Written by Christopher Kelly
Nov. 12, 2015
Christopher: Hello and welcome to the Nourish Balance Thrive Podcast. My name is Christopher Kelly and today I'm joined again by Dr. Bryan Walsh. Hi, Bryan.
Christopher: I am very excited not only because I have some of Bryan's time which is not easy to get hold of and very valued especially to me but also because we have a topic to talk about today which I've not really heard anyone else talk about. And having done some research, Bryan being the teacher that he is, he wouldn't send me the actual papers that he'd been reading and thinking about. He just sent me some key words that I could then start Googling and looking at some studies and that's what I've been doing. I'm hoping that we've been reading about the same thing. But it's a super interesting topic. So do you want to go ahead and introduce it, Bryan?
Bryan: Yes, sure. I just want to say thanks for having me. I do this every once in a while and I find that the conversations with you are very organic. They flow well and easily. You're obviously really well-educated, intelligent critical thinker. They're a lot of fun to do so I'm really glad to be here as well.
Christopher: That's very kind of you, thank you.
Bryan: No, I mean that. I think the way that I'll start this out is just doing a little imagination. Imagine you and I are a part of a tribe or a village, an indigenous culture 10,000 years ago. As a part of this tribe, if you can imagine this, tribes of yesterday had -- people had a purpose. They all had a job. They all had a role. For example, you might have been the village doctor. I might be the village farmer. So we had this purpose. And it wasn't just a purpose for us. It was a purpose for we live a cohesiveness, the growth and the strength of our village. And if one of us weren't doing our job well, then the entire village could theoretically suffer.
Now, it turns out that there's a number of studies that have been done on situations similar to this and where we're part of a community. We're socially connected. We have a purpose. And it turns out that our physiology actually responds to this. Because we're surrounded by people, we're more likely to get some kind of communicable disease. So Johnny, the guy in the next hut down, gets a virus and since we're all in close quarters of one another, we have a chance of getting that virus as well.
But it turns out -- and we'll kind of elaborate on some of these specifics as we go along. It turns out our physiology actually shifts to help us thrive in this particular environment. Some of the things that happened is the immune system actually increases components of itself that make us less likely to get a communicable disease like a virus, like a bacteria, something that might be contagious that someone else in our village or our tribe has.
Similarly, our inflammation is actually lower because it doesn't -- we're not really at risk for getting some kind of life threatening injury. If we were, we know, our body knows, our genes know actually it turns out, that we're surrounded by people that care about us, that if we were to get some kind of injury that they take care of us. So our immune system, when we're a part of a group, when we're socially connected, when we have a purpose, increases that antiviral components, increases the antibodies, increases specifically things like natural killer cells or interferon and actually decreases inflammation.
So let's say our village was raided by a neighboring village and they were bigger, stronger and faster. So we had to flee. And we all split up. We went running for the hills, we went running through the forests and now we're alone. And we might be alone for a while because we're being sort of hunted and we're by ourselves and it turns out that, again, according to research, that our physiology -- Again, I should be real specific and say our genes start to express differently and because we're not around anybody now, we're socially isolated, we're by ourselves, we've lost that purpose, we've lost that connectedness, we're more likely to get some kind of life threatening injury. We might fight a bear or step on a sharp stick or something.
So when we're by ourselves, socially isolated, no purpose, not connected, not going to get a virus of some kind because we're not around anybody else, natural killer cells, interferon, all of our antiviral components decrease and our baseline inflammation actually increases. So it's almost as if when we're connected with other people that our immune system primes itself to get ready for the possible infection but we're not at risk of anything severe so our inflammation decreases. But if we're by ourselves, then we have an increase in the number of cytokines, very pro-inflammatory cytokines like interleukin 1 beta, interleukin 6, which is incredibly -- it's a very potent pro-inflammatory marker.
Interleukin 8, tumor necrosis factor alpha, those are baseline inflammatory markers go up almost to primary cells. So if we do get some life sustaining injury then we're more likely to be able to, I guess, sort of fight it off if you will. So there's some really interesting implications into this. We'll go into these, some of these things as we go along. But it turns out the term is social isolation the researchers use. And in the cases of social isolation on just about any animal that's ever been studied, it has pretty severe negative physiological consequences. I know most people don't think much about fruit flies but it turns out that fruit flies that are socially isolated have a lower life, a shorter life span. And I kind of laughed when I read that.
But then I thought about the times I've had fruit flies in my kitchen and there's never just one. There's a whole mass of them and I can only imagine that they're hanging out and talking with each other. But if you were to isolate fruit fly, it actually shortens its life span on rats. There's studies that suggest that it increases their risk for things like type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Pigs are social animals. They have a heightened stress response and negative physiological consequences.
Sheep, there's just a number of studies. And, of course, we're a social animal as well. And so the question then is what really is social isolation and how isolated are we today and what is this doing to us physiologically? Is this social isolation concept and the inflammation that goes along with it contributing to, or I would even argue, maybe causing all these many chronic inflammatory diseases that we talk about today?
f you were to go into PubMed and start looking at inflammatory diseases, there's the obvious ones, things like cancer and type II diabetes, cardiovascular diseases. But there are things like Alzheimer's and even there's an inflammatory model of depression as well. When you look at how often the sort of the epidemic of many of these things today, you have to wonder why are these things happening in the first place? Why is there so much gut dysfunction today? Why is there so much depression, cardiovascular disease, cancer and type II diabetes?
But we always point to things like diet, lifestyle, lack of exercise, toxins and these things. But maybe there's an X-factor and that's what I wanted to talk about today, is this X factor of social isolation. Now what's interesting -- and you and I kind of had a little email correspondence and joked about how you and I both are fairly isolated or had been somewhat isolated individuals. I've kind of been somewhat of a loner most of my life. You alluded to pieces of that with yourself.
