Is Inflammation The Main Driver Of Disease And Death? with Dr. Tom O’Bryan

Content By: Ari Whitten & Dr. Tom O’Bryan

In this episode, I’m speaking with Dr. Tom O’Bryan about his upcoming docu-series, The Inflammation Equation: Decoding the Steps to Optimal Well-Being, why he believes inflammation is at the core of disease, and his approach to solving it. 

>> Click here to gain access to The Inflammation Equation 7-part docuseries to go deeper into what inflammation truly is and exactly how to keep it in check for optimal, full-body health.

Table of Contents

In this podcast, Dr. O’Bryan and I discuss:

  • The 10-year gap between healthspan and lifespan that most Americans will unfortunately experience…and how to shorten that gap for a longer, HEALTHIER life
  • The crucial aspects you need to know about inflammaging, the way chronic inflammation contributes to the aging process and a less joyful life
  • One surprising (and aesthetically pleasing!) step you can take to protect your home from inflammatory compounds
  • The role of the microbiome in inflammation, neurological signaling, and systemic health, and how it changes over the lifespan
  • How genetics influence inflammation and why the same genes can be harmful in some situations and helpful in others!
  • An unexpected trigger of Alzheimer’s that might make you rethink your body care routine
  • How “network medicine” balances inflammation and helps us avoid illness. Remember, inflammation isn’t bad for you! Excessive inflammation is the problem.

Listen or download on iTunes

Listen outside iTunes


Ari Whitten: Hey, this is Ari. Welcome back to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. With me today for the third time on the show is my friend Dr. Tom O’Brien, who is considered a sort of Sherlock Holmes for chronic disease. He teaches that recognizing and addressing the underlying mechanisms that activate an immune response and chronic inflammation is the map to the highway towards better health.

He holds teaching faculty positions with the Institute for Functional Medicine and the National University of Health Sciences. He has trained and certified tens of thousands of practitioners around the world in advanced understanding of the impact of wheat sensitivity and the development of individual autoimmune diseases. In this podcast, we’re going to be talking all about his upcoming film on chronic inflammation as the central driver of disease that we all need to be aware of. Without any further ado, enjoy this conversation with Dr. Tom O’Bryan. Dr. O’Bryan, thank you so much for coming on.

Dr. O’Bryan: Oh, thank you. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Ari: It is always a pleasure. I really enjoy how knowledgeable and passionate you are. I think you’ve been on the show two times previously, and you are, without a doubt, one of the favorite guests of my audience who comes on here.

Dr. O’Bryan: Thank you.

The current status on human health and lifespan

Ari: I think the last talk we did was all about brain health. I know you just had so many gold nuggets in there, so I am very much looking forward to this one. First of all, as we you and I were just chatting before we started recording, you mentioned the word paradigm, and this is a word that I’m very much obsessed with when it comes to health and longevity and disease prevention or reversal of diseases, optimizing energy and resilience and things of that nature.

I have become obsessed with it because I truly believe that the way that we understand health and health problems is the single biggest determinant of what kinds of solutions we will seek out, and therefore, the results we will ultimately get or not get. After having interviewed, jeez, I think maybe close to 500 different health experts at this point, I have been astounded to learn how different experts’ paradigms can be, some of which I strongly agree with, some of which I don’t agree with or I think are missing the forest for the trees.

I’ve zeroed in on this paradigm thing as being of central importance, the way we understand how human physiology works as being the single biggest determinant of the results we will get. I know you have a lot of thoughts on this as well. With that in mind, going to this meta level, what is your big picture paradigm of human health and health problems and how to overcome them?

Dr. O’Bryan: Oh, thank you. That’s a great intro question. I agree with you 100% completely that, and I think that’s the major obstacle to longevity and reducing the– there’s a gap between expected lifespan and expected healthy lifespan. The World Health Organization tells us in the US it’s 10 years. The last 10 years of life are not healthy, which means there is some type of immobilization, some type of disease, some type of dysfunction that’s substantial affecting your quality of life. You’re not healthy anymore. 10 years. We need to change how we think about our health in order to change that dynamic for the end of our life, because at the end of our life, it’s just wearing down. We’ve worn it down way too much.

