’s an angry neighbor or if it’s a bullet or a bug. This is just your body orchestrates a response and Dr. Naviaux has called back to cell danger response and he has stuck the mitochondria in the middle of it.

I always want to remind my people is that I’m sure that other smart people will find other organelles that they can say this one is in the middle of it. I happen to find his way of looking at very helpful because it’s the old story who’s the most essential organ, the brain or the rectum? If the rectum stops working, the brain does too, so it’s a circle. We need it all. Still, the mitochondria produces energy but it also senses the electron flow and the raw material flow in the cell. By sensing it decides when things are safe and when things are not safe it signals the whole body.

It’s just that when you start looking at the body as a system as a network of information and flow. When somebody tells you you have long COVID or when somebody tells you you’ve got chronic Lyme or you have mast cell disease or you’ve got whatever the flavor or parasite, whatever the flavor of the month of the year is, because these things wax and wane. When I started everything was Candida and then it was all parasites and then it was all Lyme and then it was all Bartonella and then Babesia or Babesia and Bartonella, I forget where it’s in.

Then it was all hypercoagulability and mast cells and mold, I mean it’s everything. It just depends on your sensitivity and your exposure. So don’t get hung up and don’t look at lists of symptoms on the internet and decide you’ve got Bartonella, because as I say, one man’s Bartonella list is another man’s Babesia list.

Dr. Gordon: Anyway. Beginning to understand that when you’re chronically ill, okay and I guess people should include in chronically ill things that we consider– Well, they are chronic illness, but people sometimes forget that when you’re chronically ill, you’re chronically inflamed, I guess that’s my point. Chronic illness is chronic inflammation. What people don’t get is that it also includes, like insulin resistance is chronic inflammation, hypertension is chronic inflammation, renal disease is chronic inflammation. It’s just what happens when your body tries to protect itself and then can’t stop.

I always compare this to psychology, because again, psychology is just a more alive model. Chinese medicine is actually a much more alive model than our current medical model, because it’s alive, it understands balance. Medicine tends to do black and white. So when your mitochondria sense something is off, they go through a pattern. Now, they go through a similar pattern every night or every day in something we’ve called a health cycle where you break down some tissue, you build up.

Your mitochondria aren’t signaling that this cell is sick or that the mitochondria will break apart and will then decide if they’re going to survive. If they decide to die, the cell decides to die. It’s good you repair it, but the repair mechanism is minor. What we call the healing cycle is when you need the contractor. The health cycle is what you do every day. You can fix the hole in the wall with a nail hole or something, maybe you can. [laughs] I used to be able to. The constant daily repair that we go through is the health cycle, but when we get injured, we go into the healing cycle, and that where people get stuck.

I guess I’m landing a good point is that that leads to chronic inflammation because your mitochondria gets stuck either in the first step where they’re not really producing energy at all, they’re just producing ATP as a signaling molecule. Your cells are burning glucose at that point. That’s why a lot of people who are really sick feel better when they eat sugar or simple carbs because that’s what they’re burning. In order to really burn fat your mitochondria have to be working.

If your mitochondria are ground out, they’re busy making a little bit of ATP, but they’re using that as a signaling molecule rather than as an energy production molecule, you’re going to be tired because that’s the first– That’s what Dr. Naviaux used to call, I still like it, the CDR1, the first step. That’s the first step in injury. You get cut, you get local infection, you call in your innate immune systems, but the cells are busy killing a bug that’s in the inside or binding up a toxin. When they’re doing that, they’re not busy making more of themselves.

The mitochondria stop making energy, which creates high oxygen tension inside the cell. That’s another little detail, I don’t [unintelligible 00:49:44] is that the mitochondria are the part of your cell that uses oxygen because not much else in the body really uses the oxygen in any significant level, okay? The mitochondria use oxygen and make water out of it. They add hydrogen and they make water when they finish making ATP or just before they finished the last step. When they stop doing that, the oxygen concentration inside the cell rises, which creates oxidative stress Which is what your body’s using.

Dr. Naviaux likes to call that oxidative shielding because that’s the first step in killing those viruses. This is a self-protective mechanism, but if you don’t shut that down within a day or two or three, then you’ve got chronic oxidative stress going on in your body. You have other mechanisms to create plenty of oxidative stress. It’s not the only one, but this turns it on. When it should happen, is that then the nucleus seeing the higher oxidative stress starts pouring out chemicals that are antioxidants. That’s probably one of the reasons a lot of the herbs, which many of them are pro-oxidants.

Many things like artemisinin, many of them are prooxidants, but they work because they stimulate the antioxidant response of the body. You have this. That’s CDR1, which usually should be short-lived. This is chronic and this is also where you’re innate immune system, the neutrophils, and the macrophages are coming in. That’s that first, like, thinking of COVID again. That should be happening in the first week of COVID. Unfortunately, COVID is smart enough to screw up that system in the beginning and get it to be out of balance.

Oops, let me not go there. I’m sorry. I interviewed Dr. Bredesen and I was so impressed with a man who can keep everything in a very orderly fashion. [laughs] My brain doesn’t work that way, so I apologize to the audience. Anyway, just to be clear, CDR1 is this inflammatory time. During this time, you’re going to have what we call sickness behavior. Sickness behavior is you’re tired, you’re irritable, you don’t want to eat, you want to be left alone. You often have a low-grade fever, because it’s self-protective.

If you live with a bunch of people and you’re getting sick and you’re going to be hanging out and spewing all around them, it’s not healthy. It’s not about masks, but we do spread respiratory pathogens by breathing and talking. Anyway, that’s the CDR1. The CDR2 is when you’re starting to heal. Okay. Now you have to rebuild some of that damaged tissue. At this point, the mitochondria, what’s interesting, they’re still not making a lot of ATP, but they’re making a bunch more. They’re using a lot of their energy to produce building blocks for the cell.

