In this episode, I am speaking with Razi Berry about the healing power of self-awareness practices, the power of placebos, why hope matters in healing, and why love is medicine.
Razi is the founder and publisher of the award-winning journal, Naturopathic Doctor News and Review, the International Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, and the authoritative naturopathic medical resource for patients, NaturalPath.net. She is also the creator of the new and upcoming docuseries Love Is Medicine.
In this podcast, Razi will cover:
- Self-awareness as it pertains to healing
- The vital role of hope in healing
- The best exercises to build self-awareness
- Why love is medicine
- The placebo and nocebo, why they are powerful (and why you need to be mindful of where you put your attention)
- How intention can be felt physically
- The Love Is Medicine docuseries
Download or listen on iTunes
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The Importance of Community, Why Hope Matters, The Power of Placebo, and Why Love Is Medicine with Razi Berry – Transcript
Ari Whitten: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. I’m your host, Ari Whitten, and today I have with me my good friend, Razi Berry. She’s the founder and publisher of the award-winning journal, Naturopathic Doctor News and Review, the International Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, and the authoritative naturopathic medical resource for patients, NaturalPath.net. She’s the host of the successful consumer health events The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit, The Heart Revolution, and The Sugar Free Summer Detox Program. She has also co-owned a successful naturopathic practice for 14 years, and in 2017 she was awarded the prestigious title of Champion of Naturopathic Medicine by The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Perhaps most importantly for our discussion today, she’s the creator of the upcoming docuseries Love Is Medicine. Welcome, my friend. How are you?
Razi Berry: It’s great to see you. I haven’t seen you since you filmed your segment in the Love Is Medicine Project. I really appreciate you inviting me on again. I love The Energy Blueprint, and I love your work. I’m in your private group, and I really appreciate everything you’re bringing to consumers and other practitioners.
Ari Whitten: Thank you so much. The feeling is mutual. I’m really excited about your upcoming docuseries. At first blush, Love Is Medicine sounds like a hokey, new-age title, and yet you’re actually interviewing a bunch of science experts and discussing details of science. It’s not just new-age, spiritual fluff like someone might assume based on the title, but we’re really geeking out on the science around health and especially aspects related to love. There are a lot of different facets and interpretations of the word “love,” so I would like you to explain what Love Is Medicine is all about.
What Love Is Medicine is about
Razi Berry: So, as you mentioned, I’ve been publishing a naturopathic journal for almost 15 years now. I have also been in the process of getting a peer review journal indexed that I’ve had for some time, but the process of getting indexed into PubMed takes some work. We’re almost ready to accept submissions for that. Over this last decade and a half of reading all these studies, I’ve noticed some patterns—we now have science to explain a lot of these patterns, yet a lot of them are just left to the empirical experience between doctor and patient or client and practitioner. This is not going to sound like rocket science, although we can get into some of the science behind it, but the pattern is this: a lot of disease comes from some type of disconnection from what I would claim are sources of love. Love is very subjective; it’s something we all experience as humans. We all say that we’ve experienced love, and we’ve all felt loved. We’ve seen people in action with love, yet science can’t really quantify it, but it is felt. For example, if I say, “Ari, come here.” There are many different ways that I can say that, and you could physiologically feel my intention behind those words. If I were to say it in a very angry, aggressive tone then you as the receiver will have a different physiological reaction than if I had said it in an inviting, playful tone. It doesn’t just rest in your brain, but in the body that houses your brain, and your brain is connected to these different nervous systems. I say systems with an ‘s’ because the science of embodied cognition is now saying that we have nervous systems in our body as opposed to a single nervous system.
One area of disconnection that I have found is disconnection from the self. For instance, many years ago I had an eating disorder. You can’t be connected to your body’s physiological needs or its metabolic processes when you aren’t nourishing yourself or when you’re eating your way into diabetes, obesity or heart disease. You can’t be connected to yourself if you are traumatizing a child into a future autoimmune disease. These are things that we experience subjectively, but they have physical and physiological outcomes.
There is also disconnection from each other, which is a really hot topic now with regard to social connectedness, social isolation, and social awareness. In fact, the science shows that you can only truly be self-aware in a social context. We’ll come back to this in a moment.
The last one is disconnection from nature. You touch on a lot of these in Energy Blueprint, such as being connected to the Earth and diurnal rhythms and how our hormones and growth cycles follow those. Even regarding temperature, we’re meant to experience a variety of temperatures with some degree of extremity throughout the day, no matter where we live. Even if you live in a very cold climate, there will still be a span of change in temperature throughout the day, and our body’s rhythms, or our cell clocks (because every cell has a clock) follow these. So, when I say “love,” I do mean things like relationships with your parents, children, friends, and romantic partners, and we have the science that says that these do in fact impact our physiology. I also mean self-love, meaning how we connect to ourselves, how we pay attention to our bodies, and how we’re honest with ourselves about the decisions that we make that no one else can make for us, decisions that ultimately lead us towards health or towards [inaudible]. You can teach people the wonders that you’ve discovered for Energy Blueprint all day, but you can’t make a person make that change. That comes down to the self, and that’s what I mean by “love” in that respect.