They've done studies on what actually contributes to feelings of social isolation. And surprisingly, it doesn't actually have to do with how shy somebody is, what their social skills are like, are you good in a group, are you not good in a group? Are you an anxious person? That has nothing to do with social isolation. If you're angry, your self-esteem, whether you're a positive thinker. None of those things, it turns out, contributes to these feelings of social isolation. The single factor is loneliness.
It feelings of being alone that -- and then you have to think about can somebody exist in a family that feel alone? Can somebody exist in a really large social network? You go out drinking with your buddies every Friday and Saturday night, you hang out with some friends, you go places on vacations but still feel lonely. And I think the obvious answer is yes. So there's a lot of people today that are lonely, that despite how many people we're around, despite the fact that we're working on these large buildings with hundred people, 1000 people around us, that we feel alone, we feel isolated.
We don't feel connected, which is ironic because one could argue that today we're actually more connected than we've ever been. Social media, the fact that you and I are on this call that's going to go out to however many people. We have access to more people than ever before in human history. But on the other hand, what level of connectedness or intimacy do we really have with all these people? So one of the questions that come up is what is social isolation?
The fact that it's subjective, can you have a small social network, a very, very tight social network that's small but not feel lonely? Yes. So it doesn't have to do with how large your social network is. Like I said, your social skills, whether you're positive or negative thinker, it has to do with whether or not you're feeling lonely. And we don't really approach this very often. But anybody that's listening to this, I would encourage for just a second to ask yourself a real honest question of do I feel lonely? Do I feel alone? Do I feel like I can relate to other people? Similarly--
Christopher: I got some good questions here actually that I pulled out of one of the papers. I think they're classic questions. So ask yourself: I feel isolated. There are people I can talk to. I feel part of a group of friends. The paper makes the point which you just did which is you can have a lot of people around you, like be at work every day surrounded by hundreds of people and still answer yes or no, meaning you're isolated even though you've got all these people. And those people might be on Facebook or they might be in the office next door and you can still feel isolated, which I think is itself kind of fascinating.
Bryan: Well, it is just because -- It doesn't matter how many people, contacts you have in your phone. I mean, how many of those people when if push came to shove would be there for you? Some in extreme situation. I think if we thought of it that way you'd know that there's hardly anyone, if anyone at all, within your network that if push came to shove and it was a life or death sort of situation that they would leave you hanging versus the people that would actually have your back.
And I think when you think about it that way then a lot of us really are isolated. We don't have those deep solid connections that I think that we used to do millennia ago. But even not that long ago. When you think about -- I'm a big fan of the '50s, for example, and the role of men and the role of women and just the sense of community and the nuclear family. You can go down to the local very small hardware store and everybody knew everybody and knew about your friends.
They were there for you. They're willing to help. A handshake meant something. A lot of that stuff's gone now. You go to these larger boxed hardware stores and they don't know you. You can go on again two weeks later and the same guy that works there two weeks prior doesn't even work there anymore. We're so available to each other and we're so connected but then we lack those real deep meaningful intimate relationships. And getting back to what I was talking about, that really interesting thing.
There's another piece of this too, which is even more interesting, I think. Our genes know this. Our genes know you're connected or you're not, you're lonely or you're not, you're isolated or you're not. And, therefore, if you're isolated, that's a threat to your system when you think about it from a sort of a survival perspective. You're threatened and it's not a favorable communal sort of sense. So your genes express pro-inflammatory markers, pro-inflammatory cytokines and are causing inflammation.
They've done studies on this. In fact, this is a really good one. There was a study that looked at college freshmen that got the flu vaccine. They did some surveys beforehand and what they found was that the students that had the greatest amount of loneliness had the lowest antibody response to the flu vaccines. So they made less antibodies than people that felt less lonely. That's a classic example. When you go into these studies, I don't know how deeply you want to go into these things, but one of the things that happens -- actually, there's another piece to this which you'll love.
When we have that social isolation or feelings of loneliness, we make less B cells. B cells are part of the immune system, part of the lymphocytes. They turn into plasma cells and make antibodies. Now we make less antibodies because we have less B cells, less B cells when we are socially isolated versus if we're socially connected, we have a purpose, we're living for sort of a more noble cause, we make more B cells. We have more of an antibody response to fight off some kind of bacteria or parasite, for example.
We make more natural killer cells, more interferon to fight viruses, for example. And incidentally, natural killer cells and interferon are your body's natural anti cancer compounds as well. We're talking about the rise in cancer today. Well, is it because so many people whether they want to admit it or not are lonely or isolated and they feel like they don't have a strong social network of intimacy? But the one piece I just want before I forget because you really love this. I think you probably run the salivary cortisol test.
Christopher: Yes. Exactly. So I'm very interested in the activation of the HPA access and all that kind of stuff.
Bryan: Well, that's a part of this. That's definitely a part of this. But what has been found, if you can follow this now. And this is one of those things where it makes you want to stand back and say like, "What the fuck are we doing measuring salivary cortisol?" Because it turns out that in social isolation the B cells which make antibodies, you make less of them, but the receptors -- the cortisol receptors are found inside cells.
The receptors for cortisol actually decrease their sensitivity and, therefore, they produce more inflammation. Because cortisol is a natural anti inflammatory. So normal levels of cortisol signal the immune cells, certain immune cells to not make an inflammation, if that makes sense. Because if cortisol is high then it signals to even lower inflammation more. If cortisol is low then these immune cells will make more inflammation because cortisol should be suppressing that.
