Why do we eat when we’re not hungry?
Today we’re here with Dr. Andrew Miles, award-winning doctor of oriental medicine, whose work connects traditional Chinese medicine, Western science and the future of healing.
Dr. Miles specializes in treating chronic pain, opiate dependence and gut health. He has received awards from the Chinese and Taiwanese governments for the preservation of and contribution to Chinese martial arts and medicine. Andrew’s wife holds a PhD in herbal pharmacology and together they work to bridge the gap between Chinese culture and the Anglo-sphere through “botanical biohacking.”
On this show, you’re going to learn:
- Why so many of us overeat
- The importance of balancing your gut microbiome
- How herbs fit into the future of medicine
- Why Jägermeister is healthier than Diet Coke, and more!
ANDREW MILES: WHY THE FUTURE IS 3,000 YEARS IN THE PAST
Abel: Let’s start with something you mention in your book: food marketing companies are intensely focused on getting us to eat more. Their entire industry is designed to manipulate you. Of course, you and I do our best to reverse that damage, Andy, but let’s start right there. What are we up against today?
What we’re up against are the top psychologists in the world trying to get you to eat more, and also the top chemists in the world designing ways to trick your body to bypass your biological feedback loops to get you to overeat. This is like going into a casino thinking you’re going to make a wise investment decision, and asking the guy at the blackjack table how you should spend your money for the next 20 years. You’re probably going to come out broke. It’s the same thing when you enter a grocery store: you’re going to lose.
Abel: Yeah, and it’s compounded by the fact that most of us are just living our lives, eating or living on autopilot.
Absolutely. It’s not that any of us lack the intelligence to make the right kind of decisions. The fact is, any of us, especially if we are passionate about what we’re doing, we get so focused on that one thing in our lives that everything else slips in through the subconscious, and it comes down to it, and we have the decision. We have 20 minutes to buy food and eat it while we’re thinking about something else, or we don’t eat. And this is the reality for many, if not most people. We tend to go with our gut decision, but the gut decision can be very influenced by what’s slipping into the subconscious.
Abel: And it’s incessant. I mentioned this on the show before, but when my wife and I took about two years traveling around the country and the world, we noticed if we were out in remote places, we didn’t see advertisements; we didn’t watch TV.
Even just driving down the road, you don’t see those billboards for the greasy fries and hamburger and chicken nuggets and all of that pizza and what have you. You’re not barraged with it, but as soon as you come back to society, it’s a hard shift. From the mountaintops down to the city.
What can we do to maintain our sanity in the face of all this?
Well, it’s harder for me, because especially in winter, I get really stupid. I’ll see an advertisement after consciously trying to avoid them. I’ll see something and be like, “That is the best thing in the world. We need to buy that now.” My wife’s like, “Are you listening to yourself? What’s wrong with you?”
Especially in winter, as the cold starts to take effect, you just start to crave more calorie-intensive foods, and if you’re not getting those nutrients, then you see some advertisement, and it’s not just playing to what my body needs. It’s playing to my emotional needs, my goals, my drives, and it can do that just within the color scheme in the background.
Because they know what cartoons I was watching 30 years ago.
Abel: Right. It’s pernicious, it’s incessant, and you need to put your shields up in today’s society, and realize, or hopefully notice, when you’re not the one driving the behavior. And actually, mindfulness and meditation is a great tool to teach yourself how to do that, and we’ll get there in just a little bit. But I want to mention something that you brought up in the book as well, which is the study about the bottomless soup.
Well, a lot of our feeding behavior has to do with our environment and our social cues. If you’re hanging out with people who are athletes and they’re eating a lot, you’ll probably eat at least 50% more than you’re used to.
With this particular study, they had a tube attached to the bottom of a bowl of soup so the more you ate, the more it would just keep refilling, and they were studying how much people would eat before they noticed they were just eating an ungodly amount: liters of soup. And what they found is that people had no idea. They were using visual cues to determine how much they were eating instead of internalizing the feeling of satiety.
Abel: Right, and that’s just the tendency of human beings. You put something down in front of us and we’re wired or we’re taught to just eat what’s there, and there’s a great lesson in that. Be thankful for what you have; don’t waste.
