Episode 62: A Taoist Monk Walks Into A Doctor’s Office
What do a Taoist monk, a medical doctor, and microbiome documentarian all have in common? If you’re Pedram Shojai, that’s simply your resume.
On this “Straight From The Gut” episode, Andrea and Afif speak to Pedram about the unique life path that led him from a life of prayer and solitude to one of reaching millions of people with his message.
They also discuss how to advocate for yourself in nearly any scenario you may find yourself in and how to make your voice heard to actually initiate change (it’s not as hard as you may think!)
Pedram also dishes on his detox and wellness routine, his new life in the mountains, and he shares his thoughts on how health information is disseminated online.
As a special offer for listeners, Pedram is offering a free trial to his network, Whole TV. Check it out at welcome.whole.tv. Connect with Pedram @urbanmonk_official on Instagram, Pedram Shojai on Clubhouse, @pedramshojaiurbanmonk on Facebook, and whole.tv on Facebook.
Mentioned On This Show:
- The Urban Monk
- Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs
- Martin Blaser
- Welcome.whole.tv (free trial link)
- Episode 23: Why Low Libido Is A Huge Red Flag (Trauma-focused)
- BIOHM’s website (Promo Code: POD15)
In today’s episode, Andrea Wien and Afif Ghannoum, speak with Pedram Shojai - The Urban Monk. Pedram shares a bit of his background (1:58) Afif asks how Pedram moves his clients from knowledge to action (6:37) How Pedram breaks down complex information for the average consumer (12:26) Functional medicine vs “med heads” (16:51) (18:33) A wave from major platforms to sort out real and pseudoscience (22:27) The hotel lobby “cancer smell” (29:12) How someone can approach an establishment to discuss their practices in a productive manner (35:20) Pedram talks about his film Origins (40:20) and his daily wellness habits.
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Andrea Wien: Welcome to The Microbiome Report powered by BIOHM Health. I am Andrea Wien, and I've got Afif Ghannoum back in the studio with me today for another Straight From The Gut episode. On this show, we were also joined by a special guest, Pedram Shojai, an incredibly interesting guy, he started his journey as a Taoist monk, then made his way into the medical field, found some issues with that model, and ultimately ended up leaving medicine to produce health related content. He's made some amazing documentaries that you may have seen. These include movies like Vitality ,Origins, Interconnected, which was all about the microbiome, Prosperity, and his latest series, Trauma.
On this show, we get into Pedram's story and how his very unique journey led him to where he is now. Plus, we dive into how to advocate for our health in whatever scenario you find yourself in. So this is just everyday life, you walk into a hotel lobby, maybe you smell a lot of chemicals coming from some type of system that's meant to make everyone feel good that it smells so nice in the lobby, how do you bring that up in a way that is heard and that you feel like is actually going to make a difference and make some change?
We also get into how health information is disseminated online and how that's changing, how Google is changing the algorithms around that. And we talked about how Pedram became fascinated by the microbiome as a main driver for our health. Enjoy the show.
Pedram, Afif, welcome.
Pedram Shojai: Hi there.
Afif Ghannoum: How's it going?
Andrea Wien: It's going well. So we have a guest this week. And I would love to just get a little bit of your background, because when your assistant sent over your bio, and I checked out your website, I was kind of blown away with the range of different things you've done in your life and where you are now. So would love to just hear a little bit about your story.
Pedram Shojai: Thanks. Yeah, I just can't stay in a lane, can I?
Andrea Wien: I think that's a lot of us.
Pedram Shojai: Yeah, I started pre-med UCLA and was really unhappy with what I was seeing in the kind of pain management and pain medicine at the time. I had a couple mystical experiences that led me to find a Taoist kung fu master and an abbot, and I ended up becoming a Taoist monk for years, studied with a number of kind of notable monk type figures across the planet and Himalayas and such. Became a doctor of oriental medicine, which was much more in line with the philosophies of all the cool stuff I was studying, all the Jedi stuff, and want to help people, right?
And so I came back as a doctor of oriental medicine and former monk, ready to kind of tackle and take on the world, and found that that industry was very limited, and being someone who was integrated in all things, and I was number one in my high school, and I knew all these people, I was kind of a go getter, the industry of Chinese medicine was just kind of blah, and it was really kind of antiquated in the way it kind of approached things. It's like, "Well, here's what the classics say." It's like, "Wait, what do the studies say?" And so it was one of the first integrative medicine clinics in Los Angeles, where then I hired a number of medical doctors and physical therapists, and basically, it was like Noah's Ark, I had two have everything, and we had multiple clinics, and we were doing a lot of really interesting, cool work.
But I made the fatal flaw of kind of getting into the insurance model, this is early days, didn't know any better. And what that does is it then starts to dictate the kind of care you could render, because you get paid for diagnosable illnesses, and here's the things we pay for. And 80% of our training and 99% of what we were about was about preventing illness. It was about prediction and prevention and helping people avoid the really expensive crap that they could get into. But as a business is growing, the conversations revolved around saying, "Well, we need an OR and we need an MRI and all these things that bring up case value." And I just had to just pull a timeout and say, "Yo, this isn't what I got into this game for, I'm out."
