Problems With Modern Functional Medicine Approaches, Lab Tests, & Supplementation w/ Dr. Bryan Walsh

Content By: Ari Whitten & Dr. Bryan Walsh

In this episode,  I am speaking with Dr. Bryan Walsh, a board-certified naturopathic doctor, an expert in biochemistry and physiology, and – in my opinion – one of the most brilliant minds in the whole natural health and functional medicine space. We’re talking about some of the biggest challenges with modern functional medicine approaches, lab tests, and supplementation, and what we can do to change it. 

Table of Contents

In this podcast, Dr. Walsh and I discuss:

  • Today’s fundamental driver of disease – that has nothing to do with diet, genes, hormones, or specific biomarkers.
  • The dominant paradigm of modern natural medicine (and why it’s a mistake).
  • Knowledge vs behavior. Which one is the problem…and how do you fix it?
  • Walsh’s urgent message to the functional medicine and natural health community.
  • Supplements – when they’re helpful and when they’re harmful.
  • The problem with isolating and synthesizing beneficial compounds found in nature.
  • Why Dr. Walsh recommends being a ‘late adopter’ of new health trends and his #1 rule for living your best, most joyful life.

Listen or download on iTunes

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Ari: You’re such a biochemistry wiz. It’s so funny that we could probably go down a rabbit hole if I could say, talk to me about bilirubin and talk to me about this biochemistry marker and hemoglobin A and C, and this marker of glucagon and yada yada yada and you could talk for an hour on each of those things, but we’re actually going in the opposite direction here. We’re zooming out big picture, health context. I want to go even bigger picture than where we were just at with purpose and human connection.

I’m curious if you agree with me, but I think the single most egregious example where the natural health and functional medicine community has moved in the wrong direction is they’ve moved in the direction of kind of like a green allopathy, like operating within the conventional medical allopathic model but just replacing prescribing drugs with prescribing supplements or prescribing this diet, or tracking your macros or all those things you just mentioned, this hormone, that hormone, and supplements for every hormone and neurotransmitter.

It seems to me that almost all of the chronic disease burden that we’re dealing with in the world today is a result of disconnection from nature, disconnection from our ancestral way of life, disconnection from what we were just talking about, a community, a tribe where you have a meaning and a purpose, the loss of those connections seems to be the fundamental driver of disease in the modern world and yet so much of what practitioners are doing right now is not to move people in direction of reconnecting with those things but is really just a pill for every ill just instead of prescribing drugs. Prescribing supplements for this neurotransmitter, that hormone. This gland, and that gland. That’s what I perceive to be the biggest flaw in the natural health function of medicine space right now. I’m curious if you agree with me and what your thoughts are on that.

Dr. Walsh: I don’t know if I’d call it a flaw. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Again, if you pose that same question to 10 different people that each have biases, they’ll say, “Well, toxins.” It’s clearly toxins that are causing all these chronic diseases and there’s a bunch of papers to suggest that. We didn’t have any toxins back however many years ago. Then other people will say, the vitamin D people, “We’re inside all the time so we don’t get sunlight so we don’t get vitamin D. We used to and that’s why we’re unhealthy.”

Then there’s the whole food people. Organic soils, crop rotations, they’d say, it was that. They’d say, “We’re not moving anymore.” That exercise person would say, “Well, it’s because we’re getting less–” It’s all those things. It’s the community, it’s being outside, it’s movement. It’s whatever spiritual connection that we might have had or the perception of ourselves in the world that we live in. You touched upon this before, man. A, to tell people.

People don’t want to hear, “You need to get outside more. Get some fresh air. Frolic in nature. Run around with bare feet in the ground.” All those things. They want to hear like, “No, no. I already do that. I take my hikes. I want to know what diet to follow. What macros should I follow? What supplements can I take? I’m positive I have Candida. Find Candida in my body.”

The problem with lab tests

Ari: Can you run a super-comprehensive lab panel on me that will identify my unique biochemistry and tell me the best supplements and diet that are unique to my biochemistry and my genes?

Dr. Walsh: Genetic testing really screwed all that up quite honestly. I don’t want to get into all that but the claims that are made about those tests and what you can tell from somebody. I don’t think people want to hear that, A and B, how is the practitioner going to charge for that. “Okay, thank you that’s going to be $500 just go ahead and get outside for about an hour a day.”