But at the same time, you go back to even the 1950s, and say you go out and get a hamburger or pie or an ice cream or something like that; it was probably smaller than the kiddie size today. Now you go out and you get a bucket of fried chicken or you get a triple-decker burger or you get the super-size everything. You even go and get a cup of coffee at an airport, and I always ask for small, but sometimes that thing is, I swear, 20 ounces.
So we also need to be aware that you can get away with eating little bits of things that you enjoy, and some amount of vice if you want to call it that, and I would say when I have traveled to the East, you can see that on display, people are enjoying their lives and eating little bits of everything, but it’s not the American-sized version of all this junk.
Absolutely, and they cut the sugar beyond half of what we find acceptable here. Oreo tried to market their products in China, and it was so sweet that people were actually vomiting. They couldn’t take that intensity of sugar. So they cut the sugar in half and it was causing nausea. So they cut it down to about a quarter, and then people could take it, but the amount they would eat was no more than one to two cookies. They weren’t going through a pack of Oreos at four times the levels of sugar that a human should be eating, ever.
Abel: Interesting. Why do you think that is?
Well, if you remember the movie The Princess Bride, the guy, he builds up a tolerance to the iocane powder, and he’s essentially trained himself to live on poison. Well, that’s what we’ve done.
The levels of sweetness that we take compared to what other cultures eat is enough to physically make them ill.
Abel: What is considered a staple treat as opposed to what we find in America?
There’s a kind of sweet drink that kids are given in China. It’s two herbs called Shan Zha and Wu Mei, and they’re put together. These are digestive herbs. If they’re eating something that’s oily, it helps the kids to break down the fats, and there have been studies on it in Japan that it actually helps to break down subcutaneous fat. They do add some sweetener to that; however, because it’s helping the digestion, it works out.
Otherwise, people will make a really big deal about an ice cream cone, but the ice cream cone, it has such a small amount of ice cream on it. It would be something you might get at Costco as a free sample. And that’s something people have once a month.
Abel: Yeah, and the serving size is the sample size in America. That is startling.
I can totally relate to that – when we were in Thailand, I’d get a vodka soda or something like that with a bit of lime, and they had at the top of all the bottles, these little thimble-sized measurements. I think it was like 100 milliliters or something like that. A very small shot, but measured every single time, I think it was regulated by the government. I don’t know if it still is, but that way, when you got a drink, you knew exactly what you were getting. It wasn’t very much alcohol at all, but that’s really the way we should be enjoying alcohol or food and pretty much everything in between: in these little measured doses. That used to be a necessity, probably of economics in generations past and in other parts of the world, but now it’s just completely out of control in most of the Western world.
I have my hypothesis on why this is. I think a large part of why we’re eating as much as we are, besides the incessant marketing that we get, is that we’re trying to fill a hole. We’re eating in order to replace those feelings of love and community that we would have in a more functional culture, and I’m not talking about East versus West, because some of my dearest friends are in their eighties. I met them through the Lions Club and they said American life was… After work, people got into these civic groups and that was the basis of the community. And there are studies that when people are eating in groups, they’ll eat less, because you’re eating and you’re socializing for some of the same neural hormones.
You’re eating for that oxytocin, for the opiates. Either food will touch those opiate receptors or the hug you just got or the handshake or the social interaction. They’re really competing for the same space, and once one of those goes down, you can try to fill that hole with food and sugar. Of course, this does brain damage and makes you more susceptible to cancer and diabetes. But when we’re looking at our human needs, we want to fill those the most efficient way possible. And sometimes, it’s easier to buy something that’s oversize than to actively cultivate community.
Abel: Right. Now the idea of stuffing our faces mindlessly, is that an American phenomenon? A Western phenomenon? Or have you seen that creeping up all around the world?
I’ve definitely seen that creeping up. But when you see somebody who is eating for social comfort, it’s usually somebody who’s very lonely. When I see somebody who is really obese and they have a food addiction in China, it’s somebody who’s been through a lot of abuse, nobody likes them, and they’re home alone with their cats. And unfortunately, that’s become a bit of a norm here in the United States.
Abel: Yeah, it does seem that way, but there’s a way out of it. The problem is, we’ve been not only subjected to all of this pernicious marketing, but also what we get from the government, the nutrition principles that we’ve been trying to follow have been completely off base. I love this one part of your book where you say, “Being told to eat six servings of vegetables a day is like being told to wear six pounds of cotton.”