If we want to avoid the wearing down process, what do I have to know? That’s what our event is all about, it’s called the Inflammation Equation, Decoding the Path to Optimal Well-Being. It took me two months to come up with this geeky title, but it really is decoding because there’s so much information. I need to do this, I need to get this, I need to try that. How do you decode this? Where do you start? This is the basic 101 for everybody. My goal is that people start thinking differently, which means a different paradigm.

Here we go, the Center for Disease Control tells us that 14 of the 15 top causes of death in the world are chronic inflammatory diseases. It’s always inflammation, always, except for unintentional injuries, accidents. Everything else is inflammation. The easiest way to understand that, we have to understand what is inflammation. Okay, so what is that? Then how does it manifest in my body?

Mrs. Patient, your immune system is the armed forces in your body. It’s there to protect you. There’s an army, a Navy, an Air Force, a Marines, a Coast Guard. We call them IGA, IGG, IGE, IGM, cytokines. There are different branches of the armed forces there to protect you. Inflammation is not bad for you. It’s necessary or we wouldn’t be alive today. Literally, we would not be here if we didn’t have inflammation protecting us.

Excessive inflammation is the problem. When we have too much inflammation, and the scientists call– The aging process, there’s so much good science now on aging, is called inflammageing. That it’s inflammation that increases your aging. The difference between your chronological age, how many years you’ve been on the planet, and your biological age, what age you function at, that difference [unintelligible 00:06:33] by the amount of inflammation you have. That’s why they call it inflammageing.

If your immune system there to protect you has too much inflammation, which increases the aging process, the question is, what is your immune system trying to protect you from? What is it? Why is my immune system activated, overly activated, trying to protect me? It’s not a mistake of nature when you have an autoimmune disease. It’s your immune system doing exactly what it’s supposed to do, trying to protect you. The question is, what is it trying to protect you from?

Just go online and type in rheumatoid arthritis and parasites. Here come all the studies of the association of parasitic infections with rheumatoid arthritis. When you get rid of the parasitic infection, all of your symptoms, the antibodies attacking your own cells, go down. There are so many examples, Hashimoto’s thyroid, it doesn’t matter what the disease is. The question is, why is my immune system activated trying to protect me? When you understand that question, it becomes the paradigm.

Why does my son have a diagnosis of attention deficit and they want me to give him Ritalin or Adderall? It’s always inflammation, without question. What is my son’s immune system trying to protect him from? Is it mercury or lead, heavy metals? Is it a food sensitivity? Just Google gluten and attention deficit. Here come the studies. You get gluten out of the diet, and in a couple of weeks, the teachers call and say, “That new medication your son is on is really working. He’s great in school.” The parents says, “Well, we’re not giving him any medication. We changed his diet. We took gluten out.”

Where is the trigger that’s activating the immune response? That’s a basic one-on-one question that no scientists can argue with. We always have to include that when we’re looking at trying to be healthier.

Potential harms of chronic inflammation

Ari: Okay. If I understand correctly, so we could see this as a homeostatic model of human health or an allostatic model of human health, where essentially the body is in sort of health homeostasis. To the extent we have environmental triggers acting on us, whether it’s environmental toxicants or pathogens or mold or poor diet or psychological stress or any number of things like that, is the extent to which our body is overwhelmed and under attack and it’s triggering an immune response and inflammation, and that inflammation, when it is chronically active or overactive, becomes a source of damage to our tissues and our cells. Is that accurate?

Dr. O’Bryan: That is exactly right. That’s exactly what it is, Ari. David Furman, who’s at Stanford and at the Buck Institute, he has the contract with NASA to figure out why our astronauts are aging so quickly in space. They figured it out a couple of years ago. It’s always inflammation.

There was this thing where the astronauts would say, “Hello, Houston, this is the shuttle,” blah, blah, blah, it says whatever they say. At Houston, they’d look at each other and say, “What did he just say?” They’d say, “Hello, shuttle, can you repeat that please?” They’d say the same. They said, “What’s wrong with– His thinking is off.” Now, they never tell the press about this, but they saw something was wrong. Their brains weren’t functioning properly. It was the amount of toxins in the air inside the shuttle. It’s the phthalates. It was the phthalates.