Ari Whitten: That was beautifully said. I want to give a funny little backstory to my segment in the documentary. I realized a day or two before filming that the title of the project was Love Is Medicine, and I actually reached out to you in a panic and said, “I’m not sure if I feel confident to do this interview because I’m not an expert on love, and I don’t want to just make stuff up. I could speak to certain aspects that relate to it, but I’m far from an expert on love or relationships or anything like that.” I basically called you trying to cancel, and you reassured me that it wasn’t strictly about love in that sense but that it was also about self-care as an aspect of love, discovering the different aspects of self-care, and understanding the science around how we learn the strategies that ultimately control our health destiny and impact our energy levels and quality of life. You asked me at the end of my segment how I perceived Love Is Medicine and what it meant to me. I would now like to ask you that same question. Given that you’ve now done 50 interviews or more with all kinds of different health experts for this Love Is Medicine project and have heard lots of other people’s perspectives, how did you define Love Is Medicine originally, and has it shifted at all throughout this process?
Razi Berry: That’s a really good question, Ari. I guess my perspective has changed, but I think it has just grown deeper. It may be similar to when you have an instinct about what an Energy Blueprint member needs to do either because it’s a practice you do or is an effective pattern you’ve seen in your clients, and then when you dig into the science or explore other experts’ findings, you find more evidence for it to be true. That’s basically what my experience has been. I am admittedly a little bit “woo woo,” even if I do try to back everything up with science.
Ari Whitten: I am sorry to interrupt you, but just to be clear, I like a little bit of “woo woo.” In order to be cutting edge, you have to be ahead of whatever the current state of the evidence is, and by definition that tends to be a little “woo woo.” A little “woo” is good so long as it’s paired with good scientific literacy, which you have.
Razi Berry: There is “woo” all around science. For instance, we’re still learning more about the genome in DNA. We thought we had figured it out, and now we’re realizing that it’s a matter of how the DNA is folded inside a cell. It’s as if the cell is aware of the DNA and can read it based on how it’s folded. We’ve all seen those magazines where you can fold pages in certain ways to read different narratives, but if you spread it out, it just looks like gibberish. That’s an amazing way that our cells are aware and debatably conscious: for many scientists, the definition of consciousness is the ability of something to perceive and interact with its environment.
So, love to me is kind of like that. At the micro level, we have cells responding to our environment, and then we have tissue responding to the environment, and we’ve got our organs responding to the environment and then we as individuals respond to our environment. Love is undefinable. Some people call it god, others call it life; no matter how much we study the big bang, our cells, our DNA, an electron, or a boson, we never can get to the bottom of what love is. We can’t even figure out if it’s a particle or a wave; even that is up for debate. What we do see is life expressing itself through a fruiting tree, through the sunlight, through organisms everywhere, from the soil to our bodies, and that life expression is all giving. Some people call it god or life, but I call it love, and a lot of scientists are starting to, as well. The sources of love are our social connections and our families, which is interesting because there are many places in nature, even in a solar system, where there are groups of entities or groups of cells that really need each other to work together in a state of health. I love looking at micro and macro examples. Then there is how we move through the world. We can choose to move through the world in love, meaning in a way that’s giving, health promoting, life promoting and sustainable to each other and to our planet. For me, that’s what love is; for me, many of the things that you teach in your programs are love. Again, I know that’s a little bit “woo woo,” but that’s what it is.
Ari Whitten: I love it. I love your definition of love.
Razi Berry: Going back to you trying to get out of your segment in the documentary, love is expressed in different forms, and based on the work you do, I would say you are very much an expert on love and teaching people how to treat their bodies with love. That’s a very high expression of love.
Ari Whitten: Do I have your permission to add that to my official bio, so I can call myself an expert in love?
Razi Berry: Yeah, because that’s so important.
How self-awareness pertains to health
Ari Whitten: In your work, you talk a lot about self-awareness. When we talk about people with health struggles who maybe suffer from depression or chronic anxiety or chronic pain or autoimmune disease, where does self-awareness fit into this process, and how does self-awareness tie in with the concept of Love Is Medicine?
