025: How Shawn Stevenson Beat Degenerative Disc Disease
“Basically, he told me that I had the spine of an 80 year old man when I was just 20. “
While he was still in college, Shawn Stevenson (a lifelong athlete) was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, and told that he would be in pain for the rest of his life. Following the diagnosis, Shawn “took it easy” (at his doctor’s suggestion) and gained 50 pounds.
But after getting caught up in the vicious cycle of taking lots of medication, becoming depressed and lacking a sense of purpose, he finally reached a breaking point and made the decision to get healthy.
And not only did Shawn lose the weight and reach the peak of his physical fitness, he also began a career in strength and nutrition coaching. Today, he’s a bestselling author and host of The Model Health Show podcast.
In this episode of the podcast….
Shawn Stevenson talks to Dr. Gundry about degenerative disc disease, the debilitating effects of the “nocebo” effect, the struggles of a college diet, and how improving your sleep can help you lose stubborn weight. He also shares some life-changing insights from his most recent book, “Sleep Smarter”.
Dr. Gundry: Welcome to the Dr. Gundry podcast. I’m really excited to introduce you today to this week’s guest. He’s a bestselling author, he’s a podcaster of incredible renown. He’s a nutrition expert, so that’s why he’s here, with an amazing backstory, and we’re going to get into that.
Dr. Gundry: 02:36 So, Shawn Stevenson. It’s really easy to remember because his last name is like my first name with a V. Welcome to the podcast.
Shawn Stevenson: 02:44 It’s my pleasure to be here.
Dr. Gundry: 02:46 And this is actually our second time together, but the first on my podcast. So, welcome.
Shawn Stevenson: 02:51 That’s right. I’m excited.
Dr. Gundry: 02:53 And thank you for having me on your podcast in the past.
Shawn Stevenson: 02:54 Oh, it was straight fire. It was incredible.
Dr. Gundry: 02:57 We had fun. So, we’re going to talk about what helped you get through … I want you to tell me your backstory with degenerative disc disease, and I think that’s really important as a place to start, because as you and I both know, there are millions and millions and millions and millions of Americans who are dealing with back pain and degenerative disc disease, and … Take me through what happened to you as a young man. Let’s start there.
Shawn Stevenson: 03:27 This is literally a back story. I was 20 years old when I got this diagnosis. What took me in to see my physician at the time was, I was experiencing this leg pain that became a bit of a nuisance. And I was so disconnected from how the body worked, I thought maybe I pulled a muscle or something. Once my physician checked me out, he had me go get an MRI of my spine, and I was just like, what is he thinking? My leg hurts, not my back.
Shawn Stevenson: 03:54 We came into the office to look at my scan. He put it up for me to see, and he told me, look. We found the problem. And I’m just like, okay. What do we do? Let’s fix this. And he was basically like, slow down, son. I’ve gotta explain something to you, and he points at the MRI and he shows me that I have this degenerative disc disease, and he also knew that my bone density was very low as well, and I knew that prior to, because I broke my hip at track practice. No trauma, just from running, I broke my hip when I was 16. But I didn’t get this diagnosis until I was 20 years old.
Shawn Stevenson: 04:28 Basically, he told me that I had the spine of an 80 year old man when I was just 20. In a sense, I was a very old man inside of a young person’s shell, in a sense, because I looked fit, which … As you know, there’s a big difference between fitness and health, and again, I was very … still optimistic, because I just wanted to take care of the problem. I was used to working with my coaches in sports.
Dr. Gundry: 04:49 And you’re a college student.
Shawn Stevenson: 04:50 Yeah. I was in college at the time, and he told me that … basically told me to pump my brakes and slow down a little bit, because he wanted to explain to me that this is something that is incurable. This is a condition that there’s not a treatment for, and he told me lovingly, I guess, that this is something you’re just going to have to deal with, and I’m sorry. It was very heartbreaking for me, because he was telling me that I have this condition … He gave me this diagnosis, and that there was nothing I could do about it, and I’m going to have to spend the rest of my life in this very strange pain. I know a lot of listeners know about this. We mentioned this briefly on my show with you, the power of the placebo effect. And placebos, a lot of people don’t realize this, they’re about 33% effective on average in clinical trials.
Dr. Gundry: 05:40 Yeah.
Shawn Stevenson: 05:41 A fake drug, a fake surgery, a fake treatment … The person believing that they’re taking the drug that will lower their blood pressure or kill their cancer, for example, proceeds to do just that, based on the power of the mind. About 33% effective on average. This is why the gold standard of clinical trials … We have to do a double blind placebo controlled, because placebos work.
Shawn Stevenson: 06:04 Now, he didn’t give me a placebo. He gave me a nocebo. This is the opposite, this is a negative injunction from an authority figure. Basically, this is when you hear you’ll never walk again. You have six weeks to live, this is incurable. And every cell in my body believed that. Over the course of about six weeks, I went from a nuisance of a pain to chronic, debilitating pain, and it just began to destroy my life. For the next two, two and a half years … By the way, if you ever get a bill of bad news like this, get a second and/or third opinion, which I did, but it was the same thing.
Shawn Stevenson: 06:43 I proceeded to really break down, mentally and physically. I gained a lot of weight because he was telling me, be careful, don’t do anything. He gave me a permission slip to not be active, which a lot of people want.