But it turns out in social isolation that the receptors for cortisol intercelluarly are less responsive to cortisol. And, therefore, that affects their abilities to make antibodies but they actually produce more inflammation. And if you were to measure salivary cortisol in that person, it would be totally normal. And so when we really look at these salivary cortisol levels, yeah it's a fun test and there's some extrapolations, I think, you can make, but this is really limited.
And I'll tell you that the studies on the glucocorticoid receptor specifically in these cases of social isolation and it's sort of desentization to cortisol is really, really well known. This is not a theory. And so this kind of flies in the face of measuring cortisol all the time and making these recommendations on treatment protocols and you're stressed and you're not stressed or you have adrenal fatigue or you don't have adrenal fatigue. It has nothing to do with this.
Your body can have, can be acting as if cortisol is low although it's completely normal. Anyhow, that's just another sort of caveat to this. But that all occurs in this social isolation cases. One other bit before I answer that question, gut dysfunction. We talk about these things all day long. I found that a couple of studies showing that social isolations in pigs actually causes leaky gut. And here we are today talking about everybody needs to take glutamine and all these prebiotics, probiotics and all these things to support and fix leaky gut.
And there's no human studies on this but in this pig study that I found -- We're not pigs but I think we can extrapolate some things from this. Social isolation with pigs actually caused leaky gut. Another piece to this which I thought was really fascinating, I had no idea, but there's a couple different types of pigs. There's one that's called -- There are proactive pigs or reactive pigs, high resistance or low resistance, what they call them. I have no idea. I don't know much about swine but research studies are helpful with this, I suppose.
But what they found was that a proactive pig, if they get threatened or let's say trapped, that they try to escape. They kind of freak out. They have a very high sympathetic response reaction and they try to control their stress, if you will, or they're stressed or they try to escape if they get trapped. Versus these reactive pigs, they tend to withdraw. They just kind of go with the flow, if you will. If a pig can do such a thing. And in that study that showed that social isolation cause leaky gut, it turns out that the proactive pigs had more, had two-fold greater incidents of leaky gut than the reactive pigs.
This brings up a whole other thing that we have -- we talk about this ubiquitous term of stress. But in reality, and there's plenty of animal studies to show this as well, that the same stressor on two different animals can have a completely different response. In this case, the social isolation caused these proactive pigs to get two-fold greater amounts of leaky gut than the reactive pigs. So then it really boils down to things like perception as well and their perception of stress and how we deal with stress. Which anyhow, so, I can take a break if you have any questions.
Christopher: Yeah. No. I mean, the moment you brought this stuff up with me, you kind of raised this chicken and egg type situation in my head where I know from my own personal experience when I had a whole bunch of gut dysfunction and measuring very low on the cortisol and all that stuff. And at that time I was socially isolated and I'm not sure which was the cause and which was the effect. When you're not feeding very well, you don't really feel like going out. You don't really feel like cracking jokes.
And I notice it now. When I do a follow up call with someone, I know they're doing better because they start cracking jokes and they seem more lively and engage in the call. And so I'm wondering what's going on here? Was it the social isolation that caused the disease or was it the disease that caused the social isolation?
Bryan: Well, it's a great question. I don't think we'll ever really be able to figure that out. But when you look at -- And again, they are animal studies so there's only so much you can take from these things.
But they take an animal that doesn't have any physiological dysfunction. They socially isolate them. And then they get physiological dysfunctions. And that is cause and effect. These pigs, just as one example. There's a mouse study. They also develop intestinal permeability. They don't have intestinal permeability. You socially isolate them and it causes leaky gut. Again, social isolation decreases the lifespan of fruit flies.
If there is no dysfunction and then the only piece that you add to this is social isolation and it causes dysfunction I think right there that that is causative. That is the chicken before the egg or vice versa, whatever that actually came first. In humans it's hard to say. I'll give you another quick animal example but it's been found that -- and this speaks to this other piece of what they want to talk about called social buffering.
It's been found that when a mouse pup or a baby mouse is separated from its mother early on in infancy for a very short period of time, they become -- they have what's called a fearful phenotype as an adult mouse. So having a traumatic experience as an infant mouse actually causes them to be sort or anxious, if you will. Or like I said it's called a fearful phenotype as an adult mouse except if the mouse pup was -- This speaks to what we're just talking about with cause and effect.
I mean, when we start adding these factors in, who knows what happens when we're a kid, what happens in utero, all these other factors. So the chicken or the egg in humans, I don't think. You can get the clients and I don't think you'll ever know what was the chicken or what was the egg. There is causation in animal studies when it comes to this because they can isolate and control for so many variables. But in terms of the social buffering thing that I'll mention in a second, it turns out that if a mouse, baby mouse, is separated from the mom but it's still with the mouse social network, its peers if you will, it doesn't have that same response later on in life.
So this again just speaks to -- I mean, what is causing disease in us today? We have no idea. This is a major, major factor as far as I'm concerned. Again, there's actually even more to this. So this social buffering thing is very interesting as well. It's been studied in humans but because animals are so easy to study they can do this as well. But social buffering has to do with -- Social buffering is different stimuli, tactile, touch, olfactory, smell, visual, sight or auditory can actually mediate a stress response that we may have.
So for example, the auditory one is very interesting. So think about if you have a stressful situation. Things are going really, really bad at work or something in your life. What you tend to want to do is call your wife. And all she needs to do is hop on the phone and you just hear her voice and all of a sudden you feel like things are going to be okay. Or maybe you're having a really bad day in the office and your wife is at her office, you can't call her but then you take out a picture of your kid and you look at your kid and you know that feeling where you're like, "Ugh."
And you just kind of have this feeling like everything is going to be okay. It turns out it happens with smell and tactile as well. But here's just an example. They have socially isolated primates or let's just say baboons and if the baboon -- When they do this, they measure all sorts of things. They measure serum cortisol levels, cotecholamine levels, urinary cortisol levels, different ways of evaluating how stressed out the baboon is.
