The Manhattan-based integrative- and functional-medicine expert Dr. Frank Lipman founded his highly regarded Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in 1992, way before the now omnipresent concept of wellness was even a thing. Since then, Lipman’s holistic approach to health and command of cutting-edge nutritional science has garnered him a tony patient list that includes Sienna Miller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Michelle Williams (who calls him her “go-to wellness guy”), Téa Leoni, Donna Karan, and Arianna Huffington, and his books on well-being and weight loss tend to linger on New York Times best-seller lists. His latest effort, “How to Be Well: The 6 Keys to a Happy and Healthy Life” ($27, amazon.com), is an exhaustive but highly accessible guidebook to good health.
Dr. Lipman, can you give us a brief introduction to your work?
I’ve been a physician for almost 40 years, and early on in my career, I realized there was a deficiency in traditional Western medicine. There’s crisis care, which is great for emergencies, say, if you break a bone, have appendicitis, or have pneumonia, but I realized that it wasn’t particularly good for treating chronic conditions, which is what we tend to see in private practices. I started exploring alternatives early on, and over the years learned about nutrition and Chinese medicine and meditation and yoga, and what we now call functional medicine. That’s what I practice now, sort of a combination of all of this, and I just call it good medicine, but probably people would know it as integrative medicine or complementary medicine.
Sounds like good-sense medicine.
Exactly, it’s good-sense medicine. If someone needs an antibiotic, I’ll give them an antibiotic. If someone is having a heart attack, I’m not going to give them surgery, I’ll send them to the emergency room. If someone breaks a bone, I’m not going to give them acupuncture, they’re going to need to get their bone fixed. So you use Western medicine when it’s appropriate and alternatives when that’s appropriate, but for the most part, the problems we’re seeing in this day and age, all the chronic diseases, Western medicine just gives a drug. It’s like a Band-Aid. If you’re driving your car and the oil light goes on, you don’t put a Band-Aid over the oil light. You take your car to a good mechanic so you can see what’s going on. That’s what I do in my practice: I see what’s going on. I look for the underlying causes, and I try to treat them or remove them if there’s an obstruction to healing or if it’s causing a problem. What I’m doing is looking for causes and then using lifestyle medicine for the most part, including nutrition and supplements and meditation and exercise as part of the treatment.
I love your new book. It is easy to digest and fun to peruse. Why this book? Why now?
Well, I think the time is right because there’s a tidal wave of wellness interest, and the average person is challenged by the sheer amount of information about health and disease. At the same time, people are very busy, and they have energy constraints, just from their busy lives. In addition, as people become more and more interested in wellness, there’s actually more anxiety about what they need to know, and about what they need to do and shouldn’t do. The book is sort of a response to this demand and a solution to this dilemma. So many patients come into my office and say, "Look, I don’t have the time to know why I should be doing it. I just want to know what must I do, and how I can do it." So it’s sort of a book for our time. It’s a response to this interest and time crunch that most people have.
You’re right, there’s a lot of information flying around in the wellness space. It can be overwhelming trying to figure out what to believe, what to take, what to eat, etc. I mean, I get stressed about it, and it’s my job. What are you most proud of about the book, and what distinguishes it from other wellness books?
I think it’s accessible, and then there’s the fact that it’s a no-program program. You can enter at any point. You know, most of us have this linear approach to health. You need a 50-day program to get better. You need to do this specific diet and then do X, Y, and Z. But I’m approaching it in a way that’s circular—you can enter it at any point, whatever feels right for you at the time, and you can go at any speed you want.
The idea is, you make one change, it becomes a habit, and then it’s like a ripple effect. You know what I always say—it’s the ordinary things that we do and take for granted that have extraordinary benefits to our health, things people don’t even think of as benefiting their health, like listening to music, or going for a walk in the forest or on the beach, or having a pet, or being grateful, or being kind to others, or being of service. I mean, I could go on and on. So the book was filled with these tips. These little things that you do, these ordinary choices or these daily habits have a huge impact on your health, perhaps more of an impact than going to the gym every day.
