[00:00:51] Podcast Sponsors
[00:04:11] Guest Introduction
[00:07:28] Just How Bad Bread Is
[00:19:13] How Max's Views on MDMA Have Evolved Over the Years
[00:29:07] Overall Goal in Writing “The Genius Life”
[00:33:50] Podcast Sponsors
[00:36:36] Cont. Overall Goal in Writing: Exploring Alternative Treatments for Cancer
[00:45:29] Fish Consumption and Optimizing Brain Health
[00:51:25] Healthy Detoxification
[00:55:41] Advocacy in Increased Protein Intake
[01:05:08] Big Wins Regarding Biohacking, Food Prep, Etc.
[01:13:45] Max's Favorite Workout Regimens
[01:23:17] Closing the Podcast
[01:24:09] End of Podcast
Ben: On this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast.
Max: Neurosis, anxiety, depression, and things like that, which is sort of characterized by having an overly active default mode network. Over a span of, I believe it's six to eight weeks, all it takes is two doses of this drug to really have a market improvement in the symptoms of these patients. You see people that are struggling with their weight, they're struggling with issues related to blood sugar regulation, rates of dementia seem to be increasing, rates of cancer, certain cancers seem to be increasing as well.
Ben: Health, performance, nutrition, longevity, ancestral living, biohacking, and much more. My name is Ben Greenfield. Welcome to the show.
Alright, I got one of my favorite friends on the show for you today, the great Max Lugavere, who has just written an amazing book, and we go into his book on the show of all things. So, he's super brilliant and we had a really fun conversation. You guys are going to dig this one. So, the other thing I wanted to tell you about that's absolutely amazing is we just launched, and I'm incredibly excited about this, a brand new supplement at Kion. Now, it's creatine, in case you haven't heard, but what we did was we hunted down the highest quality, purest creatine that exists. It's called Creapure, which is not only completely plant-based, but it is pure, they filter this stuff in a very unique way.
And if you go and look at the website, if you go to getkion.com, getK-I-O-N.com, and you go to our creatine page, your mind is going to be blown at the number of clinical research studies on humans for not just testosterone, muscle strength, muscle power, endurance, heart health, but also really interestingly, especially if you're eating a plant-based diet or if you're elderly, but for anybody who needs a little pickup in cognitive performance, it's been shown to increase working memory and intelligence as well. So, this stuff is a Swiss Army knife of supplements, which is why we wanted to add it to our high, high-quality line of Kion supplements in our lineup. And you get a 20% discount at least as long as it lasts because it's already flying off the shelves of our brand new creatine. It's called–if I can talk, Kion Creatine. So, 100% creapure, creatine monohydrate, 20% discount if you go to getkion.com, getK-I-O-N.com, and use code BGF20.
This podcast is also brought to you by something else that is kind of like a Swiss Army knife of biohacking, and that is the natural red and near-infrared light therapy devices produced by my friends at Joovv. I've got two in my office, one behind me and one in front of me, walk in here every morning, strip off my pants and my shirt and do what would be the equivalent of full-body sunbathing in the comfort of my own office with no weird looks from my neighbors, who don't exist anyways because I live out in the middle of the forest. But for people who have neighbors, this might be a concern.
And what Joovv does is they concentrate this super powerful near and-infrared, or near-infrared and red light so you do not need a long treatment time, it's super safe, their low EMF. And particularly, one of the things that a lot of guys notice is a big increase in both total and free testosterone. A lot of the females who I work with, they love it for the collagen, for the elastin, for the beauty. Not that guys don't give a crap about that stuff too, but it's versatile for both sexes. So, what Joovv is doing is they're giving a free copy of my brand-new book, “Boundless” to anybody who gets a Joovv while supplies last. So, to do this, you go to joovv.com/ben. That's J-O-O-V-V.com/ben and just use code BEN over there on any order, large or small, and you'll get your hands on the amazing Joovv.
Alright, let's go talk to Max.
Well, folks, today, I am bringing you a podcast guest who you may have heard before. He did an episode with me entitled “The Surprising Facts About What Bread Does To Your Brain,” and also a podcast about why a high-fat ketogenic diet chockfull of saturated fat, coconut oil, and butter could be destroying your brain. Those were two episodes that, as you can imagine based on the titles, delved into a lot of confusing topics regarding bread, and fats, and gluten, and keto, and all that jazz. And he's also written a book. He's actually written two books. His first book that I found was called “Genius Foods.” And in my opinion, it is still, although it's a few years old now, one of the best books I've ever written on a dietary-based approach to managing cognition and upgrading your brain from a dietary standpoint.
He now has a new book out. It's called “The Genius Life,” where he kind of builds a lot of the concepts that he wrote about ingenious foods into a full lifestyle protocol that targets not just cognitive function, but gut, endocrine, cardiac, nervous system, exercise physiology, circadian biology. It's a really good read. I actually read it last week in preparation for this show and it goes into things about–like a trick to give you the equivalent of a marathon workout in 10 minutes and how to get an extra one to two servings of vegetables a day without actually eating them, go as a bunch into home chemicals and personal care and cleaning products, even how to boost melatonin levels by over 50% without the use of supplementation.
And so we may not dive into any of that stuff today because that's all in the book. And sometimes I like to talk about the stuff that you might not find within the pages of the book. So, his name, my guest name, now that I've left you hanging for long enough is Max Lugavere. Do you like to say Lugavere or Lugavere, Max?
Max: I'm open to interpretation, but I think the proper pronunciation is Lugavere, like beer. But I've heard it pronounced in any number of permutations, but I like yours, it makes me sound more exotic.
Ben: Yeah. Up here in Washington tonight, he'll probably just go with Lugavere and go with that. That's the redneck pronunciation, but Lugavere very works well. So, Max, you guys may have seen on “The Dr. Oz Show,” the “Rachael Ray Show,” the doctors. He's had articles on Medscape, Fast Company, CNN, The Daily Beast. He's been on the “Today Show,” he's been on the “NBC Nightly News,” he's been in the New York Times and People magazine, and he gives talks all around the world as well including South by Southwest. He's a TEDx speaker. He speaks in a lot of these biohacker summits and he and I crossed paths actually quite a bit, and I can tell you, he actually is someone who practices what he preaches, which I really respect in this industry.
So, everything we talk about today you'll find at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/geniuslife. That's BenGreenfieldFitness.com/geniuslife because that is also the name of Max's new book. So, he's got two books, “Genius Foods” and “Genius Life.” You can pick them up as a two-pack maybe. So, in case your glutton for reading.
Alright, so I actually want to start with something I already talked about, Max, and that was the fact that in the very first podcast I recorded with you, I was joking with you, and I don't think I ever did this, but I was going to send you a loaf of my wife's giant cannonball sourdough bread to dive into, a little grass-fed butter or maybe some olive oil or sea salt, maybe a touch raw honey or something like that, and see if I could convert you into a bread-eater. But at the same time, I know that a lot has happened in the whole bread department in the last few years, and I'm curious if your stance on breads or grains has changed at all, if you're eating them, if you do or you don't recommend them, or what's your current stance on the highly dogmatic and charged topic of bread?
Max: Yeah. It's such a good question and thank you for allowing me to revisit it and the topic. I think that probably0 since we've last chatted about bread, I still think that it's a processed food. It might be one of humanity's oldest and most revered processed foods. It's talked about in the Bible, but it's still a processed food nonetheless and it can be, for many people, hyper-palatable and something that people are prone to overconsume. Now, do I think it's sort of the harbinger of brain death that it's been painted as? I do not, and I think probably since the first time we chatted on the podcast, I've become a little bit more moderate in terms of my perspective on carbohydrate consumption with the acknowledgement that a lot of the recommendations that I make are to the mass audience of people that–you mentioned shows like “The Dr. Oz Show,” the “Rachael Ray Show.”
I try to tailor my message to the audience that I'm chatting with. And I know that you've got a lot of savvy listeners. You yourself are, you're an athlete, highly trained individual. I myself, I'm in the gym very frequently, five or six times a week. And for people like us who are very active and who are doing lots of high-intensity glycolytic exercise, I think that grains, and even potentially bread can serve a very functional purpose. Obviously, they provide glycogen, which is sugar stored in your muscles, one of the few places in your body that you can actually store sugar, and they help you to power through intense workouts and resistance training, which research is coming up by the day showing us that having stronger muscles is correlated to markers of brain health, from brain function to actual brain volume.
And so, for people that are on an intense workout regimen, I think that grains can actually be perhaps additive. They are–
Ben: Well, yeah. Maybe, but I mean, pushing back, because I know people are going to say this, you can also use sweet potatoes and berries and raw honey and non-grain based sources for those same glycogen stores.
