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.

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.

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.

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.

And obviously if you go to health conferences like this, people are talking about their favorite foods. I think we all agree here there’s no such thing as a true superfood. There’s no magic bullet that actually is going to solve all of our problems as much as we would like there to be.

And so how do we actually reconcile our desire to find the magic answer with all the science that’s emerging and how do we then translate that into our everyday lives? And that’s really what I want to actually share with you.

The first thing you should know is that we are way beyond just listing our favorite foods and saying that they are actually the treatments for disease. As you’ve seen earlier there are lists of different foods that we now know and we’re beginning to dive in to say what is inside that food, what are the natural substances whether it’s fiber, whether it’s a vitamin, whether it’s an oil, whether it’s another bioactive.

List of bioactives

So you can see here on the list of foods on the far left-hand column a list of bio-actives. So we’re still discovering what the natural chemicals are in these foods.

We are also beginning to use epidemiological studies, which is studies of the community to find out what the outcomes of eating these foods are and when you actually then look at the data, you can begin asking what are the doses that have been calculated and to be associated with an outcome? This is not cause and effect; this is associations that allow us to ask other questions and have some ideas of where to go further.

And I think Dr. Campbell is going to talk about that further, but the outcomes can be quite amazing. If you look on the far right-hand side of this table, you can see that there’s decrease of some of the cancers that we care about: prostate cancer; breast cancer; kidney cancer; decrease in diabetes, even decrease in all-cause mortality. These are the types of studies that you can actually integrate into our collective knowledge base about food.

My organization has been also asking some really interesting questions. In other words, can we go from our knowledge or tools that we use to look at pharmaceuticals and actually compare plants and foods to them? So we call this from Pharma to farm. And this is just a simple graph showing on the top black column the effect on blood vessels, healthy blood vessels that drugs which are seen in yellow and in blue actually have in a test. It doesn’t really matter what the exact test is, you can just take it for granted that I’m telling you that these are the different effects of different drugs whether it’s an antibiotic, whether it’s a statin, whether it’s a steroid, whether it’s a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent.

And then what’s really interesting is that we can take the same tools that pharmaceutical companies use as seen here and begin testing foods side by side. And not surprisingly you’re seeing that some of the effects in these types of laboratory assays show you that the natural chemicals within foods can actually have go head-to-head against some of the drugs. This is not actually in patients; this is actually taking a look at the natural power of what Mother Nature has loaded into the foods.

And of course many pharmaceutical products actually originally came from natural sources. And so when you hear about this concept of food as medicine, I want you to just remember that it’s possible to use the tools of medicine to actually begin looking at food. That’s really one of the areas that I think is going to explode into the future that we should be paying attention to.

Now I mentioned to you it’s not just about the food. I mean it is about the food but it’s really more about our bodies and how our body reacts to food and everybody is a little bit different. This is a whole area of precision medicine. As you know we’re beginning to get away from thinking about cancer just as the organ that it’s actually in but we’re beginning to look way down deep into the genomics, the DNA, the RNA, the protein to kind of understand to really kind of get into a peel apart the mysteries of the body.

And that’s really where my background is. I started in vascular biology. I worked in in oncology, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and it’s complications of vision. I’ve been involved with helping to bring about 32 FDA-approved medicines that have helped to shift the way that cancers are treated, that vision loss is treated, and also that diabetic wounds are healed.

I think earlier somebody was saying they’re the big fan of their toe. I know all about that; it’s about how the body heals itself.

But think about how the body does heal itself. And I want to challenge you to think about health in a completely different way.

Normally if somebody asks you what is health, you would say naturally that health is the absence of disease. I’m not sick, so therefore I’m healthy. And maybe that’s one way to look at it.

But I’d like to actually challenge you by saying that nope, actually health is not the absence of something; health is a presence of defense systems that our bodies are hardwired with from the time we’re born to the last breath we take. And these defense systems are firing on all cylinders at all times, when we’re awake, when we’re asleep, defending us against the bacteria that’s in the air. Those mutations that are happening in our body, the toxins that we inhale, the off-gassing chemicals that are in our homes and our carpets in our cars.

You know how many of you actually fill up a tank… fill up your car at the filling station and are you standing upstream or downstream. If you’re standing downstream you are breathing in those fumes and your body has to defend itself; your lungs have to defend themselves against those insults.

And so if you think about your body as a fortress, how do we think about our defenses? And from those defenses, what kind of clues can we get on how to use diet or to understand the role of diet?

So you know a fortress many of you will recognize castles… castles are really fortresses, not just where you know royalty live. This is in England; it’s in the town called Irondale. I’ve actually been there myself and it looks beautiful.

But if you actually take a look at how fortresses are designed for defense, it’s really amazing. In addition to the moat, which is the part that goes there on the outside many of you may not know that the tailless is actually that curved on the wall that people from the top used to drop boulders that would shatter in the bottom and send shrapnel to repel the enemy.

And the spiral staircase always goes up in a counterclockwise fashion and that’s because when you’re defending from the top if you’re right-handed you can strike down and if you’re rushing from the bottom of the stairs they’re trying to swing up right-handed you’re at a disadvantage; that’s a defense.

And I did not know this myself but most castles have something called a murder hole which is right at the entrance. When people invade the castle, there’s a giant hole right on top of the doorway that people can drop oil and rocks to try to you know repel the enemy.

And so again castles are these amazing structures that were part of the community but they were designed to defend them; they were designed for defense.

And so I want you to think about what we know about our body’s defense systems, we are hardwired with… and I’m just going to show you five of them, because these are the five that I’m working on right now… and these five are angiogenesis which is our blood supply that brings oxygen and nutrients to every part of our body, every cell; our stem cells which actually help us regenerate; our microbiome which we have heard about already, or bacteria; our ability for our DNA to protect itself; and our immune system.

And the amazing thing about these defense systems is they are standalone. Each one defends us against a number of diseases. I’m going to show them to you. But these are common denominator defense systems and they support each other. You know if you take a look at Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, these are like these troops that are only these divisions that actually all work together to defend the body.

Now I do want to come back to food; we’re going to talk about food obviously. And so when you see an apple growing on a tree what you might not be thinking about is how over evolution mother nature evolved those plants, the fruits, things that we eat, to be packed with natural chemicals that actually protect the plant.