Yeah, absolutely. If you look at the way food should be eaten, it’s within a context. And I think now the food pyramid isn’t used as much, but when I was growing up, it certainly was, and they were told to eat a certain number of servings of bread and vegetables without considering people’s climate or activity level. So kids in Hawaii and kids in Alaska are being told to eat the same foods, at the same ratios, in entirely different climates.
But if we replace those foods for different materials, we could say, “Alright, you need three ounces of Lycra, five pounds of wool, six articles of leather.” And then the kid in Hawaii is going to be suffering from heat stroke. Maybe the guy in Alaska is doing alright, and likewise, if you said, “Okay, we determined that for kids in Hawaii, we’re going to make this nationwide, it’s best that everybody wear swimming shorts and sandals.” And then the kid Alaska is dying. No, it’s not as dramatic as that—but you see kids, if you go into an elementary school, a number of them just have snot running down their noses, they have allergies, they’re getting chronic illnesses from a young age. And this is something I never saw in Asia. Ever. Because people are eating according to the season.
They’re eating foods that enhance the immune system rather than destroy it. And this has a very direct effect on intelligence, and because families are so competitive over there especially—competitive everywhere, but especially competitive in Asia—they don’t want their kids sick, because they might miss school and get that much further behind. It’s related. It’s really a misnomer.
I think the name “immune system” is outdated. It’s really a telecommunications system for the body.
It has a very strong role for communication, and macrophages, which were seen to just destroy and eat away dead tissue, they find it’s part of the body’s healing system and can actually rebuild tissue. So having a strong and healthy immune system, having healthy gut flora, is really important for your body’s ability to heal itself. It’s important for having healthy memory and brain function.
Abel: Right. The body is an ecosystem. And science is catching up to that, and of course, the general public is even starting to become interested in things like the microbiome and gut health. I know that’s one of the things you research and stay on the cutting edge of. What are some of the things you’ve learned and applied recently as relate to gut health and the microbiome?
Well, the microbiome of the body is very, very exciting, because this is one of the areas that completely sows together ancient world views on health, and really the future of medicine.
Let’s say a stool sample is taken from someone with Parkinson’s, and they put it into germ-free mice and then the mice start having tremors. You get an idea for how connected our gut microbiota are with the rest of the body, either directly, by way of the gut-brain access, and indirectly through gases that serve as neurotransmitters. It’s really quite fascinating.
Whether you love cats or dogs, there’s a microbial profile for that. Whether you like extreme sports or curling up with a book, you have a different microbiota profile than somebody who doesn’t. Kids in Europe versus kids in Africa have different microbiota profiles, and that changes to a degree when you move to a different climate. And this is influencing every aspect of us, from where we store fat to our personalities, our intelligence, memory. It’s not to say that every problem we have starts in the gut, but it’s one important aspect of a feedback loop that’s happening in our body.
Abel: Yeah. So there literally could be “something in the water,” right?
Abel: We’re living within ecosystems and our guts are a part of that. They’re digesting for us. The bacteria in and on our bodies are responsible for, in many ways, our neurotransmitters. The way we feel, the way we interact with the environment, certainly, and it changes seasonally.
I was talking to someone recently who specializes in looking at the guts of different animals over the season. If you look at something like a bear, which is going and trying to get fat before the winter, his microbiome and gut flora is completely different during the summer than the winter when he goes into ketosis and he’s burning his body fat and just staying there to survive the elements. And then it changes once again with the season, so it’s very important to get in touch with that.
But it seems like in America, at least, most people don’t have the tools to even know what that means, let alone put it into practice. How can you actually help this knowledge be translated down into what’s on your plate?
Well, I think we did have that knowledge. When our great-grandmothers came over from Europe, or our great-grandmothers who are native and were just hanging out here, they had an understanding of what to eat during different times of year. In fact, how many of us in the 1950s, if we had a hot dog put a lot of sauerkraut, unpasteurized sauerkraut, on our plate versus now? The cultural differences are quite dramatic.
Even what we look at as those ridiculous cure-alls that are full of Dr. McGillicuddy’s bitters, those are full of plants and the chemical structures in those plants that help to increase bile to help us break down those fats. So a lot of this old-world knowledge is basically relegated to being called old wives’ tales, and it was being replaced with a very fragile and unscientific science. That was largely pushed by marketing companies.
