From a conversation recorded in Jan 2016 by Hilda Labrada Gore, for the Wise Traditions Podcast. Philip Weeks is one of the leading natural health experts in the UK and gives practical ideas on how to make yourself better. A naturopath, herbalist, and acupuncturist, he has traveled the world and has been trained in a myriad of healing traditions. He discusses the importance of our individual constitution, the environment, the food we eat, and movement. Philip communicates clearly fundamental steps we can take to improve our well-being. He is a master herbalist, registered acupuncturist, and naturopath. He has studied a variety of approaches to wellness all around the world and he has a real knack for communicating important health concepts in terms that are both easy to understand and easy to apply to our lives.
Essentially, I suppose what I’ve learned over the years doing natural medicine is that, fundamentally, the body knows what it needs to do to get well. But for that to happen, we need to do basic things: We need to eat the right kind of food, we need to get rid of the right kind of toxins out of our body, we need to live a certain lifestyle. My whole aim with what I do is to help patients to empower themselves fundamentally with their lifestyle and changes in order to optimize the body’s ability to repair itself.
The first factor I discuss in my book entitled Make Yourself Better is a bad constitution because everybody’s different. We all know people can eat what they like, drink what they like, smoke what they like and they’re really well. Other people, they have to eat pure food, have a perfect lifestyle, and even then, they’re only just okay. So fundamentally in natural medicine is understanding that we’re all different. I know that’s obvious, but in Western medicine that isn’t necessarily seen as something that’s obvious. The first step to recovery or being at our optimum health is fundamentally knowing that we’re different and the different constitutional types and different medical systems around the world, the different ways of understanding biotypes, different body frames, different outlook in life, different ways that our bodies process different nutrients. Of course, some of the most interesting advances recently are on testing on genetics, testing genetic snips, how our genetics change according to our environment, whether genes turn on or off. We understand that our genes aren’t our destiny but they’re very important for understanding what we need to be well. So that’s the first step, is understanding ourself more, what’s our constitutional health, and then our lifestyle should be aligned with our body type. There’s obviously fundamental principles, there’s fundamental truths around lifestyle, but still we are all different. I suppose that’s the first area that I discuss with patients is that you can’t compare yourself with somebody else. We all have different gifts but they’re not all the same. I know a patient of mine and she’s probably in her mid-70s now and she’s incredible. She only needs five hours of sleep at night, she’s up in the morning, she does loads of things, she has loads of energy and there’s other people who are not like that. Everybody goes, “I wish I was like her.” You’re not going to be like her; you’re just going to be yourself. So it’s understanding your own body, the way that you work, and then making the best out of that. But as soon as we start comparing ourselves with other people and thinking we should be more like that, it’s really a road to disease in many ways.
Health is so many different factors; it’s not just our food and our lifestyle, it’s also our beliefs and our emotions and our connections with people in the world and community and all these different things. All of these factors are very important for our well-being. Our emotional well-being and our mental well-being isn’t separate than our physical being. I test patient’s cortisol levels, for example, to see the levels of stress and how well their adrenal glands are functioning and emotional stress affects the body biochemically in the blood in the same way that physiological stress; the brain doesn’t really recognize the difference. We are a very complex blend of our emotions, our spiritual well-being, our physical well-being, all of these things come together. One of the most amazing things I wonder about is I never wonder why people are ill; I only ever wonder why people are still well. With our environment, with our food, with all the challenges that we have, it’s incredible how well people are considering all those things.
Then it’s nourishment. What are we supposed to eat? I’m still finishing my Master’s degree in nutrition and I’ve done all kinds of different training throughout my working life, but it’s a confusing question, isn’t it? It’s why people are here. We could be talking all day to so many different experts around the world about what should we eat and we get different kinds of answers. It’s a conundrum, but it’s also very complex but it’s also very simple. The simple thing is we need to eat food. It sounds obvious, but that’s not what’s happening anymore. What is added and is classified as food isn’t really food – the additives, the chemicals, the kinds of preservatives added. We really should only be eating food that we can make at home, food that our grandmother and our grandfather would have understood as food. But if you go home and somebody says, “Can you go home and make some margarine?” You’re going to be like, “I need this, I need this chemical.” It’s not possible. Fundamentally, we have to begin to start eating food. Is it something we can make at home? Can we make textured soya protein at home? No you can’t. So why should we be eating it? Without getting too complicated, the fundamental thing is we need to be eating simple foods, stuff we can make at home and stuff we can prepare ourselves and that’s the first level. Then we can go into more detail about what kinds of fat should we be eating. Of course, we’re at the Weston Price conference and there’s a lot of debate about what kind of fat we should be eating, but again, if you look at traditional cultures and the kinds of foods they eat, they’re eating some saturated fat for sure, they’re eating a variety of fats. Many of the patients I see have become ill as a result of our low-fat fruit recommendations through the years.
