The Link Between Inflammation and Mitochondrial Dysfunction with Madiha Saeed, MD

Content By: Ari Whitten & Dr. Madiha Saeed

In this episode, I am speaking with Madiha Saeed, MD – the founder of Holistic Mom and bestselling author of the Holistic RX. We will talk about the link between inflammation and mitochondrial health and how to start healing today!

Table of Contents

In this podcast, Dr. Saeed and I will discuss:

  • The prevalence of childhood illness in today
  • The biggest problem with modern allopathic medicine
  • The inflammation- mitochondria link
  • Common symptoms of chronic inflammation
  • The healing power of spirituality 
  • The importance of making sure the foods you put in your body support gut health

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Ari: Everyone, welcome back to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. I’m your host, Ari Whitten. And right now, I have with me Dr. Madiha Saeed, AKA HolisticMom, MD, who is a board-certified family physician, bestselling author of the Holistic Rx. Actually, I should’ve had it right in front of me to hold it up to the camera. I literally have it in the bookshelf behind me.

Dr. Saeed: I have it. Oh, that’s awesome.

Ari: The Holistic Rx: Your Guide to Healing Chronic Inflammation and Disease. She’s the director of education of Documenting Hope, writes regularly for

Holistic Primary Care and on Wellness Mama and Mommypotamus medical advisory board. She speaks internationally, igniting the world with her passion to ignite a healing revolution. And I can speak to her passion, by the way. She’s literally smiling and dancing before we’ve even started interviewing here. So she walks the walk of superhuman energy. She’s appeared in numerous prestigious holistic summits, conferences.

And in December 2018, she was one of the keynote speakers for an audience of 12,000 and has been asked to speak to the United Nations with an audience of 40,000 people. She’s a regular on the International EmmyWinning Medical TV talk shows like The Dr. Nandi Show, radio, and print media. Dr. Saeed is working on her two next books, a children’s book called Adam’s Healing Adventures. Oh, I’m excited for that one because I have two young kids, a 2-year-old and an eight months old and an international book.

Her family health expo premiers in September this year and highlights physician-approved vendors, fun hands-on activity stations, and workshops by many experts. Her exquisite and vast audience puts her in contact with the most elite of patients, including world leaders from the United Nations and Turkey. And in this presentation, which I’m very excited about, she’s going to be talking about my favorite topic, which is mitochondria and specifically the link between inflammation and how that affects mitochondrial function, which is an incredibly important topic. So I will hand it off to you, and let you jump into it.

Dr. Saeed: Oh, my gosh. Thank you so much for an honor for this time together. This is going to be fun and supercharged, right? So we’re ready for this. Yeah, this is like I have to tell you, yes, I’m super passionate about this topic. I have been there. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. And I literally, yes, I’m a family physician, but I also had severe lupus, Hashimoto’s, digestive issues, acne, eczema, joint pain, weight issues, shingles.

Ari: Are you just reading an alphabetical list of diseases?

Dr. Saeed: No, seriously. And all of them sort of came to a peak in residency. So here I am, a family physician. My brother’s an interventional cardiologist. My sister’s a PBI physician. I have a sugar daddy who’s also a physician. So all of us are doctors, but here I am with joint pain and chronic fatigue to the point where I felt like I couldn’t even lift a finger.

And that’s where I went doctor to doctor. Despite being a physician, I went doctor to doctor to doctor to see like what can I do? And I was also diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome that, like diagnosis that just basically means we have no idea. So I was diagnosed with the chronic fatigue syndrome, with all of those things. And then, later on, it was the lupus, but it was just—— I felt like I was stuck, and no matter where I went and who I spoke to, they were like, sorry, really there’s nothing we can do about this. So maybe you’re just stressed, and yes, I was stressed at this time. I was a new mom, a new wife, a new resident, all at the same time. Me and my husband were both working 80-hour workweek. But I’m like, oh, okay, so then what can I do to fix that?

And they’re like, oh, we don’t really know that either. So here, as physicians in residency or a family medicine residency, we had no idea how to deal with chronic stress. We had no idea how to deal with the chronic fatigue or even all of these other symptoms that I was dealing with. And here’s a pill for this and here’s a pill for that, but I was not there because I’m like every quarter I turn I feel like there was another chronic condition. So I’m like, there has to be something that I can do to stop this. And what is so crazy is that now that our hindsight, I looked at our entire world right now, we are living in the negative because negativity runs our lives. Negativity runs the economy because they’re not going to want me to buy the next iPhone until I get—Until they tell me all the terrible things that are wrong with the one that I already have.