And if the baboon is socially isolated and hears the call of a baboon that was within its social network, it has less of a stress response to the social isolation. Versus if it was socially isolated and it hears the call of a baboon that it didn't know, it still has the same stress response. So there's this concept of social buffering. And then this also -- I mean, Facebook is kind of the go-to bane of our sort of societal downfall. But when you think about this, when you think about when you're stressed, what of that social buffer do we have today?
I mean, what kind of auditory signals or visual or olfactory or even tactile, just touch, do we have around us today that can help mediate or buffer these stress responses for this sort of loneliness or social isolation? So this is another layer to this. If somebody doesn't have those types of things and they do feel isolated and they do feel lonely, then again the genes are expressing themselves.
Things like nuclear factor kappe beta is expressing itself as this incredible array of inflammatory molecules. There's one more piece to this which I think one of the coolest ones. It turns out that many of these studies that have looked at loneliness, social isolation and all these things have also looked at how we derive our happiness or well-being. I think this also speaks to that original sort of image that I put of us in the village a long time ago versus where we are today.
So there's a couple of terms that have been used for a really long time. I mean, you look at some of the old philosophers, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, they were talking about the pursuit of happiness. We've been talking about this for a really, really long time. And there's a couple of terms that are used to describe the, let's say, motivation for happiness or well-being. And one is hedonic. You can think of hedonism. Hedonic pursuit of well-being is a very sort of self-focused pursuit of happiness. Its' a self gratifying pursuit of happiness. It's the type of happiness that you get when you go out and you buy a new pair of shoes. You buy a new bike for your triathlon--
Christopher: Yeah. I think about whenever you say hedonistic, I always think of people dancing in a night club in Ibiza taking drugs.
Bryan: Totally. That's where it gets its name from. But it's the same concept. It's getting that new car and that feeling of satisfaction, the bigger house, getting the mistress, getting a new pair of shoes, like I said. Those are all self-serving, self-gratifying kind of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain type of practices. There's another type of pursuit of well-being and happiness and that's called eudaimonic. Eudaimonic pursuit of happiness is a sort of -- It's a pursuit of happiness for a higher more noble purpose.
Like striving for meaning, for example. Less self-serving, more higher good if you will. It's that sense of satisfaction that you get if you help an old lady walk across the street or maybe you'd help jump start somebody's car in the middle of the night and in the parking lot when you really wanted to get home and it was freezing cold outside. Charitable work, working at a soup kitchen, whatever it might be, a higher purpose. That's a eudaimonic.
So now here's what's beyond fascinating to me. The sense of satisfaction, I would argue of those two different types of well-being are really difficult to discern within us. For example, I walk an old lady across the stress and I buy a new pair of shoes. I feel pretty good about both on the inside. But it turns out that your genes know the difference, which just sort of begins to boggle the mind. It turns out that if you live a more hedonic, you have more hedonic pursuits of happiness and well-being, that everything that we talk about in the beginning, the higher inflammatory molecules, the tumor necrosis factor alpha interleukin 6, lower interferon, lower natural killer cells, lower antibody response, that is what has been found in people that have a more hedonic pursuit of well-being.
These are your genes expressing these things, by the way. This is kind of beyond physiology in my book. Versus if somebody has a eudaimonic pursuit of happiness or well-being, that they tend to have higher natural killer cells, more antiviral, more interferon, more antibodies and lower baseline inflammation. So then you look at going back to that village. You were the town doctor not for your own self-gratification but for the higher good of the whole community, the whole tribe, the whole village.
I was the community farmer. But why was I doing this? It wasn't for me. It wasn't to feed me. It wasn't to feed my family. It was to feed the village. And so back then they had more eudaimonic pursuit of happiness and well-being. They live for a higher purpose. They live for others. They live for the community. They live for the group. Versus today, when you look around, I mean, it's a hedonic world. All we do is care about ourselves. I mean, for fuck's sake, take a part of me, but taking a selfie? I mean, that's about as hedonic as it gets when you think about it.
Christopher: Working at a hedge fund and then spending all your free time kite boarding, that must be up there too?
Bryan: Well, that's what I mean. But that's what we do is we -- If there's a higher good for what you're doing then that's more eudaimonic. Think about what we do on a daily basis that is for a higher purpose. And I'll tell you what, most people, it's not really there. What are you going to do on Friday? You're going to go out drinking. Why? Because it's self-gratifying.
I mean, you're going to go out, you get a bonus check, you got to blow out on a bunch of new clothes for yourself. That's hedonic. When you look around -- Let's see, here's the thing. And so taking this back to health, what supplement is going to fix this? What diet is going to fix this? What exercise program is going to fix this? Meditation is great but is that going to -- I mean, if you take an hour to meditate but then afterward you decide you want to go out and buy some new stuff for yourself, are all these things that as practitioners today that we're doing really getting to the core of what's going on with symptoms, disease, of what's going on in all these people today?
You know this as well as anybody. Inflammation in one person may show up as depression but it might show up as joint pain in somebody else. It might show up as poor exercise performance in somebody else. It might show up as an autoimmune condition in somebody else. But underlying all those things, could it be that we have less social connectedness, less sense of purpose, more hedonic living, more social isolation, less social buffering, and that's what's really driving a lot of these things.
Again I just said it but what supplement is going to fix that? You see inflammation in somebody, what do we do? Take some curcumin. Take some Resveratrol. I mean, decrease your inflammatory diet. Well, is the inflammatory diet really doing it as much? I mean, if somebody has leaky gut, sure you can fix it with supplements. It's not that hard. Let's say you have dysbiosis. Let's say you have depression. Take some serotonin or dopamine precursors. If you have high cortisol, take some Phosphatidylserine. Lower you stress.