Things that will make RNA and DNA, the building blocks. Your cells are still burning sugar. Again, this is a level that we often see in people with hypertension or stuck here people with insulin resistance, they often have places in their body. That’s the other thing that I want to emphasize is the CDR is a local phenomenon. It’s rarely happening throughout your whole body at the same time. Usually, it’s wherever there is the insult, if it’s the whole body, people usually die. It’s called sepsis, all the organs are screwed up.

Ari: Maybe there’s some in-between territory. Because let’s say you have a local injury to a specific part of your body, then you have a local CDR reaction, but you don’t necessarily get systemic symptoms from that. Part of the CDR as I understand is the systemic level signaling of pure energic molecules. Some of these energy molecules that are circulating, that are causing systemic symptoms, whether those symptoms might be present in the case of autism or in the case of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Dr. Gordon: Absolutely. Yes. It’s the signaling that becomes systemic.

Ari: Yes.

Dr. Gordon: You can have 5 or 10% of your liver is inflamed, that’s what we often see. People with cirrhosis, they have little patches to start with because there’s only some cells that are stuck in that CDR2 place where they’re building tissue and they’re not really communicating well with these tissues around them. They release chemicals. That’s the whole thing about senescence. Maybe is the senescent signaling molecules that these cells that are stuck in various places in your body in CDR1, CDR2, or even CDR3, and let me just run through those real quick.

Ari: Please.

Dr. Gordon: The details of CDR, it’s just the idea that there are stages. One is this acute inflammatory stage, two is this rebuilding stage. The reason I’m emphasizing the glucose metabolism is because this is like cancer cells. When cells become cancerous, they’re using what we call Warburg metabolism, which people thought was causing cancer. No. It’s what the mitochondria do when you’re having cells that are rapidly reproducing. [chuckles] They’re busy making the building blocks, and the cells using glucose to make energy.

The mitochondria are not using up as much oxygen. They always thought that the mitochondria was disordered. I guess that’s one of the important pieces of this long story is that in, except for maybe I think there’s 400 known mitochondrial diseases, which are all extremely rare, [chuckles] and most people who have them die when they’re young. The vast majority of people have normal mitochondria. Again, we are now going to the molecular level, so people are doing mitochondrial genomics on people who are mild.

Yes. You can find that there’s this SNP for the first cytochrome. That’s a big one. People are finding the first complex one in the electron transport chain. You can have some SNP so you don’t bind NAD that well. That alone does not make you sick. When you’re sick, that can make it worse. It’s cool to find out that, it’s because sometimes those people do respond to a little more NAD, which is cool. The point is, is that you’re not sick because of that SNP, [chuckles] we just happen to find it because we were looking for it.

Anyway, so that’s CDR 2 is this building, and that’s where stem cells are being called in, and all kinds of good things are happening. CDR 3 is when these newly built cells are learning to communicate with their neighbors. That’s when there’s cell receptors because remember in CDR 1, one of the first things that happens is the cell membrane hardens. You’ve got all those nice lipids with proteins in between them and those proteins change shape, and the lipids change of configuration. The cell membrane itself becomes less permeable, and it also stops taking in the signals.

This goes into, my basic thing about how to help people get well is you have to restore communication throughout the system. CDR 3 is about that in a big way because that’s when the cell is learning that, “Hey, I’m a liver cell and I have to communicate with these guys around me, and I have to send out the right signals to the rest of the body. I’m now going to start listening to the thyroid hormones, and the adrenal hormones and all that soup of information the cell is going to start listening to.

What you have when you have senescent cells, and they’re not listening to the information as clearly, and they’re sending out old signals. Or they’re sending out signals that would be appropriate if you’re trying to still fight something. Unfortunately, when we keep doing that, as we get older, we get creakier. [crosstalk]

Ari: In that way of speaking there, you’re likening senescent cells to being stuck in CDR in the CDR.

Dr. Gordon: Exactly. One, two, or three. Doesn’t matter which one, they’re senescent cells because they’re releasing proteins and exosomes. Exosomes, not just the mRNA vaccine, but exosomes are one of the major ways that we’re just discovering that your body communicates. They’re little lipids with proteins stuck in the middle. When your cell gets sick, it starts spewing out these exosomes as communication molecules, and it keeps doing it. It’s just one of the way we communicate that they’re just beginning to get.

20 years ago, people thought exosomes were cellular debris or were just nothing. They didn’t know what they were. Welcome to junk DNA. Oops. There’s very little junk in the system. [laughs] We just don’t understand it. Anyway, so when a cell is not operating back to the mature interactive cell in the community, when it’s stuck in any phase of this self-protective response, it is sending out dangerous signals to the body. Now again, a bit more– Luckily, we are in an incredibly redundant system because every time you read about what’s wrong with the body, and you start going deep because you think, “Oh, my god, I’m going to die because I got this or I got that, and somehow we managed to keep going. [chuckles] Your C-reactive protein is six, “Oh, my god, you’re going to have a heart attack tomorrow.” No, no. I know plenty of people in their 80s with CRPs that are high and they survive.

We get too hung up on these numbers like they’re the only signals we know how to read so far but they’re signals out of billions of signals. We have to remember that. People get really scared when they get an abnormal blood test. Sometimes you should, sometimes it is bad but lots of times, it’s just, “Yes, we should do something, but you’re not going to die from it.” The system is incredibly redundant and resilient.

That’s CDR1, 2, 3. I know you’re wanting to make another point so I’ll shut up.

The benefits of the Cell Danger Response

Ari: Let me ask you this. The CDR, it’s worth saying, is performing a positive role as well in facilitating our survival in response to stress, in response to cellular damage, cellular threats, danger. It is an intelligent, adaptive response to respond to things that threaten us. Now–

Dr. Gordon: I think what I want to make is that it’s just how your body communicates. See, that’s what’s so funny is because he’s identified the CDR is, like I said, when something’s really broken but you’re using that same system and at gentler level every day. Everytime you go to sleep, your body is going through these healing cycles. That was my clumsy analogy about fixing something simple at home. That’s what you’re doing every day.