I got into corporate wellness, trying to help companies need less care. I wrote my first book, and then somehow through a cockamamie story, I got pulled into a film project, and I loved it, and I made my first film. And then I never looked back, right? I got out of clinical care altogether, started writing books, making films, making series and just trying to educate people on lifestyle. And so the example I use is when you're in healthcare, it's kind of like you're in the mash unit. Your job is to sit there and wait for the bodies to come in all bloody, patch them up and send them back out, but the war is never ending.
And so I realized I had to get into a very different part of the industry where we were losing the propaganda game, and I needed to help educate people on how not to get bloodied, mangled, how not to need the medicine and the interventions that were available on the western side in particular, it was all the management of chronic disease. We know how to fix that, but it's not after the fact, it's through lifestyle, it's through how you eat, it's through how you engage with diet, exercise, sleep, mindset, all these things that we take for granted. But those are the secret of long life. Those are the secret of avoiding costly and debilitating chronic diseases. So that's what I've been doing for the last decade or so is just online education. Lots of films, books, series, and before COVID lectures, right? [inaudible 00:05:56] [crosstalk 00:05:57]
Andrea Wien: Now Zoom calls.
Pedram Shojai: Yeah, exactly. Now Zoom.
Afif Ghannoum: Pedram, can I ask a question, because this is so fascinating to me, obviously, in this world, all the things you've just talked about we've seen are really the key, right? One of the things Andrea and I always say is like, "There is no silver bullet, or magic pill," right? But also, one of the things I love is this idea of like if we did what we knew we should, we'd all be billionaires and have six packs, you know what I mean? So how do you communicate to your patient base or the average consumer to move them from knowledge to action?
Pedram Shojai: Yeah, that's where a lot of the healthcare eyeballs are starting to go is, look, you could come in to me, we could run a bunch of diagnostics, I can say, "Look at this, aha, look how smart I am as a doctor, I figured it out, here's your diagnosis, here's what you got to do. High five, go get it." And we know that precious few of those people are actually going to do that, right? And so then it becomes a question of habits, it becomes a question of behavioral modification, it becomes a question of underlying traumas, psychologically debilitating thought forms operating system.
What happened with me is I did the monk thing, and then I went full bore into the medicine thing. And then I ended up coming full circle back to the monk stuff, going, "Oh, crap, it is all in their heads, it is all belief system, it is all how they see their world." And what's running between the two ears that is dictating whether or not they take action on all of these wonderful interventions and lifestyle recommendations, and even algorithms and recommendations that might have come through pharma. Compliance is a big deal and most people, they say they want to get better, but do they really, right? And that's become really the big kind of front where medicine and psychology and spirituality and meaning and purpose are all kind of colliding, is what's the point of being healthy if your life doesn't do anything for you, if you're not happy, right? And so there's this huge kind of mushy area now where people try to figure out how to get people to help themselves. And it's tough, it's really tough.
Andrea Wien: Yeah, I would say that's been the hardest part of... and one of the reasons that I didn't necessarily enjoy doing as much one on one practice. So in my training, I have a certification as a functional nutritionist. We did a lot of the motivational interviewing techniques, behavior change techniques, and then in practice, it's so difficult to get people to actually make those changes. And I think they think, "Okay, I'll go to this nutritionist, I'll change some things in my diet," but then they're living with a toxic job or a toxic relationship and all of these things compound to make us unwell. And I think when people really start to realize the scope of what they need to change, it feels so overwhelming. So having a practitioner who can walk them through that slowly, instead of feeling like, "Oh, my God, I have to change my entire life before I'm going to be well," is an art. It really is. It's not something that you can just pick up in a class and move along.
Pedram Shojai: Yep. And look, I started this stuff pretty young, came out in my late 20s, early 30s, bright eyed and bushy tailed trying to help people and didn't have enough life experience to realize that you can't just lecture a 65 year old about how they're eating, right? There's a lot of nuance around how to get there. And I think now the strategy that has worked best in my career has been both sides to the middle, right? It's like, "Okay, look, let's get some more vegetables in your life. Let's clean up your sleep. Let's adjust some of these things in lifestyle that'll eke out a bit more vitality, so that you can invest that vitality in moving forward."
But the other side of that is, I mean, we just got out of a launch of a 10 part documentary series we did on healing trauma. And a lot of times I'd have a weight loss client who'd come in, and we do everything right, and they still weren't losing weight, and they'd self sabotage. And it turned out, they didn't really want to look attractive deep down, because that's why they believe they got molested as a child. You're like, "Okay." So now there's a whole other conversation, and we need to... I'm not a psychologist, right? I call in an airstrike, and I'd be like, "Okay, let's get Dr. So-and-so to come in and work on the trauma and all these things." And there was just this huge can of worms right underneath the surface. So someone says they want to lose weight and look attractive, and at the same time, losing weight and looking attractive is what got them into that trouble as a child or whatever happened. And so there'll be a program running against everything we're trying to do in our algorithms to help them attain their stated goal, right?
But you can't even engage in that because no one has energy to dig back and get the skeletons out of the closet, because we're all living on the breadline of energy to begin with. So I found that helping lifestyle, helping build resilience, helping build protective factors, helping someone just feel better, then gives us enough energy to say, "Hey, yeah, by the way, let's go back and like clear some skeletons this week, and let's just take some bites out of that as well." And then moving forward, we get to a place where we start to see real change.