So what are those protecting… their natural bioactive chemicals and they often repel insects to prevent the insects from eating up the plant to destroying it. They are often colorful pigments that attract bees so that you can actually get pollination. This is sexual defense… you know for reproduction.

So often the bioactives in foods that work in our bodies actually were originally evolved in the plants that we eat. We’re talking about whole food plant-based diets. They had a function original plant. When we evolved as humans and picked those plants up and started to eat them, these natural chemicals suddenly had a new job. That new job is interacting with our human cells to do something new and that’s what we’re discovering and that’s where the new science of how foods interact with our body has actually started.

All right, let me just give you a few examples of what we’re learning to give you, inspire you to think about the foods that you are eating and actually the data you saw earlier in slightly different ways.

Angiogenesis: this is a Greek word that’s about the growth… how the body grows blood vessels, it’s about the circulation. If we have good circulation, we are able to operate fine. If we have poor circulation as you heard Dr. Esselstyn talk about, you have compromised blood flow, you can’t walk very far, you got a problem or in the heart, you got a block at your heart, actually is starved of oxygen.

On the other hand, if you blood vessels can be hijacked to have really deadly consequences. These are normal blood vessels under the microscope, you can see they all look different; the liver they look like river… tributaries for a river. In the lung they are vessels pressed against air sacs. In the heart they’re really richly supplying the heart muscle and along nerves blood vessels are like telephone lines of course along nerves to keep the nerves alive, that’s a special circulation that nerves actually have.

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Now what’s interesting is how the body keeps this natural balance. You don’t want to have too many; you don’t want to have too few. You want to have just the right amount and so the body is able to grow more blood vessels when it needs better blood flow or after working out exercise. There’s a fitness stand back there somebody or a trainer, you want to work out you’re going to build some muscle, you’re going to actually need more blood vessels, the body can do that.

And after it grows the blood vessels, if there’s a lawnmower kind of that mows back the lawn, prunes the blood vessels back to where you need to be, back for balance.

We don’t have enough blood vessels like after surgery or after injury you need to grow new vessels back. Well the body can do that too. We can actually grow more blood vessels to fill up that space and that’s actually what you see under a scab when after you cut yourself, it’s that red stuff.

If you can’t grow blood vessels or prune them back, that’s when diseases start. When this defense system is compromised, you wind up having diseases. And the diseases are the ones that you can… we’ve talked about some of them. Too many blood vessels you wind up having cancer, vision loss, and diabetes and aging, psoriasis, arthritis, endometriosis, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity. Fat cells require blood vessels to grow.

When you actually have not enough blood vessels you can actually have coronary disease, you don’t have enough bypasses, natural bypasses or in a stroke after the blockage in the brain you want more blood vessels to grow, even hair loss, and I suppose it was a little pressured for me to put erectile dysfunction since everybody seems to have an erectile dysfunction story. I will find a way to feather that in but it’s true.

You don’t have good enough nerves, those nerves don’t have a good enough blood supply as we’ve heard about. And so that’s insufficient angiogenesis if you don’t have the right balance.

So let’s talk about the diseases that result when we have too many blood vessels, what can we actually do about those?

So I’m going to start with cancers because cancers are forming all the time in our body, but they are usually inconsequential, they’re about the size of the head of a ballpoint pen, they can’t get on with blood supply so they’ll actually disappear, your immune system will take care of it.

But when they actually are able to attract their own blood supply, recruit their own private blood supply, the blood vessels actually may feed the cancer cells and a tumor can grow. About 16,000 times in about two weeks once a blood vessel starts feeding. So it’s a massive trigger for cancer growth.

So there are now medicines that have been developed, our new strategies to cut off the blood supply to cancer so the medicines exist… I gave my TED talk that you heard about actually is about using food to actually cut off the blood supply to cancer. So if you want to look in TED: it’s you know can we eat to starve cancer and that’s called anti-angiogenic therapy as a way of actually treating… preventing cancer but also treating them as well. It’s something that is being done in every oncologist office and my group helped to develop the tools to study how do you mow down those extra blood vessels to prevent them from causing harm.

This is a eagle’s eye view of a little ring that’s of the big blood vessel, the aorta that you heard about earlier. And those white little hairs that you see are actually those endothelial cells that you heard about, those they’re lining cells, when you grow them in the laboratory they will naturally want to fan out because they want to go someplace if they’re not in a body.

And so this is what cancers do; they actually… they spark these blood vessels to grow all over the place linking the starbursts. Now if you actually extract the bioactive genistein from soybeans and you put them into the system, look at how you shut down all those blood vessels that might be feeding a cancer. It’s pretty interesting that genistein from soy actually can shut down blood vessels.

So one of the interesting questions is: now isn’t that a problem for cancer? Doesn’t soy have these estrogens that actually are dangerous for women who are afraid of breast cancer? Turns out that’s a complete urban legend, like so many things that are out there about food and health.

Phytoestrogens are plant estrogens and this is what they actually look like. All right you don’t have to memorize this but just here’s what I want you to do now. This is what a human estrogen looks like. Do they look the same? They’re completely different.

And so actually the phytoestrogen from plants block the human estrogen receptor; it’s kind of like a natural tamoxifen, in fact.

And so the skeptic would say: well okay you’re making that case, they look this different. But does this actually mean anything in real life, because that’s where it counts?

This is now where you start taking a look at large epidemiological population studies. This was published in JAMA in 2009. This is the Shanghai Breast Cancer Survival study in which they enrolled 5042 women with breast cancers. Now this group would be the ones that would be hosed the most if they were actually going to be worse… their situation would be worse. It’s what they found over five years that if the women who ate soy had a 29% decrease in a risk of death during that period of time and a 32% decrease in the risk of the cancer coming back if they had it surgically removed.

This is the complete opposite of making breast cancer worse. This is helping patients who have breast cancer and how much do you need to have? I mentioned something about dosing. When you go back and look at this paper and do the calculations, the amount of soy that you would need to take to get this result is 10 grams of soy protein a day. How much does 10 grams of soy protein a day? It’s about the amount you’d find it in one cup of soy milk, all right, not a lot practical.

And in Asia if you have breast cancer, people don’t freak out and say don’t eat soy. In fact, they feed you more soy. And so again we have to think about the cultural relativism, we actually have soy in a lot of things that we eat, not all of them are good, a lot of processed foods.