Ari: During hormetic stress as well, and during exercise, during cold exposure, during heat exposure, during breath holding practices, we are engaging it. We are essentially training it and, I would say, resetting the system. I think, Dr. Naviaux, I’ve spoken to him in person, I had the privilege a few years back of going to his lab for mitochondrial medicine at the University of California, San Diego, having a little private session with him and I spoke to him about hormetic stress. He hasn’t said much about it publicly, but he lit up when I started speaking to him about that because he knew it’s like pressing the reset button on the system.

Dr. Gordon: It’s training. It’s training your system. I’m sorry. It’s just that– Yes, Bob lights up. That’s what makes him funny. You give him an idea and [onomatopoeia].

Ari: [chuckles]

Dr. Gordon: That’s it. It’s because we need to keep in training and that’s why when you’re a couch potato, and you get hurt, it’s so– It hurts because the system is creaky. It hasn’t been practiced. You need to keep it going. It’s a system. That’s why, I think, I’m so glad that you emphasize that, that this is nothing wrong, nothing broken. It’s how your body works. The problem is when the signal isn’t modulated correctly and that’s because some other thing is- you’re either lacking in nutrients, maybe an immune cell has gotten out of whack.

Ari: That’s the question I wanted to segue into is the system can get stuck. We’re supposed to be able to oscillate between going into the CDR when we need it, and then coming out of it and restoring, as Dr. Naviaux calls it, peacetime metabolism. Mitochondria are now shifting into, I call it, energy mode. They’re pumping out lots of energy and we’re no longer in wartime metabolism trying to defend against threats. The problem is sometimes the CDR can get stuck in wartime metabolism. Explain why that is. You would do a lot of work on chronic Lyme disease, long COVID is a big focus of yours now and you just did a summit on that. I don’t know when it’s coming out. When is your stuff coming out?

Dr. Gordon: Oh, next week, February 7th.

The link between mitochondrial dysfunction and chronic illness

Ari: Okay, awesome. We’ll get this podcast out right away then. Obviously, I think this aspect that we’re talking about here as far as the CDR getting stuck, the body getting stuck, the mitochondria getting stuck in wartime metabolism is a big part of these chronic illnesses. What is happening there in terms of your paradigm?

Dr. Gordon: Is that since this is a communication system, and I’m sure there are multiple levels of it, but simplistically in my head, I usually focus on the immune system. Immune cells, by the way, also, their mitochondria change just the same way as an aside but I won’t say more about that. I look at the immune system because it’s like you look at– Well, long Covid is a great example, is that who got really sick, who died, and who got long Covid.

Many people thought they were healthy before they got sick but usually when we dig down, we find that there was underlying insulin resistance, old infection that their body- like an Epstein-Barr. All of us have Epstein-Barr almost but some of us, we have excessive amounts of B cells that have the EBV, the Epstein-Barr virus, living in there. Senesce, quiet, not reproducing, but every time that B cell reproduces it can reproduce, and when it does- or you can reproduce a piece of it and that can spark your immune system. People live with that and they don’t notice it.

They’re just people not maybe like if they work too hard and they exercise too hard, and they party too much, and the next day they might really feel like crap and take two days to recover. They just thought, “That was nothing,” but their immune system is always a little bit more amped up than normal. When they get sick, their immune system is already on high alert and it doesn’t know how to go through the process of quieting itself down because you see–

Another circle, the people talk about the innate immune system and the macrophages and neutrophils and the T cells and the B cells, and the NK cells like everybody’s got separate jobs. They do on a gross level, but on the communication levels if the neutrophils don’t work right, don’t send out the right signals, the macrophages don’t work right, they don’t give the T cells the right signals and so the T regulatory and T helper signals don’t work right.

They all work because the system is so redundant but the thing is that it has to work really well to get well. To let everybody know that the war is over, you have to have a good communication system. If you’ve got soldiers who are like the Japanese soldier who they found, the old story, the guy who was still fighting in the jungle 40 years after the war ended because nobody told him. Okay. [laughs] That happens in your body. The communication drops a little bit.

What I find is that usually there’s a toxin exposure that your body couldn’t deal with. Just another quick aside for people, it’s usually not the level of the toxic exposure, it’s just your sensitivity to it because Dr. Naviaux, he hasn’t published it yet, but he looked at 1,200 toxins in about 1,000 people, and the difference between the sick people and the healthy people–

Ari: There really wasn’t [crosstalk]

Dr. Gordon: [crosstalk] in the quantity. Again, there’s always the exception. If you get enough of something that you’re going to eventually get sick but we’re talking about the levels that the government would like us to think is safe because it’s too complicated to realize how they’re not.

Ari: If it’s not objectively, differences in the degree of exposure, let’s say the amount of virus that’s present, the amount of Epstein-Barr virus that’s in a person’s system, the amount of mold toxins, the amount of other chemicals or heavy metals or something, then it has to be the individual’s susceptibility to that or ability to be resistant to that stressor. Is that correct or what [crosstalk]

Dr. Gordon: It’s biochemical individuality. We are different. There are people who used to be able to work in battery factories that had incredible lead exposures in the ’50s. The lead levels that was acceptable, at least, I remember by the ’70s, they were down to 80. Now we know they should be down to nothing or one microgram or liter. It’s just we didn’t know. The point is- but there were lots of people who worked in those factories who felt fine and there were other people who walked in and worked for a day, went home, and felt sick and had headaches. The difference in what we can– I mean, I can eat anything. People I live with if they eat the food’s out for a day, you’ll give them a bellyache. I can eat stuff that’s been sitting out for a week. We’re all different.

APOE4 is probably good for something. We don’t get infections. That’s what people have to understand. I always say is that we all respond pretty much the same way to a bullet, but to a feeling we all respond very differently, and to a [unintelligible 01:10:45]. They said something like, in the beginning, 50% of people with COVID were asymptomatic, so it’s clear that it’s us. The reason that people get stuck in CDR1, 2, and 3 can be very variable.