And so, that’s the only way that our cycles, our hamster wheel continues to go is just by being negative and giving somebody sort of no hope. The only hope you have is in these medications. My cousin has metastatic breast cancer, and all we were really just—She was always told—And she was actually in an integrative cancer center. And they were like, really yes, you could do these lifestyle things, but your basic biggest thing is in these medics.

The prevalence of disease today

So again, trying to force people to only do this type of approach, but this is where I realized when I started looking at it that we’re not alone. Six out of every ten adults have a chronic health condition, three-fourths of all of the population will die of a lifestyle-related condition. Eleven million people will die of a bad diet.

And then our kids are getting sicker. One out of every six American children either has a neurodevelopmental problem like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, specifically like learning disorders or others, sensory processing disorders. And if we continue on the current trajectory, one out of every four children will have autism by 2033. So there’s something going on here. But we, as a doctor, I would say no, okay, what are we going to do? Here’s the medication. We don’t really have medication for autism. So we just sort of shove it under the carpet until they—Like what we’re doing right now with COVID-19.

Ari: I think the answer to all these issues is just got to be more drugs.

Dr. Saeed: Yes, seriously. That is literally, and I was like no, I’m not going to go there because those medications and those side effects not happening.

How to address the root cause of inflammation

Ari: But unfortunately, I mean, even just the frame you’re talking about, to hear an MD speaking from this frame, is a rare thing because this is not the frame that you were taught in medical school. You’re coming from a frame of this criteria. It means a diagnosis of this condition means deliver this drug or this surgery. Not to see those symptoms and say, well, what are the root causes of those symptoms, and how to address those root causes at the environmental level, the lifestyle level, the nutrition level?

Dr. Saeed: Absolutely. And we’re not looking at those root causes because we were never taught a single class of nutrition. We were not unless I missed it during maternity leave. I know enough. But I think, Ari, we were never taught a single class of stress management. We were just taught in one patient. So, my husband—I said sugar daddy—he has to see 110 patients a week for our paycheck not to go half. And we are never taught to address those underlying root causes. We were just taught in one visit—in that 15 to 10-minute visits— you’re going to address one symptom and one symptom only. And I was literally slapped on the wrist when I spent a little bit more time with the patient. So because they want us to keep us on this hamster wheel. Why? Because the fact that we don’t get paid for how many patients we heal, we get paid for how many patients we see.

And my husband has to see 110 patients because that’s where his RVU stems. And then you only get paid according to the RVUs that you make. And that’s how many patients you see. So it’s a crazy world. But then because of the lack of insight into these chronic diseases on arise, it’s affecting — our world is suffering, and it’s not even just affecting us. And then when I looked at this, I’m like, oh my gosh, but I’m looking at what science is now doing to our bodies, what science is doing to our world. I’m like what will happen to humanity if we continue living this way? Because I mean, yes, right now we have one virus. The next time we’re going to have another because we are just getting weaker and weaker from the inside out and not even just us, our planet.

And so, either we’re stuck with no hope, which conventional medicine is great for acute medicine, acute care. But when it comes to chronic care, it’s missing the boat. That’s where we have to start to introduce integrative holistic functional medicine into that picture because, with all of those combinations, healing is possible. And really because that in and of itself gives us hope. And I’ve done this with so many patients. I have two 70-year old’s and—actually, these were on United Nations. I have two 70-year-olds that had chronic pain and fatigue and was basically using a walker the entire time. And just by getting to the underlying root cause, now they’re off of all these medications. Same with rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmunities. I had this one patient with Pityriasis rubra pilaris, severe chronic pain, severe chronic fatigue.

Again, just by getting to the root cause, it improved eczema, depression, all of these symptoms to the point where again, digestive complaints, ADHD, anger, all improving, and no matter what because as functional medicine practitioners, we are sort of the practitioner of last resort. So that’s fun for me because then they are really dedicated to fix this problem and really, they’ve tried all these other approaches that have missed the root cause. And so, that is what we really got to figure out. So what is integrative functional medicine? What is holistic medicine is basically all the same that instead of looking at all of these conditions as separate entities, we look at it as a whole approach and getting to the root cause? And that usually is the inflammatory response that causes these symptoms, but then to figure out what is causing that inflammatory response.

And what’s cool is that once you heal one symptom, once you lower the overall inflammation, you optimize your mitochondria to work so much better. And that in and of itself will help to heal and improve, not just one symptom, but then all of them simultaneously. But then what is inflammation, right? If we’re going to talk about—— Let’s figure this out first, and then we’ll go into like the mitochondrial aspect of it. But inflammation really actually means fire inside. It’s something that we’re all familiar with. It’s a fierce lifesaving reaction that occurs when your body’s immune system tries to fight off infection, heal injuries, or protect you from disease. And there’s two main types. So there’s acute inflammation, and that lasts for a short time. Everything looks good. Yeah, it serves a healthy purpose. Yay, all good. But then too much of a good thing cannot be so great.