But in Asia, if you think about the Asian diet there’s a lot of soy proteins that are actually commonly consumed.

Now here’s 17 studies looking at breast cancer and soy associations. And you can see all the studies show that the balance of evidence suggests that soy actually helps improve breast cancer survival, it does not cause death from breast cancer. So again this is the kind of evidence that is helpful and I encourage all of you guys when you’re thinking about the evidence for food and health it’s all about the science, it’s all about the evidence.

We’re just trying to figure out, we don’t know all the answers but we just need to see the data. I’m showing you the data because I think it’s a useful way for you to have the information to make up your own minds.

Tomatoes: they have lycopene, and so they have also been studied for their anti-angiogenic benefits because lycopene is anti-angiogenic. Well that’s interesting but does it actually make a difference? Well there have been some large studies called the Harvard professionals follow-up study involving 46,000 men that have been followed over 20 years. And it was found that consuming 2 to 3 cups of cooked tomato sauce was associated with a decreased risk of prostate cancer by about 30%.

Now that doesn’t mean that everybody avoided prostate cancer but there was clearly an association with a risk reduction associated with a food that contains a bioactive that we know stops one of the processes that drives cancer growth. So it makes sense. Our world is better when it makes sense, or we’re able to make decisions better when things make sense. And that’s really what I think this is all about.

Now for the men who did develop prostate cancer when they actually did the pathology and biopsies, they found that the men who ate more tomato sauce had less aggressive and fewer blood vessels in their cancer. So again this is really kind of going the whole hog of all the studies going all the way down to the patients who did develop cancer to look for blood vessels, angiogenesis feeding their cancers.

Now here’s a couple of interesting things beyond that data, and this is something that I think anybody who wants to put information to use, preparing your tomatoes actually makes a difference. You want to simmer your tomatoes about 190 degrees, you’ll change the amount of lycopene available for your body.

Why? If you eat a typical red tomato off a vine from your garden, it tastes great and get lots of vitamins from it. But the lycopene is in a form that’s called trans, and it’s very difficult for your body to absorb. It’s one chemical form of the lycopene. If you heat it, you change the chemical structure naturally and you change the trans to the cis- form and suddenly your body can absorb it.

So at two minutes of heating tomato sauce, you suddenly make it 50% more available. And after you simmer for 30 minutes, it’s 250 times more available.

And so again how we treat our food makes a difference as well. There havebeen studies looking at cooking tomatoes in water and you can actually get the lycopene out, and you can see that there’s some lycopene that goes into the bloodstream. But lycopene for those of you who have taken chemistry at some point in your careers is a fat-soluble, it’s an oily molecule; it dissolves better in oil than in water, right, so oil and water don’t mix. Lycopene loves oil.

So while there are all the cautions that have been given to oils in our day today, if you cook tomato sauce in olive oil, the lycopene gets into your bloodstream a lot more easily because it doesn’t get flushed through, now it gets absorbed into your body by a lot.

What kind of olive oil would you want to use? I’m not talking about the endothelial effects; I’m talking about… I’m not talking about the lining effects and I’m talking about the anti-angiogenic effects.

Well, it turns out that olives are not all the same. If you look across many of the olive species, there are three varietals of olives that have the highest number of anti-angiogenic cancer starving polyphenols. One’s Italian from Umbria, Moraiolo; one is Greek from Peloponnesus; it’s the Koroneiki Olive; one’s from Spain, is called the Picual olives.

So the next time you guys go out to the store, if you’re going to buy olive oil, I look at what kind of olives it comes from. You can actually find Picual, Koroneiki and Moraiolo in the grocery store. So again that’s one way that you can actually make a decision that can actually be helpful to you.

Now what about the type of tomato? Does a type of tomato actually matter as well? You want high lycopene, right?

Well it turns out that the San Marzano tomato in Italy has very high lycopene, and cherry tomatoes have even more lycopene. The black tomatoes that you see now, like I mean they’re just starting to be around all the time these dark colored, smoky colored tomatoes, they actually have a lot of lycopene.

And then the tangerine tomato is one variety where the natural lycopene is already in an absorbable form. So that’s a good one; you don’t need to cook that one. If you ate that one in a salad raw you would actually be able to get good absorption.

So again I just showed you something from the idea of lycopene to the clinical studies, to the pathology, to the clinical trial showing absorption to the cooking techniques to the varietals. This is really where we should be going with thinking about food; we can dive deeply now because we can ask these questions.

Foods with anti-angiogenic activity

This is actually a partial list of anti-angiogenic foods that you can have; they do other things as well; many of them have antioxidant effects; many of them pro-endothelial effects, but they are the ones that definitely have anti-angiogenic effects as well.

Now what about the other side of the equation where you actually have insufficient, not enough blood vessels and you want to grow more? Can you help your body prompt that as we age, our circulation tends to not do as well, partly because of the blockages you’ve seen but also just in general our blood flow tends to be a little bit less spry as we age?

So how about angiogenesis stimulating foods? This is a relatively new area that I’m really excited about: can we prompt blood vessels to grow where we need them?

Well, it turns out barley actually contains a natural chemical called Beta-d-glucan that also stimulates the immune system by the way but it actually causes your body to make more of the substance that grows blood vessels.

And in fact, they’ve studied this in a laboratory and the only thing you need to know with that picture is those orange circles I’m showing you that when you actually provide lab animals with barley, and this is by the way you’re feeding them pasta made with barley… barley pasta, you can see that there is more blood vessels growing in those animals that have been fed pasta made with barley.

Okay. There’s another Pro-angiogenic food that is foods… it’s a substance really called Ursolic acid? Where do you find it? Fruit peels, apple peels. I mean how many times you’re making a pie, you’re peeling the apple, all the peels you throw away.

Well, there’s a new way of thinking about sustainability. Maybe some of the stuff in the trash is actually good for us and we should set it aside and find other things to do with it. By the way it’s not just apple peel, it’s cranberry peels, blueberry peels, cherry peels, dried fruit are a really great source of this, because the skin is dried right onto it.

And this you can see that, you heard about nitric oxide making blood vessels healthier, it turns out foods with Ursolic acid helped increase our nitric oxide, so our blood vessels are happier and they’ll grow more blood vessels.