NASA financed the studies to look at house plants and how house plants absorb over 74% of the toxins in the air in a 24-hour period. You go to my website, the and download the handout from NASA that shows you the pictures of the plants and which chemicals they absorb. Because the nightstand next to your bed, if it’s not solid wood, it’s pressboard. Pressboard is soaked in formaldehyde and it outgasses for years minute amounts.

The sheets that you’re using and the blankets that you’re using, if they’re not organic, they’re soaked in flame retardant chemicals that outgas for years these minute amount of toxins that we’re breathing every single day. House plants absorb all that. They show that two six-inch house plants in a 10 by 10 room absorb 74% of the toxins in the air in that room in a 24-hour period.

This is not crying wolf and leaving us lost and alone. No, look, here’s what you can do. Here’s the test that will help you. Go back to your doctor, go back to your health care practitioner and say, “Hey, can we do a test on my oral microbiome? Because I just learned that I swallow a liter a day of saliva and that’s inoculating my gut. You said I’ve got all these gut problems, but what about if it’s all starting in my mouth? Is there a way that we can test the microbiome?”

I want people thinking these simple basic concepts of where are the environmental triggers coming from that are activating your immune system, trying to protect you, just trying to protect you, not going crazy. Where are these environmental triggers coming from?

Ari: Can I nitpick just slightly and

Dr. O’Bryan: Yes, please.

Ari: -a little bit play devil’s advocate? It’s not that we actually have a disagreement underneath this, it’s more I just think this would be an interesting line of questioning. Just as an example to simplify a lot of the complexity out of this, if someone takes a hammer and, let’s say, smashes their toe every day with a hammer, to what extent would it be appropriate– First of all, in response to that, there would be lots of inflammation in that damaged tissue. To what extent do we think it would be correct to say the inflammation is the problem versus hitting your foot with a hammer is the problem?

Dr. O’Bryan: Oh, that’s a really good question, and it’s very easy to answer. Inflammation is not the problem, inflammation is the response. What’s the trigger? [unintelligible 00:13:32]

Ari: Exactly.

Dr. O’Bryan: Yes, very good question there.

Ari: To some extent, in a way, chronic inflammation is problematic, but I think it can be almost like blaming the messenger. Somebody delivers bad news and now you’re mad at the messenger-

Dr. O’Bryan: That’s a really good point.

Ari: -[crosstalk] that bad news. We’re blaming the physiological, biochemical correlates of the actual root cause of the problem.

Dr. O’Bryan: That’s very accurately said, and if I’m saying inflammation’s the cause, my mistake. Inflammation is the immune response to the trigger. We have to identify the trigger. Jeff Bland, the founder of Functional Medicine, when he told us negative thoughts activate inflammation just as much as exposure to viruses or bacteria, it’s like, “What?” It’s not the inflammation, it’s the negative thoughts or it’s the relationship with that person. We have to do a reality check as to why is my immune system trying to protect me? That’s the message here.

Ari: Yes, exactly. The list of different factors that can be inducing this chronic state of inflammation are everything, as you’ve listed out in passing here, from psychological factors, stressful, negative thoughts, to environmental toxicants, to pathogens, and what else?

Dr. O’Bryan: There are some big boys, there are some big Kahunas that– If it’s the checklists, the most common source of environmental triggers is what’s on the end of your fork. That’s most common. That’s why in the world of wheat-related disorders, you get such dramatic results. Professor Yehuda Shoenfeld, when I interviewed him in Rome in December, we shared the stage together then I interviewed him afterwards-

Ari: Is he the vaccinologist? He’s written some texts on vaccines.

Dr. O’Bryan: Yes.

Ari: I have read some.

Are bacteria overload playing a role in mortality?

Dr. O’Bryan: He’s the godfather of autoimmunity. His immunology department at Tel Aviv University is world famous in training medical doctors for their PhDs in immunology. When I interviewed him, 26 of those PhD MDs, and there were many, many more, but 26 chair departments of immunology in med schools and hospitals around the world, they’re his students. This is the godfather.

When I interviewed him in December, he made a comment that just really got me thinking. I think this is one of the– When I see a study that’s a paradigm-shifting for me, I tape it on the ceiling of my bedroom. When I go to bed at night and I’ll say, “Oh, yes.” Then sometimes the middle of night, I’ve got an idea. I’m giving myself permission to think outside the box. I encourage every practitioner to do that in their own way, but give yourself permission to think a little more about this.