Afif Ghannoum: Pedram, one of the things I really love about your work when I've watched a number of the series, is how you're taking pretty complex things, whether it's the microbiome, or even just what you're talking about trauma and how do you break it down to your average consumer that's so overwhelmed by a million things on the internet? Maybe they're in earnest, like someone watching a in-depth 10 part series, they're at least initially motivated, they want to change, they want to do better. So how do you make the science, not only accessible, but as we were saying, before we went live, how do you explain what's legit, what's not, in a way that they're going to be able to take in without feeling overwhelmed?
Pedram Shojai: Yeah, that's a tough one, right? Especially when you're putting your cameras on the elite, ivory tower experts in all things, experts are trained in what they're trained in, they're not trained in communications and watering this stuff down, right? And so I end up becoming the grand translator in a lot of ways, right? And saying, "Oh, wow, okay, so what they meant there applies to you in this way. And this is the implication of what they're saying." But the thing behind it, which is something that took me a while to learn is information means nothing, unless it's relevant to me, right? And so what took me from kind of doctor land to media land, is understanding that doctors sit there and talk to each other and/or to patients in a very different kind of language. It's the, "I'm smart language," and, "I'm betting that I'm smarter than you language," when they're talking to each other, right?
And so it's just big words and complex things, and, "Look how smart I am," and, "Look how well well rounded I am," or whatever it is, "in our field." And patients are saying, "Hey, dude, I said my elbow hurts." Right? "My life isn't working. Stop talking to me about stuff I don't understand. I don't care how smart you are. I'll tell everyone how smart you are once you fixed me." Right? And so there's this Maslow's hierarchy of needs that... Ironically, I came to Maslow's hierarchy through a non-health film I did on conscious capitalism, and brought me full circle back to health going, "Oh, yeah, I remember learning this back in med school," is you start with what you need, right? Like self actualization, and all these kind of wellness concepts, those are far up in the pyramid. People need food, water, shelter, safety, love, right? They need security, and they need resolution of their immediate pain, right?
So if I come to you and say, "Hey, Doc, I have this really, really bad acid reflux, my stomach hurts all the time, and I can't poop. And having all these problems sleeping because my stomach's gurgling at night." So the conditions I just complained about, really are pain and lack of sleep, which gives me lack of energy, which doesn't let me go to my job, which puts me into a lot of challenges in my day to day life, right? And so if I don't, as a doctor or an educator, connect the dots on what I'm about to talk about with the microbiome, and just be like, "Okay, well, let me lecture you about the different kinds of shelf stable spores. And what the lactobacillus species does," and I don't connect the dots and I just start talking about bugs, you've already lost me, right?
I need to say, "Okay, I understand you have pain, I understand that you're not sleeping, what's happening is X, Y, Z. And this is why you have pain, this is why you're not sleeping. And it turns out, the culprit is aberrant bacteria, leading to specific types of [inaudible 00:15:38] in your body, and it's not letting out the butyrates that you need, and all the things that are going to help fix this, and this is how we're going to resolve it. But I do need you to eat a different kind of vegetable of a different color times two, every meal." Right?
And so the problem is, we don't connect the dots and tell people why it's important to do these things. And in doing so, we lose them within the first 30 seconds, because they're sitting there thinking, "Dude, my stomach hurts." Right? And that's where the med heads end up winning, because they're like, "Here, let me give you something for your stomach pain. And let me give you something for your sleep. I'm going to immediately resolve those two things that you're complaining about. And you're not going to come back for another six to eight months, until something else breaks because the bandaid I put on you wasn't designed to fix you, it was designed to satisfy your immediate need."
And I think that's where the wellness industry is really lacking, and that's where we have to get way better in communication and way better in some of our algorithms, so that we can immediately resolve symptoms and win them over on Maslow's hierarchy, and then escalate them up the pyramid to true wellness instead of just symptom abatement.
Afif Ghannoum: Makes a lot of sense.
Andrea Wien: I think that that's what you're starting to see in the functional medicine movement, and I love how you said med heads, that's such a great way to kind of sum up more of a conventional model. And I don't think it's the fault necessarily of the doctors and the medical professionals, to your point earlier about why you got out of practice. The insurance companies and everyone else who's trying to grab a piece of that dollar is cutting into the time that doctors are spending with patients. And so they don't even have time to set that groundwork, right? In a three to five minute appointment, it's impossible to say, "Here's what you're struggling with," and kind of walk through that whole process in a way that doesn't feel rushed or makes sense for the patient. And so-
Pedram Shojai: 100%. And some of these people are... most of these people are incredibly well intentioned, it's just a flawed model that was not designed to handle chronic disease, and is really ill equipped to deal with the problems that we're facing, which are lifestyle problems, predominantly. Look, you get hit by a bus, it's wonderful, right? There are things that that model is really well suited for, but that model has kind of crept into this other model, and because it just had hegemony, it became the dominant way of thinking, regardless of the need for rethinking. And so I agree, these people just... they mean well, they just don't have time, given how that type of medicine is administered.
Andrea Wien: Right. So in our world, all roads lead back to microbes and the microbiome, but I'm curious through your work, how you got there, and you made the film Interconnected, but how did you start to learn about the microbiome? When did it kind of take hold in you as something that you wanted to explore further?
