The Science of How the Body Heals Itself: William Li (Transcript)

Full text of renowned physician Dr. William Li’s talk titled “The Science of How the Body Heals Itself” at Sentara Healthcare conference. In this talk, Dr. Li discusses his data-driven research of how the body heals itself and the effect certain foods can have on certain diseases. Dr. Li is an international expert in health and disease-reversal.


Introduction: Dr Li is a world-renowned physician, a molecular biologist, and leading author. He’s the medical director of the Angiogenesis Foundation. His work has led to the effective prevention, novel treatment and even reversal of diseases spanning around from cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic wheeze, obesity, diabetes and retinal diseases.

Many of you have seen him featured on his TED talk: Can We Eat to Starve Cancer? which has been viewed over 11 million times. He’s again authored over 100 medical publications leading the field in this arena, and his new book Eat to Beat Disease is coming out in March of 2019.

Dr Li, thank you for joining us.

Dr. William Li – Harvard-trained medical doctor, researcher

Well, thank you. Does this sound okay? Great.

Okay, well first of all I want to thank Sentara for inviting me out to spend the day with the community and also my fellow speakers that have really done such a fantastic job, framing the opportunities for us to take charge of our own lives, by making good decisions with our diet.

And I think it’s a big testament to Sentara that they’ve taken the steps to organize this and commit the time to have this type of gathering.

And I also wanted to thank Naomi for organizing it because we should all give her a hand because she really did a fantastic job.

So I’m going to actually pick up with… from all the other speakers and try to put some a few things together, because I think after myself… after I speak, Dr. T Colin Campbell’s going to talk about nutrition and kind of sum up the whole day.

We’ve actually spent the day, the body of the day, speaking about the importance of diets in combating disease. And indeed that’s really where most of our focus naturally is, within a health system and as medical doctors is actually how do we actually conquer disease.

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I have the privilege of being able to lead an initiative in my organization called the Health Expedition to ask a related question but looking at it from the other side which is: How do we normally stay healthy? How come we actually don’t get sick more often?

So for example, if I told you that we know that cancer is caused by mutations in our DNA. But what if I told you that we now know that every single one of us here in the room has 10,000 mutations that occur every day naturally in our bodies. So why don’t we have cancer tomorrow? How come we don’t all have cancer tomorrow?

What is it about our bodies that protects us against that problem? We know that bacteria can be deadly, and we also know that we need to have good sanitation and we also know as you’ve heard the microbiome, the healthy gut bacteria is really important.

So we have 37 trillion healthy bacteria in our gut. So we are infected but we’re not sick; how come?

And what if I told you that within the last two years we’ve actually discovered two new organs in a human body. After all these years, the mesentery has now been recognized as one organ and then the interstitium which is the space between organs is also a new superhighway of information that’s also considered an organ.

And then what if I told you just about four weeks ago, we discovered a new brain cell in humans called the Rosebud neuron. This actually underscores just how much we still have yet to learn about how our bodies actually work.

And the case I’m going to make in order to truly understand how we can actually eat to beat disease and to protect our health, it’s not only about the food, it’s about how our bodies actually work and respond to the foods.

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So that’s really what I want to talk about, and I’m going to start with just sort of a little, a few statistics. The planet is getting more crowded and it’s getting older with 7.6 billion people as of this weekend and we’re supported by this thin blue line around the planet; that’s it.

And all the resources that we actually have, as you heard earlier today, the consumption of agricultural products can actually impact severely on our planet. We have a responsibility as a group, as a community to really help preserve our planet. And in preserving our planet, what’s good for the planet is also good for our bodies as you’ve actually heard before.

So at the World Health Organization and at the United Nations, there is a recognition that one of the things that unites us is really disease, because there are these non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular disease that you heard of and cancer and diabetes and obesity, that this is sort of unfortunately one of the great unions that links people together is that we share these diseases and certainly cardiovascular disease as we’ve heard so much about in the last few talks is really a major burden for us and therefore something we need to get on top of.

Cancer is also another cause of death. I’m sure, I don’t need to see a show of hands but I know every single one of us in this room has been touched by cancer either directly or with somebody who we know, could be a family member, could be a neighbor, it could be a child but some or co-workers somebody we know.

And if you take a look by the year 2030, the number of people that will die of cancer every year: 13 million, that’s like wiping out the entire country of Sweden, the entire country of Belgium, and about half of Australia in a single year with cancer. So we need to really be able to think about whether or not there are ways of getting on top of that.

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You all know that there are… on television these commercials to do genetic screening and of course there’s also genetic screening for cancer. And there are some cancers that in fact are able to be detected with genomic screening, only about 10% or less actually most of it of cancer is due to the environment.

And so the interesting thing is of the environmental causes, about a third are linked to our diet. As you heard earlier, bad dietary habits do cause disease. But I want to actually give you another way about thinking about our diet which is that what about the good parts of the diet? Are there ways that we can actually invert the negative model to make it to turn our focus… turn our attention to the things that are actually good in our diet as we’ve heard about that can actually fight not only cancer but heart disease and other diseases as well.

So I would say that this is where science comes into play. We didn’t have 50 years ago the ability to look at the body, to look at our food in ways that we now actually have. We’ve got many more technologies much more knowledge and so this is allowing us to actually be at this turning point where we can cut and really get to the future by taking another path altogether.

The reason that you are all here in this room as well as my fellow speakers is that we fundamentally believe that there is a better future ahead and that better future is one that we actually play a role in making the decisions.

So food, of course, is one of the things that we think about when it comes to disease prevention. You don’t have to go very far to find a farmers market or if you’re traveling abroad going to a local town or village market to find an abundance of food that’s out there.

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