Light, Protein, Nutrition and Hormones With Dr. Leland Stillman

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Katie: Hello and welcome to the Wellness Mama podcast. I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com, and I loved this episode. I got to touch on many of the topics I love to talk about most and definitely a lot of practical tips in this episode on the 80/20 of health, especially related to light, minerals, protein and hormones and so much more.

I’m here with Dr. Leland Stillman, who was born in New York, grew up in Virginia and graduated with a degree in environmental health and a minor in chemistry, then got his medical doctorate from University of Virginia and completed his residence training at the Maine Medical Center. He now resides in Florida, where he focuses on nutritional and hormone health in his practice. He also works with many families who want to choose alternate pediatric choices during childhood. And he has written a lot around these topics and we get to go deep in a lot of them today. Things like how he got into functional medicine and why he now works with so many families especially.

We go really deep on the importance of light and sunlight and how to optimize this. We talk about the mentality that we are each our own primary healthcare provider and his approach of partnering with families for better outcomes. We talk about how to create an optimized natural light environment and to know the level of the lux and the light exposure you get, including that indoor light is only about 20 lux often and it can often be a hundred thousand plus lux outside. So there’s such a difference there.

We talk about how hormones and neurotransmitters are impacted by light exposure. The real problems with sunscreen and sunglasses and the amazing health outcomes he has seen by helping people increase their light exposure. How the sun reduces all cause mortality, what UVB light is and how it’s beneficial, including research that was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1904, why skin cancer rates continue to double every few decades even with more sunscreen use and what to do about it. About the concept of eating your sunscreen to nourish your body from the inside out.

We talk about minerals, high dose iodine, how to get more minerals effectively, the stress and mineral connection, the importance of protein and resistance training and so much more. Like I said, very fact-packed episode. So let’s join Dr. Stillman. Leland, welcome. Thanks so much for being here.

Dr. Stillman: Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be on your show.

Katie: I’m excited to chat with you and get to go deep on some topics that are especially relevant to I feel like families, moms, and kids today. And before we jump in, just for background context, can you share a little bit about your story and how you got into your specialty with functional medicine?

Dr. Stillman: So I grew up in a family that used natural and integrative medicine a lot of the time, thanks to my mom, who bailed on the conventional medical paradigm when my sister and I got sick as infants with ear infections and allergies and sore throats and ADHD and all that kind of stuff. And then I had a mentor who’s a naturopath who encouraged me to go to medical school. My dad was a very conventionally minded, you know, we go to the doctor for everything and do what he says type of fellow, still is. So I grew up understanding that there was value in both paradigms, both outside the conventional system and within the conventional system. I pursued my conventional training because I knew it would give me the most scope of practice, the widest scope of practice, and because I’m an overachiever and I wanted to know everything.

And so I then became a general internist, which means that generally I specialize in taking care of sick adults. But then with the last couple of years and my stance on health freedom, I ended up taking care of a lot of families who choose not to vaccinate. And that’s mostly what I do now, is I take care of moms, their kids, their husbands, whole families. And we are practicing right now in New York and Florida with plans to expand to Idaho, Tennessee, and Texas.

Katie: That’s awesome. And I’m sure listeners have heard me say before, and I will say it again, at risk of being a broken record: I’ve talked to many moms with the idea that at the end of the day, we are each our own primary healthcare providers and those for our children. And I hear from so many moms who do that research, who are deeply involved in researching their own health, their children’s health. And I feel like the best outcomes happen when you have an invested patient who does the research, who cares about their own health, working with a provider who treats them as a partner and who listens to them. And I feel like you are one of the rare gems in that world. So I’m grateful for that work and that you work with so many families.

And I know a topic that I’ve heard you talk about before that I always love the chance to go deep on is the topic of light and especially sunlight, which I think has gotten a bad rap in the last few decades unnecessarily. And I know that you speak very well to this topic. So to start off with a big and sometimes funnily controversial topic, let’s delve into the topic of light and what we need to understand as parents and as families when it comes to optimal light exposure.

Dr. Stillman: Yes. And I like that you talked about having invested and motivated, you know, patients or clients, because a lot of what I do is coaching. We actually coach people all over the country, all over the world. Because, and I don’t really like thinking of myself as a coach. In the conventional medical paradigm, we write orders that are then delivered to patients and delivered to nurses and other members of the care team. You manage patients and this language always made me very uncomfortable because it seems very controlling, manipulative. It focuses on the care team as the power and the pharmaceutical drugs as what’s going to do the work rather than the patient.

And the reason I talk about this specifically before I jump into light is that in order to get good results with anything, you have to engage with the material and understand how to be healthy. And that’s key to light because it’s not, I mean, it’s simple, but there are a lot of ins and outs. I have a couple of light therapy devices here. I’ve got my Sperti Vitamin D Lamp. I’ve got my EMR Tek Firestorm. And I use these with patients just about every day and teach them how to use them to get well. And I look at myself now as more of a guide rather than somebody who writes orders and manages people. I really don’t like the way that we were trained in the conventional world to think about that.

So on the topic of light, I got interested in this back in 2018 when I ran across the work of Dr. Jack Kruse and I fell down the very, very long winding dark rabbit hole that is his blog posts. And I read them day after day after day. And I then started to read more in the literature on this in the photobiomodulation literature. And I read the original work of men like Fritz Hollwich, was just blown away by how many things we could do with light to heal the body. And now it’s one of the things that I lead with in all my cases, whether it’s coaching a client or treating a patient, because you just get great results when you fix the light environment.

And the bottom line with the light environment, and feel free to stop me and ask me to get more complicated if I’m boring your listeners with stuff they already know. But the goal here is basically to create a naturalistic lighting environment. So every morning I wake up, I go to the beach after I get my coffee at the little local coffee shop. I go for a walk. And just today, I was actually curious. I pulled out my phone, and I have a light meter on my phone, and I checked the amount of lux in the environment, which is a measure of visible light. And at 7:30am in the morning on the beach here in Largo, Florida, there’s 150,000 lux of light when you’re looking at the sun. And to give you some scale of how much light that is, the average office is maybe 20 lux of light indoors. So, and you have to understand that light is the trigger for the production of our hormones and neurotransmitters. That’s what Fritz Hollwich laid down in his work back in the 1910s, 20s, 30s, 40s. He practiced and researched up into the 70s.