Shoenfeld said, “We are born 99% human,” which is accurate, there’s a little bit of bacteria in the guts of a newborn before coming down the vaginal canal in natural childbirth, where they get inoculated quite a bit, but they get a little bit of bacteria while they’re in utero. “We’re born 99% human, and we die 90% microbial.”

Ari: [chuckles] Wow.

Dr. O’Bryan: Ari, you tell me, and I could say this to you, this is the kind of conversation I have with fellow staff at IFM over dinner, usually, it’s the second bottle of wine, but are we humans with a lot of bacteria or are we bacteria having a human experience? There’s 10 times more of them than us?

Ari: Is that a gradual and slow and steady process? I would wonder if it’s greatly accelerated towards the end of one’s life when one’s immune capacities to fend off microbes declines massively and then the microbes start to really go everywhere. In fact, we used to think so much of our internal organs were sterile. Now we know that bacterias are everywhere in there. I wonder if they really take hold towards the end of human life as [crosstalk] [inaudible 00:18:24] to fend them off.

Dr. O’Bryan: That’s a really good question, and I had that conversation with Professor Shoenfeld. A child’s microbiome is pretty much determined by the age of three. You’ve got about three years to really set the base for them. Our son, unfortunately, was a traumatic emergency C-section birth. We had planned this beautiful home birth, water birth and all that, but it didn’t happen, there was a trauma. I was lucky enough to, when my wife’s water broke, I captured some of the fluid and I sent it to a lab in Denmark.

I knew what the environment was of the amniotic fluid that he was growing and developing in. Then I captured his first bowel movement, and I knew what the environment of his gut was from being born in an emergency C-section operating room. He just turned three, and we’ve done his microbiome twice now since then, and he’s perfectly normal. I know, and I’ll publish on this, for all of those C-section babies, you still can build a healthy microbiome for a child. Here’s how you do it.

I asked Shoenfeld about this, “Professor Shoenfeld, if our microbiome is pretty much set by the age of three, we can have some impact on it, but it’s difficult to have a permanent impact. It’s really a lifestyle impact on a regular basis to inoculate the microbiome after the age of three. Is it that the dance of life, really, our dance of life is the interaction between the microbiome and our human cells? Is that really the inner dance of life?”

He got this smile on his face, “Not many ask that question, Tom, but that’s exactly what the dance of life is. It’s like, how do we interact with the bacteria in our guts?” Then he told me 36% of all of the small molecules in the healthy blood are the metabolites of the microbiome. They are the messengers. They get into the bloodstream, and your bloodstream is just a highway, lots of traffic on the highway, it’s all going the same direction, but it’s just a highway. Metabolites of the microbiome, we call them short-chain fatty acids, nucleic acids, it’s the metabolites of the microbiome that are the messengers giving guidance and instruction to every function of your body.

We learned from Michael Gershon at Princeton back in 1999 and he wrote the book The Second Brain, and he told us back then, for every one message from the brain going down telling the gut what to do, there are nine messages from the gut going up telling the brain what to do. That your brain hormones called neurotransmitters, the balance of those is completely controlled by the messages from the gut. That’s why, Mrs. Patient, if there’s only one thing you’re going to do to be healthy for you and your family, focus on building a healthy microbiome. Nothing is more important than these guys that are in charge. They’re in charge. They’re sending direction to the entire body.

It’s that type of conversation that I had with scientists from around the world, these paradigm-shifting thoughts of, what’s really important? Where do we start? What’s really important? That’s our event, the Inflammation Equation, is to not overwhelm people with how dangerous this is or that is or that is, but here’s what you do, here’s where you focus to begin with.

Now, granted there’s the extreme outside of the vast majority where it’s really a nitpicky little thing. The guy who went to four different periodontists had eight years of abscesses, recurrent antibiotics because nobody could figure out what was wrong, and finally, he did an oral microbiome test and he found this very rare bacteria that’s hardly ever seen, and that xylitol actually will not allow that bacteria to reproduce. Four months of using a xylitol toothpaste and for the first time in eight years he had no more abscesses.