And that is your systemic inflammation gradually destroys this beautiful masterpiece that we were born with. It’s a hidden smoldering fire created by your body’s immune system as it tries to fight off life’s daily exposures to unhealthy food, the stresses, toxins, allergens, overgrowth of bad bacteria or bugs, and even low-grade infections. So these triggers and everything is controlled, everything looks great. Everything’s working good, and cytokines are an important part of fighting this infection and cancers. And it’s really important for determining friend versus false. So when properly functioning, everything remains contained and great to go.

How mitochondria are affected by inflammation

But with overexposure of these triggers, it goes into overdrive, destroying everything in its pack, including the mitochondria, because the mitochondria now is like the energy source for ourselves. And that one is it’s like this powerhouse and these little factories that hold hundreds to thousands in each cell of the mitochondria.

And what happens is that these take the food that we eat and convert them to energy, which is known as ATP. And this energy is then used to support our everyday bodily functions. And healthy mitochondria are super important for overall health and wellbeing. But the mitochondria are really—— They are able to perceive signals of inflammation that initiates danger by activating and managing the innate immune system. So the mitochondria can easily be damaged through uncontrolled oxidative stress that can then degrade the protein, the memory of the DNA of the mitochondria.

So when the mitochondria aren’t functioning properly, our metabolism decreases. It leads to obesity, inflammation as inflammation interferes with the job of the mitochondria to even burn fat and even makes fat loss really difficult. So basically, it can affect every part of your body, and this overall inflammation can then lead to autoimmunities and cancer.

And because remember that the mitochondria also end up when they make the ATP, they’re also producing a byproduct like reactive oxygen species, like a type of free radical. And so, normally what should be happening is that it’s able to control it because a little bit of that is okay. But besides for like the natural processes that your body’s still able to function, but now when you add in like smoking and extra inflammation and all of these other things, that can lead to a decreased function of the mitochondria leading to more oxidative stress that can cause more problems.

So I hope that didn’t confuse anybody there because it’s so super important.

So at least what we can try to do—— Yes, we all are going to age, right? Because that can decrease some of the mitochondrial function, but at least the other pieces that we can control like the inflammation that we’re dealing with on a daily basis or the chronic inflammation, all the triggers like stress and lack of sleep and environmental pollutions and blood sugar imbalance, all of those that we can control.

So getting to chronic inflammation, remember what’s really super powerful is people are like, oh my gosh. What’s going on here? I feel like I’m so tired. I can’t make the right decisions. I’m just like going for that chocolate Oreo instead of—But this is where really educating the person to know that—I’m pretty one little step to everything that we’re going to talk about now. Each step that we take, well, actually, there’s two main pieces in decision making, and that’s the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. And you need both of them to work appropriately to make a good decision. So everything that we’re going to talk about will, one, help your decision making and will help your mitochondria. So, therefore, we’ll actually help you in the right direction. And so, all of these I call it the foundations of good health, which is your digestive health and detoxification and the four Ss: stress, sleep, social and spiritual health.

And all of these can actually weaken the mitochondria. And also, we can make connection between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. So if we just start with just one of these a day even, it can really collaboratively, really make a powerful impact on how you feel today. So I know because I know this is overwhelming. So I want to go through these steps one by one, and empower you with that this can all be easy, time-, cost-effective, and you don’t need anything. You can just start with whatever you have in your house today. So how are we going to extinguish those flames, right? Because we know that we have this inflammatory response that is causing havoc. So how are we going to extinguish that by finding the root cause, and everybody’s root causes are completely different?

So let’s go. So when I go through these, you want to look into yourself and say, okay, where am I deficient in these different pieces? And specifically, I like to start off all of my patients. And I think this is where I was a little bit different than all the other doctors because spirituality, we do not want to touch with a 10-foot pole and in resident, I’m like, no, that’s like taboo. Like you’re saying what? But it is really important because we’re mind, body, soul. And so, the negativity that we were given we know that there’s spiritual health in and of itself can improve your blood circulation, improve digestion, it can you help detoxify, improve the immune system, improves sleep and pain, that overall then helps everything else in every cell of your body. But there is gratitude in and of itself—gratitude and meditation and all these things. 