And so when you don’t get enough light in your life, your hormones are going to be low, your neurotransmitters are going to be low, you’re not going to feel good. And people are going to end up relying on things like supplements and biohacks and all kinds of other things in order to basically get those hormones and neurotransmitters up when really the problem in their life is light deficiency. I’ll often tell people, get a light meter on your phone, tell me what the readings are in your home office, in your workplace, and start to think about how much are you reducing the amount of light that you get in your eye and then on your skin, because it has such a powerful and pervasive effect on the body.

A great example, this was a case that Jim, my chief health coach, actually took on. He didn’t even involve me. He just started talking to the family. It turns out the mother was a bartender. She was coming home and playing with her son at night. He was getting alopecia. His hair was falling out. They didn’t know why. Jim just said, look, start taking the kid outside in the middle of the day, get his sunlight on his skin, on his head, don’t have him wear sunglasses, don’t put sunscreen on him. And two, three months later, the kid is completely regrowing his hair and has no further problems. So that’s just an example of the power of light to heal people. And we see that pretty much on a daily basis. I mean, I could tell you one story after another. Another one that came up recently was a guy in our weight loss program who dropped ten pounds in the last month. And the only things he changed was wearing blue blockers at night and going outside three times a day for walks. That was it.

Katie: That’s amazing. And I think also really important to just emphasize with parents especially, because living also in a sunny beach environment, I see all the time parents putting sunglasses on their kids and sunscreen on their kids. And I understand that we want to avoid sunburn because that is damaging. But I feel like we have absolutely thrown the baby out with the bath water and we’re avoiding one of the biggest needle movers in health in the name of trying to avoid sunburn and skin cancer, which is proportionately a very small cancer that affects many fewer people than, for instance, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc. But can you speak a little deeper to sunscreen and sunglasses in particular? Because when I say these things, I sometimes get a lot of pushback from parents. And I think understanding just how drastically these can impact our health is really helpful, especially to parents.

Dr. Stillman: So number one, let’s put things in context, right? So skin cancer is responsible for approximately 12,000 deaths each year. It is the most easily detected and the most easily treated cancer of all the various forms of cancer in general, right? Think about the people you know, if you’re listening to this, who’ve actually died of cancer. You’re going to think of lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, kidney cancer, brain cancer. You’re going to think of a lot of cancers and you’re going to think, yeah, and Uncle Joe or Aunt Suzy had melanoma and this and that and the other thing, but for the most part these get excised.

This is why I recommend to my patients that they actually go get skin checks with the dermatologist starting as early as 35 or earlier if they have a family history of skin cancer because it’s obviously critical to catch these things early. But the literature on sunscreen and prevention of skin cancer is very flimsy. And you have to understand why this is. Sunscreen is not a single thing. It’s not like Vitamin B. And even if it was like vitamin B1, right? There’s multiple forms of vitamin B1. But sunscreen is an incredibly wide variety of largely unregulated over-the-counter products that are made as cheap as possible because a lot of people are shopping based on price.

And when you read the toxicological effects of these sunscreens as you can at the Environmental Working Group database on this, I think their database is called Skin Deep. It’s a great resource. But they have all these chemicals in there that may well be carcinogens, and if they’re not outright carcinogens, they may be converted into carcinogens by light when they’re on the skin. And so there’s a concern that skin cancer is actually being driven by sunscreen application.

So the only sunscreens I’ll use are zinc oxide and I have a natural base like olive oil or olive oil and beeswax or olive oil and shea butter or cocoa butter and something like that, that’s sort of spreadable. And the reason obviously people are not using a lot of these sunscreens or that they tend to not use these sunscreens is purely cosmetic. You kind of look like a ghost when you’re covered in zinc oxide. But that’s the only one I’ll use, because it’s the only one that I believe is really safe for the skin.

Now what does that do? It blocks ultraviolet light from penetrating the skin and creating and inducing skin damage. But we have to remember that… When we go back to the literature, it’s very clear that the sun reduces all-cause mortality. This is a very important phrase that I repeat ad nauseam because it’s so important to understand what that means, because the sun reduces all-cause mortality, you can’t get away from the fact that getting more sun reduces your risk of death, disability, and disease. So I understand that people are worried about skin cancer, they’re worried about photo aging, but the more you avoid the sun, the more you increase your risk of death. And my patients are big fans of not dying. So I think it makes sense for them to get more sun rather than less.

Now, you don’t want to burn, as you mentioned, so you want prudent sun exposure, which to me means getting enough sunlight that you’re going to have a healthy vitamin D level, and you’re going to feel well and you’re going to have wakefulness and all this stuff. We have a really wide range of tolerance for exposures to light. My general rule of thumb for people is I want them in a 500 lux environment for most of the day if they’re in like an office. So that means you want to have 500 lux of light coming at your eye during the day. And you want to take time outside for walks, for sun breaks, to relax, to enjoy life, whatever. I say morning, noon and night, but you can do more than that obviously.

If you’re in a position to work outside, that gets an A+. That’s what I do most of the time. My indoor office is reserved for, you know, fancy podcasts where I want to everything to sound good and I don’t want to be distracted by bugs and sunlight and dogs and things like that. But that’s what I basically recommend to patients. And it’s all driven by the fact that it reduces your risk of death. And I don’t think there’s anything more important for me to do than help you reduce that risk.

So when we go beyond that, though, we even see that in people who’ve had skin cancer, the more sun that they get and the less sunscreen they use, the longer their survival. There’s not a lot of studies on that. The best one, I believe, is in melanoma survivors. It was done in 2005 by Marianne Berwick and a number of other researchers. And they found that, like I said, the people who had melanoma and had survived and got the most sun exposure had the longest life expectancy and disease-free life. And they say very clearly in the paper, this is very confusing and isn’t exactly what we thought we were going to find when we looked for this. But the mechanism is actually very, very obvious.