All those things seem a little bit childish, I guess, a little bit reactionary. And we always talk about especially in this type of medicine, getting to the root cause -- well, I would argue that this is a pretty deep root cause when you think about this. This is genetic expression of inflammation or not inflammation or antiviral healthy immune function that's being caused by, again, loneliness, connectedness, social isolation versus social connectedness, social buffering. And this goes well beyond the stress response when you really think about it.
And hedonic versus eudaimonic pursuits of happiness. I wonder if we were to change all these things, if we would miraculously see a change in the health of our society with minimal dietary changes needed, minimal supplements needed, you know what I mean? So anyways, this is -- Before we started talking, I said I feel like this is a conversation that needs to start happening, which is why I really was glad when you wanted to touch base and talk about something new and different.
Like listen, we could talk biochemistry or micronutrients all day long. I love that stuff. It's so fun. It's so exciting. It's so hands on and tangible. But then in reality, if I weren't to address this, if we weren't to even talk about this, I don't think like we're really doing people much of a service. I'll just say -- and then we'll get into the sort of the what to do, I guess. And I'm serious about this. There's the whole save a star fish, you can't save them all but if you save one it matters to that one.
If one of your listeners who's not feeling very well, maybe isn't getting the athletic performance they're looking or whatever might be sits back and says, "You know what, I am freaking lonely. Like in fact, I'm really freaking lonely. And it doesn't feel good." And that maybe the thing that actually changes their health. They don't have to find another practitioner. They don't have to follow, for god's sake, another diet. I mean, how many diets have we tried on people? They don't have to take, "Well, it's not that probiotic. Let's try this probiotic because it's, I don't know, soil-based organism." Or whatever it is. Maybe it's a deeper thing. Maybe it goes beyond most of these things that we're doing today.
Christopher: Absolutely. And me included. People just want to fixate on one thing like the macronutrient ratios. Oh, it must be I'm still eating too many carbs that's why I have not solved my problem. For me, I think, if there's anything that's more important than anything it's the stress component. But as you've just alluded to, maybe even that alone is not the most important thing. It's everything.
Bryan: That brings up a couple of things. I mean, first of all, the macronutrients. But people do it about everything. Well, Lyme disease. According to the Lyme people, that's the cause of everything. Or it's mold exposure. Or it's candida or it's--
Christopher: Or heavy metals.
Bryan: Or heavy metals or food sensitivity or leaky gut. And you have a leaky gut expert, you can find a leaky gut anyway if you look hard enough probably. And if they don't, they'd be like, "Well, the test is wrong. I know that you have this for a fact." And then there's this stress thing that you just brought up.
I've had this gnawing feeling for a long time that stress is the scapegoat. I mean, the adrenal glands are the scapegoat organ of the body. But they'll be just say, "Well, it's just stress." And just kind of that's the answer. When you can't figure it out, "Well, it's just stress." And it kind of it's always gnawed at me because I don't think that that's actually the case necessarily. And this sort of speaks to that. Now, social isolation it turns out is a stress response. But we can't just chalk it up as stress. What kind of stress?
This was when I'd been doing research on some of this stuff which is really interesting. You know about the sympathetic nervous system but then there's the HPA access. And we usually put those hand in hand. But it turns out, at least in animal studies, I'm not so sure in humans, but in animal studies there are animal studies that have an increase in the HPA access activity but have no increase in sympathetic activity and vice versa where they have an increase in sympathetic activity but there's no increase in the HPA access activity.
So then that kind of flies into the face of what we're talking about with stress. Well, stress is going to increase catecholamine and it's going to increase cortisol. According to animal studies, it's not always the case. And my question is: Is that happening in humans as well? And I think we talked about this last time but there's a lot more that we don't know than we do know. And we kind of just lump these things in as, "Oh, you're having a stress response." But getting back to what I said earlier, is it really stress or is it our perception of the stress?
I mean, when you look at those animal studies, they have two different physiological responses and they do look at everything from the sympathetic nervous system activity to the catecholamines to cortisol HPA access. But they have a different physiological response to the exact same stress. You take two pigs, put them in the same stressful situation and they have two different physiological responses. So again, you know enough, you've been around long enough and you've talked to enough practitioners, that we say if this happens you will be stressed. "Oh, I'm studying for my final exams. My cortisol must be through the roof."
No, bullshit. That's probably not the case. Maybe in you but maybe not in somebody else. And the third person it's going to be lower and the fourth person, cortisol is normal but the receptors aren't working well. So we categorize, we over simplify these things. And getting back to the topic that we're talking about today, there's this branch -- [0:37:23] [Indiscernible] call it but medicine call it the biopsychosocial model. Bio meaning biology, psycho meaning sort of one's mental attitude and social is our environment which we're talking about.
It's one word because these things all interact with one another. And so at any rate, I think there's a lot more that we don't know than we do know. My hope is, and I really mean this and who knows maybe it will just flat in its face, but if people listen to this and listen to all of this, that they find it fascinating and start really having these thoughts, really having these conversations or maybe realizing this you after the call go to your wife if you don't tell her that you love her very often and say, "Babe, I appreciate -- You know, let's sit down and just talk."
Or your kid. You hang out with your kid a little bit longer in a little different way than you normally do or call a friend -- I don't know. Who knows? But I think this is a lot bigger, a contributor to all the different diseases that we're seeing out there today because when you look at what we're doing. We're very hedonic. We're not socially connected. Many people are feeling lonely. Who was that psychologist from Harvard, William James, long time ago said that people are living lives of quiet desperation.