Ninety percent of our subconscious is governed by our 10%. Thoughts and actions are governed by 90% of our 10%, which is our subconscious. If our subconscious specifically with the media or like everything, what we’re seeing now specifically, with all of the havoc, you turn the news on, and it’s like havoc, havoc, havoc, but all of these pieces are leading to a subconscious that’s negative. And we need to change it to being more positive because they’ve done studies where when you’re frustrated, your heart rate variability is all over the place. But when you live a life of appreciation, your heart rate variability is a nice Steinway. So it’s super powerful. And I felt like I’ve been doing this with every single patient I’ve seen over the last 13 years, almost every patient.

And I have them start off with gratitude because they have done studies after studies with how beneficial gratitude is and optimism—how it can lead to optimism. So immediately when you wake up in the morning, say ten things that you’re thankful for. Super powerful, super easy, something you can start right now. Then we have your social health because remember social health is super important and helps you. Love does heal. It really does. And specifically, it improves your immunity; it increases IgA. And what are we going to do for that? Obviously, keep people around you that are going to love you, lift you up, not drag you down—all of those fun stuff.

Then we have your sleep. Oh my gosh, how important is sleep? Because while we sleep, our body doesn’t consume much energy, leaving more energy for our body to remove toxins, make hormones, fight infections. But if we fail to get enough rest, guess what? It’s not able to complete those important tasks. And then you have now excess toxins, excess inflammation, and then hormonal imbalances. So, therefore, improving sleep is a really important way to boost immunity and mitochondrial function.

Then the next piece of that puzzle is stress. Oh my gosh, stress, stress. All right, so when I literally was going doctor to doctor, they’re like, oh, you’re just stressed. I’m like I know I’m freaking stressed. But how am I going to fix it? And I already tried all the sex. That didn’t work, but the thing is it’s really super important because we know that stress contributes significantly to inflammation. And it sorts of wears you down over time, and it messes your hormone levels. It triggers leptin and insulin resistance. It leads to high cortisol levels leading to more inflammation than we have. It also, like your gut-brain connection, because it kills off all of those good bacteria, gets replaced by more bad bacteria. It can really negatively affect the microbiome, and even suppresses the secretory IgA, which is an immune molecule of the immune system. So again, then you release adrenaline or epinephrine into the gut and making the lining even thinner, making it more permeable, leading to leaky gut inflammation.

So stress is really important. 80% of the complaints that come to primary care physicians are due to stress. And so it does the body no good. And what we now need to do is we have to either—Because in residency, all we were taught was bang your head here multiple times until you fall unconscious. And if you’re still stressed, repeat the process. Like literally, that’s what we have been taught in residency. So how are we supposed to help anybody else if we have no idea how to help ourselves?

But this is where studies have shown the benefit of getting out in nature, meditation, yoga, exercise in the benefit of helping your immune system and mitochondrial function. Then we have your digestive health. So digestive health and detoxification. Let’s do this. Yay, my favorite time. Who doesn’t like to talk about food? So whenever you talk about food, there is so many different philosophies out there, and you can get one fight against the other fight. But again, we go back into the negative. We’re all fighting about all the things that all of us have different, not the same.

Ari: I’m going to support you on whatever you’re going to say because I am a vegan carnivore.

Dr. Saeed: And that’s a vegan carnivore. Oh, awesome. I had to think about that for a second. No, but that’s a thing. Instead of focusing on all of the pieces that we have different, we’ve got to focus on the pieces that we have similar. And that is all of you want to make sure that the food heals your gut, helps balance your insulin and your glucose and hormone levels and is the most nutrient-dense foods for you. So those are basically like—— That’s what we really want to accomplish with a vegan diet, with a carnivore diet, whatever diet you choose to follow. And I’m not going to specify this diet is better for you because everybody is different. But we just want to make sure that the foods that you’re putting in your body help heal the gut bacteria, keep them all healthy and happy, balance your insulin and glucose levels, and are the most nutrient-dense foods for you.

Because what happens when we eat? We have 70% to 80% of our immune system is in the gut. We have all a hundred trillion bacteria that are responsible for digestion, immunity, energy, gene regulation, and also like mood and behavior, 90% of your serotonin, 50% of your dopamine. And over time, if everything’s working well, you have these nice tight junctions that make sure that stuff stays out that needs to be staying out. And that stuff stays in that needs to be staying in. But over time, when you have artificial foods and junk foods and chronic stresses and all of these impurities and just the chronic infections, so all of these things can actually let things through that should not, kill off the good bacteria, gets replaced by bad bacteria. Let things through that should not be getting through. 70% to 80% of the immune system is like, hey, I’m going to attack you because you’re not supposed to be here.