Wait a minute, I charge you $500 to tell you to go outside and connect with nature again and to sleep better but then and this is how we mess this up. Then we’re going to get the grounding rod to stick in the ground so that the mattress that we’re on– I’m not saying it’s good or bad. I’m just saying that becomes the distraction. I’m not grounded when I sleep so I have to be grounded. The EMFs are screwing up and when I do this, I will be healthy.

I don’t want to say it’s a flaw of the industry and listen, I remember– I don’t know how long ago it was learning about white willow bark and the salicylic acid that’s natural in that and I was like, “Wait a minute, someone has a headache taking aspirin versus white willow bark doing the same thing.” It’s like I said, instead of taking this beta-blocker, why don’t you take this instead of taking this? That’s been going on for a long time. That is not new by any means and I had a problem with that one way back when I was first learning this because it didn’t seem to be any different.

It was the same “treat this for that” kind of mentality. Listen, we really like to have a scapegoat. In the body, it’s usually the adrenal glands. We love to blame a thing. In politics, it’s whatever, in religion, it’s this. We love to point a finger because then it makes it easy for us because then we have a finality, we have an answer. I don’t think it’s the industry’s problem that they do that. Because I think if it is, where does it start.

Patients are demanding tests and demanding the latest supplements even though they’ve tried every single one in the book. I had a lady one time, she gave me 200 page PDF of lab tests that she’s taken, 200 pages. She submits these things to me. I’m going through this, I’m like, “What test have you not run?” I’ve had people handwrite the supplements that– we have 10 supplements, have been taken in the past 10 years and it says, “When you see attached,” then you know that you’re in a big problem. Four eight and a half by 11 pieces of paper handwritten with all the supplements that somebody has taken.

That’s what they’re currently taking. I would ask this person, “Well, what about this?” “Oh, I tried that, it didn’t work for me.” At some point, when you’ve taken every lab test, when you’ve literally tried every single supplement, when you’ve tried every diet, and you’re doing all those right things. I have so many patients that are eating right, they’re exercising, they’re doing all the right stuff, man. All the things that we’re told we’re supposed to do, but they don’t feel well because there’s some other missing piece.

People are demanding these things. Practitioners want to give what they’re asking for. You’re coming in and you want to test and you want supplements and I’m going to tell you to go walk outside barefoot. That’s your prescription for the next 30 days. Will be like, “Why did I just pay for that?” I think it is a perspective issue of both practitioners and patients alike as to what it is that they’re looking for, what there is they’re willing to do, and what they consider to be. I agree with you, but I don’t think somebody should charge for that advice. That’s a five page book, go outside, try to live with some kind of purpose. You know what I mean?

Ari: It is and it isn’t. Here’s why I somewhat disagree with you. I agree with the big picture of what you’re saying. For example, my next book is on sunlight. It’s a 300 page book on the benefits of sunlight and the mechanisms of action beyond the vitamin D story of how do sunlight interact with the human body. I’ve spent a lot of time already educating people on that subject, making videos and writing on it, and making for my private audience. With the energy blueprint members, I spent a lot of time educating on that.

I cannot tell you the amount of people that, of course, they’ve heard people say, “Hey vitamin D is good. Get your 15 minutes a day of sun exposure.” The amount of people who after reading or watching my material are like, “Wow, I had no idea that the science says this, this and this. now I’ve been making a point of getting sun exposure and I feel amazing. I feel so much better and it’s helped me so much.” Even people who will say for example, “This is the single biggest needle mover in my health. I’ve tried all these diets, and I just wasn’t getting any sunlight and it turns out that makes a big difference.”

Just as one example, but my point is only that I think the education piece around the science of the mechanisms of how those things affect us and why they matter and how big of a magnitude of effect they are in our health can be the difference between somebody actually doing those things.

Dr. Walsh: I totally agree. Here’s my question that why do we need a 300 page book with 100 some odd references just to get someone to be convinced?

Ari: That’s a good question. I’m sure I could probably do it in 100 pages or 50 pages but–

Dr. Walsh: That’s what I’m saying? I think that’s the problem.

