The delineation that we like to make between mind and body is really an illusion. It’s one complete circuit.
-Dr. Cynthia Li
In Brave New Medicine: A Doctor’s Unconventional Path to Healing Her Autoimmune Illness Dr. Cynthia Li, an internal medicine physician by training, writes about how her world came crashing down after developing an autoimmune thyroid condition and how she had to journey beyond what Western medicine has to offer to truly heal. Join Diana for a fascinating and important discussion with Dr. Li about functional medicine, a client-centered, science-based approach to looking at and treating the root cause of chronic imbalances in our body.
Listen and Learn
How functional medicine differs from both Western and Integrative medicine
What are the five main causes of chronic imbalance according to Functional Medicine
Tips on specific classes of foods that promote optimal wellness
How healing emotional wounds impacts physical healing
Suggestions for detoxifying your house, re-inhabiting your body, and more!
About Dr. Cynthia Li
Cynthia Li, MD is a physician, functional medicine practitioner, and author of Brave New Medicine: A Doctor’s Unconventional Path to Healing Her Autoimmune Illness, a memoir about chronic illness and return to wellness that challenges the current healthcare system model. Dr. Li has a private practice in integrative and functional medicine in the San Francisco Bay Area and serves as faculty at the University of California San Francisco Medical School. She is a member of the American Board of Internal Medicine, the Institute for Functional Medicine, and Integrative Medicine for the Underserved. Dr. Li is also a contributing author to the Huffington Post’s “Thrive Global” and Psychology Today. Dr. Li received her medical degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.
Dr. Cynthia Li’s website, where you can access her blog and links to Functional Medicine resources
Thank you for joining us on this episode of Psychologists Off The Clock. We appreciate your feedback. Please take a moment to leave a quick rating and review of the show on Apple Podcasts. It helps us spread the word to more folks like you!
Cynthia Li: [00:00:03] These conditions Western medicine has very very few answers for so I was really forced to go outside of the system to look for new answers
Diana Hill: [00:00:14] You’re listening to Dr. Cynthia Li on psychologists off the clock.
Today, we have a physician on the show, so we’re moving out of the world of psychology into the world of medicine, and it’s a real treat to talk to Dr. Cynthia Li, she’s a physician who is currently in private practice and practices integrative and functional medicine and serves as faculty. Or the healer’s art program at university of California, San Francisco medical school.
But she also has a really diverse background where she’s worked in Kaiser Permanente medical center, San Francisco general hospital, and st Anthony’s medical clinic for the homeless. And she talks about her own experience with recovery from an autoimmune disease, but also how she came about some sort of alternative practices.
To healing that are out of the realm of traditional medicine. So w you work in a medical setting, and I’m, I’m curious how this interview hit you.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:02:04] was very interesting. I do, I work on an interdisciplinary medical team. I’m the one of the psychologists on the team, and what I think is so interesting is that we have this traditional approach to Western medicine where you go in.
There’s something wrong with you. You get a diagnosis, you get a treatment and you get fixed. And that’s kinda how we tend to look at medicine. And there are times when this works great. Like my newborn baby had an infection. She got IV antibiotics in the NICU. It saved her life. So in some cases.
That you know, is the best approach. But a lot of times it’s a lot more complicated than that. And I used to work in the chronic pain clinic in the VA for the VA where I work for years and often people would have these really complex issues. Pain is often not so simple as that, as she talks about in this episode.
And what happens, patients get frustrated because they go in looking for that diagnosis and treatment. And it doesn’t work like that. And providers get frustrated because they feel like they can’t help their patients. And pain is really complex. We talked about this in our episode with dr Adrian Sloan way back, long time ago.
, often what’s needed is more of this kind of mind, body treatment, overall health behaviors and wellness, behavioral approaches, physical therapy. And I think more and more medical systems are moving in this direction of functional medicine and looking at the whole person. , within the VA, .
There’s this new movement called the whole health model, which really looks at the whole person in contact. Their quality of life, their goals. That’s much more collaborative between the providers and the patients. And it’s, it was really interesting for me to hear this episode because it’s really in line with that model of working together collaboratively and looking at the whole picture.
Diana Hill: [00:03:49] It seems like there’s a real parallel between what’s happening in medicine and what’s been happening in psychology over the past decade where I think psychologists are also looking at the whole picture in terms of looking at nutrition, looking at sLip, looking at movement with the nature, connection and community as all being such an important part of mental health.
And this overlap between mental health. And physical health. In her book, Cynthia Li even talks about circadian rhythms, which we’ve known about for a while for something like bipolar disorder, getting people on a regular sLip wake cycle and the role of circadian rhythms. But that even plays out in, in our health and psychological health now, and we thinking about.