Max: Well, you're absolutely right. I don't think that grains–the point is I don't think that grains are as toxic as they've been painted out to be, but they're not ideal. They're energy-dense sources of pure glucose, essentially, and many of them contain phytic acid, which is a known anti-nutrient. So, do it, but I think it's ultimately about dose and it's about the dietary pattern as a whole. In one of my phases where I'm working out all the time, is a bowl of white rice going to be toxic to me or white rice on my sushi? No.
I think another area where I've changed my perspective is I used to be all about brown rice, but we now know obviously that brown rice has not only phytic acid, which actually does not diminish with the other cooking process like it does with other grains because brown rice is actually very low in phytase, which is the enzyme that renders phytic acid and other anti-nutrients incapacitated, but that actually doesn't diminish with the cooking of brown rice. But actually, the hull of brown rice, depending on where it comes from, can actually contain significant amounts of arsenic. So, I think that the benefits of whatever meager amounts of vitamins and minerals you get in brown rice don't really seem to outweigh the risk of that arsenic contamination, especially if you don't know where it comes from.
Ben: Well, the density is important, the density of the carbohydrate itself and some of those nutrient inhibitors like phytic acid. But that leads to two things that I think about. One is preparation methods, right? Have you fermented? Have you soaked? Have you sprouted? Have you inhibited a lot of these digestive distressors and plant defense mechanisms that are built-in? I mean, this is an even bigger issue. Stephanie Seneff is probably one of the better researchers on this. She's a senior research scientist at MIT and she basically says that glyphosate is an antibiotic. It kills beneficial bacteria in the gut. And she's linked an imbalance of gut flora linked back to glyphosate to be a common determinator of celiac disease, gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivities, and gluten-related disorders.
There's a lot of studies on like GMO animal feeds that have been sprayed with crops that show a lot of stomach inflammation and various other gut-related diseases. In my opinion, my stance is I don't avoid bread. What I do avoid are pretty much any GMO form of the nine GMO foods that you find in the U.S., and I know a few of them was a soy corn, grain or–
Max: [00:12:57] ______.
Ben: –beets, papaya. Yeah. I think that's where folks should be more careful. I'm still on board with [00:13:06] _____ unless you have full-blown celiac disease with like a slow-fermented sourdough bread or even–millet is a largely gluten-free grain or quinoa that's been properly soaked and preferably sprouted. I think some of those are just fine for people who don't have celiac disease or pre-existing leaky gut issues, which obviously can also predispose you to the large gluten protein passing into the blood.
Max: Well said, yeah. I guess the point is that I don't think that they're–I think that they're low-quality food, they're cattle feed. I don't think of them as being particularly nutrient-dense. They are very energy-dense and they can be used to perform a specific function for the athlete. But when you zoom out and you look at population statistics, the fact that at least half of the population has type 2 diabetes or prediabetes and we know that being diabetic or pre-diabetic is actually a late marker for hyperinsulinemia, I think the recommendation to include grains in the diet is not a good recommendation for the groundswell of people that are struggling with what is essentially glucose intolerance.
And so that's why I don't make the recommendation to include grains because I think there's a lot of better options for you in the supermarket, especially in light of the fact that most people are nutrient deficient and at least one essential nutrient. Ninety percent of people are deficient in at least one vitamin or mineral. And so when you look at grains, they're just not the best option. But for somebody like you or somebody like me–and there isn't a one-size-fits-all diet, but if you're working out all the time, a sweet potato or a white potato even, which is actually fair, it's a great source of potassium, and if you cool it off, it becomes even more valuable because you get that resistance starch, but even white rice or the occasional quinoa. I just try not to be dogmatic in my message because if the sole grain that you're consuming is coming from quinoa, you're doing pretty good in terms of how you're probably going to fare in terms of your health relative to the general population.
Ben: Yeah. I would tend to agree that almost like the food pyramid-esque approach that's still a predominant characteristics of diabetic recommendations, eat your healthy whole grains, is old-school and leads to a host of glucose glycemic variability and insulin sensitivity issues that we've seen. There's a recent study that even showed that dietary and lifestyle modifications beat out metformin when it comes to management of type 2 diabetes. And some of those dietary modifications include some pretty intense mitigation of carb intake.
So, I think that the more important bigger picture is like not don't eat bread, but more, especially if you're trying to manage glucose and insulin issues, do not swallow hook, line, and sinker. The healthy whole grains are good for you because in fact, and you know this, it's pretty much like eating a Snickers bar when you have that stuff. It's more nutrient-dense, but from a sugar standpoint, yeah, unless you're physically active like you pointed out, it's something that may not be doing you any favors.
And that being said, this is interesting because I actually experimented with this for the past week, so it's top of mind for me, I kind of reverted back to what I did for a while and the very low carbohydrate diet. So, I've probably had about 10% carbs, maybe a maximum of around 60 grams a day for the past week, yet I've also been doing my daily workout routines. And I can tell you, and you see this flashed out in research too, anything that's sub-glycolytic and not a Metcon workout like short intense bouts of 15 to 30 seconds on an Aerodyne bike, or a treadmill, or a bicycle, or something like a weight training session that's more short heavy lifts like a five by five protocol–my performance has not been impeded at all.
But as soon as I dip into Metcon, CrossFit-esque intervals that are two to four minutes in duration, I definitely feel a lot more blah during those sessions. And so I think that that's important point too is if folks are going after metabolic efficiency and a mitigation of carbohydrates and they kind of want to have their cake and eat it too, and also get strong, and get fast, and get lean, and maintain power, they just need to be aware that they should choose especially over and above the Metcon workouts like short intense efforts because those don't tap into those glycolytic pathways quite as much.
Max: Well said. And I think what you're saying really underscores the fact that there's–as I mentioned, there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all diet and there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all exercise regimen. I mean, you can be going for metabolic adaptation and cater your workout more specifically to that and metabolic flexibility. And I think the way to do that is to probably limit the amount of carbohydrates that you consume. But I had a–and this is purely an anecdote, but my personal experience is when I'm including more carbohydrates in my diet, whether they come from an increased consumption of sweet potatoes, roots, tubers, and things like that, or even a little bit more white rice or even popcorn, which is a very voluminous snack and it's not soot–it's actually pretty high in fiber and other nutrients.
When I'm not doing a particularly keto appropriate phase of my diet, maybe a night snack on some popcorn occasionally, I find that it's actually a lot easier for me to gain strength in the gym, like, I feel a lot stronger. And I had the experience of really increasing my bench recently doing that. And I work out a little bit with my brother who's a jujitsu, a big fan of jujitsu, and he finds that when he tapers down his carbohydrate consumption, he bunks like a lot more frequently. You can't really do that in the middle of a competition, right? Otherwise, you're in trouble. So, yeah, I think it's all about changing it up and catering your diet using carbohydrates as a performance-enhancing tool, which I know that you've talked about quite a bit. But yeah, there's really no such thing as a one-size-fits-all recommendation, and it's using carbs as a tool to enhance your performance. I think really, that's when they are able to serve the most functional role that they can, really.
Ben: Yeah. Another thing actually that I wanted to ask you about that's relevant to a previous podcast that we did was–and I think this was on the second episode that we recorded, the one about ketogenic diet. We kind of delved into a few different rabbit holes and we actually got into MDMA on that podcast. But that was several years ago prior to the Johns Hopkins research and the emergence of MDA as what appears to be a pretty effective and potent therapeutic tool for everything from PTSD to couples' therapy. And I was curious because I recall that you had a stance on it in which you had some warnings about it, but I don't remember from our previous episode what some of your concerns were. And I'm also curious kind of like bread, if you've changed your stance on anything related to plant medicine, or in particular, MDMA based on the increasing amount of research that's been done on it, and it's kind of emergence as a very popular topic right now.
Max: Yeah. I mean, MDMA, psilocybin mushrooms, it's a super-hot topic, and I think for good reason, the fact that a lot of people are struggling with issues related to mental health, post-traumatic stress disorder, as you mentioned. And it seems to be a very effective tool with minimal side effects when used in appropriate setting for these patients. So, as you mentioned, it's being used to treat PTSD. In fact, in 2017, the FDA granted MDMA a breakthrough therapy designation, which is amazing. I mean, MDMA is an illegal drug. It's a schedule one illicit compound, but essentially, if they're able to prove that it has therapeutic use for patients with PTSD in these sorts of large rigorously controlled clinical trials, that they'll be able to get it approved with an indication for PTSD. And I think that that's an amazing thing.
What they're showing is that over a span of, I believe it's six to eight weeks, all it takes is two doses of this drug to really have a market improvement in the symptoms of these patients. They're also now using it to treat alcoholism and certain symptoms related to autism. Now, the bottom line is that MDMA is still, when used chronically, dangerous to the brain. It floods your synaptic cleft, which is that sort of gap in between neurons, which is where everything happens in terms of your cognition, like who you are, what you care about, your thoughts, your feelings, your mood. It all comes down to the appropriate function of neurotransmitters and how they're able to communicate from one neuron to the next.