Ari: I personally find it fascinating and I hope lots of other people will find it fascinating to learn those things too.

Dr. Walsh: To talk an hour about albumin, like bring it on. Would love it. It’s super, super fun. To do a 300 page book on albumin, I love those things, but my question to you is if people that– You’re here to take, and I’m not going to talk about blues or any of that stuff. If you look back at previous cultures, and the things that they did, and everybody agrees that they were healthier, why does it take a 300 page book on one of those elements? Let’s say there’s 15. If we could identify 15 elements, that previous communities that were arguably far healthier than we are today, why do we need multiple books and all that just to convince people?We shouldn’t.

I feel like that’s how distracted we are as a culture, both practitioners and patients alike. We’re so distracted that we need this Magna Carta of a book on sunlight to be like, “Oh.” When the, “oh,” should be like, people were healthier back then. This is what they did. “Oh, we should do that.”

Ari: Here’s where that breaks down. I personally completely agree with you. As a matter of convincing other people, this is where I think it breaks down. Some people to your argument, like let’s say the conventional medical community. The argument that you just made, they’ll say, “Oh, that’s a naturalistic fallacy.” You can’t just say, “Oh, people in the past didn’t get heart disease and obesity and diabetes and neurological disease.” There were many things different. “Oh, plus those cavemen used to die at age 27, anyway and they never lived to old age like us.”

What I think is going on is the crux of human health is that. Is a movement back towards more natural ways of life and I think that it’s not an exaggeration to say- and this has actually been quantified in the US- that over 80% of the disease burden is chronic diseases of nutrition and lifestyle. Literally just reverting back to the way we lived 500 years ago, would solve 80% of the chronic disease burden. Yet, the movement in the culture is one of movement to more technology, more science, more personalized biochemistry analysis, and drugs and supplements and devices to alter that personal biochemistry.

We’re moving as a culture and in terms of the dominant paradigms in the health industry, we’re moving in the opposite direction. I’m as an individual preaching that people move in the non-dominant paradigm, in a direction that’s opposite from the dominant paradigm of the culture and medical paradigms that we live in. In order to make that argument effectively, I can’t just rely on a naturalistic argument, “Hey, people used to be healthier and you should do this.” In order to convince the modern mind, you have to lay out here’s all the evidence. Anyway, did that make sense to you?

Dr. Walsh: It totally makes sense to me. I agree with you on that actually. This is a conversation that we don’t have time for, is it the knowledge of a thing or is it the behavior? Behaviour’s the problem. Then, therefore, how do you change the behaviors? I would say that you could probably take the Joe average person off the street, and say, is what you’re eating healthy or not? Most people be like– they know. Kids are taught that in school, what’s healthy foods, whether it’s a pyramid, or the pipe plate, or whatever it is, but then it comes down to behavior.

How many people if we were to survey them think that exercise is healthy for them? I think the vast majority of people would probably agree with that. Why aren’t they doing it? Then it’s not a lack of knowledge. I’m not saying it’s a 300-page book. Then it’s behavior. Why are you not doing this? If you know that Twinkie, Ding Dong, or Ho Hos is not good for you, but you’re eating it that’s behavior. That’s what I’m saying. There’s no time to talk about that clearly.

Ari: That’s a super complex rabbit hole of how the environment and the culture shapes behavior of a particular population and what people normalize to as normative behaviors that people just accept as, “Hey, okay, fine. Yes, I read that it’s not healthy but everybody does this.”

Dr. Walsh: Your 300-page book on sunlight seemed to have changed people’s behaviors, right?

Ari: Some, yes.

Dr. Walsh: By convincing them with enough data to actually convince them to change their behavior. That’s why it’s part of a larger conversation for sure. Anyhow. I think we’ve covered everything.

Ari: Before we wrap up, I want to ask you, is there one more example of something that you consider the functional medicine natural health community has really got things wrong and that you have a message for them?

Dr. Walsh: Getting rid of things that we consider to be old and the replacement of something that’s new, shiny, sparkly, and sexier. There’s a really great paper that is called something about testing in the genomic era, are we missing the low hanging fruit. It was this really great paper written in response to some research that this other group was doing. One of my passions, at least when it comes to the body is blood chemistry testing. The problem that I see in response to your question in the industry is that blood chemistry is old.

