Is our phone and technology addiction now a serious health issue?

Returning to the show this week is fellow podcaster, co-director of the California Center for Functional Medicine, and New York Times best selling author, Mr. Chris Kresser.

For a man so knowledgeable about health, Chris’ non-dogmatic approach to wellness can be refreshing.

On this show with Chris, you’re going to learn:

  • Why chronic diseases have skyrocketed
  • What the ancestral diet is and why it’s important
  • The role health coaches play in the new healthcare model
  • Why habitually unplugging is crucial to your health
  • How functional medicine could save healthcare from financial ruin
  • One trick to the ultimate vacation reboot
  • And tons more!

Chris Kresser: Reforming Health Care with Functional Medicine

Hey, Abel. Always a pleasure to be with you.

Abel: We’ve been hanging out in similar circles for a while now. I remember reading your blog back in the day, really appreciating the unique spin that you brought to certain subjects that other people weren’t talking about.

Yes, the blog was The Healthy Skeptic.

And now it’s a podcast too. So yeah, you go way back. That was probably back to 2008, maybe 2010, something like that.

Abel: I remember seeing the Paleo Template show up in a blog comment conversation, and everyone’s like, “Yes, the Paleo Template.” I miss those days sometimes, Chris.

Things have changed quite a bit, haven’t they?

What’s Wrong with Conventional Medicine?

Abel: It’s amazing. Well, why don’t we start right there? What is wrong these days?

What’s wrong with conventional medicine, conventional wisdom, the way things are?

Well, the long and the short of it is that we’re suffering from the biggest epidemic of chronic disease that humans have ever faced, and it’s threatening to bankrupt our government.

It’s just going to destroy our quality of life, and shorten our life span, and threaten the health of future generations.

So that’s not small, that’s a big deal, it’s really an existential crisis or threat.

In fact, the Department of Defense is looking at chronic disease similarly to the way it looks at other threats like nuclear war, or shortages of basic needs and requirements.

Because one in two Americans now has a chronic disease, and one in four have multiple chronic diseases, and those numbers are increasing every year.

So, if you just follow the trajectory, eventually, everybody could have a chronic disease, and that’s not where we want to end up.

So we really need to take action.

Abel: It’s hard to measure this, but sometimes it feels like things are getting worse instead of better.

Yah, it’s tricky, because certainly some things are much better.

I think if you ask most people whether they prefer to live today or 200 years ago, they would say today for a number of reasons that aren’t necessarily related to health.

But certainly, our lifespan has increased largely because of our ability to deal with the acute challenges that killed us for most of our history, like infections, typhoid, tuberculosis, pneumonia, sepsis, blood infection from a severe injury.

These are things that historically killed us in large numbers, and it’s the reason why average life expectancy was like in the 40s or 50s for a long time.

So, that’s definitely improved, and that’s welcomed, for sure.

The trouble is, those acute challenges are no longer the major causes of death.

In 1900, the top three causes of death were all infectious diseases: Typhoid, tuberculosis, and pneumonia.

Whereas today, 7 out of 10 of the top causes of death are chronic disease.

7 out of 10 of the top causes of death are chronic disease. Click To Tweet

So, I think I would say, in some ways, it’s gotten better, but in other ways it’s definitely going in the wrong direction.

And there are different challenges than the ones that we faced before, which is, I think, in part why it took us so long to recognize, number one, and why we’re being so slow to turn it around.

Abel: Well, right, because back in the day, a few centuries ago, if you started to get an infection in your leg, it’s somewhat out of your control if you don’t have the medicine to treat it, or if you don’t have the means to treat it.

Whereas today, it’s much more of a almost behavioral, or psychological issue. Where we have these diseases of abundance, really, where a lot of them manifest because people have been eating or living in the wrong way, or an unhealthful way for a long period of time.

Yah, I would say behavioral, environmental, for sure that’s what’s driving the chronic disease epidemic.

But our medical system was set up at a time where the major challenges were still acute, emergency situations.

