The Power of Herbs with Dr William Rawls
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Dr. William Rawls discusses The Power of Herbs with Dr. Ben Weitz.
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1:13 Dr. Rawls had a real health challenge with Lyme disease that led him to appreciate the power of herbs. He was practicing obstetrics for 20 years being on call every 2nd or 3rd night in a small town, which was very tough. Dr. Rawls got sick and was diagnosed first with fibromyalgia and then with Lyme Disease. He was happy to find out about the Lyme disease diagnosis, thinking that all he had to do was to take antibiotics and he would be fine. But chronic infections like chronic Lyme are not that easily treated and when antibiotics did not bring resolution, Dr. Rawls found that herbs could be helpful and using an herbal protocol over a period of several years allowed him to get his health back. He now believes that everyone should be taking certain herbs every day to promote their health.
4:47 Herbs and drugs work differently. Drugs are designed to block manifestations of illness and they specifically target pathways in the body, enzymes, receptors, or hormones that affect the symptoms or other manifestations of illness. But drugs don’t get to the root cause of illness. While some herbs do have a drug like effect, herbs generally act at the cellular level to protect the cells from free radicals, toxins, radiation, and microbes. Herbs also have regulatory functions that they can balance hormones that have been disrupted by stress. So when we take an herb, we’re getting the plant’s defense systems that are protecting our cells.
8:59 Drugs block metabolic pathways, while herbs modulate our metabolism. When we look at inflammation, the inflammatory response is a cleanup mechanism and we want to modulate that but we don’t want to halt that process as drugs do. When you take turmeric, it tones down the immune system response, but it doesn’t block the pathways that protect the stomach the way that ibuprofen does. And turmeric also has an antioxidant and antimicrobial effects and it protects the liver and promotes blood flow to the area that is injured.
Dr. William Rawls is a medical doctor in North Carolina who previously specialized in OBGYN, but after his personal journey with Lyme Disease, Fibromyalgia, and Chronic Immune Dysfunction, he is now focused on speaking and writing about natural approaches to using herbs. Dr. Rawls is the medical director for Vital Plan, an herbal supplement and wellness company that he cofounded with his daughter, Braden. Dr. Rawls previously published Suffered Long Enough and Unlocking Lyme and his new book is The Cellular Wellness Solution, which is focused about how to use herbs to promote wellness. His website is RawlsMD.com and the website for his herb company is VitalPlan.com.
Dr. Ben Weitz is available for Functional Nutrition consultations specializing in Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders like IBS/SIBO and Reflux and also specializing in Cardiometabolic Risk Factors like elevated lipids, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure and also weight loss and also athletic performance, as well as sports chiropractic work by calling his Santa Monica office 310-395-3111. Dr. Weitz is also available for video or phone consultations.
Dr. Rawls: Great.
Dr. Weitz: Hello, Rational Wellness podcasters. Our topic for today is how to understand and use herbs in overcoming various diseases, and in promoting wellness with our special guest, Dr. Bill Rawls. We interviewed Dr. Rawls in Episode 44 about Lyme disease way back in 2018. Dr. Bill Rawls is a medical doctor in North Carolina who previously specialized in OB-GYN. But after his personal journey with Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, and chronic immune dysfunction, he’s now focused on speaking and writing about natural approaches to health using herbs. He’s also the medical director for Vital Plan, an herbal supplement and wellness company that he co-founded with his daughter, Braden. Dr. Rawls previously published Suffered Long Enough and Unlocking Lyme. His new book is The Cellular Wellness Solution, which is focused about how to use herbs to promote wellness. Dr. Rawls, thank you so much for joining us today.
Dr. Rawls: Oh, pleasure. Thank you for the invitation.
Dr. Weitz: So let’s start by having you tell us a little bit about your personal health journey with Lyme disease, and how you got your life back with this essentially a functional medicine type approach that emphasized the use of herbs.
Dr. Rawls: It was all unexpected, a little bit convoluted. I went to… I’ve been a physician for over 30 years now, and went with the idea of just learning the skills, practicing the trade, but 20 years of obstetrics call every second to third night in a small town was just brutal. By my mid to late 40s, I lost my health completely. Doctors really didn’t know what was going on, because I didn’t really fit classic diagnoses. First identified with fibromyalgia, later found out that I was carrying microbes associated with Lyme disease, and thought, like many people, “Hey, that’s the answer. Take antibiotics. I’ll be fine. This is an easy fix.” It wasn’t, and I’ve come to understand chronic Lyme disease very differently than both the medical community and the Lyme disease community, and recognized that chronic illness in general is different than we are looking at it as. But that led me to herbs. Long story short, I embraced an herbal protocol that included a blend of high grade extracts, and gradually got my health back over several years. It wasn’t overnight. It took me three to five years, but my body was broken. It was brutal. The herbs did things that diet and lifestyle and other things couldn’t do. It was remarkable enough to get my attention, and totally change my life. My message today is, wow, this wonderful thing that we’ve been overlooking, we should all be taking advantage of it. Everyone should be taking certain herbs every day, just so remarkably important.