Razi Berry: As we said before, self-awareness is an understanding or perception of where you as an individual are positioned in the greater sphere of life. It could be a matter of asking who I am in relation to this conversation we’re having, or to my kids, or to this day. As I mentioned earlier, we used to think of cognition as something separate that only happened in the brain, but embodied cognition shows that it only happens in a context and that we need things to experience in order to think, to consider, and to experience cognition. Self-awareness is at the core of that because our self-awareness dictates our social behavior, whether it’s pro-social or in isolation, and it actually dictates every decision that we make. One element of self-awareness is sometimes called interoception, which means to have a sense of your body, and science is showing that a lack of this perception plays a key role in many diseases. We see that of course people with spectrum disorders and even personality disorders tend to have less socially aware personalities. Also, when we are more self-aware, we tend to make decisions that are more respectful of the people around us. As a silly example of this, when people put their groceries in their car, they are more likely to put the shopping cart back where it belongs if they think people are watching. That awareness happens when you believe that you’re being observed, and this has been studied, too. They’ve done studies with people who walk by wearing opaque sunglasses and others wearing clear glasses, and through skin conductance testing, they’ve shown that people become more aware of their body, e.g. their heart rate, when they’re being watched.
Self-awareness does a couple of things: it helps us with daily decisions, and it also helps us listen to our symptoms, whether it’s pain or an itch or a feeling of hunger, or any other symptom. Let’s say somebody has heart disease and they wonder, “How did I get here?” Many times, in cases I’ve published over and over again, the clinician or the physician turns it back on the patient and asks, “How did you get here?” The patient usually has a very good idea of how they got there, but what we do is move through this world without a sense of self-awareness. We are essentially disembodied; we live in our brains, and because of that I feel like we have kind of lost our way.
Ari Whitten: Beautifully said. I want to talk more about this self-awareness-in-context concept. I remember reading a study years ago that discussed a term called status anxiety, if I remember the name correctly. There is an anthropologist who has written extensively on this topic, but the idea was to highlight the difference in self-awareness between our historical context of existing in a small tribe or village and the modern world. We used to live in a community of people who we generally knew and with whom we shared a value system and culture. We knew our role in that society. In the modern world, we’ve been removed from all of those elements. We no longer have a tribe. Most of us spend the majority of our time surrounded by people that we don’t know. Even if we live in an apartment building with a hundred people, we often don’t even know the people who live right next door to us, let alone spend significant time with them. We don’t necessarily share a similar culture, we don’t have community gatherings, and we don’t all have a shared, joint purpose or mission that we’re working towards. We are uncertain of our place in modern society. All of those things have been dissolved so that now when we meet somebody and shake hands, we have all these subconscious questions and insecurities in the back of our minds. Are you higher status than me? Are you more educated than I am? Are you smarter than I am? Are you more financially successful than I am? Do you look down on me? So on and so forth. We have all these layers of thought, self-criticism and self-talk that are happening beneath the surface of every little interaction as we go about our day and encounter other people. We are constantly worrying about people judging us, and those worries largely didn’t exist in a context where we were one of an active part of a community with a shared mission; when we knew our place in society, and everybody else knew our place in society and who we were. That’s what came to my mind as you were talking about self-awareness in context, and I’m just curious if that brings anything to your mind.
Razi Berry: I love that you brought this up. I admittedly haven’t spent much time considering that, but I find it fascinating because we have kind of dissolved culture, and in some ways it has even become vilified to be proud of your culture because in our society it is often interpreted that if you’re proud of your culture, then you’re racist against other cultures. It’s a notion that I find to be ridiculous. I don’t want to be another person talking about blue zones, but when you take [inaudible], for instance, people had their culture and that was their sense of like mindedness, safety and belonging. It just made me think of when we are in a lab, we put cells into a sort of culture, and culture changes the cell (that’s epigenetics), but even when you look at the human body, organs are made of cells that are similar to each other; in a sense, that’s a tribe. It might sound silly that I’m making these macro-micro inferences, but I think there are patterns all throughout nature, and I’m really fascinated by what you’re saying because it’s true. We used to have threats just right outside of the tribe, but there was a sense of connection and congruency; all the members of that tribe were like all the cells in an organ or all the organs in an organ system, and together they could face the threats. Nowadays, we just go it alone. It’s not okay to be part of a culture; it’s not okay to be part of a specific gender. You have to be careful about everything you say.
I feel that because we’ve become separated, as you were saying, there is this whole new construct of people wanting to be seen through artificial and electronic means, and the research is showing that leads to depression, bullying, suicide.
Ari Whitten: Elaborate on that last point, if you could.
Razi Berry: We were all important members of the tribe, which is an extended family, just the way the cells of an organ are extended family, and everything works together and knows its place. Perhaps there was some hierarchy, like the elders, but generally everybody had a place and they mattered.