So like, again, back in 1900, the main reasons that people went to a doctor were, let’s say, they broke a bone while working in a factory, or they were having an appendicitis, or a gallbladder attack, or they had an infection like pneumonia.

So, they would go to the doctor and the treatment was relatively simple.

That didn’t work necessarily all the time.

Now they would set the bone in a cast, or they would remove the gallbladder, or once antibiotics were developed, they would prescribe an antibiotic for the infection. And it was just one doctor, one treatment, and that’s the end of it.

Today, it’s very different.

Again, people are going to their doctor because they have irritable bowel syndrome, and they’re not sleeping well, and they’re gaining weight, and maybe they have a high blood sugar, and they’re pre-diabetic, and they’re starting to have kidney problems.

None of these are life-threatening emergencies right away. They require a really different approach.

But our system is still really set up to deal with life-threatening emergencies, and it’s pretty good at that.

If you look at healthcare on a spectrum of like perfect health over here, and death over here, our system excels at intervening at the far end of the spectrum, like closer to death.

If you get hit by a truck, you go to the hospital and they can do some pretty amazing stuff to save your life.

We’re starting to be able to restore sight to the blind.

There’s some pretty amazing new drugs that are targeting cancer in a different way that have a lot of promise.

And so when you’re really sick, or you have an emergency or an acute problem, conventional medicine is actually pretty good at dealing with that.

What it’s hopelessly bad at is preventing disease in the first place, promoting health and also addressing the root cause of these behavioral and lifestyle diseases.

Conventional medicine is mostly focused on using drugs to suppress symptoms. It’s not really oriented toward finding the root cause of a problem—diet, lifestyle, behavior. Those things are the root cause of virtually all chronic diseases.

So that’s the fundamental problem that we have.

Abel: Right. We’re very well-trained in extremely targeted care, but when it comes to thinking about people as people, not so good these days.

If you look at the way medicine is set up, we have specialists for every different part of the body. It’s very advanced.

Abel: They don’t know how the body works.

Right, or they don’t know how it’s all connected.

And the primary care provider is supposed to play that role of like the quarterback that kind of manages all of the different specialists, and is the central hub of resources for the patient, who can coordinate all the different aspects of care.

That might work alright if the patients were spending more than 10 minutes in an appointment with a primary care provider.

But that is actually the average amount of time that’s spent in an appointment—10 to 12 minutes.

That’s barely enough time to say, “Hello and Goodbye.” Not to mention if a patient has multiple chronic diseases.

Going back to that person I was talking about with IBS and high blood sugar and insomnia. To even get a sense of what’s going on, to ask them about their diet, their lifestyle, behavior changes that they can make, that’s never ever going to happen in a 10-minute appointment.

The best that can be done in that situation is to essentially write a prescription for helping provide the patient with some relief for those symptoms, and that’s it. And this is not the doctor’s fault.

Doctors are as much victims of this system as patients. Click To Tweet

I know so many doctors that are well aware of this and don’t want to work that way, and find that it’s a soul crushing experience to have 2500 patients, and see patients 40 hours a week, just in and out all day long, and not to be able to really connect with them and practice medicine in the way that they know they should be doing.

So, it’s really a systemic problem that requires a systemic solution.

Abel: And it’s not really healing either.

No.

Abel: There’s an interesting disconnect.

When I was growing up, my mom was going to school to become a nurse practitioner. And eventually she was working in and out of hospitals, she started her own practice for a while.

She explained the same thing working in the ER, or even working in clinics with doctors, you’re up against the clock. And I think anyone who’s ever been to the doctor has experienced this.

Yet, in your book, it seems like you have some great solutions, where you have an army of coaches who are well-informed and do have the time to spend teaching people about these preventative methods to avoid disease, or just promote health.

Could you explain a little bit about how that might work?

Sure. My book was really intended as a shot across the bow.

This is an issue that is on the level, like I said before, it’s an existential threat to not only to us as individuals, but to us as the fabric of our society.

I mean, if our government is bankrupted by healthcare expenses, we no longer function as the United States of America.  It’s a pretty big deal.