We're not talking about these desperate lonely feelings, isolated feelings that we're having. But a lot of people are having them despite their social network, despite their family situation. And I really wonder how big of a contributor this is? And my guess is I think it's a lot bigger than we think it is and supplements aren't going to fix this. Carb back loading isn't going to fix this or even diet.
Christopher: Yeah. There's so many -- Whenever you talk about this, I always think about my own experiences. It's so true. The stress thing, I'm under more stress now than ever having quit a good job and started a business, like I had a kid and all that kind of stuff. My health has never been better. That's certainly my own experience. I've experienced some of what you've talked about. There's another thing I was thinking about. Yesterday was, initially I thought this Facebook thing. Now everybody has 1200 friends and they think they're really well connected but actually they're not.
But it can work both ways. So yesterday, I just put it out there -- I'm interviewing a nephrologist in a couple days time and I said, "Does anyone have any good questions for Jason Fung?"And I was just completely overwhelmed with all these fantastic questions. And suddenly I thought these are my people, this Optimising Insulin group, these are my people.
And I couldn't have achieved that without this tool Facebook that previously I thought was maybe making me more socially isolated than I thought. So it's really complicated.
Bryan: I was thinking I was talking about you and your blog and your podcast but these are -- I don't want to say that anything is inherently good or bad, which is to say something isn't inherently eudaimonic or hedonic because I see -- I was going to say this earlier. I see your podcast as something, because I know you, as something serving a higher good, a more noble purpose, really trying to help people. And I know that about you and that's what you're doing.
So your podcast is eudaimonic as far as I'm concerned. Someone else's podcast might be, "Hey, look at me, look how great I am." And that's more self-serving, self-gratifying and hedonic. Now Facebook, I mean, I like to make fun of it because it's quite narcissistic but on the other hand it's just a tool. And tools are neutral. Because a knife is neutral. A knife can be used to cut a sandwich for a homeless person or stab somebody. So it's just a tool. Facebook is a tool.
Now there's a lot of hedonic stuff going on, self-serving narcissistic stuff going on with Facebook but as you just pointed out, it's not all of that. These are just tools and it's how we use these tools. So I think your podcast is what I was thinking as perfect example. There are people out there that write a book to help others. There's people that write a book to say, "Hey, look at me and look how great I am." Those are two -- It's a book. Same tool. But the intention behind it is such a different thing that I would argue and I would love to be able to do these studies but that their physiology would be different especially on the genetic level and some of these things that are being expressed because it turn -- Like I said, our genes, I think, know our intentions and respond in due course.
Christopher: I've heard this phrase emotional intelligence years ago. There's some people that maybe are not even aware of it, that what they're doing is hedonistic and so maybe their genes wouldn't be affected in the same way just because they're just not totally unaware of what it is that they're doing.
Bryan: That's a good point. I would suggest that it goes beyond that, that your genes do know what you're doing. Your genes know what you're doing, even if you're not consciously aware of it or considering it to be such. On the other hand, the mind and mental, I mean, the Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton, for example, that our thoughts definitely can impact our physiology. But then the question comes up: Is it the intentions? Is it the belief of the thing? I don't know if you're familiar with Ellen Langer who wrote a book. I think it's, gosh, 20, 30 year ago now called Mindfulness.
She's on a lot of -- She's done the studies that everybody has talked about but nobody knows if she was behind it. Suggesting that -- She recently said that she believes that a good actor like Robert De Niro, Meryl Street, who becomes the person that they're acting would actually show the physiology of the person that they are portraying, if you will. The power of the mind is so strong that it can change one's physiology.
What you're saying is -- And it's a great question. I don't really answer to it. But if somebody is doing, is living in a hedonic way but doesn't believe that it's so, does their respond accordingly like what we're talking about? I would suggest it does because this is -- It's a deeper level thing. Again, it's the genes. I don't think the genes can -- They can be impacted by thoughts for sure but, I don't know, that would just wipe all the stuff out if you think about it. It would be like you're living in a hedonic way or the Kardashians but you believe that you're living for this higher purpose. I still think the body would probably respond in an inflammatory way. I don't know the answer but that's my belief.
Christopher: Well, we better talk about some prescriptive because I know I'll get into big trouble if I provide an hour worth of information and no prescriptive.
Bryan: So here's the thing. I mean, I don't know. I don't know if you have any answers for this because I certainly don't. There's a difference between simple and easy. The simple answer is get connected, don't feel lonely, be a part of a group, develop intimate relationships and live for a higher purpose. There you go. You're good. That's the simple answer but I think you'd agree that's not very -- It's not easily done. I mean, if you feel lonely, how do you get out of loneliness? If you aren't a part of the social group that has an intimate connection, how do you make that happen? A bigger one that I think we do have some control over is living for a higher purpose.
What are you living for? It's been suggested in the work of some people that you could, in certain cultures, that you could wake somebody up in the middle of the night dead asleep and say, "What's your purpose?" And they would just come right out with it. Because they embody that so much. It's so ingrained into them. Versus I would argue that today, at least in America that I know, you could wake up a lot of people in the middle of the night and say, "What's your purpose?" And they'd be like, "What the hell are you doing waking me up asking me what my purpose is?"
Because I don't think we know what our purpose is. I mean, really? I can ask -- I think you have one. You're living that right now by doing what you're doing, by quitting your job, starting your business, trying to help educate others on how to be happier, healthier. I think you have it. You do, I would suggest. But I would say that there's a lot of people that don't. If you were to write down in a sentence or even a word what's your purpose, I don't think a lot of people have that answer. I mean, what? To make money? That's not a purpose.
A higher more noble purpose that's bigger than you. That is something that I think we have control over. Now, if you don't have one, I would say start sitting with yourself really thinking about it. This is pretty much the whole self help book section of a bookstore. But there's been a lot of books on finding your purpose, exploring whatever that is for that person. If you feel lonely and you're socially isolated, I will tell you personally I find it very hard to make very strong social connections because I think, I believe, that I live more of a eudaimonic life and I find a lot of people are more hedonic.