One of the things that we were going to tie in, [chuckles] I’m going to reach for it, is structure. Nobody talks about structure. One of the things that I see as a regular doctor is that people come in and nobody paid attention to how tight, how stuck, how things– You might have chronic fatigue, but if your body isn’t communicating with your left arm because you had an old injury that never healed, that’s going to get in the way of your healing because the blood flow is not going to be good there.

Physical assessment – a lost art

Ari: That’s also, I think, another example of modern medicine versus old-school medicine in the sense of there used to be much more emphasis on physical assessment as far as how the doctor deals with the patient. You assess them physically and there was a whole art and skillset to that that was dominant in how the doctor related to the patient. Now we’ve become increasingly reliant on lab tests and technology and the art of physical assessment has been lost. You can have a patient with obvious physical signs and symptoms going in, and the doctor will often completely miss it because they don’t receive that training in physical assessment anymore.

Dr. Gordon: Yes. Well, they often receive it but they don’t keep using it so it doesn’t do them any good. The thing about medicine is practice. We don’t know much so it’s only– Quick aside, I have to tell this story. I’ve been in a new relationship for the last 5 or 6 years and I have a 13-year-old living with me now. I have really come to grips with how little I know about the world. How many times somebody asked me a question, “How does that work?” I start to give an answer and I realize halfway through, “I’m making this up.”

Ari: [laughs]

Dr. Gordon: I mean, it’s logical, it’s how I think it works, but [inaudible 01:13:21] don’t really know. That has grabbed me. We now live in a world that’s so complex, it’s so hard. The reality is it’s the same thing about medicine. I read and study and blah, blah, blah but still, so much I don’t know, but with experience, you can get a sense of a story so you know there’s a truth value there. You don’t have to understand the physics of the tree to know which branch you can stand on if you know the type of tree.

What I’m trying to say is that experience gives you information that you don’t maybe have the rational or the step-by-step information for. That’s where doctors are lacking now because they’re trying to do it by just the information that comes from testing. That would imply that we understood the system well enough, but we don’t. The tests are not black and white.

Most of the tests about all the chronic diseases, all the rheumatological diseases, they try to find the antibody, but there’s no disease that has the antibody. Every one of them, every one of the rheumatological diseases, you can have the form that doesn’t have that antibody. It’s probably a different disease, but they don’t know enough, so they lump it together because it kind of looks like it. I hate to be so demoralizing to people who think that doctors know what they’re doing. We do but it’s [crosstalk]

Ari: And to doctors who think they know what they’re doing. [laughs]

Dr. Gordon: No, we know something. I always put it this way, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. When it comes to being really ill, then you need your HealthFirst practitioner person because they do know more than you do. They at least know what the words mean. I always tell patients, you are on the inside. You’re feeling what’s going on. Now, my story and your feeling might not line up. Sometimes I’m right. Sometimes you’re right. We just got to try to meet in the middle.

Anyway, so getting back to this thing about structure though because structure is, I think, the big missing piece. On the most extreme angle of the structure is we now have, I think we’re all very interested in, what we’re calling craniocervical instability and things like tethered cord, where people with Ehlers-Danlos, actually a whole lot of other things that are not well defined yet, where people have lax connective tissue. It’s very common.

It doesn’t have to be in your whole body, which is even weirder. Some people just are very hyperflexible in one part but there’s some gene connections that increase inflammation when that’s going on among a whole lot of other things. If you really lax ligaments in some people, where you’re head is not sitting as tightly on your neck as it should be, and so

when you move or bend or just chew, your autonomic nervous system can start getting [unintelligible 01:16:54] and you can start having rapid heart rates. You can have autonomic dysfunction, POTS, the whole nine yards just from this.

Now, again, most people, it’s mild. There’s a few people who are bedbound with this stuff. They’re the people who, 10 years ago, we looked at, what the hell, they can’t talk, they want the room dark and quiet, and they’re not moving. Again, you can be like that for lots of reasons, but one of them is this CCI, this craniocervical instability, but more often we’re just seeing people who–

Note, this ties in with the young lady you had on who was talking about the pelvis, the pelvic floor. She brought that most important point, is that the diaphragms, and you’ve got a diaphragm here as well, when these are tight, you’re not draining your brain. You actually can get mild cranial hypertension, or more likely, you’re not getting enough drainage so the toxins and the inflammatory chemicals aren’t leaving the system as quickly as they should because they got to get out. They get in and they got to get out.

When these muscles are tight, the venous drainage system is a low-pressure system so it doesn’t take much muscle tension to slow it down and the lymphatics are a really low tension system, so it takes very little of muscle tension to slow down the lymphatics. That gives you a lot of head symptoms, which will affect your whole autonomic nervous system.

The point is that some things happen because you have, like I said, this lax connected tissue. Sometimes you’re just defending yourself. Sometimes you just had a head trauma and then your neck never loosens up again.

Why yoga may not be good for your health

Ari: I think this links back to something that you said in passing and I want to connect the dots for listeners who may not be aware of this. You mentioned earlier in passing something that I think probably would not make sense to a lot of people. You talked about somebody who can bend over and touch their toes very easily, who you said something to the effect of maybe yoga five times a week is not the right practice for you. That seems like an odd thing for a health practitioner to say, really, in any context, for them to say, “Hey, don’t do yoga.”

I don’t find this to be odd because my best friend and my lifelong training partner is a world-class pain and posture expert and chiropractor who now has his own online business called Pain Fix Protocol. His name’s Dr. Yoni Whitten. He often talks about people who are hyper-mobile, and that he will advise them to stop doing yoga in many cases, and to start weight training. He talks like this is a category of people, that there’s too much stretching, there’s too much flexibility, there’s too much joint mobility, there’s too much hyperlaxity. We need to stiffen things up. I think the broader population, in general, they’re often too stiff and maybe could use more stretching, and yoga, and mobility practices.