This is actually an experiment where one side of the animals leg on the left side, this is all blue, doesn’t have good blood flow. But when you start treating them with Ursolic acid,feeding them foods with Ursolic acid, you can see at the end of three weeks, it should say weeks there, you can see the blood flows come back. It’s grown new vessels. Nitric oxides at the blood vessels, the endothelial cells are happier as you heard about earlier.

This is a dietary approach to this, that is actually quite meaningful. So this is… I don’t have time to go into every single food. But there’s a growing list of foods that have angiogenesis stimulating properties.

Foods with Angiogenesis Stimulating activity

Now you might say, wait a minute you just show me cancer, we don’t want blood vessels, and we want a new heart, you want blood vessels, how do we actually know one thing’s going to cause a problem for the other? This is where the body seems to know exactly what to do.

There is a zone… a Goldilocks zone that knows exactly how many blood vessels need to be there. It’s very hard to actually reduce the number of blood vessels beyond what’s normal. It’s really hard to grow more than what’s normal.

Think about mowing the lawn on both sides of the equation. The body knows how to titrate, how to get rid of all the extra bad blood vessels and how to grow just the right ones, just to get to where we want to go. It’s homeostasis; this is actually how the body wants to function.

Medicines don’t do this by the way. Medicines actually will take things down to zero. Medicine is like, it doesn’t… it’s not a scalpel, it’s a hammer, slamming things down.

So foods actually have the unique ability to be able to do things that medicines can’t.

Now what about regeneration?

When I was growing up, as I’m sure most of you, we were told that people don’t regenerate. Starfish regenerate, and salamanders can regenerate. And the way that they regenerate is by using stem cells, that’s how a starfish that’s missing an arm will grow a new leg from a salamander.

But it turns out that we’re all regenerating. We all have stem cells inside our bodies. And these stem cells are being used all the time. That’s why our hair grows back after a haircut. That’s why our skin… you know that’s why you get dandruff, that’s why our gut replaces itself. That’s why our liver is able to regenerate.

We do regenerate just often not that quickly but we regenerate in important ways throughout our existence. And the question is: when do stem cells come into play?

Stem cells come into play for regeneration when we’re injured. So this is actually showing that in 25 patients in Italy who suffered to burn and went to an emergency room, got admitted to the hospital and they just measured their blood at different time points. And over the course of the hospitalization you can see starting from the time of admission to the hospital, more and more and more stem cells came out because the stem cells which live in our bone marrow are trying to heal up that skin in the wound.

That’s regeneration, that’s a kind of real bona fide regeneration. And the greater the injury the more stem cells have to come out. More injury, more stem cells needed, right? We need to regenerate more furiously.

And in fact, for cardiovascular disease, this was from the New England Journal of Medicine, a very important paper out of Germany that showed if you just took people who are getting their angiography, as you saw with the dyes being shot and you measured their blood and seeing how many stem cells are naturally in their blood, you can see that the group in blue who had more stem cells in their blood actually had fewer… they did a lot better, they survived longer; they had fewer cardiovascular events.

The ones who didn’t do as well in green had fewer stem cells. More stem cells, more regeneration, more repair the heart, longer survival. Less stem cells, you’re in trouble.

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Now here’s the problem as we age, our stem cells also start to lose their punch. We have less of them; the ones that we have don’t work quite as well. This is just kind of a natural part of our life cycle but… and because of that there are a number of diseases where impairments of stem cells are important.

So when you have hair loss, Alopecia, baldness, Alzheimer’s disease, stem cells in their brain, asthma, you get scarring and you actually don’t have enough stem cells to keep repairing the lungs. Erectile dysfunction, I put it back, also not enough stem cells. They are actually using stem cells as a treatment for that. Ischemic heart disease, macular degeneration, there’s some amazing reports coming out of England now of people who are having stem cells injections of their eyes that regenerate their retina and they’re able to get some vision back from being legally blind.

Stem cells, as we get older, are weaker. If we could actually replace them with stem cell therapies, it is really a whole new future of medicine, and that’s really what the biotechnology world is doing. I’m involved with that, I’ve been involved with that for well over a decade. But that’s biotechnology.

You’re talking about a billion dollars, a ten years unknown safety issues.

Foods that stimulate stem cells

What about food? Do foods stimulate stem cells?

And the answer is yes. First one I want to show you is cacao or chocolate. It turns out that studies have been done where if you take chocolate with high flavonols and make a hot chocolate out of it, and you drink it just twice a day, two cups a day for 30 days you can start by measuring your stem cells and this is from 16 subjects and you can make the stem cell levels go up. This is 2 cups of hot chocolate of high flavonol, hot chocolate just twice a day.

By the way all of these patients had cardiovascular disease. They had documented blockages in their arteries in their heart and they could get more stem cells going. That is a small study but really really interesting to think about.

So again we need to pay attention to what kind of studies these are. This is a clinical trial; it’s a small study but it actually is really important because it correlates with some of the other information I showed you.

A larger study of 20,000 people in Germany showed that those who ate 7.5 grams of chocolate per day lowered the risk of heart attack or stroke by 39%. Okay what is 7.5 grams of chocolate? This is about three chocolate chips, got to be dark chocolate, not that much.

And by the way I want to say it’s not that dairy in the chocolate, it’s not the sugar in the chocolate. It is that natural chemical in cacao. And that’s what we need to be able to do is that you know the final product that we’re served up by companies isn’t necessarily what’s good for us. But we need to be able to discern what it is that is actually in the food that might be doing us a favor.

Now diabetes, we’ve talked about, is a big problem. Now I’m going to stack what you heard. Diabetes impairs the stem cells in our bodies. If you have diabetes, your stem cells, they’re kind of sleepy and they don’t want to work as hard, and there’s fewer of them.

But it turns out that Omega 3 fatty acids have been studied; they can stimulate those stem cells and wake them up and say hey, go do your job.

Now I’m not saying that this is a one answer to all the problems with stem cells but it is really interesting that when you actually have omega-3s that you can actually get this type of statistically significant increase in the activity of your stem cell to wake up stem cells.

Now there are patterns that enhance our stem cells: Mediterranean diet, not surprisingly, also helps the stem cells. The Okinawan diet, they actually have studied the vegetables that the people in Okinawa eat, this is in a blue zone. They actually stimulate stem cells.