Dr. Weitz: I think a lot of people have heard about herbs, or used for specific conditions, but I think the idea of using them every day is something that’s probably a new concept for a lot of Americans, and even I think a lot of people in the natural medicine world.
Dr. Rawls: It is. It comes from deep personal experience, but also intensive research over the past decade to come to those conclusions. The science is out there. It’s iron clad, but everybody looks to herbs like we look to drugs to treat illness, to treat symptoms, to alleviate symptoms and miseries that we would come to know as causes of being caused by illness. I came along and realized that the drugs and the herbs are just acting totally differently. Just understanding the difference between the two is the key to understanding what’s going on in the body, and it really led me to a different understanding of chronic illness in general.
Dr. Weitz: Well, why don’t you help us to understand how do herbs and drugs work differently?
Dr. Rawls: So when we developed symptoms, for a while, we just ignore them unless they get really bad, and eventually they bring us into the doctor’s office or some healthcare provider, and we want the symptoms gone immediately. That’s the main focus. If they’re bad enough, we might end up with a diagnosis, but I found that most people were like I was. I didn’t get a formal diagnosis. It’s just you got a lot of symptoms. The drugs are designed to block manifestations of illness, so they are specifically targeting pathways in the body, enzymes, receptors, hormones that affect those symptoms or other manifestations of illness, but it really doesn’t get to the root cause. So, they act fast. They basically block or poison those pathways, so we don’t have those things anymore. But because it’s artificial, there are always side effects, and there are always negative effects. Nobody really wants to take a drug, but I think we’ve been trained to look at it the same way. A lot of people are looking at herbs as maybe a weaker, kinder version of a drug. What I came to appreciate is that’s not true with most herbs. Now, there are herbs that have drug-like effects, no doubt, but the herbs I used were acting on a whole different level. So, I started asking the question, “What causes illness?” Not what were my symptoms, but what were driving the symptoms? Why was I that way? That took me all the way down to the cellular level to appreciate that everything that happens in the body is to the actions of cells. We are a composite of trillions of cells. We’ve got several hundred types of cells. Everything that happens is due to cells. If you have symptoms, it’s because your cells have been compromised in some way, and they can be compromised by not getting the right nutrition, free radicals, toxic substances, mold in your environment, exposure to toxic fumes from the highway, but also microbes. We do get a lot of microbes. We can go into that in a little more detail, but we’re all assaulted with microbes all the time, and these things threaten our cells. When our cells become weak, that’s what symptoms are. When cells aren’t working, we feel it. We lose that function, and we feel bad. What the herbs are doing in comparison to drugs is they are cell protectants. An herb is a plant, and plants have to take care of their cells too, so plants have this really complex chemistry, these complex chemical systems that protect cells from free radicals and toxic substances and radiation and microbes. But they also have regulatory functions that they can balance hormones that have been disrupted by stress. So when we take an herb, we’re getting the plant’s defense systems that are protecting our cells. It takes time, so what healing is is cells are recovering. Well, that took three or four years in my case for all the cells in my body that had been disrupted to regain health, but the herbs were protecting them, and creating this internal environment that allowed the cells to recover. So gradually, not one or two of my symptoms, all of my symptoms melted away, and that I find just fascinating.
Dr. Weitz: I think another way to look at the way I tend to think of it is that drugs will block a metabolic pathway, and just cut it off. That metabolic pathway may be responsible for a symptom or a set of symptoms, but it also usually plays other important roles in a body, and those things get blocked, whereas nutrients and herbs tend to modulate those pathways. So for example, inflammation, you might take an NSAID or COX-2 inhibitor, and it might block that COX-1 or COX-2 pathway, but that’s also important for protecting the gastrointestinal tract and kidneys. There’s all these other functions besides just creating pain in the body. If you take curcumin or another herb that modulates inflammation, it will over time gradually modulate that inflammatory process, but it’s not just going to cut it off. So, it’s working with the body to allow the body to heal.
Dr. Rawls: Exactly. That illustrates when you look at that word inflammation or chronic inflammation, going a little bit deeper with that, and understanding how the herbs and the drugs are working differently. So, you take a drug like ibuprofen. It’s blocking an enzyme and part of that necessary pathway for us to form an inflammatory response. So basically, what inflammation, that inflammatory response is is a cleanup mechanism. What inflammation is is excessive cellular die-off. So when we’re constantly losing cells in the body, and when cells are lost, they break apart. It creates debris and congestion. If you get enough of that, it clogs up those spaces so cells can’t get nutrients, and purged toxins, so you get this just congestion in your tissues. Now some of that, if you sprain your ankle, it’s a local effect, so you get congestion there. The body sends in white blood cells to break down to gobble up all that congested debris and junk, and pull it out from that area. But when we have excessive cellular stress throughout the body from eating a bad diet, exposure to toxins, not sleeping, we have extra excessive cellular die-off in all of our tissues. That creates debris and congestion throughout all the tissues in our body, and we feel it. We feel congested. We feel like there’s junk collected in our tissues. So when we take the drug, it blocks the ability of the body to go in with the cleanup. Now, the cleanup is cells call macrophages producing acid and free radicals to break down that stuff. Well, that’s pretty toxic in itself, so we block that, but we don’t block the cellular die-off, so we just keep accumulating junk, whereas what the herbs are doing is they’re affecting it on several levels, because herbs are a complex defense system, not a single drug.