Dr. Gundry: 06:56 That’s right.
Shawn Stevenson: 06:56 I was just like, thank you. And I sat there on my little college loveseat and played a lot of video games and ate what I affectionately called the tough diet. Typical university food. And I gained about 50 pounds over that two and a half years, and I was one of the thinner persons in my family, but my fat gene … It flipped on. So I became very, very fluffy.
Shawn Stevenson: 07:17 What was so tragic about this was that I didn’t realize at the time, nor did my physicians inform me, that not only is my spine going to atrophy, but now everything else is, because bodies really do work on a use it or lose it basis. And this two and a half years went by, and I became … Just to give people a reference point, on a scale of 1-10, 1 you have no pain, 10 is the worst, unimaginable pain you can experience … I would get this sciatic pain that would shoot down my leg that would be a split second that was a level 10, bring me down to my knees. And it put me in fear. Literally, fear of standing up. So I stood up as little as I possibly could.
Shawn Stevenson: 08:02 Fast forward. Obviously, spoiler alert, there’s a good ending to this. But it took about two and a half years, and we were just talking about this before the show, and I think everybody, it’s so important to have exposure. And we really become what we are exposed to, and I had a great environment coming up in my grandmother’s household. She was pestering me through this period, always calling to check on me … She knew I wasn’t well, but I wouldn’t tell. You’re annoyed by your grandparents and your parents at a certain point, especially in college.
Dr. Gundry: 08:32 In college, yeah.
Shawn Stevenson: 08:33 I’m fine. But I wasn’t fine, and I really realized, she instilled in me this notion that I was special and that I was going to do something really amazing with my life, and here I was on all these medications, prescription and over the center. One of them was Celebrex-
Dr. Gundry: 08:49 Ooh.
Shawn Stevenson: 08:50 … which, one of the side effects … Later, because it didn’t have a name yet … was restless leg syndrome, which I had from taking the Celebrex. It felt like my legs were going to get up and leave me at night. And my life, I was definitely depressed. I was overweight, and I was really lacking a sense of purpose. I realized that I had an opportunity in front of me and a choice to make, which … Most people never actually do this, Dr. Gundry. It’s more like wishful thinking. When they want to get healthy, it’s like, I’ll try. We’ll see what happens. I wish this will work. We’ll give this a shot.
Shawn Stevenson: 09:24 But when you really make a decision about something, a true decision, even the word “decision” is from the Latin de-, meaning from, and cidere, which means to cut. You cut away the possibility of anything else but the decision that you make. I decided that no matter what, I was going to get healthy.
Dr. Gundry: 09:41 Let me stop you right there for a second, because in my office, in my exam room, I’ve got not only a big poster of Yoda, but also several Yoda dolls, and one of our mottos is, “Try not. Do or do not. There is not try.” That is exactly right. So, go ahead.
Shawn Stevenson: 10:02 I channeled that. And what was so fascinating for me in that time period, and just experiencing that … By the way, I’m a very analytical person by nature, I feel. So it wasn’t as if I made this decision and the clouds parted and everything just got better. But I put a plan together, and that plan entailed three specific things. And those three things, just to rattle them off really quickly … Number one was, when I first went to college, I went premed, even though I actually hated science. Literally, a couple years ago, I was having still nightmares about biology class from high school, which is my deep passion now. I love it so much. But I just couldn’t stand it then. It didn’t make any … It wasn’t visceral. It didn’t connect.
Shawn Stevenson: 10:51 When I was in college, I started to see the upperclassman … because we were taught pathology and disease. It’s basically the study of disease. You’re not taught health. So they were always giving themselves diagnoses with problems. It really creeped me out. So I got out of that because of … I went and did the premed thing because I thought, I should be a doctor. Just because it’s just a thing. But I didn’t have any exposure except for television. The other exposure was a movie Boomerang from Eddie Murphy, I don’t know if you-
Dr. Gundry: 11:24 Oh, yeah, yeah.
Shawn Stevenson: 11:25 And he was in marketing. So I was like, I’ll do that. That looks cool. So I got out of that, and now life had other plans for me, really, and it circled me back to … I decided, you know what? I saw the study of disease already. I’m going to study everything I can about what it takes to be a healthy, sovereign human being. For me, the low-hanging fruit was movement. I’d stopped moving, and being an athlete … I ran a 4-5-40 when I was 15 years old, but then proceeded, of course, to break my hip eventually, and spoil those plans. But that was my connection to health, somewhat, but definitely to fitness.
Shawn Stevenson: 12:00 So I began to just move my body again, and it was difficult even just walking. I started off with a stationary bike and progressed to doing some walking and basically picked up the weights again. The other thing was, I asked this really fundamental question. My spine is breaking down. My discs are degenerating. What are my discs made of? What are my bones made of? If my bones are breaking down, my bone density is so low, all I knew was calcium from commercials. I came to find out there were dozens of other things, many of them more important than calcium, but just didn’t have a good marketing team.
Shawn Stevenson: 12:33 So vitamin K2, silica, sulfur bearing amino acids. All this stuff I’d never heard of, and I was just fascinated. I decided, let me get as many of these nutrients in to give my body the raw materials it needs to do the job. How can it do the job without the raw materials? Basic stuff.