There’s that weird thing that’s out of the norm, but the rheumatoid arthritis, the MS, the diabetes, the Hashimoto’s, the chronic fatigue, the viral infections, the things that most of us are being assaulted with on a daily basis, this is the paradigm to hold as the base as you start approaching wanting to be healthier.

Why doesn’t the Tsimane and Moseten tribes get neurodegenerative disease?

Ari: There’s a couple of tribes in the Amazon region that have been studied a lot in recent years. They’re called the Tsimane and Moseten tribes. Have you read at all any of the emerging research in recent years on this hunter-gatherer tribe?

Dr. O’Bryan: I’ve read two studies on them-

Ari: It’s okay.

Dr. O’Bryan: -so not a lot.

Ari: It happens to be something I’ve done a deep dive on lately in writing the book that I’m working on currently. They are known for a couple of things now, just studies in the last few years have shown they are the human population with the lowest rates of heart disease ever studied and the lowest rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s ever studied. Probably, they’re also lowest rates in several other diseases, we just haven’t done the studies yet.

One of the interesting findings is that despite having exceptionally low rates of Alzheimer’s, for example, and dementia, it’s 1% of the population as compared to 11%, so there’s a tenfold difference between US and European levels of dementia compared to them, and they have the same APOE4 prevalence. This is the genetic– for the people listening, I know this, Tom, the genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s. In other words, it’s not explained by genetics. They have exceptionally low rates of heart disease, which is the number one killer for us, and it’s pretty much non-existent there.

What’s further interesting is that they have quite a high pathogen load, an infectious disease load, and they actually have some markers of systemic inflammation that are elevated. There’s some controversy in the research of researchers trying to make sense of how they could have elevated levels of these markers of systemic inflammation and yet be so low in diseases that we would normally associate with inflammation, like heart disease, like dementia, and Alzheimer’s. Do you have any–

There’s some further interesting stuff like the APOE4 gene, by the way, which we would normally think of as a bad thing that’s associated with increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Turns out has a positive side it’s been selected for because it’s associated with increased fertility and odds of having babies, and increased– I might be getting the nuance of this part wrong, but something to do with greater resistance to a high pathogen and infectious disease burden. The ones who have more APOE4 allele variants have higher capacity to resist some of these pathogens in their environment.

Speaking to the genetic trade-offs between something that’s bad for this thing, but it’s good for this thing over here, but do you have any idea of how something like that could exist, where they seemingly have high levels of at least some markers of systemic inflammation yet have such low rates of diseases that we would normally associate with high levels of inflammation?

Dr. O’Bryan: Yes, I have two thoughts on that. The first is one of the downsides of the APOE4 gene is that it escorts advanced glycation end products through the blood-brain barrier very easily. We’ve known about ages, advanced glycation end products for 30, 40 years. When you burn meat, blackened meat, when you have crust– like bread dough is really gooey and bread, but when you bake it, you’ve got a crust, and that’s advanced glycation end products.

In our society, the vast majority of foods we eat stimulate advanced glycation end products. For most people, if you have the common American diet, standard American diet. In terms of lower Alzheimer’s, one of the factors that I thought about when I heard about that low risk was, well, they have less ages. Their food is just pure, off-the-land, and what they can hunt.

The second thing is, about Alzheimer’s, Dale Bredesen told us that of the five types of Alzheimer’s, inhalation Alzheimer’s is the vast majority. 60% to 65% of all Alzheimer’s is inhalation Alzheimer’s.

Ari: What does that mean, inhalation?

Dr. O’Bryan: It’s what you’re breathing.

Ari: Meaning you’re inhaling toxins that are inducing-

Dr. O’Bryan: Exactly right. The olfactory nerves, the nerves of smell are the only nerves in the body that go back into the brain with no screen whatsoever. Absolutely no filter, no bifurcations, no screens of any type. They’re the only nerves in the body that go from the body into the brain without a screen. Why? It was a life-saving mechanism for our ancestors. They better be able to smell saber-toothed tiger right away.

Our ancestors were nomads. They followed the herds always. They would find something on the ground, they’d sniff it first to make sure it was okay, then they nibble at it, then they eat it. They had to have a very acute sense of smell. Those that did not, did not survive. Those that had a good sense of smell, they passed their genes on to their progeny. Now here we are 15,000 years later, we have those same nerves that go back into the brain.