You divided the book into six sections, or six points of wellness, which I think is brilliant: Eat, Sleep, Move, Protect, Unwind, and Connect. I went right to the part about fat in the Eat section. You make an interesting point that is just starting to gain traction. We were taught that dieting meant starving yourself of all fats, so we have our zero-fat milk, zero-fat sour cream, zero-fat cheese, everything zero fat, and this has arguably made people fatter, no?
Sure. You know, we’ve all been conned into thinking that fat is bad for you or fat makes you fat. You don’t get fat from fat. The real health culprits are sugar and refined carbs. That’s what actually makes you fat, because what happens when you eat, you have a hormonal response, and the hormonal response that triggers your body to store fat is actually insulin production, and insulin production comes from the amount of carbs you eat and the sugar, not from the fat, so you don’t get fat from fat.
It’s a total myth, and we’ve all bought into it, the culture, the medical system, although it’s starting to change. People are realizing that it’s not true. As you say, we all bought the low-fat myth, and when you take the fat out of food, you’ve got to put something in there to give it taste, because fat gives it taste, so they put in a lot of sugar.
Yes, like skim milk has more sugar than whole.
Exactly, so if you’re going to have some animal milk—and mind you, I’m not a major fan of milk—but if you’re going to have yogurt, have full-fat yogurt. Don’t be scared of the fat. You know, the other point with the fat, which is interesting—we’ve been scared of saturated fats, but it’s not really the saturation of the fats that’s the problem. It’s the oxidation of the fat, because of what's been done to the fats in the laboratory. I always say, if the fat comes from nature, or if it’s made by God, it’s more than likely healthy for you, but if it’s made in a factory or altered by man in a lab or on a feedlot or factory farm, it’s probably not healthy for you, so eat as close to nature as possible.
It’s usually not the food that is the problem, it’s what we’ve done to the food. That’s a perfect example. Natural fats, avocados, coconut oil, meat from grass-fed animals, eggs, these are all good, healthy fats, and it’s only in the past 50 years that we fell into this low-fat ideology. For centuries it was never a problem, and it shouldn’t be a problem now. Hopefully, it’s turning back, and hopefully my book will help turn the tide and make people not be scared of food. Eat natural food. Yes, maybe you should be scared of what we’ve done to the food, but don’t be scared of good, healthy, natural food that hasn’t been altered.
That’s good advice, and another good point in the food section is to make sure you have a properly stocked fridge and pantry. How do you do that? I am terrible at it.
Well, you’re a typical example of who I see in my practice. No one’s got the time, so having a healthily stocked pantry and fridge is important because when you don’t have time, you just grab whatever is around, and you use that, so if you can just develop a habit of ordering healthy foods, stocking up your pantry with healthy food, having healthier foods in your fridge, it’s going to make it so much easier. I mean, a lot of what’s interesting about this book is it was also born out of my experiences working with health coaches. As a physician, what I did for many, many years if someone came to me, I’d say, "Okay, stop eating gluten. Stop eating sugar. Yadda, yadda, yadda, you know, you need to meditate. You’re under a lot of stress. Bye." And I didn’t give people practical advice on how to do all that. I just expected them to know. It was only when I started bringing health coaches into my practice that I realized how important or essential it is for most people to have some guidance and support. It’s all very well to say that sugar is the devil, and you shouldn’t be eating these carbs, and you should be going to the gym, but if you have someone guiding and training you, it makes a huge difference. That’s why people have trainers, that’s why people have teachers, whether it’s meditation teachers or whatever. Having a health coach or having a guide along the way is priceless, and so the book reflects what I do in my practice. You can think of it as your own personal health coach.
What are three things I should stock in my fridge or pantry?
Well, coconut yogurt, for instance, is a great alternative to yogurt, and cauliflower is an awesome vegetable to have on hand. Many people desire starches like mashed potatoes or rice. We never have those at home anymore. My wife is an amazing cook, and she makes a cauliflower mash. It’s delicious, and you get the satisfaction of having a starchlike food, but it doesn’t impact your blood sugar like other starches—an example of a little thing that makes a huge difference. Kale chips are a good snack. If I want a bar, I use the Bulletproof bars because they’re low in sugar and they’re quite tasty. Ideally, you don’t snack too much, but it is good to have healthy snacks around. Everyone likes to snack. We’re working on really good healthy snacks, but they won’t be ready for another couple of months. Foods with benefits, we call them.