There’s lots of reasons why medical marketing continues to push the low-fat recommendation. The initial studies, years ago, about how cholesterol is caused by saturated fat, if you think the number one cause of death in the West is heart disease and there is a correlation, people who have heart disease tend to have furling of the arteries, hardening of the arteries, higher cholesterol, so therefore, heart disease is associated with high cholesterol. Then they analyze food, some food has cholesterol in it, it has saturated fat, therefore, saturated fat causes heart disease. So that’s where it began and that myth is continuing. It is much more complicated than that.
It’s a complex situation. However, a high saturated fat diet doesn’t necessarily result in high cholesterol in the blood. In fact, some people are thinking that cholesterol is more related to inflammation, that if you have an inflammation in the body, the body will be producing its own cholesterol in order to have an anti-inflammatory effect; fat in itself is anti-inflammatory. However, fat on our bodies, central adipose tissue, that’s the fat around our belly, that is inflammatory and we know that a high carbohydrate diet can increase triglycerides and cholesterol. It’s also the blend of cholesterol in the body. There’s also something called oxidized cholesterol. So people can have a low overall cholesterol count, but if the cholesterol is oxidized, that’s more dangerous than even having a high cholesterol in your bloodstream and low oxidation. It’s much more complicated than fat equals heart disease. We know that’s no longer the case.
There still is a myth that you need to have low-fat foods. Have a yogurt, but make sure it’s low-fat or have milk. How much percentage fat is in milk anyway? You’re talking 4%. What’s going on in a sense? I think that the high carbohydrate diet… Sugar is much more of an enemy to us than fat. Obviously, there’s different kinds of fat. There’s one thing about having healthy saturated fat, but recently in the last couple of weeks, there’s been studies showing that heating up vegetable oil creates oxidation in the body which can be carcinogenic, so vegetable oils, in some sense, cause more problems than saturated fats.
It sounds awesome. It’s vegetables, right? What can be wrong with vegetables? But it’s how they process these vegetables. Essentially, I recommend butter, I recommend saturated fat, I use a lot of ghee in my clinic, I recommend people have that. There’s obviously levels to it. The colder the climate, the more saturated fat we need. So depending on the climate somebody is living in, Inuits are eating a diet that is incredibly high in fat, some areas 70% in fat, almost like a ketogenic diet. That’s not going to be helpful in California. It’s hot; we don’t need that much saturated fat compared to what they need. The genius of Weston Price when he traveled around the world looking at all these different cultures, and of course other medical anthropologist as well going to different tribes, what is it that these people are doing? It’s all according to place, time, and circumstance, so it’s everything individualized in that. There are some basic things: We need to eat food, we do need to have saturated fat, we shouldn’t be eating refined carbohydrates, but it’s all according to where we’re living as well.
It’s all connected because I suppose what happens is that the societies that we’re living in disconnect us from our environment. If you ask children where certain foods come from, they don’t know where they’re from so there’s a disconnect between food that’s growing and then coming onto our plate and how that occurs. But we don’t live in a bubble; we live according to our environment. I was in Shanghai a couple of weeks ago. I go to different places in the world, I collect remedies and I was in China. Being in Shanghai, it’s so shocking the amount of pollution. The amount of pollution there and you can see what happens when a society disconnects from their environment to economic and social policy and health policy; there’s no connection anymore. Of course, in ancient China there was. We can’t live in a healthy way without being aware of our environment and of course, it’s all connected.