How do you break that down? I think more importantly than just the purely physical aspect of this, how do you think that the structural stuff fascia links into the broader context of healing, and chronic disease?

Dr. Gordon: It’s all inflammation, okay? The fascia is part of the communication system. Acupuncture meridians run through the fascia. The fascia envelops all the organs, and helps keep them toned, okay? When the fascia planes are stuck, then the organs can’t move inside. Look, we forget that everything inside is moving. [chuckles] Your liver isn’t hanging there doing nothing. It’s moving constantly, a little bit. That’s why you work with people with really good hands, and they can feel it, but you can see it under an ultrasound. It’s not like we’re making it up. [laughs]

The organs move. There’s a rhythmic motion inside the body at all times because it’s how you increase flow and let the information flow. Remember, the lymphatics are your final drainage pathway. If that connective tissue is tight, the lymphatics don’t work well so you wind up with fluid in the skin and just feeling tight and squishy, and you have chronic inflammation. This is the point, is that these cycles only work when information is flowing freely.

I always want to emphasize, I like psychological analogies or metaphors [unintelligible] never get those straight. I keep going to the shoulder because so many people have tight shoulders, and they fell on at once– A very good example, I fell slipped walking, and I made the mistake of putting my wrist out. I got it worked on a little bit but, yes, it wasn’t so bad. I forgot it but years later, it started to really hurt and ache when I tried to– Just luckily, I have people I work with who are really good, and they work through the fascia, the nerve stories that were happening, and it opened up, but most people don’t do that. That area was beginning to affect my neck, and tightening up, and causing pain.

Here’s the point I’m trying to make, is that when you are in a relationship, and it’s difficult when you keep trying to communicate, and after a while, you discovered that that’s a hot-button subject that if I talk about it, it just degrades into a fight and so you stop talking about it. You go over it, whoops. I always say, in Tai chi, when you can’t make the move, you go over that spot. [chuckles]

Welll, your body does the same thing, you start to ignore. When you have an area of inflammation, it sends signals back to the nervous system. “Help. We need more white blood cells,” or, “We need more oxygenation. We need more blood flow,” whatever. When that keeps happening, and you don’t resolve the inflammation, the system shuts down, quiets down because it stops wasting the energy. That’s why when you start to get that area worked on again, it can really be very uncomfortable.

Many times these old injuries, they don’t hurt unless you push them. If you learn to not move your arm in that thing, you don’t notice it but have somebody work on it, and then it can really hurt for a day or two because you’re returning information. You’re returning that information exchange between the tissue and the central nervous system, where before the body just tried to say to turn it off and so you’re stuck in CDR2 or CDR3, you haven’t gotten out of it, but you’re lowering the irritant factor because if you don’t get a lot of blood flow to that area, you’re not getting as much of that inflammatory chemicals in the rest of your body. [crosstalk]

Ari: I’ve been studying human– My undergraduate degree is in kinesiology. I was a personal trainer for a long time, into bodybuilding from the time I was 13 years old, and an athlete from the time I was much younger, 5 years old. I’m going to turn 40 this year. This has been an obsession of mine for, let’s say, close to 30 years at this point as far as understanding human biomechanics, exercise, physiology, movement, all of these things, muscles and fat and bone and skeletal stuff, and I’ve got many years of study of mitochondria and the CDR and all this stuff and even I have never made the connection that you just described, putting things together in that way, linking up what’s going on in the musculoskeletal system and how that’s tying into this story of cellular communication and the CDR. Even for me, that was a very profound insight to hear you put the pieces together like that.

Dr. Gordon: Oh, thank you. It’s because I always watched chiropractors help people in my early days and I go, “What the hell are they doing?” Then I took a year of osteopathic training to learn and I studied a bit and I got, yes, so-so, I got good enough to know that it was really useful. Then I hired people to work with me who are really good. When you start to watch them work with tissue and you start to see these things open up, it’s like, “Oh, okay.” Again, people with these chronic illnesses, and until you can restore the flow between the chest, like the mediastinum, that area, that nobody thinks about, between your heart and lungs and your esophagus and the thorax, that area is stuck in so many people, who are sick for a long time.

The sympathetic nerves that come on along that midthoracic spine, that’s why everybody has that stuck between their scapulas, between their shoulder blades all the time because it’s all tied up. When you open it and you get a little more flow there, it’s step one. Then you can open their neck. If you open the neck first, it makes a mess. [chuckles] They feel terrible. That’s why you need people with good hands.

That’s the other part is that, I think, that someday if I was going to have the way to help people really recover from chronic illness is if we could have a consortium of people who are gifted body workers. I don’t care if you’re an osteopath or a massage therapist who’s just got great hands because it’s a gift. It’s like everybody always want things as my piece of paper. Nah, [laughs] it’s how good you are.

Then the training, because the thing that happens is a lot of people go to these folks, and if you’re chronically ill, they’ll flare the hell out of you. It’s not because they did anything wrong, it’s because they weren’t used to working with that kind of body. We had people who you couldn’t– It is just you have to start very gentle because this is the cell danger response again. Your brain, remember that intention, as we said, in the beginning, well, your intention is there but if fear is overwhelming the intention because every time something happens to you, you feel worse. Every time somebody gives you something, every time somebody makes a loud noise, your whole nervous system vibrates. You begin to become more and more well-defended for good reason.

If you’re chemically sensitive and every time you smell something, you get a headache and nausea life becomes very not fun. The defense pulls in, and that pulls in everything, and it pulls in the psyche. That’s where, for some people, if they’ll hear it, the first step is working with the psyche. Except, unfortunately, since most of my patients have been told that they’re just crazy, to begin with, you can’t start right with the psyche because it’s insulting. [chuckles] It’s not in your head. It’s just that your head has a lot to do with running the show.