I can’t wait! In the book, you say it’s okay to eat bacon. Usually, you don’t even see the word "pork" in a wellness book!
Yeah, my take is that it’s the source of the meat, whether beef or bacon. If the pork is humanely pasture-raised and comes from a good source, then I don’t have a problem. I’m not a big eater of pork, personally, but I do love bacon occasionally. But only if it’s pasture-raised. Again, it’s that concept of what we’ve done to the animals. Meat or beef is an easier example. Cows are ruminants. They have two stomachs. They’re meant to eat grass, but most beef you get is actually factory-farmed, where they’re not only kept in confinement but they’re fed corn and soy. They’re not fed grass, and so it changes the whole structure of the meat, and then there are the drugs they inject them with to make them fat. So, to me, it’s not necessarily the animals that are a problem, it’s what we’ve done to the animals. Now, you know, when it comes to eating meat, there are a couple of issues. There’s the philosophical one, or the spiritual one, and I understand if people don’t want to eat animals, I get that. I’m not encouraging them to eat animals, and of course there’s an environmental aspect, too, especially when it comes to factory farms.
I notice that you have a chapter on intermittent fasting. Are you a proponent?
Absolutely, and once again, this has been used for centuries. Most cultures have fasts every now and then. I learned about it early on in my Chinese training; they would say, “Eat dinner earlier and breakfast later.” Their perspective was that you’re resting your digestive system, but now, from a scientific perspective, we realize it’s doing much more than just resting your digestive system. It’s actually helping with your whole insulin metabolism. So, yes, I am a big proponent of intermittent fasting.
How many days a week do you think one should do it?
I don’t think you need to do it more than two or three days a week. Two or three days a week of basically skipping breakfast, or breaking your fast a bit later, is not a bad idea. I always encourage people to eat dinner a little bit earlier. And then, on one or two days, just don’t have your breakfast, have your first meal at noon or something.
Sleep is such a big issue right now. There are sleep apps, sleep books, sleep supplements, everything geared toward getting more and better sleep. Your book contains some interesting tips on things like how to reset your clock, sync yourself with the sun and restore your ancestral connection to darkness. There is also something about restoring your ancestral connection spark. What is this?
I think we as humans are microcosms of the macrocosm, which is the planet, and we have these written rules inside of us, which are sort of set by light and dark. We ignore this because we are indoors under artificial lights all day. And at night we don’t see natural light because of electricity. I’m not saying electricity is bad, but because of electricity, and because of computers that we’re on all night—our cell phones or other gadgets—we’re not getting that proper darkness at night. So our bodies are not in sync with the rhythms of our surroundings.
Once your body rhythm is off, your sleep gets affected. We now know, even from the scientific perspective, we have circadian rhythms, these 24-hour rhythms in our body, so the more you can keep in sync with the rhythms around you, the healthier and better you’re going to feel. You know, there’s a rhythm to digestion. There’s a rhythm to almost everything. I mean, there are rhythms that we are aware of, like our heart and our breathing, but our body has multiple rhythms, and the main one that we all need to try and somehow get in sync with is our rhythm connected to light and dark, to day and night.
And what is Star Rx? I thought that seemed interesting.
The older you get, the more you think about these things. I’ve been thinking about this for so long. When I was young, in South Africa, I spent a lot of time outdoors and in nature, and now, I have a house at the beach, and as I get older, I’m spending more and more time there, and in nature. You know, when you sit outside in the dark and you look at the stars, there’s something about that nighttime without all the city lights that does something to you, so I’m a big believer that these natural things that we sort of aren’t even aware of do affect our health.
I mean, I know how good I feel when I go for a walk barefoot on the beach, or I’m sitting outside when it’s dark, and I’m looking at the stars, and I’m just trying to somehow articulate that there’s something healthy about the natural things in the world that we take for granted. There’s something about the natural world that is… I don’t know if the word is healing.
Getting back to simple things.