It’s black and white, its black ink on white paper, it’s not fancy or sexy compared to these functional medicine labs that come out with these charts and graphs and colors and 50 pages of reporting. Blood chemistry is two depending on how many markers you get. They abandon those things like, “Oh, blood chemistry, you can’t tell anything about that. Let’s do the fancy urine, saliva, whatever stool test and tell you everything about you just with these tests.” I had this, I forget, it was quite a long time ago, but it’s like, I’d be willing to bet that there are researchers that are still doing research on some of these clinical old markers, bilirubin, albumin.

Is there anything new in the literature about these markers that we think that we have everything handled with. It’s like Pandora’s box. I was reading and reading. I was like, holy cow, bilirubin is associated with this. Man, why weren’t we taught this or albumin or you name it? Same with supplements. I always will say it’s completely theoretical. If you got stranded on a desert island, and you could have either just macronutrients carbs, proteins and fats, or a multivitamin, which would you take? I would take a multivitamin, because I have enough of that stored on me carbs, proteins and fats that I can break down as fuel, as long as biochemically I have the micronutrients to run the biochemical pathways responsible for breaking those things down.

Therefore, a multi is fundamental. It is not sexy. When’s the last infomercial you’ve seen on a multi? Never, because it’s not fancy enough. That we abandon– I’ll put it this way. I see patients and the supplements that they’re taking super fancy glutathiones, super fancy curcumin. Whatever is right, super fancy something. Where’s the multi? Oh, I don’t take one. What? You’re taking all these like super expensive, fancy, latest flashy supplements. You’re not even taking a basic multivitamin. Again, it’s not just the industry, it’s patients, and I don’t know what’s driving what.

That’s the problem is I will run a $400 fancy functional lab. What’s your CBC say? I don’t know, I haven’t run one. My doctor didn’t run one on me. Didn’t run a CBC? That’s one of the most fundamental, it’s like a $10 test looking for anemia, to see if you even have oxygen to feed yourself and your mitochondria in the first place. It’s the abandonment or replacement of something that was perceived as old, outdated, obsolete, for something new fancy, shining or exciting. That, I will add, has zero scientific validity, zero reliability. There’s no way that anybody has ever tested to see if there’s like a validity liability specific– nothing on these things.

Ari: That’s an interesting contrast between the standard blood panel and a lot of the functional medicine tests is the standard blood panel has an enormous amount of science validating all of those measures.

Dr. Walsh: For decades around the world.

Ari: Yes. A lot of the functional medicine tests, they spring up and–

Dr. Walsh: There’s none.

Ari: Unfortunately, with many of them, basically, none.

Considerations on supplements

Dr. Walsh: That’s just the reality. I’m not ripping on them. There’s just none. Nor is there much safety data on some of these supplements. Everybody thinks I have a thing against curcumin, I don’t technically do but maybe a little bit. When you look at–

Ari: Only liposomal curcumin.

Dr. Walsh: No. I’m not exaggerating on this. Those should be drug trials at that point. The amount that they’re trying to get in somebody’s body, in this might be slightly cytotoxic amount, which could be good for certain purposes. I’m not saying it’s bad. Those should fall under like drug trials at some point.

Ari: Actually, we need to back up just a minute, because we’re assuming– I’m familiar with some of your views on what you’ve expressed on curcumin, but maybe a lot of listeners are not. Can you just back up and explain like the basic concept of differentiating between, let’s say turmeric raw powder versus sending like liposomal curcumin extract.

Dr. Walsh: Again, I go back to the beginning, I claim universal ignorance about most topics. We all know based on our own personal experience on things and or what we read in the scientific journals as best as we can, from a non biased perspective as much as we can. God, Mother Nature, whoever one believes in, made this stuff, and made us and we have coexisted for a long time. I believe that there’s some inherent wisdom in that, probably far more more wisdom than any one of us. In fact, all of us combined. I’ll go ahead and say.

I once had a friend who juiced an obscene amount of spinach all at once. He got so nauseous, he threw up I was like, “There’s toxins. It’s pinch.” Oxalic acid in high amounts is not healthy. I don’t care what you read about.