Pretty much everything we know scientifically about diet and food—with the exception, of course, of people who in recent years have started to look a little closer—our cultural assumptions about diet are ridiculous lies.
“Our cultural assumptions about diet are ridiculous lies.” —Andrew Miles, Englightenweight
Abel: Yeah. I like how you just went out there and said it. But yes, the idea that you should be eating six—what is it—six to eleven servings of grains, cereals, and what have you, as a part of your diet, is ridiculous, and then special interests have also pushed out a lot of the traditional foods at the same time.
I’ve been taking bitters for digestion for quite some time. My mom is a holistic nurse practitioner and does a lot with plant medicine, and so I was having a lot of bitter, stinky, weird, strange stuff from the backyard growing up.
I actually developed a craving for it. Bitters are something that we should be exposed to, and they actually cue your body to start doing its work and digesting and assimilating foods. It’s not something that’s an old wives’ tale. Or even if it is, it has a lot of legitimacy. So let’s talk about that legitimacy. Why do these plants help our bodies work better?
Well, first of all, when we talk about plants, plants that have a bitter flavor, we’re talking about ballpark ideas. Let’s say they’re 80% true; it’s not 100%.
Generally speaking, when you find a plant, or if you’re just out in the woods chewing on things, and you encounter something bitter, it’s probably going to be poisonous. And your body focuses its attention on the digestive organs. It’s going to increase peristalsis to get that food through you faster, and in doing that, by itself it has an anti-inflammatory effect. The longer you hold food, the more it bumps up your nitric oxide, the more of an inflammatory effect you can get. And that’s not to say that inflammation is bad, it has very important purposes, but too much is associated with obesity. So bitters will help get the digestive tract moving; it’ll also help to increase bile secretion, and this is very important for breaking down fats in the body.
Abel: I remember there’s a greasy food that’s like a pizza that you ate in China, and it’s served with a digestive drink as well. That’s part of the deal; they don’t let you walk away without it.
Absolutely, yeah. Lana and I, we were working with a research and development company for plant-based medicines, and at that time, we were working about 16 hours a day, and it was just insane when we were working on this project. Just like most Americans, we just didn’t have time for anything. There was this place on the corner that had these Silk Road pizzas. So they’re just oily, the predecessor of pizza, central Asian kind of food.
I would go to buy one, and they would say, “No, you can’t buy this unless you buy the drink.” And I’m like, “Fine, how much is the drink?” They’re like, “No, it’s included. We’re just doing our social good here.” And it was so greasy that you could just see through the bag. This is a vice. Definitely a vice kind of food. This is thinking more than you’re moving, will cause you to crave ridiculous foods, and this was one of them. Just like, “Oh, to heck with it. Okay, we’re going to eat this.”
But we had this drink, which is made of two fruits called Shan Zha and Wu Mei, and what these do is help your body to break down oils and fats, and make your body assimilate it.
If you have too much fat, it serves as a preservative, and your gut microbes can’t get into it. So we would eat this and two things would happen. One, we’re able to digest it with no problems. Our energy levels would spike, and we wouldn’t feel like eating dinner because the drink itself was helping the body adjust the energy balance, and really, when you’re too fat but have no energy, that’s not a problem of anything besides energy balance. If you’re exhausted and can’t get to sleep, that’s a problem of energy balance. And so by using these herbs or fruits that are part of the culture, you’re able to literally have your cake and eat it too. You’re able to digest it, assimilate it, get the best properties from what you’re eating to where they should be, get rid of the rest, and call it a day.
WHY JÄGERMEISTER IS BETTER THAN DIET COKE
Abel: You mentioned that it’s a primitive pizza, and a primitive drink, because if you extend this food to where we are now, you can see how we got here. Because you go out and you get something that’s big and greasy, say a burger. And it comes with a fizzy drink that has some sweetness to it. But Dr. Pepper is supposed to be… I don’t know, what is it? It’s all chemicals now. But it used to be, if you go back, these were all these elixirs and bitters, and things that helped us actually assimilate that food, but now it’s just a perversion of the concept to spur overeating.
I think it’s really slight changes that cause the difference between being able to digest a heavy meal and having it sit in your gut and rot your body.