Pedram Shojai: Yeah, it was kind of this thing where we're making films about vitality, and just kind of like Maslow's hierarchy, kind of basic things trying to help the masses. And all the while some of the most amazing papers landing on my desk had to do with the microbiome, and some of these really unbelievable game changing discoveries that were coming out some of these immunology and microbiology labs. And so this whole time, I'm scratching my head saying, "Wow, look at this," and trying to kind of connect the dots with our audience. And it just got to the point where I said, "Listen, this stuff can get very heady. But this needs to be shared with the masses, because as you all know, it takes an average of 17 years for that paper that landed on my desk, to get through your main street doctor and spoken about to your patient and your audience."
And simultaneously, the straw that broke the back was that there was just this real kind of heyday of probiotic kind of hype industry starting to blossom that was a whole lot of nonsense. And so in the gold rush, the guys making the money are the ones selling the picks and the shovels, right, and just the promise of it all. And so all these people are just talking about these probiotics, and they're just hawking a bunch of crap at the end user or consumer, because somehow this buzzword of probiotics started to come up. And there was just a lot of misinformation, disinformation and lack of true understanding of what this stuff really means and implies. It's the same thing, you just mentioned it, the med heads live under algorithms that were given to them predominantly by pharmaceutical companies who supported their education, and then handed down the algorithms teaching these guys how to think, right?
You come through natural medicine, you come through acupuncture, you come through a lot of these kind of alternative health professions, and what's happened is now supplement companies are trying to educate these doctors into algorithms that basically use the same type of thinking, but just replace turmeric with aspirin, which is obviously better in some ways, less effective in others, depending on what the particular substances, but it's still a pill for an ill model, because people just say, "Well, this is what the consumer is trained to take, and this is what the consumer will buy." And money drives it.
And so the probiotic industry went into like Wild Wild West, while all this amazing, unbelievable research is coming out, I'm reading this stuff, and then watching the claims being made by all these... just monkeys. And we kind of pushed our chips in and said, "No, we need to help educate the masses, because this science is going to get buried under the kind of market driven rah-rah." And it's what drove us, it was a 10 part series, and it was very comprehensive, and it helped a lot of people understand this stuff.
Andrea Wien: Yeah, that's why we started this podcast, because we were seeing the same thing, we were seeing all this information kind of fly around, just the regurgitation of information. So someone would say something, and then suddenly the top 10 functional medicine doctors would all kind of parrot the same thing. And it was exactly for that reason, let's actually get the science out there in an accessible way, and get people to understand what's happening, and that we don't have the answers to all of it yet. I think that's a piece that gets missed in a lot of what we talk about when we talk about microbiome, this science is still so new, and so we're learning new things every day. So we can't extrapolate one learning and say, "Okay, now we have it figured out." I don't know that that is ever going to happen with the complexity of what's happening inside of our bodies. But that was exactly why we started the show.
Afif Ghannoum: The only thing I was going to add is, you're also seeing... I think there's going to be a little bit of this wave of the major platforms also starting to really tamp down on it, like you saw Google, in December, do a giant algorithm change where basically they've taken a hard line saying, "Any health information on a website that also sells supplements, is demoted." And so I think the question around people's incentives to push certain information, it has been doing such a disservice. But hopefully, it's not too much of a correction, because the problem is, then you just have sort of the incumbents, whether it's the Wikipedias of the world sort of owning the narrative on all health information. It's going to be interesting to see how you sort out what true scientific backed information gets shared, and what's really pushed back?
Pedram Shojai: Yeah, it's tough, because every serious scientist that we interviewed over 18 months of making that series was very careful to not draw conclusions, but say, "Hey, this is interesting." Like, "Hey, we found this, and this could be very interesting. This might imply this, but don't run with it." Right? The true scientists are very careful about that. I think they're used to browbeating each other, right? Nobody's allowed to make claims, because then you're just a supplement hawker, you're a sellout.
On the other side of that, there's people who have really, really good, strong databases of unbelievable kind of anecdotal evidence saying, "Chewing this chicory root or whatever helped me," and compiling all that and figuring out why the specific microbiome of that individual got helped by this and person A, but not person B. That's where I think the science is really going to help us. But to your point, it's just not there yet. We're not there yet.
Again, I mean, listen, the other point that you made that's a whole other can of worms is we saw the same thing in politics, there was this huge thing around fake news in the disintermediation of information, which then led to alternative information and fabricated information and all sorts of things that we saw in the last election cycle, and it just got completely out of hand. But it did also point to the fact that there was a few media conglomerates that controlled the messaging, and basically were in charge of... They're the Wizard of Oz. And so does Wikipedia get to be the arbiter of all information and who sits on their board? I mean, there are some very interesting points that can be talked about around all of that. But no doubt, the Wild Wild West marketing kind of bonanza around claims and unsubstantiated crap around the supplement industry, and in particular, this industry needed a correction. Now, the question is, was that an overcorrection? And what's best for the end result, the personal [crosstalk 00:25:36]
Afif Ghannoum: And one of the things I was, and Andrea, I don't know if we've ever talked about this, but one of the things people don't realize how much... Someone said, "Conspiracy theories are when something is happening that isn't necessarily true." But conspiracies do exist, right? And it's not always completely mal intent, it's just the way systems are set up. The example I always like to give is, products that are sold in major retailers... For a number of years, I sold products to every major retailer, you name it, right? And 99% of the meetings where I would meet with buyers, I present innovative product, oral care, whatever, and they would say, "Oh, this is really interesting." What's your marketing spend to get people in the store? And if you had a good marketing story, and a good budget, guess what would happen? Most of the time they'd put your product on shelf.
