Dr. Mark Hyman is the co-author of the New York Times bestselling book Ultraprevention--the Six Week Plan that Will Make You Healthy for Life, and winner of the Books for Better Life Award. He is also the author and creator of The Detox Box, A Program for Greater Health and Vitality (Sounds True, 2004). He is Editor in Chief of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, the most prestigious journal in the field of Integrative Medicine. Dr. Hyman is involved with the Tufts Center for Human Nutrition and Aging and the International Longevity Center with whom he collaborated in a workshop and position statement on the "Biomarkers of Aging." He has been heard on NPR, and is quoted regularly in popular magazines, and graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Ottawa in Canada with a degree in Medicine. He completed his postgraduate training at a Family Medicine Program of the University of California at San Francisco. He is Board Certified in Family Medicine, and has trained in Clinical Mind/Body Medicine with Herbert Benson at Harvard, and Integrative Medicine with Andrew Weil M.D., Dean Ornish M.D., Joan Borysenko Ph.D., and David Eisenberg, M.D.. He is currently on the Faculty and the Board of Directors of the Institute for Functional Medicine, and testified at the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and met with and advised the Surgeon General on a new diabetes prevention initiative. He is on the editorial board of Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal, and narrates his own books for Simon & Schuster Audio.
TOWER REVIEW: Your new book links mind to body, saying that many ailments of the mind, including depression, dementia, anxiety, and forgetfulness, are treatable through changes in diet and exercise. In many ways, your message is similar to that of Dr. Andrew Weil. As editor of a prestigious medical journal in integrative medicine, do you believe that alternative therapies and the role of nutrition in them will always be rejected by traditional medicine, due to its more profitable emphasis on prescription drugs?
DR. HYMAN: Medicine is a state of evolution. What was once alternative is now considered conventional. Orthopedic surgeons recommend glucosamine, cardiologists recommend omega 3 fats, urologists recommend saw palmetto for enlarged prostates, and I believe that the new generation of physicians will embrace a wide range of modalities as their normal part of medical practice. However, lifestyle medicine, including food and nutrition, nutritional pharmacology, and stress management are still a large part of medical care and should be at the epicenter because they are not only the best prevention for chronic disease, but the most effective treatment and cure. It is also important to note that medicine is now evolved from a purely reductionistic science to a more whole systems perspective. There has been an evolution of thinking from holistic health in the 70s to alternative medicine therapies in the 80s (such as acupuncture and Ayurveda and Chinese medicines, homeopathy, manual therapy, and energy medicine), to integrative medicine, which incorporates these alternative modalities into conventional care. And finally to a more comprehensive systems approach that identifies the underlying causes of chronic disease, approaches illness from a whole systems perspective. This goes beyond our conventional notion of diseases to finally understanding the underlying imbalances, and the basic systems in the body that lead to disease.
Q: That's good news. However, the general public may still be ignorant of certain things, like how statins prescribed for high cholesterol block the body's production of heart-vital coenzyme Q10. Or how certain headache pills block the B vitamins. How concerned should we be about the negative effects of common drugs on health, and what food additives should be avoided at all cost?
A: Many physicians are concerned about the interaction between supplements and medications and the adverse affects of supplements and nutritional therapies; however, a much neglected area is the medicine of understanding how many medications produce nutritional deficiencies. Yes, CoQ10 production is interfered with by statin drugs, oral contraceptives prevent absorption of B vitamins, and Tylenol block depletes glutathione, the major detoxifying compound in your body. It is important to use nutritional therapy for those on medications to minimize their side effects. In fact, there is an entire textbook on how drugs interfere with nutritional status. This should be part of medical practice. Food additives are unfortunately abundant in the food supply, and 3500 different food additives are added to our food to increase shelf life, palatability, etc. Unfortunately many of these have not been fully tested and have adverse effects. I think the three main categories of widely used substances that should be eliminated because of their adverse health effects are trans fats, large predatory fish that contain mercury, and high fructose corn syrup, which also contains mercury because of how the sugar is extracted from corn using caustic soda in the manufacturing process. Also, artificial sweeteners which confuse the body, leading to increased weight gain, and act as excito-toxins affecting our brain function.
Q: In the case of trans-fats, why did the FDA allow food companies to label items as "zero trans-fat" when in fact there are trans-fats present? Isn't this just another way to fool the consumer--like listing fat, sugar and sodium content for a small portion of any container, which the consumer is likely to eat entirely, not knowing they're just eaten three or more so-called servings?
A: Food lobbying has enormous power in controlling legislation and creating loop holes, which is exactly what occurred in the implementation of food labeling around trans fats, which have been known for decades to cause adverse effects on cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and more. Some studies account for an excess 50,000 deaths a year from trans fats, and there should be no place for it in our food supply. The FDA has ruled that a serving that has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat would be labeled no trans fats. However, most packaged food contained multiple servings. Since there are three to four servings in packaged foods they can easily contain 2 grams of trans fats, and yet say there are no trans fats on the label. Therefore, we need to be very aware of this and look for specific labeling for hydrogenated oils and fats, which is the scientific term for trans fats.
Q: Americans drink oceans of soft drinks these days. Watching the commercials on TV for these, you'd think drinking them was equivalent to spreading love around the world. What they are actually spreading, however, is diabetes, isn't it, because of high fructose corn syrup? We already know why food companies love this manmade substance--because it's cheaper than sugar, and so it raises their profits even as it raises our health care costs. But can you describe why it's so bad, and the mechanism for its digestion in the liver?
