How to use dirt to boost your health and energy with Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein

Content By: Ari Whitten

How to use dirt yo boost your health and energyThis week, I am talking with Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein on why dirt — yup, that’s right, I said DIRT — is an integral part of good health.

Maya Shetreat-Klein, MD is a pediatric neurologist, herbalist, urban farmer, naturalist and author of The Dirt Cure: Growing Healthy Kids with Food Straight from Soil, which has been translated into ten languages. Dr. Maya’s philosophy is that the health of our inner terrain—our bodies– is a reflection of the health of our outer terrain, the natural world around us. Gut, immune and nervous system—and the many microbes therein—are a direct reflection of the food we eat and where that food comes from, from the soil it’s grown in to the water it swims in to the synthetic chemicals that it’s bathed in. Fresh food, microbes (that’s right, germs) and elements of nature—soil, sunshine, water, and fresh air—make children resilient and prevent or reverse their illness.

Here’s a quick snapshot of what you’ll learn in this interview:

  • How dirt impacts on gut health, immune health, and brain health
  • Why we came to believe dirt is bad for us
  • How dishwashers is linked to allergies and asthma
  • The “hygeine hypothesis” of autoimmune disease
  • How dirt and getting dirty relates to the gut, health and energy
  • Why what you think you know about “bad” bacteria and “good” bacteria may be wrong
  • Why Maya does not like the term ingredients
  • What GMOs really are
  • How multiple researchers have been exposed in promoting GMOs after being paid to do so
  • Why feeding the world is not about more GMO crops, but about food distribution
  • The “Cell Danger Response” and how toxins impact the mitochondria

Download or listen on iTunes

itunes_badge (1)
Listen outside of iTunes


How to use dirt to boost your health and energy show notes

Why dirt is good for you
What dirt actually is
Why we came to believe dirt is bad for us
How dishwashers is linked to allergies and asthma
What the hygiene hypothesis is
Why we need a diversity of germs and bacteria to be healthy
The link between the bacteria in our gut and our brain
How the gut is important for a strong immune system
How dirt and getting dirty relates to the gut, health and energy
Why infections are not dangerous
Why there might not be many ”bad” bacteria
Why dirt is important and you should stop sterilizing everything
Why processed foods are damaging to our health
Why Maya does not like the term ingredients
What GMOs really are
Why GMO can be dangerous to people
How multiple researchers have been exposed in promoting GMOs after being paid to do so
How food waste is the problem with food scarcity
How LD50 us not a good way to establish safety of a product
How our bodies accumulates toxins
How toxins impacts the mitochondria
How lifestyle is affecting the mitochondria
What hormesis is and how it can affect your body
How plant toxins are being taken as antioxidants
How a moderately stressed plant is more healthy to eat than a non-stressed plant is
Get out in the dirt and nature on a regular basis
Do not be scared of dirt and germs
Eat a non-processed whole foods diet, ideally straight from the dirt
How to learn more about Dr. Maya


Click here to find out more about Dr. Maya


[content_toggle style=”1″ label=”Click%20to%20show%20transcipt” hide_label=”Hide”]How to use dirt to boost your health and energy with Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein

Ari Whitten: Hi everyone. I’m here with Maya. Thank you for joining me, Maya.

Dr. Maya: My pleasure.

Ari Whitten: Yeah. Pleasure to have you. So, I want to really quick just tell a little bit of a story about you, cos this … I’m actually super excited to interview you. I’m like almost giddy with excitement, just because it’s honestly really rare for me to read someone’s book where I just like love everything they have to say.

I’m like, “Wow, this person’s thinking on such a high level.” It’s honestly rare for me to have that experience, and I’m not just saying that. If you listen to my other interviews, you’ll probably not hear me say things like that very often.

But, I have to just tell everyone a little story of when we first met, which was at Consumer Health Summit just a few weeks ago. I had this experience of like sitting next to Maya at the table, and we were kind of having lunch. We started getting on the subject of things like adrenal fatigue and mitochondrial disfunction.

I started talking a little bit about my work and then I mention … And so, actually, she starts kind of going, “Yes, yes,” like she’s right there with me as I’m explaining these things. And then I mention this guy, Robert Naviaux, and she actually corrects me on the pronunciation of his last name. She’s like, “It’s actually Naviaux. He’s like a really good friend of mine. I was actually just emailing with him.”

And this is a guy who I consider to be doing some of, probably, and this is not an overstatement, I think some of the most important research in the world right now, of health. And she’s like, “Yeah, I was just emailing him back and forth. I’ll introduce you to him.” And it just kind of started off, and it was just this amazing thing where … I’ve never experienced this before where we’re just like so meshed in our understanding of the science and as far as what’s important. And so that’s why I’m so giddy to have you here and get to interview you.

Your book, The Dirt Cure, is phenomenal and I highly recommend everyone picks that up. So with all of that said, my first question for you is kind of … You know, one of the things you’re doing with this book is you’re kind of flipping around people’s understanding of dirty and clean, and what it means to be dirty and what it means to be clean.

Why dirt is good for you

So, can you talk a little bit about why we should be getting dirty and what sorts of things we should maybe kind of refrain as far as cleaning up in our environment and in our bodies?