The Collaborative Practice Model

What I laid out there is hopefully part of the solution. And what you were referring to is what I call a collaborative practice model, and that’s one of the three solutions to this problem that I advocate for in the book.

And as I said, appointment times with doctors are just too short, so that’s one problem.

The second problem is, if we acknowledge that chronic disease is primarily driven by diet, lifestyle, and behavior, which it is. Less than 15% of disease is caused by genetic issues.

So, we could say 85% of the risk of disease comes down to the choices that we make on a daily basis.

85% of the risk of disease comes down to the choices that we make on a daily basis. Click To Tweet

Abel: Yah, that’s a great way to think about it.

So then that leads to the next question, “Okay. Well, even if doctors did have enough time, would they be the best people to work with patients on diet, lifestyle and behavior change?”

The answer is, “Not really” because they don’t have the training.

Most doctors only get one class in medical school on nutrition and it’s based on text books that were written 30 years ago.

Also we still need doctors for things like if you need a colonoscopy or you need to have a skin tumor removed, or something like that. We need people with that advanced level of training.

So, what I’m suggesting is creating a much more collaborative approach where you have everyone doing exactly what it is that they are trained to do.

And then better utilize nutritionists, health coaches, personal trainers and other, what I call, allied providers, on the care team who can actually make a meaningful impact in helping people to change their diet, behavior and lifestyle.

Because we know now, without a doubt, that this is the way we can make the biggest impact on the healthcare epidemic.

Let me use an example. Let’s say you go in to the doctor, maybe this is 5 years from now, and your doctor does some comprehensive blood testing.

Not just like 3 markers, but a full blood panel because if they do that, they’re going to be more likely to catch things before they turn into full on problems.

So they do some blood sugar markers and they say, “Oh, your blood sugar is getting a little high, it’s still in the normal range, but it’s towards the upper end of the range.”

“And what we know about this is, if we don’t intervene it will progress. And the further it progresses along that spectrum, then the more difficult it will be to reverse. So that’s the good news. We’re catching it now.”

“And if we take these few simple steps, we’re going to be able to nip this in the bud, and you won’t ever have to develop type 2 diabetes.”

And then they say, “And the good news is, too, we know that just telling you to eat well and exercise more is not going to be effective. And so we have a health coach on staff who is an expert at helping people to change their behavior and adopt these new diet plan.”

“And she’s going to come to your house and clean out your pantry and go shopping with you, and show you what foods to buy, and she’s going to design meal plans and recipes.”

“And then you’re going to have a weekly check-in call with her every week until you feel like you’re really solid and you’ve got it down.”

“We’re also going to refer you to a local gym we have a partnership, and our personal trainer is there, he’s going to help you set up a physical activity program, and get you walking more and sitting less, and then eventually do some strength training and higher intensity stuff, because we know that that’s going to make a big difference.”

“And the good news is, your insurance company is going to pay for all of this because they have come to realize that if they spend a little bit of money up front helping patients change their behavior and preventing these diseases, they can save an enormous amount of money over the long term.”

To you and I, and anybody listening, well, that sounds like, “Why? Why are we not doing this already?”

That’s how it should be. And there’s actually nothing stopping it from being like that.

It’s not even an expense problem, because, as I indicated in the book, it costs about $15,000 per year to care for a patient with type 2 diabetes.

So, if you spend $1,000, even up front on health coaching and personal training for that patient, you prevent them from getting type 2 diabetes in the first place.

You could potentially be saving a half a million dollars over the course of their lifetime.

So this is not an economic problem, it’s just a question of awareness and will to basically make this change.

Shut Off Phone Notifications… for Your Health

Abel: I was talking to our mutual friend, Dr. Mark Hyman, and I think he mentioned that if you spend $2400 on someone’s food for a few months, you will end up saving well over a $100,000 in diseases that manifest later.

And that’s something that we haven’t really been educated about, but I think we can all inherently understand because we see it all around us.

It’s quite obvious, especially as time goes on, you see a lot of problems happening to certain people who are making certain decisions, whether it’s the way that they exercise or the way they eat.