You know, using our phones at night and staying up until later, wake up and low the night and getting on our phone and how that’s messing with our whole system. But there’s a whole slew of things in our modern world that are impacting our physical bodies and, uh, which in turn impacts our physical health and our, and our mental health.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:04:50] Yeah, and I think that’s a way that our field is also moving in that direction. Instead of thinking like, Oh, you have a mental health system. Symptom, let’s to apply a treatment and fix it. Instead, it’s like, what are your values? What kind of behavior change do you need to make to help improve your life?
So it’s really kind of a cool parallel. I agree.
Diana Hill: [00:05:09] I loved it when she talked about, um, medical students and what they go through. And gosh, did you relate to that in terms of your graduate training in psychology? Because I think graduate training psychology is, it’s, at least in research based psychology is pretty similar, uh, where there isn’t a lot of room for the mental health and physical health of the people that are, that are the healers that are then in go out and work with clients and patients.
Debbie Sorensen: [00:05:36] Oh yeah. I mean, people are very, you know, workaholic. Not necessarily always great about self care. Yeah. I was really happy to hear that she addressed that. I also, you know, I work with a lot of medical providers and my job, and actually in my private practice, I work with some , some physicians and people in the medical field.
And what’s interesting is that there is these high achieving cultures and medicine and psychology of people working really hard and getting burned out, like seeing patient after patient and not having room for their own self care. And we also put a lot of moral weight on people to be, you know, saving lives and helping people.
And um, it’s just a lot of pressure so many people are not practicing what they preach in terms of self care, but then, you know, we kind of say, Oh, you’re burnt out. You need to go get help. When really it’s the system, just makes it a very stressful situation.
Diana Hill: [00:06:28] So in this episode, she’ll walk you through some of the suggestions she has for healing, and she has 15 of them that she talks about in the book. We, we dive into everything from, you know, what supplements she recommends and foods she recommends, but also some of the, uh, healing practices
that she has done herself. So really hope you enjoy it. And I think there’s a lot to take away from the wisdom of Dr. Cynthia Li.
welcome. Dr. Cynthia Li. It’s really a pleasure to have you on the show.
Cynthia Li: [00:07:01] for having
Diana Hill: [00:07:04] And I picked up your book A Brave new medicine a doctor’s unconventional path to Healing her autoimmune illness because I actually really have gotten more interested in functional medicine for myself over the past few years and it.
Was more sort of for personal interest that now I also think it’s really important to share with our listeners and people in the mental health field as well. But I think maybe a good place to start is talking about your experience that brought you to writing this book because it’s a very personal account that then leads you to give some recommendations around our Medical Care.
Cynthia Li: [00:07:43] Yeah, absolutely. I would say, you know more than a how to book. This is really a memoir about a paradigm shift that I. Underwent as a conventionally trained doctor in Internal Medicine and how the autoimmune illness, you know, I would say I started out with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which a lot of people have heard that term.
So I was over active and then under active and over a couple of years it. Sort of morphed into chronic fatigue syndrome and dysautonomia where I was very debilitated for many years. I was housebound for two years and largely housebound for the greater part of the decade. So this was a real Odyssey for me.
I did not know functional medicine existed at the time for better or worse and for for worse because it took me a lot longer to. To get to the root causes of my chronic imbalances, but for better because I really I don’t have into the science and the mechanisms of what was happening to my body and to my mind as well.
There’s a lot of emotional imbalances along with the physical fatigue and vertigo. As well as really chronic insomnia. So, you know, one of the the take-home lessons that I learned was that the delineation that we like to make between mind and body is really an illusion. It’s it’s one complete circuit and for those listeners who aren’t familiar with the term functional medicine.
It’s I would say it’s there are a lot of different. Definitions for it and sort of where is it categorized? But for me the way I understand it is integrative medicine is really the umbrella term that says hey, you know our bodies are Integrated Systems. So for example with my thyroid condition, it’s not just a sigh roid problem. It’s an imbalance in the whole hormonal axis. So starting from the pituitary and the hypothalamus in the brain to my thyroid which is connected to my adrenals and my ovaries.
So the entire axis the whole system is out of balance, and then that system of course is connected to my digestive system my immune system my neurological system so that this intricate web once one piece is pulled sort of out of balance the entire thing shifts and then of course, we’re related to the ecosystems that we live in as well as the.
Complex and mysterious ecosystems that live within us and you know, I’m sure we’ll talk later on about the microbiome and these these microorganisms that live within our gut on our skin and our noses and our are ways that really. contribute to more. Perhaps of our health and well-being then what we call quote ourselves, whatever that means anyone so that’s integrative medicine and then functional medicine takes it a step further where we’re looking at the root causes of chronic imbalances and it can be really boiled down to five classifications toxins, meaning like environmental pollutants and chemicals.
Allergens and those typically are it’s less. I mean, hay fever and those kind of cat hair allergies is kinds of typical allergies are there too, but when people come to me as a functional medicine practitioner, we’re really looking at stealth allergens like particularly food allergens that and reactions that.