On the other hand, if your heart’s racing 130 beats a minute every time you walk across the room, your brain’s going to keep thinking, “There’s a lot of danger here.” It’s not a conscious thought. It’s your limbic system just feeding back this to your body. This is what keeps that CDR going. It’s all this information. The mitochondria are one piece that are reading these signals because they happen because there’s less blood flow, there’s less nutrients when you’re tight. Mitochondria don’t like that. That’s a sign that there’s a problem.

Relaxation is the hardest thing because it takes– I think I’ve told you this before. It’s one of my favorite little tidbits is how relaxation takes more energy than being tense. [laughs] When you’re really sick and have no energy, you don’t have the energy to relax because you got to pump a lot of ATP to stay relaxed.

Ari: Yes. Dr. Gordon, I feel like I could talk to you for five more hours.

Dr. Gordon: I know. I know we’re running out of time.

Ari: Thank you for going way over our allotted hour. [crosstalk] This has been a lot of fun.

Dr. Gordon: [crosstalk]

Common signs and symptoms of an imbalanced physiology

Ari: Now, I have a challenge for you. This is definitely a challenge. I feel like this conversation has been, to some extent, it’s just you and I having fun here and speaking to each other and having a conversation, a back and forth. I feel like there’s a possibility that this could be a frustrating conversation for some listeners who may have difficulty following some of the things that have come up in this conversation and may feel a little discombobulated as far as making sense of it, what are the takeaways.

I would like to ask you to give, if possible, a succinct high-level summary of, here are some of the signs and symptoms that characterize this state of physiology that we’ve been discussing. Then from there, I’d like you to leave listeners with three practical takeaways as far as things to focus on or work on if this state of physiology applies to them. I think the theme of, if I can insert my own commentary here, the theme of what I’ve heard you say here has a lot to do with cellular communication, so maybe three tips to help restore cellular communication and get the body back into health. I know it’s a challenge, but do your best with that challenge.

Dr. Gordon: I appreciate how difficult it is to follow me sometimes. I’m always thankful for the people who give me the space. [chuckle] To me, chronic inflammation is underlying all illness, that simple. I don’t care if it’s heart disease, Lyme disease, COVID, arthritis, whatever. Anxiety and depression is all chronic inflammation.

Ari: Should we all take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to solve it?

Dr. Gordon: No, because, see, that’s the problem. That’s the linear approach, is the thing, but it’s a communication problem, so cutting one wire is not going to be helpful. We have to restore the communication. Because this is a system that we don’t understand, we have to approach it with a little humility. For the simple things, is that any illness that doesn’t go away, any sensation in your body that does not go away is chronic inflammation in that area. With that being said, I don’t want to sound simplistic, but the first steps are, obviously, intention, which means open your heart to the possibility of healing and really see it.

I’m going to try to keep it succinct. I was going to tell people how I hated that thought. I hate affirmations. [chuckles] I was anti-affirmation but I’ve come to see if you can do it gently, affirmation that somebody gave you in a book that you’re doing by [unintelligible 01:34:22], it might help a little bit, but you got to find it in your heart. It’s not a memorized thing. It’s a unique relationship between you and whatever is bigger than you. Even if you’re a total atheist, there’s still the awe that this whole system works so just have an intention to heal in that space of awe. That’s it.

It’s not easy to do when you feel terrible. Obviously, the things that you teach, breath work signals the body. When you are breathing shallowly and tightly you’re signaling danger. Just think all the things that you do when you’re afraid, when you get scared of something, every body posture that you take. The hunch shoulders, the tightness, the gut a little tight, those are all signals to your body that it’s not safe. Again, obviously, unfortunatelym, when you’ve been sick a long time, it’s probably not comfortable to change those positions a lot, but gently pay attention to them. Just breathe into them. You’re not going to go from hunched over and in pain to suddenly being a sitting blah, blah being like a yogi but put an intention there. Again, and the rest–

I feel so ridiculous because I used to get so upset when there’s a lot of people would go to doctors, and they’d come with these prescriptions that just had these things. I’d go, “My God, what a waste of time and money,” [chuckles] because I love the bandaids and the toys and the things, but when it comes down to it, the basics, if you can’t begin– You don’t have to do all of them. That’s the beauty of the body. If you do one of the 10 things that people tell you to do, it’ll shift a little bit, and then maybe you can do the second. The rest is the other thing because without rest your brain doesn’t relax, and if your brain is not relaxed it’s like when mama is not happy nobody’s happy. Well, this is mama, so you’ve got t do that.

Again, it’s very hard because most people who are really inflamed doesn’t relax because, as I said, it takes energy and you’re not producing energy. You have to start off with the breath and the intention because sleep will come later, and then a little bit of movement. I don’t care if the movement is walking to the toilet instead of using a bedside commode, but try to make a few steps, or just in bed if you’re bedbound, just move.

I’m not talking about doing marathons because that’s not good for you. Marathons, I don’t think are good for people anyway, [chuckles] in general, unless you grew up with it. If you love to run, run, but for most people, walk. Just remember, imagine a day in a life when you didn’t have a car and you didn’t have a bus or a bicycle you had to walk. Just do that once in a while for those who are a little healthier. I tend to go to the really- like people who are bedbound or housebound because there’s lots of people who feel miserable who can still get out and move around. It’s just that it doesn’t feel good. They feel like they’re sick all the time.

Just move as much as comfortable and don’t push yourself because the thing about inflammation is that when you are pushing yourself you’re creating that, as you said before, that Hormetic stress but it’s no longer Hormetic for you. You’re not learning. You’re breaking yourself. You want to practice that your movement and your exercise does not leave you more tired than when you started.

If you wake up the next morning, you can ache, but if you are more tired, you did way too much. That is not healing because remember that all that exhaustion is telling your body, again, that something is a problem. You want to make love to your– You want your body to be like your baby. You just want your baby to feel safe and happy. You have to treat your own being like that which is really hard because I don’t [laughs] most of the time.

The role of stress and trauma in health

Ari: I want to just extend that out slightly further because there’s a philosophy that I don’t object to but I think there’s a possible interpretation of what you just said that I wouldn’t agree with.