Dr. Maya: Yeah. You know, it’s funny because one of my favorite things to do is to really take kind of popularly held beliefs and kind of look at them deeply in terms of science, in terms of common sense, in terms of all those different things, and kind of see if they’re really true or if we need to flip them on their heads.

What dirt actually is

And, you know, I found that in particular with the idea of dirt, you know … Because dirt is a lot of different things, I’ll just kind of say to start with.

It’s really like germs and microbes, it’s fresh food from healthy soil, right, in a certain sense, and then dirt is nature. So all of those things are the way that, if I’m talking about getting dirty, I’m talking about all three of those categories.

Why we came to believe dirt is bad for us

And, you know, certainly, like we’ve got into this idea, really it was actually way back, you know, when Louis Pasteur was talking about germ theory, that germs were bad and any microbes, altogether bacteria, were bad in general. And at that time, what actually happened was that we start, you know, people started to say, “You shouldn’t have yogurt. You shouldn’t have sour dough bread because it’s contaminated with bacteria.”

So we took this concept really far with the ideal that sterile was better, and that anything with bacteria of any kind is bad.

How dishwashers is linked to allergies and asthma

You’ll still see research now being published about like a sponge versus a dishwasher, and they’ll say, “Well, dishwashers are better because sponges are full of bacteria.” Well, actually there’s data that shows that people who use dishwashers are more likely to have allergies and asthma than people who are going to use sponges, because actually you want that exposure to diverse organisms.

It’s like all these different ways that we’re basically having probiotic intake, you know, in our lives, and that can be through pets.

There was a great study … Actually New York Times just wrote an article about how pets expand our microbiome in terms of diversity. Using, you know, sponges over dishwashers. Not using bleach to clean our homes. Not using hand sanitizers, but just using regular soap. Getting outside in the dirt and getting dirty. All of these things are really actually critical for our immune systems, for our guts, for our immune systems, and ultimately for our whole body and brain, because we’re in relationship with these organisms, which make up about three to five pounds of our body.

And when you’re thinking, wow, like microscopic, you can’t see them. How tiny are these things? Three to five pounds of us are made up of those things.

Really, the key point, I think, is that our bodies notice both the absence and the presence of these organisms. So we thought keeping really clean and sanitizing everything was always going to be better, but it turns out it’s not the case.

What the hygiene hypothesis is

Ari Whitten: Yeah. On that note, what do you think of the hygiene hypothesis? I know this idea has been around for, what, 10/15 years now?

Dr. Maya: Yeah. Yeah, so the hygiene hypothesis, for those who don’t know, was this … Basically a study came out 10/15 years ago that was looking at kids who grew up on farms, and they found these kids had less asthma, fewer allergies.

They said, “Okay, that’s because they’re dirtier,” you know? They’re in a dirtier environment and there’s more bacteria, you know? And therefore kids in a city are, you know, not going to get that number of bacteria in their daily exposures.

So, some European researchers, actually just in the last few years, went and further evaluated the hygiene hypothesis because it was widely accepted but it hadn’t really been measured. Nobody knew, in an urban apartment, are there as many bacteria as there are on a farm, or not. So they really measured the number of bacteria, and it turned out the number of bacteria was very similar.

Ari Whitten: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Maya: But what was different were the kinds of bacteria.

Ari Whitten: The diversity.

Why we need a diversity of germs and backteria to be healthy

Dr. Maya: So ultimately the diversity, exactly, of the bacteria on the farm was far greater than the diversity of the bacteria and organisms that were in the urban apartment.

So ultimately what our bodies want is that level of biodiversity. You know, the way I like to talk about our immune systems … Because a lot of people think of immune systems as being like an army, you know? And they fight, and they’re looking for enemies, and so on.

That’s one component, but really, most of the time, our immune systems are really sophisticated information processing centers. They’re really like … I almost think of them as like, you know, all our immune cells and our immune system as a whole, as like a very social kind of entity that wants to meet and greet all these different organisms and wants to interact.

The fewer things it sees, actually the more uncomfortable and more kind of lonely, and then maybe more paranoid it becomes, and starts to then maybe attack things that don’t need to be attacked because it doesn’t recognize a lot of things. But what it really wants is to recognize lots of things, so that it doesn’t have to react to things that it doesn’t necessarily need to react to.

The link between the bacteria in our gut and our brain

Ari Whitten: So, you talk a lot about the terrain and the links between the gut and the diversity of bacterial species that we have in our gut, in our bodies, and the brain. So, what’s going on there? What’s the link between the gut and the brain?

Dr. Maya: Well, you know, in terms of terrain, I talk about it in two different ways, and we can get to that as well. But like our bodies are a kind of terrain, right? They’re their own universe, and I kind of think of that as our bio-terrain. It’s all of our organs, it’s our microbiome in our body, in and on our body, versus our eco-terrain, which is what’s around us, right? And that could be food, that could be the microbes around us, that could be soil, water, air, right? All the things that are … Plants. All the things that are around us.