The problem is having excessive amounts of a neurotransmitter in that synaptic cleft can actually cause oxidative stress. It generates what are called free radicals. And one way that this occurs, if you take serotonin, which everybody is familiar with in relation to its impact on mood, but it's also important for executive function and things like that. And serotonin is actually one of the primary neurotransmitters that's modulated with MDMA. MDMA sort of breaks the regulatory mechanism that essentially floods the synaptic cleft with serotonin. Serotonin has to be degraded by enzymes called monoamine oxidase enzymes. There are two types, but what happens is in the degradation of serotonin, you create hydrogen peroxide, which is one of the body's most–or one of the most well-known free radicals that literally can cause damage to your neurons.
Now, I don't think that this is a problem in an acute setting. In fact, there's no evidence that acute doses of MDMA is all that harmful. And in fact, I would argue that the benefits seem to outweigh any potential risks because–take alcoholism for example. Alcoholism is incredibly dangerous, right? Nobody would argue with that. And if all it takes are two doses of MDMA to break that lifelong pattern of alcoholism, then that's an amazing thing. And the studies that they're now doing out of Imperial College in London, they're finding that compared to control treatment, which tends to have about an 80% relapse rate, so like the control therapy standard of care to help a person detox from alcoholism and try to get them off of the sauce so to speak, has an 80% relapse rate. That drops to 10% with this MDMA treatment in this small clinical trial. Now, these trials need to be replicated. But again, it's like the benefits obviously far outweigh the risks.
Ben: Yeah. And I think as you noted, when you look at the oxidative stress–because there is some evidence. I mean, you could say some of the similar things about metformin even to a certain extent. MDMA can damage some of the functional integrity of the mitochondria, and that can result in driving more oxidative stress and some damage to things like lipids and nucleic acids. But if you actually dig in–and you can see that in the headline, and then if you actually will look at the studies, typically, it's a protocol, four to eight treatments of high-dose MDMA, that results in that type of oxidative stress. And many of them are administered in close conjunction over a series of weeks.
If you look at what I would consider to be a more prudent use of plant medicine, almost like what Steven Kotler talks about in Stealing Fire, where it's a quarterly experience, where you have a great deal of intention setting going in and you're actually taking very good care of the mitochondria, typically almost like a dieta going into a protocol like this where you're alcohol-free, very clean eating, not using other substances such as marijuana, and then also spending a long time afterwards, I think that you can skirt around some of that damage. And the other thing, and this has been very helpful for me because I have used that compound and several others, that's the repletion protocol for these neurotransmitters, again both leading into and afterwards.
I mean, I think anyone should go into whether it's an ayahuasca ceremony or MDMA or anything like that armed with 5-HTP, tyrosine, a good methylation precursor like SAMe, or betaine, or trimethylglycine, and then some really good amino acid precursor that's going to serve as a building block for a lot of those neurotransmitters. And then another one I'm a huge fan of for the oxidative stress is higher dose vitamin C. And I think you can almost go into some of these protocols with a stack and feel a lot different coming out of them, get a lot of the breakthroughs from a psychological standpoint, or the release of trauma from a psychological standpoint and mitigate some of the biological blowback that comes with the use of these substances.
Max: Yeah, you're totally right. I mean, I do think that under the appropriate set and setting that these drugs can be very useful. And psilocybin, take psilocybin, for example, the fact that they've shown that it can actually increase functional connectivity between disparate regions of the brain, which seems to be a physiologic correlate to what creativity seems to be, connecting dots between or seeing patterns where other people perhaps don't. And then again, this is more research that's coming out of Imperial College in London where they seem to be doing a lot of this really groundbreaking work. They find that it's able with psilocybin specifically to reduce activity in the default mode network, which seems to tighten the grip on what Aldous Huxley called the reducing valve of everyday consciousness, which I think can be very helpful for people with neurosis, anxiety, depression, and things like that, which is characterized by having an overly active default mode network.
And I don't think that they've done the brain scans to see how MDMA affects the default mode network, or at least not that I'm aware of, but they–what I think really seems to be coming to light is that these are all very powerful tools, and in the appropriate set and setting really seem to help people that are struggling with issues related to mental health. If I had to design a, like what you were talking about in regards to supplementation with 5-HT and–or 5-HTP rather, MDMA does deplete glutathione, it increases oxidative stress and free radicals as you mentioned, it can damage the mitochondria when consumed chronically. I would probably increase my omega-3 fatty acids around the time of taking that dose. I would probably make sure that my vitamin D levels were topped off, which we know is really important for brain health. And I would probably even supplement with a little bit of liposomal glutathione, which is more bioavailable than just straight oral glutathione.
Ben: Actually, and this is something that's relatively new, but one of my friends actually recently featured his products on my weekly roundup, Dr. John Lieurance. He's now making like high-dose CBD, high-dose melatonin, high-dose glutathione, and other antioxidants and plant terpenes, suppositories. And I've spoken anecdotally to several people who have used those for things like plant medicine ceremonies afterwards, not only to sleep better because sleep tends to be disrupted a little bit after these type of ceremonies, but also for a really big hit of bioabsorbable glutathione and other antioxidants. And it seems that sticking vitamins up your butt also seems to help out quite a bit with this stuff. I have not yet tried his products, post-therapy, because I really haven't done anything like this since I've discovered them, but I plan on experimenting with that as well.
Max: I feel like every time I talk to you, Ben, I'm learning about new things that you could potentially put up your butt for better health. I got to admit, I haven't really tried any of them yet, but it's funny that our conversations always go back to that. It's great.
Ben: No, you don't need to put bread up your butt, I can tell you that. I recommend that. Okay. So, let's shift from shoving things up your ass to your new book, “Genius Life.” And there's obviously a lot of things that you focus on in that book, but “Genius Foods” was really about brain health, nutrition for brain health, if I could put that in one category. And you followed that up with this book, “Genius Life,” and I'm just curious what your overall goal was in writing that book in terms of writing book on life instead of food.
Max: Yeah. Well, I think for your listeners who aren't familiar with my story, I mean, I became interested in this topic because my mom developed dementia at a very young age. She was 58 when she first started to show those early symptoms of what would ultimately be diagnosed as a rare form of dementia called Lewy body dementia, and it was as traumatic and heinous to witness her descend down that path for me, as it would be for any person seeing a loved one get sick. But because I had a background in journalism and I was well-versed in nutrition research because it's something that I've been passionate about for a very long time, I rolled up my sleeves and I started looking at the dietary pattern of my mom over the past couple of decades to really try to understand to the best of my ability why a woman at such a young age would have gotten sick, and ultimately, why we're all seemingly so sick.
I mean, if you flip a coin today, those are your odds for being diagnosed with dementia past the age of 85. So, for a generation like ours, Ben, Millennials, the first generation that's going to live on average over the age of 90, your odds of whether or not you will one day become demented is essentially a coin toss. And especially in light of drug statistics, Alzheimer's drug trials, Alzheimer's being the most common form of dementia, have a 99.6% fail rate. So, this is just a dismal condition, and the hope is just very limited in terms viable treatment option.
So, I just became a bit of a citizen scientist to try to discover what kinds of foods might be protective for the brain and what foods might actually be harming the brain. And that became the basis of my book, “Genius Foods,” but over the course of writing that and continuing to do my research, which is going to be a lifelong journey for me as I go down the rabbit hole of trying to figure out how to prevent this from ever happening to myself, I realize that food is just one part of the equation. Today, the modern world has become like–essentially, we're thrust into the midst of what is essentially “The Hunger Games” where we're being attacked from all angles. And if it's not the food that we're consuming, it's the everyday “miracle chemicals” as some chemists like to refer to them, but I think they're actually quite toxic.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals in our environment or the fact that we're now more sedentary than ever before, or we're just completely addicted to our devices and stress runs rampant, and we're just confronted with ever more reason to stay up late at night throwing our circadian rhythms completely out of whack, and that we know that every organ is influenced essentially by this burgeoning field being called circadian biology. And so in the new book, “The Genius Life,” I wanted to look at all of the different ways the modern world is really not operating in our best interests from a biological standpoint.
And so I talked about nature and circadian biology and our relationship to temperature, and time, and light, and food as well, and it's all essentially become mutated and it's making our health suffer. We're feeling crappy because of it day to day, but it's also, I think in many ways, responsible for the fact that so many of us are so ill. And I'd like to remind listeners that the default state of any organism is health. But when you look around, when you step off the plane at any airport, what you see is not health, Ben, you see people that are struggling with their weight, they're struggling with issues related to blood sugar regulation. Rates of dementia seem to be increasing, certain cancers seem to be increasing as well. And actually, what ended up taking my mom's life about a year ago was pancreatic cancer, which is something that I had no prior family history of.
And so what I saw was just the most tragic health that a person could possibly have. So, I really wanted to put everything on the table in this book and to look at the ways in which people might live fully that is going to the–in accordance with the best available evidence, reduce their risk for these conditions. So, it's packed with the simple things that you can do in your day-to-day life that are going to have big wins in terms of your health, how you feel in the present, but also down the road as well.
