The Human Zoo, Real Root Causes, and Why Treating Disease is Not The Same As Creating Health with Dr. James Chestnut

Content By: Ari Whitten & Dr. James Chestnut

In this episode, I am speaking with Dr. James Chestnut for the third time, we talk about why healthspan is, by far, more important than lifespan and the biggest keys to optimizing healthspan.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend that you check out the first two podcasts with Dr. Chestnut. Listen to part 1 here and part 2 here

Get 20% off of Dr. Chestnut’s Lifestyle Health Risk Assessment (LHRA) Questionnaire and Report. Use the code energy on checkout.

Table of Contents

In this podcast, Dr. Chestnut and I discuss: 

  • Lifespan vs ‘healthspan’ (what is the difference and how do they matter?)
  • The shocking lack of evidence for medication extending the lifespan of older adults
  • The reasons why modern medicine doesn’t work for chronic disease
  • How most practitioners within the Functional Medicine movement miss the root causes of illness
  • Keys to making effective lifestyle changes (despite a natural resistance)

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Ari Whitten: Hey, This is Ari. Welcome back to The Energy Blueprint Podcast with me today for the third time on the show for part three of this epic podcast series is Dr. James Chestnut. Before you listen to this one, you should at least listen to the first one and hopefully both part one and part two. This is an ongoing podcast series where Dr. Chestnut is building out a new conceptual framework, a new paradigm, a new worldview of an understanding of human health, built and grounded in evolutionary biology.

In my personal opinion, anyone who is looking at human health, without doing it through the lens of evolutionary biology, is really just tinkering with systems they don’t understand, fumbling in the dark, and really someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, and in my opinion, you shouldn’t listen to.

As far as people who are teaching through an evolutionary paradigm, through the lens of evolutionary biology, doctor Chestnut is, in my opinion, the best of the best as far as being able to teach these concepts in a way that really reduces them to the point of basic logic and common sense. You get these aha moments when you listen to him, where you go, “Oh, my Gosh. Why isn’t everybody thinking this way?” That was the case for me, certainly, when I was in my early 20s, about 20 years ago, when I first discovered Dr. Chestnut’s work and started studying him.

He is in fact somebody who I consider a great mentor to me because a lot of my knowledge and really paradigm of human health has come from his work. He’s been an enormous influence on me, and I highly recommend that you study his work too, and at least listen to this three-part podcast series, and let his work be an enormous influence on you too. With no further ado, enjoy part three of this podcast series with James Chestnut. Doctor Chestnut, welcome back for part three.

 Dr. Chestnut: Thank you. Good to be here.

Key reasons why we haven’t made much progress in the human health span

Ari: It’s not often that I do a part three with anyone. I think you’re in a very small minority of people here who have been on the show for three episodes. The truth is I have so much respect for your work I’m sure we can do 10 or 15. It would be great to have just an ongoing monthly episode with you to get your commentary on the latest happenings in health.

I want to talk about a lot of practical things here, but there’s a couple of topics in particular that I want to get to that I think are important for people to understand before we get to some of the practical specifics. One that I’ve been thinking a lot about and actually learning more about, I did another deep dive in the literature recently, is lifespan and health span.

We’ve made quite a bit of progress in terms of lifespan over the last couple of centuries. Some of that, roughly 35% or so, depending on the study that you look at is attributable to modern medicine, and specific breakthroughs and things like antibiotics in particular for treatment of infections that used to be life-threatening, some breakthroughs and treatments that extend people’s lives who have certain diseases like HIV and several other diseases.

Health span has been relatively stuck, health span hasn’t moved much. The average age at which people get diseased and their health declines has remained pretty much the same. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on this overall topic of extending lifespan and extending health span.

Dr. Chestnut: I do. Surprise. I think there’s a couple of things. One is in terms of medical intervention, in terms of increasing lifespan, it’s not by adding years on to the end of people’s lives. It’s like you said, antibiotics or maybe HIV, like infectious things that used to kill people when they were young especially.

The truth is that that’s not really adding on to people’s– That’s not expanding the lifespan of a population in the sense that, we think, “Well. If medicine has an impact on lifespan, it must be because of the blood pressure, there’s cholesterol and all these things that they’re doing,” almost zero. In fact, the greatest impact is public health measures through sanitation and refrigeration by far. For people to understand, before we talk about, or I talk about, health span. I’d like to talk a little bit about lifespan because lifespan, it can be quite tricky really. Lifespan is really determined most of all, by infant mortality and death of young people in any population. Because if you can imagine, if you can save 10 people that would’ve died when they were two years old or six months old, versus taking 10 people who were 70 and you got them to live till they were 75.

The people that you expand their life at the end of their life, you only gain five years per person. That goes into the pool of average lifespan, but if you save somebody at six months or two years, or as an infant, and then they live for 70 years, you’ve added 69 years or 68 years to the average lifespan pool. By far, any time a population’s lifespan goes up and down by any significant amount, it’s usually death of young people, wars, mostly young people die, go off to war, infant mortality.

If you look at even hunter-gatherer lifespan compared to ours once you’ve got past those traumas, any childhood traumas because kids they’re learning, so they have accidents more often. You break your arm in a hunter-gatherer with a compound fracture, it’s pretty serious. The truth is, many of them, about 20% lived well into old age and they had a very good health span.

Even our health span, I would say our health span, it depends when you go back to, but our health span has actually declined because people were actually very healthy into their old age and the ones– You only died before old age if you died of trauma or starvation, basically. People weren’t dying of chronic illnesses in hunter-gatherer tribes. The ones that didn’t live weren’t because they were genetically weak or whatever. They just got exposed to trauma, they got run over by an elephant or gored by a rhino, or fell and broken an arm.

That’s really interesting, but if you actually look at health span, the hunter-gatherer tribes are very robust. Their elderly, number one, they’re mentally sharp, they’re highly respected in the community. They have a ton of information to offer. They’re revered. The elders were always some of the most important in the tribe, whereas our elderly are almost warehoused.

It’s very different. It’s interesting. That’s because the artificial world we’ve created, where your knowledge can become obsolete quite quickly, but paradoxically, or ironically, the most important information you can pass on to another human being is how to eat, move, and think. It’s the lifestyle, how to be healthy. That information does not change with technology. Although people might want you to think it does. The human physiology has not changed for 20,000 years, so what’s required for health has not changed.

Anyway, it is important for people to understand what really significantly affects lifespan. Now, if we’re going to get into to the– and I love the fact that you were very correctly pointed out that the things that medicine does that expand lifespan are stopping people from dying acutely. They’re not adding chronic years to people’s lives with all these medications, it’s not. What they’re doing with these medications, unequivocally, nobody can argue is they’re decreasing health span.

When you’re on five medications, your vitality, your health, your quality of life is way, way lower than when you’re on none at the same age or any age. I think if we want to improve– If you make a human being healthier, you can’t necessarily remove their chance of trauma. This is why in young people, the leading cause of death is car accidents or accidents. Because you can’t remove them from accidents so that we’ve made our society much safer in many ways, especially for the working adults.