You see other people who are living more like elves, probably like us, right? Eating clean, trying to get out there and move, going down to Mexico and surfing sometimes, where it seems like you have vitality still.

When you look around and you see people who are losing it, it’s concerning, especially when we start to accept that as normal. Which we have, I think more and more, as the years go by.

I think a lot of the problem is environmental. The ancestral argument which a lot of your listeners are familiar with basically says, “Look, we’ve got a kind of operating system that was designed for a completely different environment than the one we’re living in.”

It was designed for living outdoors in an environment of relative food scarcity, where you had enough exposure to the natural rhythms of light and dark, where you had to be physically active throughout the day or you would die. Because there was no buffet that you could just turn up to and be fed, you had to go hunt and gather your food.

There was a social connection, because humans lived in a tribal arrangement, and that’s all just hard-wired into our DNA and our biology.

Then you fast-forward to today, every single aspect of our lifestyle is different. Everything that I just mentioned has been basically turned upside down.

We live in an environment of food abundance, where you can walk to 7-eleven, and Costco, and Walmart. I mean, you really can eat.

There certainly still is poverty in the United States and people who don’t have enough to eat, so I don’t mean to diminish that.

But for most people living in our industrialized world, the problem is eating too much, and not sleeping enough. We’re spending long periods of time sitting and looking at screens, we’re living in isolated and alienated social environments.

And so the key point I want to make is that it’s really important to understand that there are a lot of ways that our body sets us up for failure in this environment.

Just a couple examples would be: We’re hardwired to seek out highly rewarding, calorie-dense food, because that would’ve helped us survive in a natural environment characterized by food scarcity.

The people that were most successful when finding that calorie-dense food, and eating the most of it, would have actually survived to pass their genes on.

Another is our dopamine reward system—we’re programmed to be kind of constantly scanning the environment for distractions because if we saw something in our peripheral vision that could have been a predator, we would have been more alert and aware, and we would have been able to escape that and we would have passed our genes down.

So, what happens with that in a world where we are flooded with distractions all the time?

We have phones that are constantly giving us notifications and we’ve got email and all this stuff.

Well, that tendency towards distractibility actually really then works against us in the modern environment.

The reason I think this ancestral view is so powerful, is it provides us a framework for understanding our experience and then making changes to our environment in a way that will set us up for success, rather than failure.

Abel: How do you see people making that transition?

Because especially when it comes to phones, technology, and how much closer it’s getting, even to our physical bodies.

Generations are being raised on these devices. And if you follow that trendline, where does that go? How do you see that airing in all of this?

To be honest, as a parent myself, that’s the reason we completely restrict technology use for my seven-year-old daughter. She has virtually no technology use.

She gets to watch about 40 minutes of video one time per week. That’s the full extent of her screen use.

And the reason for that is because I am very well aware of the research on technology addiction, especially with kids, but also with adults.

And frankly, this is what keeps me up at night. More than a lot of the other health stuff that we talk about.

Because a phone is an ideally addictive and distracting device. It triggers virtually all of our hard-wired vulnerabilities, really.

I think we’re going to have to be very intentional about the way we change our relationship with technology. @chriskresser Click To Tweet

So personally, I can tell you some of the things that I’ve done and I recommend to my patients. One is to turn off all notifications.

Abel: That’s a must.

Except for calls, voicemail, and text messages.

In my case, I’m old enough that a lot of my contemporaries don’t really text message very often.

So, I know that if I get a text, it’s probably one that I need to see, it’s from my wife or a friend.

But younger people, I think, could even consider turning off text message notifications because a lot of them are just like emojis and, “Hey, how are you doing?”

And I have my calendar notifications still turned on because I schedule a lot of things in my calendar and I sometimes like to be reminded if an event’s coming up or something of a call with a patient.

I never take my phone into my bedroom. I don’t sleep anywhere near my phone.

In our house, we have phone-free rooms and tech-free rooms and zones, where we never have any iPads, computers, technology at all.