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I was sorry to read about your mom. I wasn't aware of that until I saw it in the book. I know that you were a real pioneer when it came to Alzheimer's and dementia, and that kind of like sparks your interest in getting into the old “Genius Foods” book in the first place. But when it came to cancer, did you begin to explore alternative treatments for cancer or, for example, have you engaged in any preventive strategies yourself based on pancreatic cancer? How does that changed you or taught you anything?
Max: Yeah. I mean, I wish that I had a light and uplifting answer for you, but by the time my mother was diagnosed, she was already in stage four, and this is actually about 90% of the time when pancreatic cancer is diagnosed. It's already late in the game. And at stage four, the cancer has essentially already spread to other organs. The pancreas is right dead smack in the middle of the gut and it's got–the cancerous cells in the pancreas have easy access to the liver, to the GI tract. They can easily enter circulation. So, it was just a horrific thing to have to witness.
Back when my mother was first diagnosed with dementia, I coined the term diagnosed an adios to describe how bleak the treatment options were for a person with dementia. Essentially, what you get are biochemical Band-Aids when you go to the doctor's office and that's it. And part of the reason why that is is that dementia begins in the brain decades before the first symptom, often decades before the first symptom of memory loss. And when my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, well, I had the same exact experience. It was essentially diagnosed an adios.
So, I have a lot of faith in mainstream medicine and I'm a big fan of science, but to be honest, part of the reason why I decided to stand up and start writing on this topic in a way that was rigorous and aimed at younger people is that these conditions don't develop overnight, they take years, if not, decades to manifest. And I think that the notion of prevention is not something that's being talked about in these doctors' offices. And when this concept of prevention is talked about, it's usually being talked about by people that younger people are not paying attention to. So, older doctors, people in white coats and things like that.
And I realized very early on that my story and my penchant for understanding and communicating science could actually help a lot of people. And so, no. I mean, we didn't really have the chance to explore alternative treatments for my mom. I think there's a lot of–you get excited about interventions like ketogenic diets and dietary interventions in general when the diagnosis of cancer is first brought up. But to be honest, I learned a lot about patient care with my mom. A patient with cancer undergoes something called cachexia, which is extreme muscle wasting. And for a person that you're seeing essentially wither away because the cancer is so metabolically hungry, you don't want to limit any food, let alone carbohydrates and grains. In fact, you want to feed the patient whatever they'll eat because at that point, all you really want to get into their mouth when they actually have an appetite are calories so they don't just completely disappear.
And so it's just a really difficult thing to have to contend with and my heart goes out to anybody who's ever struggled with any type of cancer because it's really hard. But pancreatic cancer, in particular, is–there's I think very little that's known about it. Certain people get lucky and they can become candidates for certain amino therapies, but my mom was not one of those people. And from the point at which she was diagnosed to the point of her passing it was three months and it was just brutal. So, writing the book over that period was very difficult to do, but it made me all the more motivated to really go into what areas my mom could have potentially improved, given what we know about cancer and DNA damage today and chemicals that are related to cancer incidence and kind of just putting it all out there for my readers.
Ben: Yeah. And when it comes to pancreatic cancer, have you ever done a genetic analysis or looked at your own propensity for certain diseases?
Max: I know that I'm at slightly higher genetic risk for developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease, which my mom was as well. But you know, these are not deterministic genes so it doesn't–I'm not afraid of them. And certainly, given what I know about diet and lifestyle, and especially exercises, ability to sort of negate the negative influence of the most well-defined Alzheimer's risk gene, which is the gene that I'm talking about, the APOE4 allele, I'm not afraid of it at all. When it comes to cancer, I think it's a little more complicated. And there are different types of cancer and I don't pretend to–I mean, nobody knows why cancer develops in each individual person, especially what type of cancer.
But certain cancers are hormonally related. So, for example, prostate cancer, breast cancer. We know that rates of breast cancer seem to be increasing. A woman's lifetime risk of developing breast cancer in the '60s was one in 20. Today, it's about one in eight. We know that there are compounds in the environment like no endocrine disruptors that are messing with our hormones, mimicking the hormone estrogen in the body, which is relevant to breast cancer. And so yeah, I think it's–you can't drive yourself crazy though. I mean, you have to triage your approach. And so that's why I think all it takes are a few simple things that you can do that are going to go a long way in terms of cutting your risk.
Max: Those are the low-hanging fruit that I try to provide for people.
Ben: Yeah. Dr. William Li, I don't know if you've interviewed him or gone through his work much, but he works with the Angiogenesis Foundation, or the Anti-Angiogenesis Foundation rather. And his book, “Eat to Beat Disease,” he had some good stuff in there about different foods, specifically for different forms of cancer. I think a couple that he talked about in relation to pancreatic cancer, I believe this was in his book, was turmeric, like higher dose turmeric is being one very good preventive method.
And then there was also some Chinese herb. It was like a triptolide, something like that. It has GRP78. It's the name of this Chinese herb. And apparently, it's a pretty potent extract to help to aid in death of pancreatic cancer cells. His entire book is really good, this “Eat to Beat Disease” book. You'd probably like it. But there's a few cool preventive methods that you can utilize from an overall dietary standpoint, which I know you're big on, your big part of your book, which I appreciate is the use of real foods, real food compounds to help to either prevent issues or to simply enhance things like cognition. So, that might be a cool one for you. Have you read that book, the “Eat to Beat Disease?”
Max: I haven't, but I heard it was really good. I mean, I think it's about eating healthy food that minimizes glycemic variability, inflammation, the potential for DNA damage, which we know can occur in the presence of grain and seed oil. So, minimizing all that stuff, but also facilitating your body's detoxification abilities. I'll never claim to know what caused pancreatic cancer in my mom. All I have are hypotheses, but I do know that towards the end of her life, she was just a walking illustration of polypharmacy. So, my mom was on–towards the end, she was on seven or eight different pharmaceutical drugs. And there is no way that any doctor, anybody can know how those drugs are interacting in a person system, right?
And so I have a feeling that that had something to do with it. But today, we're inundated with all kinds of industrial chemicals, whether or not we're breathing them, and we can talk about fine particulate matter, or benzene, acrolein, all the things that are in the air that we're exposed to on a chronic basis, or phthalates, or parabens, or BPA. I think each of these compounds in isolation probably wouldn't be all that harmful because the dose makes the poison. But today, the body burden of toxicity is just so high for each and every one of us that I think detoxing really becomes an important part of the equation.
Ben: Well, that's something you talked about in your book is mercury, specifically, and your big advocate of fish, and there's this whole smashed ire at sardines and mackerel, anchovies, salmon, and I think herring is the last one. I'm a big fan of those. I have a whole pantry full of these, like Wild Planet canned fish. And we do a lot of fish, but of course, there is the current dogma to avoid certain fish due to mercury and some of the potential toxin loads in other fish due to everything from microplastics to metals and beyond. And so I'm curious, for you when it comes to fish, what are your overall recommendations for doing as you say to eat more fish? Is there anything aside from simply eating fish smaller down in the chain that you focus on?
Max: I think in general, the fear surrounding mercury and fish consumption is overblown. A lot of the studies that linked fish consumption to mercury toxicity–to be clear, mercury is toxic, especially methylmercury, which is what is found in fish. But I think that the benefits outweigh the risks and a lot of the studies that really freaked people out about fish consumption and these “fish's ability to poison the brain with mercury”. We're actually not using fish at all. They were involving animals called the pilot whale, which are actually very high in mercury. And they don't have selenium, or they have very low concentrations of selenium.
And so one of the concepts that I explore in the book is the selenium to mercury ratio and fish. And generally, the thinking is selenium has been an antidote for mercury poisoning for a long time. That's been pretty well-established. And if you consume fish that have higher levels of selenium than mercury, then it's unlikely that those fish are going to be poisonous to the brain because I think what it seems to be the case is that the mechanism by which mercury can actually be damaging is that it binds to what are called selenoprotein enzymes that act like an antioxidant to the brain, thus, rendering them incapacitated.
So, if you're consuming more selenium in your diet and in the fish itself, then I think that you'll be okay and it provides a great opportunity to discuss the difference between mechanism and outcome. So, I mean, even though mercury is, as I mentioned, a poison, if you look at observational studies, which is really where the rubber hits the road, you see that people who eat higher levels of fish actually seem to have better health. And this occurs across the age spectrum. So, you find that people, and especially people with the APOE4 allele, which is the Alzheimer's risk gene, people that consume fish about one to two servings per week seem to be protected against Alzheimer's disease.