Are not there a little bit under the radar because we’re constantly exposed to them. So I look a lot at those infections are sort of in the same class, like most people know when they have a sinusitis or an ammonia or a cold but. Oftentimes we have infections that are stealth like parasites that are in the gut that aren’t enough to cause gastroenteritis, but just enough to cause chronic inflammation for years and stress which is a huge one that can be emotional mental or physical trauma and.
And then the last one. So is is just a poor diet is an inflammatory diet. So those are the five general classes that I’m looking at with my patients and then there’s other pieces of functional medicine to like in terms of how do we support Optimal Wellness balancing the hormones healing the gut getting the immune system to function correctly.
So those are the those are other pieces.
Diana Hill: [00:12:46] actually just this morning came from my women’s wellness exam and. I’m in the process of transitioning to a functional medicine Women’s Wellness practitioner, but I had this one on the books for the last six months. I’m like I’ll just go in and get it done and my insurance will cover it and I was taking notes while I was in there some of the things that I noticed were my intake form was a list of diseases that I just checked yes or no on so I don’t have any gallbladder disease or glaucoma.
And then so I just kind of went on the list and checked it Bunches of note bunch of knows. I was in the waiting room for 45 minutes by the time I got in there I had about seven minutes with this doctor who did not ask about diet stress sLip or even inform me about the paramedic pause in menopause, which may be in my near future and it was a complete.
Contrast between that and seeing a functional medicine Women’s Wellness practitioner who when I left my hour-long appointment with her I left with some suggestions to put MCT oil in my morning smoothie and it was just it was completely completely a different experience. I sat down with her across from her in a seat.
For a long time and we talked about all aspects of my life and my stress levels and I learned about how cortisol impacts estrogen and all sorts of things it it feels like there’s just so much that’s lost in current medicine. what does it look like when someone comes to you for treatment and how would that be different than someone that’s coming in for a traditional
Cynthia Li: [00:14:22] Yeah, and I would say too.
I mean like I was one of those doctors right who I was in primary care for a long time. I was doing. General Primary Care with you know in an HMO system for a while and I was at the county hospital system doing primary care. I mean, so I have a lot of experience. That was my my first sort of stage of dr.
Hood. And and I remember first of all not being trained at all and don’t like if somebody even asked me about diet I wouldn’t. I had very little to say, you know other than kind of just the well, you know, what kind of processed foods are you eating? And it was a kind of a general low-fat low-sugar sort of Spiel, but I would also say the the way that the.
Appointments are set up for 15 minutes. Let’s say and sometimes there are 20 and 30 minute appointments that are available now because you know people are really trying to make some changes but there were times when I would try as a doctor to talk about diet and stress and I would say that the shorter.
Make it such that a lot of my patients did not want to hear about that. Like they were like no there was a lot of pressure for me. I felt like to come up with a pet solution for whatever it was that ailed them and you know, whether it was fatigued or eggs or just not sLiping well, which were very very common.
I it sort of sets you up both as a practitioner and as a patient to leave with very little answer in terms of wellness and sort of addressing these these vague but prevalent symptoms right that sort of plague the huge percentage of the population like fatigue or brain fog so. Yeah, so as I mentioned earlier, it was a really A decade-long Journey For Me of.
Oh my God, you know when I had conditions chronic fatigue syndrome and condition called dysautonomia, which is dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system that governs largely subconscious vital functions, like breathing and heart rate and blood pressure digestion. So these processes were completely in disarray.
And so the lived experience was that I always felt like I was on the verge of passing out and then it contributed to the chronic vertigo. These conditions Western medicine has very very few answers for so I was really forced to go outside of the system to look for new answers and it was at that point, you know, my and I right.
You know very much about this sort of impact. It was on my family. I had you know, I was married and had two young kids and my marriage was really on its last thread. That was one of the main. You know Catalyst for me to think differently like I’m not going to find answers where I was trained. I need to go outside the system and it was not a sudden opening into alternative practices because it was actually going back to fundamentals going back to my pathology 101 textbook and understanding.
Okay, how do chronic disease has progressed and wow, this is probably been going on many years if not decades before my. Autoimmune thyroid condition was even diagnosed right so there have been these subtle and balances going on and I’ve been really detached from what was going on in my body. If I didn’t feel well and residency or afterwards I just, you know pushed on and didn’t want to complain but those were ways that my body was really signaling.
There was something amiss already before I felt. The impact of chronic disease. So the to your question is you know, how do I practice now is it’s really different and functional medicine itself can be it’s a huge Spectrum. It’s like any you know, you can go to a conventional doctor and get a really wide variety.
As Styles and personalities and Foci they focus on different things same thing with functional medicine and I tend to be more of the old-fashioned functional medicine practitioner. I really. Like to do a super thorough physical exam So reading the body for mineral deficiencies or vitamin deficiencies or oxidative stress, you know, and the testing is really comprehensive it can get very expensive and also overwhelming and I as a patient in functional medicine, really overwhelmed by the number of tests and also the costs and so I try to minimize the really. Sort of esoteric testing. I also have not super well trained in that either. So I just I like to stick to the things that I know but physical exam is super thorough and you know an example of that was at the functional medicine conference.