The sun has UVB light in it, which by the way, never been associated with increased risk of skin cancer. So it’s been 119 years since the Nobel Prize was awarded for the use of UVB light to Niels Finsen. And I think it was Scandinavia for the treatment of tuberculosis with ultraviolet type B light. That’s one reason why I have a UV lamp behind me. That’s a UVB lamp by Sperti D. It’s the Sperti D lamp, and Sperti is the company. And the reason that I use it is it keeps my vitamin D levels tip top, which is where I want them. And I can go more into why I use it here in Florida because some people are probably like, what do you mean you need a vitamin D lamp in a place where the UV index is like 15 in the middle of the summer? It’s a longer story than that.

But the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology was given for this in 1904. Since then, we’ve been using UVB light to treat psoriasis, eczema, all kinds of other skin diseases, and we don’t see an increased risk of skin cancer with UVB Light therapy. So it stands to reason, right, if you have psoriasis, if you have eczema and you’re using UVB light to manage this condition—and people use UVB light in very, very high doses. I had a recent case of a… It’s a cancer with an autoimmune component that happened to a young woman, a mother, wife. She took the first, I think she had one or maybe, I think it was one dose of the Moderna vaccine and she then developed this rash that turned out to be a very rare skin cancer called, well, it’s really a T-cell lymphoma called mycosis fungoides. She ended up using high dose UVB light therapy through her dermatologist to treat this.

We know from countless cases of this disease, other diseases like it, that we can use high dose UVB Light on the skin and not increase someone’s risk of skin cancer. That’s why sun exposure doesn’t net-net purely increase your risk of skin cancer and certainly doesn’t increase your risk of death by skin cancer because overall it’s having a positive effect on your biology, for reasons beyond neurotransmitters and hormones by the way. I mean, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The other effect is through its effects on your cellular battery and that’s Gerald Pollack’s work and Gilbert Ling’s work and really what we call quantum biology.

Katie: Yeah, this is such a fascinating topic to me. I’m so glad we started here. Are there any general guidelines? I know there’s a very much individualized part of this, but are there any general guidelines for minimum effective dose of outdoor light? I know with my kids, my approach is like more is better with the caveat of avoiding sunburn, but what would be minimum effective dose and what would be optimal in a perfect scenario?

Dr. Stillman: Wow, that’s a great question. The problem is, as you’ve sort of alluded to, is that there is no, no one has ever documented a situation in which more sunlight doesn’t provide a benefit to longevity. No one. And so you’re right, strictly speaking, the answer is always more is better. But I then have to deal with the, you know, my redheads who live in Florida. And I joke with them that when they walk outside in Florida on a sunny day, they just burst into flames. So we obviously can’t tell everyone to just go join a nudist colony and be outside under the sun all of the time, this isn’t feasible. Not to mention the fact that it’s terrible for productivity. I mean, when I go out on Sunday, I don’t get anything done and then I just want to take a nap and then I want to go to sleep early.

So it’s really interesting looking at this from the perspective of a doctor who’s trying to help patients not only live a long and healthy life, but also accomplish things that they find fulfilling and be functional parents and workers and so on and so forth, right? So for what I consider the bare minimum is three times a day outside, ten minutes, more if possible. And then I like to see longer breaks whenever possible and sun exposure through windows, if possible. That is a nice happy medium that isn’t going to leave people feeling exhausted from sun exposure and isn’t going to leave them feeling tired and wiped out from lack of sun.

Katie: And circling back also again to sunglasses, because I think this one is also one that’s not talked about as much. Yes. And I’ve at least seen some data indicating that wearing sunglasses sort of blocks the body’s natural response to the light hitting the eyes that creates a protective mechanism. But I feel like many people still want to wear sunglasses for comfort or for aesthetics. What is happening when we wear sunglasses and we’re getting bright sun exposure?

Dr. Stillman: I think it’s useful to understand where sunglasses came from, which most people never bothered to think about. Eyewear that blocks or reduces the amount of light hitting the eye has always come to us from places where people were in more light than they could handle. The ancient examples of this were in high latitudes in the Arctic where the snow glare, or what is it? Yeah, the albedo effect. That’s what it’s called the sun coming off the ice and the snow really has a massive massive increase in the amount of light that you get in your eye and it can blind you, that’s called snow blindness. So the Eskimo and Inuit used to take walrus tusks and they would fashion eyewear out of them with slits in the middle. So all they were able to see through was this tiny little slit that restricted the amount of light that they were they were getting in their eyes. So you have to understand this was about performance. It was about success in hunting, gathering, navigating an environment that’s very harsh, very difficult. And that’s where that began. And they didn’t wear them for aesthetics. They wore them for function.

So if you’re in a situation where you’re, say, out on the water fishing and you can’t see anything because it’s so bright or you’re becoming blinded by the sheer amount of light coming into your eye, it makes sense to wear sunglasses or to put on a hat or something. If you’re high in a mountain range, surrounded by snow, getting very intense ultraviolet light, it does not make sense to not wear a hat or not wear sunscreen or not wear glasses, particularly if you’re fair skinned because you’re very vulnerable to that light. It’s very interesting looking at skin tone by region. There are no pale people in latitudes close to the equator, so low latitudes, with high altitude. And that’s really interesting. If you live at a high altitude, you get more UV light. If you live close to the equator, you get more UV light. There are no pale people in these places.

And yet people like me live in places like Clearwater, Florida, and can’t stand, you know, a full day of sunlight on the beach, even in the summer, even when I’ve been sunbathing and getting a nice tan. And that just speaks to our genetic potential, which means that you’ve got to be mindful of that in your sun exposure.

And it also means, you know, somebody who’s really fair skin doesn’t need as much sun exposure as somebody else because they’re going to be able to do things like make vitamin D much more quickly because that’s what their bodies are adapted to do. So back to the sunglasses thing. It actually started, sunglasses as we know them today, were first worn by aviators in World War II, who realized that up in the clouds, it’s extremely bright. You get glare effects off of clouds, and it’s critical that you be able to see your opponent. And one of the classic dogfighting tactics is to approach your enemy from behind, from the direction of the sun. And so if you’re flying a plane as a fighter, your most vulnerable area is arguably the sun. And so having sunglasses would allow you to see more in that direction, which would then allow you to have a greater warning for when an enemy was approaching. And that’s why they wore these sunglasses.