We take turmeric. Well, turmeric is full of antioxidants that protect cells throughout the body. It has some antimicrobial substances. It helps protect the liver, so it is reducing our cellular die-off. That is reducing one of the driving forces of the inflammation. But beyond that, it is also creating an environment where blood flow is enhanced to purge that area. Also, it has the effect of blocking or blocking formation of that COX-2 enzyme, so it’s toning down the immune system’s response just a little bit, not as intensely as ibuprofen, but just enough that we curb some of that excessive response, but turmeric doesn’t block pathways that protect the stomach, so it doesn’t have some of the negative effects of the drug. Now, if I go out and exercise really hard, sometimes I take a couple of ibuprofen, but I don’t do it every day. Turmeric, that’s one of the ones I take every day.
Dr. Weitz: I use a wide variety of nutrients and herbs on a regular basis, and not just for specifically shoring up nutritional insufficiencies, but to try to optimize the various bodily processes as part of my longevity program.
Dr. Rawls: Absolutely. I think herbs are a part of that.
Dr. Weitz: Absolutely.
Dr. Rawls: One thing I’ve found is we use turmeric as a really nice example, because we know that people have used it long term. People in India consume about a gram of turmeric every day in their curry. It has been associated. The amount of the turmeric and the curry in India has been associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s and cancer, so it really does have a proven effect. But I’ve also found that when herb offers maybe one spectrum of benefits where you bring in another herb and another herb and another herb, and blend them together, you get a wider spectrum of benefits. That’s something that is well recognized in herbal medicine that we typically don’t use single herbs. We use formulas, because you get this combination, this synergy between the herbs. I typically use formulas of five, two, sometimes up to a dozen herbs to get that synergy that you get protection from not one group of cells in the body, but all the different cells. Sometimes you may want to concentrate that formula toward protecting the brain or protecting the liver, protecting the heart, but there are formulas of herbs, one that I’ve put together, that really are protecting everything. They are safe to take on a daily basis so that they have this protective effect that we all want, that it’s protecting our cells. Protecting your cells is the way to prevent symptoms and illness from ever occurring.
Dr. Weitz: I totally agree with that. I also think a similar thing should be focused on when it comes to nutrients. So for example, people look at antioxidants, and they might say, “I’m going to take vitamin C because that’s an antioxidant.” Then they try to study vitamin E or vitamin C, and they go, “Well, it doesn’t really show so much benefit,” but part of it’s because the various antioxidants in nature exists synergistically. I think when you take a combination of different antioxidants altogether, so I regularly consume vitamin C and tocotrienols and resveratrol and a whole series of antioxidants that have a synergistic effect. I think the same thing goes with herbs is as found in nature in food, there’s a synergy there. I think that this is one of the problems when we go to try to study herbs or nutrients the way we study drugs, which is all you do is give the one drug or the placebo, and nothing else. You don’t control for anything else, and you try to do that with vitamin E, and it doesn’t work.
Dr. Rawls: That has been a problem. Over the past decade or more, I am starting to see well designed studies that are really helping us understand how herbs work, and are proving that they do have pretty remarkable functions. But prior to that, most of the studies of herbs have been like drug studies. Instead of looking at the whole plant extract, they pull one chemical, and they look at the effect it has very specifically in the body. It’s a short-term study. It may only last six weeks, so they’re looking for a drug effect. As I said, there are some herbs that have drug-like effects about 70 or some plants. About 70% of our drug come from plants, but those plants are typically not the ones used in herbal medicine. Most of the plants that drugs come from are actually considered poisonous, because they’re looking for specific chemicals that have a very specific effect. When you look at the herbs used in our biology, most commonly, you’re not going to find those kinds of potent chemicals present in the plant. It’s more of a cellular protective effect that you promote a healing response as opposed to a targeted drug response.
Dr. Weitz: Right. I think one of the issues is… I just want to say this, because I think it’s important to say, is in the general medical scientific community, the type of studies designed around drugs is what’s considered the standard. So, you try to study a nutrient not exactly like a drug, and the pushback from the scientific community is, “Well, it wasn’t a double-blind placebo controlled study with only one variable change. You added a bunch of things, so we don’t really know. It doesn’t really have the same scientific validity as that study with that one drug.”