The dinner table, for example. We don’t allow any phones or devices at the table or the living room.

Every Sunday, we have a family screen-free day; a digital detox. So my wife and I put all of our devices away and we don’t interact with devices at all on Sundays.

I do periodical digital detoxes, where when we go on vacation, and I completely unplug and don’t use any devices, and I don’t interact with work at all.

Abel: Good.

I even started setting up Gmail to delete my emails while I’m gone.

Abel: Right. I want to learn that trick.

It’s the most liberating step I’ve ever taken.

A lot of people don’t go on vacation because they’re afraid of the huge amount of email they’re going to face when they go back.

So, I set up an auto-responder that just says, “Hey, I’m surfing somewhere. I’m taking a break and life’s too short to come back to a huge pile of emails, so if you need something while I’m gone, here’s my assistant’s email. Otherwise, if it’s important, please just email me when you get back because I’m deleting all emails while I’m gone.”

I started doing that last year. And it’s transformative.

It’s amazing because you can just be gone. You come back to a completely empty inbox and just start fresh.

And the people who really need to reach you, they email me the next week. And actually, many of them said, “Wow, that was really refreshing. I loved reading that auto-responder and I’m going to start doing the same thing.”

Abel: That’s awesome.

So, those are some simple steps that you can take that can make a huge difference in your life.

There’s also an app called Moment for iOS that monitors your usage and gives you tips for reducing your usage and even has a built-in course called From Bored and Brilliant that you can take that helps give you some of the context for this.

I have an app on my computer called Time Out, which you can program the intervals of time, but every now and then it pops up and takes over your screen and reminds you to take a break.

So I do shorter breaks every 15 minutes. And then every 90 minutes, I do like a 10 or 15-minute break where I’ll actually go outside, sit in the sun, do some push-ups or pull-ups or some burpees or whatever, or I’ll play with my daughter for 15 minutes. So it requires effort.

This is the challenge that we face is that most people are, first of all, not even aware of how they’re being affected by all these technologies.

How to Stop the Constantly Tapping Apps

Abel: Manipulated even.

Exactly. Very intentionally, by the way. That’s a whole other topic.

And second of all, don’t really have the resources and support to put all these changes into action. Or don’t even know how to do them.

I think of my dad. He was one of the last people I know to get an iPhone. He is not tech savvy.

So he just gets it, and by default it’s setup to notify and interrupt him all the time.

And then whenever you install a new app, he just hits, “Okay, okay, okay.” He doesn’t really know what to do.

And so now it’s come to the point where he’s just constantly interrupted all throughout the day, without even really choosing for that to happen.

I had a conversation with him the other day, I was like, “Dad, you realize what’s happening? How would it be if I just followed you around all day and every couple minutes, just clapped in front of your face and distracted you from what you were doing? Or tapped you on the shoulder relentlessly until you looked at me? I mean, you’d punch me in the face in about 5 minutes and tell me to get out of here.”

But that’s essentially what the phone’s doing to us all day.

Abel: It really is, but it’s making it almost pleasurable. It’s like Pavlov’s dog.

You get this sound that grabs your attention. You kinda like it, because you probably picked it out and it’s one of your favorites. And so it goes “Ding” and then oh, it’s a friend or it’s a smiling face or something.

I went to school for some of the psychological stuff. If I kept going with it, I’d know who they hired to trick people into being affected by this stuff.

It’s so rampant and like you said, it’s not just the kids, it’s also our parents’ generation.

Every time I go and visit my folks, I literally have to take almost all of their devices, especially Apple devices. I go into the settings and I have to go through all of the new notifications that have popped up, usually without their permission.

And turn them off. Yah, exactly.

Abel: And man, it’s a lot of work and we shouldn’t have to do that. But it’s really important to know that’s what we’re up against.

Yes, and again this is brain chemistry. This is dopamine. It goes back to that fact that we’re hardwired for distraction that helped us survive in a natural environment.

And when you do something like open an email or check your Instagram feed or your Facebook feed, studies have shown that you get the same kind of dopamine burst that you do before you’re going to engage in any other addictive behavior.