After that, becoming a pilot and of any kind, commercial, military, whatever, these people were heroes. They’re some of the most highly paid professionals to this day. And they then this trend in this fashion became very favorable with movie stars who obviously wanted to not be recognized by the general public. And so that’s how sunglasses took off aesthetically. It’s interesting to note that sunglasses have—they’re one of the strongest deterrents in body language. They have a way of telling people that you don’t want to talk to them. So we actually use sunglasses in order to modulate our social interaction.

Interestingly enough, the most, the strongest foe signal, that’s what they’re called, foe signals, the strongest foe signal in body language is wearing a mask. I find that fascinating. And people dismissed that in the last couple of years. They said, there’s no negative effect. I said, this is going to limit people’s social interaction in a really negative way, and they’re going to feel disconnected from one another. But anyway. Sunglasses have, I believe, the same effect, and they reduce the amount of light hitting your eye by 85-95%.

So you take a bright, sunny day and you tell your brain through your sunglasses that it’s actually January in Minnesota. And so when people take off their sunglasses, I’ve seen people’s autoimmune diseases get better. I’ve seen their mood disorders get better. I’ve seen their neurological issues get better. I’ve seen skin disorders that seemingly were not connected to the eye get better. I’ve seen all kinds of things get better. And so it’s one of my favorite things to tell people to do. And when they actually buy into it and they get outside to get that light that they were missing anyway, then you get really great results without ever writing a prescription.

Katie: That is fascinating. I did not know that history of sunglasses, but it makes sense. And to piggyback on your point, I grew up, both my parents are hard of hearing. So I learned very early on the importance of being able to pay attention to someone’s facial expressions and read lips, and they depend very heavily on that. And so I noticed that with the masking. My parents had a really hard time communicating for a lot of years during that, because they weren’t able to read lips, they weren’t able to see people’s facial expressions fully.

And I also thought through that, like how is this impacting our kids in those early years where they’re learning how to read facial expressions and body language, and they’re not getting that neural input. So I’m glad you brought that up. And I think this is also a perfect piggyback into the next thing I was excited to talk to you about. I have a blog post that’s called Eat Your Sunscreen, which does not, for clarity, mean to eat sunscreen, but that we can do things—

Dr. Stillman: That’s such a clever title.

Katie: There are nutrition—

Dr. Stillman: Don’t judge me if I write a blog post with that title, will you?

Katie: Go for it. I think the more information, the better. Because what I realized in my own health journey was there are things we can do through our nutrition, through our lifestyle that are also protective of our skin, allow us to get healthier sun exposure. And on the flip side of that, there are things we can do in our diet that many people do unknowingly that can make us more sensitive to the sun, more inflamed in general. And so I’d love to springboard into the nutrition side of this from the light topic of how do we optimize from the inside out, and what are some of the biggest needle movers there?

Dr. Stillman: 100%. I love talking about light and nutrients because this is one of the areas of science that is so, first of all, it’s grossly understudied. And I find it totally fascinating and for reasons I’ll make clear. So, if you look at skin cancer rates, they’re rising and they’re actually doubling every decade or two, which should shock people. Because if, and I say to people, look, if the sun causes skin cancer, then spoons make people fat. And this doesn’t make throwing out all your spoons a good weight loss strategy. In fact, I’ve never heard anyone actually buy into that. Right?

And that’s the thing about the sun is that yes, sun exposure is linked to skin cancer, but it’s way more complicated than that. And it’s complicated because it depends on certain lifestyle factors. There were early studies, I believe in the Navy Signal Corps in the 1970s when they were looking at the effects of EMF, on the effects of being a radio operator on your risk of melanoma, and they found that it was increased.

If you look at the way artificial light with a heavy dose of blue and green affects your skin, it causes lipid peroxidation. Lipid peroxidation is a buzzword for oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the trigger for DNA damage, which is the trigger for cancer, right? And that’s why I wrote a blog post a long time ago that actually it was on, it’s on a blog I took down and I need to repost it, but it was entitled, indoor lighting causes more skin cancer than the sun. And I really believe that because it doesn’t make sense that the sun causes skin cancer when we’ve moved indoors 97 or 98% of our time in the last 100 years. Right. And then, yeah, skin cancer rates have exponentially risen.

So when you look at what happens to light in the skin and how it modulates the metabolism of your skin cells and how it determines their health, it’s largely dependent upon the nutrients in the body and there’s many different nutrient interactions, but it’s—and I don’t know how to sort of break this down because I feel like this could become an almost encyclopedic discussion and I don’t have all of that off the top of my head. But things that I think about and I’m concerned about with patients in general is when they’re in a strong light environment, I want them to be eating more fresh foods because those naturally have the nutrients that are required to, the way I look at it, quench the fire of sunlight on the skin.

So great examples of this would be folate. So folate is degraded by UV and blue and green light. That’s actually well known in the medical community. When you give a patient an infusion of folate in the hospital or the clinic, you actually have to hang a brown plastic bag over the vial so that the light from the room doesn’t deactivate the folate. And we have every reason to believe, right, that even though the skin is a barrier, that that barrier can be penetrated by this blue light to a certain extent. And so it makes sense that your folate requirement would be higher in a higher light environment.

If you look at environments that are very low light, I spent three years in Southern Maine and I spent two years doctoring in Northern Minnesota. You know, negative 30 was a typical day in Northern Minnesota. Let’s just say it was not a very high light environment. And there’s no green leafy vegetables around for folate. There’s no sprouts, there’s no seeds, there’s not really much folate in the winter. And so where you get your folate is beans, primarily, and greens. And there’s a couple of other heavy hitters, like artichokes, I don’t know if you want to call those greens, but they’re loaded with folate. And so what I found is that people who under-consume folate and get a lot of light, they do tend to have a folate deficiency. And so boosting their folate intake really helps them.

My favorite hack for that is lentil sprouts, actually, which are really easy to digest, particularly if you cook them and are absolutely loaded with folate. And they’re super easy to sprout. I actually have some going right now. So folate’s one of the number ones that I want to see. And that’s part of, you know, folate’s critical for energy, for sleep, metabolism. The top things I look for to improve in someone who’s got a folate deficiency, who takes folate supplements, are exactly those problems, as well as mood issues like mood lability or depression or anxiety. So folate’s a really important one.