And that leaves immune complexes all over the body. So, therefore, you have fibromyalgia, or if it goes to your brain, it can cause depression, anxiety. If it goes to your adrenals, it can cause more adrenal fatigue-type issues. But over time, it really destroys it. And what we now need to do is we got to improve, again, get rid of the stuff that most people are saying get rid of. And that is, I have to get them off artificial sugars. And there’s a lot of sensitivities out there that a lot of people have, but again, not everybody is the same, but this is what I like to start off with my people. So no grains, no dairy, no sugar, no processed foods. Get all the chemicals out. For most people, replace with tons of vegetables, clean protein, healthy fats. I don’t care what kind of protein you want to choose, whatever best works for you.

So here we have different types of healthy fats. And then we have to add like probiotics and prebiotics, which are like your onions and your leeks and your garlic, all those, and spend time in nature, getting out there, getting more like repopulating the gut. That’s what I try to do with my kids. Run outside and go get dirty. I don’t care if it goes into your mouth. It’s okay. It’s organic. Just repopulate, right—repairing it with different types of products. And then gut repairing with supplements. Rebalancing is really important. And that is one of the key pieces. Again, just like what we talked about, the rest of the foundations of good health, the social, spiritual, mental, exercise, sleep, and environment. So that was the why the pure foods matter with the gut health, but this is another critical piece that I feel like a lot of people do not—

How our hormones play a role in fatigue

Yes, we’re working on our gut health. We’re doing all these things appropriately, but why am I still freaking tired? Or what’s going on here still? And a lot of it has to do with our hormones. And specifically, when we say hormones, it isn’t really about light but insulin because insulin helps regulate blood sugar levels. And normally what happens is that we eat something, it goes into our body. Our cell needs it for energy. But it can’t enter the cell unless it has a key. And that key is released from the pancreas effectively. And that goes into the bloodstream, opens the door, insulin opens the door with its key. And then the glucose comes in, and now everything is super healthy. But over time, specifically with the processed foods that we’re eating—Cornflakes raises your blood sugar level higher than sugar does.

So the more processed these foods are, the higher they raise your blood sugar level. And now you add on top of some of the processed foods that we’re eating. Now add the chronic stresses. Now add on top of like— So no matter what, like you add on all of these different things and then environmental toxins that numb your insulin. So now you have way too much sugar levels, sugar, in your body or your glucose in your body, or your cells are like you’re always there. I don’t need to talk to you anymore because it’s constantly there.

And your key starts to like I can’t keep on moving this. Like it gets dull. Your cells stop listening to it. The key doesn’t work. So now you’re in a state called insulin resistance, and this insulin resistance can actually lead to brain fog, sugar crashes, carb cravings, acne, and weight gain, and even fatigue, where you’re just like specifically when those like midday slumps, you’re like, oh, I’m so exhausted. I can’t keep. I have to take a nap. And that in and of itself, we’re starting to see in kids where you’re seeing now kids are severely fatigued and just can’t move. They need to take a nap every day—older kids, obviously. When you’re young, you want them to take a nap, but you know what I mean. As they get older, you’re seeing this like with kids, and on top of that, that then leads to belly weight.

Now we have leptin, which is a hormone for satiation and leads to overeating. So that just continues on that cycle. So then the next thing is we have to remember that you’re like, oh my gosh, is this expensive? You are telling me to eat real food. Is that way too expensive? We have to recognize that the standard American diet we’re literally eating every hour, every couple hours. We’re literally told like eat six meals a day, which may be for some, okay. But then most of us don’t really need a lot of that, depending on if you are severely adrenal fatigued, then you really got to see what you are able to tolerate and what your mitochondria and things are able to tolerate. But for the most part, when you start eating more nutrient-dense, you actually eat less often, and you spend less on food quantity, which is really awesome.

So here like for me, cost-effective, this is what I feed my—I have four boys. So believe me, I do not want to make—I don’t want to sit in the kitchen all day long. So I want to make sure their hormones are balanced. And so then I don’t have to stay in the kitchen, and they get all the nutrition that they need. And then I don’t have to deal with temper tantrums. Yay, that’s me. 

So this is where remember the foods that increase eating are the cheap processed foods. Well, the things that decrease eating are like the real whole foods. The real foods actually decrease the amount of eating. So actually, it’s more cost-effective that way because now you have less hospital bills, and you’re spending a little the same on groceries, but sort of recap. So we need to eat to live, to nourish our mitochondria, to balance our insulin levels, and help heal our gut.