Shawn Stevenson: 12:52 Third thing. If you’re not sleeping, you’re not healing. And my biggest struggle through that two and a half years was sleeping at night, because the pain would wake me up. Literally, if I just changed positions, I’d get that electric shock down my leg. So I would take a cocktail. I had my over the counter and prescription medication. It knocked me out, which was really just a pseudo sleep, because I woke up in a fog every day that lasted several hours.
Shawn Stevenson: 13:17 Once I changed some things I was doing during the day, it changed my sleep at night, and I got better very quickly. So to put a bow on this, it was about six, seven weeks later. I lots about 20 pounds, which … results not typical. Being the thin guy in my family, the weight just fell off once I started making these changes. The pain I’d been experiencing for two and a half years every day of my life was gone. And it was about nine months later I got a scan done, and my two ruptured discs had retracted, and the juiciness, the suppleness of my disc … Basically, my disc had regenerated, and you could see the light shining through me again, and my physician at the time … He told me that … I’ve never seen anything like this. Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it. I fired him.
Dr. Gundry: 14:01 Good.
Shawn Stevenson: 14:02 And from there, really, the rest is history, because people started to ask me, how did I make this transformation? My professors at school, fellow students, faculty, they all became my first clients, and I shifted all my coursework over to health and biology and kinesiology, and opened my practice, and here I am today.
Dr. Gundry: 14:21 And here you are. Interesting. Well, it’s interesting. Let’s get back to your osteoporosis. My wife Penny was an impressive marathon runner. She finished and qualified for the hundredth running of the Boston Marathon, and she had osteoporosis. It’s like, how is that possibly? You’re pounding the pavement and using your muscles. That’s impossible.
Dr. Gundry: 14:47 Well, one of the things that I’ve written about in all my books is that 10% of chickens, factory farmed chickens, are killed because of lameness. And there’s actually some very good evidence, at least in my opinion, that the lectins in the corn and the grain and the soybeans that they’re fed are one of the causes of osteoporosis. So when I started my health journey, we had her running with weights strapped to her back … And when we changed her diet, which was a very, very heavily carb-based runner’s diet … She’d come home and eat four bags of Doritos.
Shawn Stevenson: 15:28 Carb loading, loading.
Dr. Gundry: 15:29 Just carb loading. And when we took that away from her, she doesn’t have osteoporosis anymore. So I’m fascinating with your story, because you were eating a college diet, which is-
Shawn Stevenson: 15:41 Pizza.
Dr. Gundry: 15:42 Poison. [crosstalk 00:15:44]
Shawn Stevenson: 15:44 [crosstalk 00:15:44] Yeah. Lots of pizza, lots of Hawaiian Punch.
Dr. Gundry: 15:47 Yeah, there you go. So you brought up sleep, and we’ve talked off camera about sleep, and you and I have a fellow friend, Arianna Huffington, and she’s devoted to sleep. Tell me, your brand is sleep smarter. How the dingdong did that come about as your brand, and how do we sleep smarter?
Shawn Stevenson: 16:14 As you know, when you no longer have a problem, you don’t think about it much. That’s when you really know you’re healed. Once I got my sleep dialed in, personally, even though with my clinical work … This was 10 years later. I didn’t think about sleep anymore. I was working with clients and working with patients, along with their physicians, and we had incredible success with helping people get off cinapros for their blood pressure, metformins, things like that for various issues. Obesity, obviously, we dealt with a lot.
Shawn Stevenson: 16:46 It always bothered me that percentage of people that weren’t getting well, even though they were making the dietary changes, the exercise changes, and it took about five years of practice before I had the audacity to ask people about their sleep. And when I did, I had to hold my chin up, because it had just been on my desk, hearing these stories from people about their struggles with sleep.
Shawn Stevenson: 17:10 I dove into the research, and as you know, people want change, but they don’t want to change that much. So I was looking for, what are some clinically proven tactics that I can get people to employ to improve their sleep quality without turning their lives upside-down? I implemented with a few patients, and one of them … Blood sugar’s 200-300, just, how are you walking around? And already on metformin, about to go on insulin, and finally, after five years of struggle … She was working with me for about six months. Everything normalized once we got her sleep dialed in. And I was like, this is very strange.
Shawn Stevenson: 17:51 Then I would see it with a person who’s been struggling with their weight trying to get the same 20 pounds off. High blood pressure, hypertension. I was just like, there’s something very, very strange going on here, and it has a lot to do with sleep. Basically, the floodgates would open, and the things people had been struggling with were now being healed in a sense.
Shawn Stevenson: 18:11 Seeing this firsthand, I was just … This is the missing piece. There are so many books out there, so many experts out talking about their diet, and this is the way, and the exercise program, but nobody was talking about this, like a masterclass … And also the connection, because let’s just be honest, sleep is not a sexy topic. If you really think about it-
Dr. Gundry: 18:33 It was [inaudible 00:18:34]. No.