The first one that I went to. There was a breakout session on the physical exam for the mouth and I thought oh, you know cool. I like to go to that but surely we’re going to end earlier, you know that we have an hour for breakout session and we took out the entire hour and barely even we’re supposed to actually do physical exams on the mouth on each other and had about five minutes at the end for that.
So I just had no idea we could read so much from the body. And so stuff like that to me is just very cool. It’s really cool.
Diana Hill: [00:20:36] It also seems that there’s something that’s really important that comes. from the system in which the human that you’re encountering lives in so everything from who are they living with? What is their work environment? those were some of the questions that my functional medicine doctor was asking me and it actually sounded really similar to a lot of the questions. I ask my clients and as you are saying the Mind Body .
They’re not separate our physical wellness and our psychological Wellness are. so contextual in your book. I think what was interesting is hearing your story of going through medical school and how much your experience of a as a medical student your sort of dehumanize that there wasn’t room to experience things like gray for there wasn’t room to process what you were going through as a medical student and it’s almost like early on in that training you’re taught to.
Those the psychology you’re starting to talk to suffer to separate that from from doing medicine. Can you talk a little bit about your experience as a medical training and how you think it influences our young doctors?
Cynthia Li: [00:21:42] Yeah, I mean it’s you know in hindsight when I look at it. It was a form of trauma, you know in the way that like a boot camp might be traumatic for some.
And it is it’s a way of coping with the intensity of not just the academic material but really the confronting The Human Condition just you know the schedule. Is such that. I mean we’re in the hospital for 36-hour shifts and you know, a lot has changed since the time I trained it’s gotten Kinder and a little gentler it’s still fairly brutal.
But you know, we’re confronting as young most of us, you know in our 20s young doctors in training life and death situations and and the way. The pace of it is such that if we hesitate or you know, God forbid, you know Express emotion in front of our peers or patients that it can actually Cloud judgment and sort of response time and there is something really to be said about that for super acute situations, of course like.
You know, I write about the the time that I was in trauma surgery in that rotation and it was just you know, it was a motor vehicle accident after accident all sorts of traumas coming in through the ER and there was just no time if you just had to suppress it which which in the moment I actually understand is is could be life-saving for the patient.
The the challenge though. Is that once we stop once we pause that there needs to be some Outlet where we can begin to release that grief. Otherwise, it’s going to just be suppressed and eventually can make us sick either making a sick or if we detach enough. Then we detach from her patients. The people that we are really trying to connect with and we really had to detach from ourselves.
Diana Hill: [00:24:11] Some of the strategies that you talked about in how to heal and the book actually come come from reconnecting. With yourself and I’d love to discuss those further. The way that you write is really beautiful and that you share your personal Memoir and and then how that Memoir led to this Insight around a strategy of healing and you have 15 of them that you that you share that you can uncover as you read and.
Really? The first one that you talked about is is the importance of asking questions and really the role of the patient being active in in the in the process with their Physicians and with their healers and the story that you tell about radiation
can you tell that story and then and then maybe help us in how we ask questions of our doctors
Cynthia Li: [00:25:03] I was a new mother. My baby was about 3 or 4 months and I was just diagnosed with overactive thyroid hypothyroidism. And I was you know, I was feeling completely I mean I felt like I was going mad couldn’t sLip was, you know wasting away.
I just lost ton of weight and my heart was racing and I had a I had a very strong sense of I was overly active in my thyroid. So I saw a top-notch. Specialist and you know, I was 3 years out of my residency training. So that’s you know at some level. I felt like I had a sense of Mastery, you know, just in terms of being fresh with research and.
And protocols and just you know, the training was very very some some parts of my training. We’re just so automatic. I knew them Pat but in another regard when I was seeing the specialist, you know, he was like a recent professor emeritus at a academic institution had really treated thyroid disorders his whole life and I thought.
My God, like he knows so much more than I do. So I really deferred to him and he had told me that well, there’s he wasn’t clear on the diagnosis. I had hyperthyroidism, but he wasn’t clear on what kind and and he recommended I do a radioactive iodine uptake exam, which is you know, I take a new clear.
Pill and they take images of my thyroid and at the time, you know, first of all, I didn’t question it that much because I had prescribed that test to so many of my patients without thinking sort of twice about it the. Other piece was that I asked I did ask him. You know, it was it really necessary and suddenly being on the other side.
I was listening to nuclear nuclear like this sounds poisonous and he said well, it’ll help us give a diagnosis and without a diagnosis. We you know, we don’t really know how to how to proceed so I underwent that test and because I was a new mom and I was nursing I had to pump and discard my breast milk.