So just to give you an example. I have four small kids, seven, five, three and one, I think at this point. The older boys, they play soccer. I got to their soccer games. There's always families there, which you think you can get along with but I can't connect. I'm trying to relate to your listeners, it's hard. It really is hard to connect with people on that deep sort of intimate level and develop a strong connection.
But I would suggest just keep your eyes out for those people. If you've had people in your life that maybe you stop talking to maybe as much, reach out to them, reach out to family members, connect with people. Make it less about yourself and ask how somebody else is doing rather than just telling stories about yourself, for example. In terms of the prescription, I think if we could figure that out, then we'd probably be pretty well off financially.
I don't know what it is. It's living with a higher purpose, which I think we do have control over. It's being connected, not feeling lonely, having a group of people that would have your back and you would have theirs too, which again is living for a higher purpose other than just yourself. So if you or any of your listeners have any suggestions, I'm all for it. I haven't found the answer. But I'm serious in saying it's a simple answer. And that's the goal, knowing in terms of what to do, step one is just to acknowledge maybe that you don't have a purpose, maybe that you are living for yourself, maybe that you're not living for a higher greater good, maybe that you do actually feel lonely.
And the awareness of that honestly is the first step. Because if you do admit that you're lonely -- and I have this huge group of friends that I always go out with but I feel kind of isolated and alone. Well, I don't know, try to connect with one of them on a deeper level, go to some kind of meet up groups or whatever it is to try to make those connections. So the first step, the first actionable item is to realize where you are, be honest with yourself, take an honest inventory of where you are. And then after that, I think, it's kind of like the prescription for how to reduce your stress.
And some people it's yoga and other people it's tai chi and other people it's meditation and other people is going for walks on the beach. Somebody else it's sleeping more than and others, it's journal writing. We have our own things that will be our answer, if you will, and so it's hard to make a specific recommendation. But the awareness of it is the first step. And then seeking a higher purpose, seeking out resources, books, podcasts, DVD, whatever it might be, to help you find your higher purpose, to help you find those things, I think. I think awareness is the biggest thing. But beyond that, I think it is somewhat individual myself.
Christopher: Right. You just reminded me. I just watched the other night a presentation by Robert Sapolsky. He may have been the baboon researcher that you mentioned earlier. I'm not sure. He's done a lot of work on stress and baboons. But yes, his joke was humans often the way we do things is in school we worry about passing these exams so we can get into the college of our choice, so that we can get into the university of our choice, so that we can get the job or our choice, so that we can get into the nursing home of our choice. And people, I've fallen into that trap as I'm sure everybody listening has done so too.
You're always in pursuit of the next thing. The satisfaction never comes. If you're doing that at the moment, if you're just working to get that promotion, maybe that's not going to solve the problem that we're talking about.
Bryan: And really, it brings up a good point. How many books are there talking about mindfulness and being in the present moment? I mean, that's a huge topic. And I will agree what you just said and Robert Sapolsky that not having that next but just being happy and present with what you have. But again, you can -- That may help some people with this and perhaps not others. But, no. That just speaks to this whole thing. And that is, honestly, that's hedonism when you think about it, that you are trying to get good grades so you feel good about yourself, not for a higher good, so you can get into a college for yourself, that you feel good about getting into that college.
I did this, I'm wonderful. So you can get that great job and make a lot of money. I mean, that's what I'm saying. Our society, when you look at the epidemics of chronic disease, Alzheimer's, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and you look at some of the physiology that we were just talking about and natural killer cells and interferon and those are anti-cancer compounds essentially. They prevent cancer, fight cancer in our body. Do we live in such a hedonic society that we don't even realize how bad it is? And is this driving much of the chronic disease?
I mean, you get the people like, "Well, that's all gluten. Gluten's what's causing all these problems." Really? Something tells me it's not just gluten. Or it's not just SIBO. It's not these things. Do we live in such a hedonic society? I mean, what you said that Robert Sapolsky said that you've fallen into, we've all fallen into is such a pervasive attitude and thought that maybe we don't even realize how bad it actually is and that we're actually contributing and a part of this and are not even aware of it, which is why I was saying the first step is to say, "You know what, I do a lot of things for myself. I don't do things for anybody else."
Sometimes, I will say this too. People can do things for someone else but for their own self-gratification, if that makes sense. That's hedonic. If you do something for someone else for the greater good, that's eudaimonic, if that makes sense. So taking that self inventory and deciding what am I really doing, where am I on that spectrum? Am I so far in our society that I'm not even aware that I've been doing these things? And then they start to take small steps, maybe out of that. I think your example of what Robert Sapolsky said is a great example.
Christopher: Yeah. I kind of wrestle with this stuff as well now with my own education. Obviously, I've talked about this many times in the podcast now, how much I've been enjoying the Metabolic Fitness Pro and the Kahn Academy videos and I'm thinking I could be spending this time getting some qualification. I mean, is that hedonistic? What would I really do with that qualification? Just put it in a frame and hang it up on the wall in my office and take a picture of myself in front of it? I don't really know what the point of that would be.
Bryan: Listen, man. I agree. Those are tickets to play games in our society to get license to be able to do something. But I laugh at practitioners that have a whole alphabet after their name of all these different certifications. The only purpose of that is to say, "Look at how smart I am. Look at everything I've done." I hate to say it but that's why it's there, is to make you look better to other people so that you feel that they think that you're smart. It's very hedonistic.