Let’s say later on in life, you’re 50 years old because you haven’t died of an accident and you haven’t been killed by chronic illness yet for the most part. Now, from 50 on is when we’re really going to talk about lifespan and health span fair? Okay, so now, from 50 on, let’s talk about, well, anything that’s going to increase your health span is also going to increase your lifespan. They’re in an insoluble union. They’re inextricably related. The idea that people think, “Well, we can keep these people alive longer,” the evidence for that isn’t as strong as you think. You might say, “Well, they’re in an old folks home, they’re eating apple sauce. They’re not coherent, but we’re keeping them alive longer with all these pills.” There’s actually no real good evidence to show that. The good evidence is to show that we’re basically ruining a lot of people’s lives from 50 on because of all the medications they’re on without an increase in their lifespan.

The cost-benefit is not there if you do it fairly. That’s a really interesting thing for people to think about because I think most people believe that they’ll take all these horrible adverse effects because they’re going to get a few more years out of it. What happens is you end up not getting a few more years, probably, almost certainly less than many, many cases with all these medications, and your health span is really diminished. I mean significantly diminished. If you take any healthy person, give them five medications, what happens to them?

Ari: [unintelligible 00:10:36] less healthy, yes.

Dr. Chestnut: Doesn’t make them healthy. Those medications don’t make that sick person healthy. If five medications would make a healthy person sicker and decrease their health span and lifespan, why would five medications take a sick person, make them healthier and increase their health span? It’s not possible. I really think that’s key. Now let’s get back to how we’re going to increase it. Again, like it always does Ari, it’s going to come back to eat, move and think.

Ari: Can I add one layer actually before we get here?

Dr. Chestnut: Sure.

Current research in overall lifespan projections

Ari: There’s an interesting thing. I just had this recollection a couple of days ago of an article that I read probably three or five years ago that said something to the effect of if we cured all the major diseases, heart disease and cancer and neurological disease and diabetes if we tomorrow woke up and we had cures for all of these things, it would actually add very little to our overall lifespan. I had this recollection in the back of my thought, and I went and found those articles and those studies with those researchers talking about this.

I was reading this yesterday and the day before, and what these researchers are saying is that if tomorrow we woke up, we had a cure for all cancers– We’ve been searching for 100 years or 80 years, “We got to find the cure to cancer. It’s so important.” If we find it, then we’re all going to live so much longer and avoid this thing that is killing so many people early.

One out of three, one out of two people are getting cancer now, and so we have to find the cure and that’s going to be this big breakthrough. Of course, there are exceptions where people die very young, and that’s very tragic. I don’t mean to take away anything from that, but on a population level, if we woke up tomorrow and we had a cure for cancer, these researchers say that it would only add a year or two maybe to the average lifespan.

The same is true of heart disease and the same is true of diabetes. The same is true of neurological disease. The reason why is because the factors that drive that disease also cause a whole bunch of other diseases. If it’s not this thing that kills you, it’s some other thing that’s going to kill you in a similar span of time at a similar age. If you don’t die from cancer at age 79, you’re going to die from heart disease at age 80, in other words, or you’re going to die from neurological disease at age 79, and so on.

What they’re saying is also some researchers made the point that even if we cured all of those diseases, we still wouldn’t live that much longer. It wouldn’t extend the population lifespan by much because they say that by the age of 85, on average, most people’s whole body has broken down to the point of almost multiorgan failure, and people are dying essentially of old age, not from this or that disease, but they’re dying from the whole body failing not one particular thing that’s causing the body to die.

What this speaks to for me is that our focus has been profoundly misguided. We have been focusing all of our energy, all of our attention, all of our money on this research to cure this or that disease. If only we can cure this disease, then it’s like we imagine we’re going to live so much longer and we’re going to be so much healthier, but when you actually look at it, it’s just not true. What the real focus needs to be is how you actually slow the rate of cellular aging enough and keep your cells in a state of health long enough that you can live well beyond the age of 85 in good health without multiorgan failure. Where your whole body isn’t deteriorating so much by the age of 85 that you’re dying of old age. Do you follow what I’m saying? I’m saying that I think the whole focus has been misguided and the whole paradigm.

Dr. Chestnut: Totally misguided for two reasons, paradigm and the other one is they have no successes. They don’t focus on what they don’t have any success in. That’s why when you go to medical school or chiropractic college or naturopathic school, you’re always learning about syphilis and you’re always learning about these things that have been solved long ago because they had success in those things early on.

There’s just not a lot of successes in chronic illness. Again, the reason why they’re focusing on those things is because they believe that the reason people get cancer is because of bad genes. You know what I mean, and heart disease. Oh, it must be bad genes. The idea is– there’s a couple of things, I think. One is if you understand why people get cancer, and if you get it wrong, if you think it’s because of bad genes, then you’re just going to be thinking, “Oh my God, it’s just random chance. You got unlucky, you got the cancer gene, and look out.”

If you understand the truth about why people get cancer and why it’s gone up so much, then you’re going to be like, “Wait a minute, now we’ve got to start talking about lifestyle and habitat.” I don’t know if you’re familiar with Deborah Davis’s book The Secret History of the War on Cancer, but she worked for the NIH and cancer researcher for over a decade, and finally, she tells the story in her book.

She’s now at the University of Pennsylvania, was until very recently. I think she still is, but I can’t be sure looking at prevention, by the way. Anyway, she basically went to her boss and said, “I can’t do this anymore. This is obvious. We’re doing all these things to research genes and how to treat cancer, but the fact of the matter is it’s chemicals, it’s pollutants.” That’s why the cancer rates go up. We can see them clusters around these areas of pollution. We can see when cancer really started to be prevalent, which is when we created this industrial society.”

He said, “You’re probably right, but it’s going to cost you your job.” She goes, “I don’t care.” It cost her her job. That book, for people who are interested, The Secret History of the War on Cancer, it’s just phenomenal. What it does is every time one of these books comes up, all it does is just solidify the paradigm that you and I share, which is that if you just ask the right question, which is not how many people have cancer, not how do we diagnose cancer early, not how do we treat cancer, but why are people getting cancer? That’s the right question.

If you get that wrong, if you say it’s because of bad genes, then there’s nothing anybody can do about it except treat it. You win if you’re in the business of treating cancer and diagnosing it. The only thing you can do if cancer is genetic, if it’s random chance based on your genome, right? The only thing you can do is diagnose it early and treat it. What are the chances that most of these cancer people– there’s an awful lot of people still dying of cancer getting treatment, an awful lot.

One thing I will say, though, is that I do believe there is a shift happening where these lifestyle illnesses are beginning to reduce our lifespan because they’re happening in the younger and younger because the number of deficiencies and toxicities now that their parents had and are passing on through epigenetics. They’re born in a state of stress now, Ari. These people are born in an epigenetic shift towards sympathetic dominance. These chronic illnesses are starting to kill us a little bit earlier, and you’ll see them actually manifesting in younger people as well.

That is going to affect our lifespan. There’s no doubt about it but you’re exactly right. In the past, it was like, “Wait a minute, you’re getting older.” One of the things I like to say is that I don’t believe in the concept of slowing aging or antiaging. I believe in the concept of normal aging because we’re all going to age and we’re all going to die. It’s the rate at which we age which matters but the normal rate of aging is set by the human genome. If you follow that, you’re going to get your 120 years. If you don’t, you’re going to die early. The reason you die early is toxicity and deficiency stressors.