Caloric restriction, we heard a little bit about that during the Q&A, helps your stem cells. Even intermittent fasting, it turns out when you really fast you get where your body responds in all kinds of way; one of them is getting rid of all the old cells that are not as good anymore. And then when you start eating again it reboots all the stem cells to come out… to come out and rebuild, it rebuilds your immune system in fact.

So there are also patterns that hurt our stem cells. High-fat, high-salt, hyperglycemic diets, okay, all injure our stem cells. So again these are — I don’t have time to show you all the data for every single piece of information I’m showing you but the data exists.

And it actually shows you that there are explanations for some of these things that we know to be true not good for us or things to be good for us. And that helps us get more comfortable. When things make sense we’re more likely to do them.

Here’s just a list, a partial list of foods that stimulate stem cells. Again I don’t have time to show you everything. But I mean, look Squid Ink, I don’t know if any of you have ever had squid ink pasta, black pasta but it’s a delicacy in some parts of the Mediterranean, in Spain and actually goji berries, another herbal tea.

Okay, now one example… one exception to stem cells, because they’re generally good for us. They help us regenerate. But cancers like them too. Cancer stem cells are a big problem. They are kind of the holy grail for cancer researchers, because they are like baby cancer cells that make more babies.

And in fact, cancer stem cells are responsible we think for most of the times that cancers come back after successful treatment. How many people know of a case where you have a breast cancer that’s removed, then the patient looks like they’re fine and then a few years later it comes back, or a colon cancer like that’s like the worst thing that it can happen if you’ve been successfully treated and then it recurs.

It occurs because of the cancer stem cells. And so what we want to do is find a way to actually target those little mini baby cancer stem cells so the tumors won’t recur.

Well, guess what, it turns out that foods… some foods target cancer stem cells. It’s really amazing; this is just a partial list. Purple potatoes target colon cancer stem cells. Cacao targets breast cancer stem cells. Green tea hitscolon and breast. Thyme, you know, Thanksgiving is coming up, hits prostate cancer.

So again this is the research, this has been done in a laboratory, the isolate cancer stem cells, you look at what the impact of these food bioactives are, then you test it in an animal, then you start taking a look in patient samples. It’s really quite amazing to think that we can actually eat…

I mean think about the patients who have been successfully treated, you don’t want that cancer to come back, shouldn’t you be on a diet or shouldn’t you include foods in your diet that actually target those cancer stem cells?

Brand-new gateway opening up for us to think about how to manage cancer patients.

Switching on to Microbiome, another defense system. We know that bacteria are important. I told you there’s 37 trillion of them. Obviously you’ve heard a little bit about them before. I can’t go through all 37 trillion. In fact we barely know much about all those bacteria.

But I will tell you one thing: We’ve got roughly the same number of human cells in our bodies as we do bacteria. So we’re 50% bacteria and 50% human. You know what they call that? I mean first of all it’s like a coral reef, right? It’s a reef, a skeleton, the coral with a lot of other like clownfish around it, Nemo.

The thing though is that there’s actually a term for animals or organisms that are not just one type of organism, like all of us in this room we are not just human, we are partly bacteria. 50% of us are bacteria and they call this… there’s a term for this called Holobiont. H-O-L-O-B-I-O-N-T. That’s what humans are. We are Holobionts because we are 50% humans, 50% bacteria and the bacteria help us with our health.

These are the conditions, and the list is growing where we know that our gut bacteria are abnormal or disturbed. It’s called Dysbiosis, because you get a problem with them. We don’t understand everything about it but we know people with Alzheimer’s disease, their gut bacteria is disturb.

After sclerosis, something between the gut bacteria and the lining of the blood vessels as we heard about earlier, even bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, all associated with our gut. Celiac disease, food allergies, hypertension… by the way there’s also bacteria in your mouth. If you actually use that super type of antiseptic that sometimes dentists gives if you have major dental work you wipe out your mouth biome. And that causes your blood pressure to go up because the mouth bacteria also digests the food that you eat in order to help lower your blood pressure.

So again we’re just beginning to discover this. I told you at the very beginning how many new things we’re discovering about our health.

Foods that beneficially affect the microbiome

So this is… I mean we could have a whole weeks of conference on the microbiome and still not even scratch the surface. But I will tell you what we’re discovering is that there are some foods that we eat that actually contain bacteria and the same bacteria that our healthy gut is made out of. Like for example kimchi, on the upper right hand corner is packed with bacteria. Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, Lactobacillus.

If you go to a Chinese restaurant you have a little pickled appetizers, like Firmicutes, Lactobacillus.

Sauerkraut which I didn’t realize this but originally Saurkraut came from Asia and then it was exported over the Silk Road and then it took root in Eastern Europe. But sauerkraut also has lactobacillus; when it’s fermented the lactobacillus comes from the air that settles down and as the cabbage ferments the bacteria start growing and Lactobacillus dominates, kicks out all of it, then we eat it, then we put the bacteria into our gut.

Now there’s a couple of other things, Sourdough Bread, this is a big surprise. Sourdough is actually made with lactobacillus inside the dough. Now there’s been research studies looking at the number of different types of lactobacillus that are present in sourdough, the dough itself.

And if you’ve never seen how to actually look at bacteria in the bread dough, this is the graph. You can actually pick out the individual bacteria and characterize them and profile them.

But there’s one of these bacteria which is particularly important called Lactobacillus reuteri which originally is delivered from the mom, something that is startling as we’re realizing that this bacteria lactobacillus reuteri lives in the colon. When the mom is nine months pregnant, there’s a signal sent from the uterus to the colon and it causes this bacteria to come out of the colon inside blood cells, it kind of like calls an uber, picks up a cell and it rides all the way to the breast where it lives… it gets out of the uber by the nipple.

And when the actual breastfeeding begins, mother’s milk injects this bacteria into the baby. And so this is another example of how the microbiome actually works. It turns out that this bacteria actually can reduce the growth of breast cancer. And it comes from breastfeeding.

And at least in the laboratory, if the mom actually is able to breastfeed with Lactobacillus reuteri, it’ll protect four generations later on against breast cancer. So again really powerful stuff that we’re beginning to… but that it’s present in sourdough bread. This is actually from the breast tumor study, healthy diet breast cancers don’t grow very well. Put them on a fast-food diet you might not be surprised, breast cancer grows much faster.