Dr. Gordon: Okay, let me hear it.’

Ari: To maybe broaden this a bit, there is an attitude that I find some people are forming in relationship to stress and trauma. Well, right now we’re in an era where there’s, I think, more awareness than ever around emotional trauma. I think we have a kind of a cultural Zeitgeist, a way of relating to that now where it’s like we’re all very hyper-focused and obsessed with the traumas of our past, and how they have led to us being a certain way, and how maybe we’re forever sort of damaged as a result of this, this, and this. I think what’s missing in this is more resilience, more mental toughness, and not to be insensitive to people with really severe trauma. Of course, I fully understand that it’s possible to be really messed up from very serious trauma. However, I think we also need to incorporate–

Just to go back into your analogy of treating it like a baby. If we’re raising a child, it is not helpful for that child to be forever shielded from stress and difficulty, and challenge. It is part of them learning how to become better, how to become stronger physically, mentally, how to become more resilient in the face of stress. How to develop more grit, how to develop more persistence, how to develop their skillsets in various regards by being challenged. We have to continually brush up against challenge and obstacle and difficulty and stress in order to be formed into our best self.

I think the mentality, which I think a lot of people have, to be quite honest with you, of feeling like they need to constantly shield themselves and avoid stress because stress is this very harmful thing that will damage them and mess them up is an immature relationship to stress.

Dr. Gordon: I agree 100%. I agree with you. One of my favorite sayings that gets me in trouble with the young people today is the old, when I was growing up, sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. I have no tolerance. I’m old so I have to learn for this thing about like God forbid you, but that being said, what I’m dealing with is many times the nervous system has become so sensitized that everything feels like a stress. For a while as a transition, yes, but–

I always tell people, any kind of war, is that like when I was growing up, people were getting killed by snipers in Beirut from going out to the store. I always knew I didn’t grow up in Beirut. It was New York. It was dangerous, but basically, it was pretty safe. The thing is that once the nervous system becomes sensitized, everything starts being felt that way so a big part of doing these things is learning how to reinterpret the things that are not stressful.

My point is that the next day when you wake up, if you just ache because you overworked it, that’s good, but if you wake up and you feel malaise and sick– See, that’s the difference, is that you’re not going to push past malaise and sick. You’re going to get sicker. Achy, you can push past because achy, your body’s just healing, but malaise and sick is you’ve gone into that CDR1 in a big way. You are flooding your body with these chemicals that say you’re sick, different than when you’re just hurt.

I guess I tend to go overboard because my world is made up of people that even if they were very tough people- and many of them were because that’s the thing that I always laugh when people tell me these folks have psychological issues. Many of these people were top of their game and then they got sick and the world starts going, “Oh, I knew you were really a wimp.” Usually, brothers and sisters have that line, [laughs] but still, I just want to– A double down is that you will not rest your way back to health. No.

100%, Ari, I really, really agree with you that this idea that- because your body needs the stress to know how to grow. It just needs it. It’s required. It’s just that the thing is we have to keep it within the bounds and that’s why you start with the breath work. You have to find ways that you can rescue yourself when you get that fear signal that’s not necessary.

That’s where those training programs that a lot of people have. I don’t know. [unintelligible 01:44:17] about naming names, but the different programs where people, like a retraining the amygdala and the limbic system, to not overreact to this noise because when you start feeling not well, some nervous systems demand retreat. It’s how we come into this world. I really believe this and almost every patient I see was always the sensitive one in their family. They felt either physically or sometimes emotionally when things were off when they were little.

That’s a beautiful gift. They often have very fine sensitive taste, wonderful, for the mouth and ears. They can smell everything. It’s a gift, but once that gift, once that sensitivity gets used to start sniffing out danger instead of pleasure, you’re on a downward roll and we have to find a way to make you feel safe again to get you back out there. We don’t want to make you safer by denying you interaction., I’m always dealing with people like take off those eye shields, take off those ears, and we got to make it quiet, but slowly expose yourself. Get out of your family’s house, that’s the other thing that people get pissed off with me.

No adult sick person should be living with their families. Economics sometimes has to but– What Ram Dass said, “You think you’re enlightened, go home for the weekend.”

Ari: [laughs] Go home for Thanksgiving. Right.

Dr. Gordon: Right, in the [onomatopoeia]. Imagine when you’re sick, we all revert to three or five. The sickness behavior usually brings us back to that three-year-old, two-year-old level of coexistence, and you’re dealing with the person who knows you really well at that age. You glom right back there. It’s such a tragedy because the families want to help. Sometimes it’s the only option I know, but it’s always something to try to grow out of. It’s like growing out and learning to push your body a little more. You’ll be much better if you’re working or interacting with people, who are going to interact to with where you are today, not who you were in the past. I’m sorry. I got gackles [crosstalk]

Dr. Gordon’s tips for a varied diet

Ari: No, that’s beautiful. Dr. Gordon, is there one more thing maybe that you could think of that you want to leave people with just to fully conclude here?

Dr. Gordon: Oh, the other obnoxious thought is eat organic. I don’t care what your diet is, but make sure it suits you, and don’t go too crazy if things bother you. Don’t cut out. Go and get down to eating four foods. I have seen people crumple their bones in their 40s because they were been on a restrictive diet for 10 years. It’s not necessary. I can only tell you is that that’s your nervous system giving you false information. You have to fix the gut, have to fix the nervous system, have to make it so every time that you get a sensation that’s painful, that you don’t relate it to what just happened. We make that–

Our brain loves to make up stories. That’s why conspiracy stories are so pleasing to us. We like to know that A happened because of B. It’s very simple. We like to know that I got nausea again because I had that food or I got the headache or I got anxious because I ate that. It might be. I’m not saying it’s not but don’t cut out the food because of it. Work hard figuring out what else is imbalancing your gut that it’s amplifying the signals to your vagus nerve so crazily, fix that. Don’t cut out the foods and think I’m going to fix this gut later because there is no later.