And that is vegetables, clean protein, healthy fats, some fruit, making sure you’re hydrated appropriately. And then also, the next main piece, and this is just the last piece of it is the toxins because we are living in a world filled with toxins. Like literally, it’s like one of those like scary videos, everything like scary. Yeah, it’s crazy. Most of these toxins are invisible. And with regular exposure, toxins can slowly accumulate in the body, placing a heavy burden on the liver. And that’s the organ that’s responsible for getting rid of those toxins. So when it’s overwhelmed and can’t eliminate the toxins, now the liver tends to store it, and it’s unable to do his job. And then you have decreased inflammation, further increasing it, leading to more oxidative stress. Like it messes up with the—It messes the mitochondrial function.

The toxins make your body numb to insulin and leptin, increasing insulin resistance, preventing one from losing weight, heart disease, diabetes, strokes, and can even turn our genes on and off. Like it affects our epigenetics. It’s crazy, powerful. It inflames the gut leading to inflammation and leaky gut. So this is where there’s so many endocrine disruptors in the house. There’s so many things like right now, specifically like—Don’t worry about the things you can’t control because that will drive anybody crazy. So we got to think about things that we can control. Slowly swapping out the toxic things for the cleaner things, or working on your own detoxification, sweating it out. And making sure that you’ve saunas or—In my house, we do regular Epsom salt baths. Then we do hot and cold showers, different—

Ari: Squeeze in there at the same time in a giant bathtub for time—

Dr. Saeed: I do. Seriously, I use it as an excuse for detoxification, which it is, but the thing is mostly, I’m like, I need some peace and quiet.

Ari: You guys go do your three-hour Epsom salt bath.

Dr. Saeed: The louder, the better. And obviously, making sure that we’re eating to detoxify. So those are the foods that have sulfur and fiber and keep your body out the line, and clean up your home. Clean up what you can like the cookware and the makeup and the filtered water. Just start slowly, one step at a time. And then there are like—In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need some supplements, but in an imperfect world, which we’re sort of living in now because of the fact that our nutrition is not optimally—we can’t get it all through the soil because the soil has been depleted—and so sometimes we need this just for a boost.

And that’s where Cod liver oil or vitamin D, magnesium, Omega 3, probiotics, specific supplements. But really sometimes they’ll even need mitochondrial support, with nutrients like B vitamins, vitamin C, E, iron, magnesium, selenium, and so much more, which are all really important in producing ATP. We can try to get a lot of those through our foods to really better aging, and to optimize, to help fight those free radicals. So like we just get tons of antioxidants as best as possible, but sometimes the things that are harder to get food like resveratrol and CoQ10 that somebody might need—

But remember, I don’t really start off with all these. I really take it one step at a time with patients. Really layer things in because the foundations of good health are super important. And then you add in like, okay, so what are the other missing pieces? Either these things of the Holistic Rx that are missing and then we might need some testing just to make sure what else is going on. I really start off with some of the basic labs, and over the last 12 years of doing functional medicine, integrative holistic functional medicine, I’ve noticed that most people will improve with just some simple lifestyle approaches with getting to your labs, fixing your deficiencies, trying to figure out where your individual deficiencies may be.

And then if still not, then we can go in allergy testing and heavy metals and SIBO and gut and infections and methylation, and then extra things that we can do. So there’s so much hope. And I know this is all overwhelming. You’re like, well, I can’t even get off the couch. You want me to do all this stuff? What are you talking about? Like, I remember I was there. I have been in your shoes. I barely could just like do my normal routine, let alone think about totally changing up my lifestyle.

The most critical factor for success when starting your healing journey

Ari: Yeah, if I can just mention one thing. I love this paradigm, this conceptual framework, that you’re presenting. It’s very similar to the one that I’ve built out. And you’re very much the same style of thinker that I am. You’re a big picture thinker and a systems thinker. So like how do all the different pieces fit together and where do they converge, and how do they converge and so on and where can we interrupt these vicious cycles and transform the downward spirals of pathology into upward spirals of improved energy and improved health and improved cell function, improved mitochondrial function.

I love it. And yet I know people listening to this have the same anything that I get when I present things in the same style is people are like, whoa, this is like—There’s so many new things. Where do I begin? So yeah, I know you’re about to segue into this, but yeah. I just want to speak to the fact that I know a lot of listeners are feeling that way. I get the same response when I present this information. So it’s super important to just not try to do everything at once.

Dr. Saeed: No, that’s too much. It’s too overwhelming. It’s about the journey, not the destination. We want to keep that in mind, but we don’t want to look at the bigger picture because sometimes that may be overwhelming for people. I mean, in my house, I look at it today. I wake up, and I’m like, what changes could I do today with the least steps? And how can I optimize myself and taking it one step at a time, one product at a time, just starting off?

Sometimes you can just start off with gratitude. I find that’s super powerful. It’s like if you can’t do anything, just start with gratitude. Immediately when you wake up in the morning, say ten things that you’re thankful for. And then you can go to like the different types of foods, and you just want to make some easiest swaps—one thing at a time.