Within our bodies, we have, you know, kind of this … it’s very connected. And I think that’s like the first thing that is really important to highlight, is that, you know, we’ve gotten this idea that we want to separate all the different systems, right? We have a doctor for the brain, we have a doctor for the gut, we have a doctor for the lungs, we have a doctor for the immune system, and while there is some benefit to that because you want someone who really knows things well, at the same time, none of these systems are working on their own.

Like, you can’t take an immune system out of a body and have it work. It has to be in conversation with everything else, as does the gut, as does the brain. I always like to talk about how connected they are. For instance, in the gut, in the digestive tract, literally more neurotransmitters are produced there than in the entire central nervous system.

Ari Whitten: Wow.

How the gut is important for a strong immune system

Dr. Maya: So, just for instance, there’s also a really large immune system within the gut that’s connected to the immune system in the rest of the body. You know, and if you think about tonsils, or spleen, or appendix, or all the … there are a lot of lymph nodes lining the gut, so there are all these different ways that there’s this communication.

And there are actually neurons in the gut, which communicate directly with the brain. The gut neurons are called enteroneurons, because that’s enteric, which is the gut. They’re connected through something called the vagus nerve, with the brainstem. And that is one way that the gut directly communicates with the brain.

And so, if there are unusual organisms in the digestive tract that are coming through, and the immune system is alarmed in some way, then those neurons are going to start firing. Even with one abnormal bacteria, those enteroneurons in the gut will start firing differently, and within a couple hours the brain will start firing differently. So it’s very sensitive in terms of its connection.

But there’s also a connection through the immune system, where immune cells in the gut communicate with immune cells in the brain. That is through something called cytokines, which is like little, like neurotransmitters, you know? Cytokines go back and forth, and alert different parts of the immune system to activate.

How dirt and getting dirty relates to the gut, health and energy

Ari Whitten: Gotcha. So how does all of that then relate to diversity of bacterial species and exposure to nature and getting dirty?

Dr. Maya: Well, the way that we … You know, basically … And you’ve probably heard this. People will say, “All health begins in the gut,” right? It’s a quote, like an ancient quote, and I feel like it’s been attributed to many different people.

But ultimately everything really starts in the gut, which is this very unusual organ because it’s open at both ends. It’s really … it’s inside the body, it’s concealed, but at the same time it’s outside the body too.

Ari Whitten: Yeah.

Dr. Maya: So it’s a really special place where a lot of these organisms, hopefully many different kinds of organisms, are coming through all the time. And basically it’s sort of like if you think about an equilibrium, like the immune system and the organisms in the gut, the microbiome, are in relationship all the time. They’re talking all the time.

And they’re kind of keeping each other in check all the time. When you have a lot of diverse organisms – and that can be partly because you’ve been exposed to different organisms in soil, which we can talk about, it could be because you’re being exposed to organisms from your pet or from fermented food you’re eating, or probiotics that you’re taking in a pill, whatever it might be – those many different kinds of organisms are going to keep the gut flora in check.

Why infections are not dnagerous

What I think is really important to think about is … We’re all really afraid of infection, I think, you know? That’s been framed as like really terrible thing, and what we think you need to do for infection is what? Kill it, right?

Ari Whitten: Take antibiotics, yeah.

Dr. Maya: You need to kill it, which could be with antibiotics most often. It turns out, though, that the more diverse the organisms are, let’s say in your gut, the more … Basically they keep each other in check when there are many, many, many different kinds of organisms, so that no particular organism can grow out of control, and that’s what an infection is.

So, they keep each other in check. When there’s only a few organisms, then one organism is much more likely to be able to grow out of control. And when that happens, it activates the immune system, which activates the brain, and that can lead to, clinically, things like seizures, or migraines, or ADHD, or tics and Tourette’s, or OCD, or anxiety, or sleep issues.

Basically the whole gamut of neurologic issues in the brain really are activated, almost always, at least in part by the immune system, and that starts in the gut. And that starts with the organisms that live there.

Why there might not be many ”bad” bacteria

Ari Whitten: Yeah. Beautiful. So, you just reminded me of a study that I saw probably a couple years ago, and you’re probably familiar with it. It’s the one where they looked at the gut, or the diversity of species in the gut of the Hodza people. Hunter gatherers in Africa.

Dr. Maya: Mm-hmm.

Ari Whitten: And, you know, they … At the time they were … Everybody was kind of thinking in the terms of these are the good species, these are the bad species. So we expected to go to a place like that, you know, with a more pristine natural environment, and find, since these people don’t have a lot of the IBS, and Crohn’s, and autoimmune diseases, and gut permeability stuff, we expected to find basically that they were only going to have the ‘good species.’

And what they actually found is that they had like this massive diversity of all kinds of species, including lots of stuff that maybe wasn’t associated with being, you know, the ‘good stuff.’

Dr. Maya: Right.

Ari Whitten: So, yeah, I mean, that just fits very much in line with everything that you’re talking about, that, you know, it’s not just a matter of having these few good species, it’s all about this diversity of species.

Dr. Maya: Well, right. And I love that study because, you know, people will ask me, “Well, what’s the difference between a germ and a microbe?” It’s really like a germ is just a pejorative term for a microbe. Like we really had this idea there’s good and there’s bad, and people will say, “What about the bad ones? What about the good ones?”