Shawn Stevenson: 18:35 But if you see the next new exercise programs, very sexy. Oh, I need to do that. Plus you know that I’m doing something. So in our psychology as humans today, we think that we have to do something in order to get something, which is kind of dangerous. But with sleep, you do nothing and you get all of these benefits, of course, that we’ll talk about. For us to wrap our minds around that today, which is like, I’ll sleep when I’m dead, sleep is for the weak and all these things, and not understanding that this is one of the biggest epigenetic triggers. Literally, we’ve got research showing that of everything that can affect your telomere link … So the telomeres are these end casings on the tips of your chromosomes-
Dr. Gundry: 19:16 Correct.
Shawn Stevenson: 19:16 … this is the greatest biological marker with have of how long you’re going to live. This might be the fastest thing to burn away those telomeres, is being sleep deprived. So it’s affecting our longevity, it’s affecting our blood sugar, our brain function, also our body composition, which we’ve gotta talk about. And all from the sleep that you’re getting, or better yet, the quality of sleep that you’re getting, because my book is called Sleep Smarter, not necessarily Sleep More.
Dr. Gundry: 19:43 I think we need to do a video. Sleepercise.
Shawn Stevenson: 19:47 Oh, I like it. I like it.
Dr. Gundry: 19:49 We can make it hip.
Shawn Stevenson: 19:52 Put some leotards on and go to bed.
Dr. Gundry: 19:54 And go to bed. Just … Nah.
Dr. Gundry: 19:59 All right. Tell me how you take a person and figure out that they’re not sleeping, or that sleep was the problem here. I’ll tell you some of my experience, coming from a different angle. You’ve got these people who are diabetics. Did you first say, well, I’ll do the clinical diagnosis, you’ve got sleep apnea. All I’m going to do, I’m going to give you a CPAP and presto chango, it’ll be fine, which is the traditional treatment of all this. What say you?
Shawn Stevenson: 20:36 It’s still … CPAP is just like a medication. A lot of times, it’s masking a symptom. We can help you to maintain a certain level of health, but we’re not taking care of the underlying problem. A lot of folks that … Again, this is something that we use just as a bridge sometimes.
Dr. Gundry: 20:50 Exactly.
Shawn Stevenson: 20:50 But we need to address the underlying cause. For a lot of folks, even if they’re thinner, they still have a very high body fat. Carrying too much weight around your frame, specifically body fat, visceral fat-
Dr. Gundry: 21:01 Visceral fat, yeah.
Shawn Stevenson: 21:02 … can affect your ability to sleep and to breathe at night. So that’s what we really need to target. But ironically, it’s incredibly difficult to lose weight when you’re not getting sleep.
Dr. Gundry: 21:13 Correct.
Shawn Stevenson: 21:14 That’s what made it a catch 22 and very difficult for folks.
Dr. Gundry: 21:18 Get into the nerdy science. Why is it difficult to lose weight when you don’t sleep.
Shawn Stevenson: 21:23 This was a really great study, and there’s so many now. But University of Chicago wanted to find out specifically this question. How does your sleep impact your body fat? Not weight. Your body fat. So they took test subjects and they put them on a calorie-restricted diet, which is what I was taught in a conventional setting, university, which doesn’t necessarily work. But they put them on this calorie-restricted diet, and they sleep deprived them. They allowed them to get five and a half hours of sleep. Again, calorie-restricted diet, sleep deprived.
Shawn Stevenson: 21:55 Another phase of the study, they take the same people, the same amount of calorie restriction. They’re not cutting away any more calories. They’re not exercising any longer, any harder. They simply allow them to get eight and a half hours of sleep now. At the end of the study, they compiled all the data, and they found that when folks were getting adequate sleep, they lost 55% more body fat, just from sleeping.
Shawn Stevenson: 22:18 That’s a huge amount. You gotta do insanity [insylum 00:22:23] or whatever, these crazy … And I know Sean T’s a good friend, but you’ve gotta really kick your own butt to get that kind of result, but you can get that from sleeping more. So my question immediately is, how? How is that possible? And there’s a couple of things.
Shawn Stevenson: 22:38 The real underlying thing is hormones. Number one, when you’re sleeping, especially during … We talked about this a little bit. Deep delta wave sleep. Let’s just put this out here. When we’re talking about sleep, what is it? It’s a very strange phenomenon. How do we know there’s sleeping? It’s changes in your brain waves. We need to spend a certain amount of times in each of those stages to sufficiently heal your brain and body. That really is what it’s all about.
Shawn Stevenson: 23:07 Deep delta sleep. This is known as anabolic sleep. This is when you’re producing the vast majority of human growth hormone as adults, especially. Kids have a ton of it. This is why they’re always running around, so much energy. But it’s also muscle promoting and muscle sparing, which … Muscle is your body’s fat burning machinery. It’s very expensive to carry. So you get this huge burst of this human growth hormone, which helps with this burning of body fat, potentially.
Shawn Stevenson: 23:34 That’s number one. Number two, melatonin itself. We’ve got a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, and they found that when folks were getting adequate amounts of production of melatonin, they were producing more mobilization of something called brown adipose tissue, or BAT. This is a type of fat that burns fat.
Dr. Gundry: 23:56 I love it.
Shawn Stevenson: 23:57 When we think about burning fat, we’re thinking ab the white adipose tissue. That’s the stuff we’re trying to get rid of. Brown adipose tissue … The reason it’s brown, by the way, is that it’s so dense, so concentrated with mitochondria. This is stuff that we talk about that is just so amazing. And you increase your body’s production and mobilization of that brown adipose tissue when you’re producing melatonin via being in darkness and taking your butt to sleep.