And then earlier in the age spectrum as well, you see a lot of pregnant women are told to avoid fish. But prenatally, women who consume more fish actually tend to have children who have greater cognitive development once they're born. And then even in the teenage years, kids who eat fish actually show higher scores on measures of intelligence. So, it seems that fish is really beneficial from a myriad of different angles. And I think that you still obviously want to hedge your bets and play it safe. So, if you are pregnant, for example, tuna is a fish that's like–it doesn't really provide the level of benefit that wild salmon, for example, does. So, I mean, I would not go to town on the tuna because tuna does have just a higher amount of mercury in it in general, although it does have more selenium than mercury. When I'm eating fish, I tend to reach for the oily fish, the wild salmon, the sardines, mackerel, and things like that.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. Another one is sea bass. That's another common one that you got to be careful with. Even the mackerel, it kind of depends on the source, like the Spanish Gulf mackerel and the king mackerel, like those are high in mercury. And then if you look at the mackerel from the Atlantic, it's lower. What I do is I've got a little photo in my stored photos on my iPhone, just a photo of the smart seafood buying guide, like one little downloadable PDFs of that. And so if I'm at a restaurant, I'm not familiar with the fish that's written like, I don't know, maybe it's skate or grouper, or something I can't remember. I'll just open that and reference that. But that's also a really good point you bring up regarding the selenium and having optimized selenium status in conjunction with a higher seafood diet. And I think that's something that a lot of people don't realize, or don't talk about, or they don't test their own selenium status. But of course, selenium in excess can be a little bit of an issue if it's imbalanced with iodine, for example, but just eating fish that are higher in selenium may be thrown in some Brazil nuts here and there using a good multivitamin that's got decent amounts of selenium in it.
I think a lot of that can scroot the issue and leave you from having to do like a monthly detox if you're consuming fish. Like, I'm still a fan. I don't know if you do much of this, Max, but just for overall brain health and relate to some of the issues you talk about in the book like personal care products, cleaning chemicals, some of those stuff that we can't avoid. We just got done with the holiday season. Everybody's probably walked through the perfume section of Macy's or some other department store at least a few times.
This idea of just like lifestyle-based detox strategies, like, I use a sauna really frequently and I even have like a dry skin brush in the sauna. We've probably already kicked the coffee enema horse to death, but I do that once a week. I move frequently. I sweat frequently. I do a lot of things that I think naturally support detoxification. I even use activated charcoal on a frequent basis. I try and work a lot of that stuff into my day-to-day routine. What are your thoughts overall on detoxification?
Max: Yeah, it's a really good question. And to that, I say you want to be conscious of the three Ps of healthy detoxification, and that is peeing, pooping, and perspiring. So, if you're doing all of those things well every day, I think you should be going to the bathroom every day, you should be peeing and drinking enough fluid so that your pee runs clear because the solution to pollution is dilution. And then also sweating. We excrete a significant amount of heavy metals and compounds like bisphenol A and phthalates and–you mentioned fragrances. Fragrances, when they're synthetic, they're primarily using compounds called phthalates, which is a huge category of compounds. But phthalates are known endocrine disruptors, and then parabens, which we easily absorb through our skin.
We purge them in significant quantities when we sweat. Of course, when you sweat, you also lose some of the minerals that you actually want to keep in your body, too. So, you have to remember to rehydrate. But generally, I think when it comes to detox and you really want to make sure that you're eating a diet that supports gut health, that supports the bacteria in your gut, which also help detox, I mean, that's sort of like–gut bacteria are our first line of defense against toxic compounds that we may otherwise absorb through the GI tract. In fact, I forget the strain. So, don't quote me, but there's a strain of bacteria that actually helps reduce the absorption of heavy metals like cadmium, which is amazing.
So, you always want to make sure that you're eating a way that supports gut health. I'm a big fan of much to the disappeasement of the carnivores in the audience. I'm a big fan of consuming lots of vegetables, fibrous veggies that can bind up certain heavy metals and compounds like that that you end up pooping out. Also good to help maintain healthy levels of cholesterol, which is sort of a separate issue, but making sure that you're going to the bathroom regularly. Crucially important. And also eating compounds in your food that help provide the precursor molecules to your body's own detoxification compounds like foods that are very high in sulfur-containing amino acids. So, actually, grass-fed red meat is a great way to provide cysteine to the body, which is crucially important. It's rate-limiting in the synthesis of glutathione, which is your body's master detoxifier.
I'm also a huge fan of glycine, which I get from collagen when I consume organ meats, but I also supplement with collagen. Lately, I've been taking actual straight freeform glycine every night before bed because glycine is also rate-limiting in the synthesis of glutathione.
Ben: Yeah. You can also upregulate autophagy, glycine can. That's something that I spoke with Dr. Mercola about, glycine, quercetin, chamomile extracts. Garcinia is another, but there's a few things you can actually take in powder form. I actually have a little glass mason jar in my pantry with all those things mixed together. I just buy the bulk organic powder and then I mix all that together and just do about two teaspoons of that from a glass mason jar before bed at night, especially if I'm in a fasted state or starting in my nightly intermittent fast.
And I think there's definitely something to that from multiple standpoints, not just the autophagy, but also the detoxification. That's also a really important point that you make about the microbiome. And there's actually a really good paper that was published pretty recently. It was a couple of months ago on the “Role of the Microbiome as a Metal Detoxification System.” And they actually went into one very common probiotic you found in yogurt. And I think they supplemented the yogurt with additional strain, but it was the Lactobacillus rhamnosus, which you can get in most yogurts, and that's something that can actually be the first stage in the gut for everything from cadmium to lead, to mercury. So, yeah, something as simple as that from just a lifestyle or a dietary-based detoxification standpoint. You don't have to make yourself cilantro and charcoal smoothies per se. There are some other strains they discussed in that article. I'll hunt it down in the shownotes over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/geniuslife. I'll link to an article for people if they want to explore the different strains. But yeah, it's a really good point.
Now, when it comes to fish, obviously, that's also a source of protein. And you actually advocate for relatively high and frequent protein consumption in your book, although you'll see–many longevity books these days seem to encourage some pretty strict mitigation of protein, which I personally tend to disagree with, but I'm curious to hear your stance on your reason for incorporating such high protein intake.
Max: Yeah, Ben. I think that again, it's confusing mechanisms with outcomes. I think a lot of people today are worried about the overactivation of mTOR, which is the mammalian target of rapamycin, which is sort of the central gatekeeper to autophagy, which you mentioned earlier, which is the cellular housecleaning–it's sort of like the Kondo method for yourselves where old worn-out proteins get gobbled up and made anew, which is important for longevity. But I think when you look at the benefits of protein consumption, I think if they outweigh the risks and–in fact, low protein consumption and its impact on longevity really hasn't been demonstrated in humans or other animals independent of calorie restriction. So, I think calorie restriction can be very beneficial in terms of inhibiting mTOR, activating AMPK, which is another longevity pathway —
Ben: Wait, wait. I'm going to interrupt you there for a second. So, what you're saying is low protein consumption has been shown to be beneficial for longevity if it is paired with low calorie consumption?
Max: Yeah, calorie restriction, in general, is the primary means by which you can extend life in simpler organisms. And that is by necessity going to coincide with a lower amount of protein.
Ben: Okay. But keeping calories held constant and decreasing protein has not been shown in research to have a significant impact on longevity markers?
Max: No, it has not been demonstrated, yeah.
Ben: Okay. Gotcha.
Max: And in fact, there are some very good reasons to increase the amount of protein that you consume. So, even in old age, it's been shown that double the recommended daily allowance for protein, which is 0.8 grams per kilogram of lean body mass, so doubling that to 1.6 has actually been shown to help older people, older adults better maintain strength and muscle mass. And also, there's been an association between the consumption of protein in the diet and the likelihood of an inverse relationship between protein consumption and the likelihood that amyloid plaques are going to be present on brain scans. It seems that the more protein that people consume, the less likely there is to be this over aggregation of amyloid plaque, which sort of typifies Alzheimer's disease and just cognitive aging in general.
Now, whether or not it's the protein that's responsible for that, I don't know. But when you consume more protein, you tend to consume less carbs in fat. When you consume more protein, there's this idea called the protein leverage hypothesis that our hunger mechanisms are essentially driven by our necessity for amino acids and protein. And protein is crucial in terms of keeping you satiated. It's the most satiating of the macronutrients. I think you have a metabolic advantage when you consume more protein because people tend to understand that fat has nine calories per gram and carbs and protein have four calories per gram. But actually, protein has three calories per gram when you consider the fact that about a third of each gram of protein that you consume is being burned off just in the metabolism of that protein.
Ben: Yeah. It's pretty hard to overeat on protein.
Max: It's very hard to overeat on protein. Protein containing foods are again very satiating. And when talking about grass-fed beef, wild salmon, things like that, eggs, you don't get more nutrient-dense foods. And I think that the idea of maintaining muscle mass is something that–it's not just for the vein, Ben. I think having more muscle in your body as you age is crucially important for longevity. It allows you to continue to do exercise and to stay mobile throughout your life. As I mentioned earlier, having stronger muscles is directly correlated to having better brain health.