The star treatment is simply sitting quietly and gazing at the stars. In other words, there’s something about that natural darkness, without all those artificial lights around you, that is good.
It gets you outside yourself. I look with wonder at what nature creates.
It’s unbelievable, and we take it for granted. Yes, and I think as we get older and wiser, these things start resonating. You know how it is—for so many years, you’re struggling to make sense of this crazy New York City world and the rat race. You’re trying to achieve, achieve, achieve, and as you start getting older, you start looking at all these other aspects of life and the human condition, which I think are extremely powerful.
And exercise, of course, is important. Just walking does you a world of good, as you mention in the book.
Even better if you put ankle weights on when you walk, it just makes it a little more strenuous. One thing about exercise—I use the word "move." It’s about moving your body as regularly as possible and as much as possible rather than having to go to the gym every day. Movement rather than exercise.
You touch briefly on the effect of technology on our health. You say we must appreciate the ways in which wireless technology interferes with the electrical systems in our body, that we should never hold the phone to our head.
Well, we don’t yet know for sure, but I’m very concerned about all this EMS, the electromagnetic fields that are created by all this Wi-Fi, and we’re just starting to see the effects on some people who are sensitive. You’ve got to be careful. Now, it’s always a balance. There’s a lot of good that comes with tech, just like there’s a lot of good that comes with the industrialized life. I just think we’ve got to be a little careful about being on Wi-Fi too much, etc. Because there’s also the addiction perspective of these gadgets.
You know, you want that extra, you want that ping, and you want to look at your e-mail all the time, but there’s an addictive quality to that. It’s a rush of dopamine, almost like food or sugar. And then there’s the blue light that’s released from a lot of your gadgets. I’m sure we’re going to hear more and more about what all these electromagnetic fields are doing to our bodies in the next couple of years. We don’t know everything yet, so I’m not sure, but I’m wary of it.
I’m moving from tech talk right into alcohol. Are you pro or con?
I don’t have a problem with alcohol. I mean, as long as you know it’s a drug. And I don’t have a problem with drugs, per se. Don’t let it control you, that’s all. I think the communal aspect of drinking alcohol with friends, with family, and the whole social aspect of that is extremely powerful. I’m not sure that drinking a glass of red wine by yourself at night is a healthy thing, but if you go ahead and drink alcohol in the context of community and family, I think that’s fine.
What I would be careful of is all the sugar in some types of alcohol, or in what you add to your alcohol. But if you do want to drink some dry red wine, tequila, maybe some gin… you know, the low sugar alcohols are better choices. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about being sensible. I don’t think it’s necessarily healthy, but that’s all right.
Jumping ahead again: What are mitochondria, and why do I need to give them what they need? What do they need? That’s the chapter I just landed on.
Mitochondria are the energy powerhouses of your cells. They are key not only to your energy, but more than likely to how well you age. They are also key players in many diseases. So the mitochondria are probably one of those concepts that people should try to understand because they’re so important, and they’re in all of your cells, and they are the mechanism by which many of these lifestyle changes we’ve been talking about are brought about in your body, so I always think of them as, you know, in Chinese medicine, we talk about chi and energy. I don't know. Have you been to an acupuncturist?
Of course. Yes.
So, to me, mitochondria are the Western articulation of chi. If you have more mitochondria, you’ll have more energy and feel more vital. If you have less, you’ll feel less so. If your mitochondria are functioning better, once again, you’ll feel more vital, and it’ll be better for your health. One of the things that can help increase your mitochondria or enhance the functioning of your mitochondria is eating more healthy fat, fewer carbs, and less sugar, because mitochondria like fat. Intermittent fasting will help, too, if it’s coupled with exercise. High-intensity interval training helps, strength training helps, sitting in the sun helps, certain nutrients can help; eating or being around too many toxins harms the mitochondria.
You say that one way to help your mitochondria, or keep them from deteriorating, is to start your day with a cold shower. “Cold exposure in short bursts helps trigger the production of new mitochondria.” Burr!
Yes. Take a cold shower. Basically, after a hot shower, rinse with cold. It’s the sudden change in temperature we’re after.
So it’s like a cold rinse after washing your hair.