No one really even. Counseled me on how long I mean I was at home calculating the half-life for this radioactive tracer and wanting to minimize exposure to my baby and but it was also very emotional, you know, like I didn’t feel safe to hold her for a few days. And then I was I was feeding her formula it was it was difficult and.
And then I go back for the follow-up exam for my my results and there was a substitute physician who was covering for my doctor who was away and he gave me the results and said you have postpartum thyroiditis, which is Hashimoto’s and and and then I was leaving and he said, you know, I’m just really curious like, why did you why did you guys decide to do a radioactive uptake?
And I you know, I kind of pause and he said well, it’s I said wasn’t it necessary and he said well, no, you know, you could have done an ultrasound and we have just followed your course and seeing what was happening. I mean, you’re a nursing mother and that in a really hit me then that I had given my power over to somebody else.
And even though he certainly had more expertise than I did in terms of seeing postpartum thyroid cases, but
he was an expert of one kind and. And then I realized that I had yeah, I hadn’t owned my own power at
Diana Hill: [00:29:01] I think many of us have been in doctor’s appointments where maybe we haven’t asked questions about a medication prescribed or just assume that that this doctor knows knows everything and that we haven’t gone to medical school.
So what why should we intervene or ask questions are saying anything or ask about Alternatives and it seems so it seems so important to. I have a voice and that you have also some expertise on your own body and your experience within your body as well, which which was another strategy for getting well, which is the strategy of inhabiting your body and you talked about in the book how you use sound healing and Chinese medicine and Qi Gong as part of your healing.
Can you talk a bit about that and using alternative treatments such as those.
Cynthia Li: [00:29:57] It was so that that principle inhabiting the body was really a profound shift from it sounds so simple, but it’s one of those I think there’s Timeless truths that is really simple, but it’s not always easy and. I would say yeah, my medical training certainly encouraged me to detach from my body, but I think it’s I think it’s a culture wide phenomenon.
I mean because I’m treating patients every day. Now most of them are not doctors and they’re really detached. I think that we tend to live. Much of our lives out of our heads and even you know, I’ll see if page I’ll see people jogging on the trail or hiking or biking and a lot of them are listening to a podcast or or listening to the radio, which is fine, but they’re not they’re generally not in their bodies when they’re moving them.
So for me because my physical symptoms were so uncomfortable. I mean really my way to cope was to detach anymore. But when I learned that you can’t heal something that your detached from I realized. Oh my God, I have to go into that wild, you know unruly terrain that is my body and actually be with the discomfort.
And I was not a good sitting meditator and mindfulness. I did try that, you know in terms of bringing the Mind into the body. I also tried neural retraining which these are there’s a set of exercises mind-body practices that can really help reconnect the mind and the body those pathways. And it worked temporarily but so for me it was going deeper into Qi Gong which is a moving meditation based in Ancient Ancient China and traditional Chinese medicine.
Martial arts are all based on the principles of Qi Gong as a scientist. I recognize just not only shift the patterns that my neurons are connected in but also a way there’s a science of epigenetics where our DNA the way it folds the DNA that we inherit from our parents.
It’s fixed. That’s the genetic code. But the way that the DNA is folded turns it on and off turns on certain genes turns off certain genes and that’s in constant Dynamic flux based on what we eat drink breathe think and how we move and so the way I understand it. Is that that’s what you going was able to do for me was to begin to shift what my DNA was expressing and therefore the trillions of cells in my body were shifting from chronic inflammation to healing and same with the neural Pathways and with dysautonomia this dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system.
It really dysfunction of the neurological and hormonal axis between the mind and the body.
Diana Hill: [00:33:23] So you began working on inhabiting your body and and then you also worked on inhabiting your home in a different way and changing some of the factors in your home that may have been contributing to your illness you talk about detoxifying your house.
This is a process that I think a lot of people undergo when they think about having children or start having children is. How do we get toxins out of our home? Maybe even if we were to change three things today? What could we do to reduce toxins in our home?
Cynthia Li: [00:33:58] Yeah, you know one thing I didn’t even write about it’s a huge huge issue right now because about 50% of buildings. That was the latest statistic. I saw in America are have mold issues in them with water damage. So this was something that we didn’t have to deal with in our home, but I I you know, I.
Talk a lot about it with my patients who have it in their homes, and I would say that’s one of the biggest things to really Remedy or you know, if you’re renting see if your landlord can really address it. Most people don’t understand how. Direct a neurotoxin mold is so it really affects the entire body.
But in terms of chemicals, it’s also indoor air pollution in in most places in America. Indoor air pollution is more of an issue than outdoor air pollution and it’s invisible. So and it’s everywhere and it’s in you know, most buildings. And so. We can’t really see it. And so the first thing I would say there’s a class of fluorinated chemicals.