Now you feed the animal fast food but lactobacillus reuteri it activates the microbiome defense against cancer upregulating your immune system and the breast cancers have a hard time growing, even when you’re eating not that great a diet.

Now obviously we should be eating a good healthy diet but it just shows the power of actually the microbiome.

Now here’s something interesting that people always critique. Well you know how do you know that that’s stuff that you buy like in the drugstore actually it’s alive or if you cook it, you know these foods you showed, aren’t the bacteria dead? At least for lactobacillus, if you kill the bacteria by putting an ultrasound on and just blitzing them, so they’re just nothing but tinier little fragments, and then you filter out anything that possibly could be alive, the fragments from that bacteria if you feed it will have the same microbiome health-promoting effects.

So if you don’t need live bacteria at least for this bacteria, just a presence of its fragments are good enough to actually work. Mind-boggling to think about that, right.

Okay, one other thing that lactobacillus reuteri does, it alters fat metabolism. Inside our gut it changes a way that we absorb lipids that we actually process fat, that adipose cells, fat cells actually grow. If you take regular Chow and you over feed a mouse, it turns fat. You feed a mouse fast food Chow and it gets fat.

Now you actually feed either regular Chow or fast food Chow, the animal with lactobacillus, look at that. They don’t gain weight as fast. This is the power of the microbiome. At least this particular bacteria seems to play a role to prevent cancers from growing in the breast, to help lower the weight gain, and actually the development of adipose tissue.

And then there’s another set of data that I don’t have time to show you, it actually causes the brain to release oxytocin which is actually the social hormone that we get when we hug. And so again this is our bacteria controlling our minds and our psychologies and our social networks now.

Most people won’t have… even thought about kiwi fruits actually impacting our microbiome. But this is a study, a very small study but an important one that just shows a proof of concept out of Singapore, they gave female volunteers two Kiwis a day for four days and then looked inside their stool to see what happens.

In the first 24 hours they had 35% more lactobacillus in their stool, just from eating the kiwi… the fiber in the fruit feeding the bacteria, changing the population, and the Bifidobacteria increased by 17% over the four days. These two bacteria: lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, they actually make other metabolites called short chain fatty acids or SCFAs that are anti-inflammatory, they alter our lipids, and energy metabolism and they actually help our gut have protective mucus layer so you have less leaky gut kind of syndrome.

So kiwi, who would have thought that kiwi would have be beneficial to us on the basis of our microbiome. But now you have it. This is the beginning of the evidence to study this fruit and these are all the foods that beneficially affect the microbiome.

Okay that’s really interesting.

Now processed food, processed meats actually tend to be harmful… artificial sweeteners, we don’t absorb them, but guess what they get delivered right to the gut, the bacteria have to deal with that. So it’s sort of like this, raining a fire of artificial sweeteners, also the bacteria have to deal with because they’re not absorbed in our body. There’s a study in Israel that actually shows that it actually damages… the artificial sweeteners damage the microbiome, especially saccharin.

So I’m not spending your time, showing you all that but just to show you just how powerful that is.

DNA modification also really interesting. I don’t have time to show you every aspect of it but just know that our DNA, we got good DNA and bad DNA. The good ones can actually help us block cancer as an example. The bad DNA, our oncogenes, can help us grow cancer. This is… a lot of other diseases are similar patterns, you know if this then that and of this then we have an opposite effect.

Turmeric is one example of a food that actually increases the good DNA through epigenetic changes. And that actually blocks cervical cancer, lung cancer, and breast cancer. At the same time that it blocks the bad DNA. So it actually works on both sides of the equation in order to be able to help benefit us.

And so with turmeric you want to actually have some fresh cracked black pepper because the body likes to eject the turmeric. The fresh cracked black pepper will help the body absorb the turmeric a little bit better.

So again some of these nuances of actually mixing spices. By the way I have to compliment whoever designed the lunch again today because it was really tasty and it had spices in it. And that’s really how a plant-based whole food diet can taste is really really flavorful and I think that’s something that we should all lean towards because those spices can make a big difference especially when it comes to our DNA.

All right, so foods can modify our genes, they can turn on the green light for more good genes. They can turn on the red light for bad genes and they can sometimes do them together at the same time.

Next slide, I’ll show you an example of a bunch of foods in the middle and the bioactives and the green lights are good ones, good genes and the red lights are bad ones. And you can see that we’re starting to create this puzzle of which stuff in which food turns on good genes which stuff in which foods turn off bad genes, all right.

That’s what we want you to do as another way of understanding our diet, so you don’t need to memorize this picture but just know that in addition to all the other things you’ve heard about today and I’ve talked about as well, that the foods that we eat that are good for us also affect our DNA.

Now finally let me tell you something that’s startling about the immune system. So we know that little babies have to be protected because their immune systems aren’t quite as strong, breastfeeding helps boost our immune system, oh wait a minute, that Lactobacillus Reuteri actually helps to boost the immune system. Uh-huh, another link between immunity and our microbiome.

We also know that as we get older, our immune system tends to go down, because the stem cells that build immune systems are not quite as strong. Or are they? And this is what we’re beginning to find out.

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We’re having a new paradigm of the strength of our immunity as we get older. So our immune system, without going into a whole lecture about the immune system, it’s very very complicated. You’ve got the immediate immune system that reacts to infections or invasions. You’ve got the adaptive immune system that creates antibodies.

I just want to show you this picture. This picture was done by a group at the Weizmann Institute in Israel that kind of looked at the social media. The social networks that connect immune cells, part of our immune system, and our non-immune cells, and they are talking all the time.

Our immune system is talking to other cells all the time. And we don’t understand everything, we don’t know how to decode all that conversation. But we know it’s really really important, and that’s why we need to actually protect our immune system.

So how are the ways that we can actually protect our immune system?

We know that the boy in the bubble which you guys probably remember from back in the 70s and 80s, they had a movie about this. This is a kid with an immunodeficiency syndrome where basically no immune system, couldn’t expose him to the outside air, or he’d get infected and die. And that’s one example, that’s one extreme example where you don’t have a strong enough immune system.

And we also now know that in many cases in cancer, the cancers are escaping our immune system. Our immune system wants to get rid of the cancer. I showed you earlier without blood vessels cancers can’t grow. They’re tiny; your immune system wipes them right out.