And so these are not insignificant aspects of the benefit that we get from consuming protein. Now, the caveat that I would add is that you want to make sure that the protein that you're consuming, especially if you're consuming predominantly muscle meat, is being buffered with an appropriate amount of collagen or specifically the amino acids that are found in collagen. And I mentioned glycine being one of them, the primary one that I would be concerned with, actually.
Ben: Yeah. I agree with that. I think in the book, “The Switch,” which is a relatively new book by James Clement, he elegantly describes the interplay between anabolism and catabolism, and almost this concept of protein cycling. We're going through periods of high protein intake and preferably during periods where you might be doing a lot more walking, sauna, swimming, yoga, periods of an activity, et cetera, engaging in low protein intake and then pairing that with a daily intermittent fast. So, basically, you're getting cell proliferation when you actually need it. And that in and of itself can be conducive to longevity, but you're also not maintaining yourself in a constant state of elevated growth hormone or IGF-1, or any of these things that we know if constantly stimulated may actually detour or inhibit some of these longevity enhancing mechanisms.
So, it's kind of like allowing your cells to operate in two different states and switch back and forth between the states of growth and housecleaning, whether it's on a daily basis by doing an intermittent fast every day and having your protein in certain boluses throughout the day or even on like a weekly or quarterly basis, having periods of time where you're cognizant of total protein intake and sending your body a little bit more of a catabolic message. I think probably the interview will be released by the time this interview comes out, but I recently interviewed the doctors at Wild Health MD, Matt Dawson and Mike Mallin, and they actually do a lot of this with their client base because they do a lot of longevity and anti-aging medicine.
And they'll actually have their clients, they specifically and systematically lay out the year in catabolic and anabolic phases. They even do things like incorporate certain anabolic peptides like Ipamorelin and CJC and some of these peptides that enhance growth hormone receptor sensitivity, your growth hormone activity by the pituitary gland with those more anabolic phases, and then also have those periods of time when people are going on more of a low protein intermittent fasting or longer fasting type of diet so that–again, we're kind of like pressing and pulsing so to speak when it comes to protein.
Max: Yeah. I would add, do you probably definitely want to be on a weightlifting regimen? Which I think is crucial for anybody, not just people who want to get swole, but resistance training is crucial. Having stronger muscles in your body, the benefits of that cannot be understated. And then I would also probably make the caveat that as you increase your protein consumption–yeah, you want–protein and the stimulation of mTOR and these growth factors, as you mentioned, IGF-1, I mean, they're going to allow cancers to grow essentially. But are they going to cause the mutation that are going to lead to the generation of these pro-cancerous cells?
I think that's where cutting out the grain and seed oils and minimizing glycemic variability, making sure that you've got healthy levels of blood sugar, and then you're getting adequate sleep and that you're loading up on important minerals like magnesium, which is important for nearly all of the 50 DNA repair enzymes in your body, they're all reliant on magnesium to function. And we know that half of the population doesn't consume adequate magnesium. This isn't just about from one day to the next, dramatically increasing your protein consumption and making no other modifications in your diet or lifestyle.
I think it's about cutting out the pro-inflammatory foods that can cause these mutations in your DNA that can then be–the higher levels of IGF-1 and all the other growth factors, that's going to be a dangerous scenario. So, I think you want to really make sure that you're eating in a diet that minimizes inflammation, that keeps your blood sugar variability low, generally speaking. It keeps levels of insulin pulsatile and practice brief periods of fasting and things like that. Those are all important parts of the equation. But when it comes to longevity, yeah, I just don't agree that this low protein thing, I don't think that that's a recipe for success. It hasn't really been demonstrated, and I think again, the benefits of consuming more protein are going to outweigh the risks.
Ben: Now, how about you personally? I mean, I know that you do a lot of research writing these books. I know that, like I mentioned in our introduction, you practice what you preach, but I always love to hear what folks who are dialed in like you are actually doing on a daily basis. And I don't necessarily think we need to go through soup-to-nuts your daily routine, but I would love to hear some of what you would consider your bigger wins, even things that might fly under the radar, whether those are biohacking technologies that you use or specific compound you incorporate in your diet, food preparation methods, anything that you've really found to be a big win for you. If you could pick a few and share it with us.
Max: Yeah. I mean, I think drinking clean water is super important. In “The Genius Life,” my book, I talked about some of the environmental toxins that we're now just inundated with ranging from PFAS substances to BPA to phthalates and heavy metals, and these are omnipresent in drinking water all around the U.S. So, one of the best things that I did for my health was I invested in a water purifier or a reverse osmosis water filter. It's cut down on the plastic that I consumed by a huge proportion and it gives me clean water.
I have a total dissolved solids meter that I bought. You can buy one for, I don't know, $12 on Amazon, so I can verify that it removes all of the heavy metals from my water, which–that's also going to include some of the minerals that we do want to get from our water. So, I'll add them back in with trace minerals, just another supplement. I have no affiliation with any of these manufacturers, but that I bought on Amazon. So, I drink really clean water and I use that water to rehydrate in the morning to make my coffee with, my tea with.
Ben: And are you adding minerals back into the water? Just because that's one of the complaints about reverse osmosis is it also filter out a lot of the minerals that we need.
Max: I do, yeah. I do it for taste and I also do it for the mineral value because a reverse osmosis water filter, I mean, one of the great things about them is that they remove everything from your water, but that's also I guess one of the downsides is that you remove any of the minerals that you would otherwise get.
Ben: Yeah. I swear by those the–I learned this when I interviewed Robert Slovak, the Quinton hypertonic minerals. I guess they harvest them from this algal bloom that's super-duper concentrated in minerals. And before that, I'd kind of go back and forth between my Celtic salt and AquaTru minerals, and ancient minerals I think had a mineral blend. But now, I just open up a little sachet of that Quinton. I travel with the two and just dump that in the morning water. It kind of tastes like very salty saltwater if you drink it straight out of the packet. But if you put that in like a big glass Mason jar in the morning of a reverse osmosis water, I found that to be the best when it comes to minerals.
Max: Yeah. I forget the name of the brand that I use to remineralize my water, but it also has trace amounts of lithium in it, which lithium is actually very commonly present in drinking water around the U.S., and there is an interesting relationship between an inverse relationship between lithium in drinking water and population risk for developing Alzheimer's disease. And they found that lithium can actually boost brain-derived neurotrophic factor in the brain, BDNF, that Miracle-Gro protein that's so crucial to maintaining brain plasticity as you age.
So, I add that back into my water. Again, I try to drink a fair amount of water because as I mentioned, it's a great way to detox. And as perfectly as I try to live, the idea of perfect is sort of an illusion and you're always going to be exposed to environmental toxins. And so I'm always trying to just like keep myself constantly flushing them out.
Ben: Yeah. Lithium actually used to be a big thing. There was a spring called Lithia Springs and it was like this big health destination and the Native American sacred site. And the company 7UP kind of capitalized on that. And when 7UP first came out, it was called lithiated lemon lime soda, and they were actually adding lithium to 7UP, and that actually gave it a little bit of a nootropic effect, which is interesting because you'll find lithium now in a lot of these nootropic compounds. So, yeah, even though it sounds like a scary, I don't know, like radiated compound the one shouldn't be consuming, it's actually got some good properties to it. And actually, seven is the atomic mass of lithium, which is why they switched it to 7UP, just kind of —
Max: Oh my god.
Max: That's amazing.
Ben: Yeah. So, what else other than water? Anything else that are big ones for you?
Max: Yeah. I mean, I try to get a half an hour at least of time spent in nature where I'm allowing the bright light of the day to enter my eyeballs so that I can anchor my body's circadian clock for the day. As I mentioned earlier, every organ is influenced in some way by the time of day that it is and the chief times that are in the brain. And ultimately, the body is the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which is influenced by the amount of light that is allowed to enter our eyeballs.
Now, research at the Salk Institute for Biological Aging is showing that we need about a thousand lux, about a half an hour of a thousand lux of light intensity every day to sort of act as a time setter for that region of the brain. And you get that easily via the ambient light of an overcast day. So, I try to go outside for half an hour, which is about the time that it takes. But we also know from research out of Japan that about 20 minutes in nature can significantly reduce cortisol levels. So, I talked a bit about the value of nature and nature bathing in the new book. So, I try to kill two birds with one stone by either going for a walk around my block, which I'm lucky I have some trees to look at. Just looking at greenery I think does wonders for my mood while I'm getting that morning bright light. And then if it's a day that I'm working, I try to stay active as much as I can and have as much non-exercise physical activity in my day as possible.
We know, Ben, that being sedentary actually drains blood from the brain, but all it takes is about two minutes of activity for every 30 minutes of sedentary time to normalize blood flow to the brain. So, I try to do one of those–I guess it's like a Pomodoro method, but instead of taking a break and shifting over to like reading the tabloids or something like that, every 30 minutes of work time, usually, I get up and I do some yoga or maybe some jumping jacks or even foam roll my upper back, which I do.