Shawn Stevenson: 24:22 I’ll share one more. So many. But on the other side, one of the first things that we see clinically when somebody’s sleep deprived is an increase in cortisol, this glorified stress hormone. It’s not a bad guy. It’s important for thyroid function. Just, on and on and on. But if it’s produced in the wrong amounts and at the wrong times, it can be very problematic.
Shawn Stevenson: 24:43 So we would see people come in. We’d call them tired and wired. They have a very difficult time getting out of bed in the morning ’cause cortisol is too low, and at night, they’re just up. They’re wired ’cause cortisol’s elevated in the evening. So folks in this study, by them getting more sleep, they’re going to have a tendency to get better sleep, just by the act of getting in bed and having that whole process. Cortisol is going to come down.
Shawn Stevenson: 25:08 And the issue, how is that tied to fat loss, is cortisol has this very interesting ability to break your valuable muscle tissue down when you feel stressed, because that’s the ultimate stressor, is when you’re sleep deprived to your body. It can break your muscle tissue down. It’s a process called gluconeogenesis, and turn your muscle into fuel, basically, as a survival mechanism. So you’re losing the thing that’s helping you to burn fat, whether you’re active or not.
Shawn Stevenson: 25:33 And the list goes on and on. I could talk about another 10 hormones, but that’s really how powerful it is for affecting our body composition.
Dr. Gundry: 25:41 I can see another video. Sleep yourself thin.
Shawn Stevenson: 25:44 There it is. We’re doing a series.
Dr. Gundry: 25:46 Yeah, we’re going to be … Leotards, in the bed. No, I don’t think so.
Dr. Gundry: 25:52 Yeah. In other words, I might … Are you telling me … Penny, if you’re listening, my wife … I don’t have to do the spin class at 5:30 in the morning three days a week, I could sleep through the spin class and do better?
Shawn Stevenson: 26:08 I’m not giving you the permission slip. I’m not getting involved.
Dr. Gundry: 26:11 I’m going to do my spin class.
Dr. Gundry: 26:14 Okay. You’ve got this human being. How do you get them to sleep? They’re on three medications. Just give us a little tease. What’s the first step?
Shawn Stevenson: 26:30 Sure, sure. I always, and this is for anybody who’s a coach or a physician or chiropractor, anybody who’s in the wellness space or just coaching in general … The most important thing to do is to connect and listen to the person. They’ll often tell you the cause and cure of their problem if you let them talk.
Dr. Gundry: 26:49 Absolutely true.
Shawn Stevenson: 26:50 Looking for that leverage point for people … I’ve got all of these strategies. Let me find out the thing that’s going to fit best with them. For one patient, for example, they might be … They’re exercising, they’re eating well. But they’re exercising after work. So after work, they do a 9:00 to 5:00, they’re in the gym at 6:00 to 7:00, 7:30, and they’re trying to get to bed by 10:00. This could be throwing their whole circadian rhythm upside-down. Some folks, I’m not saying to not exercise, but this might be a bad thing.
Shawn Stevenson: 27:25 Appalachian State University did a study. They tested to find out … They had folks train exclusively at 7:00 AM, then at 1:00 PM, then at 7:00 PM at different phases of the study. Compiled all of the data. Morning exercisers spend more time in the deepest, most anabolic stage of sleep. They tend to sleep longer, they have more efficient sleep cycles … This is what sleep is really about … and, which is kind of overlooked sometimes, these tests, when they were doing that phase, had a 25% greater drop in blood pressure at night as well, which is correlated with the activation of that parasympathetic rest and digest.
Shawn Stevenson: 27:57 So what I want you to do, if I was working with somebody and that’s their story, I would try to work with them to restructure their life, because a lot of times they have that story of, I can’t work out in the morning, or whatever the case might be. So, to help them to restructure things, to try … Let’s do maybe a shorter workout. Instead of you going to the gym for an hour, let’s do a 20 minute, very intelligently constructed, highly effective … And I give them the research. Do this thing for just 20 minutes in the morning, and then you’re going to get all these benefits of sleeping better at night, because you’re elevating cortisol, your core body temperature is going to be elevated for several hours afterwards. That’s one strategy, for folks to simply exercise in the morning, if at all possible. Even if they are exercising in the afternoon, still do some in the morning, because it does something that we call a cortisol reset. It gets that cortisol elevated so it can get back on a normal pattern potentially. That’s one simple tactic.
Dr. Gundry: 28:54 All right. What you’re saying … Penny, you’re right. I gotta go spin at 5:30 in the morning. You’re so brilliant, I love you, thank you very much. No, I think you’re right. One of the things that we really do try to do in my practice is get people, if they’re going to exercise, to do it in the morning.
Dr. Gundry: 29:13 Now, I see a number of people who have sleep issues, and they do have a high cortisol level. One of the things that I’ve found miraculous, and I actually told Dr. Oz this off camera, who’s a friend of mine … I said, a supplement called Relora, which is basically a magnolia bark extract and an [inaudible 00:29:37] called philodendron … is miraculous in lowering cortisol levels, and it’s known as a sleep aid. I’ve studied a thousand patients with elevated cortisol, and Relora works … I would say for 95% of them in lowering cortisol. So I told Dr. Oz that it’s a miracle, and then I said, oh, geez, I should’ve never told you that, ’cause now you’re going to be in front of Congress.