When I went to Germany the first time, people were eating many of the same foods that we might eat in Midwestern America, because they’re the same folks, really. The difference was, in Germany, nothing was pasteurized. The second was, after the meal, instead of having a Diet Coke with it or something ridiculous like this, I had a warm Jägermeister or similar type of liqueur that’s full of digestive bitters.
When you take an iced drink, it’s similar to icing your eyeball before taking a vision test.
You’re putting ice and cold right into the digestive organs that need blood to do their work. So the traditional European way of eating fats and bratwurst and all kinds of delicious bloodwurst and whatever else, was to follow it up with a digestive liqueur that helps you to break this down.
Abel: There’s a lot that we can learn to reintegrate this into our lifestyles, and it’s not that difficult, like having sauerkraut in the fridge. If you take that step, and it’s actually in your fridge, you’re like, “What can I do with this?” And you get creative with it, you have it with eggs, you have it with meats, of course. I’ll have it by itself, especially if I’m coming off fasting or under-eating for a time, having a little bit of that salty fermented food seems like it’s just what the doctor ordered. And it’s amazing. You can feel your body operating differently when it gets these tools.
Absolutely. If I want to drop weight quickly, what I’ll do is either not eat dinner, or do some intermittent fasting. But in the beginning when you start that, your body isn’t quite happy with you. But if you have some kimchi or sauerkraut, it takes the edge off, increases your digestive capacity, and then you wake up with a lot less fat on your body.
Abel: You also mentioned fermented teas are particularly effective for fat loss and digestion and assimilation… Pu-erh tea and Oolong are the two standouts, right?
Yeah. There are, of course, many teas that work wonderfully for helping gut microbiota; they serve probiotics. But the more fermented they are, the more benefit you tend to get.
There was a study in Singapore, I believe it was, and they studied the ability of different teas to affect fat loss. So Pu-erh tea seems to clean the blood a little more, whereas Oolong tends to take away more of the adipose fat. And it’s important for people to remember that when you’re losing fat, it’s not just about what you can pinch on your belly. Sometimes you can pinch less on your belly, but you have more fat in your blood. Or you have more fat around the organs, or it’s more marbled into your muscles, and you flex, and it looks great, but you’ve got a marbled steak going on, so it’s still not quite that lean.
Abel: There’s an image! It’s important to emphasize the fact that we’re not disconnected from our food. We’re not disconnected from the fat on our bodies. All of these things are active, and they’re changing the way you feel; they’re changing the way you think.
When I’ve traveled to other parts of the world, it seems like there’s more of an appreciation that this is all a web. That life is all connected.
You see, certainly, when you go to places in the East, in China, Thailand, the Philippines, you see ducks hanging in shop windows, you see dead animals, or you see live animals, and right after you order it, they’re running up behind the back, chopping the chicken’s head off, and eventually that becomes your curry, either right then or that evening. Also because there’s less distance between you and your food, or you and your life in general, there’s more appreciation that it is all connected. That lends itself to a different type of spirituality, doesn’t it?
Yeah, well, absolutely. People want the food that’s the freshest, and it doesn’t really matter what a marketing person says. In China, anyway, I would buy groceries, and I would ride an electric bike home. There’s a guy on every street corner selling vegetables that he biked in from his farm. It was picked that day. You get it and you eat it that night. And sometimes my mother-in-law would go out and get vegetables that were just cut an hour before, and then we would eat that for breakfast.
Abel: There’s a difference between that and what that does to your microbiome compared to produce that’s been shipped across the world that might be more than 12 months old, gassed with ethylene to ripen artificially and slathered with chemicals and waxes to improve perceived appearance. The implications for your body and your health moving forward are incredible.
From a traditional standpoint, what they would say is that there’s less “chi” in the plant. Now, through more chemical analysis, we have a better idea of what “chi” is.
Chi literally means gas. So plants are always putting off gases of one type or another, whether it’s auxins that are hormone-based gases to tell the other plants to ripen, or just carbon dioxide, etcetera.Every living thing has an intimate relationship with the gases that surround it. @Englightenweight Click To Tweet
The longer something is on the shelf and the longer you’re using gases to preserve it, those are the preservatives that your gut microflora are also going to have a hard time getting into. Generally speaking, if it’s designed to be preserved, your gut microbiota is going to have a harder time getting at it.