You know, the more I look at the scientific research, and the more research that comes out, the more I’m convinced that there’s really almost no such thing as a bad organism. There may be a few exceptions so far. Like, you know, I still will be waiting for the research of the next 10 to 20 years to see if that gets turned on it’s head. But not just talking about bacteria here, talking about viruses, talking about parasites, right?

Talking about all these different kinds of organisms that we thought were bad, for sure bad, and here in academic centers now, we’re using parasites as a way to heal people’s guts. We’re using fecal-transplant, right, as a way to heal people from very severe refractory to antibiotic Clostridium difficile, which kills a lot of people.

We’re learning that people who have mumps in childhood are half as likely to have ovarian cancer later in life. So we have a real relationship with organisms of all kinds, even the ones we thought were, you know, bad.

Why dirt is important and you should stop sterilizing everything

Ari Whitten: Yeah, so this is kind of like talking about getting dirty. I mean, we’re talking about diversity of species, getting this exposure to a wide range of stuff, being out in nature, exposure to the soil, eating food raised in the right way. Now there’s this other side of it, which is … You know, I just want to … I want to zoom out, paint the picture of the paradigm shift here.

Cos most people are operating in a paradigm where they’re trying to avoid getting dirty, and trying to sterilize their environment.

Dr. Maya: Right.

Ari Whitten: And then at the same time eating food that is maybe more sterile and, you know, in their eyes kind of more pure. And so what you’re saying is almost the direct opposite of that. You’re saying get dirty, and then when it comes to food, you don’t necessarily want to be eating the typical stuff that an American, you know, a standard American dieter would eat.

Dr. Maya: Right.

Why processed foods are damaging to our health

Ari Whitten: And then, you know, we’re talking about GMOs and commercial farming and that sorts of thing. So, as far as what people need to be focused on cleaning up, what are those things?

Dr. Maya: Yeah. I would say, you know, there are definitely things like the food chemicals in processed foods that are really damaging to us on so many levels.

You know, I go into the research in my book, but I would just say like, you know, things like MSG, aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors and flavors, any kind of preservatives, those are the kinds of things that let you know that your food is not a whole food, it’s not being prepared in a traditional way. It’s a corporate food.

And, you know, while I don’t really like to get into like, you know, that … I don’t really like to get into that us versus them mindset. I mean, I will say that when I was supposed to go and have an appearance on a morning show, like a big morning show, when my book came out, they ended up canceling. What they said was, “Our corporate sponsors don’t like your message.”

So if they are that threatened by the idea that someone’s talking about this research and this kind of dangers that we’re dealing with when we’re being exposed to those kinds of processed foods, we have to know that they’re nervous because it’s going to hurt their bottom line.

You know, what I always say is food was never meant to be a commodity in this way. Food is about actually a sacred relationship with the natural world.

I eat meat, and for me, eating meat is a sacred relationship. The food that I eat and everything that I’m eating, plants, you know, whatever it might be, that’s something that I feel really mindful about. I don’t want anyone else to be kind of in the way as much as possible. I want everyone in that, kind of in that chain, to be treated well, to be fit as they should be, and all of those things, because there’s a physical, emotional and spiritual component, I believe, to eating health and unprocessed food.

Why Maya does not like the term ingredients

Ari Whitten: Yeah. Beautiful. And you go into some great discussions in the book around food dyes, and preservatives, and ingredients. I know you say in the book that you don’t like the term ‘ingredients’ and like listing certain things under the label of ingredient. Why is that?

Dr. Maya: Well, I mean, I think that the idea is that ingredients are something that are food that you would have in your own cabinet, you know? And when I’m looking at a list …

First of all, I mean, the way that ‘ingredients’ are listed on food labels, if you ever notice, everything’s beautiful and written in nice big letters and very eye catching on the front, where the company can make whatever claims they want, but then when you go to find out any information that’s interesting to you … And most people are interested in knowing ingredients, know like what’s in their food, and they want to know about calories and fat and all of those things.

That’s like in minuscule handwriting. It’s very hard to read for most people, you know? I mean, if you’re over the age of like 40, forget it, right? People are going to really be struggling with that size. But it’s just, it’s very hard to read and you can’t pronounce those words, and so on.

So that’s one thing, but the other thing is just like, for me … I cook, you know? So for me, ingredients are like what I’m going to find in my cabinet. If you’re looking on the labels of almost any processed food, most of what you see there is not something that you’re going to find in your own cabinet.

That’s my guide. You know, when I’m thinking of ingredients, I’m thinking of things that like, if I wanted to cook this I could make this too.

Ari Whitten: Yeah, for sure. And I love what you say about the scientification of ingredient lists and how like they’re intentionally doing things in a way to try to get you to either not read them or to perceive them as being like sciency and coming out of this modern technology that’s really impressive, so that you assume that they’re good ingredients or something.

Dr. Maya: Right. Right. Yeah. Or like sort of … I almost say like suspension of disbelief. Like, look at it, I don’t really recognize what that is, but it’s here, it’s in my grocery store, you know, someone thought it was fine, so I’m going to eat it, you know?