Ari: In other words we have– Yes, sorry, go ahead.

Dr. Chestnut: No, that’s what I’m saying. What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to slow accelerated aging. We’re not trying to pretend we’re going to get people to live forever or that they’re not going to age. Aging is normal. It’s a gift. If you are old and like me, I’m 57 now, and you’re like, “I’m not as quick as I once was when I’m out playing old geezer rugby, I’m not as strong in the gym.” I’m pretty strong and pretty quick, though, you know what I mean? I’m like because I keep up with the lifestyle. What I’m saying is what a privilege it is to experience aging. So many people never get that privilege. If we look at aging as some kind of pathology or we look at aging as so negative, we won’t get to enjoy it. The truth is it’s a privilege to enjoy this phase of life. It’s different but wonderful. I really feel it’s important that everybody understands that.

However, most people that I know that are 35 and 40 years old are way older than me, and their quality of life is so much less. They’ve experienced accelerated aging. That would be horrible, that quality of life is so enormously important. Anyway, I just like to throw that stuff out there because I really don’t like this idea that somehow it’s terrible to be old and have a wrinkle or have gray hair or whatever else. It’s like, “Come on, you can have vitality until your 80s and 90s.”

We should change our focus from living longer to living healthier

Ari: Agreed, we’re really talking about to clear up the semantics of slowing aging versus normal aging is like all other species, there is a genetically determined maximal potential lifespan. We are trying to live in a way that makes it so multi-organ failure dying of old age occurs at 115 or 120 instead of 85 like it does for most modern humans living in the western world.

Dr. Chestnut: We’re not trying to increase the genetically predetermined by genome lifespan. We’re trying to increase the number of years people live up to their lifespan, maximum. We’re not trying to mess with nature and increase the human lifespan [crosstalk] as long as they can up to their 115, 120.

Ari: With maximal health span, as many years as possible being healthy and functional and brain and body and as it stands now, most people are dying around age 80 on average in the United States. I don’t know numbers in Canada but I presume it’s very similar and 20% of that is burdened by chronic illness. 1/3 of adults over the age of 65 are disabled due to symptoms and illness. We have a huge burden of disability of deteriorated brains and bodies that is distinct from disease.

Again, going back to this paradigm with this war on disease, there is this presumption that if only we can cure this cancer, if only we can cure the diabetes, cure the heart disease. In the absence of those diseases, there is a state of– we presume that normal or being free of disease is synonymous with being healthy and it’s not.

There’s a huge portion of the population that don’t necessarily have a disease, that don’t have cancer, they don’t have heart disease but have deteriorated brains and bodies to the point of not being very functional, not nearly having the quality of life and the health and vitality and the energy and the resilience that they did when they were younger. All of those things have deteriorated to lead to massive functionality in brain and body and loss of quality of life irrespective of whether you have a diagnosable disease or not, that can be treated or cured.

It is almost like we’re focused on if the spectrum of disease and health is here disabled with severe disease over here and being healthy and full of energy and vitality and resilient over here. We have focused all of our energy and all the brightest minds in the world for the last century have been focused on understanding disease and pathology and trying to undo it or cure it largely with drugs instead of focused on the question of how do we build health?

Dr. Chestnut: Or detect it early. More and more we got to detect it early, detect it early. To do what? To give drugs that don’t work. It’s so incredible. We now know that over 80% of adults in the industrial world at least Canada and the United States and Australia and New Zealand would count, some of the European nations are a little bit better. Northern ones in particular, not Britain, 80% of adults have a diagnosed chronic illness. Here’s what’s interesting, we also now know that very few people have ever had vitality. If you look at the health of the average five-year-old now, about 25% of them almost are obese. Many of them are already on some kind of medication, their activity levels are so diminished and they can’t even do any physical work. Intellectually they’re so far below what they were 30, 40, 50 years ago. I was talking the other day, I have a lot of teacher friends. I’m just saying, it used to be in these small towns you had one schoolroom.

In that schoolroom was one teacher who taught from kindergarten to grade 12 students in the same room. The literacy rates were greater by far than what we have now, where we have a teacher for every grade and so many books, so many computers, the classrooms. Think of the resources that we put in education, and look at how terrible that’s turning out, and then just apply that and say, it’s the same thing in healthcare.

We spend more money every year for the last 75 years, we’ve got more hospitals than we’ve ever had, we’ve got more doctors than we’ve ever had, we’ve got more nurses than we’ve ever had, we’re prescribing more pills than have ever been prescribed before. Every morning in every town, there’s a fire hose that’s turned on with pills and is spread throughout that community, and they’re all gobbled up. There are literally millions of pills being strewn about and eaten every morning in every town. Think about that. Our health is less. It’s not the resources of applying–

More resources spent only equates to better outcomes if what you’re spending the resources on are producing the outcomes you want. If we measure the outcome of literacy, or happiness, self-esteem, fulfillment, ready to participate in the world for education or health, and vitality for people in health care, our outcomes are horrible. Yet the money, the resources that are spent, and the authority that are given to these people has nothing to do with the outcomes. They’re detached completely, which is the failure.

Ari: It’s like what would be evidence of failure of the modern health paradigm. I would say clear evidence of failure would be you’ve got seven decades of all these hundreds and hundreds of drugs that have been developed, trillions of dollars that have been poured into researching these diseases, developing treatments, “cures” drugs, for these diseases, suppose I put cures in quote marks because there’s very few cures that are actually have been developed apart from antibiotics.

Failure would be over the span of that time as the amount of science that’s been done, the amount of treatments and technology that has been created has completely failed to extend average health span of the population. There is no improvement in the average health span of the population, as the amount of technology and drugs has increased exponentially.

Dr. Chestnut: We’ve got more sickness per person now than we did 75 years ago, and it’s increased every year for 75 years, more sickness per capita, per person. If the system’s working, why are we have so many more sick people?

The foundation of modern-day medicine

Ari: The insanity of this, the madness, the mental illness is that there’s a portion of the population that still wants to believe that this is the “scientific way” of doing things when it comes to human health and that everything outside of that way of doing things is quackery and pseudoscience.

Dr. Chestnut: Right. It’s alternative. It’s not funny. You have real medicine, which was, by the way, determined by Abraham Flexner in 1905, who was a school teacher hired by who? Dale Carnegie who wanted to control education and Rockefeller who wanted to control pharmaceuticals. They hired a guy by the name of Abraham Flexner to determine what’s real medicine and what isn’t. He had no knowledge of any kind in terms of health care. The whole thing started based on trying to develop a monopoly.