Continuing with this idea, I also see a lot of what you were saying to be relevant to social media because we are disconnected, and I know everyone says that, but you’re saying it in a really different way that I appreciate because everybody thinks they have to be an influencer. The selfie culture is in full swing, and I think we’re so hungry to belong to a group that we’re now trying to reestablish that connection in poorly adapted ways, therefore our efforts are in vain, and it’s not connecting us in a way that we want or expect. We know that our experiences are passed on through our DNA, like in the famous study where rats were taught to be afraid of the smell of fruit because they were shocked every time, and then generations of their pups were afraid of the smell of fruit, too, because they thought they were going to get shocked. I think what happened is that over many generations we got used to having a deep, meaningful sense of belonging, and you didn’t have to be the leader of the tribe to have a sense of belonging. Every person in the tribe mattered, whether it was the person grinding a grain or scaling fish or taking care of the babies. Everybody mattered, and I think we’ve lost that. I think people, especially our youth, are just fighting to regain that sense of belonging again.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. I think the political landscape is an interesting example of this because of how fractured and polarized it has become. I would say I’m politically moderate—very middle of the spectrum—and it’s funny that most of my friends who are rightwing think of me as a hardcore lefty, but then I have hardcore leftwing friends who think I’m extremely rightwing. It’s funny for me to engage in both of those conversations because I think a lot of people who are on either side of the political spectrum exist in their own little echo chambers where they only have conversations with people who think similarly to them, and their perception of reality and of the whole political spectrum gets skewed in such a way that they become more extreme while simultaneously thinking of themselves as being middle ground, at which point anybody who actually is middle ground is perceived as extreme. I’ve looked at the data, and for around the last 15 years, both the right and the left have moved more towards more extreme views. There used to be a lot more overlap of the two groups. There used to be more political moderates, too, but now everybody is moving towards the extremes on both sides.
Razi Berry: Yes. I think you’re answering your own question. We no longer belong to those core groups that were part of our existence. Belonging was a matter of life and death, and how we raised our children and how we learned mattered. Now we are so hungry for that that we just grab onto a belief system that we don’t fundamentally understand and cling to it. I see it happening in all sorts of disciplines. Some people become die hard for a certain diet, for example, and cling on to that. I think your political observation is a fantastic example of that, and I think that it just goes to show how much people want to be connected. Look at how people go off to college and suddenly, on Friday night, they’re painting their faces the colors of a team, which is a simulation of war.
Ari Whitten: Absolutely. Then there are other aspects of this, like young boys who don’t feel part of their communities and who don’t feel any sort of purpose or meaning. They may allow their feelings to get funneled in a bad direction. They may join a gang or get addicted to drugs as a way to escape the void that they feel. There are many consequences of not having a healthy social context to gauge self-awareness.
Getting back to self-awareness in the context of health, what kinds of practices do you think are useful for people to engage in on that front, to become more self-aware, to improve their health and their quality of life?
Razi Berry: The research is ongoing, but there are a few different practices that I’ve studied that can really help, and this is not just subjective but has been tested with fMRI scans, skin conductance to measure heart rate variability, and so on. One of the practices that has been pretty well studied is called Mindful Body awareness Therapy. It is basically feeling through a place of discomfort (with a therapist in this particular case, but people can learn how to do it at home), and it’s putting your hands wherever that feeling of discomfort is. It can be a physical discomfort, like an irritable bowel or [vagina] or arthritic pain, and you focus on being aware of that pain not just in your mind but in your body and breathing through it. You also reflect upon the pain and ask yourself questions like, “What does this mean to me? What is my part in this? What can I do to alleviate this?” It also works the other way with regard to emotional distress, so if you’re going through a time of grief or great stress, the therapist will help you identify where you feel that in your body and where your body tightens up. It’s a way to link together what you’re feeling in your mind, your body, and oftentimes putting language to it. The studies are showing that it does help people become more aware, and this is being used for people with all sorts of disorders like eating disorders, which is a really well-studied area of people not being in tune with their bodies.
Another practice is the body scan—I was amazed this had actually been studied because it sounds so basic, but it is something that I’ve put into practice over the last few years. We’re all familiar with the type of relaxation where you go through your toes and all the way up your body while alternating between clenching and relaxing. Body scan is similar to that, but you just kind of scan what your body is like at every moment. I recently fractured my tail bone, which is why I couldn’t be at Mindshare.
Ari Whitten: I’m sorry. I forgot all about that. How are you doing by the way?
Razi Berry: I’m healing up really well, and the interesting thing is that while being engaged in this conversation with you, I’m sitting on this funny donut pillow right now and I’m comfortable, I’m not in pain, but it’s less comfortable than before it happened. Throughout our conversation, my awareness wasn’t there, and when I started talking to you about body scanning and began subconsciously, or consciously, scanning my body, I was suddenly made more aware of that discomfort. It was not in a bad way, but what it does is allow you to attend to what your body needs. Have you ever had a day where you’re so busy doing podcasts that you realize you have not eaten since dinner the night before? Throughout the day we have feelings of hunger, thirst, fatigue, feeling too hot or feeling too cold, and when you scan your body, it teaches you to pay attention to those more subtle messages. Research shows that the more you’re aware, the less likely you are to engage in risky health behavior, such as drinking too much coffee or smoking a cigarette or eating foods you’re allergic to. Body scan is pretty simple, but I think it’s a really good thing for people to add to their daily practice. Just scan and ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now? Where am I feeling uncomfortable?” It teaches you to adjust.