So if you want to just start off with your sugar, just go to maybe honey or dates or different types of things. Okay, so I have to completely be honest. I live in a family of eight, and so it’s me, my children, and my in-laws. So I’m in a traditional household, even though I was born and raised in America, but my husband’s from back home. And so, my in-laws live with me and guess who gets up doing mostly cooking? I’m getting my boys now to take over, but I’m doing these cooking, and now everybody shows up on my house on the weekends. So that goes from eight people to 20 people, give and take, a couple of times a month. So now I completely understand you. So I know what overwhelm feels like, but this is where I had to start off with one—

And it’s that journey, not the destination. And remember each one, like just starting with gratitude that can already start to form some of those connections between the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex. And then the other things like sugar, like, okay, let’s try it. Maybe that’s too difficult. Try the different types of chips. I found that’s a little bit easier. Instead of the Fritos and all those other processed chips, let’s go to an easier type, which is equally delicious because now I have tried it. I do cooking demonstrations for hundreds and thousands. If I can do it, you guys can do it, and they are delicious. So find like a sweet potato chip or cassava flour chip, or even an almond flour that are so delicious and seed flours. There’s so many different alternatives out there, and that’s just one easy switch you want to make.

Ari: I see you have the Siete chips.

Dr. Saeed: Oh, my God. They are so good.

Ari: They are too good.

Dr. Saeed: They are too good. That’s why this is just like—— We do taco shells. Literally, the kids are like yeah, we get tacos today even though it’s mostly vegetable, and I put broccoli sprouts in there. I put cauliflower in there—all of these things in there. You can find it, too. So it’s not like we’re missing out. We’re just replacing with healthier alternatives. And I have shown people like some carbs substitutes. If I can do two-layer cakes with almond flour, anybody can do it. And you can get everything that you really love. Yes, I have these taco shells over there pictured, and that’s what my kids eat. When we come home this Tuesday like lunch, we’re going to have like butternut squash soup, or we’re going to have greens, and then we’re going to have this. But all of this was super easy. You just want to start with one simple switch. And when I can make these brownies here in the middle, these brownies I can make 200 mini muffins for $5.

And literally, the muffins take time, but you can just stick it in a sheet. So what I do is I make the cake. Now, guess what? I got breakfast or dessert for the kids for the rest of the day, and I just cooked it. I just really mixed five ingredients together, and it was super simple. But if you can’t do that, start with the different products that are already available for you to do. So just making easy swaps that are equally delicious, like there’s chocolates and everything that you want.

So the choice is yours because you deserve better health. You deserve exponential energy to accomplish all of the amazing things that you were meant to do. I can’t even imagine what you would be able to accomplish if you are feeling very good. We got to start now. This is super powerful. Think about everything you have accomplished. Now add in the energy, but add in the better clarity of the mind or lower joint pain or all of that. You can even imagine what you’d be able to accomplish. So let’s do this together.

It’s easy, time-, cost-effective. It’s healing. It’s super doable. You just got to make easy swaps starting off with gratitude. Guess what? That’s free.

Gratitude is free. Social health, if you have to pay for your friends, then we got to find different friends. Stress management, meditation, there’s so many apps, and there’s so many YouTube videos that are free that you can start now, but just find one thing that will give you the least stress because we don’t want it. Remember, stress also leads to 80% of the complaints that come to primary care physicians. So you want to start with just one thing, and gratitude starts there. Getting back to optimal health, lower inflammation, optimize the mitochondria are all these simple techniques that you can start today. I have lots of infographics on my website.

Remember to talk to a practitioner that can help you tailor these specific regimens for you because remember there’s blood work, and there’s so many others. If this doesn’t work, there’s so much hope with other modalities. And that’s where there’s so much hope. Like those simple things and there’s homeopathy and acupressure and acupuncture and bodywork and energy medicine and biofeedback. Literally, it goes on and on and on. And that’s what I’ve tried to do with my book is I really put the best of integrative holistic functional medicine all in like one source covering over 80 conditions for all ages because I’m like—— I remember when I was exhausted, I just needed like, oh my God, where is it? What do I need to do?

Ari: It’s a great book, by the way. I mentioned at the beginning that I have it. I highly recommend it if you’re listening.

Dr. Saeed: Thank you.

Ari: So, having said this is so much information. It’s so much to take in. I want you to do just a quick 30-second recap, a high-level summary of the key idea of how all of these pieces of the puzzle that you mentioned tie into mitochondria and energy. And then from there, we’ll just recap maybe one or two or three of the practical big takeaways that you want people to start putting into action.