Dr. Rawls: I remember looking at a study on… This was a worldwide meta-analysis. In other words, they looked at all the studies that had been done on vitamin E worldwide to see if vitamin E actually decreased cardiovascular disease as it had been proposed. What they found when I really dug into the study, what I found is all the studies were relatively short term, and they were using the synthetic form of vitamin E called D-alpha-Tocopherol. That is only one form. There are many forms of vitamin E. So, what they reduced… Their conclusion with the study was, “Well, there wasn’t any effect. In fact, it may have even worsened cardiovascular disease. You shouldn’t take vitamin E.” The deeper analysis suggests that what they were doing with that D-alpha-Tocopherol was displacing the gamma version of vitamin E in the heart, which actually had a detrimental effect.
Dr. Weitz: Sure.
Dr. Rawls: It shows that when you are taking nutrients, you really should get it as close to the natural forms as you possibly can. Certainly, food is one of the best ways to get that. But when we do our nutrients, we should do them in a way that mimics nature as much as possible.
Dr. Weitz: So you break down herbs into different categories, and I think those categories are helpful to understand herbs the way you understand them, which is you break them down into food plants, everyday herbs, antimicrobial herbs, herbs with targeted actions, cautionary herbs and potentially harmful plants. Maybe you could go into the categories you’ve come up with for understanding herbs.
Dr. Rawls: Sure. I think it’s… When we look at plants, certainly, all plants are not created equal, and there is a lot of plant life out there. Fortunately, a lot of them are very compatible with our biochemistry as far as being able to eat them, but there are things that are poisonous. I mean, nobody would eat poison ivy twice. There’s some toxic. What the plant is doing with chemistry is solving problems. I’ve heard it said that plants are the smartest chemist on the planet, so they are solving problems in their particular environment. Different plants solve problems in different ways, and different environments have different stress factors. It’s a matter of how the plan is solving a particular problem when we take the herb what kind of effect that we’re having. So looking at our food plants, you really don’t need or particularly want a medicinal effect from your food. You want calories. For hundreds of thousands of years, humans ate a forage food diet that was pretty low in calories, and they were getting a lot of these protective chemicals, but we, 10,000 years ago, started cultivating grains and beans, and also started cultivating our food to produce calories preferentially. We’ve really taken that to an extreme degree over the past couple of 100 years. So when you look at our food plants, they are preferentially designed to yield calories. They’re grown and very careful controlled conditions, and they’ve lost those protective chemicals, so our food plants don’t have nearly the degree of protective phytochemicals and defense systems that wild plants do. We’ve just… We’ve robbed that from them, so even our healthiest foods don’t give us the protection that plants in nature in the wild to do. But food plants, we get some good out of there. There’s some good stuff in broccoli [inaudible 00:24:09].
Dr. Weitz: One good example of what you’re talking about there is one of the properties that’s often indicative of having a high phytonutrient content in plants is bitter. A lot of the herbs are bitter, and yet we’ve cultivated fruits and vegetables to be sweet.
Dr. Rawls: Correct.
Dr. Weitz: We’re going to take a blueberry that’s really sweet, and it may actually have a lower antioxidant content, ditto for apples and many other fruits and vegetables is over time we’ve hybridized farming cultivated types of plants that are sweet, so people will eat them more or maybe so they don’t dent. We end up with plants that are lower in phytonutrients.
Dr. Rawls: Absolutely. It’s pretty easy to illustrate that. I’m a big fan of berry picking, so blueberries in the spring, blackberries in the summer, and then wild grapes. But when you go out and pick berries anywhere in the wild, they’re about a quarter of the size, and not nearly as sweet as what you would buy at the grocery store, but they are actually absolutely packed with these phytochemicals that offer these protective properties. So, it’s when you take it out of the wild, and cultivate it to yield more carbohydrate, then you just lose so much of that.
Dr. Weitz: So we have these food plants, and then we have everyday herbs. What are some good examples of everyday herbs, and what are some of your favorites?
Dr. Rawls: Well, everyday herbs are herbs that I look at that have a really, really favorable safety profile. The potential for adverse reactions, or very importantly drug-like reactions is extremely low. These are herbs that we’re taking just for their protective properties to protect ourselves. We’ve already mentioned one. Turmeric is a really nice one, but there are others, and taking them together can be really wonderful. That opens up a class of herbs that we call adaptogens, which are getting a lot of notice. Now, not all herbs that you would take on every day have to be adaptogens, but the definition of adaptogen is that it also helps us balance stress hormones, and it balances immune system functions. A couple of adaptogens that I take on a daily basis, rhodiola, native to Siberia and northern latitudes, that plant has to deal with a lot of high stress in that harsh environment, so it’s creating chemicals that protect it cells. When we take that plant, we get that. So traditionally, it was used for working in stressful environments long hours, all of those kinds of things, difficult working conditions to make people more resilient.