In a sense, processed, refined foods that are commercially available are designed not to be consumed. They’re not designed to be consumed by bacteria, they’re not designed to be consumed by fungus, they’re not designed to be consumed by organic life and we’re eating them. They’re not anything that we can recognize. The ingredients in them aren’t food, so it’s going back to the basic principles of what we can make at home and then we can drill down into more detail. Because if you think about what’s happening is there’s this huge issue with gluten. Gluten used to be a food that many people would have and it would be okay, but I’m seeing, like many clinicians, an increase in not just celiac disease, but non-celiac gluten intolerance. We’re getting to a point where many people don’t do well if they consume gluten – it becomes inflammatory, it aggravates neurological tissues, so anyone with an autoimmune disease, anyone with a neurological disease fundamentally needs to avoid gluten. It’s getting complicated about what we should be eating.
The next step is around detoxification. Our grandparents would have lived in a planet that was organic. It was organic and now we are no longer on that planet anymore; we’re on a planet where we are full of all kinds of different chemicals and toxins. I do different kinds of blood tests, we even do fat biopsies and send them to the lab and test them and we find all kinds of things. I’ve never come across a patient who doesn’t have some kind of environmental poisoning; maybe very low-level, but everyone has something. But the most common things are plastics, phthalates, things like bisphenol A, which is a xenoestrogen, that they add into plastic to make the bottles harder, that affects our hormonal systems. I find heavy metals, I find you name it.
There used to be a time where the kind of diseases our grandparents would get, like type II diabetes, people who were elderly where their bodies were wearing out, the kinds of diseases they would have. Those diseases are no longer affecting our grandparents; those diseases are affecting our children now. Type II diabetes would be something that would happen to somebody in their 70s, maybe their 60s, 50s if they’re unlucky, and now you’ve got kids who are 15 who are developing type II diabetes, 10 who develop type II diabetes. There are children who’ve got heart disease in America at seven years old. Diseases all affect people because of aging. We’re aging earlier. The reason we’re aging earlier is because we’ve got oxidative stress because of our environmental pressures and toxins. The body is wearing out at a young age.
I have a practice in the countryside as well in England and I treat quite a lot of farmers who are now exposed to all kinds of chemicals, organophosphates and are getting problems as a result of that. When I do blood work on them, I find all kinds of pesticides, insecticides I now need to clean out. Of course, there’s something about doing hard labor if you’re sweating, working in the sun.
I don’t think there’s any safe haven. It’s not being paranoid; I go through periods of time of despair. I’m testing these things and I’m going, “My goodness, what do I do with this individual?” However, the body will detoxify itself but we need to encourage it and we need to give it opportunity. There’s lots of ways we can encourage the body to detoxify, that’s taking certain kinds of foods, I’m a real advocate of intermittent fasting where you spend certain days of the week where you reduce the amount of food you eat to change the way your body is working. We do liver flashing using herbs and cleansers and all kinds of things to try and get rid of these toxins. There are ways, but you have to be conscious of it and be doing it ever so often. The right medical marketing would tell us about it.
There’s this idea of neuroplasticity. You have to have routine in some ways, but you have to have variety as well. If you’re walking home from work, choose a different route every day, try and encourage neuroplasticity. We know if we do that, that can help with people with pain, for example. Changing your routine, doing intermittent fasting, changing the way that you live, in some ways, is very helpful. There used to be a time when people didn’t have to worry about detoxification. I think everyone has to worry about that now; everybody has to do something every so often. Even in ancient times, ancient cultures all had something. They did either fasting as part of a religion, as part of a spiritual thing. This is part of every culture in the world so it’s not new.
I’m not selling you anything, that’s for sure. I think the issue is that there was a time when the body only was exposed and processing toxins that it was used to. We have toxins that come from inside our body, urea and ammonia and CO2 and all kinds of things that are normal waste products; these are called metabolic waste products that are a natural part of what a human body produces. But now we are exposed to chemicals that in our history of the world we’ve never been exposed to. In the last hundred years, we were exposed to some 80,000 chemicals, some of them we’ve never been exposed to in the history of mankind. In millions of years, we’ve never been exposed to so we haven’t evolved or adapted to be able to cope with those things over a slow period of time, so why would the body be able to do that stuff? It doesn’t.