What did Rockefeller say? “The only good business model is a monopoly,” and that’s what they have. They have a monopoly. You’re not even allowed to care for people. If you say to somebody– You’re not even allowed to not give people cancer treatment. You know what I mean? It’s incredible now how legislated it all is about what you’re supposed to and how a medical doctor could take your child away. They have the authority, we’ve given them so much authority, they could take your child away. It’s bizarre. You just look at what’s going on. It is a mass psychosis, there’s no doubt about it. What’s interesting is when people the light goes on,

they’re like, “What have I been doing?” There are so many people who genuinely believe because they’ve been told by a person of authority that the pills are keeping them alive. They believe it. I’m like, “Is there any evidence that they decrease mortality?” Do cholesterol pills decrease mortality? No. Blood pressure pills? No. Just look it up, don’t believe me. I only say [unintelligible 00:30:29] don’t believe me. Just go look at the primary research.

What you’ll find out is what’s in the primary research and what is being told to the public are completely opposite in many cases, and by the way, there’s researchers in evidence-based [unintelligible 00:30:44] lamenting, in evidence-based medical journals screaming that evidence-based medicine has not done anything to increase outcomes because everybody just keeps producing research that isn’t valid evidence. They’ve got a whole bunch of articles that they can say– the whole thing is so polluted it’s almost depressing to be honest with you.

The more you understand– the only way to get around all that is just to go, “Well, I’m going to make it simple. I’m going to focus on what I can control, which is my lifestyle.” Lo and behold, when people do that, the results are so incredible, so quickly that people never go back. People don’t go, “Well, you know what? I’m going to eat well, move well.” I think, “Well, I’m going to exercise. I’m going to eat the right foods. I’m going to have some gratitude and self-work on my self-esteem and my ethics and my integrity and I’m just going to see what it’s like to live a life.” Because one of the great problems you and I face right now is that you and I, for our most part are talking to people who have never experienced vitality.

It’s not like they’re missing it anymore. It used to be that people could remember a time when they got up with full energy without an alarm and had great sleep and energy all day and felt great and felt strong, and were happy. Now, Ari, these people don’t even have a memory of that. When you and I are talking to these people about changing their lifestyle, and they’re going to have vitality, they don’t even have a mental picture of what that’s like.

Imagine that we now have a generation of people that at least half of them, at least half have probably never experienced true health. They’ve never for a period of time long enough to remember it expressed their genetic potential for health and happiness and quality of life and vitality, never.

Humans are the sickest species on the planet

Ari: You give the analogy as far as why we are sicker than ever, why humans, as you said, are the sickest species on the planet and the sickest species in the history of planet Earth. You give an analogy to help understand this as toxicities and deficiencies that are essentially revolving around a mismatch between what our biology is designed for, what our DNA is designed for, the environmental and lifestyle inputs we’re designed to achieve in order to express health, which is our normal state versus and the mismatch with the modern world, which is not giving us those inputs.

You talk about this as essentially to the extent you have those mismatches going on, those toxicities and deficiencies. You’re putting rocks in your backpack and you’re swimming, you’re trying to tread water, and you’ve got a backpack on, and each one of those mismatches is another rock in your backpack that is eventually going to cause you to drown.

From this frame, the madness of the mainstream way of doing things, the way of thinking and trying to treat is essentially we’re trying to get people to feel better while they still have all those rocks in their backpack versus actually removing the rocks from the backpack.

Dr. Chestnut: Mostly we’re just numbing them. We’re not even making them feel better. We’re numbing them, we’re making them feel a little less bad, but they’re not actually feeling good ever. Not when you’re on drugs, you’re not feeling good on drugs and maybe an opiate for a while, then you’re going to feel really bad. It doesn’t work. If you can imagine these rocks in the backpack, which are a stressor, they’re a stress load.

What that does is it forces your brain– your brain recognizes that and then your brain is going to self-regulate your body into increasing more stress hormones. Sympathetic dominance versus parasympathetic dominance, you’re going to go into breakdown for survival rather than healing, growth, and repair. [unintelligible 00:34:54] was brilliant alarm adaptation, fatigue, which is chronic illness, death. If you think about those rocks in your backpack, so what most people do is they’re living this life where they’re not eating the right foods. They’re deficient in the central nutrients. They have that hidden hunger I talk about all the time. They’re not exercising enough. They’re not stimulating their cells to epigenetically express healthy structure and function. Their mitochondria aren’t working properly. They have low energy. All the things that we can talk about, and it’s just so well documented in the literature.

Now, these people are carrying this burden around, the stress load in their backpack. Now, what happens is that’s a load on them in that swimming pool of life. They’re now forced to have to work harder just to keep their head above water day to day, and it’s tiring, right? When they get tired enough, what do they do? They swim right with all these rocks in their backpack, and they swim to a medical doctor’s office.

What does the medical doctor do? The medical doctor measures their blood pressure or measures their cholesterol, or measures their blood sugar. These people are struggling, and rather than look in the backpack, they want to measure something. Then they’ll measure, and they’ll say, “You know what? That’s not homeostatic. Your blood pressure’s high compared to normal.” In reality, of course, it’s high.

They’ve got all these rocks in their backpack. They’re on a treadmill, whatever it is, and they’re swimming, they’re under all these stressors. It’s not supposed to be normal if you’re not in a normal habitat. That’s the whole concept of allostasis that they just is so brilliant, which if we have time I’ll explain it deeper. The reality is these people have stressors in their life that are forcing them toward a state of adaptation, which is now diagnosed as pathology due to a defect, it’s not pathological at all.

It’s an adaptation due to stressors in their life. It’s diagnosed as defective because their blood pressure’s higher, their blood sugar’s higher, their body weight’s higher, whatever it is. What’s the solution? As they’re swimming there with all these rocks in the backpack and they’re told there’s something defective about them. They’ve thrown pills, and they eat those pills, and then they swim away. Then they come back a little bit later, and they’re like, “You know what? I’m not better.” They’ll go, “Oh, well, let’s measure your physiology again.

Looks like now you’ve got high cholesterol along with high blood sugar, here’s another pill. Eat it.” They go away, more rocks in their backpack. They’re sinking lower. They’re even more stressed out. They come around, and lo and behold, eventually what happens is no matter how many pills they get, that load is going to make them sink into the water, and they’re going to die. The pills don’t take the rocks out. The only thing that can take the rocks out is addressing the cause of what put the rock in, which is going to be lifestyle.

It’s completely ignored, Ari in supposedly the evidence-based scientific expert system. The cause of all of this is completely ignored, and they actually believe that the people have high blood pressure, not because they haven’t exercised in 10 years, not because they eat a totally pro-inflammatory garbage diet. Not because they’re stressed out going through a divorce and just lost their job. They believe it’s because they’re defective. A five-year-old would understand this in about five minutes, wouldn’t they?

Ari: Yes.

Dr. Chestnut: If you’re so ingrained in that system, and that’s your belief system going in. My kids went to private school, most of the parents were doctors. As I always say I was the only doctor there who could actually help anybody talking about lifestyle, but anyway, I remember having a conversation with this guy, and the guy said, “Well, man, you just think about how many more kids are obese and how many more people now are diabetic and obese that has to be genetic.”

I said, “No, what you just described means it can’t be genetic.” You just told me that it went up 600% in so many years. He said, “But it’s so prevalent. It has to be genetic.” I said, “No, it can’t be genetic. If it’s gone up that quickly, the genes can’t meet you that quickly.” He just goes, “My God, I never even thought of that.” Because [inaudible 00:38:59] never broached in their entire education.