In our society, and you’ve heard, Ari, many times, indoor air pollution in most places is worse than outdoor air pollution because of all the chemicals that we’re exposed to in our environment. That, I suspect, are a couple of the contributing factors to why Alzheimer’s and dementia is so low for them. They’re not breathing the stuff that we’re breathing every single day that has no filter and no screen.

The olfactory nerds go right back to the memory center of the brain. They go right past the hippocampus because they have to recognize right away if there’s a threat. I suspect that’s part of it. The second part is their microbiomes are like no one else’s that’s been identified in history. The diversity, the strength of the good guys is very high. There’s bad guys in there because they live out in the dirt, they’re out in the jungles, so they are exposed to a lot of bacteria, but they have a good, strong base. We go back to what Schoenfeld said, if there’s only one thing you’re going to do to be healthy, it’s build a healthy, diverse microbiome.

Ari: It’s interesting, when I interviewed Dr. Bredesen, he didn’t bring up the inhalation angle and the talk of smell. I didn’t know what you just expressed there. Interestingly enough, just a quick personal aside here, I have a couple of workers on my property here in Costa Rica where you and I both live to maintain this chunk of land and fight back the jungle constantly. We’re constantly in a bit of a battle– in harmony, but also a bit of a battle with the jungle. You’ve got to say– cut things back every now and then and say, “Hey, this is my territory.”

Dr. O’Bryan: You’re welcome up to here, but no further.

Ari: Yes, exactly. Not at this moment, but I frequently have monkeys right outside my office window here stealing berries off the tree right in front of me here.

Dr. O’Bryan: Ours go after the papaya leaves. They break the leaves off the plant. They take two bites of the stem, then they throw the leaf on the ground. I think you’re killing the trees. You know what? This is nature.

Ari: Exactly. One of the guys that’s here right now, we just had a conversation with him like two days ago. He was sad because his mom has been sick lately. We dug a little deeper with my wife, who speaks fluent Spanish, so she could serve as the translator for Spanish that was too complex for my five-year-old level of Spanish. She’s been having chronic migraines. Then he’s saying that she can’t remember things very well. I had the thought of it could be early signs of dementia. We dug deeper. She’s got some issues with– she’s overweight, she’s diabetic, things like that. She doesn’t exercise.

One of the other interesting things that we just happen to know about this family, because we also hire this guy’s dad sometimes, who is an expert in tree trimming and cutting down trees safely, and trees that are about to fall over with the wind, so he comes over here, and he happens to wear ungodly amounts of cologne, to the point where I can smell him when I’m 200 feet away. When he’s at my gate, I can smell him at the front door of my house. I’m not exaggerating, probably 200 feet away. That’s how strong the cologne smell is. If I shake his hand or even do so much as a fist bump, I have the cologne smell on me. I can wash my hands 10 times, it won’t come off. It will be on me for hours.

Anyway, that’s this woman’s husband. Given what you just said, that her husband, and she’s in her late 50s, I think, not particularly old, happens to wear the most cologne of any human being I’ve ever encountered in my life, I wonder if that might be related, given we know that there’s some nasty compounds in those artificial colognes.

Dr. O’Bryan: Ari, that is exactly the kind of thinking we are hoping we can guide all of our attendees into doing, is, “I wonder if this environmental trigger may be the because of my immune system creating inflammation,” or “Is it that environmental trigger?” That’s exactly it, right on the money. I’m hoping everyone will speak or think that way in the future. It’s a skill that you develop over time. You don’t get it right away, but if it just makes sense to you, it becomes a primary in how we think.

Our son, he got peed on by monkeys. He was on the ATV with our nanny and they stopped to look at the monkeys, and one of them climbed on the tree right above them and he peed on our son. She comes home and he smelled really bad. Immediately in the shower and some biocidin right away, but three, four days later, he had these little bumps that came across his nose. He was happy and everything, but, “Wait a minute, what’s that? That’s not supposed to be there. I’ve never seen that before. I wonder what that is,” but I realized right away, “Oh yes, the monkey pee.” All right. Then I started an anti-parasitic protocol for him right away, and the bumps were gone in about four or five days, and there’s been no other sign.

What’s the trigger? When something is out of norm, what’s the trigger? Where is it coming from? I’m giving you a minor example. Yours is a much larger impact, obvious to see kind of thing when you think that way, but that’s the way we hope everyone will begin thinking after they’ve attended this event.