Athletes use rhodiola. It’s really nice to work if you have to go to altitude like on a skiing trip. Rhodiola is great, but I take that on a daily basis. Reishi, which is actually a mushroom, has immune modulatory benefits. It’s an adaptogen, but it also has these effects of balancing immune system functions, toning down immune activity that is excessive like that inflammatory response when it’s out of hand, but boosting immune responses that are weak. Rhodiola has been studied… I mean, reishi has been studied for its anti-cancer effects. But taking it on a daily basis, it’s really just a wonderful herb for that.
Another is gotu kola from India, really good for protecting the brain, but also lowers blood sugar. A lot of these effects have some anti-diabetic properties. So, turmeric, rhodiola, antidiabetic, gotu kola, recognized for that. Milk thistle, protecting the liver. Those are just a few of my favorite daily herbs that I can put in a formula. They’re protecting not one group of cells in the body, but everything, but without any drug-like effects or long-term cumulative effects that you might worry about. Again, taking them together, you synergize all of those benefits.
Dr. Weitz: Now, you often focus on the idea of microbes as a big factor in chronic disease, and so I’d like you to talk a little bit about that, and then talk about some of your favorite antimicrobial herbs.
Dr. Rawls: All right. That’s a big one. Everybody is more aware of microbes. Here, we’re talking about bacteria, viruses, but also protozoa, which is a one-celled organism, a little bit bigger than a bacteria, and types of fungi called yeast. We all have these things. We know we have bacteria in our gut and on our skin and in our sinuses and our mouth and our gums. They are part of us. We have trillions of these things, but we also can get infections. What I’m finding is and what the research is showing is it’s a lot more complicated. This was something that chronic Lyme disease led me toward, and has helped me understand that illness, but truly every illness differently. As it turns out, we have bacteria, viruses, and other microbes that trickle across from the gut into the bloodstream, from our skin into the bloodstream, from our gums into the bloodstream, from our sinuses directly into our brain. This is happening all of our lifetime. If our cells are strong, our cells can defend themselves. But if they’re weak, these things can invade ourselves, and they actually can become dormant in our cells. So, they’ve identified something they’re calling the dormant tissue and blood microbiome that we actually have really low concentrations of dormant bacteria and viruses. [inaudible 00:31:05].
Dr. Weitz: Say that again. What is that? What is that called again? That’s something [inaudible 00:31:08].
Dr. Rawls: Well, we’re calling it the stealth microbiome or the dormant tissue and blood microbiome. These are pretty recent studies that are identifying this. It’s always been there, and everybody has it. You and I have it. Everybody is different. We pick up different microbes and different potential pathogens through our lifetime. But if our cells are healthy, they stay dormant, and they just are there, but Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, mycoplasma species, chlamydia, and then the list just goes on and on. The thing is we’re just starting to understand all the different species that are possible, and they become part of us. They are part of us.
But if your cells are weakened by eating a bad diet, not getting enough sleep, staying stressed, exposure to toxins, not exercising, your cells get weak, these things start to erupt. There are studies starting to document the ways that this actually can cause chronic illness, different illnesses, because we pick up different microbes. When you look at a solution for this, there is a no drug solution. Antibiotics don’t work for this, but that’s where I see herbs is a really strong potential solution to this problem, because all herbs have some antimicrobial properties. All the ones that I’ve mentioned have documented antimicrobial properties, but some are better than others.
It depends on the plant’s environment and what kind of microbes that it’s having to deal with. Some other herbs that are favorites, andrographis, Japanese knotweed, the reishi, again, cordyceps. There are garlic and ginger from the grocery store. All of these herbs have pretty strong antimicrobial properties, some more against bacteria, some more against viruses, but it’s broad spectrum. But the interesting thing about the herbs compared to the antibiotics is the herbs are a system. It’s hundreds of chemicals, not a chemical like an antibiotic. These things have a certain intelligence about them. It doesn’t disrupt our normal flora. It favors normal flora in the gut on the skin, but suppressive pathogens.
You can take these things long term, but it helps to suppress. All of these herbs are immune modulators. They help balance the immune system. So when you need that extra protection, I keep these things on hand. They were responsible for my recovery. But whenever I’m stressed, whenever I might be exposed to a microbe like COVID or even a cold virus, I take these things extra on top of all my regular herbs just to give my cells that extra protection. There are different herbs out there. A lot of people hear about echinacea. Echinacea is wonderful to take for an acute cold. There are others, astragalus and several others, elderberry. That’s great.
But these are immune stimulants, so they’re not ones we would want to take long term, but these others are immune modulators, so they don’t hyper stimulate the immune system, so you can take them on a daily basis. I took these herbs for a period of probably about five years continually. I have been aware of literally hundreds, probably even thousands of people who have done exactly the same thing with exceptionally good results. The science on these herbs is just exceptional.
