In 2015, after a personal health awakening, Dr. Sara Gottfried hit upon the brain body connection. Within her recovery process, she began to dig deeper into the biological imperatives behind her health crisis. With a focus on an emerging system of medicine that works from the inside out to address the root cause of disease and accelerated aging, she found not only healing, but lasting health and renewed vitality.
Talk to us about what led you into your own health transformation and reclaiming of your life: In 2015, I hit upon an epiphany about the brain body connection. I learned it the hard way: I fainted, crashed and smacked my head. I struck a cold tile floor, hitting the back of my head so hard that I had what looked like seizures due to the trauma. The recovery process was slow. It was terrifying. For a few months, I lay in a dark room for most of the time, nauseated, unable to work, unable to exercise, unable to walk. I was forced to be still for the first time in my life. I didn’t have a choice. And this is when I really began to listen to and observe the connection between the brain and the body. I discovered nerve cells are delicate and easily damaged with inflammation; I discovered I was chock full of brain/body toxins that are linked to vague brain symptoms related to memory, focus, impulse control, libido, weight gain and mood. Finally, I realized I had prediabetes and this led to my fall. As I embarked on my recovery process, I set out to understand the biological imperatives behind my symptoms. I figured out the root cause, and then the solution. The solution is the Brain Body Diet. Working in functional medicine, you seek to treat the root cause of a health problem rather than its symptoms – what are the long-term issues with only treating a lifetime of symptoms: In mainstream medicine, the convention is to apply prescriptions to address symptoms rather than to treat the root cause. The problem with this approach is that you may feel better temporarily, but your medical condition keeps progressing and you age faster. Sydney Baker, M.D., one of the early practitioners of functional medicine, used to say that if you’re sitting on a tack, the solution is to find and remove the tack, not to treat the pain. In functional medicine, the goal is root-cause analysis so that you tune up the biology, reverse the medical condition, and feel better in the long term. This is the basis of functional medicine, the emerging system of medicine that engages the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms, and works from the inside out to address the root cause of disease and accelerated aging. Describe the concept of “life-span” versus “health-span” what does it mean, and how do they differ: Life span only focuses on your age. But what is so great about surviving to 80 years old or more, if those later years of your life are spent drooling in a nursing home, unable to recognize your family and friends, diminished by chronic or debilitating diseases? That’s why I want to shift the conversation to healthspan, the period of time that you feel in your prime, free of disease. Not only do I want to help people extend their years of life, but I also want to show them how to expand the period during which they are able to thrive, free from “disease-span” and in hormonal harmony.
What are the key factors to living well: Here is my super short version of the secret to good health and nourishing a strong brain body connection.
Be careful with your fork. Make sure you are getting your pound of vegetables a day.
Be mindful with your eating window. Intermittent fasting truly impacts brain fog and also your ability to lose weight. Our DNA evolved millions of years ago and we are stuck with the same DNA today. Yet back then, we didn’t eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, with snacks in between. We need to realign our genes with our environment
Be on top of your sleep. Get 7 to 8.5 hours every night. Use a tracker to ensure you get 90 minutes of deep sleep.
Be thoughtful about your social connections. What we call your social genomics are probably one of the most important things when it comes to your health. When I say social connections, I don’t mean how many followers you have on Instagram, although positive interactions online can raise oxytocin in your brain, which helps with social bonding. What I mean is eating food in an environment that really serves you, with benevolent people. That helps to turn on a virtuous cycle in the body.
Take out the trash. We need to help the body to get rid of the accumulation that builds up from our daily exposure to environmental toxins. We need to do it in an active way. We can’t just rely on our liver to do it.
For women, what are the trademark things that steal our youth: Hormonal imbalance, stress, lack of sleep, sugar, alcohol, and putting self-care at the bottom of our priority list. Women are expected to be perfect at work and perfect at home. We are always in battle with the competing priorities of work, family, raising children, attending to spouses, and supporting aging parents. We go about our way with limited guidance, biding our time until retirement, armed with few good or realistic models for how to integrate it ALL into a sacred, cohesive whole. The overwhelm of daily life and cycles of exhaustion—both physical and emotional—make it nearly impossible to find the homeostasis, or balance, we need. In Brain Body Diet, I guide women on how to develop the tools to reclaim lost balance in their lives and eliminate the behaviors that rob them of equilibrium and their youth. Brain fog. Unhappy. Lethargic. Loss of sex drive. How can women reverse these common feelings and practice vitality at any age: Weight gain, brain fog, anxiety, depression, addiction, memory loss. They are sacred messages of brain body breakdown calling out for help, not symptoms to be medicated away so that you feel more numb. Left unaddressed, these nagging conditions can wreak havoc in your brain and start cognitive and physical decline prematurely. Your brain literally controls every aspect of your body, health, and daily function. When the brain/body connection is lost as a result of toxins, leaky gut, imbalanced gut bugs, or hormonal imbalance, you get fat, foggy, anxious, cranky, addicted, and forgetful.
The brain/body connection is the key to health. It is the key to reversing chronic symptoms that women have been told they have to put up with as part of the aging process.
My work as a functional medicine doctor, my body of research and my books, in particular, the latest, Brain Body Diet, reveal to women the missing links that are the secret to fixing all the health issues described above that are plaguing so many women. Fixing the brain body connection is the missing element. How can we eat and supplement to improve our health-span: First of all, aim to eat at least a pound of vegetables per day, and 20-30 different plant species each week to promote diversity in the microbiome. Get anti-inflammatory protein, healthy fat, and slow carbs. Use your fork to fuel your body with the proper nutrients and use supplements only to fill in the gaps.
Vitamin D3 together with vitamin K2. Vitamin D has 400 jobs in the body, but get the right dose to make your blood levels highly sufficient.
For most people, I suggest a high-potency multivitamin that covers the B vitamins—especially if you are coping with stress. For those with cortisol issues, I recommend Vitamin C. High levels of Vitamin C were shown to lower post-race blood cortisol levels in ultramarathon runners.
I recommend omega-3s. I recommend 2-4 grams per day to reduce inflammation, buffer cortisol, and increase lean body mass. I’m increasingly interested in the data on Specialized Pro-resolving Mediators to help resolve inflammation.
Sara Gottfried, MD is the three-time New York Times bestselling author of The Hormone Cure, The Hormone Reset Diet, and her newest book, Younger. After graduating from Harvard Medical School and MIT, Dr. Gottfried completed her residency at the University of California at San Francisco. She is a board-certified gynecologist who teaches natural hormone balancing in her novel online programs so that women can lose weight, detoxify, and slow down aging. Dr. Gottfried lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two daughters.