The pharmaceutical reps that come around don’t talk about it, the conferences don’t talk about it, and their education doesn’t talk about it. As you said in a previous conference, these are bright people, very often caring, bright people, but it doesn’t matter how bright you are or how caring you are. If you’re not addressing the cause of the problem, you can never fix it, and you can never prevent it, and that’s medicine.

Ari: If you’re brought up in a particular paradigm from the time you’re a baby and that paradigm is normalized in the culture, very likely 99% of the time, you’re going to be blind to what’s outside of that. To the logic that is easily accessible, almost common sense to somebody who is not locked into that paradigm. Actually, just to add to that, I want to just emphasize this one point from a previous conversation you and I had before this podcast that’s so good. I want people to hear it because it’s so important. At the risk of belaboring this point on paradigm, it’s just so critical for people to get this.

Dr. Chestnut: Everything.

Ari: We talked about the example of, let’s say, the Great Lakes, the toxic lakes, and how a biologist would think about that. You gave the example of getting on stage at a biology conference and how they’d speak versus how it would be done at a medical conference and the reactions from the audience. Can you describe that again?

Dr. Chestnut: Sure. Just imagine, again, because what we talked about at that time was we proceeded that by saying, we have to understand that humans are mammals. That we’re governed by the same biological laws as every other mammal. We can’t be separate. Of course, in biology, anytime a species has ever become sick or become endangered, anytime there’s widespread illness in a species, the first thing the biologists always ask is, “What’s going on with the environment? What’s happened to their environment?”

No biologists ever in the history of biology whose first assumption is going to be, “There must be some kind of spontaneous gene mutation that happened in all these fish that caused them to start dying and washing up in lakes,” or “All these eagles’ eggs are brittle. It must be a genetic mutation, or it must be a sudden inability to self-regulate their own reproductive systems or their own immune systems or whatever.”

They had a big conference to solve the problems of all these fish dying in the Great Lakes and the eagles that were eating those fish, their eggs were brittle, and they had a big conference to solve the problem. If a biologist got up on stage and said, “Well, I think it’s because the fish have bad genes and/or an inability to self-regulate. That’s the problem with the fish and the eagles.” It would be an uproarious laughter from the [crosstalk]

Ari: We need to study the biochemical processes that are involved in why these fish are washing up dead with tumors and then develop a drug to counteract or to interrupt these pathological processes.

Dr. Chestnut: Right. The solution is we’re going to dump chemotherapy drugs into the lake, and we’re going to set up little tiny fish hospitals on the side of the lake, so when they wash up, and they’re still flipping a little bit, but they’ve got cancer, we’re going to do little surgeries on them on the side. That’s going to be the solution. What we’ve got to do is treat the cancer of the fish. Everyone will go, “What the hell are you talking about?” Find out why the fish are getting cancer and solve it and in the habitat.

Ari: As you said, the biologist would be laughed off the stage presenting a paradigm like that-

Dr. Chestnut: Laughed off stage and ruthlessly.

Ari: -yet that same exact way of thinking when applied to humans at a medical conference instead of a biology conference is not only not laughed off the stage, but people are sitting there in the audience going, “Wow, this is amazing. How brilliant this person is. Let’s give them the Nobel Prize for curing this disease.”

Interesting outcomes of mice studies

Dr. Chestnut: Yes, which probably isn’t going to be cured. They would go, “Oh, wow, that’s amazing. Oh, wow, that guy just got funding. That guy just got published. That guy just got an award. If I want to get the same thing, what’s the incentive?” A great example of that is Randy Jirtle and Bruce Waterland when they did their study on the agouti mice. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but it was just fantastic. These agouti mice– If I got a minute, can I?

Ari: Yes. Absolutely.

Dr. Chestnut: These agouti mice, they were actually one of the first patented organisms because they used these agouti mice– they were mice, but they had, what they called, the agouti gene named after the guy Agouti who discovered this gene. These mice were prized research mice because they had a very short lifespan. Instead of being slender, brown, and healthy, the ones that had this agouti gene were fat as pin cushions, as they described them. They were yellow instead of brown, and they got diabetes, obesity, and cancer, and died early.

These were prized research mice because they knew that their lifespan was very short. Generation upon generation of these mice, like tens of thousands of generations of these mice have been bred in labs and used to study cancer treatments. Their gene, because they said it was a gene. The agouti gene was causing it. Billions and billions of dollars have been spent studying this, and all the research was on the gene. “How do we stop the gene? How do we get rid of the gene? What do we do?”

They’d never, by the way, ever been able to cure these mice. Never. These two guys came along who were really into epigenetics, genetic expression, and they basically tried to get funding and say, “You know what? We want to look at, basically, lifestyle.” They couldn’t get funding. They were ridiculed. You know what I mean? Everyone is like, “It’s the gene, stupid,” blah, blah, blah. Anyway, these guys finally did their study. Remember, in the history of tens of thousands of generations of these mice, no one was ever able to give them a normal lifespan.

Well, they did it in one study. The offspring of the yellow fat mice were slender, brown, and had a normal lifespan. It had never been done with any of these gene treatments and any of these drugs that they’d come up with, and tens of thousands of generations of these mice and billions and billions of dollars. You know what they did? They changed the diet of the pregnant mother. That’s all they did.

These mice are kept in cages. They’re fed the same gross diet. They’re only two per cage. They’re not allowed to play with each other. The environment is totally toxic and deficient. They studied these mice over and over again, but because they had found this gene, they assumed that it was the gene possession, the existence of the gene. It wasn’t. It was whether or not that gene was getting expressed, of course. These guys proved it beyond the doubt.

There’s another great study. If we have time, I’ll talk about the chow study on that he looked at [crosstalk]

Ari: Please, go for it. Go for it.

Dr. Chestnut: A guy by the name Chow, University of Pennsylvania, if I’m not mistaken, he looked at the same thing. He looked at these mice that– What they do with these mice in a lot of the cancer, if they’re not using agouti mice, is that they’ll inject these mice with a carcinogen. They know that basically after five days, the tumor’s this big, relative to a mouse. In 10 days, it’s this big. In 15 days, it’s this big. In 21 days, the mouse is dead of cancer.

They know that these are really good at studying because if they can prolong the average lifespan of the mice by one day, they can get their drug approved. Then it goes on to human trials to get approved. Even in humans, if they can increase the lifespan of somebody by a month, the average by a month, that’s the new cancer drug. It’s incredible if you look at it. Again, get that book, The Secret History of the War on Cancer by Deborah Davis. Anyway, I think that was the earlier of the conversation.

This Chow guy’s like, “Okay, these mice are normally kept in cages of two.” He goes, “You know what? I’m going to look at this, so I’m going to put them in cages of 10. Instead of just having a cage with a water bottle and a feeder, I’m going to put running wheels in there. I’m going to have all these different colors and cool stuff, and they’re all going to be able to socialize with each other.”

Lo and behold, he gets these mice. He randomly divides them right into two groups. One goes into the enriched environment. It’s not enriched. It’s more normal. The other one goes into this cage, which they call the normal environment because they’re pathological, and they’re thinking, these people, and lo and behold, he injects them. The ones in the cage with 10 don’t get cancer.