Inflammation and brain health

Ari: Tom, we’ve gone down a couple of digressions here. I want to ask you, what do we need to talk about that we haven’t yet talked about before we wrap the podcast up? Where should we go from here?

Dr. O’Bryan: Oh, thank you. We’re good. I think we’re representing the main message, is if you want to be healthier, if you don’t want to have that [unintelligible 00:36:31] even if you’re healthy now in your own mind, I can guarantee you you’re not. In our brain discussion we had last time, I talked about the test, the Neural Zoomer Plus and how that is the most accurate marker of excessive inflammation in your brain. When you do that test, “Wow, my brain’s on fire.” Well, what does that mean? Well, you’re out of the normal range of inflammation in your brain, which means that you’re killing off brain cells.

By definition, you’re killing off brain cells. Well, what does that mean? It means you’re at risk of not having enough functioning brain tissue in your senior years. Is there a history of dementia in your family? Well, yes, my grandmother and my uncle. In other words, we want people to be thinking about the markers of inflammation, how do I look for this stuff, how do I explore where it’s coming from? Inflammation is not bad for you, excessive inflammation is bad for you. We all have fallen prey to our immune systems trying to protect us because of the toxicity of this world that we’re living in today.

Ari: Let me ask you this, I almost want to wrap up on that because it was such a nice note, but I have maybe one or two more questions for you. We were chatting about paradigm to start this discussion. Let’s say, just to introduce, so we talked about your paradigm, which, to a large degree, I share, homeostatic or allostatic load model of health. Let’s contrast it with a conventional medical paradigm, which for the most part is a paradigm that seeks to understand the diseases that afflict us by essentially looking at the physiological correlates and biochemical correlates of that condition at the smallest scale, which we generally view from that paradigm as the causes of the condition.

As an example, if we look inside the brain of someone who’s depressed and see a particular neurotransmitter imbalance, such as low serotonin or something to that effect, we’d say, “Oh, it’s the chemical imbalance causing the depression.” If we see somebody with plaques in their arteries, we’ll say, “Oh, this plaque seems to be getting deposited here. High LDL levels seem to be a factor that’s causing these high levels of inflammation.” We see in the brains of people with dementia and Alzheimer’s, we’ll study that and see these plaques and tangles and misfolded proteins and tau proteins and amyloid plaques and things like that.

Once we have the micro level phenomena of the physiology of the disease state, what we generally do from that paradigm is say, “Let’s go into a chemistry lab and synthesize some chemicals, make some manmade chemicals that are uniquely targeted for these specific mechanisms in the body, something that interrupts the serotonin reuptake in the brain to boost serotonin- levels, or something that blocks our LDL from going as high, something that lowers the LDL, something that lowers our blood pressure, something that is a chemical that interrupts some of the enzyme in the process of the formation of amyloid plaques.”

It’s a biochemistry centric paradigm of health that seeks out synthetic chemicals to interrupt what are perceived to be the disease process itself. With that in mind, let’s say we viewed chronic excessive inflammation as the key driver of some of these disease states. What if somebody from that paradigm said, “Well, let’s just develop a drug that interrupts this inflammation and suppresses the inflammation,” would that solve the problem for many of these diseases that are being driven by chronic excess inflammation?

Dr. O’Bryan: That’s a really good question. I think everyone could follow your line of thinking as you were voicing the question. It’s a very good question. Dr. Bredesen addressed that directly. I have two responses. The first is Dr. Bredesen identified that and he said, “We think that we can take a simple molecule and interrupt a complex compensatory mechanism in our body,” and that most often is just not the case. It just doesn’t work. That’s the first response.

The second is the concept of network medicine. That in network medicine, there is no single disease. I’ve never met anyone who’s diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that doesn’t have autoimmunity attacking other tissue at the same time. The doctors just don’t check for anything else, but when you screen looking for other tissue antibodies, they’re always there. Meaning you treat Hashimoto’s, but this person also has elevated antibodies that cause MS, but they don’t have the symptoms of MS yet.

If I’m treating the Hashimoto’s with a drug, trying to do something for that, I’m missing something– that this network is going through the entire body. An example of this, it’s a really good example, there’s a gene called the FTO gene, Frank Thomas Oscar. It’s a primary gene putting people at risk for obesity.