Shawn Stevenson: 30:04 Right. You’re going to be back in court.
Dr. Gundry: 30:05 Have you ever tried Relora?
Shawn Stevenson: 30:10 Oh my goodness, listen. This is really a great pivot to one of the biggest … And I love this because we talked about this together for your new book. Basically, it’s fix your gut to fix your sleep. And also, the things that are going into your body is going to have a huge impact on your sleep quality.
Shawn Stevenson: 30:26 One of the things that I talk about is eating plenty of good sleep nutrients. What does that look like? Something as simple as vitamin C. There was a study that was published in the Public Library of Science. What they found was that folks who were deficient in vitamin C had a tendency towards waking up more frequently at night, and once they fixed this deficiency, they began to sleep normally. A simple deficiency like that.
Shawn Stevenson: 30:52 You think, I’m getting plenty of vitamin C from my pasteurized orange juice. No. There are many different forms also of vitamin C, and also the bioavailability of that, and also your gut bugs. Your gut buddies, as you call them.
Dr. Gundry: 31:06 Yeah.
Shawn Stevenson: 31:07 And how it is interacting. Is this actually going to be able to get fed to your cells at the end of the day? The quality. I love not just what is a good source, but what’s the best thing, the top two to three things? For vitamin C, there’s camu camu berry.
Dr. Gundry: 31:25 Yeah.
Shawn Stevenson: 31:25 Amla berry. There’s acerola cherry. These are super … We’re talking about 50 times more vitamin C than lemons or something like that. You can look into stuff like that, or just foods that are in your local area that are growing in season as well. You’re going to find in some surprising sources as well … different teas even have good sources of vitamin C. It’s not that hard to come by, but we have to understand it’s an antioxidant, so it gets used a lot by the body. That’s one of the things.
Shawn Stevenson: 31:51 Another one is magnesium. This is huge, especially for sleep.
Dr. Gundry: 31:55 I’m glad you brought that up.
Shawn Stevenson: 31:57 Now, what we were seeing was somewhere around 70-80% of people being deficient in magnesium. The testing, to be honest, is still a little … I don’t think we’ve got it dialed in yet.
Dr. Gundry: 32:09 Correct.
Shawn Stevenson: 32:09 But seeing people addressing this and increasing their magnesium levels, amazing. Here’s why. Magnesium is responsible for about 325 biochemical processes we know about, many of them related to muscle function, brain function, sleep. One study, this was done on folks that have clinical insomnia, and they were seeing 100% of them were deficient in magnesium. Getting their levels optimized, we’re seeing about 70-80% of those folks ironically having their sleep issues subside, just from that one thing.
Shawn Stevenson: 32:47 The issue is this. Food first, very big advocate of that. Any food that’s green is going to be a good source of magnesium, but I think more than any other mineral … I said nutrient deficiency. Let me say mineral deficiency. More than any other mineral, this one gets zapped, because it’s an anti-stress mineral. It deals with a lot of stress response.
Dr. Gundry: 33:08 Absolutely true.
Shawn Stevenson: 33:09 We are in a hyper stressed environment. We just are. We’re inside of a building, smelling processed air, whatever. Today, our lifestyle is very different. We’re dealing with a lot of stress. This is why it can get zapped from your body. Eat plenty of magnesium rich foods. Supplementation, oral supplementation is good. You need to be careful because of something called bowel tolerance. If you take even a little bit more than your body can absorb at the time, it’s going to pull water to your bowels and cause what we call, clinically, disaster pants. You poop in your pants.
Dr. Gundry: 33:39 Milk of magnesia is concentrated magnesium. That’s how it works.
Shawn Stevenson: 33:43 There are so many different forms. There’s citrate, there’s even Epsom salt.
Dr. Gundry: 33:46 Epsom salts is magnesium, yeah.
Shawn Stevenson: 33:48 So I love topical. I love topical, because your body absorbs basically the amount that it can use. I feel that it doesn’t do everything that an oral magnesium or a food does, but I think it’s a great option for folks. So, fix your gut to fix your sleep.
Shawn Stevenson: 34:05 One other thing I want to share really quickly on the gut buddy front is Caltech researchers, they found, and you already know this, that there are certain microbes in our gut that communicate with cells that produce sleep-related hormones and neurotransmitters.
Dr. Gundry: 34:22 Correct.
Shawn Stevenson: 34:24 These microbes, this friendly flora, this cascade of bugs, these are gut buddies, are responsible for producing sleep-related hormones and neurotransmitters, one of them being serotonin. Serotonin is found more in your gut than anywhere else, as is melatonin.
Dr. Gundry: 34:41 Yeah.
Shawn Stevenson: 34:42 Melatonin, and this, I literally wanted to scream it from the balcony when I found this out … In school, I was taught, melatonin is produced by the pineal gland, end of story. You can actually remove the pineal gland and your levels of melatonin will stay relatively the same in your gut. You have about 400 times more melatonin in your gut than in your pineal gland, and this goes to show us … Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin. Melatonin itself is produced there, and it all has to do with this environment.