I will say I've done a lot of certifications. The only thing I put after my name are ND, just good old naturopathic doctor. That's good enough for me. I don't need a whole slew of things. And maybe even the ND is a bit, maybe that's hedonic too. I have no idea. But I don't put those all. I think it looks silly. At any rate, I would agree. And to get those certifications, what would that do for you? I mean, would that make you a better practitioner? Would it make you a better interviewer for your podcast?
I would argue no. I mean, look at what you're doing, man. You're doing a phenomenal job. You're an incredible practitioner. Essentially self taught except taking a few certifications here and there. I don't think it would do anything for you. It would just be letters after your name which would make you feel better about yourself. Personally, I don't think you need that.
Christopher: Yeah. It's just kind of a conformist thing. It's like people expect people talking about health to have all these credentials and so that's what makes me think about it so hard.
Bryan: It's true. I'm a part of this summit too once in a while, the big online summit type thing. The reality is if somebody has a name and no letters after their name, then you wonder like, "Well, how are you an authority to be able to talk about X,Y or Z?" And so it is. It's definitely part of our society. If you want to play that game, you can do it. But that also speaks to this thing. If you do it for yourself to make yourself feel better about yourself, that's one thing. But if you do it perhaps for a higher order then it's a different thing. Anyhow, I think it's all in the intention.
Christopher: Yeah. Well, this has been great. I have one final question for you. When is level two coming?
Bryan: Well, dude, hopefully soon, man. I'm having -- Projects keep piling up. You know how that goes. It's all in my head. In fact, this is a god's honest truth, I think about topics all the time. I'm sitting here answering emails and I think, "Oh yeah, the red blood cells do this. I definitely have to include that in level two." I'm thinking about it. I'm organizing it in my brain. It's all kind of there. It's really just a matter of getting a video camera set up and just going for it. So hopefully soon. Hopefully soon.
You know what, I love doing that. It's very, very fun for me. But then there's life. I told you that I have four young kids, the amount of time that they take is unreal. I mean, the amount of butts that I wipe, shoes that I tie, the sleep deprivation that I have right now, honestly, with four kids that age, two wake up every night and it's always a different two. One will fall out of the bed one night and then another one would pee on the bed and another one has nightmares. Who knows? So the level of stress if you will in my life, the happiness is more than ever. But it's just -- holy crap. So soon, hopefully soon. I think about it all the time.
Christopher: Well, let me know if there's anything I can do. I kind of have technical skills that might be helpful.
Bryan: I think a nanny. If you want to come over and--
Christopher: I know. That's the thing. It's like those [0:56:36] [Indiscernible].
Bryan: Honestly. Fixing shit in the house, I mean, there's always something to fix, there's always something my wife wants me to improve on or clean or something, man. So anyhow.
Christopher: So what projects have you got going on? Is there anything you want everyone to know about?
Bryan: I don't know. I'm pretty modest. I don't like to talk too much. I was just a part of the Metabolism and Fat Loss Summit.
Christopher: I listen to that. That was really good. I'll link to that. That was a really fantastic presentation where you started from the bottom up and talked about cells.
Bryan: It's funny because I just -- It's coming out November 1st. it's called the Gut Health Turnaround Series, I think. That's another one of these summits. And I talked about this. It was funny because with the gut health summit, what do you think people are going to talk about?
Christopher: Yeah, the gut.
Bryan: Well, SIBO.
Christopher: Yeah. Combinations of candida and SIBO, candida and Lyme disease.
Bryan: Yeah. We're all deficient in digestive enzymes. The importance of hydrochloric acid. You need to move your bowels, probotics, prebiotics, SIBO, leaky gut, candida, pretty much the same stuff. When I was asked to be on this, I was like, I don't want to just talk about that stuff because it's kind of old hat. That's where this came up. I was like, "You know, I'm going to talk about something different." And I found so many studies, unfortunately just on animals, about gut dysfunction when it comes social isolation and all these different things. This is what I talked about quite honestly. There's some really good speakers on that, some that I have quite a lot of respect for. There's that. Just keeping busy.
Christopher: Excellent. Well, definitely you've -- One of the things I've noticed about great teachers is they make you think really hard about a subject or a topic without really using that many words. And you and Richard Feinman are just like two of the greatest teachers I've ever met in that respect. I know that I need to -- I have this health assessment questionnaire that I get everybody to do and I use that to track progress and it has lots of poignant questions. And I realize for me that I need to add some questions about social isolation and connectedness and feeling like you're part of something greater. I think that would be a good version too of the health assessment questionnaire.
Bryan: That's an excellent point. And what I would suggest, I mean, is that -- and everybody has these questionnaires. You have the symptoms for the gut, symptoms for the thyroid, symptoms for the hormones or neurotransmitters or whatever. But if that was a separate section and it was sort of quantified, if somebody scored high in that section, then I would suggest that that's one of the biggest most important sections that you wouldn't work on to their knowledge, if that makes sense?
Bryan: But if you fix that section, then a lot of the other ones would fix themselves up as well. And I will say that many of these studies that I've been talking about, they use questionnaires to determine the level of social network somebody has, social connectedness, social isolation and loneliness. So I would encourage you when putting some of those together is to look to some of those surveys that they do or some of those questionnaires because that's how they determine how lonely somebody is doing, is via questionnaire.
Bryan: I think you can make your job a little bit easier for yourself.
Christopher: Yeah. Now all of my questions are stolen from the NIH promise project. And yes there are some people that are far clever than me that had spent an awful lot of times thinking about these questions. So, yeah, I just didn't pull them off a hat.
Bryan: And if they're in studies, they're validated too. And that's one thing that many of questionnaires aren't today.
Christopher: Right. Well, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much, Bryan. I really appreciate your time.
Bryan: I love doing it with you, Chris. You're a great guy.
Christopher: Thank you. Cheers.
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