The longer you avoid the foods, like you said, “The less stress, the less healthy.” This is the paradox of this whole system is that, yes, you have to love it and relax in it, but if you don’t use it and stress it and push yourself to your limit occasionally, you just wilt. There’s no life. It’s that simple. It’s not complex. When you’re sick, the desire to prevent more pain is so strong and that’s where I want to be really clear. It’s easy for me to sit here who’s not having anything and say these things and when you’re suffering and it really hurts all over, it’s hard, but if you just stay in the suffering, it doesn’t get better.

It’s that, unfortunately, ugly, simple, and offensive because usually we’re told that by parents and brothers and sisters. We get that just defensive response and you have to just go, “Okay. Put it down,” and know that on some level even though they’re speaking with maybe a little bit of edge and a little bit of oomph, there might be a little knife there, there’s still truth there. You got to work at it and you got to move forward and you can’t just try to hide from the pain, unfortunately. [crosstalk]

Ari: To everybody listening, I want to say one thing. Dr. Gordon, this has been a really unique discussion. I’ve gained a lot of insights and had a lot of aha moments just myself in this conversation with you. I’m very grateful for having you on and for all of your time that you’ve invested. Just for my own selfish benefit, I found this really interesting and insightful.

For everybody listening, I feel like at some at some points in this conversation, there’s certain assumptions of knowledge around– We went over the CDR quite briefly and some of this discussion might feel high-level and inaccessible and may feel a bit discombobulated all over the place at different times, and piecing things together and looping back to certain stuff.

I’m sensitive to the fact that some people may be frustrated by that, but I really feel there’s a lot of gold nuggets in this conversation and I would encourage listeners, especially anyone who’s listening to this with any chronic complex illness, chronic symptoms, really of any kind, including chronic fatigue listen to this a second time and try to– I think you’ll start to see how circular a lot of these elements that we touched on are and you’ll put the pieces together in a lot of new ways, and I think you’ll get a lot of nuggets out of this conversation.

Dr. Gordon, you are a uniquely brilliant mind. This has been a lot of fun. I really love the way that your brain works, and, again, super insightful just for my own personal benefit. Thank you so much for all your time, for staying with me for nearly two hours. I look forward to our next conversation. I’m sure there will be one sometime soon.

Dr. Gordon: Well, I just want to thank you, Ari, for your patience and I hope– You gave me enough rope to have fun. Really I just want people to know that there is hope and in all these circles, there are answers. I know it’s frustrating to listen to me for long periods of time so I wish I could be more linear, but I’m [crosstalk]

Ari: You’re very humble. I’m very engaged, I find it fascinating.

Dr. Gordon: Okay. It’s just I feel badly because I speak to many people who I do a lot of interviews where I let other people do the talking and I appreciate when people can give information in a very linear and useful manner to people. I just have to acknowledge that my brain just doesn’t work that way and when I’ve tried to produce scripts, I still just wander so–

Ari: Well, I think my brain works a lot like yours and there’s the layers of knowledge and the brain is in real-time piecing things together and making connections. Sometimes you’re over here and then you want to connect it to something over here and come back to this thing and connect it to that thing over there. I find it fascinating. I really like the way your brain works and this was a lot of fun.

Dr. Gordon: Good. Like I said, I hope people don’t get too irritated by it because I do run across people who do and I respect that because it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Again, thank you, Ari. I was just delightful. I say the same here. I just learned so much when I talked to you and I listen to your stuff. It’s really good. Thank you.

Ari: Awesome. Beautiful to hear that. Last thing is, where can people find you if they’re interested in following your work, working with you, anything like that? Where do you want to send people?

Dr. Gordon: Well, we have our website, gordonmedical.com, maybe after me. We really encourage– I’m actually launching something new where I’m going to be taking on people for really going deep dive into their problems because I now have some associates that work with me who can organize me. I’ve always wanted to do this and people need ordered information that comes back to them in an organized fashion and that’s what kept me from doing it. People need this because when you talk to me for an hour on the phone and you tell me about your symptoms and I have ideas and we try this and we do that, but then there’s a whole lot of stuff that needs to be researched because I don’t have the answers to everything, and I know other smart people who do or I know where to look for it.

That’s a new program that I’m going to be offering. If they’re interested they’ll talk to Rachel, is the person in the office who deals with all the new patient calls. It’s a new program that I think is really going to be useful to people because far beyond the, “Oh, make an appointment and get an assessment and then follow up and we do a few things,” it’s that, but plus a deeper dive to make sure we’re not wasting your time because when you reach what I don’t know, I need the time to make sure I can go figure it out. I’d like to do that, but life being life, I don’t always.

Ari: Say again where people should reach out.

Dr. Gordon: Oh, just gordonmedical.com. There’s, I think, email, [email protected]. That works. Reach out. You can try [email protected], that will get you directly to Rachel. She’s wonderful and she knows what we do and how we think and can help people decide whether we’re appropriate. The last thing I want to do is see people who I’m not for. It’s a waste of everybody’s time and money so [crosstalk]

Ari: Thank thank you so much again, Dr. Gordon. It was an absolute pleasure.

Dr. Gordon: Blessings. Thank you.

Show Notes

Why a 90% – 100% success rate of any treatment plan is misleading (06:00)
The power of placebo (10:05)
Mitochondrial Psychobiology (12:27)
Why doctors often disagree on a diagnosis(15:00)
The issue with testing healthy people(24:55)
The biggest challenge with big pharma and the FDA (40:00)
The Cell Danger Response (42:28)
The benefits of the Cell Danger Response (1:01:08)
The link between mitochondrial dysfunction and chronic illness (1:04:40)
Physical assessment – a lost art (1:10:00)
Why yoga may not be good for your health (1:16:00)
Common signs and symptoms of an imbalanced physiology (1:30:50)
The role of stress and trauma in health (1:38:40)
Dr. Gordon’s tips for a varied diet (1:46:43)


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