He’s like, “What? This has never happened with any study, any drug. This is mind-blowing.” He goes, “This can’t be right. Something must be off.” This time, he injects them with the cancer drug first before he randomly divides them. They’re all in the same cages as when they get injected, just in case maybe there’s something confounding this. Lo and behold, same thing. Then he’s like, “This can’t be right.” He does it again. This time, he injects them. Lets the cancers get to stage II. Then separates them.

By the way, didn’t change the diet. Remember, the previous study with the agouti mice, they just changed the diet but didn’t change the environment. This one changed the environment but not the diet. Imagine if he did both at once. Incredible. Anyway, they go in there, and with the tumors already, well-developed, their immune systems eat the tumors.

Ari: Wow.

Dr. Chestnut: Just mind-blowing. How is that not on the front page of every newspaper for weeks? How is it not the lead story on every newscast? Obviously, we know why, but it’s just incredible. He was measuring leptin levels. He measured all of these things, and all of them changed more profoundly with that change in environment than they ever have with any drug they were trying to give these things, like the insulin sensitivity, the leptin level. It’s absolutely incredible. I just don’t think people are aware of this.

Why the drug-centric approach to health fails

Ari: Instead, we are the humans in the Baron Cage eating the crappy diet, and what our whole medical paradigm is revolving around and pouring trillions of dollars into, and all the brightest minds, most of the brightest minds in the world are fixated on how can we find a drug to cure the disease while we stay in this environment? How can we find a drug to cure the disease while we stay sedentary? How can we find a drug to cure the diseases while we eat donuts and french fries and so on and so forth?

How can we find a drug to have healthy physiology while we’re in a totally unhealthy environment?

Dr. Chestnut: Here’s why that, Ari, because that’s brilliantly stated, but here’s why, because their paradigm is that we’re not mammals. They actually believe the environment we live in is normal, and they actually believe that the foods we eat are irrelevant to whether or not we get cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, dementia, low sex drive, or can’t sleep.

They assume that we are not governed by the laws of biology, and they assume that the reason we’re sick is because we’re defective, not because we’re living in a cage with bad food and a bad social and physical habitat because their paradigm’s wrong. All they’re doing is saying, it’s normal for humans to get sick. It’s part of the human experience. It’s just normal for humans to have chronic illnesses. Look how prevalent it is. It must be normal.

Because it’s genetic, there’s nothing we can do except treat it, palliate it with drugs, and try to diagnose it earlier to give them drugs earlier. That’s exactly what they’ve been doing with total monopoly of this, total monopoly of funding, research, education, and funding even for healthcare, not just funding for research for 75 years, and we’ve gotten sicker every year.

Ari: I want to switch gears to functional medicine briefly and get some of your thoughts on the modern functional medicine movement. You said something in a conversation we had right before recording this that I maybe want to introduce here as a way of segueing into this topic. You said in passing, “A biologist doesn’t start by looking at a blood test.”

Dr. Chestnut: Correct.

Ari: What do you mean by that?

Dr. Chestnut: I mean that a biologist has a biological paradigm, which is literally the paradigm of life. I know the term out there right now is evolutionary biology. You don’t have to put evolutionary in front of it. Biology is biology. A biologist understands that habitat determines health, not genes because genes have been perfected through natural selection. The A priority assumption in biology is that the genes and the ability to self-regulate are virtually perfect.

Some changes with aging, obviously, but virtually perfect in 98% of all members of all species, same with humans. It’s not like 80% of our cancers and everything are caused by lifestyle. 98% are because it’s less than 2% of illnesses are ever going to be caused by a gene. That’s true virtually throughout biology. A good place to look at that is studying Chornobyl and how Chornobyl is now the healthiest ecosystem on earth because humans got out, but the mutation rate is about 3% versus 2.5% or 2% in nature. That’s the only difference.

All the mice are back. All the birds are back. There’s herds of bison and wolves. It’s incredible when you take humans out, so I always joke. Humans going into an ecosystem is more toxic than a nuclear meltdown because they change so much of the ecosystem. A biologist always starts with the paradigm that the reason an animal gets sick, a species-wide– An individual animal, they might go, “Oh, did it break its leg? Did it eat something bad?” Something like that.

If there’s a bunch of animals suffering from the same thing at the same time, the biologist always first always goes, “It’s habitat.” Again, it would be lifestyle, except the biologists can assume with other mammals that they’re not committing suicide. They’re not self-harming with their lifestyle choices. We can’t assume that with humans, but we can assume that with mammals, so that’s why they go with habitat.

In the history of species that we’ve saved that have been endangered and that we’ve been able to bring back from the brink of extinction, every time we did it with what? Drugs, tests, or changing habitat, saving the habitat. That’s because, in biology, that’s the paradigm. You would never assume anything different because you know the laws of biology, and you operate based on those laws of biology.

In modern medicine allopathy healthcare, you are not operating on those same assumptions. You’re operating on a set of assumptions that they’re so easily disproven. They’re indefensible in terms of science to operate under the assumption that genes get worse with time in a species and that a mass amount of sickness in a species that’s new is caused by genes or an inability to self-regulate. That’s anti-science. It’s antibiology. It’s pathology, which is wrong.

That’s the difference between the biologist and the pathologist or the allopathic practitioner. The biology operates and asks questions within the factually true biological paradigm of health and illness.

Is the functional medicine approach any good?

Ari: I think everything you said is brilliantly stated. I think, unfortunately, what I’ve seen within the functional medicine movement is a movement in the direction of allopathic thinking. There’s still this talk of treating root causes and talk of being natural, but I think the mode of thinking the paradigm has shifted more in the direction of allopathic models of thinking than from a biologist’s or an evolutionary biologist’s way of thinking about human health.

This quote, “A biologist doesn’t start by looking at a blood test,” struck me because it seems like when you go certainly to a regular doctor but also most functional medicine doctors, even more so, you go in there, or you do it online, the first thing they’re going to do is, “Here’s this battery of blood tests and all kinds of other tests and microbiome tests and salivary tests and genetic tests and so on,” many of which people don’t realize have very questionable scientific accuracy or validity, or stated more directly, are inaccurate or non-reproducible.

You do the same twice, and you won’t even get the same result. They’re starting with that. They’re starting by saying, “Let’s look at what’s going on inside of your physiology as the starting point,” which is exactly the opposite of how you’re saying biologists would start by looking at the health of a species. I sometimes present people with the analogy, let’s say, you took a thousand tigers out of the wild, and you put them in zoos all over the world. In these zoo environments, these tigers, all of a sudden, started getting sick.

They started getting heart disease and neurological diseases and depression and anxiety and cancers and all kinds of things that they don’t get any of these diseases in the wild. Would your frame of thinking be to go, “Let’s look at each individual tiger, run a battery of tests, and then figure out the personalized recommendations for each of these tigers as far as diet and supplementation to optimize this tiger’s biochemistry”?

Feels like that is what functional medicine is doing for most functional medicine, not all of them, most functional medicine practitioners are doing today. I think that there is a really extreme focus and unnecessary focus on biochemical individuality.