What GMOs really are

Ari Whitten: Yeah. And there’s also one section of the book on GMOs, which is a topic that I personally have avoided, really like …

You know, I don’t think I’ve ever discussed them publicly. And largely because the science is somewhat controversial and we have a lot of the more hardcore science types, who I’m actually aligned with in many respects, who have this very kind of, this attitude towards GMOs of like, “Oh, it’s science, it’s modern technology, and everybody who is afraid of it is just a hippy quack who doesn’t understand science.”

And you have this nice way of putting it where you say the fox is guarding the henhouse when it comes to GMOs. So what does that mean? What did you mean by that?

Dr. Maya: So, GMOs were approved as basically being something called GRAS, generally recognized as safe, by a … an administration in our government that was very corporate friendly. No one did any research. Really there was no research required whatsoever to show whether GMOs were safe or not before they were approved in that way.

Generally recognized as safe means it’s no different than other food. Like, if you grow a seed, that your great-grandmother grew, of tomatoes or something, or like a GMO tomato, they say, “Those are exactly the same. There’s absolutely zero difference.”

What’s kind of interesting about it though is that the companies that are selling GMO seeds are patenting those seeds. So if there’s no difference between the seed that is a tomato seed that great grandma was using, and hybridized or whatever, but then, you know, with this GMO seed, then you kind of can’t have it both ways.

You can’t say, “Well, this is unusual, it’s different, and therefore it can be patented,” but at the same time say, “It’s generally recognized as safe, just like that other food, and there’s absolutely zero difference.” I mean, that’s just one technical angle, which I think is really important to think about, because there’s lots of weird little like circular logic set ups like that in how GMOs have been approved.

Why GMO can be dangerous to people

Ari Whitten: Right. And likening, you know, the genetic engineering of like inserting, for example, a gene of an animal into a plant, or a gene to make the plant produce some kind of poison, this is being likened to the natural hybridization practices of breeders of plants.

Dr. Maya: Right. But nobody’s putting like a fish gene into like a macadamia nut. Like that’s not happening. Actually it’s interesting, you know, one of the studies that I bring up in the book is that there were all these people in the UK who were having anaphylactic responses to soy years and years ago, and it was because they had actually patched in a Brazil nut gene, into the soy, and then the soy was used widely.

All these people were having an anaphylactic response to the soy, when they were never allergic to soy, because they were allergic to Brazil nuts. So it’s not the same, you know? We know it’s not the same.

And to me, like what I want is I want good research. And the problem is that a lot of … You know, when we align ourselves with hardcore science, and for sure I’m always interested in knowing what researchers have to say, clearly … Although I do think it’s different when you’re someone who cares about health, than being a hardcore researcher, because you have to take a lot more things into account, including what you see in front of your face.

You know what I mean? Like anecdotes become a lot more interesting and a lot more important when you’re not a researcher than when you are. So as someone who’s a doctor and who treats a lot of people, I’m interested in the hardcore science but I have to align that with what I see in front of me. And that’s much more … that’s an art, you know? And that’s a lot more complex.

But that said, I mean, I think also what I’ve found is, almost always, the deeper you dig … When things don’t make good sense to me, like a scientist is saying something that just doesn’t make great sense, the deeper I dig the more likely it is I’m going to find they’re being funded by a company that’s producing GMOs.

How multiple researhers have been exposed in promoting GMOs after being paid to do so

And this has happened again and again. There’s actually been people through FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act, that have uncovered a lot of scientists who have been going around speaking about GMOs in a very positive way, and then we find out that they’re getting paid through their university and all these kind of back handed ways, or hidden ways, by the companies that are asking for their support.

They may still believe it, I don’t know. But we know if someone’s being paid by a company that’s selling something … I mean, we have laws about declaring that kind of thing because it’s widely understood that you can’t be unbiased in that way.

Ari Whitten: Yeah, yeah. So, more broadly on that, staying with GMOs, what do you think of these arguments around GMO style farming is necessary to feed the world, that sort of thing?

How food waste is the problem with food scarcity

Dr. Maya: You know, I mean, I always just start by talking about food waste. Because, actually, we produce a tremendous, tremendous amount of food, and waste as much food as could feed the rest of the world. We have a real problem of distribution right now, more than we have a problem of production. So that’s the first thing I would say.

And second of all, we really have absolutely no evidence that GMOs would amp up our ability to produce because there’s actually nothing to prove that whatsoever in the scientific literature. So, that’s a claim, and claims are nice, but they’re not necessarily true. And what I would say is, you know, most GMOs are designed to actually … Most GMO plants are designed to withstand high pesticide application.

So if we think about pesticide application, let’s say Roundup, that’s actually killing the microbiome of the soil and reducing biodiversity of soil. Well, we just got finished, just now, you and I, talking about all the important aspects of biodiversity of organisms. We haven’t even gotten to how fantastic the biodiversity of soil is and how much that influences our health.