It can be anything from flame retardants that are sprayed on foam particularly Furniture to Teflon nonstick coating pans to
Diana Hill: [00:35:24] yeah and children’s pajamas if you get the kind of pajamas for that don’t ya that don’t fit snugly. They have a big yellow thing on them that says there.
Cynthia Li: [00:35:33] Yes, yes.
Diana Hill: [00:35:35] putting these things on our children are babies.
Cynthia Li: [00:35:37] Yep, and you know what what the science shows two is that they don’t really slow down the rate of burning. So it’s not like oh if you remove flame retardants that you know, the risk of fire is going to be much much stronger. It’s been shown not to be the case.
And so it’s just a Superfluous toxic chemical that is in wide use and so in California, Recently, I’m because most of California Furniture standards are sort of set the standards for the rest of the country. There was recently a phasing out of flame retardants on sofas and chairs and. And bedding so that’s a huge step forward but these chemicals don’t break down.
So they’re in our environment. They’re in our bodies. And so that’s one of the big steps another one. That’s simple that way you don’t have to change that much, you know about your house is is turning on the vent if you have a gas stove top. Just turn on event. There’s a lot of emissions that come out of gas stoves and then another one that’s fairly simple to you don’t have to get super technical is that fragrances?
So if there’s anything that is perfumey or anything that smells chemically, you know, like a shower curtain vinyl shower curtain. Those are the things you kind of want to to remove essential oils, which are fragrances. Those are fine. But yeah, the synthetic perfumes are there. They change hormones.
They disrupt the communication between hormone axes. They contribute to thyroid disease and obesity diabetes. So it’s well, I’ll say yeah, they’re in some cases. They’re associated with those and other cases. The research has actually shown causation.
Diana Hill: [00:37:32] Yeah, we’ve been so marketed to and trained up that there’s a clean smell that we’re supposed to have and actually if it has that chemical clean smell it’s probably not.
Good for us.
Cynthia Li: [00:37:42] Right and bleach but actually chlorine bleach has adequate. So using bleach to yeah to clean as is one of the first things
Diana Hill: [00:37:51] the vinegar and essential oils
Cynthia Li: [00:37:54] that Oye vinegar baking soda kind of these low-cost Grandma’s,
Diana Hill: [00:38:00] Yeah, you can get it in bulk. Yeah. Mmm. Yes, and related to that detoxifying our house was also detoxifying some of your some of the food and changing changing how you were eating that that played a big role in in your healing.
Can you talk about diet? And yeah.
Cynthia Li: [00:38:19] so doc detoxifying our bodies is really big and yeah, and I would say .
. How do we come home to our bodies? And that really I think is a good definition for health and you know, the definition of home can extend of course to our physical environments as well.
And one of the things that that I had noticed when I started learning about all the toxins lurking around in our environment was. I felt the sense of overwhelm the way I have been with just the climate crisis as well. It’s like oh my God, I feel so big. It’s everywhere. How do we do this? And you know, and that causes a lot of stress and that contributes to write and balances in the body.
And so one of the areas and functional medicine. That we focus on is actually how do we support our bodies to detoxify more efficiently and a lot of times when somebody comes in and they’re more quote sensitive right to fragrances or two chemicals that they are genetically the genes that govern the detoxification Pathways that are most they largely reside in the liver.
Or they might just be slower detoxifiers so that there is some genetic component to that. There’s a huge amount of detox that happens with the gut the kidneys respiration. So the whole body really is how do we help the body become more efficient at eliminating these chemicals that are affecting us.
Negatively and you mentioned diet so healing the gut is huge because not only are we able to eliminate more through our bowel movements if they’re regular but. We can build up the Integrity of our gut lining. So we’re absorbing less. Like let’s say we’re eating stuff and we’re you know, we’re eating pesticides and herbicides.
I mean one planet one experiment right everything’s connected. So even you know, it’s ideal to eat organic if you can less pesticide and herbicide residues, but you know, I mean it’s nothing is a hundred percent. Sort of chemical free and so we’re ingesting a lot of things that we don’t even realize we’re ingesting and if the Integrity of our gut lining is leaky, then we’re going to be absorbing more.
And so one way really, you know, I go through my book steps on how to heal the gut and the primary way is going to be through diet change not just removing processed foods and rancid oils which are used in a lot of processed foods, but, you know reducing chemical exposures glyphosate Roundup, which is used on you know, sort of so, it’s used everywhere and it’s
Diana Hill: [00:41:21] Let’s just outside schools on ice.
Cynthia Li: [00:41:26] Yes and as fall
Diana Hill: [00:41:27] now or on the sidewalk out there spraying it outside of school and I almost pulled over because I was so angry about that and then yeah some kids going to walk across that and take it into their living room
Cynthia Li: [00:41:37] right, right, and then a lot of you know. Non organic wheat products are really soaked in Roundup to help the process along and you know, so we’re inadvertently taking in things that we are not aware of so healing the gut really, you know providing removing.