Ari Whitten: What kinds of benefits do you think people will experience from incorporating practices like this?
Razi Berry: One of the things I experienced when I started doing this a couple of years ago is that I would always have water with me, but when I got busy, I wouldn’t drink my water. When I started doing the body scan, I realized that I hadn’t been drinking enough water, and that might sound simple, but think back to the book Your Body’s Many Cries for Water—hydration is a simple thing, yet many people probably end up at the doctor’s office with a mild complaint where everything turns out fine, but they’re simply not hydrated. It’s those little steps that gradually build an increasing self-awareness, and then you start to realize that you’ve been sitting down for too long or that you haven’t been exercising enough. You may say to yourself, “Oh, I signed up for a gym at New Year’s, and I haven’t been going.” It works like the trickledown effect.
Another really fun practice that has been studied is power posing. It increases interoceptive sensitivity—the ability to really hone in on what your body needs at any given time. There have been a few studies on this, mostly done on women, that showed women who did just a few minutes per day of power posing were much more tuned in to bodily self-awareness and their interoceptive sensitivity. Power posing is something as simple as putting your feet on your desk and your hands behind your head to invoke feelings of self-confidence. Another one is standing up with your legs apart and putting your hands on your hips as if to make a statement of, “I’m good, I’m here, I’m powerful, and I’m in charge of my day.” You can make up your own too, of course: whatever feels good. I do it with my daughters sometimes, and one of my daughters likes to do a Wonder Woman-like pose where she makes a fist with her hand on her hip. I don’t power pose in front of other people, but as silly as it sounds, sometimes if I have to make a decision, I’ll do a little power posing as a way to simply move and get more in tune. Again, what’s beautiful about it is that it’s simple and easy, and when you become self-aware, then you do better at following your Energy Blueprint segment that you’re working on right now, for example, or taking a supplement every day that has been recommended to you, or staying on your exercise program. These are just these little steps to help you become more self-aware.
A couple of other things that can improve self-awareness have to do with our relationships with each other, and one of them is hearing someone else say your name. It is been shown to be a powerful way for people to bring their awareness back into themselves, and I remember reading a study observing that babies start preferring to hear their own name over anyone else’s from the time they’re about four months old. I now try to be mindful when I’m speaking with people to use their name, and they often mirror that (we’ve got these mirror neurons that make us tend to mimic each other). It’s also important because when you have really close friendships and relationships, you’re more likely to call somebody by their name, and they’re like more likely to call you by your name. Direct eye gazing—someone looking into your eyes—or even if you think somebody is looking at you will both increase bodily self-awareness as in the study mentioned earlier where they tested walking by someone with opaque glasses on versus more clear glasses.
The last one is touch, and touch, of course, really increases self-awareness. Other reasons aside from [inaudible] and needs for connecting with others, being with others helps us know ourselves better.
The importance of hope in healing
Ari Whitten: Fascinating. One other aspect that I know you’ve studied extensively, and I’m sure you’ve talked a lot about in Love Is Medicine, is mindset around healing. If somebody is having health struggles or has a disease, what kind of mindset do they have? How optimistic are they? How positive and hopeful are they for recovery? I’ve read a lot of anecdotes about this, but I really haven’t explored much of the literature. I’m curious to hear what your take on the role of positivity and hope is in the context of healing.
Razi Berry: Starting with hope, I was delighted when I saw hope being studied in its own right, independent of positivity. Hope is a belief and desire for a specific outcome and a real driver for people to be active. People can be positive and simply let things happen with a positive attitude, but when you have hope, that is what inspires you towards action. I remember you telling me that your wife used to suffer from migraines and that she didn’t really have any help. Then she met you, you developed a close bond, and she saw you as an expert that you are, and that relationship invoked a sense of hope in her. When you instill a sense of hope in someone, what the literature shows (and many of these are reviews) is that it inspires somebody towards action and increases compliance. Under our modern medical system, doctors are often fearful of hope. They’re worried about false hope. They’re worried about letting somebody down or getting sued. I understand all these things, but the research I’ve read strongly suggests that hope is very powerful in having people act in ways that are going to benefit them. My personal feeling is if you’re going to suffer, why not suffer in a state of hope instead of in a state of despair. We are all mortal, so why not live in hope? Why not live in the beauty of each moment and hope for something better? Now, I’m not an expert on hope, and somebody could definitely have other ideas, for example that false hope is to be avoided. Part of what I’m saying comes from the research I’ve read, and some of it comes from my own belief system, but hope has shown to be a real driver of feeling.