Vitamin A and beta carotene and really all the carotenoids. You’ll notice that as you go into higher and higher light environments that there’s more and more colorful things that you could eat. Greens, oranges, etc. So I want people in these environments to be consuming high loads of colorful foods. They don’t have to be of a specific food group, right? Because there’s plenty of situations in which somebody might say, hey, can I go crazy with the mangoes and the papayas and the pineapples and the carrots and the sweet potatoes. And I would say, look, you have a problem with your glucose, carb restriction, or at least carb moderation is going to be key for your wellness.

But we do want you to get those colorful plant compounds because they do deposit in the skin. And I know this because when I was in high school, I experimented with high dose beta carotene over the summer. I was a deckhand on a boat and I was getting a lot of sun. And I was already of a mind that I didn’t want to use any kind of chemical sunscreen. And I took 75,000 IU of, and I’m not recommending anyone try this at home. I took 75,000 IU of beta carotene each day for about three months before the job. And I don’t think I sunburned a single day. I did turn orange like a beet, I mean, carrot. But it really, I think, protected my skin.

And so now, you know, today my morning smoothie was a handful of greens, a handful of greens powder, that’s a combination of a bunch of different ingredients, and then one carrot. And so I get a lot of beta carotene from that. And then I eat, I get my animal-based vitamin A from things like dairy and eggs and things like that.

And so yeah, as you go further and further into higher and higher light environments, you need more colorful fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C goes along with that, and I’ll use supplemental vitamin C in a lot of cases for heavy metal detox, for eradication of different pathogens. Those are the two main things I use vitamin C for, as well as supporting hormonal health, because it’s critical for your adrenal hormones and your adrenal axis.

Katie: And this is purely anecdotal. So obviously it’s not been well researched, but I noticed in myself when I started eating this way and when I lowered my inflammation and really focused on nutrients in my food, my skin tone changed. So in high school, Irish-Scottish skin, I would burn from thinking about going in the sun. And now I also don’t wear sunscreen.

Dr. Stillman: That’s a new one.

Katie: I will cover up when I go outside if I am going to be out for a long time. But I notice now I can spend hours in the bright sun in Florida without burning. And I have been careful to like work up that sun exposure, careful not to burn in the process. But my skin tone entirely changed when I changed my diet and focused on those nutrients you mentioned. So I always just love to highlight that.

Dr. Stillman: There’s so many little hacks you can use. And my newest thing that I love is iodine. And I don’t know if you’ve had anyone to talk about iodine. If you haven’t, connect with my friend, Dr. David Brownstein up in Michigan, he is the world’s expert on iodine. And we did a great, great recording on iodine weeks ago now, it’s over on my Substack, which is stillmanmd.substack.com. And we talked about high dose iodine, because he’s the guy who got me into this. And it’s a very small group of us who use high dose iodine. And when I say high dose, I mean, you know, 25-50 milligrams or more. There’s cancer patients out there taking 300 milligrams a day. And the reason I mentioned iodine in the same breath as the skin is that something like 25% of your total body iodine is in your skin, and iodine competes with fluoride and it competes with bromide. And those are also toxic to the thyroid gland where iodine gets turned into thyroid hormone. And I know a lot of your listeners are struggling with, I mean, a lot of people today, and many of whom I’m sure your listeners are struggling with thyroid disorders and problems.

And we get outstanding results by repleting thyroid nutrients and then using high dose iodine. And we believe we have to use these high doses in order to get great results in our modern world because of how adulterated our food and our environment is with fluoride and bromide. If people don’t know these things are not, I mean, fluoride is in your water. I think a lot of people, your listeners will know that already. But bromide is in a lot of different products. It’s in energy drinks. That’s actually, those are the only cases of bromine toxicity, overt bromine toxicity that I’m aware of. It’s like video gamers will go on a bender and only eat junk food and drink energy drinks to stay awake and then they’ll show up in the ICU with a mystery illness. It’ll turn out to be bromide toxicity. It’s in flours and dough conditioners. They actually replaced iodine with bromine in the baking process 50-60-70 years ago, something like that.

And so we use the high dose iodine protocol in order to chase all those toxic halides out, replete the body with iodine. And this really improves the function of basically all of your glands, all of your glands that secrete hormones rely on iodine. And so I’ll see people come down on their thyroid hormone doses, they’ll have more energy than they’ve had in years. Things like cysts and acne and other cystic lesions will get better. I don’t promise cures because that would be false advertising, but the data is very clear that cystic lesions and problems like that and cystic acne have a very, very strong association with iodine deficiency and fluoride and bromide toxicity. So it’s one of my favorite things to help people with their skin.

And I think it’s really interesting to look at the data on iodine and diet because it’s really only found in seafood. And if it’s not in seafood, it’s concentrated up the food chain in eggs and dairy. And if you look at all the sort of Weston A. Price type peoples, indigenous peoples all over the world who’ve kept their health as the rest of the world’s gone, you know, industrialized and gotten sick with modern diseases, a lot of them have kept their high doses of iodine in their diet and go to very extreme lengths in order to get things like seafood so that they can maintain their iodine consumption. And so I think it’s a really big it’s becoming more and more part of my practice.

And I also mentioned it because the higher your dose of iodine, generally speaking, the lower your risk of cancer. And that’s why we think we think why the Japanese have a lower risk of I think it’s stomach and breast and I want to say colon cancer than Americans, despite many of the same problems in their environment.

Katie: And that’s interesting when you talk about the cystic acne connection, because I know that’s often a problem that teenagers struggle with.

Dr. Stillman: Yes.

Katie: And I can see that they are also a population in general that’s more likely to eat processed food, drink energy drinks. It does seem like there’s a little bit of controversy in certain segments of thyroid populations who worry about high dose iodine and the autoimmunity. Do you see any danger there?

Dr. Stillman: I do. Yes, it’s a great question. The only contraindication that I’m aware of to high dose iodine is a hot nodule, a nodule on the thyroid or tumor on the thyroid that is producing thyroid hormone in an unregulated way because you will drive thyrotoxicosis with high dose iodine that way. But most people who’ve got one of those are aware of it. And if you’re not sure, ask your doctor or become a patient at my practice and we can figure it out.