A: The consumption of sugar in this country has gone from about 10 pounds per person per year in the early 1800s to about 158 pounds per person per year. High fructose corn syrup has become the predominate sugar over the last 30 years, and is directly correlated with the epidemic of obesity and behavioral disorders. It may be coincidence but there have been some research findings where it came to light that during the manufacturing process mercury may end up in corn syrup in small amounts. While this may not seem significant, the average person consumes 66 pounds per person per year, and this may lead to serious health risks. In addition, high fructose corn syrup is regulated differently than regular glucose by the body, while fructose may contain impurities which may alter its effects on our body. It has been linked to fatty liver, high triglycerides and may increase appetite. Therefore, high fructose corn syrup in my view should not be used as a sweetener like regular sugar because it may promote obesity and may eventually lead to neuro degenerative diseases or developmental disorders like ADD and autism.
Q: We love your statement that depression is "not a Prozac deficiency." You also make the point that we wouldn't need supplements at all in a perfect world where we all ate organic whole foods in wide variety, and the soil wasn't depleted or the air tainted by mercury from coal burning power plants, What are we most deficient in, due to what you call our SAD diet (Standard American Diet)? Vitamin D? Magnesium?
A: Unfortunately our current diet is nutrient depleted because is varies dramatically from diet we evolved eating which is a wild diet. The omega 3 fats, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals and high fiber which were abundant in our food supply and been supplanted by a processed diet, grown with toxic chemicals and shipped across country and stored for long periods of time and ultimately are very nutrient depleted. Therefore, we have an epidemic of nutritional deficiency in this country. When we see someone who is obese, we think they are over nourished. The fact is we are over fed and under nourished. The most significant deficiencies related to cognitive disorders, in particular, are magnesium deficiency which comes from beans and greens, folate, B12, and B6 deficiencies, and vitamin D deficiency, which is from the lack of sunlight, and zinc deficiency and selenium deficiencies. These are critically important for different many hundreds of biochemical reactions in the body. Vitamin D alone regulates over 150 genes and controls your immune system, metabolic function, cancer risk, and much more. Therefore, unfortunately, we all need to be on basic nutritional supplementation. I recommend a multivitamin, fish oil, vitamin D, calcium and magnesium, essential B vitamins such as B6, folate, and B12--a probiotic to help normalize our gut function.
Q: Which foods and supplements do you take personally, and why?
A: Personally, I eat whole fresh foods. I usually eat nothing that comes out of a box, a package, or a can unless it is a whole food such as canned artichokes. I try to eat seasonally, locally, and organically as possible to support local agriculture. I also eat a diet that is rich in omega 3 fats and small fish like sardines and herring, as well as a diet that is low in glycemic load with very small amounts of sugar and refined flour of any kind. Regarding my supplement intake, because I once had chronic fatigue syndrome and live a very active life, I supplement with things that will boost my energy, as well as a regular multivitamin, fish oil, vitamin D, magnesium. For the mitochondria and energy I take variations of carnitine, CoQ10, phosolipids, as well as B6, B12, B6, and detoxifying support such as n-acetyl-cysteine and alpha lipoic acid.
Q: The UltraMind Solution presents a plan for getting rid of the bad stuff, and adding the good, including exercise or saying no to being a couch potato. How different will people feel after ridding themselves of toxins, and consuming the micro nutrients that you say work in conjunction with exercise to affect gene expression?
A: What is remarkable is that most people do not know how badly they feel until they start feeling well. It is like someone has been standing on your foot your whole life finally getting off it and recognizing that it hurt. Simply by cleaning up their diet, eating whole fresh foods, taking a few supplements, taking a walk 30 minutes a day, doing some stress reduction and relaxation techniques people should see extraordinary results in as little as a few days to two weeks by unloading their system from all the impediments to health and by providing all the ingredients for optimal thriving.
Q: I once overheard a woman buying wild salmon and telling the seller that since eating it her vision had improved dramatically. Any anecdote to share along that line, involving mood and mind?
A: There are many stories of people who do simple things with dramatic benefits such as the woman buying salmon and having her vision improve. Salmon actually contains carotenoids, which give it its orange color that come from antioxidants and pigments in algae that the salmon eats, so in the sense salmon provides a lot of the same benefits as carrots or dark orange vegetables, unless of course if it is farm raised salmon, which is injected with dyes to achieve that same color. I have seen patients who had panic attacks and headaches and anxiety improve simply taking magnesium and patients recover from fatigue, muscle aching and depression supplementing with vitamin D, or patients with chronic depression recover after taking B6 and folic acid, or patients with autism or ADD regain focus and are able to concentrate and look directly into the eyes of their parents by using high dose B12 shots. These stories are common and achievable by following the principles of functional medicine and looking at the underlying causes of disease.
Q: You suggest that the mind and body are more connected than we know, partly because the so-called blood/brain barrier is more permeable than we've been told. The brain is also more elastic than was believed. So the potential for harm, and also for change, exist side by side. What do you tell people who are addicted to overeating--a dilemma as bad these days as addiction to alcohol, cigarettes, or other mood altering drugs, given the devastating effects of toxins, sugar and saturated fats? Is there hope for our so-called "fast food nation"?
A: I am very concerned about the disconnect in our about how we think about our behaviors and our health. We feel poorly, we are sluggish, we are depressed, we have digestive issues, we are overweight, and we make very little connection between the symptoms and serious conditions like memory loss and dementia, depression, and ADD and we make little connection between those symptoms and the choices we make every day. I think most of us do not recognize the effects of overeating, or processed foods, or alcohol, and cigarettes, sugar, trans fats on our health. The hope that I bring is the potential to feel dramatically different in a very short time by simply altering the inputs and changing output by eating whole, healthy food. If you eat whole food you can feel whole and healthy. If you eat junk you will feel like junk. I believe there is hope because we have come to a crisis point and actions are required, and communities are rallying. Government is beginning to take action, medical practices are changing, and I see quite a different future for medicine around the corner.