Dr. Chestnut: I couldn’t possibly agree more. The reason is a couple of reasons. One is the reason why people wouldn’t go, “Well, wait a minute. The tigers in the wild are healthy. The tigers in the wild are healthier, so wait a minute, what’s changed?” Is because we don’t have humans living in the wild anymore. That’s part of the big problem is that every time they do a study on humans, and they say, “We had 25 healthy subjects,” those aren’t healthy subjects.

They just don’t have the diagnosed illness that they’re studying at the time. That’s one of the big problems, was that we don’t really understand– That’s one of the things about looking at ancestral health that really helps us, too, is that we now have a gold standard. We can look like, what do humans living in the wild look like. How did they eat, move? Not only what were their measures, because we can measure some of them, as I mentioned.

They have gone into hunter-gather tribes and measured their physiology and biochemistry, and lo and behold, it’s healthy. Also, why is it healthy? It’s because of how they’re living. The problem with functional medicine that I see is that they assume that because they’re intervening earlier than allopathy that they’re addressing the cause. They mistakenly believe that the physiology they’re measuring is the cause. They don’t understand that the physiology they’re measuring is an effect, and it’s an effect of lifestyle and habitat.

Some of them also have bought into this paradigm, “If I can identify this gene or this snippet or whatever else this methylation problem or whatever–” They forget the fact that that methylation problem has been around, especially I think there’s parts of Italy where it’s very, very prominent for centuries with no health problems. The genes are constant, but the health problems are new.

How can it possibly be the snippet? It can’t if you just use logic. They fall into the same problem. Of course, everybody who has a solution wants a test to prove you need their solution. That’s just human nature. Very often, at the end of that, there’s a product. That is very common. It’s very hard when you make a living from that to see it. That’s just human nature, too. I’m not criticizing. We’re all the same.

If you just step back a little bit, what you realize is that if you understand that state of biochemistry and physiology are states of genetic expression, if you went further upstream, it’s a state of genetic expression, 100%. Then you have to ask yourself, what determines state of genetic expression? What you’re going to see is people are going to swim slowly upstream.

They’re going to go first at the symptom and the diagnosis, and they’re going to swim a little further upstream, look at some biochemistry, some physiology, some early signs, some early changes, and then they’re going to swim a little upstream and look at epigenetic expression. Again, what determines epigenetic expression? Lifestyle and habitat.

Eventually, what happens is if you become a biologist in healthcare, you only swim upstream and find the real cause, which is toxicity and deficiency in our lifestyle choices and habitat. That’s what all biologists start with. That’s because that’s the ultimate cause. That’s how biology works. We all know that. That’s the assumption. As you move away from that, you’re moving towards allopathy and treatment of effects rather than the biological paradigm, live right for your species-type paradigm, and addressing causes.

That doesn’t mean to say that a functional medicine person might not be able to intervene early or whatever else, but if they’re not changing the lifestyle of that individual, or if they’re assuming that person’s defective, and healthy lifestyle can’t help him because they have this methylation snippet that’s terrible, how do they explain that all these people with the same snippet had no problems with health?

Ari: I think that there’s another issue, as I’ve observed because I happen to be good friends with many, many functional medicine practitioners, many very smart functional medicine practitioners. There’s another element that I’ve observed in these conferences and in the culture and in talking to many of these practitioners.

There is a culture where they have left nutrition and lifestyle behind, almost, because they’ve become enamored with the stuff that feels more cutting-edge and more sciency and more sophisticated. There is also a really strong culture, just given human nature and human psychology and egos, and the marketing financial incentives.

There is a culture of different practitioners trying to one-up each other by doing more and more seemingly sciency and seemingly cutting edge stuff, to the point where I now see functional medicine practitioners where if they do talk about lifestyle at all, it’s almost framed– One very smart guy I spoke to a week ago said, “My answer is not sexy, but it comes back to nutrition and lifestyle.”

It’s framed as, “Everybody’s heard that story before, and it’s not sexy to talk about it, so let’s talk about genetic snips, and let’s talk about fancy tests. Let’s talk about the supplements that correspond to your unique biochemical individuality.” That’s fancy tests which are largely, as I said, most of them are inaccurate. They’re all gravitating towards that stuff as a way of competing and one-upping each other of who can be more technologically sophisticated in their approach.

What it’s left behind is this vacuum, this hole, where most of them no longer even have strong foundational knowledge in really understanding nutrition and lifestyle at a deep level, because they’ve become so enmeshed in this paradigm of just writing a whole bunch of tests and then following some other functional medicine practitioners protocol of if the test says this, here’s the protocol if the test says this, here’s the protocol.

It’s this facade, this layer on the surface that seems very sciency, but to me, there’s a vacuum underneath it in many cases.

Dr. Chestnut: It’s more medical is what it is. It’s more in line with what people are used to hearing, and it makes them feel like they’re more authoritative. If you don’t really understand lifestyle, and you can’t really understand how lifestyle and draw the neuro-physiological and biochemical pathways from a healthy lifestyle to healthy mitochondria and an unhealthy lifestyle to unhealthy mitochondria and healthy lifestyle to healthy bone density and unhealthy lifestyle and unhealthy to cancer.

One of the things I’ve been doing for 25 years, as you know from reading my books and stuff, is that I can completely draw those pathways out. I don’t have any doubt about the power of lifestyle. I can explain it to people with these analogies or whatever, because I’m in the right paradigm, but you could see why people would see it’s less sexy. Remember when you get paid a lot for tests? In medicine, and even functional medicine, you get a lot of money for testing.

Testing is really what it’s all about. At the end of the day, if the patient doesn’t get better because testing is not an intervention. Testing doesn’t make anybody better. If the tests don’t equate to better outcomes, all you’re doing is paying for a test. You know what I mean? It’s like it does give you the air of sophistication. It does give you the air of authority and the air of, “I’m recommending this supplement because the test says I should.”

As you pointed out that most of them are not reliable. The test-retest reliability is shocking, and they’re not valid anyway. They’re not a valid measure of what they’re telling you they’re measuring. I don’t care what test you get. I don’t care what magical individualized supplement you get or whatever else. If you are not living a healthy lifestyle, you’re sick, period. If you were living a healthy lifestyle, whatever parameter they’re measuring is better because it’s the lifestyle that determines what they’re measuring.

I don’t think these people have enough knowledge to understand the direct neuro-epigenetic, neurophysiological, neurohormonal link between exercise, nutrition, mental well-being, gut health, gut-brain access, and understand how those things absolutely manifest and create that physiology or biochemistry that they’re measuring. If they did understand it, they wouldn’t need any of that stuff. How do you get paid by selling lifestyle? You got to be pretty good at getting people to understand the importance of it, and you got to coach them on it.

Again, there’s a reason why I do an essential nutrient system because I don’t have to measure anybody because I know they’re essential. I know that they’re deficient in it because I know what the diet is. It’s pretty simple. I always do things species-wide. That’s why I entitle my book the way I did. Lo and behold, what you’ll find out is I only say 90%, I’m going to say it’s 95% to even more, people, all their problems resolved with healthy lifestyle. Correct. There’s a few other things.