Dr. Weitz: I think you’re focusing on something, I think, is really important, which is this immune modulation, which I think is a big factor in many chronic diseases. It’s not just a question of the immune system being strong or weak, but being out of balance. We’ve been starting to run various panels that look at different immune system factors like the lymphocyte map test from Cyrex, and looking at cytokines and different ways to try to understand what’s happening to the balance of the immune system. Then we have some data showing that various herbs and nutrients can actually modulate different parts of the immune system to create balance. I think that’s going to be one of the keys for improving people with chronic illness, including along COVID and a lot of these other post-viral syndromes.
Dr. Rawls: I think so too, but it’s one interesting… That’s where I’ve been for most of the past decade until I started researching this book. When I started three years ago writing this book, it wasn’t called Cellular Wellness. The deeper I went, the more I understood how cells were really the central key to the whole thing. I came to appreciate that yes, our immune system functions are important. Our immune system is cellular, but our immune system is part of that defense for protecting us from foreign microbes, from microbes that are new that we got an infection with no matter how that might enter the body. Our immune system is really super important for that. But when it comes to dormant microbes, they’re in our tissues, and just part of that defense system, cellular health is very central to it, because our cells can defend themselves if they are healthy. That’s really important. Cells use a process called autophagy to do internal housekeeping to our cells. Unlike manmade machines, our cells are constantly repairing themselves. They’re breaking down worn-out proteins and mitochondria and DNA, and rebuilding. That process called autophagy interestingly also gives cells the ability to expel invasive microbes.
All the things that we’re talking about that enter the body are intracellular. So whether you’re talking about the Lyme microbes or any other kinds of infection, COVID, viruses, all of these things are entering cells, and they take on a different life once they enter a cell. Part of our defense mechanism is keeping our cells healthy. Well cells, healthy cells can defend themselves. So along with immune system health, keeping our cells healthy is so remarkably important for staying well as we go through life.
Dr. Weitz: Important for longevity, and longevity research has been a lot of focus on autophagy and getting rid of dead zombie cells, and clearing things out, so our cells can work properly. It’s interesting how this research is correlating with the longevity research.
Dr. Rawls: Absolutely. It all fits together. I’ve come to appreciate that at the cellular level, what aging is is loss of functional cells. We accumulate cells until age 20 average for most people. We keep accumulating cells. So at age 20, all your cells are brand spanking new, and you have five to 10 times more cells than you need to survive for your body to function. After that point, you lose cells for the rest of your life. How fast you lose cells, how much your cells are stressed define your longevity. We reach the end when we run out of functional cells, especially functional cells in the brain and the heart and our vital organs. Cellular health is just central to whether we’re talking about illness or infections or aging. It’s right in the center of everything. Wow. The herb’s doing a remarkable job of protecting our cells.
Dr. Weitz: I agree with you. However, I do think that at one point, we thought that when you hit 20 or something, you’re going to have all the brain cells you were ever going to have. Then over the course of your life, you’re going to lose brain cells. But now, we know that throughout our lives, even well into our older decades, we continue to produce new brain cells and new neurons and new neuronal connections if we do the right things. I think the herbs can help with that as well.
Dr. Rawls: Our total still goes down. We have more attrition of cells than we have-
Dr. Weitz: Maybe yours, not mine. No, I’m just kidding.
Dr. Rawls: It is more complex than just filling up the hourglass, and then letting it flow out. Certain cells, we’re making skin cells all the time. Brain cells, heart cells, it’s tougher. You don’t make as many of those, but it’s… I discussed a lot of those aspects within the book that it’s-
Dr. Weitz: I’ve had several discussions with Dr. Dale Bredesen. He’s pioneering a functional medicine approach that’s showing that you can actually reverse dementia and loss of neuronal function by doing the right things. It’s similar to things you’re talking about, which is getting rid of toxins, and getting rid of microbes, and restoring hormonal health, and eating a healthy diet, and having vigorous exercise.
Dr. Rawls: Absolutely. That’s what it’s all about. In writing the book, I actually came upon studies that document that we actually have a brain microbiome. We do have bacteria that live in our brain. Everybody.
Dr. Weitz: Well, that’s a whole new topic. I’ve brought that up with some of experts. At this point, they’re still not willing to recognize yet that there’s a brain microbiome. For those who aren’t familiar with this whole concept, for many, many decades, it was thought that microbes do not penetrate the brain because we have the brain blood barrier, and there’s this protective barrier that won’t let bacteria and viruses and other pathogens into the brain. Then we found out that’s not really true, whether it’s because they have a leaky brain or otherwise. It turns out that there are bacteria. There are viruses, and the latest understanding of some of the pathological processes like the build up of the amyloid plaque is that the plaque is actually the brain helping to protect itself against these microbes. So, then the concept comes in is if we have microbes in the brain, is there actually brain microbiome? Maybe there’s a certain level of healthy microbes in the brain. But so far, the people I’ve talked to, nobody’s willing to recognize that, but I suspect in the future, we will probably find out that that is the case.