Dr. Brownstein and I talked about this a great deal because that’s a very common concern. And one of the big misconceptions here is really that things that make thyroid autoantibody levels worse are therefore bad for the thyroid gland. That’s not really fair. People have a very, unfortunately a very, I don’t know, they aren’t taught how the immune system really works. Tom Cowan said something really that stuck with me at the Weston A. Price Foundation event that I spoke at last October in Knoxville. He said, he objected to calling the immune system the immune system at all. He said, this is the body’s repair and rejuvenation system. And that stuck with me because I thought I have to reimagine just for the sake of argument. And for the record, I trained at UVA with Tom Platts-Mills and Larry Borish in the allergy department. I spent a lot of time looking at the immune system. I then was briefly an allergy fellow at the University of Mississippi with a guy named Galen Marshall. And so I spent a lot of time geeking out on the immune system.

And so when Cowan said that, I thought, you know, there’s nothing really wrong with what he’s just said. It is the rest and repair system. We don’t have to think of it as an army or a police force that runs around the body, sort of killing bad guys, right? What if we thought about it instead in the way we maybe should think about our, say, penal system where instead of running around, you know, cuffing the bad guys and throwing them in jail, where in many respects they become more and more dysfunctional because it’s a very toxic environment, we actually rehabilitated them so that they like, could be functional, healthy members of society again. Imagine that, right?

And so I talked to my friend, Russell Jaffe, about this. Russell is a MD, PhD. He runs a lab that I rely on for my allergy testing. And this is another episode on my Substack, by the way. And we had an hour, hour and a half long conversation about thyroid antibody levels and what they really mean. And he was saying to me, what they really mean is that the body is not attacking the thyroid gland, it’s trying to heal the thyroid gland. And it’s not only trying to heal the thyroid gland, it’s trying to regulate the thyroid gland.

And I think this goes back to a really important principle or philosophy of natural therapeutics, which is that whenever we see the body doing something that we think it is wrong, we should be asking the bigger question of why is the body trying to do this? You always have to think about the body as having an infinite intelligence and it’s trying to do what it’s supposed to do, but you’re not giving it what it needs to either accomplish that, or you’re not putting it in the right environment for it to know what to do properly, right? And that goes back to our discussion of light, because really the body is trying to survive and do what it’s supposed to do in the light environment that you give it. Light is a signal. That’s how your body interprets it.

And so when you give your body bad signals, like lots of artificial light at night and lack of sunlight during the day, and crazy, weird, spectral, imbalanced spectral compositions of light coming at your eye out of fake screens that don’t have red and infrared and healing frequencies, then no wonder your immune system gets confused. And that’s part of why we’re seeing an explosion of autoimmune and allergic diseases in a world of artificial light at night and lack of sunlight during the day.

Katie: It makes sense. I love that you brought up the concept of the body’s infinite intelligence. That’s another theme on this podcast is that, and I had to learn to reframe this for myself when I used to have autoimmune disease is that my body’s not trying to kill me. If it wanted to do that, it could do it instantly in less than a second. The body’s always on our side. It’s always wanting to move toward healing. And if we reframe it that way, what do we need to do to support the body in that process, either in removing things that are inhibiting that or giving it nutrients that it needs, light that it needs?

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And I think this also springboards into another topic, which has been a rabbit hole for me in research lately, which is the topic of minerals, because it’s no secret that our food supply is much lower in many of our vital minerals than it used to be. But I’m seeing more and more people wondering, is this linked to some of these random health occurrences that we’re seeing happen in young people that like, even like selenium deficiencies or all of these different nutrients that affect our body in different ways, it seems like at least in the patterns I’m seeing, we might have some really widespread mineral deficiencies, even a very basic ones like sodium and potassium going on.

Dr. Stillman: Yes, and I love minerals. I will not shut up about minerals. They’re my favorite things to change in the diet and then to change with supplements. So what was your exact question though? I got so excited.

Katie: Yeah, basically, are you seeing that as well? We’re kind of facing widespread mineral deficiencies often without even knowing it. And that just replenishing those can often have a huge I know when I’ve started really upping a lot of minerals, I noticed my energy first of all, just drasticly went up.

Dr. Stillman: So we are seeing more and more mineral deficiency in the populace, and it’s really important to understand why that is. So you have to remember that everything that you do in life requires energy. And there’s what we call obligate nutritional losses. Like every single time you take a breath, right? The muscles have to contract and air is going to move into your lungs. And that air is actually going to take a certain amount of water out of your lungs, it’s going to evaporate. And then you’re going to have to drink more water in order to fuel that. And you’re going to have to consume more calories so you can just breathe. Right.

And we don’t think about that, but it’s a little bit like that morning cup of coffee, that’s only $2.50 you know, but you look at the end of the year and that’s really added up. And so, you know, small, and I try to help patients understand this in my group coaching and then in my medical practice, one-on-one time with people that something as simple as adding mineral drops to your water, just a couple of times a day, if that’s a hundred milligrams of magnesium a day over the course of a year, right, that’s 365 days times a hundred milligrams. That’s a lot of milligrams of magnesium. And that’s why overall you see there’s a trend, the higher the magnesium level in the water of a population, the lower the risk of death. Another, I’m kind of obsessed with reducing the risk of death if you can’t tell.

So why are we mineral deficient? I started by talking about the cost of doing things. The more active you are, the more stress you’re under, the more you’re trying to achieve, the less sleep you’re getting, the less rest you’re getting, the more minerals, and generally speaking, nutrition you’re going to need.

For example. This in this area of the literature is grossly understudied. Quite sadly, I think, because it’s the one of the most fascinating to me, certainly. And I think it’s one, the one that has some of the most potential to benefit human health. So if you look at something like, you know, noise pollution, there’s a study I have that I can pull if you want, where they showed that exposure to 100-decibel sound over four hours increased your urinary magnesium losses by like 100% for three or four days, right? And so we don’t think of nutrients and loads in these ways, right?