Ari Whitten: It’s very intuitive that if somebody is hopeful for their recovery, they’re going to be more likely to take actions that would facilitate it, whereas if somebody has lost all hope, they’re likely to think, “I’m going to die anyway. I’m never going to get better. Why bother?” I’ve experienced people like that. For example, I get emails from people who are interested in buying the Energy Blueprint program saying, “I’m interested, but I’ve had chronic fatigue for 20 years, and I’ve had this symptom and that symptom, and I’ve been to 20 different doctors and nothing has helped thus far. Why should I even bother trying anything else? Nothing can work for me. Nobody knows how to fix me.” While I certainly empathize with the frustration of someone in that scenario, if you stop trying, there’s no possibility of getting better. The only reasonable approach in that scenario is to continue being hopeful for recovery and actively looking for new strategies and new knowledge to facilitate that recovery, and then to apply those strategies with the intention and with the hope and confidence in the possibility of at least recovering to a very large degree, which I think is possible for almost anyone except those with the most severe cases of dysfunction that span many decades. For example, if somebody has Parkinson’s disease, and they’ve lost 80% of the neurons that produce dopamine, it’s not realistic to say that they can be hopeful for a full recovery; we would have to be realistic about the physical destruction of the cells that would have taken place over the course of many decades. Otherwise, assuming that you detect a disease prior to the onset of decades-long severe dysfunction and structural changes in your body, it’s very reasonable to assume that the vast majority of cases can hope to stop the progression of the disease, if not reverse it altogether. Hope and action are very powerful.
Razi Berry: You make such an important point that hope can be trait-based. Hope comes from within, so if someone had late stage Parkinson’s, you would need to be careful about saying, “Yes, I can help you,” but if a person is currently struggling, and they want to live the rest of their life with hope, I would say good for them and let them live out their days like that. If they want to keep fighting, that’s great. We all are going to die one day, and I think that kind of [inaudible] important. It’s not so much our responsibility as coaches, clinicians or doctors to give that hope, but I certainly don’t think it’s the job of the doctor to take away hope. I’m simply stating my opinion on this, but if somebody has that hope and fire for life until the very end, I think that’s a gift.
The science on placebo and nocebo
Ari Whitten: Well said. Talk to me about placebo and nocebo science. I’m sure you’ve dug into this very extensively for your documentary. I developed an interest in placebo and nocebo science many years ago, and I read a lot of the literature, but I haven’t looked at it much in the last few years. I’m curious what you’ve found.
Razi Berry: Yes. I have good news and bad news. The good news is that placebo and nocebo are real. The literature shows that placebo does affect physiological outcomes in the body, as does nocebo, which means a negative belief in an outcome. The bad news is nobody seems to know how it happens. In every study I’ve read, there will be a fancy design in the middle of the paper but when you get to the conclusion, nobody really knows. I think not knowing is sometimes good because it keeps us humble and helps us understand that we can’t always conquer nature, and we can’t always conquer life. It brings us back to the beautiful mystery that life and love is. I believe there must be a reason why we don’t have the answer for everything, although I don’t know what that reason is. So, I wanted to talk with you about nocebo and placebo because of how it ties in with the importance of mindset, belief systems, and of how we talk to each other and how we treat our clients. These things are very real, and they really do have a big effect. There are even researchers on my team who are studying this with very intricately designed studies, yet nobody knows exactly what the mechanism is.
Ari Whitten: Are there any theories of what the mechanisms could be? I would imagine that it might tie into the hope concept to some extent.
Razi Berry: The studies that I’ve been reading—and they are numerous—always end in a discussion where they may suggest that we should look further into a certain effect, or how psychological states might be part of inflammation responses or immune system responses, but it’s all just speculative, and that’s really interesting to me.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. There are some people who I think don’t understand the placebo effect and the nocebo effect correctly in the sense that a lot of people are used to thinking of a placebo as a substance, like a sugar pill, that causes a person to believe that there is some effect taking place even though there isn’t, whereas in reality the placebo effect is when you take a genuinely inert substance, but because you believe that it’s having a certain effect, it actually does end up having a measurable effect.
Razi Berry: That’s right, thank you for clarifying that. That’s what is amazing about it. A majority of studies have a placebo as a control, and you’re absolutely right that it’s not just a matter of believing something; we can observe physiological responses and outcomes such as changes in tissue or a change in oxygen levels in the brain on an fMRI scan. We focus so much on the brain because we can perform these scans, but all we’re really measuring is where the blood shows changes in oxygen levels, which means there is so much about the brain and nerve conduction that we just don’t know yet. There may be amazing things one day that will allow us to figure that out. In any case, it is powerful that it’s not just somebody who believes they’re going to heal but is actually something measured in a lab. There was one experiment where a group of people all had clinical depression, and some took a drug, and some took the placebo, and the outcomes were able to be measured with biomarkers. It’s really fascinating.
Ari Whitten: There is a video on YouTube. I forget the name of it offhand, maybe I’ll search for it and put it on the show notes page to this podcast, but it is basically a guy narrating the video: he gives an intro section and then he gives a warning and says, “You’re about to hear an ultrasonic frequency that’s outside of the range of normal human hearing that has really harmful effects on the body.