Dr. Rawls: I think people don’t want to recognize it, because they don’t know what the heck to do about it, because they realize there’re not really any drugs or anything available. If it was one study that popped up, I think you could say, “Well, there’s a possibility of contaminants, and this is artificial, and it’s not real.” The thing is and what got my attention and why I included in the book is it wasn’t just one study. It’s independent studies from all around the world, and different types of studies all around the world. The issue is two things.
I think we just assumed that we didn’t have bacteria and viruses in our tissues, but that was just an assumption, and we didn’t have the tools 40 years ago, 30 years ago to really look for them. Our methods of analysis are getting better and better, and people around the world are using them. But independent studies in the UK, Canada, South Africa, all around the world are showing this, and not just in our brain, but also in other tissues of the body, and this finding that we have actual dormant microbes in our blood, in our white blood cells, in our red blood cells. I look at the total of the evidence coming from all different sources. I think it’s hard to ignore.
Dr. Weitz: Since we’re on the topic of the brain, you have some chapters in your book that go into herbs for specific issues. You have a chapter on brain health. Maybe you could talk about what you’ve seen are some of the most effective herbs for brain health.
Dr. Rawls: I think that’s a topic that everybody is interested in. Again, what we’re doing is protecting brain cells. All herbs are going to protect cells throughout the body, but it’s like milk thistle. We know it’s protective specifically of liver cells. Well, if you look at the effect on other cells in the body, it’s pretty darn good, but it really does a good job for liver cells. Well, there are certain things that do a really nice job in the brain for various reasons. Some of my favorite brain herbs, top of the list would be an herb called bacopa, B-A-C-O-P-A. Bacopa has been found in studies to improve mental functions in college students, kids with ADD, and dementia patients in independent studies.
It’s protective. It’s protecting brain cells. It’s balancing hormone pathways associated with stress, but it’s also increasing choline, one of herb thinking neurotransmitters. These various herbs do have some antimicrobial properties. Historically, in India, Bacopa was used to enhance brain function. It’s been used for hundreds of years for that. Turmeric, we mentioned, had been associated with decrease of Alzheimer’s. Lion’s mane, another immune modulating mushroom has been found to also increase choline, and has been used for increasing thinking. Cat’s claw from the Amazon, cat’s claw is a really nice antimicrobial herb with immune modulating properties.
It’s important to look at that aspect of the possibility that yes, we truly do have a microbiome, and maybe amyloid is there because cells that have been weakened by stress are having this all out attempt to protect themselves, and are producing amyloid. So, the solution isn’t taking the amyloid away like the drugs are doing, because that leaves cells totally defenseless, but maybe it’s strengthening the cells and protecting them from the microbes with things like cat’s claw, which has been used in the Amazon for hundreds of years for protecting cognitive functions. Ginkgo, which increases blood flow to the brain, that’s a really nice herb. These are just a few of my favorite brain herbs, but there are herbs for every area of the body that can be taken on a regular basis that are safe, that fit in that category of daily or everyday herbs.
Dr. Weitz: Isn’t it… I love going down tangent sometimes, but a very short little side tangent. Lion’s mane, isn’t it interesting how some of these plants that look a certain way turn out to have benefits? My understanding is lion’s mane, when you look at lion’s, man, it looks like a brain, and that’s how they started thinking of it for brain health, but it really does turn out to have brain protective properties.
Dr. Rawls: Yeah. It’s hard to find it at your grocery store, but you can occasionally find it at the farmer’s markets.
Dr. Weitz: They have it at the co-op right down the block for me.
Dr. Rawls: It’s really a tasty mushroom just saute by itself, but it’s hard to get enough of it, so taking it as a supplement, because it’s the advantage of that regular daily dose, which is really important.
Dr. Weitz: There’s many things we haven’t covered, but let’s just go through, if we can, maybe one more specific condition that you list in your book, and then wrap it. You list andropause, which essentially means men who have lower testosterone levels. What are some of the herbs that you think can potentially be effective for that situation?
Dr. Rawls: Sure. Well, I think you’ve got to look at the causes of it first. I think andropause is being paralleled to menopause. Menopause happens because, in a female, the ovaries run out of eggs around age 50, and estrogen production stops pretty abruptly, and it causes a lot of symptoms. The testes, however, don’t work that way. I mean, technically, we guys should be able to continue producing testosterone as long as they live.
Dr. Weitz: Exactly.