So the problem is a lot of times the information, the products, the things we're being presented, even from very trusted sources, it's not always based on the latest innovation or the strongest scientific evidence, it's, "Does this person have a big platform? Does this product have a lot of marketing behind it?" And it's one of those things where I think the danger, though, is that as people are starting to understand that, it also erodes trust in good science, in good evidence. So I agree with you wholeheartedly, I think we're in for a couple of... probably more than a couple of years of just a lot of confusion, and really figuring out what that equilibrium should be around information dissemination and really getting to the heart of what's what when it comes to good science, good technology, all of that.
Pedram Shojai: Yeah, and it's going to be interesting, right? I mean, the challenge we have in the West is our free market economy leads to unbelievable innovations, and just really a lot of things that are baby, right? And the bathwater is the alignment of incentives are really around the scoreboard of money and profits and moving units off shelves, and scientists can be bought, we know this, right? I think there's going to be a real reckoning, because the market will drive different KPIs than the science will. And that's just going to constantly be a challenge here when there's money to be made in a system that makes that scoreboard the most important.
Andrea Wien: I also think it's important to mention, it's notoriously difficult to do some of these studies, because we're talking about real people and real habits. And so when you look at nutrition studies, or anytime you're changing an aspect of someone's diet, not only are you dealing with the aspect of bio individuality, that everyone's different, you're also dealing with people who have shame around eating, who don't report exactly maybe what they're really doing. And so, the nature of the science itself can be difficult to gather.
Afif Ghannoum: Well, even like demographics, most people are in clinical trials or not evenly matching societal demographics, it's older Caucasian, or it's college Caucasian. So even those things that, for microbiome specifically, we see there are big differences between different population types. But those things all matter when it comes to actually figuring out what works, what clinical trials are actually replicable. It really comes down to how much of this is art versus science.
Pedram Shojai: Yeah, and there's just so much we don't know. I'm going to make a dumb example but let's just go with it, is you are on a business trip, you have been doing everything right, you're eating well, you get your chicory root, or whatever it is with you, and you're doing all these things that are supportive of your microbiome. You walk in the hotel lobby, and you get that smells-like-cancer hotel lobby smell, which then sends your body into an autoimmune type reaction, and it's trying to figure out why you just huffed that much paint. And basically starts to skew the way your immune system becomes reactive to its environment because it just got poisoned through your lungs, but now everything's on DEFCON 5, and suddenly your secretory IgA and all the other things that are happening in your gut lining shift and become more reactive and start to shift because of that, the post biotic and prebiotic cultures in there, because your body thinks it's under attack. And now suddenly, it's not business as usual in your gut. And suddenly you have indigestion three days later, because you huffed paint in some hotel lobby, and no one put those two together. And no one can because it's so damn multifactorial, right?
And again, this is just kind of a trite example that I threw out there. But how many hotel lobby smells, how many exposures, touching the back of say a receipt with bisphenol, we don't really understand the complexity of what all these things do downstream because there's just so many damn variables. And this is what we're finding is that the microbiome and the shifts in all of this ecology are just... I mean, it's like the wind blowing, things just change very quickly, and then they change back or maybe they don't. And it's really hard to study because we're just as complicated, and we're not in a test tube.
Afif Ghannoum: Obviously, all of us on this phone are at least relatively informed when it comes to this stuff more than the average person. And your example right now is just kind of overwhelming to me, this idea of like... It almost seems hopeless, right? Because when you said that smell, I knew exactly what you were talking about. So how do you not let them get overwhelmed? Do you know what I mean? How do you just say, "Despite all this stuff, you can still do things that sort of set you on mostly the right path." Because otherwise, it's like you hear all sorts of chemicals showing up in the penguins down at Antarctica, it's like, "Oh, my God, we're poisoning the planet." All these crazy... You know what I mean? So how do you keep hope in all the randomness of life, frankly?
Pedram Shojai: Yeah, I think [Marty Blazer's 00:31:57] work is really important in showing that the one thing that we can extrapolate from all this, and very carefully, is that for sure, what has become a known fact in our culture, is that we just have a lot less diversity of species. You start looking at kind of tribesmen in New Guinea and all this kind of stuff, and they have thousands and thousands of species more than we do, because you grew up eating Honey Nut Cheerios and carrots and broccoli, and that's the only vegetables you had, you start to lose the diversity of the microbiome. And there seems to be... Again, I'm going to talk just like these guys talk, there seems to be some indication that the lack of diversity leads to lack of resilience and inability to adjust. Because we just don't have the complicated ecology that gives us a little bit more wiggle room in the realm of resilience, right?