Even if it’s a so-called fresh vegetable that’s been preserved in a gas that now your body’s going to have a hard time getting into, or if you look at the traditional way that anything is preserved—high amounts of salt and fat, those are all preservatives. Even having some kind of GMO food, those are designed to be preserved as long as possible. And just keep in mind that that’ll take longer for your gut to get into. I’m not saying all of those things are evil. It’s not that cheese is evil or GMOs are necessarily evil, but you just need to respect that it will take a longer time for your body to get into.
Having a respect for the food and your relationship to it means that if you’re not going to eat what’s best for you, then you’re going to have to do a lot of work to make up for it.
HOW TO USE HERBS TO BURN FAT AND BOOST HEALTH
Abel: That’s a good way to think about it. You can get away with some amount of vices or processed food or what have you, but you’re going to have to work for that other percentage of your diet or your lifestyle or exercise to make up for it, and we all have this quota.
I think the problem is that most Americans are living in the 60% to 70% just by default—that junk is the majority of their diet. And if you see a vegetable every once in awhile, it’s probably not one that was alive that day. But there are a lot of things we can do to improve our own situation. One of the things, especially based upon your wife’s work, that I’d love to get into with you, is about the promise of plant medicines versus medical treatment or versus drugs. A lot of people don’t necessarily work herbs into their lifestyle, but what are some ways you do that in your practice?
Well, there are three main ways that herbs are used in East Asia, and I would say that the most common way is that herbs are used alongside Western medicine to take away the side effects. One of the questions people have is, if medications often are based on plants or come from plants, why don’t you just take what’s good out of that plant and then leave the rest to rot in the field?
The answer to that is that when you look at the chemical structures in a single herb—not to say 20 put together, but just one herb—you may have 20 or 30 chemical compounds that are all very similar, but some keep the others in check.
Let’s say with Ma Huang, Herba ephedra, became really popular, and people are using it for weight loss. Don’t use it for weight loss; it will hurt you. If you look at the whole plant, the top half of the plant increases heart rate and increases sweating. The root of that plant is the antidote to the top part. The root slows the heart rate and stops sweating, so people will come in sometimes and they have a sweating disorder, they’re just constantly sweating. If you give them the root of that plant, it will stop the sweating. When you look at the formulas as a whole, you have hundreds of chemical structures coming together in very unique ways, but still, you can’t just isolate the chemical structure that you think is important, because the others are there in the wings to make sure it doesn’t go too far in one direction or the other.
The other aspect is that the plants have polyphenols, and just the texture, the little bits of the herbs that you’re getting, are important for your gut microbiota. If you take an herbal formula, it’s going to help repopulate your microflora, whereas if you take a pharmaceutical intervention, if you take a pill, that’s going to do damage to your microbiota. And it may need to do that to save your life.
I’m not saying one or the other is bad. I’m not making a religious decision here, because the way people in Asia use it is more, “Okay, I’m going to take these antibiotics. It is going to completely destroy my gut and then I’m going to take this to repopulate my gut, something that’s going to enhance the survival of those positive microbes.”
What they found with some of these traditional formulas—not all of them, but some of them are complete garbage. They do studies on the formulas in China and have been since the ’50s; they’ll do mass clinical studies and they’ll give one group an herbal formula and they’ll give another group the medication. And for the most popular formulas that are still in use today that have been used for the last 2,000 years, they tend to work statistically similarly, which means they work about the same, only they don’t have the side effects. So they may give somebody an antiviral and then they’ll also give them an herbal antiviral, and the Western medical antiviral say, interferon, will do some damage to the liver and kidneys.
The Chinese medical formula—let’s say in the case of Tsai Tao Hua Tang, which was invented literally 2,000 years ago, it not only works as well, but they work synergistically together, and it then takes away the side effects on the liver and kidneys. Same thing with cancer therapies; I wouldn’t recommend that people take herbs by themselves.
Let’s say that for a certain type of cancer, the herbs are 20% effective alone, and then Western medicine is 20% effective. When you do them both together, you get the effective rate up over 50%.
So it’s more effective, then, adding them together. And one of the reasons for that is because during the attack strategy phase, say for cancer therapy, the Western medicine is much better. So people have an idea or a misconception that plant-based medicine is all natural and happy and full of fairies and happy thoughts. That’s nonsense.
