February 24, 2020

Nutritional biochemistry

#94 – Mark Hyman, M.D.: The impact of the food system on our health and the environment

If we were eating what the government actually funded in agricultural supports, we'd be having a giant corn fritter, deep fried in soybean oil. And it's like, that's not exactly what we should be eating.” —Mark Hyman

Read Time 44 minutes

In this episode, Mark Hyman, M.D., director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine and the author of Food Fix, discusses that if we can fix the food system, we can solve many big problems—namely the chronic disease/obesity epidemic, the rising costs of healthcare, as well as the big problems facing the environment. Mark first briefly lays out the health consequences of processed food with a focus on the gut microbiome. From there, Mark discusses the environmental consequences of industrial farming and lays out how we can affect change on the individual level, through policy and regulations, and perhaps most importantly through regenerative agriculture. Additionally, Mark talks about the potential health risks of consuming GMO foods, herbicides, and other chemicals used in industrial farming as well as the environmental consequences, such as the loss of soil, caused by those same fertilizers and methods of farming.

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We discuss:

  • The negative consequences of the existing food environment [3:25];
  • What makes processed food so unhealthy? [9:00];
  • The gut microbiome: Inflammation from gut permeability, and how to measure gut health [18:30];
  • Steps to fixing a bad gut—The Five R’s [24:30];
  • Some staggering health statistics, and which races might be more genetically susceptible [27:15];
  • An argument for government regulations and policies to fight back against a massive food industry with unlimited resources (and what we can learn from the tobacco story) [29:00];
  • Industrial farming and climate change: The degradation of soil and use of fertilizer [41:45];
  • Regenerative agriculture: Could it be the answer to food waste, our health problems, and the environment? [51:45];
  • Comparing the “Impossible Burger” to regeneratively raised beef [1:06:00];
  • GMO and Roundup—The potential health risks of consuming GMO foods sprayed with Roundup (glyphosate) and other herbicides and pesticides [1:08:15];
  • How the livelihood of farmers are being affected by big ag companies and the current industrial farming system [1:16:30];
  • The loss of biodiversity in our food, and what “organic” really means [1:19:00];
  • What can people do on the individual level to protect themselves as well as affect change to the toxic food system? [1:25:00];
  • What role does the USDA play in this “toxic” food environment? And how do we fix it? [1:30:15];
  • The top 3 changes Mark would make if he was “food czar” [1:35:15];
  • Mark’s rebuttal against the argument that it’s best for the environment if stop farming animals and move to a fully plant-based diet (and his argument for “agriculture 2.0) [1:36:30];
  • What is Mark’s overall mission with the work that he’s doing? [1:40:30];
  • Bread in the US vs. Europe: Why does bread (and wheat products) taste different and potentially cause less health problems in Europe versus the US? [1:42:00]; and
  • More.

§

The negative consequences of the existing food environment [3:25]

Why did Mark decide to go into food research?

  • As a doctor seeing patients day after day for 30 years, as a functional medicine doctor, my focus is on why are my patients so sick? 
    • The majority of them, it has some relationship to food. 
    • I had to figure out why are they eating the food they’re eating?
    • The food system we have is the problem
  • Why do we have this food system?
    • It’s because of the food policies.
  • Why do we have our food policies
    • It’s the food industry that influences our government policies through lobbying and other influences that they do across the spectrum of society to drive their products to the market and sell them.

“There’s 11 million people that die every year from eating ultra processed food and not enough of the good food. And I think it’s an underestimate.”

The answer as to why Mark decided to focus on this issue: “I realized I couldn’t fix my patients in my office or in the hospital, or the clinic I had to go to where the source of the problem was.

Was the evolution of farming all bad?

  • No, in fact, Mark says that, “agriculture is a solution, if we do it right.