Ari: First time I juiced, I threw a bunch of garlic cloves in the juice because I read garlic is so healthy. Then I ran out to the driveway, my first glass of green juice ever when I was a teenager and threw it all up.

Dr. Walsh: I have zero problem with most things as they’re found in nature. The problems potentially become when we isolate compounds. That’s what pharmaceutical industry has been doing for a long time, synthesizing them, isolating them and then taking something. There’s some papers that call it curcumin, or curcumers and the curcumers are what will be found in something like turmeric, for example, all sorts of different compounds that may be or may be not identified. These high dose isolated compounds, and then you get like a sample and it passes the digestive system or nanoparticles or micellized, so it goes into fats because yes, it can get in through different mechanisms. It’s just flooding the body with this compound that in nature, it wasn’t designed to, and I’m not saying that that’s bad.

I question it, I question a lot of things. I question a lot of things that people they’re really popular right now for biochemical reasons. You travel down certain pathways and you think, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. I don’t know if that answered your question, but I don’t inherently have a problem with anything in its natural form as a spice. Turmeric is amazing and load up.

I don’t think there’s an upper limit that you could have in your diet because it’s not that bioavailable and some of the benefits that occurs in the body, it might be by way of what it does in the gastrointestinal tract or with the microbiome and who knows.

Ari: There is all of this thread that you’ve been on here seems like an extension of the thing we were talking about previously of like humans thinking they know better than nature. Thinking that we can solve more and more separation from our ancestral ways of living through modern science. It’s like, we’ve got to solve this problem of the poor bioavailability of curcumin by using all this advanced science to make it liposomal so it can be absorbed because in its natural state, it doesn’t work.

It’s this hubris of constantly thinking we know better than nature.

Dr. Walsh: I will tell you the older I get the dumber I think we all are as a race, as a species. I mean really just we maybe shouldn’t think as much as we think, because I think we end up making a lot of mistakes. In fact, recently I was just talking to my wife about this, but I almost wonder is I don’t know that it’s not more evolved, but if maybe what our true strength is, is compassion.

Maybe it’s not this huge cranium that we have and the ability to communicate problems or do all these things and bad things. Perhaps, it’s perhaps, because we screw with so many things, thicken things up and we have throughout human history, we’ve made so many darn errors, but you look at the times of greatness in human history and it’s not usually from the brain, it’s usually from the heart, from compassion, but I don’t want to get all ooey gooey on people because I don’t think that’s it, but people I think would know what I mean by that. That gets back to that servant position of giving it a higher purpose and doing something, having a purpose for a greater good. That doesn’t necessarily come from the brain, that comes from whatever and I don’t mean to isolate the organs when I say this, but that comes more out of a different aspect of us, I believe.

I think that that might be our strength in that– Listen, I question so much of what we do and just because it’s not bioavailable it doesn’t mean that we should make it bioavailable. Just because when we eat 80% fat and 10% protein and 5% carbs, which I realize doesn’t add up to a hundred and certain adaptations or things happen in the body, it doesn’t mean that that we’re supposed to for long periods of time.

Just because we can do certain types of actually certain things it doesn’t mean we’re supposed to necessarily, but I think, yes, it does go back. We’ve been wrong so many times before. How the heck do we think that we’re right now. I am a very late adopter to new tests that come out and new supplements that come out and fad diets quite honestly. I’ll wait for a decade to see how things shake out first and then maybe I’ll finally jump on it.

I still give only 2,000 [inaudible 01:29:02] of vitamin D to somebody with the other fat soluble vitamins. People are like, “Pfft, what are you? Stupid. 10,000 I use for sure, at least, you got to get them up as highest.” The stuff that the literature that I’ve read, the pathways that I’ve thought about, 2,000, I use is it and that’s all I’m going to give somebody probably with the other fat soluble vitamins until proven otherwise.

Until I’m proven that I’m wrong, that that’s too low. That’s where I live. I’m super slow adopter for these things, but it’s because we’ve been wrong so many times before my suspicion is that we will be again until proven otherwise, if that makes sense.