One of the key principles that determines whether you’ll get hooked or addicted to something is called intermittent reinforcement.

When you open an email or your Facebook feed, you’re not sure what you’re going to get. And every now and then, you’ll get something that makes you feel good. That intermittent reward is what makes it so compelling.

And the best example of this outside of phone technology is slot machines.

Abel: They have the same exact principles.

The same principles. And they are known to be the most addictive devices on the planet.

So essentially, the phone is like carrying a slot machine around in your pocket.

The phone is like carrying a slot machine around in your pocket. @ChrisKresser Click To Tweet

Abel: That’s a great way to put it in just a few words.

And I think the problem is it’s not really getting better, and you really have to keep watching it like a hawk, literally every day, to make sure that technology isn’t invading your life more and more.

Which is interesting because there’s this assumption that technology is going to save us from so many problems that we have right now. Yet, the more social media accounts you have, the more email, the more you’re stacking onto all the responsibilities that we already have.

It seems like it’s creating as many problems as it’s solving.

For sure. And I do talk about this a lot more now because I think it’s a health problem.

Abel: It is now.

It’s threatening our health in the same ways that a poor diet, not getting enough physical activity, etcetera, does.

And actually, our health coach training program just started in June. And for that program, I put together 2 hours of material on technology addiction and how to identify a person, involving yourself, and how to work with it and address it.

And then, of course, once you’ve been able to do that, then to help your clients do that. Because if someone is working as a health coach and they’re not thinking about or talking about technology addiction with their clients, they’re going to be missing a whole piece of the puzzle.

And in some cases, it’s the main piece because they won’t be able to sleep, to exercise, to manage their stress, and even possibly to eat well if they’re spending so much time engaged with technology.

Abel: Or so much time being interrupted by technology.

You can promise yourself that you’re going to use it less, but if it keeps going off and it keeps going off, then whatever you were doing, you can’t keep doing it that way.

And if you’re sleeping with your phone in your room, which something like 75% of people do…

Abel: Is it really?

Yah. It’s crazy. The numbers are just nuts.

And if you’re not turning off notifications, like a lot of people, especially younger people, are waking up all through the night to respond to text messages or Instagram posts or whatever.

That’s just scary, given what we know about the importance of sleep and the affects of sleep deprivation. So, I do think this is a big public health issue.

Abel: One thing that’s really important for listeners to take away from this is, Chris, you’ve literally built this into your habits now, you disconnect.

Yes.

Abel: And what you do for your job entails being connected to a bunch of people, same with us.

We went without proper Internet for 8+ months relatively recently, and we’re just kind of coming back on the grid. We went away from social media, now we’re coming back, we’re releasing new content and stuff like that.

But even though this is what we do to pay the bills, it was still okay.

It’s okay to take a break. People won’t hate you or not be friends with you anymore if you don’t post for a few days, for a few weeks or even a few months.

Until this week, I hadn’t posted to Instagram in one and a half years, because I read an article that said the more time you spend on social media, literally, the more depressed you get.

And we also know the other side of that. If you get 30 minutes of exercise, it’s basically the equivalent of a Zoloft. We have these things that we need to do as humans.

So anyway, that’s a little rant about what you folks can do to disconnect or at least build it into your habits a little bit more.

Because you have to play more self-defense than you used to.

The more time you spend on social media, literally the more depressed you get. Click To Tweet

Absolutely. That’s a very good point. This really is about self-defense.

And you’re fighting against something that’s very difficult to change. You’re not going to change the heart, the impulses. Those are part of our biology. They’re part of what makes us human.

So the more you recognize that this is a rigged game… These companies are hiring what they call brain hackers, or people who understand the neuroscience of behavior and addiction. And they have specifically designed these products to be as addictive as possible.

And there are lots of anecdotes and stories that I talk about in the presentation that I designed in my health coach training program. For example, there are algorithms in Instagram that can detect when someone hasn’t used it for a while.