The main pillars making the current food environment “toxic”

  • Chronic disease: Food is the biggest driver of chronic disease affecting six out of 10 people
  • Economic crisis: It’s clearly the biggest driver of economic stress in this country, in our $22 trillion debt. 
    • One third of all Medicare expenses are for diabetes alone
    • One third of all of our federal budget is Medicare
    • And if it was a company, it would be the biggest company in the world at $1 trillion annually. 
  • Climate change: It’s also driving climate change. 
    • A food system, end-to-end, is the number one cause of climate change more than fossil fuels, says Mark
    • It’s causing massive environmental degradation including loss of bio-diversity (plant species, animal species, livestock species) 
    • And of course that leads to massive political instability because of our food system of climate refugees, because the food system is driving climate. 
      • The UN estimates that within a decade or few decades we’re going to have 200 to a billion climate refugees
  • Social injustice: It’s driving social injustice in many ways through how it affects our kids’ cognitive development and ability to learn (And there’s huge academic achievement gaps)
    • It leads to massive health disparities because poor communities are more affected by these foods and are more targeted by them. 
  • Cognitive behavioral issues: Violence, conflict, depression, suicide
    • And I think our diet has changed so radically, not just in the last 10,000 years, but in the last 40 years with the advent of massive amounts of ultra processed food and that’s driving cognitive behavioral issues, violence, suicide, conflict, etc.
  • National security: It even threatens our national security because 70% of military recruits are unfit to fight and they are rejected

The good news?

  • All these issues are connected by food, they can all be solved by going to the root and fixing our food system. 

{end of show notes preview}

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Mark Hyman, M.D.

Dr. Hyman is the Head of Strategy and Innovation for the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, and founder and director of The UltraWellness Center. He is the bestselling author of numerous books, including Food: What the Heck Should I Cook?Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?Eat Fat, Get Thin, and The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet.

Dr. Hyman believes that food has the power to change our most important global issues – transforming individual, environmental, economic, societal, and global health, and everything in between. [foodfixbook.com]

Disclaimer: This blog is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine, nursing or other professional health care services, including the giving of medical advice, and no doctor/patient relationship is formed. The use of information on this blog or materials linked from this blog is at the user's own risk. The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should not disregard, or delay in obtaining, medical advice for any medical condition they may have, and should seek the assistance of their health care professionals for any such conditions.
  1. Damn, if only Mark Hymen could be the NIH director or Secretary of HEW !!
    The subtle collusion between Pharma, medicine , big food and government is killing us ! Medicare is the big band aid. Academia does nothing to educate the public … most scientists I know think glyphosate is harmless…. Change will have to come from the medical profession !

  2. Quick correction: Mark said organic means “no pesticides, no herbicides”. This is absolutely not true. Google “list of pesticides used in organic farming” to learn more. You’d think someone on the board of group largely funded by organic companies (both directly and through obfuscating channels), would know more about the basics of organic ag. I actually agree with much of what Mark has to say (cover crops good, tillage bad, …), but he is way too careless about many things (and whether they’re actually supported by evidence). If you want to learn about agriculture, talk to an agronomist or other agricultural expert. Mark is asking VERY important questions related to the health of people and the planet, but these important questions deserve more careful and rigorous attention than Mark tends to give them.

  3. THE AMA CLEARLY CONTNUES TO DENY ITS RESPONSIBILITIES FOR HELPING THE GOVT. PUSH THE “LOW FAT DIET” ONTO THE PUBLIC! THIS WAS THE ORIGIN OF THE TYPE 2 DIABETIES EPIDEMIC!! NOT A CORRUPT AG INDUSTRY!

  4. As a recent (and grateful) Peter Attia podcast member, I was wondering when the topics of “the microbiome” (even if much remains on the moon’s dark side) and “toxic grains” would surface. I’m encouraged that both appeared as at least respectable slices of bread between the meat of episode #94 with Mark Hyman. A fine, multi-layered sandwich was served with, I trust, more of that crust to come !

    Also, in reference to Peter’s dietary suspicion when he was in Europe, I too had the same thought during the year I spent in Central Europe between 1992 – 93. And now, as a nurse of twenty years in critical care, the domestic data has become for me more than overwhelming.