Well, how come some of them grow? Because they can escape our immune system. So what we’re beginning to realize is that you can actually now amp up the immune system using immunotherapy for cancer.

Immunotherapy for cancer is not chemotherapy. Okay, it’s not radiation; it’s giving medicines to cancer patients that are now FDA-approved, it’s like six of them just within the last three or four years that actually don’t kill the cancer directly per se but they unmask the cancer so your own immune system can benefit.

My mother who is 83 with metastatic endometrial cancer that was recurrent was given really no chance unless she went on high-dose chemotherapy probably would have been very destructive for her. But she got an immune treatment and after three infusions that allowed her own 80 year-old immune system to find the cancer, all of her cancer disappeared. Not one bit of cancer was left.

This is an example, on the left of a metastatic cancer from melanoma in the brain. After immune therapy it is gone. A tumor in the brain that’s spread from another part of the body with the immune system can go away. Jimmy Carter was one of the most visible early recipients of this. Some of you may remember at one point of… I think 2015 in August he actually wrote a public letter saying I’m retiring from public life now, because my melanoma… you know he’s all building houses out in Atlanta, my melanoma, my arms spread to my liver and my brain and there’s no treatment.

Well, there’s no treatment until immune therapy, and he is alive today with no sign of cancer on immunotherapy.

Now here’s the problem with immunotherapy. It is 4,000 times the cost of gold by weight. 4,000 times the cost of gold. And so if you just google immunotherapy and cost, you will wind up seeing the big debates that are going on.

I mean, how can we not give somebody we care about the benefit of having an immune therapy? Well, it’s really simple, the checkbook, who’s paying for all of us, and how do we actually make more people benefit because not everybody benefits yet.

This is a big social conversation but that’s not why I’m telling you this. I’m telling you this because these treatments actually are impacted by food.

There was a study… I co-chaired a conference in Paris last year called Rethinking Cancer and it was really interesting because we said let’s organize a cancer research meeting but you can’t talk about chemotherapy, you can’t talk about clinical trials, you can’t talk about drugs or radiation. The only thing you talk about is everything else.

Well, that’s your immune system, that’s your sleep, that’s your stress, that’s your diet.

What we found out is that the people who… when you look at patients who respond to immunotherapy versus people don’t respond, the only difference is one bacteria in the gut called Akkermansia muciniphila. If you had Akkermansia, you would actually survive, you would respond. If you didn’t have it, your immune system wouldn’t survive.

Microbiome connected to the immune system! Guess what, you cannot eat Akkermansia as a probiotic, doesn’t exist. The only thing you can do, that we can do all in this room… oh by the way, Akkermansia, if I gave you BIAXIN, clarithromycin, it’ll wipe it out in two days. That’s how sensitive it is.

So how are you going to go back? The only way to grow back Akkermansia muciniphila is with food. Eight ounces which is one fluid cup of pure pomegranate juice or cranberry juice over the course of a couple of weeks will grow back your Akkermansia.

Now that’s not known in oncology, that’s not known by the cancer patient community but it needs to be known. And it’s a way of making that huge investment in immunotherapy more likely to work. So again I’m not rejecting modern medicine, Western medicine. I’m not one of those guys.

I’m saying we need to know this stuff even to make medicine work better. But that’s how powerful the immune system is.

Here’s some, couple of other surprises. Oysters, I know this is like plant-based, I just want to show you this is fruit of the sea. Okay, Oysters have been discovered to have a polysaccharide and a protein that boosts your immune system. And in fact, what’s really amazing is that, if you take Pacific oysters which are the most common oysters worldwide, you buy them at a local fish market, and you can extract the proteins from them and you feed them to mice with cancer, you can see that, you have a reduction almost by half of the tumor growth, the immune organs, the thymus and the spleen get bigger, because they’re rearing up to actually take down that cancer and you’ve got two times killing power of some of the natural killer cells, okay.

This is early days, yet we’re not treating cancer patients with oysters. But this is just showing you the impact of what we can find in our diet. By the way, the way these peptides are extracted in the oysters is the same way that they make oyster sauce that you might have in a Chinese restaurant.

Okay so again there’s some pragmatism about this, and this is where our worlds need to come together. Broccoli sprouts have been studied… this is the living food movement, if you have broccoli sprouts, there’s a group that actually showed that — this is from three universities, 29 healthy volunteers, they gave them two cups of broccoli sprouts, that made into a shake, gave them for four days.

On the second day, they gave them a nasal flu vaccine, right? So some attenuated flu in there and guess what, actually the people who had the sprouts had responded to the vaccine by having 22 times more immune cells, that is a really significant boost, 22 times more, and their NK cells, natural killer cells had more killing power.

And when you looked in the nose, the cells of the people who actually had the sprout shake there was less remaining flu in their nose as well, just showing how powerful their immune system is. Again our diets impact our health defense systems in meaningful ways that can change our lives.

So I want you to really think about our health, your health, our collective health as not just a passive absence of disease but really these systems that we are responsible for, that we actually have to make decisions about. That we have the ability from the kind of information you’ve heard about all throughout today, including what I’ve shown you, to choose foods that can make this difference in terms of our body’s defense systems.

Grand Slammer Foods Hit 5 Diseases

And this is just a chart, it’ll be in the book that I’m publishing, these are called Grand Slammer Foods; these are foods that hit all five defense systems. They’re all angiogenic, help blood circulation, they help stem cells, they help microbiome, they help your DNA repairs up, and they help boost your immune system.

So again if you had to choose some foods that would actually do all these things, these would be the list.

So this is the book… my new book is going to come out in March, you can actually get on Amazon or pre-order it right now. But what I’ve done because I know that people are interested in this information as I go out to speak, if you come to my website and you sign up, I actually have created a plant-based guide that has lists of some of these foods that you can actually download. So you can just get that guide just to get started.

All right, I mean this book is like, you know it’s really thick and so but this will be a starter for you and actually what you can actually do.

So I’ll just close by quoting a medical colleague and surgeon named Atul Gawande; he’s written some really fabulous books. And I was at the TED conference with him when he gave his talk. And he said something that really made an impact on me. He said, it’s not how good you are now, it’s how good you’re going to be that matters.

And I’d say for everybody in this room with everything that we’ve actually heard all day long, that regardless of what your life was like yesterday, we now are all armed with the knowledge to be able to make better decisions for how good we’re going to be tomorrow.