Their activity has dropped and so Instagram will serve them certain content at a certain times to re-engage them and get them basically interacting with the platform again.

It’s really kind of freaky.

And these brain scientists are getting recruited and are being paid enormous amounts of money. And their job is to basically make these products as addictive as possible.

I found that just telling people that actually helps. Because most people resent being manipulated. I don’t like to feel like I’m being manipulated. I know most people don’t either.

When they understand that they’re actually, essentially, the product. So, like Facebook and Instagram. You’re not their customer.

Abel: Right.

That’s a really important thing to understand. You’re not their customer. Their customers are the companies that pay them to advertise to you.

So, you are essentially the product of these social media companies.

And the more you use social media, the more money you’re putting in the pockets of all of these, not only the social media companies themselves, but also all of their customers, the people who advertise on social media.

So your attention, more specifically, is the product that they’re all competing for.

So that’s why they have a staff of people, including neuroscientists, whose job it is to get you to spend as much attention as possible so you can generate as much revenue for them as possible.

It’s important to understand.

It’s a big revelation I think when people really understand that.

Abel: Well, especially because it’s everywhere now and it’s in more and more places as time goes on.

How does your daughter handle the lack of technology, whether it’s in the rooms or for certain periods of time? How does she react?

Well, she never knew anything different. So that’s the thing.

This is interesting, she goes to a Waldorf school. For those that aren’t familiar with Waldorf, it’s a certain philosophy of education, and one of the principles of Waldorf education and schools is to restrict technology use for kids.

They believe that it’s inappropriate for kids at that age to be engaging a lot with technology. It interferes with the development of their imagination, their social skills, and their fine motor development.

And so if you go to a Waldorf school, you actually have to sign a contract that says that you’re following the guidelines for restricting technology use. And it’s not like they’re enforcing it and banging down your door at home, but it’s kind of socially enforced.

If you were to have a playdate with another Waldorf kid, and then you just sit your kid and that kid down in front of the TV, and then that kid goes home and goes, “Guess what? Guess what, Mom! Guess what I did!” Yah, it comes back.

So, one of the interesting things I found in my research on that presentation was that a very high percentage of technology entrepreneurs, CEOs, and founders send their kids to Waldorf School. If you think about it, that’s a little messed up, actually.

Abel: Yup, that’s pretty messed up.

So you have people in the Silicon Valley like, it was the editor of Wired, and you have a whole bunch of other people who send their kids to Silicon Valley Waldorf School where they’re not allowed to use technology.

They restrict their technology use at home.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs both famously restricted their kids’ use of technology. Bill Gates didn’t let his daughter get a phone until she was 13. Steve Jobs didn’t let his kids use iPads.

Abel: And now they’re in all the schools?

Yah, very typical for technology executives to limit their kids’ technology use. So that tells us something right?

More than anything else, they are aware of the dangers of these devices.

And look, Sylvie, our daughter, is just like any other kid. If you show her a video, she’ll enjoy it and want more. And so we just have to put firm limits on it.

She understands that, and it just means that she gets into a lot of other stuff. She paints. Right now, she’s really into finger knitting and weaving, and she goes and jumps on the trampoline that we have outside.

She loves to read books and to be read to. And so, she does what we all did before there were screens intervening in our lives.

Abel: Bleeping and blooping at us all the time.

Unconventional Medicine

Abel: Chris, you’re doing so many things and your new book is excellent. Why don’t we talk a little bit more about the content of the book itself?

Sure, so we started talking about how important it was to move to a more collaborative practice model where we’re not just relying on doctors to manage disease.

We actually have a full care team who can help people to change their diet, behavior and lifestyle. So, that was actually one of the 3-part solution that I suggest in the book.

The second one was a shift to an ancestral diet and lifestyle. We’ve already covered that a little bit. Just really understanding that we need to get back to this way of living that is more in alignment with our genes and our biology.

It’s not to say that we need to sleep out in the backyard with a loin cloth and really kind of emulate our Paleo ancestors. That’s just silly.