Shawn Stevenson: 35:15 We need to take care of this environment by supporting, obviously, the friendly flora, getting rid of the things that cause the bad guys to take hold of our ship, support them with prebiotics and eat plenty of good sleep nutrients.
Dr. Gundry: 35:28 Very good, very good. You talked about when you were learning about nutrition, the prevailing idea was calories in, calories out. You probably hear all the time from people saying, that’s still the truth, and how dare you question the conventional wisdom. That is the truth. What do you say to that?
Shawn Stevenson: 35:59 At this point … Even some of my friends who are fantastic physicians and healthcare practitioners are really advocating that. You’ve gotta cut the calories. What are you complaining about? It’s not understanding … Let’s just take ourselves as an example. Not just your friend who can eat the same diet as you, but not gain weight, and you even smell a donut and your butt starts jiggling extra. Leotards, program, never mind.
Shawn Stevenson: 36:29 Here’s the thing. When you were younger, maybe in your teens, you could eat the pizza and the ice cream and the shakes and the soda and all this stuff, and you really wouldn’t fall into that camp of becoming overweight and obese. But today, you do the same things, and now it’s a big problem. What happened? What changed? Same food, same person. Possibly, what’s different … What’s different is your hormone function.
Shawn Stevenson: 36:58 We have to look at, instead of a calorie-based diet, a hormone friendly based diet. How are these foods interacting with your hormones, and also your microbiome?
Dr. Gundry: 37:08 And a lot of your hormones come from your microbiome.
Shawn Stevenson: 37:11 Exactly, exactly. That’s what we really need to address, because folks could, again, be on the same diet as the next person, and one person could lose weight. One person could gain weight. The other person could stay the same. It’s not just about the quantity of the calories, it’s the quality of those calories. How are they affecting your hormones and your microbiome? That’s really the key. And sleep is very similar.
Shawn Stevenson: 37:34 I share this example of … It’s very different when you eat 300 calories of broccoli versus 300 calories of Ding Dongs, which was the chocolate covered cream. That was my-
Dr. Gundry: 37:46 I lived on those when I was a heart surgery resident to stay awake all night.
Shawn Stevenson: 37:50 I was about at least 7% Ding Dong myself.
Dr. Gundry: 37:54 My favorite.
Shawn Stevenson: 37:55 A whole half of my head. Anyway, here’s the thing. With sleep, it’s very similar, because you can get eight hours of Twinkies sleep or Ding Dong sleep when you’re really looking for that high quality broccoli sleep, as it were, because it’s the quality, not just the quantity. Quantity does matter. But the quality is going to affect you a whole lot. Same thing when it comes to food and sleep.
Dr. Gundry: 38:24 You’ve been doing this now for … Is this your sixth year of podcasts and everything?
Shawn Stevenson: 38:30 I’ve been in practice in the health space for about 17 years, somewhere around there. You start losing count after a while. Yeah, with the podcast, it’s been about … getting close to six years now.
Dr. Gundry: 38:42 How do you deal with criticism through all of this? Got any tricks?
Shawn Stevenson: 38:47 Oh, man. That’s such a great question. I just posted on Instagram the other day … @shawnmodel … the right way, the right … No, I’m just kidding. No offense. But I just posted the other day to not get drunk off of praise, and don’t get drunk off of criticism either. I think you need to bring a very balanced perspective into this, because today everybody’s really a brand. If you have a social media account, you’re a brand, in a sense. And you’re going to be judged automatically. People are constantly judging you. It’s just the nature of the beast, but it’s preventing so many people from sharing their gift, because they’re so worried about other people and their beliefs, their criticism.
Shawn Stevenson: 39:29 For me, it’s great when somebody says something beautiful about me, or about something that I’ve done. I think it’s awesome. But I let it go. I give thanks and I let it go. If any criticism comes up, I could check it out and let it go. Just don’t let it destroy who I believe I am and my mission.
Shawn Stevenson: 39:48 I gotta say this. If you don’t have any critics, then you’re probably not doing anything. So you want to press to get some critics and get some haters. But at the end of the day, I think that … And I’ve seen this evolution take place in myself … I don’t see much of that, and partly because I don’t pay it much attention. But also, I’m very inclusive in what I do. I’m not setting out to make other people wrong. I have my perspective and my experience, and that’s what I’ve been sharing here, and I also back a lot of stuff up with peer-reviewed evidence.
Dr. Gundry: 40:20 Yeah, exactly.
Shawn Stevenson: 40:21 And digging through … I’m doing the work. So we can argue about this all you want. But you’re going to … No, I’m just kidding. I just want people to understand that we can have healthy conversation. As long as stuff is done respectfully, that’s what it’s really all about. That’s going to help move us forward.
Shawn Stevenson: 40:38 And also, I’m not tied to the fact that I’m right either. And that’s a big secret. It doesn’t hurt me as much … If I have my identity invested in that and you criticize it, that’s going to sting a little bit more. But I don’t have my identity tied to any one thing. I’m very open to change, and I think that’s what the best in the field do, because everything is constantly changing.
Shawn Stevenson: 41:03 We know a fraction of the data out there about food. We barely know anything. But we’re learning, and to be open to that, I think, is a huge key.