Ben: Yeah. I mean, that's just good for overall consciousness when you look at the fascia. It's essentially like a piezoelectric tissue. So, every time that you pressurize, every time you compress it, every time you twist it, even if you're a lot loading it, like even if you're not lifting weights, it's an electrically conductive material. So, you're getting movement of neurotransmitters, you're getting movement of photons, you're getting like a [01:12:07] _____ signaling effect, like there's a lot of stuff that happens when you're doing something as simple as mobilizing fascia throughout the day.
I think, kind of similar to sauna, and I haven't seen evidence on this, I think there's probably a little bit of a dopaminergic response. Obviously, we know this if we get a massage that feel good, endorphin release, but I think that foam roller and even self-inflicted deep tissue work, at least I found this to be the case for me. It's almost like mildly addicting, like it becomes this thing or I just don't feel quite right in the morning unless I move my fascia and compress my fascia. And I'm certain a part of it is that that whole piezoelectricity and the fact that we almost have like this consciousness in our entire being that envelops every muscle. If you can keep that stuff taken care of and well-hydrated and moving and electrically charged, I think it's huge, is a good way to set up your day.
Max: That's fascinating. Yeah. I would love to learn more about that. I saw you tweeted recently you were looking for a chiropractor to do some adjustments on your hip. When I write, I tend to get really hunched over, which I think occurs to many people. And so I love going and getting like an adjustment of my upper back, but what I found is that by having a foam roller, which is like the best $25 investment you could ever make in your apartment, if you just roll out your upper back, you can actually get a lot of that, those sort of like pops and cracks in your upper back that you would typically get from an adjustment. And I do that all the time in and it's reduced my need for getting those adjustments. I can basically roll out my upper back and it feels amazing. It's a big thing for me, yeah.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. I agree. And I do have another question for you, and that is I know that you sound kind of like me that you like to incorporate low-level physical activity throughout the day, Pomodoro breaks to do deep tissue work or even perhaps, whatever, lift something heavy or do if you're jumping jacks or something so that a formal exercise at the end of the day is like the icing on the cake, or at the beginning or the end of the day, it's something that is good for building even more fitness, but shouldn't be necessary because you've had your ass planted in a chair for eight hours.
But that being said, a lot of listeners of this podcast, they love to exercise. Personally, it keeps me saying like I love it. It's almost like one of my forms of moving meditation each day. So, for you, what a typical exercise session look like these days based on some of the things that you've covered in exercise physiology in your book, some of the things you've learned as far as exercising effectively, what's your flavor these days as far as the ways that you're incorporating even deeper levels of fitness into your body?
Max: Yeah. I mean, I love going to the gym and doing resistance training. I mean. I think that my routine these days probably looks a bit like a bodybuilding-style split, and I vary my reps generally. Sometimes I'll be going more for hypertrophy, but lately, I've been trying to build up my strength actually. So, I'm doing a lot of barbell lifts, benching, and things like that. I actually noticed, and we talked about this a little bit earlier, but that I was gaining strength really quickly when I was eating more carbs and then I cut back on the carbs. Actually, my strength didn't stop gaining really as much. I felt like I had a little bit less ammunition in the tank, not that that's necessarily a bad thing, but I do–yeah. Basically, I'll go to the gym five or six days a week and I'm doing like generally these days a chest or more of like a push day where I'll do chest, I'll do shoulders, I'll do triceps, and then I'll do a pull day, and then I'll have a leg day, and then I'll just sort of cycle that. Maybe I'll throw in like a dedicated shoulder day into the mix as well.
But yeah, that's generally it, and then I'll do high-intensity interval training, which I know can have a really market effect on your markers like VO2 max, which is crucially important for how you're–it's a marker for how effectively your body utilizes oxygen under load. I'm not a big fan of steady-state cardio because just generally speaking, I tend to get a lot of meat in my day. Again, non-exercise physical activity or non-exercise activity thermogenesis. On days where I feel more sedentary, then I'll go to the gym and maybe I'll have like a dedicated cardio session, but I'm just in general, not a big fan of–mentally, I feel like I don't have the attention span to get on a treadmill and–20 minutes is generally about my max.
But other than that, it's like lots of low and slow activity, which I think is crucially important as an energy sink. I think people underestimate the amount of calories that they burn, just being more active in general, and they overestimate the amount of calories that they burn doing cardio at the gym. So, just trying to stay more active helps to mobilize. Lymph fluid, which is crucially important helps, as I mentioned, boost blood flow to the brain. That's really my workout routine. And then keeping my protein up. I generally aim for–I think it's about 1 and 1.6 grams per pound of lean mass, generally, if you have–that seems to be the minimal optimal amount of protein that you can take that's going to really optimize the time that you spend in the gym. You can go above that, but there's really no need to as long as you're hitting that 1.6.
Ben: Yeah. I agree. And the other thing, that high-intensity interval training related to what we were talking about with carbohydrate intake, that by definition is inadequate recovery in between your exercise sessions. It's lactic acidosis and relatively glycolytic. And one thing–especially this week, as I'm going through this experiment of the lower carbohydrate intake, high-intensity repeat training, I don't know if you've heard of that before, but it's basically like where you go out on a walk and every three telephone poles, you'd sprint for 10 seconds, or you would do a 20-minute bike ride, but it's only got like four 15-second sprints in it. And it's this idea of extremely brief all-out spurts followed by very long recovery periods.
I think Mark Sisson is who popularized it last year, this idea of high-intensity repeat training. And I really like that, too, especially if people are mitigating carb intake or don't want to get the big amounts of lactic acidosis that for some folks can be a little bit draining, this idea of high-intensity repeat training. As a matter of fact, Joe Rogan recently interviewed Pavel Tsatsouline. And I listened to that episode because I'm training for the Russian kettlebell certification right now. So, anytime I see somebody in the kettlebell sector get interviewed, I go take a listen because I'm trying to up my kettlebell game. And he actually talked about that quite a bit, how he's a fan of doing one heavy brief lift or one heavy spurt, and then long recovery period, and then another one. So, pretty much everything is super fresh, super powerful. It's kind of a cool twist on interval training.
Max: Yeah. And from the standpoint of longevity, I mean, it makes perfect sense that that would be beneficial to your health because–I mean, it works in the same way that calorie restriction works, right? When you're doing those high-intensity intervals, you're basically creating a momentary energy crisis for your mitochondria, right? There's just not enough energy to support your mitochondria with the ATP that they need to help power you through that sprint or that burst on the air assault bike or the battle ropes or what have you.
And so what happens is it activates that pathway AMPK. That has a number of beneficial effects from the standpoint of metabolism, but it also helps to create new mitochondria, it helps spur mitophagy, which is the degradation of worn-out mitochondria, which characterizes aging and disease and degeneration just in general. And all it takes is one high-intensity interval workout to basically see that process unfold. So, very beneficial from the standpoint of health and longevity, and also from the standpoint of boosting fitness as well.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. Am I going to see you on the bodybuilding stage anytime soon?
Max: I don't think so. I mean, the thing is I'm able to maintain a body composition that I enjoy, that I'm proud of. I feel great. I'm fairly lean. I've got a good amount of mass, but I don't obsess. And I think that that's the message that I'm trying to send to people is that you can have a great body without being obsessive about it. One other thing I guess, and this will be the last tip that I have that I integrate in my day that has been very effective and the research shows this, one thing, if you tend to overeat, all you got to do is be more present with your food.
So, they've shown, and this was published this year in the journal physiology and behavior, that just being distracted on your smartphone or even with printed reading material or when watching TV on Netflix, we tend to consume about 15% more calories. A lot of people have this perception that you've got to count calories or become overly obsessed with macros like protein, fat, and carbs to look like you, Ben. But actually, there's a strong case that by just making these by–you're just using a few simple insights, like being more present with your food, putting the phone in your pocket or maybe turning the TV off while you eat and going back to the show that you're into, that you can actually save a significant amount of calories without having to actually count them or become overly obsessive or destroy your relationship with food. And that's pretty much how I operate. I'm not a competitor. I don't intend on ever competing in bodybuilding or strength competitions, but it allows me to be relatively strong and have a pretty, I think, good body composition without going too nuts about it.
Ben: Yeah. I completely agree. I think that it all starts with the way that you begin the meal. And I mean, anybody that's eating at our house knows or even gone out with me at a restaurant. You can be a little self-conscious when you first start doing that. But I always close my eyes and do at least three deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. After I finish that, I also bless the food. Just that one simple method of starting a meal makes you far more [01:22:28] _____ what you're eating.
And then the other thing based on exactly what you've just elucidated is I have almost completely quit eating when driving. There were times when I'd make myself a quick meal to scarf down while I'm driving from point A to point B. And not only do you not enjoy the food, but it's not satisfying. You're eating in a sympathetically driven state, your digestive enzyme production is lower, your post-meal insulin response is not as good, and yeah, that whole concept of eating mindfully and eating gratefully and making food, not just an experience, but also a celebration, I agree with you that–I don't know. You could probably eat Twinkies while you're smoking a cigarette, and as long as you're mindful, it's all good. Is that your next book, Twinkies and cigarettes?