But let’s say that you are a survivor of some kind of horrible trauma and you’re reliving it every single day and it’s triggering cortisol and adrenal hormones and it’s causing you to feel fearful and anxious every single day. That’s creating attacks on your minerals. And so when we test patients for minerals and we do this on a quarterly basis when we’re trying to replete people, sometimes we’ll spread it out to every six months and people who are doing well will spread it out to every year. But our goal is to get them into optimal ranges based on some combination of blood testing and hair testing. And so what you’ll see is the people who are under the most stress are the ones who have the most trouble getting to a normal or optimal level of that mineral.

And the people who are under the least stress have the least problems with this. And this isn’t any specific type of stress. It’s psychological stress and emotional stress and EMF stress and light stress and noise stress and athletic exertion and sweating and all the other kinds of stress. Cold stress. You’ll see some pretty profound deficiencies in people who do a lot of cold therapy. Sometimes, that is, because that’s a really big stress. I mean, coming back from to normal temperature from a, you know, ice bath for 20 minutes is a lot of energy and requires you to burn an enormous number of calories. So that’s why people are more deficient in addition to the fact that we aren’t repleting minerals that are being pulled out of the soil today.

And we’ve been farming the same soils with the same methods for generations. And now, of course, we’re loading them with pesticides and herbicides that are going to require our bodies to make things like glutathione to detoxify them, while at the same time they’re poisoning the things that make energy, the mitochondria, that then allow us to make glutathione. So we’re stuck in a tough period of history where we have immense knowledge and lots of resources and wealth and in relative terms and yet, you know, we’ve created an environment where it’s very expensive to be well because of how the world’s been mismanaged by the people in charge.

Katie: Yeah. And I love that you brought in this stress connection. I definitely have seen that play out in my own life as well. And then when I dealt with some of the emotional trauma, my physical health drastically changed. But I also am aware of things like you mentioned sweating. Sauna, I think, is one of the best things we can do for our health if we have access to it. Or certainly we know movement and working out very important for health. However, anything that’s increasing sweat is also reducing our minerals. So it makes me aware of replenishing those.

I work with a lot of high school athletes and that’s something we talk about very often is like we live in a very hot environment. You’re working out multiple hours per day. I’ve read the statistic that an athlete in five years can lose more minerals from sweat than a sedentary person does in a lifetime. So it’s not that that’s a bad thing, but a thing to be aware of in replenishing it.

Dr. Stillman: Yes.

Katie: Which I think springboards into another nutrition topic that’s also a soapbox for me that I want to make sure we get to highlight here, which is the importance of protein. I think for women, especially, this is often overlooked or women are worried about eating too much protein. They don’t want to gain weight. They don’t want to bulk up, which having now tried to put on muscle for years, I laugh at the idea of it in hindsight. But I would love for you to break down the importance of protein and any general guidelines around that for optimal health.

Dr. Stillman: Great question. So Jim Laird, my strength conditioning coach, and I have done some deep dives on this on our morning. It’s technically a podcast, but our morning talks together, where we really get into this because it is a long discussion and to give you guys the you know, 50,000-foot overview, you have to understand that protein is the is critical for anabolism, which means building and maintaining muscle and muscle is the body’s engine. The more muscle mass you have, and this kind of breaks down at higher loads of muscle mass, where it becomes sort of almost too expensive of an engine to keep running. But the more muscle mass you have, generally speaking, the more robust you are. And we see this very strong association between optimal hormone levels, whether you’re talking about growth hormone or testosterone or estrogen or progesterone, with higher levels of muscle mass relative to body fat. And there’s a lot to that, right?

But in order to maintain muscle mass, you need to have an adequate load of protein in the diet. Where I like to start people is just with eating a solid protein in every meal, because many people have the idea that they’re eating a protein when in fact they’re eating a very small amount of protein. A great example of this would be yogurt. The same eight ounce serving of yogurt could be ten or 15 or even 20 grams of protein and it could be as little as five or six and it could be loaded with sugar. It could be loaded with artificial sweeteners and artificial flavorings and additives. So thinking I ate a protein or I eat enough protein can be very misleading. When I’ve done and I do comprehensive nutritional reviews with people where we go over everything that they’re eating and we’ll see that people who think they’re eating enough protein are eating 20, 40, 60 grams of protein in a day. When I might based on their size say you need to be eating more like 100 or 150 grams of protein in a day. And so my first question to someone when they say I eat a lot of protein is what does that mean?

Because you’ll find guys like Jim Laird who he’s 250 pounds and 5’10” and could run through a brick wall. And his idea of a lot of protein is like 300 grams in a day. And that is something like four or five steaks and three or four cups of bone broth, plus some bacon and eggs. And so, you know, people come to me and they’re like, how on earth do I eat this much protein? And I’m like, look, trust me, sit down with me in a group coaching call, tell me what you’re eating, I’ll give you some feedback, I’ll give you some tips, some tricks. It’s little things like, for example, pork sausage is about 75% of its calories come from fat. If you look at something like lean roast beef, 25% of the calories are from fat. So the same volume of food is going to give you a radically different load of protein. And you can have, you know, breakfast sausage and you can have, you know, you can have all these things you want to eat. You just need to be mindful of how much fat you’re getting relative to protein, increasing protein relative to fat by eating more lean cuts and more lean protein sources is one of my top recommendations for people. And I think it’s something that a lot of people in the keto world, they miss. And it’s great to tell people to go keto for many, in many cases, because it helps them restore their metabolic health. I’m not knocking the diet in general. But you have to be mindful of the fact that many people will go high fat, low protein. And they’ll actually end up with problems with their metabolism that are fueled entirely by the fact that they’re not getting enough protein. And then they don’t get the gains that they want, and they don’t get the weight loss that they want, and they don’t get the improvement in their symptoms that they want. And it’s just a matter of picking a different package of meat off of the grocery store shelf.

Katie: Yeah, I’m so glad we got to talk about that. I’ve shared a little bit before my personal experience with that, but I had to sort of retrain my body and my metabolism to be able to eat enough food after years of chronic dieting. And working up my protein was one of the, I think, biggest needle movers, not just in losing weight, but in my sleep and my energy levels. And now it’s something I’m very aware of with my kids, especially with their athletic output as well, is like, we’re rebuilding that muscle during sleep and we need amino acids to do it. Right. I’m so glad we got to talk about that. I think this is a, we’re going to eat food anyway. It’s like you said, a simple shift we can make that can drastically help our health and our metabolism when we’re aware of it.