Body Needs Help
Our body needs help. It’s not about buying health products and buying more supplements; I’m really not into that. Fundamentally, a lot of what we can do is through food, a lot of that we can do with sweating. I’m a real fan of using saunas or using exercise to get people to sweat. We know that works, we know that’s one way of reducing the toxic load in the body. If we have excess weight, we need to lose that excess weight; that needs to happen. Specifically, weight around our belly, the central adipose tissue, that is where our body stores a lot of these fat soluble toxins so we often need to lose weight in order to get rid of some of those toxic metals and toxic chemicals that are stored in our fat cells.
What we’re seeing is that we’ve replaced acute disease – we’re good with acute disease. Western medicine is fantastic if you have a car accident, there’s microsurgery, there’s incredible things, incredible advancements that have occurred in modern medicine, but most of the health burden that happens now isn’t with acute disease; it’s with chronic disease. With acute disease, the whole design of it is that: do you have malaria or not? Do you have an infection or not? Is this working or not? That’s all very well because there’s a drug for this and there’s a drug for that. With chronic disease, patients rarely have one isolated symptom. They’ll have maybe eczema and psoriasis and headaches and migraines and irritable bowel and asthma. What’s happening in Western medicine, they’re giving a drug for every single symptom. So rather than prescribing a drug for every single symptom, why don’t we look at fundamentally what’s occurring? It might be that all of those symptoms are related to a single event that’s going on in the body. It might be a nutritional deficiency, in might be an issue with the gut, it might an issue around lack of detoxification. We can no longer prescribe medication for every single symptom an individual has because with chronic disease, as they’re getting more complicated, you’d be on so many different drugs – which many people are. To simplify that, we need to find how do we promote the body’s natural ability to repair itself? It could be said that almost all chronic disease is a disease of inflammation, whether that’s Alzheimer’s or dementia or whether it’s cancer or inflammatory bowel disease; it’s all related to inflammation.
Often it’s oxidative stress. The body is struggling with the amount of free radicals its dealing with, whether that’s oxidative stress because of environmental toxins. Because simply we don’t have the right fuel, people are eating high amounts of sugar. We know that high sugar intake increases the amount of insulin and high insulin can affect the immune system. There’s something called TH1 and TH2 balance, which is part of the immune function. When that goes out of balance, the body can’t resolve it’s inflammation anymore and that creates all kinds of different conditions. It all comes back to the same stuff again and again.
Activation and Movement
Then I talk about activation and movement. What do we need to do for us to be physically well? We need to move. There can be debate about
what kind of exercise is best, is at high intensity? Is it yoga? Fundamentally, we all just need to move. There’s lots of studies showing the ill effects of sitting down all day, it’s a real problem that people aren’t moving enough. But good studies have been shown that simply by walking for 30 minutes three times a week has huge health benefits. I think people need to stretch and I’ve seen, in ancient cultures, they do that all in the morning. Exercise really should be done in the morning and there are good, sound reasons for that. That’s when our peak cortisol is; we shouldn’t have a peak of cortisol in the evening. We want to be exercising in the morning. I stayed in China for a month at one point and stayed in a Shaolin monastery and stayed with the monks and did all the training with them and you get up early. You’re getting up early, you’re doing quite hard physical training, and then you do your meditation, then you have breakfast and the day begins. Same in India, I saw that in Malaya where yoga is all in the morning and then you get on with your day. We just need to move. You cannot get well if you’re not moving.
All these cultures they have movement, but they don’t have exercise. You never find them do exercise. You never go to a tribe and they’re like, in the morning they’ll need to go for a run. Living is exercise whether that’s growing things, whether that’s creating things, whether that’s whatever it may be. Dancing is fundamentally one of the best forms of exercises than any of us can do.
Fundamentally, all these steps become the wheel of health essentially. They become the wheel and the next thing I talk about is reserves, the importance of routine. Routine is really important. We talked about neuroplasticity and change.
Breaking out of the routine but at the same time, you also need a routine. This came to me really when I was talking to some of my older patients who had lived through the war. We talk about being stressed now, people had a lot of stress then – you had bombs raining down in London so that was stress. What did they do? They had routine. I really believe on eating on time. When you are eating, you should eat on time. You breakfast at the same time every day, lunch at the same time every day, evening meal, go to bed at the same time every day; that should be routine and within that structure, there should be lots of variety.