And so two people, same genetics, born in the same part of the world, let's just call them twins, very different diets, ones eating a ton of vegetables and ferments and things that are supportive of a much more diverse ecology, and one eating the standard American diet, walk into the same hotel lobby, they will have very, very different reactions, because their bodies are primed with much different resilience because of the diversity. And so I think the answer is, do all the things that you know help you, feed your friends, take really good care of your microbiome at every point, everything that you see as toxic, just start slowly getting it out of your life.
But I'm the guy that walks up to the hotel lobby, goes up to the manager and says, "Do you realize that that odor sets my patients off, and I have patients that have to be in bed for two weeks, because of an odor like that? Do you understand what you're doing to people who are clinically unable to cope with these chemicals?" And I've gotten a couple hotels to just turn it off immediately and kind of bring it up to their boards and stuff. Because they're putting all sorts of feel good chemicals, they're putting all sorts of crap in there, and they don't know because they live on the wrong side of history where chemistry just creates a whole bunch of options, and pheromone interactions and all these types of things that they're sold on by companies that are just pitching them saying, "Hey, listen, someone walks in your hotel, and they have a a better feel-good experience, let's give them cancer."
And so no one puts that crap together. So part of what has shifted me out of clinical care and intermedia is being like, "Hey, dummy, do you realize that the reason you're getting migraines every day is the odor that you're putting into your hotel lobby because some marketer told you that this will sell your crap better?" Right? And so you got to be forward leaning on all the things that are toxic, and mitigate exposure, just don't go to those hotels, which is hard to do for some, just clean up at the grocery store, clean up your supply chain on one end, but also don't live in fear, and really work on an advanced resilience, vitality-based operating system, which is, "Let's build up the vitality of my system because the world's going to keep throwing darts, I just need to be better equipped to handle them."
Andrea Wien: I have a quick question on that point. So we talk a lot about having conversations with people at the farmers market or voting with your dollar. And coming from a standpoint of being a doctor and saying, "Hey, I have patients that X, Y and Z," talking to the hotel manager has a little bit more weight than me as a consumer just walking in and saying, "Hey, do you know what that's doing?" But do you have any tips for the average person who might be in a situation like that? And would like to say something? What words should they use so it's not immediately falling on deaf ears, or the person's becoming defensive?
Pedram Shojai: Basically, I mean, at the end of the day, they don't care if you're a doctor or an average anybody, they care about the room nights that you're either going to book or not book for their business, right? So anybody can walk in and say, "Hey, this hotel lobby smell of yours is nauseating, and it's disgusting, and didn't you know that these chemicals really affect people and I have a headache, and I'm never going to stay here again. Call your manager." Because the problem is, most people are just so woefully unaware of their internal state that they'll just go stay at the hotel and be like, "I don't know why I have a migraine. I don't know why I don't feel well." And they don't put two and two together, because they're not trained to look for these smoking guns, and they're kind of overwhelmed by so many things that make them feel crappy, right?
But you'd be surprised, we were involved in a project to save the bees with Friends of the Earth, and we've done a lot of kind of grassroots initiatives through our companies. And it was amazing how few people it took to go to say, Lowe's, and be like, "Hey, do you..." And go straight to the manager and say, "Hey, did you know that the neonicotinoids inside of the plants that you're selling are killing off the bees, and the bees are part of the ecology and you're leading to this by selling these products." And 1 person, 2 people, 5 people, 10 people, all of a sudden, the manager, who never has anyone go talk to them, calls up corporate in a panic and says, "Hey, we got to do something about these neonics," and they pull them off the shelf, right?
It's just that people have been so stunned into complacency in thinking their voices is not enough, that they don't bother. And I'm telling you, three people telling a hotel manager in one week that that lobby smells like cancer is enough for him to call his corporate and be like, "Yo, we got to do something about this, this is a thing."
Afif Ghannoum: What you're talking about, it kind of reminds me of what... I've heard this concept lately, and I'm going to butcher this, but my understanding is this idea of anti racism, where it's not enough to just not be racist yourself, it's more about if you see something saying something, right? So to me, it's sort of like anti toxic, right? It's not enough to just, "Well, we buy organic," but proactively going out there, and if you see something, making a point saying, like, "I'm not coming back here, because you guys sell this type of product that is a problem."
And I think we're actually seeing it a lot in CPG generally with packaging, you're starting to hear people being much more vocal about asking about sustainability practices, those things, and it does lead the change. You see these conversations. So it's kind of an interesting... I haven't thought about it that way. Because you're right, you think, "I'm just going to go up to my room, it's not going to make a difference." But this guy, to your point, no one's usually saying anything, so you actually will be heard if you're the one to say something.
Pedram Shojai: Oh, yeah. And then going on to social and tagging them on Twitter and tagging them in their social and calling them out, and then calling in all these other people. And there's so many hashtags, there's are so many ways now to hold these people accountable. And you don't need to shame them, you just need to educate them and let them know that their customers actually care about this. It will change things, right? Because what's happening is they don't know, they just have some sales guy go into corporate, talk to them about some sort of whiz bang wow formula that makes people fall in love when they walk into their lobby, right? And these guys are like, "Oh, cool, science." And no one ever comes to them with the other side, which is, "Hey, this is killing my patients and giving people migraines and rendering women infertile after a decade of this crap." Right?