  5. Just want to echo Jeff’s comment. Most people think that organic food and pesticides are better than conventional farming in terms of human health, including pesticide exposure and nutrient quality. I don’t know how this could have been studied conclusively, especially given the range of different pesticides used. For example, what is the mechanism of harm for glyphosate? If you want to go with the precautionary principle, that’s fine, but that should apply to all foods that didn’t exist in the human evolutionary environment, which would exclude any grains, i.e. go with a paleo diet.

    I really enjoyed this podcast but I think Mark should be more precise with some of his claims. For example, the pesticide 7 point IQ drop could use a really strong reference.

  6. Thank you, Peter and your staff too, for this podcast and the terrific show notes. I listen to all of your podcasts and learn tremendously. I appreciate the rigor of your questioning and your analysis of data. This podcast is the most important one I have heard so far. Food IS medicine and agriculture is at the heart of cultural and planetary health. I learned a lot and also found this highly motivating. I will promote this to all of my networks, including my clients, as required listening for human adults. Can’t thank you enough. Milree Keeling, RN BCSI

  7. I was appalled by your choice to interview Dr. Mark Hyman, due to his unabashed bias against genetically engineered crops and food ingredients, and the associated issue of glyphosate use on certain GE crops. His untruths and disinformation disseminated in the popular press gets high visibility. He is on the advisory council of the “Food Babe” enterprise, another exploiter of consumers’ fear to drive sale of her over-priced products. https://foodbabe.com/advisorycouncil/ . Mark Hyman’s website is filled with the same anti-GMO ,fear-based propaganda. https://drhyman.com/blog/2017/05/21/thoughts-gmo-foods/
    I appreciate your effort to remain focused on the scientific validated evidence.

  8. I am going to have to listen to this 3 or 4 times to really digest all of the amazing information in this episode. Yes Peter, please do more on the topic. I was blown away with the data! Germaine Schweibinz

  9. I’d like to pile on to the point several previous comments have made- Mark discussed some very important (and relevant) topics but many of his arguments lacked rigor. For example, the figure regarding 70% of military recruits being unfit for service was very misleading. The linked Time article states that it’s 70% of all U.S. 17-24 year olds (not just recruits) and also includes those who would be rejected for personal appearance and educational background, not just health. I really enjoy how scrupulous and detail oriented most discussions are on this podcast and I think Mark could have used more pushback at the points where he was vague or didn’t back up his claims.

  10. Hello Peter,

    I have not much to say except that it was a fascinating podcast and topic, I learned so many thing that are so important and not just for my health, this is awesome. Hope we (as a society) can move in the right direction soon.

    Thank you!

  11. I’m glad you had Dr. Hyman on as a guest as I think he’s engaged in an uphill battle. Directionally I agree with everything he said, but I thought he was a bit fast and loose with facts and figures on climate change and certain aspects of agriculture. If you engage this topic again I hope you’ll invite a farmer and/or soil scientist to speak about agriculture and soil. Mark’s clearly engaged more deeply with this topic than most people, but I found myself thinking, “that’s not quite right,” or “that sounds exaggerated,” or “that’s not very well supported by good research yet” through much of the podcast. I could make suggestions for farmers to interview if you would like…

  12. Gotta agree with most of your other listeners that have commented so far. Mark is a good guy and his heart is in the right place, but lots of statistics quoted loosely without a lot of context/citation. It did intrigue my interest in learning more about regenerative agriculture though. Intuitively, it all makes sense to eat what we have eaten for the vast majority of our existence on this planet. I still think the strongest argument for reforming the food system is an economic one as SAD is the overwhelming driver of metabolic syndrome and it’s downstream manifestations which in turn drives the vast majority of our outrageous healthcare costs. I don’t think we’re going to overcome this issue through public policy initiatives unfortunately. It’s gotta be a grassroots rejection of the status quo. Communities of people coming together and municipalities getting involved. Just too much money in keeping the things the way they are on the federal level and I really hate it.

