Sample Interview Questions

... with brief answers.

How did you get involved in healing work? What attracted you to it in the first place?

I grew up in a family that thought sugar was harmless. By eight I had a heavy addiction. By my teen years I was deeply depressed. Eventually I met an orthomolecular doc who took me off all carbs and I started to climb out of my darkness. Read the full story here.

You tell us modern food is different than ancient food and that this is the cause of a lot of chronic disease, including anxiety and depression. What do you mean?

There's at least eight different ways food has changed over the last twelve thousand years. B vitamins break down in heat and wash out in water so cooking drains them, minerals are mined when we farm in the same soil season after season, omega-3 and omega-6 balances were skewed when we moved from grass-fed to grain-fed beef. And there's more.

Cordain and Eaton published the definitive study on this issue a few years back; the full text is online and free.

All these changes are pro-inflammatory. And all the diseases of aging are inflammatory diseases. Inflammation is what happens when the body slowly "rusts." Think of the difference between a teenager and a 90-year old walking down the street. That's the accumulated effects of inflammation; that's the body rusting right there in front of you.

There's been a lot of news lately about the dangers of vitamin E and other nutrients. Yet you think supplements are safe. Why?

Studies that show increased risk of disease from nutrients naturally found in the body typically make one of several errors:

  • They manipulate single nutrients, without attention to necessary co-factors,
  • They use artificially-produced analogues of the naturally occuring molecules; analogues which are not identical but which the uninitiated confuse with the biologically-useful vitamin. This is the issue with the vitamin E studies.
  • They otherwise source their nutrients or botanicals poorly. There's lots of ways to get this wrong.
  • They use incorrect dosages, or regimes that might help recent onset cases to address chronic cases.

Getting nutritional interventions right is a high art. There's no shortage of ways to get it wrong.

As I used to tell the docs in one clinic where I worked who had the same concerns, "Give a bunch of the best instruments and a Bach score to an orchestra of medical researchers ... don't expect a symphony!"

There's a world of difference between medications, which are substances not naturally found in the body, and nutritional supplements, which are substances that do belong there. Feeding the body a rich mix of the things it wants to do what it's already trying to do is a lot safer, generally, than overpowering natural control systems the way many medications do.

Of course there are pitfalls to anything powerful. That's why it's good to have a guide, and do one's homework.

Doctors tell us we can get everything we need from our food if we eat a balanced diet. You don't. Why?

Cordain & Eaton, 2005.

Also, my own experience. I helped start an early health food store back in the mid-seventies. I can feel in my own body what happens when I take my micronutrients. I've also had many, many patients report the same results.

How can food trigger chronic pain?

If our digestive systems weaken to a point where we're not breaking down the proteins we eat into their amino acid building blocks, the protein fragments that remain can be absorbed into the bloodstream. There, immune cells detect the foreign protein fragments and say, "HEY! These aren't OUR proteins!"

Those immune cells then stick little molecular flags on the protein fragments. Other immune cells swarm to those flags and bathe the offending fragments in an acid bath of free radicals. When this happens enough in one place we call it inflammation.

Inflammation in the gut weakens the gut walls and allows even more protein fragments through. The process builds on itself in a vicious cycle. All this inflammation creates pro-inflammatory molecules which have access to the rest of the body within seconds through the bloodstream.

And that inflammation can cause chronic, otherwise untreatable pain. I spent three years in a pain clinic treating otherwise untreatable pain with acupuncture, which acts as an anti-inflammatory. But it was attention to nutrition that made the difference there between success and failure every time.

How can food trigger anxiety and depression?

Much the same process as I just described in relationship to pain. When inflammation attacks the central nervous system it interferes with the mechanisms nerve cells use to talk to each other. We experience this as muddy thinking; that muddied thinking can cause us to act inappropriately at times. That inappropriate behavior screws up our lives, and folks with screwed-up lives suffer a lot of anxiety and depression.

I know. I used to be one of them.

But there's more than food allergies involved here. Mineral deficiencies can be involved. Magnesium, for example, is essential for the relaxation of muscles and nerves. It's mined from the soil by harvesting crops generation after generation. Studies show most moderns living on 60-70% of the minimum amount of magnesium our bodies need. And our need for magnesium goes up as we're stressed.

Refined carbs send people's blood sugar into wild, unnatural swings; this can be experienced as panic attacks. There's lot's more like this ...

You say, "being healthy isn't about being a saint, it's about being informed." What do you mean?

We live in modern times. Many of the dietary patterns that attack our health are the result of indulging tastes that evolved to motivate us to seek out hard-to-obtain nutrients (salt comes to mind.) We've become addicted to things that were formerly rare and expensive, but are now cheap (sugar comes to mind.)

It's not healthy to isolate ourselves from the rest of society using highly-restrictive diets as an excuse. It's also unproductive for most of us to attempt to give up always-and-forever some of our favorite foods and personal habits.

So I suggest we learn instead to understand and feel the effects of our eating and other health habits on our bodies. Armed with daily feedback on the effects of our health choices, I've learned it becomes relatively easy for most people to turn their bad health habits into occasional special treats. And I'm ok with that, as long as they stay rare delicacies and don't become everyday staples again.

Why are you so anti-medication?

Actually, I'm not. Medication and modern, conventional medicine save lives every day. I've worked alongside some of the best doctors around. I've seen it.

The problem comes when the folks who practice one type of medicine delude themselves into thinking that their approach is intrinsically better than everyone else's. And that's unfortunately true of some on both sides of the conventional medicine / alternative medicine divide.

So no, I'm not anti-medication. I'm anti-hubris.

In your book you talk about the Teaching of One's Disease. What are you talking about? Are you saying it's our fault when we get sick?

Some understand disease as an accident, an act-of-God. To this way of looking at the world, the idea that disease could have a teaching seems blasphemous; kind of like blaming someone for their sickness. That's not the right sense of this.

To see disease as a teacher is to come to an understanding that as much as highly-degreed professionals can do for us, it's often nothing when compared to what we can do for ourselves. This is especially the case with chronic disease, which is by definition disease that's not responding to conventional approaches.

There's a lot of tools in the medical toolkit that aren't used by conventional medicine, largely because they just don't fit into its way of understanding the body and what goes wrong there. A lot of these methods are cheap ... old wives tales.

Except the old wives often knew what they were doing. Conventional medicine, as it's practiced today, is less than 100 years old. The old wives have been at it for hundreds of thousands of years ...