But, you know, when we’re destroying that, we’re destroying the biodiversity and the nutrition of our soil, how is that in the long term going to help us produce more and feed the world? Maybe in the very short term, maybe it might, but it’s not going to necessarily do that in the long term because all we’re doing …

You can’t keep taking and taking and taking and destroying the biodiversity, and expect to have a longstanding good relationship with your eco-terrain.

Ari Whitten: Right. And then even if it does theoretically, which as you mentioned is non-proven, but even if, let’s say, it does end up producing more overall food, we then have to deal with the potential consequences of the lack of biodiversity in the soil and the health consequences for us of that situation, of eating food that comes from that kind of farming or food that has higher concentrations of pesticides and things like that.

How LD50 us not a good way to establish safety of a product

Which, on that note, I’m curious, actually, what are your thoughts on Roundup and glyphosate and all of that? Cos I know that there’s …

You know, you have one side that’s doing a lot of warning around that, and is blaming a lot of things on that, and then we have much more scientific types who are aligned with big agriculture saying, “Oh, the lethal dose, the LD50 of this is on par with table salt,” and whatever, and it’s totally harmless, and stuff like that.

Dr. Maya: Have those trolls come to your website, too?

Ari Whitten: You know, I’ve encountered people like that on Facebook. And honestly … You know, there’s one video I saw, I don’t know if you saw this, that was some kind of science based, scientific like TV show, [inaudible] scientific, and they were talking about the LD50, and saying, “It would take this much to kill you, therefore I’m going to take a cup and I’m going to put this much glyphosate in it, or this much Roundup, and I’m going to drink half of this cup of Roundup, just to prove how safe it is,” and all that sort of stuff.

And, I think this is very funny because the LD50 of a substance is the amount that something takes to actually kill you, doesn’t really tell you that much about what it takes for something to harm you.

Dr. Maya: Right.

Ari Whitten: You know? And so like it’s possible a very minute amount, and there’s actually research to support this, a very minute amount can be actually extremely harmful, well below what it takes to actually kill you.

How our bodies accumulates toxins

Dr. Maya: Right. Well, not to mention what we accumulate in our bodies. So we might have a little bit at a time, but like most toxins are fat soluble and ultimately live in your fat cells. So, you know, you’re basically sequestering … You’re sequestering a lot of toxicity in your fat.

This is why I actually end up seeing a lot of people who have had like a big weight loss, let’s say they went on Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig or something, and they lost a lot of weight pretty quickly, that’s sort of one category of people who come to me with acute neurologic disease like MS or something, a first MS exacerbation can go along with that.

Part of the reason is because we’re not thinking about how much toxin we accumulate in our body all the time, and how our body is trying to sequester it. But at a certain point in time, you’re going to outpace your body’s ability to sequester those toxins.

And when it comes to something like Roundup, we’re being exposed every day very often. You know, not just through our food, but it’s being applied in parks and lawns and, you know, run off into water.

The thing that I always like to tell people is Roundup way, way back when, or glyphosate really, was first patented as an antibiotic. So what we’re doing when we have those little minute traces is that we’re having minute traces of antibiotics in our diet every day, which is disrupting our diversity in our microbiome.

Here we were talking before about how the diversity is going to prevent infection, it’s going to help regulate the immune system and therefore regulate the brain, prevent all these kinds of immune dysfunctions and neurologic diseases, and Roundup is basically pushing us out of balance in small ways, and sometimes large ways depending on the level of exposure you’re having and how much you’ve had over time, which is something no one wants you to think about, you know?

Ari Whitten: Yeah. For sure. I mean, if you’re getting minute amounts, but daily, for years, or decades, you know, it adds up.

So one of the other things I love about what you’re doing is you’re talking about my favorite subject, which is mitochondria. And you even mention hormesis in the book, which I also love. And few people are talking about either of those two things.

How toxins impacts the mitochondria

So, one of the other layers to this story, especially when it comes to things like toxins in our food supply, is how those things affect mitochondria. Your buddy, who you introduced me to, Robert Naviaux, who I’m actually going to meet tomorrow, has done some breakthrough research around this, around how different environmental factors, threats, toxins, infections, things like that, can impact our mitochondria. So I would love if you could just tell people a little bit about that work.

Dr. Maya: Yeah, definitely. You know, one of my favorite papers and the research that Dr. Naviaux has done is around the cell danger response.

The cell danger response is sort of like a model for how chronic disease happens. So the cell danger response is basically this evolutionarily conserved process, that when there’s a threat, a biological or chemical or physiologic threat, it could be infectious, it could be a toxin, it could be whatever, the cells in the body, including the mitochondria, start to function differently.

They function in a way to protect the cell, and it’s probably suboptimal, right? Like it’s not functioning at its best in all the ways it should be, but it’s okay because it’s for a little period of time. Like let’s say you get the flu, you’re going to feel terrible.

Your cells aren’t going to be … You’re not going to be like out there doing all the things you need to do. No, you’re going to feel fatigued, you’re going to feel foggy, you’re going to feel achy. That’s all kind of not just from the flu virus itself, but actually because of the cell danger response. Your cells are functioning in a suboptimal way to put all the resources towards getting the body back into balance again.

And then, let’s say a week, let’s say two weeks, you start to feel back to yourself. The reason is because the cell danger response is over and everything clicks back into optimal function and, you know, you’re good.