Ari: Bryan, you are a brilliant guy. This is one of my favorite conversations that we’ve ever had. One of my favorite conversations I’ve ever had on this podcast. This was just a lot of fun. Thank you. This felt like just kind of you and me geeking out personally, having a fun conversation as buddies. It’s cool that I’m in a profession where I can do that and make a living from having conversations like this with brilliant folks like you.

Dr. Walsh: It is your purpose.

Ari: Yes, absolutely. Thank you, my friend. Really, it’s such a pleasure. Where can people reach you and follow your work and give us the full sales pitch of–

Dr. Walsh: That’s favorite part.

Ari: I think people would love to listen to more of you and learn more from you so tell people where they can do that.

Dr. Walsh: Our main website right now is I really catere to practitioners, not so much the average general public. That said there’s some, and I know that you know these types of people that are really savvy lay people that aren’t necessarily a practitioner that can handle any and all information. We have quite a few of those go through some of our courses too.

Yes, we have some workshops we’ve done that are available online. We have a whole bunch of courses. I think it’s almost 100 hours of online video now. Some was done live on that tour that we did last year which was epic, on blood chemistry, biochemistry, physiology.

I’m proud of the courses that I have put together because of the feedback that I’ve gotten. People that don’t have a science background who think that biochemistry is super scary, but who go through the course, it’s like 20 hours of biochemistry, and get it and they’ll understand it. Not only will they understand it, but sometimes they’re like, wow, I now have a passion for biochemistry. I want that for people, man. I want people to learn about a subject that they’re scared of, that they’ve avoided in their life and to not only learn it, but to get it and understand it such that they want to learn more.

On level inside of me, I believe that we could go in anytime. Tonight might be my last day or I might die, and that’s it. I think you got to do good every single day. You got to show up, you got to make each moment a little bit better than you found it because your next moment might be your last. You have no idea when that’s actually going to be. Probably now more than ever, who knows, but you might go at any time. I want to end my days if I make it through a full day thinking that somebody benefited in some way and then has a happier, healthier, more successful existence because of something I did that would make me just feel good.

Ari: As I’ve been listening to in this podcast, I feel like you’re like a reluctant spiritual guru. You’re somebody with great insight but you’re resisting your own ability to spread those insights. It’s interesting, I think it’s beautiful. Because there’s such a toxic narcissism around people who perceive themselves as spiritual gurus, but I think it’s beautiful when people can convey important, beautiful messages about human connection and about happiness, human health and happiness and purpose without any of the toxic narcissism around that.

Dr. Walsh: It’s not about you, it’s just speaking the truth, what you believe the truth to be to people. It’s not about you. I’ve always viewed myself as a funnel or a catalyst. You could say that. I’ll sit there and I’ll do a presentation to a room for 100 practitioners and in presenting these ideas that are amazing on the PowerPoints, these theories and these ideas, but I don’t take credit for a single one. Because all I did was I just read the literature that’s out there and I put it together in a certain way that made sense to me and came up with a theory that made sense to me. It made so much sense to me that I felt like I had to present it to other people.

It’s not my ideas. It’s like a conduit, it might be a better name for it. Is like I’m not saying anything. It’s not me. These are truths I believe that existed in society or as in humanity, it would be a better word. I take no credit for them. It’s not my thoughts. Anyways, yes, back to the courses. I actually talk about purpose in the end of one of level three of blood chemistry course we have as a part of a bigger message within blood chemistry, but yes, that’s where people can find us.

Ari: It’s

Dr. Walsh: Metabolic. No. I’d probably take it somewhere else,

Ari: Okay, awesome. I know that this was cool where this podcast went and we went very big picture health, and I love that. I know that you’re huge on biochemistry and the details of albumin and bilirubin and you’re talking about a lot of cool stuff that very few people are talking about. I’d love to do a part two with you sometime soon and go deep on that side of things as well.

Dr. Walsh: Sounds good.

Ari: Yes. Awesome. Well, thank you so much, my friend. Really such a pleasure. To everybody listening, hope you enjoyed this and hope you will check out Dr. Walsh’s material so thanks so much.

Dr. Walsh: Thanks, Ari.

Show Notes

The problem with lab tests (7:49)
Considerations on supplements (24:00)


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