Dr. Saeed: Absolutely. So remember that we need to—Your mitochondria already has way too much work than it needs to do. It needs to take all and produce that energy. And we don’t want anything to slow it down. So yes, aging will naturally slow it down. But specifically, the things that we can do to lessen the burden on the mitochondria, the better. And if we can because remember over time that they produce less ATP. Sometimes, specifically when you add more damage on it, they produce less ATP, more of the free radicals, and that contributes to more damage and more inflammation that can then snowball like everywhere to every organ. And so, we need to make sure that we help push the mitochondria in the right direction. It’s like, you know what? I’m going to help you do this. But the way that we’re going to do that is we’re going to support it. And we’re going to lower the inflammation that we can to optimize its function.

Because remember things like all of these triggers that we talked about, lack of sleep, environmental pollution diets rich in refined sugar, can lead to imbalances that can then weaken the mitochondria further. So we want to think about those foods and those practices that will help to support every cell of the body, including the mitochondria. And then, when you start doing that, it will start to lower the overall inflammatory response, giving your mitochondria time to, oh, finally, I can breathe and helping it like kickstart back into action. And so, really start—I call it the foundations of good health, and that is your digestive health and your detoxification and your four S’s: stress, sleep, social, and spiritual health. Because when we do that, it really empowers our bodies to take care of and help to build stronger mitochondria.

Ari: Beautiful. And I want to just personally—You mentioned the gratitude practice that you talked about. I think it’s so easy to brush something off like that as, oh, that’s just the simple thing. What’s that going to do? Say ten things that I’m grateful for every morning, but I think one of the things that’s blown me away because years ago that might’ve been how I would have reacted to somebody saying something like that, but having actually done it and committed to a simple practice like that, that you do every day—in my personal life, every morning, every evening—it really does start to rewire your brain after a few years where you become more positive overall. You become more resilient to stress and less easily disturbed with stress. You sleep better, especially if you do it before bed, it changes your physiology and gets you out of stress mode.

And the simple little thing like that, the simple little practice starts to cascade and trickle into all of these other magical effects that really rewire your brain, rewire your hormones, and your physiology, your mitochondria in a really positive direction. And so, for people listening, don’t brush off simple little practices like that.

Dr. Saeed: No, it’s super powerful.

Ari: The basis of superhuman energy of amazing health is really layering in a whole bunch of little kindness like that so that they become your daily routine.

Dr. Saeed: Absolutely. And do it with the family. I mean, in my house, we do the grateful song every day. Yes, I know it’s crazy, but really especially from 12, 9, 7, and 4. So we do that. “I would like to thank you for our eyes. Thank you for our ears. Thank you for our nose. They are a beautiful day to change the world.”

Ari: I love that. That’s great. I’m going to start doing that with my kids.

Dr. Saeed: Oh, it’s so much fun. So these are the things I’ve done tons of videos on. I’m using this time right now to really empower our children and our families to be the next leaders. And to show how these little itty bitty things make a huge difference. And they know that as soon as they start complaining, they’re like, oh, mamma, I got to up them gratitude. So yes, it’s super powerful.

Ari: Beautiful. Dr. Saeed, thank you so much. This has been awesome. I absolutely love your energy on a personal note. I just have to say you’ve brought the most beautiful energy like just vibrant, smiley, happy, vitality of any speaker I think I’ve ever interviewed.

Dr. Saeed: Wow, no, you should see me in person.

Ari: Nice, when I can see you more than just the shoulders up. And I can see the full—

Dr. Saeed: [inaudible]

Ari: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. I’ve loved this. I definitely want to recommend everybody to get your book off Amazon. And where can people follow your work? Do you have a website, or do you work with people one-on-one? What would you like to let people know about?

Dr. Saeed: Yes. One, I can be found on HolisticMom, MD, so Facebook, Instagram, and then I do have a free gift because remember this can be overwhelming for people. And that’s like my free healing bundle. So like shopping lists and recipes and things like that, that show what a healing week looks like, what a healing day looks like, just help people envision this because I feel like when they can envision it, they can really become it. So I really help them with that. That can be found on my website. And I have tons of great things coming up. I’m going to—Like I already created like a hundred infographics that I’m going to bring out this year to really simplify things. So I would really go—That’s a great way to connect.

Ari: Beautiful. Well, thank you again for sharing your knowledge. This was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it.

Show Notes

The prevalence of disease today (03:45)
How to address the root cause of inflammation (05:05)
How mitochondria are affected by inflammation (10:55)
How our hormones play a role in fatigue (24:44)
The most critical factor for success when starting your healing journey (34:14)


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