Dr. Gundry: 41:13 Very good, very good. All right. I guess we’ve gotta wrap it up. As I’ve told you, we ask an audience question … This will be fun. You’re going to get to answer this too, okay?
Shawn Stevenson: 41:26 All right.
Dr. Gundry: 41:27 The question comes in from Sylvie. I’ve been trying the recipes from your books, but some of the suggested ingredients can cause bloating and flatulence, such as cabbage, cauliflower, asparagus, you mentioned broccoli, and almond flour. Any tips on how to deal with this?
Dr. Gundry: 41:45 You have to, number one, realize that that bloating and flatulence comes your gut buddies telling you how much they enjoy what you’re giving them. I want you to realize that in many parts of the world, farting at the dinner table is a sign of respect for the chef.
Dr. Gundry: 42:08 The other thing you’ll come to find out, which is really true, is if you’re feeding your gut buddies right, your farts don’t stink. They really don’t. So next time you’re … Just let one go and say, oh, my gut buddies are so happy. I do that all the time.
Dr. Gundry: 42:31 Shawn, any comebacks to that? How do we get past this period? The other thing … Usually after a few weeks, this all calms down. And if I can talk people, even with what they think is IBS, through this period of time where they definitely have cramps and bloating and they’re farting a lot, it really calms down.
Shawn Stevenson: 42:55 True, true.
Dr. Gundry: 42:56 Thoughts?
Shawn Stevenson: 42:56 Yeah. When you’re making changes to your diet, those microbes, your gut buddies, they have a certain food that they’re used to, and when you change things up, certain bacteria are going to feel less welcomed. Others are going to start celebrating and giving off gas, maybe. But one of the things that … When we were kids, beans, beans, good for your heart. The more you eat, the more you fart. The issue with beans … We’ve got amylopectin B, and we don’t really have the enzymes in our mouth … Amylopectin A, we can break down bread, carbs, in our mouth very quickly. But not so for beans. We’re feeding those bacteria, and it can set off a party.
Shawn Stevenson: 43:36 So, the same thing. How are you preparing them is going to affect it as well.
Dr. Gundry: 43:39 Exactly.
Shawn Stevenson: 43:39 So doing the soaking, doing the pressure cooking, eliminates so much of that. For most people, it’s gone. So it’s how you’re preparing these things could really help a lot.
Dr. Gundry: 43:50 Yeah. If I can get people to get an Instant Pot or another pressure cooker, it makes such a difference. And it makes it so easy for families who are working three jobs and the kids are going to 27 sports and violin practices, and how do you get food on the table quickly that’ll feed them properly is a big deal. A pressure cooker will kill lectins, and it will get the food on the table, good food, quickly.
Shawn Stevenson: 44:20 Absolutely.
Dr. Gundry: 44:21 All right. Listen, how can people find you? You mentioned your podcast. And it’s an amazing podcast, everybody. Social media, where can we find you besides your podcast?
Shawn Stevenson: 44:34 Awesome, yeah. The podcast is called The Model Health Show, and I’m very grateful to say it’s been the number one health podcast many, many times over these years, and it’s just such a passion project as well. It’s one of my favorite things in my reality.
Dr. Gundry: 44:49 So you don’t have to be a model to go to the-
Shawn Stevenson: 44:52 Absolutely not.
Dr. Gundry: 44:52 It’s not for models. But models could probably use it. All right.
Shawn Stevenson: 44:56 It’s one of the things that gets people in the door. They see my icon, which is … You’ll see it when you look the show up. But then they find out it’s a whole lot more. But you’re also showing people, we have the results that you’re looking for. But we cover every aspect of health. I’m very passionate about that. We talk about relationship health … I think that our relationships are the biggest influence on our health and our success in life. So we talk about that, and I have the very best folks on the planet to talk … Like John Gray, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, and we’ll have him on there. I also do masterclass episodes myself, where we’ll dive in and talk about … What are some tactics, and also reverse engineer diabetes. What does that look like? Fascinating stuff that you can apply for your own life. Every person can get something of value from each episode.
Shawn Stevenson: 45:45 Also, to help your friends and family and your community. So we’ve got a lot of folks that are in the health space that listen to the show. Definitely check that out. Again, the Model Health Show. And on social media, I’m @shawnmodel, S-H-A-W-N-M-O-D-E-L, mostly on Instagram now. I found a little bit of a love for that in the recent years. I wasn’t on social media, I was focused on the podcast for quite a while. So people can find it there and can pick up Sleep Smarter at any bookstores online, Amazon, all that good stuff, as well.
Dr. Gundry: 46:15 All right, very good. Again, pleasure to see you again.
Shawn Stevenson: 46:19 Thank you.
Dr. Gundry: 46:19 Thanks for coming on the show, and happy to have you back again, if you don’t mind.
Shawn Stevenson: 46:24 Absolutely.
Dr. Gundry: 46:24 All right. Well, that’s it for the Dr. Gundry podcast, and we’ll see you next time, because I’m Dr. Gundry, and I’m always looking out for you.
Dr. Gundry: 46:34 Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of the Dr. Gundry podcast. Check back next week for another exciting episode, and make sure to subscribe, rate, and review to stay up to date with the latest episodes. Head to drgundry.com for show notes and more information. Until next time, I’m Dr. Gundry, and I’m always looking out for you.