Routine stops our adrenals from getting burnt out. It stops us using up our reserves because our whole body works on cycles. Obviously for women it’s much more obvious with the monthly cycle, but for us, the circadian rhythms, the time we go to bed, the time we go to sleep. The whole body works on rhythm so we have to work within the rhythms of our body. We can’t work completely erratic lifestyles and be healthy; it’s not going to happen. We need variety, but we also need stability and we need a structure. One of the most important principles is getting enough sleep. It is difficult to get enough sleep; we need a minimum of six hours, some people need eight hours. One of the things I bang on and on about in my clinic is about sleep hygiene, the importance of not having any light in the room at night when you’re sleeping. I came across a study, I talked about it on one of my lectures, about the profoundly blind women have half the rate of breast cancer than women who have vision. Half the rate! They think it’s to do with melatonin. Melatonin is essential for immune repair and for preventing all kinds of chronic diseases like cancer. The way we get our melatonin, the peak melatonin, is at night and we need to be sleeping in absolutely pitch black room. No little lights going on in the background, no clocks, we shouldn’t have a TV anyway I don’t think, never mind in the bedroom. The room we’re sleep in should be pitch black in order for us to get enough melatonin. But if we’re using bright screens at night, it takes between one and three hours for the melatonin levels to become normalized. You can fall asleep, but you’re not having proper sleep.
Emotions and Spirituality
The last thing is mind, emotions, and spirituality and connection. How do we connect with the greater world? How do we connect with that that is greater than us? How do we connect with communities? We know that one of the biggest killers to increase the odds of death and there’s all kinds of health risks, we know that obesity increases with the likelihood of an early death by 20%, we know that poor air quality by 5%, we know that smoking and all of these things, but the biggest risk, almost 40%, is loneliness, isolation. That is the biggest health risk that any of us can actually face. We can bang on about food and nutrition and lifestyle and they’re all important, but it’s connection that keeps us well. There’s all ways of making is connected – social media is great on one level but also can make us more isolated. It’s how do we do with our emotional world, our connection with other people in our lives, and also about how we deal with all of our difficult emotions. It’s difficult being human. We’ve got a right and a left brain, we can’t outthink a lot of our problems; we have to feel them. We have to feel grief and anger and irritation and sadness because if we don’t feel those emotions, how are we going to feel joy and connection all of these other things?
It’s the beach ball effect. You push it under the water and, eventually, it will come back out again. We need to be able to feel our emotions and we shouldn’t be feeling happy all the time; it doesn’t happen. If you look at our expectations of how we’re supposed to feel, we can see that with how many drugs are prescribed, especially in America with serotonin, reuptake inhibitors, things like seroxat an antidepression medication. If we think that one in nine people, I read some statistics, are on antidepressants in America, is that possible? One in nine.
We’re given unrealistic expectations that we buy into because the whole society buys into it and we need more help about creating communities in connection and all of that; that’s really where we need help. But also as well is that there are certain things that need to happen for us to file away trauma. We all have traumatic things that happen to us, but some people find it more difficult to move on from those trauma than other people and there’s lots of studies of why that is and it’s a complicated subject. It’s one theory that REM sleep is very important for filing away, as a metaphor, filing away trauma. We’ve got these virtual filing cabinets in our brain and we file things away, “That’s happened and it was awful and it was terrible and now I’m okay about it, but I’m going to put it away over here,” there’s this analogy and that really only happens in REM sleep. Studies were done on soldiers from the Vietnam war who were still having flashbacks. Those who kept having flashbacks tended to have poor REM sleep. The question is how do we encourage REM sleep? They tried medication, they tried all kinds of things, but one of the most effective things are things that are actually free – dancing can improve REM sleep and help with trauma, looking at fire, just sitting around the fire can actually stimulate REM sleep. If you think about tribes, they dance around fires, that have the community events when they’ve had war and famine and children have died, so it’s interesting that maybe there’s a tension between what we’ve done in our ancestry and what we can do now to help us cope with the world which essentially doesn’t work well.