Parasites as I mentioned if they’re they’re you know, kind of identifying that any doctor can do that anyone can ask for a stool for a series of stool tests repeating nutrients key amino acids and fatty acids, which help build up the gut, you know, digestive enzymes is a very easy thing for people to take to help sort of them digest better and break down foods that their bodies need to.
Heal the gut lining and then re inoculation which is really Probiotic foods, but foods that both feed and replace healthy gut bacteria which again, which is something they are the keepers of the intestinal lining. And we’ve got roughly a hundred trillion microorganisms from viruses to yeasts and bacteria in inside our guts which are guarding and maintaining the gut lining.
So if those are out of balance than our walls are going to be weak. And so how do we do that? And you know, my favorite way is through Foods because everything is just in the right Doses and it’s it’s really what we co-evolved with but a lot of patients had benefit from probiotics from prebiotics from fiber supplements just really there.
Diana Hill: [00:43:30] I loved how you write about going into nature and just having more contact with nature also helps are probiotics to of being in the being in the ground being digging in the garden having a little dirt under your fingernails is a good thing.
Cynthia Li: [00:43:45] Yes, and you know and then to to your work to stress reduction anything we can do to not just relax in the mind.
But again to bring that relaxation in the mind down into the body is incredibly healing to the gut. I mean I have patients who are on, you know, just impeccable diet. And you know, we’ll tons of you know and varied plants and you know Probiotic foods and they’re doing all these things but they if they don’t if they can’t manage their stress, they’re not really healing and so it’s really like, how do we support the whole Mind Body Spirit in terms of healing?
We can’t just look at the gut in terms of the physical components that are going into. And the other piece of detox I do want to just plug in is you know, the importance of key nutrients because the liver is doing a lot of this detox. There are key vitamins like be complex and taking an active folate magnesium and vitamin C glutathione support like n-acetyl cysteine.
There are these compounds that help. Any and everyone’s liver Pathways detoxify more efficiently. They’re just their Co factors that are necessary for the enzymes to work.
Diana Hill: [00:45:11] So would you recommend people anyone being taking those supplements on a regular basis? Obviously, you’re not giving medical advice to our community.
But yeah, but those would be good ones to
Cynthia Li: [00:45:22] Absolutely,
Diana Hill: [00:45:23] about specific Foods if we were to maybe add three to five foods that you think everyone would you know, unless you have an allergy to them benefit from would be
Cynthia Li: [00:45:31] Yeah, so I mean some classes of foods with crucifiers which are right the the greens like broccoli kale.
Collard greens and also cauliflower which is not a great but this class is rich in these nutrients particularly the folate and so they’re going to help detox. So one of the things that I love to prescribe is it is green juices. You’re drinking green kombucha,
Diana Hill: [00:46:02] like
Cynthia Li: [00:46:03] that’s a twofer right? Exactly and the.
That’s huge. So, you know right now we’re having this crazy. Wildfire and pollution in Northern California. And so I’m just telling my patients. Hey, you know, don’t forget, you know, do your green smoothies once a day every day, you know, even after the air clears because they’re still particular matter on the ground, but it’s something good, you know, that’s that’s easy to build into your lifestyle not at taking away.
It’s an adding in which is always easier and eliminating and. Another class are the sulfur containing foods. So onions and garlic chives leaks, you know, these these sort of foods that add a lot of flavor to our Foods. They also help detoxify. And then I just you know, and another easy rule is just the rainbow colors.
So getting your beets and beet juice carrots or great pomegranates. So just the richness of different colors eggplant.
Diana Hill: [00:47:20] And
Cynthia Li: [00:47:21] so yeah. Those are just some easy take home. Bone broth for people who are not vegetarian the is really rich in the amino acids that help us detoxify as well as to heal the
Diana Hill: [00:47:39] Wonderful that’s is very helpful.
And I can imagine a lot of listeners wanting to make some good stir fries out of all that
scratch text scratch text you talk about your own experience of grief how did how did grief impact you and how did you work your way through it?
Cynthia Li: [00:47:56] for me? I was always very drawn to psychology and you know archetypal psychology kind of going doing depth work spiritually and learning different paradigms.
But so much of it I didn’t you know understand this was this kind of goes back to inhabiting the body. I so much of it was mental and I didn’t know that I was harboring a lot of grief still in my body , you know for us a lot of grief we Define as like the loss of a loved one or for me like the loss of my health and vitality for a decade and the loss of that to my family, you know of me being unwell. But there’s other losses, you know, like ancestral grief and just how do we mourn for those who have really suffered before us?
How do we know the environment impacts so many of us and yet we don’t actually classified as grief one of the exercises I work with now with medical students at UCSF is what are the things you gave up to become. A doctor and these were important areas of grief. I think that have been really lost to exploration and to permission to come out. How do I release more and more of what I’m carrying? And then what happens is that after you release that there’s a spaciousness within and then compassion confidence piece, you know, if he’s these qualities we attribute to resilience just naturally fill in those spaces. So it’s more as a side effect than trying to attain those qualities directly.