But sometimes that cell danger response persists, and when it persists in this model, you know, what happens is there’s microbiome disfunction, there’s cell disfunction, there’s mitochondrial disfunction, there’s organ disfunction, and basically the person has chronic illness.

The way that Dr. Naviaux sees this is this is a model for everything from autism to Parkinson’s disease to chronic fatigue syndrome to a whole gamut of really chronic illnesses, that we’re having a chronic cell danger response that’s not flipping back, you know?

And so, what I always like to talk about, and what I talk about as sort of one of the main pillars of how I define health, is resilience. So, being able to flip from that cell danger response out and back into optimal function is, for me, one of the key ways that we can call ourselves healthy. Because threats always come and stressors always come, and mitochondria are really the mediators, I think, to a very great extent of that process, of getting out of the cell danger response.

Ari Whitten: Of resilience, yeah. Yeah, for sure. Actually, it’s funny cos in the most recent book I talk about, I actually talk about something called the resilience threshold. There’s actually some interesting research to indicate that this is directly a function, or mostly a function, of your mitochondrial health, and how big and powerful and healthy your mitochondria are or how weak, fragile, atrophied, and dysfunctional and damaged they’ve become.

Dr. Maya: Mm-hmm.

How lifestyle is affecting the mitochondria

Ari Whitten: So, you know, how this relates to hormesis and to the concept of resiliency, can you talk a little bit more about how the things we’re doing with our lifestyle are affecting our mitochondria and are affecting our resilience?

Dr. Maya: Yeah. So that’s a broad question.

Ari Whitten: It is.

Dr. Maya: But, I’ll kind of bring it … I’ll give you an example, actually. Because really, like, the interesting thing about mitochondria is they like to be challenged, I think, a little bit. Not too much, but just enough. And that … Like most of us, right? You have someone who’s like yelling, you know …

I just did my first boxing session, okay, with a trainer, which was great fun. I highly recommend. But, you know, he kind of yelled at me sometimes, he say, “What are you doing? That looks pretty but it’s not what I want,” you know? He would say stuff like that, that kind of was challenging me. But if he’d gotten like, you know … That stimulated me and kind of made me feel like, okay, I’m going to do it better.

If he would have gotten like really abusive and started yelling horrible things at me, I would have just been like, “Forget this. I’m not going to do this,” you know? But when he did it in kind of that playful way, like a little bit but not too much, it motivated me.

What hormesis is and how it can affect your body

So that’s kind of what hormesis is. Hormesis is this idea that, you know, let’s say … And I like to talk about bitters because I am obsessed with bitters. But basically bitter compounds that might be in your dark leafy greens or in your coffee or even in beer, dark chocolate, right, all of those foods, bitters actually stimulate us, even down to a mitochondrial level, because our body perceives them as potential poison.

So bitters help us in a vast quantity of ways. I mean, they increase gut motility so things move through a little faster, they help with stomach acid increase, bile release, and appetite, and insulin balancing, and immune system boosting.

Like, if I kept naming all the ways that bitters help improve our health, you’d be blown away. I mean, I’m giving you just a tiny, little snapshot. But the reason why is because our bodies perceive bitters as like potential poison.

So it’s like hormesis. We’re getting this little potential kind of poison, these alkaloids that are the bitter taste. We have receptors throughout our body, not just in our mouth, and that’s because we need to know if we have poison in our bodies. And basically what happens is like the mitochondria are like, “Oh my gosh. There’s a challenge coming. It could be poison. We need to up our game.”

Ari Whitten: Yeah.

Dr. Maya: And we up our game. But it can’t be too much. If it’s really poison, it’s going to kill the mitochondria, or really damage or destroy them. So, it’s really about being in this narrow range of benefit, and nature … Like, we’ve figured it out over time.

Unfortunately now, because we eat such a sweet diet, and bitter foods are really something that we tend to avoid, we’re not getting those kinds of benefits and we’re not challenging our mitochondria, not having that hormesis effect that helps our mitochondria to be stronger and more robust.

How plant toxins are being taken as antioxidants

Ari Whitten: Yeah. And this is … Actually, there’s an important distinction here when it comes to these plant toxins, because most people out there will talk about them in the context of antioxidants. They’re equated with antioxidants.

And so the phytochemicals and these polyphenols, and the bitter compounds and alkaloids in cocoa, and coffee, and blueberries, and all these different herbs and stuff, they’re all … You hear very commonly people say, “Oh, they’re antioxidants.” It sounds to me like you’ve looked into this quite a bit. I, myself, have done a lot of research in this area, and one of the things you discover is that there’s a big difference between what happens in a petri dish, in terms of like antioxidant experiments, versus what’s going on in vivo, in the body.

And most people don’t realize that these are in fact plant toxins for the most part, and that are actually creating a very small toxic effect in your body, which then stimulates your body in various ways to grow stronger, like building up the internal antioxidant defense system.

Dr. Maya: Right. Right. Well, what I like to point out is that plants don’t exist for our eating enjoyment. They’re their own organisms, they have their own things that they want … They want to propagate, they want … They have their own agenda.