I just want to warn you if, if you’re uncomfortable or if you’re driving or in a dangerous situation where you could crash and die or put yourself in danger, please don’t listen any further. If you’re not in that situation, listen on.” He then plays an ultrasonic frequency and starts describing all the potential effects that the frequency can cause: headaches, physical pains, nausea, dizziness, etc. He describes all these things for several minutes. I’ve actually run this experiment with several people, including my private members group, and there’s a huge percentage of people who will report the various symptoms that the man is describing. They start getting a headache or physical pains or a stomachache. Then, at the end of the video, the guy says, “Just kidding, there was nothing that causes any physical problems. There was no sound; that was just silence.” The mere suggestion that something is harming you causes a [inaudible], and there seems to be people who are more or less susceptible to this effect, and it causes a large portion of people to suddenly start to generate some of these negative body sensations. I think the lesson that I take from a lot of the placebo and nocebo research is to be careful what you do with your mind. Be mindful of it (excuse the pun). Knowing how powerful this is, we really have to be aware of where we put our attention and of what kinds of expectations, intentions and hopes—or lack of hope— we have in various contexts.
How our community plays a vital role in our health
Razi Berry: That’s really good advice. I agree, and it’s not just what we think but what we surround ourselves with. Have you ever had the experience where someone cleans your house for you, and you come home and you have all this energy because of your surroundings, or you come home and your house is a disaster with dishes stacked in the kitchen and you just feel no energy? Returning to that example I gave of how I could say the words, “Ari, come here,” those are just words. It’s just a vibration from my throat to your inner ear, yet, depending on my intention behind it, it can totally change your body chemistry.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, that’s a great way of phrasing it. In the few seconds that it takes to utter those words with various kinds of emotional intent, you can now change my body chemistry and literally change my hormones. You can invoke a startled reaction and cause the secretion of adrenaline and noradrenaline, or, on the other end of the spectrum, it could be a seductive “come here,” or a loving and affectionate “come here” that might immediately produce a chemical like oxytocin in the brain. It’s amazing when you view human connectedness and interpersonal relations through a lens like that.
Razi Berry: Yes, and it is amazing how important people’s reactions are to us. There are these famous studies where babies try to do things to make their moms smile, and if the mother keeps a straight face, the baby tries again. These are infants, only a few months old, and if after they’ve tried and tried the mother still keeps a straight face, the baby will burst into tears and get agitated and cry. It just goes to show how important we are to each other and how important not only words but even the body language of another person is to us.
The role of symptoms in treating a disease
Ari Whitten: Yeah, absolutely. Another thing you’ve talked about is symptoms in the context of the cure for a particular disease or health struggle. I think this is really fascinating, so please explain what you mean by this.
Razi Berry: When I first became aware of this concept, a good friend of mine named Dr. Charlie Crossley gave me a good example of this. If you don’t know Dr. Crossley, he is what we consider an elder in naturopathic medicine. He’s an MD in Colorado, and he is 72 years old but easily looks 20 years younger. He has really passed down some of the paramount naturopathic ideas, and one of the examples he gave me of symptoms being the cure was the hangover. People would ask him, “Hey, Dr. Copley, what’s the cure for a hangover?” He would respond that the hangover is the cure; the headache is your vasculature expanding to try to bring toxins through your body faster. It’s a change in metabolism. When you sweat, you can smell the alcohol through the sweat and that is your body’s metabolism working extra hard to detoxify. There’s a raise in body temperature with a hangover, which is another way that your body tries to flush things out. What happens if you continually suppress those, or if you drink so much that a hangover isn’t enough, is you suddenly have different disease states. Those symptoms are actually part of your body’s attempts to cure the situation.
There are many examples of this in naturopathic medicine. There is one very well-known naturopathic doctor, Dr. Paul Herscu, who had a patient with psoriatic arthritis and who would also get lung infections, like pneumonia, a few times per year. He would treat her with herbs and homeopathy, and then he treated her for the pneumonia, and there’s this idea in naturopathy that when you suppress a symptom, or when you don’t help move the symptom through, it gets deeper into what’s called the lesional level, which is when things really start happening in the tissues. What Dr. Herscu said to this patient is that they were not going to treat the pneumonia He told the patient to fast, to get herself through the process and let her body heal naturally. When she did that, the psoriatic arthritis never returned. I’m seeing a connection between skin, which is an [inaudible] organ—it’s an organ of [inaudible] and detoxification—and your lungs, which are also [inaudible] organs, and it was by constantly suppressing some of the symptoms of her recurring respiratory infection that didn’t allow her skin sores from psoriatic arthritis to heal.