Dr. Rawls: But you do have a gradual atrophy and decrease of the testosterone producing cells in the testes, so that does gradually wane with time, but it should be really old age before that happens. The problem is we’re seeing guys in their 30s and 40s that their testosterone has dropped out the bottom. I think you’ve got to ask the question, “What gives here? What is going on? This isn’t natural.” There are a lot of contributing factors, but the two big ones are insulin resistance, eating way too much carbohydrate. Carbohydrate over consumption leads to insulin resistance, which goes through a pathway, and actually suppresses testosterone production. So, you need to cut down your carbs. I don’t advocate, or I don’t follow personally a ketogenic diet, but I try to keep my total carbohydrate conception of less than 150 milligrams a day. That’s enough to be comfortable, but-
Dr. Weitz: I think you mean grams, right?
Dr. Rawls: Grams, yes. Sorry. Thank you. The other is a lot of our plastic production creates chemicals in the environment that are-
Dr. Weitz: Unbelievable number of endocrine disrupting substances.
Dr. Rawls: … that disrupt endocrine functions and low testosterone.
Dr. Weitz: Plastics and pesticides, atrazine, and there are so many chemicals that disrupt testosterone function. We’re a wash in toxic chemicals from Teflon pans to flame retarding chemicals to BPA to phthalates. It’s just incredible.
Dr. Rawls: The first thing is you really have to address the reasons, and that’s really important. Just dumping testosterone in on top of a bad situation is just a poor solution.
Dr. Weitz: YES.
Dr. Rawls: How the herbs are doing is they are affecting central hormone pathways, the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal axis. The testes are involved in that pathway. Certain herbs are affecting feedback messages to the hypothalamus that cause the hypothalamus through the pituitary to stimulate testosterone production. There are a number of great herbs. There’s some that do it a little bit. Rhodiola is one. There’s another one called shilajit that it’s in part of my regular daily formula that I take, but there’s some that do it a little bit more intensely. Epimedium, one called Tongkat ali, and Rhaponticum are just a few of the herbs that have this effect of increasing testosterone production.
But during those stages where you’re still working on your diet, and getting your exercise better, and decreasing your stress to naturally bring your testosterone up. Getting a little extra testosterone can make life better, but you can do it naturally by using pine pollen. Pine pollen contains a steroid anabolic hormone that’s very much like testosterone. It actually has a little bit of old testosterone in it. That’s something that you can do. If you don’t do too much of it, you want and use with the other herbs and lifestyle changes, it won’t severely suppress your testosterone production. That’s the problem with taking testosterone or taking testosterone injections. When you do that, you shut down your testes completely, and that leaves you totally testosterone deficient and totally dependent on these very expensive medications.
Dr. Weitz: I’m totally with you on that. I see too many younger men jumping to testosterone, because they feel like it’s part of a longevity program, and that’s beneficial for them, sometimes men in their 30s and 40s. I think that’s a big, big mistake that should only be used after you’ve done everything else, because as you said, men shouldn’t have this sharp drop off of their hormones as they get older.
Dr. Rawls: It’s like everything else. Low testosterone production is a symptom of cellular distress. Those cells are not producing. Those cells have been disrupted, and they’re not producing testosterone like they should, so the strategy is restoring the cellular health. That’s true anywhere in the body, thyroid, adrenal glands, whatever. You support the hormone pathways and the cellular functions, and those hormones will come back online.
Dr. Weitz: That’s great, Dr. Rawls. This was a fascinating discussion. You gave us a lot of interesting things to think about, and some strategies for natural healing, so I appreciate it. How can listeners and viewers find out about you, your books, your herbs?
Dr. Rawls: Oh, several ways. The book is on Amazon. Of course, what book isn’t on Amazon? We’ve got some good reviews so far. People seem to really like it. I spent three years not only getting the science down, but making it readable so people could actually consume the information. You can also find it at cellularwellness.com. For those of you struggling with things like Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, I have a website called rawlsmd.com that is just full of education. We do it as a public service to try to get as much information as we can out there.
Finally, I work through a supplement company, vitalplan.com. We create programs and products to make daily life better, but also help people recover from various kinds of health conditions.
Dr. Weitz: That’s great. After this podcast is posted, for those of you, if you want to go to my website, drweitz.com, you’ll see a full transcript. So in case you want to get any of the details of the information, also put information about Dr. Rawls. I’ll put a link to the book. But of course, I’m going to put a link to Barnes and Noble rather than Amazon, but that’s a really good resource for everybody as well.
Dr. Rawls: That’s okay with me too.
Dr. Weitz: Thank you so much.
Dr. Rawls: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity.
Dr. Weitz: Thank you for making it all the way through this episode of the Rational Wellness Podcast. If you enjoyed this podcast, please go to Apple Podcast, and give us a five-star ratings and review. That way, more people will be able to find this Rational Wellness podcast when they’re searching for health podcasts. I wanted to let everybody know that I do now have a few openings for new nutritional consultations for patients at my Santa Monica Weitz Sports Chiropractic and Nutrition Clinic. So if you’re interested, please call my office (310) 395-3111, and sign up for one of the few remaining slots for a comprehensive nutritional consultation with Dr. Ben Weitz. Thank you, and see you next week.
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