Most cultures have something like that, you know, where they go from the sauna into the cold or from hot into cold, so that’s an easy thing you can do every morning, after your warm shower, just a couple of seconds of cold shower, and that startling, that shock to your body stimulates the mitochondria.
How do you feel about cryotherapy?
I love cryotherapy. I would imagine that it’s going to boost your mitochondria.
How about glutathione. Everybody keeps talking about glutathione, and I want to know exactly what it is and if I should be taking it.
Well, glutathione is one of the master antioxidants. It’s a very powerful antioxidant. It’s also really good for the liver, and our body makes it normally, but as you get older, you make less of it. I give a lot of intravenous glutathione for people who have chronic illness or are tired of getting sick. Glutathione previously was hard to absorb orally, but now, the vitamin-makers and even my own brand—we have a type of glutathione, an acetylated glutathione that can be absorbed. It’s not broken down. So I’m a huge fan of glutathione for anti-aging, helping liver function, and just generally promoting good health. It’s not new, but it’s one of those wonder nutrients.
We hear about the gut all the time. “Repair Your Gut” is one of your chapters. How do you repair your gut?
The gut is where it’s all happening, if you ask me. I mean, in my practice, I’d say 80 percent of the time, I’m starting with cleaning up the gut because the gut is the center in Chinese medicine. It’s the earth element, and if anything goes off in the gut, it can become a systemic problem, and we know that now from Western medicine too, because there’s this whole idea of leaky gut. I’m sure you’ve heard of leaky gut. The lining of the gut wall is so thin that when it gets damaged, toxins and food particles go through this very thin lining into your bloodstream and then can go anywhere in your body. So the gut’s really important, and the other part of the gut that is related to a leaky gut is the microbiome. These trillions and trillions of bacteria in your gut, when they’re imbalanced, it damages the lining of the gut and causes all sorts of problems, so to me, correcting the gut—I mean, the gut’s a whole book, and I’ve made one small point out of it, but taking care of your gut is probably one of the most important things you can do for your health.
So to help your gut, I noticed you have some suggestions like daily probiotics, fermented foods, prebiotic food, and then something called phages?
It’s something that we will be hearing more about. In addition to good bacteria, your gut contains good viruses. Phages are viruses that actually sit on the lining of your gut and protect it, and they are probably going to be one of those new things that supplement companies will start adding to their probiotics. Phages help the whole milieu in your gut by protecting the lining and helping the good bacteria flourish too.
That’s interesting. You also remind us to eat mindfully. Methodical chewing is a good way to help your gut, right?
There’s no question that digestion starts before you even put food in your mouth. We all move too quickly. Being mindful entails being slower. You know, when I was taught meditation many, many years ago, they would give you a raisin or a piece of fruit, and you’d smell it first or just look at it and think about it, and when these other senses start going, you start secreting more saliva, which helps your digestion. When you chew properly, you’re breaking down the food more so your gut farther down has less work to do. So, yes, I’m a big believer in mindful eating, chewing your food, and I am guilty of eating too quickly myself.
Because we’re always rushing, right? Like before we hopped on the phone, I wolfed down—you’re really going to disapprove—a bowl of Cheerios with almond milk. I don’t think I chewed a single Cheerio.
We all do that. But it’s easier on your body if you chew something well, and just slow down with your eating.
In your Manhattan practice, do you find that people come in for the same reasons that they did five years ago?
No. I think now I’m getting more and more younger women who are sicker than they were, than people in general were, 10 years ago. More and more autoimmune problems, more and more chronic digestion problems. They’ve got these chronic problems, often induced by bad medicine. Too frequent or too many antibiotics, for too many years, whether for acne problems or tonsillitis or sinus problems. I mean, I think it may be changing a little bit now, but for so many years, doctors were trigger-happy with antibiotics, and we’re seeing the consequences.
Absolutely. I think anyone who knows you knows you have a ton of celebrity clients. Do they come to lose a few pounds (you’re known for your proficiency with weight loss and control), or are they more interested in overall health?
I mean, people always want to lose weight, but nowadays they’re definitely much more interested in overall health. I always say weight loss is usually a side effect of getting healthy. Everything is connected.