These supplements, they take, “I have the essential nutrient system.” Some people need some physical work because the neuromusculoskeletal system is so important in terms of neurological health, brain health. There’s just a certain amount of very common rocks in the backpacks of people. They’re super common. If you get rid of those rocks, you’re left over with something weird that maybe you need to do some individualized testing for.

To start the individualized testing is financially, biologically, scientifically absurd. It doesn’t make any sense. That’s why they don’t do it in biology.

How beliefs and behavior shape our health

Ari: Dr. Chestnut, the plan was to spend a lot of time talking about practical stuff on email [crosstalk]

Dr. Chestnut: Will I get a part four? [laughs]

Ari: I think I’m going to have to ask you for part four.

Dr. Chestnut: It’s like a deposition. I just keep talking, so I know you have to have me back, you see.

Ari: It’s so good. I think it’s so critically important for people to hear this. Maybe I want to put rather than trying to force some kind of discussion into a very narrow window of time I have before I have to get on another podcast, maybe let’s tie a bow onto this discussion that we’ve had so far. Before this interview, I was listening to a video of yours from 10 years ago. You said something– Now I’m trying to remember exactly what it was that I wanted to talk to you about. Okay, beliefs and behavior.

You were talking about beliefs and behavior and when there is a gap there. The reason I say let’s tie a bow on all this discussion that we’ve had, we’ve had three hours now or more than three hours now of laying the groundwork of the foundational paradigm of how a person needs to think in order to be healthy, a big part of the reason that this is so important is what your knowledge is relates to your beliefs about human health.

If you don’t believe that a donut is any worse or better for your health than an apple, then the doughnut’s tastier, you’re going to choose the doughnut. Beliefs relate to behavior in a very profound way. Ultimately, what we’re doing with all of this discussion is laying a foundational groundwork of beliefs, of conceptual framework of paradigm to have about human biology and human health. Talk to me about beliefs and behavior and how you would explain that.

Dr. Chestnut: Okay. I’m going to make a very important distinction between knowledge and beliefs because people know the doughnut is bad, and they know the apple is better, but in their subconscious belief systems, they believe it’s better to have the doughnut. Often, for reasons of pleasure. There’s all kinds of things. I don’t want to get too deep into it. That’s a whole other discussion.

One of the reasons I’ve been able to be so successful, I always say there’s two halves of the battle. One is knowing what to do and what not to do, and the other one is getting yourself to consistently act on that. What you’ll find is that most people right now, Ari, know enough about things that they should start doing that they’re not doing. Right now, people, at least they already know, right now, they know some things that they could do to add to their life habits that would make a profound difference in their health.

They already know some things that they should stop doing that if they consistently refrain from that would make a huge difference in their health. Although you and I will talk about some knowledge, and really, what we’re doing, to be honest, is we’re changing their paradigms and their knowledge enough that they can evaluate their own beliefs to figure out why they’re false, but knowledge isn’t enough. That’s the easy half of the battle.

Teaching people, teaching them what to eat, that they should exercise every day, and that they should be honest, kind, generous, hard-working, egalitarian, tolerant, and non-judgmental, that’s an intellectual that everyone can get quite easily. That’s knowing what to do. That’s the easy half of the battle.

The difficult half of the battle, where the rubber meets the road, where all the change occurs, where all the benefits come, the outcomes are determined by, is getting yourself to do what you know you should and being able to get yourself to stop doing what you know you shouldn’t. That resides in your subconscious beliefs, your autopilot. That’s the key to everything, is to get people to learn how to reprogram their own beliefs so that they anchor pleasure to healthy habits, and they anchor pain to unhealthy habits.

That’s the key to all of it because one of the great things you hear from people is, “I tell people, but they just don’t do it. They’re just not going to go do that at home, so I don’t bother. I give them the drug instead. I’d give them this instead.” They always blame the person rather than blaming the practitioner who doesn’t have the skill set to understand what’s required to help people change. Because modifying your behavior means that you’re doing something that you don’t believe.

“I hate exercise, but I’m going to exercise every day. I’m going to get up at 5:00 AM and exercise every day.” [Grunts] Comes back. I always say, your beliefs are so powerful and magnetic that they always will suck your behavior back in line with your belief. That’s called behavior modification and willpower. It’s extraordinarily difficult, and it’s tough. When you realize is that if you can change your belief system to enjoy exercise and look forward to it– That’s all about synapses. It’s not difficult.

It’s not like, “Oh, I can never be that person.” No, you can never be that person with your current synapses. If you can learn how to change your synapses and do that in an easy way, floating downstream towards health instead of fighting up against it, not giving up the things that are your biggest sources of pleasure in your life. No matter how unhealthy they are right now, unless they’re life-threatening, never start by giving up your source of pleasure because humans are pleasure-seeking missiles.

It’s the most significant hierarchy of our cost-benefit analysis of any choice we make. Once you understand how humans choose how their brain works, how their belief systems work, and how that relates to their behaviors and their moods and their pleasure status at the time of making the decision, once I figured that out, Ari, I got the key. I got the key, and I could teach people how to then– I say, it’s not the self-help movement. I call it self-health. That’s literally what my corp is, the self-health corporation, Eat Well Move Well Think Well.

It’s really about self-control. I say, now it’s the self-control movement, and I call it belief systems and topography because your beliefs are your map of your world, and they’re your GPS guidance systems for all your decisions, almost all, 99% anyway. Once that occurs, people now have self-control. They get to determine what they believe. They get to determine what they like. What a difference in the life that makes to have complete control over what you like. That’s the key.

Ari: Beautiful. Dr. Chestnut, thank you so much for another brilliant podcast conversation. I enjoy this so much. It’s an absolute pleasure and honor to connect with you, for now, three and a half hours or so of podcasts. I look forward to another hour. Thank you so much for being generous with your time. I’m sure that it will be useful. You’re going to be reaching a lot of people and helping a lot of people, so I’m very grateful for you and your generosity and all of your wisdom and brilliance on this topic.

Again, it’s been a great honor for me to learn from you. I’m forever indebted to you from the knowledge I’ve gleaned from you, and I think that a lot of people listening to this are going to feel the same way. Thank you so much. Let people know where they can get your new book, Live Right for Your Species Type, which I highly recommend everybody get.

Dr. Chestnut: Really easy. Thanks for your time, too, Ari. You and I could be doing this at a pub. We could be doing it on a walk. We could be doing it over a great meal. That’s what I like about it, is that you’re as passionate about it as I am. When you share the same paradigm, it’s instant connection. I do appreciate the time. It’s not just I’m providing something for you. I do truly appreciate the back-and-forth.

Ari: Wonderful. Happy to hear that. Thank you for the kind words.

Show Notes

00:00 Intro
00:42 – Guest intro
02:51 – Key reasons why we haven’t made much progress in the human health span
12:00 – Current research in overall lifespan projections
21:30 – We should change our focus from living longer to living healthier
29:15 – The foundation of modern-day medicine
33:36 – Humans are the sickest species on the planet
44:00 –  Interesting outcomes of mice studies
49:51 – Why the drug-centric approach to health fails
51:51 – Is the functional medicine approach any good?
1:09:00 – How beliefs and behavior shape our health


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