But very basic things like wearing orange glasses at night to filter out the blue light, and not using electronic devices right before you sleep, and using a standing desk in addition to a sitting desk. And all little changes that we can make to kind of mimic more of our natural environment and behavior.

And then the third thing, which we haven’t really touched on but I imagine you did in your interview with Mark, is embracing functional medicine approach to care and… This means addressing the root cause of problems rather than just trying to slap Band-aids on them.

And the analogy I often like to use is, if you have a rock in your shoe and it’s making your foot hurt, you could take some painkillers and it would help, but it’s probably better to just take off your shoe and dump out the rock. And that’s really what functional medicine has to offer.

I think it’s a key component of the solution because as I mentioned before with diabetes example, it’s enormously expensive to manage these diseases once they’ve occurred, and we’ll never have enough money, whether you’re talking about whether the government’s paying, individuals are paying, or corporations, or employers are paying, there will never be enough money to manage a population where everyone has chronic disease. That’s just a non-starter deal breaker.

So, the only hope we have is to actually reverse these conditions, rather than just try to manage them. And the best way of doing that is the functional medicine approach.

Abel: Which is, I don’t want to exhaust the metaphor, but like that if you take that little pebble out at the beginning, it’s not that difficult, right?

Absolutely, yeah.

Abel: You don’t want to go in the opposite direction. It’s never too late to focus on functional medicine.

It’s never too late. And even when the disease can’t be completely reversed, as I think you were alluding to, it can usually be improved significantly.

We have patients, for example, who have gone from taking 10 or 15 medications to taking one. Maybe they still need to take the one because they progressed so far along the disease spectrum. Unfortunately that part of it was irreversible. But they feel 90% better, and they’re taking one medication instead of 10 or 15 while feeling suicidal, because they were so sick and depressed.

That’s a huge win, right?

It doesn’t always have to be black or white, and there’s just so much that can be done. Now that’s a much bigger change.

Everything we’ve been talking about so far could be relatively easily incorporated even into our existing system. Changing to a primarily functional medicine model is much bigger undertaking. And it’s one that I think we need to do and will do, and is actually already starting to happen.

Before our recording, I was recording a show for my own podcast. And I had Pat Charmel, who’s the CEO of a hospital in Connecticut. Really, they’re starting to shift to a functional medicine approach in the conventional world. This is a CEO of a hospital, which a hospital is a place where you would expect them to be thinking at the very far end of that spectrum, this is acute care and even end-of-life in many cases.

But what they have realized is that, the model is not sustainable, and in order to really make a difference, they’re going to have to start touching people a lot earlier in the cycle. And they’re figuring out ways to go out into the local community and partner with insurance companies, and other providers to start delivering preventative care.

They’re even thinking about the social determinants of health.

They’re in a relatively low income area, so some people don’t even have enough money to buy healthy food. Or they’re living in a moldy house, and they have asthma because the indoor air quality is poor. Or they don’t have access to fresh food because they live in a neighborhood where there are only liquor stores on the corner.

And so, they’re even starting to work with social agencies and think about things from a very holistic perspective.

And at first, as Pat admitted, a lot of this stuff gets motivated just economically because the numbers are such that our healthcare system is facing bankruptcy, and everybody knows it. People in the conventional world know it, and so everyone’s trying to find a way to survive, like whatever their role is; An insurance company or a provider, or an employer. They are starting to come to the same conclusion.

They’re looking at things and saying, “We can’t just wait ’til people are really sick. We have to start thinking about preventative care.”

And so we’ve got a long ways to go in that transition, but you’re seeing pockets of it already, even in the depths of the traditional conventional medical system which is pretty exciting.

Where to Find Chris Kresser

Abel: And that’s just one of the reasons your work is so important, and we very much appreciate it, Chris. What’s the best place for people to find you?

Chriskresser.com, my main website. And then for those who are interested in training in functional medicine or as a health coach, that’s kresserinstitute.com.

Abel: Right on. Well Chris, it’s been a pleasure as always, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Abel, the pleasure is mine. I always enjoy our chats.

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