Afif Ghannoum: And 99% of people do not realize that unlike a drug that has to go through approvals, even supplements have to be generally regarded as safe before you can sell them, chemicals that are not ingested do not need pre approval to be marketed. So the only reason they come off is if there's such disgusting side effects, like foaming cows, that yeah, maybe EPA will do something, or consumers say like, "BPA and bottles, I don't want this anymore." You know what I mean? But it's still shocking to me that, yeah, if some mega chemical company comes up with a new chemical, they can just start selling it till something happens.
Pedram Shojai: We did a film called Origins where I went back in Africa learning how to track lions and live off the land, just to say like, "Okay, where..." Just to see where our ancestors came from, and where we've come from then. So we kind of went back to the original caves that all of our ancestors crawled out of after the last big ice age, and then traced all the way back to the 70 million pounds of chemicals that are added to our environment every single day. And looking at why people aren't feeling well, looking at what's different, basically, between then and now.
And the challenge is, the chemicals that you're alluding to Afif, not only are they just not regulated, no one cares what they do, it's just like, "Yeah, sure, just rubber stamp, go ahead and produce it," is there's enough science now, and the EPA and all these guys... I mean, under the last administration, the EPA was just gutted. But no one's looking at this stuff. But if you look at the science, man, not only are these obesogens, these are carcinogens, these are disrupting the endocrine system in ways that are very difficult to fix in the clinical model that we have, because we just got to put people through weeks of detox.
The body evolved around natural chemicals, that for millions of years were in the environment that the cells can recognize and say, "Oh, here's some phosphorus. Here's some X and Y and Z." And now all these new chemicals that are being synthesized faster than we could pronounce them, coming out into the market, into the environment, into your lungs, into your cells, whether you know it, like it or not, the body does not know what to do with them. And if it can't go through phase one, phase two, liver detox, if it can't be conjugated out through the traditional detox pathways that we've evolved around stuff that we knew what to do with, there's only a couple things the body can do. One is to store them in your fat cells, and the other is to store them in your bone cells.
And so the fat cells predominantly hold them and insulate them and put them away for a rainy day, because the body didn't know what to do with them. And worse yet, they can get stored in your brain tissue which leads to all kinds of... it's pointing to the etiology of a lot of these neurodegenerative diseases is like, "Oh, look at all this aluminum that came from the deodorants you're... the antiperspirants you were using. Hey, that's cool, now you can't think." But what happens now is you have all these people who are wearing an extra 30, 50 pounds, then they're like, "Okay, that's it, boot camp, nutrition, I'm going to do all this stuff." And so they do all this stuff to lose the weight, the fat cells get liced, these chemicals get released back into the bloodstream, the body goes back to the original, "Do I know what to do with this or not?" Goes, "I don't know this chemical, therefore, I got to store it in fat. This person's not eating enough fat. So what I'm going to have to do is signal to the thyroid to slow down the metabolism, so that we can get more fat on board to store this crap."
So you're getting all this yo-yo weight loss, weight gain, that has nothing to do with calories in and out, more so it has a lot to do with the chemical burden, the toxic burden of the body. And because the body doesn't know how to get rid of it, it signals you to store fat and stay fat. And so this has become a huge thing that I think is going to continue to be a problem. And anyone who wants to lose weight needs to detox, and chelate out these heavy metals and get all this gunk out first, or else you're just going to put the weight back on. And this is something we've seen clinically for a decade now.
Andrea Wien: And shockingly, I just saw a report that it's not just humans who are gaining weight, it's species across the planet. So I think it was apes are up 35% if you look over the course of time that the study was looking at, so these chemicals are not just affecting us because we're ingesting them and coming into contact with them solely as the sole species doing so, it's like they're pervasive, to Afif's point, finding chemicals in penguins in Antarctica. It's everywhere. And so we really need to, I think, start focusing on this much more as a species because it's impacting everyone and everything.
Afif Ghannoum: Well, the problem is a lot of it is benign, these mega companies, whether it's pharma chemical companies, it's easy to sort of stroke them with this brush of just evil mega corporate. But the reality is it's a long the chain, it's like you're saying, the sales guy, he's just trying to hit his number. And there's some scientists that they were trained as a chemist, and this place pays well, and you know what, I came up with some interesting chemical. And along the way, it's sort of like just benign people doing their jobs, but furthering things that are just not good for us, right? And so my hope is, you're seeing it a little bit in the petrochemicals, that you're seeing young engineers that are just like, "No, I don't want to go work for a giant oil company. That's not part of who I want to be."
So I think it's got to be along the entire chain of not just as consumers, but people sort of putting their hands up and saying, "No, investors, we're not going to invest in companies like that." That's, I think, how it's going to have to come out because it's so monolithic otherwise.
Pedram Shojai: Yeah, but I mean, at the end of the day, the end user needs to stop consuming that and whether the end user is you at the Rite Aid, or the hotel, who's heard enough and said, "Okay, that's it, we're not doing this." What happens is... You know which chemicals sell? The ones that people are buying, right? And so it's all market driven. And so the challenge is, when the demand is there, someone's going to supply it. And let's just say hedge funds, A, B, and C suddenly develop a conscience and say, "We're not going to do it." Hedge fund D is going to say, "Screw it, I'll do it," and make better margins, because people are still buying that crap.