Traditionally, people used a combination of poisons from snake or scorpion, and they were more volatile. I just needed to say that, because as I provide information about how wonderful herbs are, that’s not to say it’s the best thing to do if you have cancer. Again, it’s not a religious decision; you have to use them both intelligently. But what they found is that people can go through twice the amount of chemo or twice the radiation, because in between bouts of those attack strategies, they take herbal formulas that help restore the gut flora, help improve energy balance, help restore the white and red blood cell counts. And as a result of doing these together, the results are much, much better. Same thing with weight loss or any chronic disease.
Abel: And I think that’s the promise, using both intelligently. Not saying that Western medicine is evil, or that plants don’t work, but combining the best of both together.
This is just an example, but when we were in Peru, coca tea, the coca leaves they make cocaine out of, is a mild stimulant—less intense, I would argue, than a cup of coffee, but it actually helps you acclimate to being up on the mountains with thinner air. So we would drink coca tea almost every day for weeks.
I’ve never used cocaine or hard drugs, and I don’t plan on ever trying cocaine, but the effects of coca tea are nothing like cocaine.
When you look at what the coca leaf is, it’s an intact plant. And it comes, like you said, with all of those different compounds in the amounts that would be reasonable in nature. It’s almost like a built-in failsafe. When you purify all these different compounds, or certainly a single compound, all of a sudden your body doesn’t seem to know what to do with it if it’s offered in vast amounts all at one time, on a regular basis. You don’t get those cofactors; you don’t get those other compounds that keep everything else in check.
You brought up an interesting point too, that it helps you to acclimate to the altitude. What they found is that plants—again, this is an 80% generality. Plants from high altitude will tend to increase hemoglobin in the body, because plants share so much DNA with us that if you want a plant that’s going to help you… Let’s say you have a fungal infection, then you go to the swamp and you find an herb there, because herbs that are in very swampy areas will have to deal with rotting just as well as you might. So they have bark that is just packed with antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral compounds to keep themselves from rotting. As a result, when you make a tea out of that and drink it, you’re getting those antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial effects.
Herbs from the Tibetan Plateau, where it’s really high up, and Switzerland, the Andes Mountains, they tend to increase hemoglobin, because those plants have to respirate at high altitude. And we can use many of the same chemical structures, because we’re, I think, 70% related to plants as far as our DNA.
Abel: Before we go, I want to ask you, in the face of an increasingly uncertain modern world, what excites you about the future of healing?
What really excites me is that we’re coming to a place where we’re at the edge of the era of antibiotics. All of modern medicine is on the foundation of antibiotics. And we’re coming to the edge of that and looking at a post-antibiotic world because of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And because of globalization, a kid in Mexico who’s having a bad time in life can harbor a disease that can spread through the United States. There’s no separation at this point.
So when we look at the future, we have to understand how to balance our own microbiota. How to use plants in our environment to adjust ourselves with enough biodiversity so that when—not if, but when—an epidemic comes through, as it has every time we increase in population, that will be the information that really helps us preserve and progress at the next stage.
What I really find beautiful, too, is we have ideas in Chinese medicine like chi, and then you have ideas in biomedicine now like gasotransmitters, and they’re finding that it’s really the same thing. And then you’re looking at plant-based medicines, the structures they’re using. Now, Western medicine is starting to combine different medications together into combinations of two or three. That was where Chinese medicine was 3,000 years ago.
We are coming back to where Chinese medicine was 3,000 years ago. Click To Tweet
It’s not to say that it’s necessary to use a Chinese medicine formula, but the ideas and strategies that are there can really point the way to the future, and that’s what I really feel so impassioned about. That’s why we were working 16-hour days; it’s not because we like having a horrible work-life balance, it’s because creating a bridge from this ancient knowledge base into the future in a practical way that all of us can use here may be essential for us in the future.
Abel: It’s tricky, but essential, and you’re definitely helping with that, Andy. So thank you so much for coming on the show. Before we go, please tell folks about your work and where they can find you.
WHERE TO FIND ANDREW MILES
If you go to enlightenweight.com, you can find a link for our book, and also there’s a walkthrough where if you want to get the main ideas of the book, but don’t necessarily have the time to delve into it, you can get some of the main ideas about how to balance your microbiota. We have an upcoming podcast that is called “Botanical Biohacking,” if you want to know more about the interactions between plants and how you can best use plants and the ideas behind plant-based medicine to enhance your life.
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