Thank you very much.

Question-and-answer session

Audience: With the many different books, topics and everything else on the benefit of the plant-based diet that there’s a general public out there that sees other things on TV, some of the shows like the doctors stuff like that they will come out with a report that kind of throats depth on some of the things that we’re eating, like tomatoes are good for you, legumes and stuff.

But it was put out that these plants have lectins, and he said the lectins are bad for you that they bind with the sugars, cause a sticky substance that affects the cells and stuff. So how is the general public supposed to really figure out what’s good and what’s not? And then if somebody publishes something that everybody else disagrees with, how do you address that, because I haven’t heard anything say that gives this doctor that came out said all that stuff is bad for you?

Dr. William Li: So it’s a really good question. Let me sort of sum up by saying that what you’re asking is we are presented with provocative information in the media, and that we can access all the time we hear about all the time, and sometimes it sort of is confusing, because it contradicts what you hear one area or another area.

And what I would say is that what I do, I would encourage you to do what I do, which is to really look into it and look at the facts. When you look at the facts, sometimes you need to go into the literature and even though you may not be a scientist, if you take a look at what’s actually out there it’s possible to really see what most people are actually saying.

For example, there is a resource online called PubMed, P-u-b-m-e-d, some of you may be familiar with it. It is the country’s national database of medical research; it is free, is available to anyone. Google will serve it up to you in two seconds. If you look up tomatoes and lectins, I guarantee you’ll find nothing that actually shows that tomato lectins are actually harmful to you. It’s a it’s an interesting idea. I’m not casting aspersion on anybody’s ideas.

What I would say is that you got to look for where the evidence actually is, and what I’ve tried to do when I constructed my talk today is to show you different types of evidence that actually puts together a whole picture. You should… like when you go out to buy a car, everybody’s going to be telling you about one thing versus the other.

You’re going to buy a house, the real estate agent tells you one to another. We have to, as consumers of information on food and health, do the same thing which… trust but verify, be critical; we want to find people that we trust to listen to. I think that if you find that the majority of people are agreeing with something, I think that you can probably put more weight on it.

And then some things are just not known yet, and it’s okay. If you’re actually in the space field, we think that there might be life out there. We don’t know yet; we’ve found planets that look like they may support it, and so people are buzzing about that. But it doesn’t mean that there are little green men that are waiting to come down to earth.

And so again I think we need to be able to be critical in looking at the evidence; science generally doesn’t lie, it will evolve but it generally tells the truth. And so I’m all about the truth, and I think that’s probably the best way to recommend everybody in this room is look for the truth.

Audience 2: Yes sir. As someone who’s had Crohn’s disease over the years and have been dealing it with nutrition and so forth to get it back into remissions, people were saying, we talked about a lot of things that are good for us. And one of the things you talked about was the soy. You know you’re talking about in terms of women and breast cancer and stuff like that. But a lot of men would shy away from things like soy just because of things that they’ve heard over time.

And the second part of the question I had was, in a hospital you see a lot of people who might be battling cancer, other type diseases but the things that they’re being fed in the hospital, the type of diets that they have, a lot of sugary fatty meals, even the stuff that they’re given in the IV in terms of the protein, when you read the ingredients on it, you know it’s like why are you giving me sugary stuff that’s something you think the cancer will actually feed let alone for any other health reasons.

So in terms of those things what would you give and what things that can we change about that to do things that we as layman think, should be simple but apparently not.

Dr. William Li: Well, you know the question really is how do we address the fact that the place… the second one was how do we address the place where we really need the most support when we’re sick in a hospital with the food… to remove the foods that actually might actually hurt us and not help us.

Or the other way to think about is like we can get a warm blanket in the hospital, how come we can’t get a good plant-based meal, and if we’re vegan how come we can’t get that always in the hospital? And so this is a basic injustice that is now being addressed really by people in this room. I mean the fact that Sentara has you put this together, you’ve got doctors who are leaving this conference and attracting other people who are physicians from around the country to talk about it. This is where it starts.

This is where as my friend Dean Ornish said, you can’t underestimate the power of a small group of people that actually want to change the world. This is why we’re here, we are all gathered here because we want to make a difference. And I think we’re learning and I think very much so in the hospital it should be… I mean it should be the last place where unhealthy food is being served.

But I can tell you the doctors now are only starting to see it changes in what we’re fed. But when I was in medical school and in residency training, we were there on call day and night, being sleep-deprived and the cafeteria had horrible food. It was almost all fried, we almost had very no fresh vegetables, lot of processed foods, and how do you expect to create that culture of health when in fact the things that are being served in the hospital are not that good for you.

But it’s a deeply rooted issue that needs to change; it’s going to take collective effort. It’s like school lunches. I mean the future of our society is, are the kids that we’re bringing through school, it’s not that easy to solve the problem but we need to all work together.

Audience 3: On a hopeful note in addressing that issue, the latest Forks Over Knives magazine has an article about a doctor at Montefiore Hospital system in the Bronx, he has Forks Over Knives showing in all 2,000 hospital rooms in four or five hospitals, he has had their food system serving vegan meals, he has their cafeterias serving vegan meals and some meat meals as well. But the vegan meals are selling out. So he has managed to do it, he is a doctor of preventive cardiology, Dr. Robert Ostfeld that they nicknamed him Dr. Kale.

Dr. William Li: That’s really, I mean that’s really great news that these little pockets of change are happening. And I think for Sentara, this is its own pocket of change right now right here. I think in the Bronx there’s something going on. I can tell you that teaching this concepts in school is also very important.

I was visiting a school in Massachusetts about a month ago, and I saw an eleventh grade project looking at anti-angiogenic foods that could be served in a nursing home for their cancer patients. And so if a high school student can do it, then we really need to be able to up the conversation with our hospital administration as well.

Speaker: Thank you so much for a wonderful talk.

Resources for Further Reading:

Is Medicine Killing You by Lissa Rankin at TEDxFargo (Full Transcript)

Is There Scientific Proof We Can Heal Ourselves? By Lissa Rankin (Transcript)

The Shocking Truth About Your Health by Lissa Rankin (Transcript)

What Doctors Don’t Know About The Drugs They Prescribe: Ben Goldacre (Transcript)