And so, you know, what all those compounds, some of which are antioxidants, and, you know, basically there’s a whole array of these compounds, but the alkaloids in particular, which are the ones that tend to be the most potentially toxic to us, all of those are really part of the plants immune system, and they get up regulated and down regulated meaning the plant will produce more or produce fewer of them depending on the challenges that the plant themselves get, which could be pests, it could be certain aspects of chemicals in the soil, it could be if it’s drought or not drought, all of those things.

How a moderately stressed plant is more healthy to eat than a non-stresed plant is

A moderately stressed plant is going to produce more of those kinds of compounds, and actually, ultimately, those compounds are incredibly healthy for us. This is why I always talk about wild plants being some of the most nutritious, or nutrient dense, plants out there because they don’t have anyone helping them.

Ari Whitten: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Maya: They have to learn how to survive on their own. And so they have a very healthy and robust immune system, which means that they’re producing a lot of those different kinds of compounds. Another example, actually, that I love is people think about like the shiniest, reddest apple. It’s always at the top of the tree, right?

The reason for that is actually UV radiation. So when there’s more UV radiation, the plant has to produce more of its own immune system, you know, and certain antioxidants to help with that radiation. And so that’s why the apple’s so red and shiny and beautiful, it’s because it’s being actually moderately stressed. If it’s too stressed it’s not going to be good, and if it’s not stressed it’s actually not going to be very nutrient dense.

Ari Whitten: So we’re talking about plant hormesis. We’re talking about plants going through the same hormetic response and then we benefit from them going through a little bit of stress in their environment cos now it’s creating more of these phytochemicals, which then influence our physiology.

Dr. Maya: Everything is connected.

Ari Whitten: Yeah. Yeah. Beautiful. I love all your quotes of John Muir throughout the book, and when you tug on one thing in nature you find it connected to everything else, and stuff like that.

Dr. Maya: Mm-hmm.

Ari Whitten: I spent a lot of time backpacking in Yosemite, so obviously I love John Muir.

Dr. Maya: Yeah, lucky you.

Ari Whitten: Yeah. So to wrap up, I would love if you could just kind of translate all of these ideas, as best as possible. We’ve covered a lot, but translate all of them into let’s say three practical recommendations, like that’s your top three most powerful recommendations for people to implement in their lives.

Get out in the dirt and nature on a regular basis

Dr. Maya: Okay. I mean, I think the top number one thing is actually to get outside into nature on a regular basis. You know, one of the ways that we’ve sanitized ourselves, that people don’t think about, is we’ve sanitized our lives by just staying indoors too much, being on our screens, or whatever.

You know, if you need to be on your screen, take your screen outside. But otherwise, you know, I trail run. Like, when I go running, I run in the forest, you know? I will hug trees. You will see me hug trees. That’s just like I am interacting with nature, but I’m also … It’s a microbiome, we’re exchanging, you know, we’re exchanging all kinds of pheromones.

There’s all these different ways that we’re benefiting from our interaction with nature and actually so many ways, that we didn’t talk about, but that it balances our physiology and our brains and helps us function better. So getting into nature, number one.

Ari Whitten: Forest bathing.

Dr. Maya: Forest bathing, absolutely.

Do not be scared of dirt and germs

Another one is not to be afraid of getting dirty and getting germy. I mean, I think, you know, washing hands with soap, let’s say, like, I don’t know, after you go to the bathroom, or like, you know, if your hands are actually filthy, you know … Yeah, I mean, there are times you wash your hands, you use soap, you don’t use the chemical stuff if you can avoid it.

And just thinking about ways to support your immune system rather than dousing yourself in antibiotics. Because what I say is like if you want your kid to learn the violin, you’re not going to like swat their hand away every time they go to practice, or like hire someone else to come in and play the violin for them. You need them to practice, and that means like your immune system needs those opportunities to practice fighting and regulating and having that relationship without us stepping in, in really, you know, aggressive ways.

So you might use Echinacea or elderberry, or reishi mushroom, or other things that can help boost your immune system without coming in and really killing things off with antibiotics, unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Ari Whitten: Mm-hmm.

Eat a non-processed whole foods diet, ideally straight from the dirt

Dr. Maya: Then the third thing is, I think, you know, eat a non-processed, whole foods diet. Organic or bio-dynamic when possible. And, you know, do your own cooking and go to farmer’s markets. Like really just try to enjoy fresh unprocessed food.

How to learn more about Dr. Maya

Ari Whitten: Beautiful. I love it. Well thank you so much, Maya. I really, really enjoyed this and I also, for everyone watching or listening, I really cannot recommend her book highly enough. Is there also a way for people to work with you directly?

Dr. Maya: Yeah. I see patients and I also am going to be launching a training program in a lot of these concepts, for healthcare practitioners and just whoever wants to, this fall. So people can just come and sign up on my website

Ari Whitten: Beautiful. Well, I actually am going to sign up for that. So, thank you so much, Maya. This was an absolute pleasure, and enjoy the rest of your day.

Dr. Maya: Thank you. You too.

Ari Whitten: Yeah.


Related articles

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest

Leave a comment

Scroll to Top