Dr. Stillman: Absolutely, and that is just by changing my protein intake and going to the gym two to three times a week, I put on 24 pounds of muscle in the last nine months.

Katie: That’s impressive. As a female, I haven’t done it that quickly, but I have seen drastic strength improvements and I had my first three times body weight lift recently. And I would not have been able to do that without the consistency of strength training, which I think is a whole, it could be a series of podcasts on its own, but the data is extremely clear on that for being a marker of longevity. The more lean muscle mass that we carry, it reduces risk of all-cause mortality as well. I’m sure you can speak to that even better than I can, but I think for women, especially, especially moms, and especially as we move into different decades of life, I think the things we’ve highlighted like light, protein, getting enough minerals, improving our sleep, those are all huge needle movers in our health. And we know from the data also that a mom’s level of health and fitness has a direct relationship on her children’s level of health and fitness.

Dr. Stillman: 100%. And that’s one of the things that Jim and I see with the women we help lose weight. And Jim’s, I mean, Jim, the majority of his clients over the last years of his career have been women from, you know, high school athletes to, you know, retirees. He’s coached plenty of men for the record. But, you know, one of the things he’ll say to women who are focused on losing weight is he said, it’s not about losing weight, it’s about gaining health. And you can, you can not lose weight, and you can actually gain weight and lose dress sizes. And that’s a really important concept for women to understand as they age. As you age, you’re naturally going to have more body fat because that’s part of the aging process.

And women will make the mistake of focusing on the scale rather than focusing on how their clothes fit and their body composition. And just by lifting, they’re going to put on dense muscle mass. And so their scale may not change, but their clothes will fit differently, they’ll look better. And that’s what they should really be focused on is that body composition, not the scale.

Because a lot of women with their dieting are actually just stealing their bone mass and their muscle mass. And then they wind up with an inability to lose weight because they have no metabolic engine to burn the fat that they have. And they have to use, I mean, that’s why weightlifting is the key to so much of our success with clients. And incorporating that obviously with a foundation of a strong, healthy diet and really great foundational daily habits.

Katie: Yeah, I’m so glad we got to talk about that. I think of Dr. Gabrielle Lyon, who talks about the, for women especially, often it’s not about having too much fat. That’s a symptom of being under-muscled. And that if we can build muscle, that helps rebuild that metabolic engine, which then has a much better long-term effect. And there’s so many other directions I wanted to get to go with you. So I hope we get to maybe do a round two sometime soon, because I feel like there’s many more topics that could be their own episodes. But any other needle movers you want to call out, whether it be in nutrition or optimizing our home environment, especially in relation to anything we’ve talked about today?

Dr. Stillman: You know, if I had to sum it up, because we talked a lot about light and getting out in the sun, but disconnecting from technology is just as important. So having hardwired computers at home so you’re not constantly exposed to EMF, I think keeping your phone in airplane mode is very good for not only your EMF, so to speak, health, but also your mental health. I don’t think it’s healthy for us to be constantly interrupted and constantly available to the world.

As a doctor, I’m basically on call for a very small number of patients in my concierge program. And they know my phone’s on airplane mode because I don’t want to be microwaved 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And so they know I’ll get back to them whenever I can. And that used to be normal, right? It used to be normal that you couldn’t get a hold of somebody, right? And I was taught as a child, you’re not supposed to call your friends before nine o’clock in the morning and after eight o’clock at night because that’s rude. I mean, how far the world has changed, right?

And as that’s happened, right, our mental health has really deteriorated as a society, obviously. And then blue blockers are critical. And that’s just, I’m sure that’s just bread and butter, old hat type stuff for your audience. At this point, I remember when blue blockers were like a new thing and no one had heard of them. And I remember meeting Matt Maruca right when he was starting Ra Optics and was the first kid on the block with a pair of blue blockers. So.

Yeah, but it’s so critical that people actually commit to that. One of the things on my list right now is actually a garden timer that I can set so that the router in my house will turn off every night without me having to unplug it so that I am proactive about getting to bed and not staying on technology too late. Little things like that are the kind of things that we help people troubleshoot in our group coaching calls so that they not only know the theory behind what to do, but they have practical solutions and then accountability to making it happen, which is the key to results.

Katie: That’s an awesome tip. I’ve done that as well where the digital timer just takes down the wi-fi at night and it’s so great not to have to remember to do that and great for kids as well because then they get enough sleep also. And as I mentioned, we’ll do a round two because there’s whole topics we didn’t even get to touch on.

But for today’s episode, last couple of questions, the first being if there’s a book or number of books that have profoundly impacted you personally, if so, what they are and why.

Dr. Stillman: I have to say Bible. And then I didn’t know it was a group of books because I only had one. But you know, my top books that have really changed my thinking about medicine would be The Influence of Ocular Light on Metabolism on Animal and in Man by Fritz Hollwich, that’s very much a more academic book, and that one is almost I mean, I don’t know, that has to be like the top.

But then works by guys like Theron Randolph. He wrote books on allergy and immunology. They were very powerful in changing how I thought. The Invisible Rainbow, that one’s behind me. It’s right there. That’s Arthur Firstenberg’s book on EMF and I’m trying to look at other things on my shelf. There’s just so many good books out there. But those are, if I had to pick a top three or top four, I think it would be, it would be those. Yeah.

Katie: Awesome. I’ll put those in the show notes at WellnessMama.fm for all of you guys listening on the go. And lastly, any parting advice for the listeners today that could be related to the topics we covered or unrelated life advice that you find helpful.

Dr. Stillman: Just remember that you are the placebo. So you have to tap into that for really good healing to occur.

Katie: Also another topic that could be a whole episode. I love that.

Dr. Stillman: It could be, yes.

Katie: Leland, thank you so much for the time. This has been such a fun conversation. I know we have much more to cover, but I’m very grateful to you for being here today.

Dr. Stillman: Thank you for having me, it’s a pleasure.

Katie: And thanks as always to all of you for listening and sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy, and your attention with us today. We’re both so grateful that you did, and I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of the Wellness Mama Podcast.
If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.

#Light #Protein #Nutrition #Hormones #Leland #Stillman

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