Like, how do you develop resilience? How do you how do you get from a helpless mindset? Right. If you’re into total despair your house bound here. You’ve been dismissed by every doctor and you. Get out of your own house. And you feel like you have the flu. How do you shift from that into a growth mindset to you know to really only have your agency back and you know I said there was no way I could have made that directly, but it was more about releasing.
Diana Hill: [00:50:09] Takes a lot of Bravery
Cynthia Li: [00:50:10] you. I mean, yeah, I wouldn’t I didn’t necessarily feel Brave. I felt very desperate
Diana Hill: [00:50:15] Yeah.
Cynthia Li: [00:50:16] cornered into having to do this if I wanted my life.
Diana Hill: [00:50:21] maybe The Bravery is now also speaking up about it and saying some things that shake up the medical system a bit in terms of recommendations, you’re making .
you write that. Doctors could use more empathy but that’s not the whole picture and that really our medical system is sick and at the end of the end of the book you talk about your suggestions for healing A6 system. So as we close I like for you maybe if we could step back and look at that big picture again
what would be some of your recommendations for healing? It’s just the system.
Cynthia Li: [00:50:59] Yeah, I mean what’s you know if we get into functional medicine and some of these? These paradigms of systems biology things can get very complicated very quickly. But what’s what’s wonderful about systems is that what works for a micro system works on a macro system and their patterns and so, you know when I began to think about oh my God, how do we fix the medical system?
It feels really overwhelming but it’s like, oh, wait a minute. Yeah, you treat it. You know, that’s what my husband said. He’s in public policy and he said well, wait a minute. Like let’s just look at the medical system as a patient. What would you prescribe and you know what I would prescribe for that and I would say the most heartening response from and unexpected response from my book.
So far has been for mainstream doctors who not just are feeling really burned out themselves, but they know that right that the system is broken and that they need more tools not just for themselves but for their patience and. So there’s a lot of movement there and a lot of Desire so I would prescribe the same thing.
Like what would it look like if if doctors were immersed in wellness and it doesn’t even have to be a full immersion, but even even a partial inversion so that we actually knew what it felt like to. To take care of our bodies to be to inhabit our bodies and be reconnected with our Humanity to be fed nourishing foods, right instead of fast foods to be encouraged to sLip regularly to just take care of ourselves it you know, I think the Paradigm needs to go beyond that in terms of changing the way we think about root causes of chronic condition the same way that we have needed to rethink how we think about typical toxins and poisons because the the situation that we have now is very different than we had several decades ago. So we need to begin to open our minds beyond the way that we had been trained. I have I have a lot of Hope and optimism for some of these changes that can happen even in the system the way that it currently is it could be something as simple as changing the questions that we ask right. So asking these new questions but in the exam room and switching the question from what’s the matter with you?
Which also is can be stigmatizing. It can be labeling someone with a chronic disease verse is you know, why is it happening? So what are the root causes right better triggering this the symptom of anxiety or depression or constipation or fatigue that’s something that can happen within a 15-minute appointment.
Diana Hill: [00:54:04] our listeners are interested in seeking out a functional medicine doctor, are there good resources or websites you’d recommend for
Cynthia Li: [00:54:14] one I’m aware of right now is is at functional medicine.com. It’s the institute for functional medicine their website and there’s a find a practitioner. Tab on there and you just enter your city and zip code and they’ll give you practitioners that are available in your area.
But again, you know, I just encourage everyone to kind of to look at the websites to take advantage of complimentary screening calls, if they if they offer those just to get a sense of fit and I would say that fit almost matters more than the kind.
Diana Hill: [00:54:51] Yeah.
Cynthia Li: [00:54:52] Medicine is practiced. So often times when people come to me for referrals, it’s going to depend.
Sometimes it’s an osteopath. Sometimes. It’s a functional medicine doctor. Sometimes it’s an acupuncturist, but I always say that yeah, make sure that the fit is is there.
Diana Hill: [00:55:11] Yeah, thank you. And there is a tremendous amount of resources and suggestions in the book that you write. So again, it’s a memoir.
And at the end it sort of has this whole other had on it could have been two books. Well, they’re out on a really concrete suggestions of what you can do in each of these 15 areas. We just talked into a few of them today, but you go through 15 different areas and specific suggestions and recommendations that are extremely helpful.
So that might be a good place for folks to start and to try some of these things on their own and then also maybe looking for. A physician or another functional medicine practitioner that would support them in doing this work. So thank you so much. Dr. Li. It’s just yes. It was a real treat to have you on and just to read your book and it’s a real mind shift and so grateful that they’re people like you being brave and medicine and the way that you are and sharing this work with all of us.
Cynthia Li: [00:56:10] you.