The challenge is it's just like the microbiome, it's a complicated ecosystem. It has to do with the end user just as much as has to do with supply chain dynamics, and all of it. And so individually, we all need to take a stand for our own bodies and our own health, and the more we do that, the less demand there is for anything that is poisonous to our cells, to our microbiome, to our planet. And that starts to ripple into the economy, and that makes very big changes over time. The faster we can do that, the faster we can avoid having obese sheep in New Zealand who are eating the same grass, but somehow getting toxically fatter, right?
I think it kind of goes back to our original point is that you got to build your own resilience, and you got to stop poisoning yourself. And then as a end user, say single unit in a massive economy, you then shifted the way the supply chain dynamics work one unit at a time, and then that needs to ripple out, right? And the faster we could do it, the better. And again, coming full, full circle, that's why I got out of the day to day healthcare job and into the media job, because I couldn't fix people faster than people were breaking in a clinic, right? Because they didn't know that the hotel lobby and the bisphenol and all this other crap out there was what was driving them into the chronic disease and into my clinics in the first place.
Andrea Wien: So I know we're coming up on time here, I just want to kind of bring it full circle and talk about some of your habits. So you've done, obviously, so many different docuseries, what are kind of the annual or quarterly housecleaning things that you do in your own life? Obviously, you're at a higher level of health than the majority of people. But I'm curious as someone who's also pretty much at that level of health as well, what are the things that you're doing to maintain your systems?
Pedram Shojai: Well, I get up and do about half an hour of Qigong and about 15 minutes of meditation every morning before I even pee, right? Because I want my focus, I want my attention retro reflected internally instead of what did Facebook say while I was sleeping, right? And so I'll start that, I'll meditate on [inaudible 00:49:04], I'll start my day. Typically, I'll time delay eat and just have some coffee with coconut cream and eat at 11:00. I will get up and the dad stuff takes over after that, and feed the kids, get them to school, all that [inaudible 00:49:19] crap, and then calls and whatever I'm doing for work. Right around 10:00 am, what I'll do is I'll work out, lift weights, exercise in some way. Some days that skiing... I live on a ski mountain now. So some days I'll just go out and take a few runs. Some days, I'll lift weights, come back, eat, get back to work, but then I will routinely go in my infrared sauna. About two, three days a week I'll do steam. A lot of times I'll run out in the snow and temper between hot and cold.
And we're very careful about our food and supply chain. I moved my kids out of California a couple years ago. My family and I are up in the high alpine, we're up in Deer Valley, in Park City, Utah, but you're not immune from it right? Because you go to Utah and these idiots have no emission standards, right? And so a truck drives by and you have this cloud of diesel smoke lingering on your street for 20 minutes, right? And those diesel fumes are terrible. And so I will put a lot of cilantro, I will do green smoothies for the kids in the mornings, I'll personally do a proper detox once a quarter, exercise, sleep, all these things are important.
My kids and I, we have a colored food chart on our fridge. And so the game for every meal is two different colors of fruit or vegetable with every meal. And we ask them what they did, "So what did you have? "I had my carrots and my blueberries." "Good, you're done." Right? And so we'll work on just kind of the phytonutrients, we'll work on the variety of fruits and vegetables, we'll do ferments all the time, right? The other day, we have an ice cream maker, I made coconut milk ice cream with raspberries and just a little bit of stevia. And so we're training them to not love sugar, and to really like... we put in tart things, and just training them to eat things that don't destroy their gut lining at this age, and I'll do the same with them.
And my wife would probably moan about this but I like to be in bed by 9:00, right? She needs a night husband to watch Netflix with because I need my sleep, I want to sleep and I want to have energy first thing in the morning and staying up and watching blue light and screens is just not on the menu for me.
Andrea Wien: I think I found your next docuseries, how to feed kids healthy stuff. That's something that I think everyone needs. We really appreciate the time today, it's been so fun to talk to you and everyone should definitely go check out all of your work, but where can they find you online? How can they get in contact?
Pedram Shojai: Cool, thank you. Two places, the urbanmonk.com, that's for all my personal development, online learning stuff. And then whole, W-H-O-L-E, .tv is our new streaming platform where all mine, plus hundreds of other titles are there and we have about, I think, 15 live master classes a week and courses and stuff, and so that's doing really well and people love it. So whole.tv and the urbanmonk.com.
Andrea Wien: Perfect. And we will link to that on our show notes along with some of the other stuff we talked about. We'll put the Maslow hierarchy up there, the work of Marty Blazer, there were a few other pieces and parts that we talked about today, some stuff on trauma, so we will link to all of that in the show notes at biohmhealth.com/pages/podcast. And again, thank you both so much for the time today. We hope to talk to you soon.
Pedram Shojai: Thank you, it was fun.
Afif Ghannoum: [crosstalk 00:52:50].
Andrea Wien: Thanks for listening. Pedram is offering listeners a free trial to his network whole.tv, including a live Q&A with the experts from his latest series Trauma. Check it welcome.whole.tv and whole is W-H-O-L-E. We'll also link to that in the show notes at biohmhealth.com/pages/podcast. The link to that is in your show notes in this episode description. And if you haven't already, please, please, please leave us a rating and review, it really does help other people find our show. As always, The Microbiome Report is powered by BIOHM Health, and I am Andrea Wien. I'll catch you next time.
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