Ari: Just a quick note, Frank Thomas was my favorite baseball player when I was a kid.

Dr. O’Bryan: The Socks. That’s right. Of course, that’s right. I’m from Chicago, I know Frank Thomas. The FTO gene. We get one gene from our mother and one gene from our father. If you carry one FTO gene, you have a 30% increased risk of developing obesity in your lifetime compared to someone that doesn’t have those genes. If you got one from your mother and one from your father, you have a 64% increased risk of developing obesity. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s more than half the time you’re going to develop obesity.

If you’re the friend of someone who develops obesity while you two are friends, you have 171% increased risk of developing obesity. It’s networks at the emotional social level, networks, at the chemistry level, networks at the biomechanics level.

My initial training was as a chiropractor, and if you have one foot that flares out just a little bit more, if you watch your footprints in the snow or you walk through a little bit of water and then you see on the sidewalk, and you have one foot that goes out a little more than the other foot, then you’re going to have hip problems. Wait, my foot’s down there. What do you mean a hip problem? Because you’re torquing your leg, and the hip problem, the hip imbalance may give you headaches, that we are networks.

This single molecule, single symptom concept that was really established and promoted in 1908 when Rockefeller financed the legislation to teach pharmaceuticals in medical schools, that’s that concept, short-term relief does not equal long-term wellbeing.

Ari: Beautifully said. I love this concept of network medicine too. One of the other layers that I’ve been digging into a lot is there’s an interesting issue of how we think about disease that seems to be wildly disconnected from the reality in the ways that you were just alluding to with network medicine. When someone dies, they have a cause of death listed on their death certificate, or we talk about them dying of heart disease, dying of complications of diabetes, dying of Alzheimer’s or something like that.

The vast majority of people who die when they’re in their 70s or 80s or 90s have multiple diseases, not only one cause. They don’t have one specific pathology in one part of their body and the rest of them is healthy. They have widespread dysfunction and pathology in many systems of their body and many diseases. The way we think about it, the way we talk about it, the way the classification system of medicine labels things up to the because of death, it gives us a totally inaccurate portrayal of what is actually happening in that person’s body.

Even if we had a cure for that one specific disease that we say this person has that’s really causing their problems, even if we genuinely had a miracle drug cure for that one specific disease, what most people don’t realize is, well, they’ve still got like two or three other diseases in their body and in other parts of their system, so that wouldn’t solve the problem.

Dr. O’Bryan: Yes, that’s exactly right, Ari. Exactly right. It’s short-term results, long-term complications.

Ari: Tom, is there anything you want to say to wrap up here? Just about the documentary as well.

Dr. O’Bryan: Yes, thank you. The website is You register there and the trailer is six minutes long. You’ll see Dr. Terry Walls, the incredible woman who reversed her own MS.

Ari: Yes, I’ve had her on the podcast.

Dr. O’Bryan: You’ll see her in tears in the trailer because she talks about who knows how much healing is possible when you look at, where is it coming from? What are the triggers that my immune system trying to protect me is responding to? You get rid of those triggers and you start feeling better, you start having better function, you start being more human, fully functional human. I’m hoping that we’ve captured people’s interest. It’s an hour a day for eight days. It’s not going to be too long. I’m hoping everyone will take a look and see if it resonates with them.

Ari: Yes, beautiful. Tom, it is always such a pleasure to chat with you. Thank you for coming back on the podcast. I look forward to the next conversation. I’m really excited to check out the documentary myself.

Dr. O’Bryan: Thank you so much.

Ari: Thanks.

Show Notes

00:00 – Intro
00:53 – guest intro – dr tom obryan
02:10 – The current status on human health and lifespan
09:55 – Potential harms of chronic inflammation
16:00 – Are bacteria overload playing a role in mortality?
24:33 – Why doesn’t the Tsimane and Moseten tribes get neurodegenerative disease?
37:00 – Inflammation and brain health


>> Click here to gain access to The Inflammation Equation 7-part docuseries to go deeper into what inflammation truly is and exactly how to keep it in check for optimal, full-body health.

Recommended Podcasts

Like this article?

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

Leave a comment

Scroll to Top