Joovvin' with Dr. Mark Hyman

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Dr. Hyman is a practicing family physician and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in the field of Functional Medicine. In this conversation, Dr. Hyman gives us simple strategies to avoid chronic inflammation, the biggest food myths, and his thoughts on red light therapy.

What attracted you to want to become a doctor? Did you ever envision millions of people around the world would be reading your books and taking your advice?

My way into medicine was through Buddhism. I majored in Buddhist studies at Cornell. As a young man in college, I was deeply interested in the mind, in nature of our consciousness, of the ways our thoughts and perceptions control our lives, and how we can work with them in a helpful way that brings more love, kindness, compassion, and insight into every moment, rather than darkness, suffering, struggle, and pain.

Pain and loss are inevitable, but I wondered as a young man, was there a way to understand suffering in a different light, to break the cycle of suffering. I realized there was a way to be more awake, to see things as they are, to notice life as it is and savor it, to love it, to wake up with gratitude and lightness and celebration for the magic of life. So it became my mission to help people do this, and a big part of ending unnecessary suffering is learning to take care of our health. I believe this starts with a whole-body approach to healing, which is where Functional Medicine ties in. We can’t truly heal if we don’t first get to the root of the problem and understand how all our different systems interact.  

I never could have imagined the trajectory my career has taken. I’ve just been fully committed to helping people find a new way to heal and it’s been humbling and profound to see how many people respond so positively to my message. 

Chronic inflammation is behind so many health-related issues, what are some simple strategies people can implement to avoid chronic inflammation?

Inflammation is something I consider with every patient, as it’s a root cause of most chronic diseases and is rampant in our country. I always recommend eating a low-glycemic diet and avoiding refined flours and added sugars, along with eating a rainbow of plant foods every day, to reduce the inflammatory burden on the body. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is very high in carbs and sugar and over 80% of adults are metabolically unhealthy, so it’s essential to keep these things in check to reduce our inflammatory burden. The SAD is also high in inflammatory fats like vegetable oils and poor-quality animal products. Eating healthy fats rich in omega-3’s is especially important to fight inflammation and support a healthy brain and optimal aging in general. Some great options are sardines, anchovies, walnuts, and wild-caught salmon. There are also lots of lifestyle pieces that are important to keep in mind if we want to avoid excess inflammation, like managing stress, getting deep sleep, and getting some different kinds of movement in.

You often speak of using food as medicine, what are some key foods people should be consuming in their diets on a regular basis?

The best way to cover all your dietary bases each day is to eat the rainbow. Focusing on a colorful variety of vegetables and low-glycemic fruits means you’re getting a diverse selection of nutrients and phytonutrients that help heal the body and prevent disease. 

Dark leafy greens like kale, arugula, spinach, Swiss chard, and collards are something I’m sure to eat every single day. They are a nutritional powerhouse, with vitamins A, B, C, E, K, and folate, minerals like magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium, and selenium, and powerful phytonutrients that are protective against chronic diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. 

Greens are also rich in fiber that supports our good gut bugs for a healthy microbiome. On that same note, eating polyphenol-rich foods every day is a proven way to improve gut health and longevity. Some of the foods highest in polyphenols are pomegranate, cranberries, and matcha green tea. 

And back to the importance of healthy fats, I recommend getting some of these with every meal to optimize brain function and fuel metabolism. Olives, wild-caught salmon, and tahini are some of my favorites. 

What are some of the biggest myths when it comes to food?

One of the most disruptive myths about food is the calories in, calories out, model for managing weight. All calories are not created equal. Think about it—300 calories from an avocado are not the same as 300 calories from a donut. It’s about the quality of information you get from your food and these are clearly very different sources of information. 

Another one is that all fats make you fat. Our bodies need the right kind of fats to function optimally. Fats make up the outer membranes of our cells, make certain nutrients absorbable, and the brain is even about 60% fat. So the key is to choose healthy fats like avocados and avocado oil, olives and olive oil, nuts and seeds, wild-caught low-mercury seafood, and pasture-raised animal products to give our bodies nourishing fats they can use efficiently. 

Is there a relationship between the food we eat and the quality of sleep we get?

Absolutely. For one, we need to have the right vitamins, minerals, and amino acids for our bodies to be able to make the neurotransmitters that help us fall asleep and stay asleep—we get these things through a diverse wholesome diet. Some nutrients, like magnesium, have a calming effect on the nervous system to promote restful sleep, but due to declining soil health and mineral stores, many of us are deficient in it. 

We also need to eat well for our hormones to function optimally, which impacts sleep. Melatonin is one of our most powerful hormones for getting good quality sleep, and it’s connected with the way all of our other hormones function. Deficiencies in certain nutrients can limit how well we produce melatonin, for example, iron, vitamin B2, and vitamin B6 are need for tryptophan synthesis which is the precursor to melatonin. 

Eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar (like in the Standard American Diet), causes more severe rises and falls in blood glucose and the hormone insulin. When this happens at night, we’ll experience lots of waking moments with less deep, restorative sleep. Many people have gotten into the habit of constantly eating, even right up until bed, which can negatively impact our blood sugar and hormone signaling and lead to poor-quality sleep. 

Any new or exciting research you’ve read or health trends you’ve seen developing?

I’m so excited about this study out of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine on the effects of functional medicine on patient outcomes. This study showed that patients seen in the functional medicine-centered program exhibited significantly greater improvements in PROMIS Global Physical Health and Global Mental Health than patients in individual appointments at 3 months. Additionally, more patients in the functional medicine program improved their PROMIS Global Physical Health scores by 5 points or more (an improvement of 5 points or more is considered a clinically meaningful change or a noticeable effect on daily life) compared to those seen in an individual appointment, and our program was less costly to deliver than an individual appointment.

I also loved watching this video that shows the role of oxidative stress in COVID-19. Studies show that a high-sugar diet contributes to oxidative stress and prevents the activation of the usable form of vitamin D. Bottom line, reducing sugar and removing high-fructose corn syrup from your diet is critical.

What were your first impressions when you heard about red light therapy and the clinical research behind it?

It just made sense to me. Light has always been a strong governing force for humans and health, we’re literally wired to respond to the rising and setting of the sun. But most of us now spend our days indoors exposed to blue light and other types of artificial light. Diving into the clinical research on red light therapy I was able to see that it has beneficial cellular impacts that most of us could really use in this modern age, like improving ATP production for energy, reducing inflammation, boosting circulation, and promoting better sleep.

What benefits have you personally noticed since you started using a Joovv light?

After using my Joovv daily, I’ve experienced so many benefits, from firmer, more radiant skin to improved sleep quality and faster recovery from my toughest workouts.