Max: Twinkies and cigarettes, yeah, the genius play, yup.
Ben: Yeah. That'll be the title of today's show, Twinkies and Cigarettes. Well, Max, we didn't really even delve into almost anything that's in your actual book, which is great because I think folks can get a whole lot more of your little hacks if they read it. It's called “The Genius Life.” And I would also recommend, if you want even more of Max, go listen to the other two podcasts I did with him about bread and a ketogenic diet. And I'll link to that, I'll link to all the research studies that we mentioned, everything, I'll put over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/geniuslife. So, Max, thanks for coming on the show, man.
Max: Thanks for having me, dude, and thank you for being a light in the industry, man. You're the man and I value our friendship.
Ben: Thanks, dude. Me, too. I'm grateful for you. Alright, folks. Well, I'm Ben Greenfield along with Max Lugavere signing out from BenGreenfieldFitness.com. Have an amazing week.
Well, thanks for listening to today's show. You can grab all the shownotes, the resources, pretty much everything that I mentioned over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com, along with plenty of other goodies from me, including the highly helpful “Ben Recommends” page, which is a list of pretty much everything that I've ever recommended for hormone, sleep, digestion, fat loss, performance, and plenty more. Please, also, know that all the links, all the promo codes, that I mentioned during this and every episode, helped to make this podcast happen and to generate income that enables me to keep bringing you this content every single week. When you listen in, be sure to use the links in the shownotes, use the promo codes that I generate, because that helps to float this thing and keep it coming to you each and every week.
The author of the New York Times bestselling book Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life and previous podcast guest on the episodes “The Surprising Facts About What Bread Does To Your Brain (And What You Can Do About It)” and “Why A High-Fat, Ketogenic Diet Chock Full Of Saturated Fat, Coconut Oil & Butter Could Be Destroying Your Brain (& What To Do About It)” is back!
His name is Max Lugavere, and his new book The Genius Life: Heal Your Mind, Strengthen Your Body, and Become Extraordinary features a lifestyle program for resetting your brain and body to its “factory settings,” to help fight fatigue, anxiety, and depression and to optimize cognitive health for a longer and healthier life.
In The Genius Life, Max takes his Genius Foods plan, which focused on nutrition and how it affects brain health, and expands it to encompass a full lifestyle protocol. We know now that the health of our brains—including our cognitive function and emotional wellness—depends on the health of our gut, endocrine, cardiac, and nervous systems as there is a constant feedback loop between all systems. Drawing on globe-spanning research into circadian biology, psychology, dementia prevention, cognitive optimization, and exercise physiology, The Genius Life shows how to integrate healthy choices in all aspects of our daily routines: eating, exercising, sleeping, detoxing, and more to create a healthy foundation for optimal cognitive health and performance. Among Max’s groundbreaking findings, you will discover:
- A trick that gives you the equivalent of a “marathon” workout, in 10 minutes…
- How to get the benefits of an extra 1-2 servings of veggies daily without eating them…
- The hidden chemicals in your home that could be making you fat and sick…
- How to boost melatonin levels by up to 58% for deeper sleep without supplements…
Max is a filmmaker, health and science journalist, and author. He is also the host of the #1 iTunes health podcast The Genius Life. He appears regularly on the Dr. Oz Show, the Rachael Ray Show, and The Doctors. He has contributed to Medscape, Vice, Fast Company, CNN, and the Daily Beast, has been featured on NBC Nightly News, The Today Show, and in The New York Times and People Magazine. He is an internationally sought-after speaker and has given talks at South by Southwest, TEDx, the New York Academy of Sciences, the Biohacker Summit in Stockholm, Sweden, and many others.
During our discussion, you'll discover:
-Just how bad bread is…8:08
- It's one of humanity's oldest and most revered processed foods
- Max's views have softened slightly over the years
- Grains can serve a functional purpose
- Glycogen storage
- Help to power through resistance training
- Not as toxic as made out to be, but not the most ideal option available
- Changed views on brown rice
- Preparation methods are important
- Avoid GMO foods
- No such thing as a one size fits all diet, nor an exercise regimen
- Increased carbs in the diet may lead to increased strength (performance-enhancing tool)
-How Max's views on MDMA have evolved over the years…19:45
- Being used to treat PTSD; given “breakthrough drug” status by the FDA
- Being used to treat alcoholism, autism
- Chronically dangerous to the brain; imbalance in neurotransmitters
- Serotonin is modulated with MDMA
- Acute doses are limited in potential harm; benefits outweigh the risks
- Psilocybin can reduce activity in default mode network in the brain
- Can damage mitochondria when consumed in large amounts
- Dr. John Lieurance's glutathione/antioxidant suppositories (code: BEN)
-Max's overall goal in writing The Genius Life...29:00
- The goal was to help people identify diseases such as dementia or cancer years or decades before they manifest physically
- Genius Foods identified which foods affect the brain
- We're essentially in “The Hunger Games” books
- Sedentary, addicted to devices, rampant stress, circadian rhythms are out of sync
- The default state of any organism is health; our society is anything but healthy
- Max's mom developed dementia at a young age; was eventually diagnosed with pancreatic cancer
- Conditions don't develop overnight
- Prevention is not discussed by and large in mainstream medicine
- Cachexia: extreme muscle wasting
- Certain cancers are hormonally related
- Book: Eat To Beat Disease by William Li
-Fish consumption and optimizing brain health…46:00
- Fear of consuming mercury with fish is overblown; the benefits outweigh the risks
- Selenium: mercury ratio in fish is key
- People who eat more fish have better health; protection against Alzheimer's
- Women who eat more fish have smarter kids
- Oily fish (wild salmon, mackerel, sardines) are preferable
- Lifestyle considerations:
- The 3 Ps of health detoxification: peeing, pooping, perspiring
- Glycine can upregulate autophagy
- Chamomile extract
- Article: Role of the Microbiome as the First Metal Detoxification Mechanism
-Why Max advocates increasing protein intake…55:45
- Confusing mechanism with outcomes
- The benefits outweigh the risks
- Calorie restriction is how to enhance longevity
- Reasons to increase protein:
- In old age, double the allowance helps maintain muscle mass
- Inverse relationship between increased protein and amyloid plaque
- More protein = fewer carbs and fat
- Protein leverage hypothesis: hunger mechanisms are leveraged by need for essential amino acids
- Protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients; metabolic advantage
- Very nutrient-dense foods
- Having more muscle mass is crucial for longevity
- Ensure protein you consume is buffered with collagen or the amino acids contained therein
- Book: The Switch by James Clement
- BGF podcast with Wild Health MD
- Supplement with magnesium
-Max's big wins regarding biohacking, food prep, etc…1:05:08
- Drink clean water
- Time spent in nature
- 30 minutes of sunlight in the morning
- Suprachiasmatic nucleus controls circadian rhythms
- 20 minutes in nature can reduce cortisol levels
- Staying active
- 2 minutes of activity for every 30 minutes sedentary can reset the blood flow to the brain
- Fascia is a piezoelectric tissue
- Foam roller, deep tissue work can be mildly addicting
-Max's favorite workout regimens…1:13:45
- Resistance and strength training
- Cut back on carbs, lost efficacy in strength training
- Not a fan of steady-state cardio; lots of NEAT throughout the day
- Staying active boosts lymph fluids
- Keep protein intake up: 1.6 g/kg of lean mass
- High-intensity repeat training
- Joe Rogan podcast with Pavel Tsatsouline
- You can have a great body without obsessing over fitness
- Be more present with your food; distractions while eating can increase calorie consumption
-And much more!
Resources from this episode:
– Ben Greenfield Fitness podcasts with Max Lugavere:
- The Surprising Facts About What Bread Does To Your Brain (And What You Can Do About It)
- Why A High-Fat, Ketogenic Diet Chock Full Of Saturated Fat, Coconut Oil & Butter Could Be Destroying Your Brain (& What To Do About It).
– Book: Eat To Beat Disease by William Li
– Book: The Switch by James Clement
– Quinton hypertonic minerals (use code GREENFIELD10)
–JOOVV: After using the Joovv for close to 2 years, it's the only light therapy device I'd ever recommend. Give it a try: you won't be disappointed. Order using my link and receive my brand new book, Boundless absolutely free!
–Beekeeper's Naturals: A wellness company specializing in innovative nutraceuticals made from healing hive compounds and plant-based ingredients. Get 15% off your order when you use discount code: BEN
–Organifi Glow: A plant-based beverage that helps support the body’s natural ability to produce collagen, smooth fine lines and wrinkles, and protect the skin from sun exposure and toxins. Receive a 20% discount on your entire order when you use discount code: BENG20