  13. Peter,
    Thank you for what you do, which is to get the essential information about food, health, longevity and strategies for living better out to folks like me, the mainstream public. Important role you are playing. And thanks for bringing us the informative podcast with Mark Hyman.
    Mark provides a lot of good and informative insights but he also commits some errors in his assertions about climate change. One, that I can call out as an example and not dwell on this overmuch, is the factoid that 2018 was the warmest year in human history. It was not, at least not according to actual science. The history of humanity is long, much longer than the Holocene, yet even in this 11,700 year window of human history the Holocene Climate Optimum was significantly warmer than it is now.
    I know, this isn’t a podcast on climate variability, but the unfortunate conflation of climate catastrophe and human health/nutrition seriously dilutes the message he’s attempting to convey. Hyman should stick to what he knows and evangelize the important message from his core competency and bring in the ancillary benefits that accrue, such as putting black carbon back into the soil. The reference to Gabe Brown was well articulated and I would encourage anyone to listen to Brown speak, in his YouTube videos, from strictly within his core competency which is the value of regenerative farming.

  14. Thank you Peter for all the work you put into providing applicable content to the public. That being said, I was reminded during this podcast with Dr. Hyman about why I stopped listening to his podcast. I completely support his mission, but he can be quite off-putting in his either/or approach. He ignores the nuances, is fond of dropping stats and information that is questionable, and really doesn’t like when he gets push-back. Dr. Attia you do a nice job of presenting a balanced, unbiased, and reasonable view on all the topics you explore. It was obvious that Mark didn’t like your attempts to open up a conversation about anything that suggested anything other than 100% what he was peddling. I’ll stick with The Drive, Mark is too fanatical for me.

  15. Loved this podcast. Thanks for sharing, a lot of people don’t even consider where their food comes from or how it got in their plate… if we are going to try and live healthier for longer, no doubt we need to go down this rabit hole, Mark may not be an “Expert” but he certainly shed some light. Thank you Mark, Peter and team.

  16. Think Mark Hyman needs to tighten up his rather casual references to percentages and his overall definitions but at least they make you want to go and check them up for yourself. For me it was an interesting interview and great to think that via Peter’s website we can get such a wide range of viewpoints with such pertinent questioning. The podcasts are always Intellectually stimulating and belief challenging.
    However I would like add a request to Peter..please could you consider editing some of your questions and comments as they can be unnecessarily long winded and repetitive.

  17. Ok. One more thing. The Transgenerational effects of glyphosate study he mentioned https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-42860-0 is a complete joke for several reasons: 1) they removed members from the control group that were too obese (therefore the control group was artificially healthier than the test), 2) it was absolute p-hacking (if you test dozens of outcomes broken down in multiple ways, you’ll find ‘patterns’ by chance), 3) they messed up multiple significance calculations (for example, see Fig 2C – They claim p<0.05. I found p=0.12, based on their numbers).

    When you go p-hacking, you also find other silly results, for example, glyphosate is 100% effective at preventing tumors in your offspring compared to control. It's ridiculous (but all too frequent) that papers like this make it through peer review. I can't specifically comment on most of the other articles he mentioned (I just happened to take a close look at this one), but many of these agenda-driven 'studies' have similar levels of rigor, and it takes serious effort/time to look at them in detail, so mostly people just trust the headlines.

  18. I thought he was saying a lot of reasonable things at the start and I was pretty on board until he started coming up with all these numbers and cleverly dodging some of your probing questions….then I remembered I heard his name before, Science-Based Medicine have written about him and some of his dubious associations (Goop being one of them).

    The Cleveland Clinic he helped set up and was talking up has recently published a retrospective trial of their patients, and as David Gorski writes here, the results are indeed underwhelming. There’s a good critique of it here, make of the results what you will
    https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/cleveland-clinic-publishes-functional-medicine/
    Mike

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