The ways that the body are interconnected are still in many ways unknown to us. That’s why hydrotherapy, cold plunges, sweat baths, and letting a fever take its course are kind of important. Of course, you want to map that, but oftentimes it is the diarrhea or the sore throat that is actually the pathogen and dysfunction in the terrain expressing itself, and the inflammation is there to put things back into balance. I think that it’s something that was known in medicine a couple of hundred years ago, and functional medicine, functional nutrition and naturopathic medicine are helping bring that to light. It’s a way for people to become more aware of their body and of what a symptom really is. Of course, we don’t want to go overboard with that; just as you don’t want to always stop up the diarrhea, you certainly don’t want to get totally dehydrated and sick and have a cardiac event because you have no electrolytes in your body. Generally speaking, however, there are many people who are so disconnected from their symptoms that they just focus on doing whatever they can to shut them off.
Ari Whitten: My older brother’s a chiropractor, and he has developed a whole system over a decade of practice as well as a decade of studying biomechanics, physiology, and corrective exercise prior to that. He deals with a lot of people with chronic pain, and almost invariably people come in with the goal of eliminating their chronic pain. A big part of what he does is to reeducate people that pain is not the problem itself. Pain is your body’s signal to you that something is wrong and needs to be fixed, and the goal isn’t to simply mask your pain or get rid of the pain or chase after the pain. If that was the goal, then he would do what conventional medicine does, which is to prescribe painkillers and opioids, creating a whole mess of other problems such as gut problems and opioid addiction, resulting in the giant epidemic of a mess that they’ve created with their approach to pain, and which doesn’t help the clients. So, my brother spends a lot of time re-educating people to pay attention to pain not as the thing to be fixed, but as the signal that is telling us how to fix this and how to address the root causes of this pain. He gets incredible results with people that way, but a lot of people in practice who are physical therapists or chiropractors actually end up getting sucked into the frame of the patient or the client and get sucked into a game of “let’s chase after your chronic pain and do whatever we can to get rid of the symptom.” I think in that context, as in the context that you gave, it’s important to understand the symptom as a signal of something that needs to be fixed rather than the entire problem itself with the goal to just get rid of the symptoms.
Razi Berry: That’s wonderful that your brother is that self-aware of a clinician. We should strive to bring that self-awareness back into all of us, starting with those simple, little exercises that we talked about. You may ask what noticing when you’re thirsty has to do with anything, but when you start to become aware of basic things that you were not previously paying attention to, it builds awareness, just as any kind of exercise builds strength.
Ari Whitten: Absolutely. Is there anything that you want to leave people with? We’ve covered a lot of ground here, from Love Is Medicine to self-awareness techniques, to placebo and nocebo effect, to the role of hope and symptoms as part of the cure. If you had one final thought that you want to leave people with, what would that be?
Razi Berry: I’d really like to leave people with the concept of being honest with themselves. There are many cases I’ve seen where people just look away from their body’s signals or ignore the way they move through the world. Much like when a child covers their eyes and face, they think people can’t see them, I think when people aren’t honest with themselves, they think that they can somehow hide the fact that they’re there running their life towards [inaduible]. I want people to know that one of the best ways to really love yourself and the people around you is to be honest with yourself. Be honest with the choices you’re making in every moment. You don’t have to be too harsh on yourself, but when you’re honest and faced with a certain emotion that’s uncomfortable, just as with a physical symptom like fever or diarrhea, ask yourself what that signal is and what that message means to you. It can be scary to think that if you’re honest with yourself that you have to deal with smoking or taking pain pills or speaking unkindly to your child or any other problem you may face. It’s a way to metaphorically shine a light on something, and then you can bring it into a state of health.
Ari Whitten: Beautiful. On a final note, I want to mention that everyone should be sure to tune in to the Love Is Medicine documentary. I’m going to be sending out an email for it. What are the details of when this comes out and when people can get it?
Razi Berry: Thank you. I appreciate that. You can all see Ari there in the Love Is Medicine Project. It begins online, September 16th, 2019, and it’s one week: seven episodes over seven days. I think it will really inspire people to hope and to have greater self-awareness. It’s a little bit different in that it’s not like other docuseries that say, “This is what you do for your gut health.” Instead, it goes deeper into some of the things that we’ve talked about today and have talked about before. I believe watching the Love Is Medicine Project will help people who already have their favorite influencer or their favorite book but are not taking action. For instance, if one of your members has been watching all the videos in The Energy Blueprint program but hasn’t implemented the changes necessary to have more energy and be healthier, it will motivate them to do that.
Ari Whitten: Beautiful. Razi, thank you so much for this interview. It was a blast, as always. What are the dates for Love Is Medicine again?
Razi Berry: September 16th through September 23rd. I think you’ll have a link there for the Love Is Medicine Project [inaudible].
Ari Whitten: Yeah, there is a link on the show notes page for this podcast, and the video description is on YouTube. Razi, thank so you much. I really enjoyed this, and I hope to chat with you again very soon. I wish you a speedy recovery on your tailbone fracture.
Razi Berry: Thank you, Ari. We’ve also got our dates for after our new launch, the send for you. I know there were some issues, but my team and I are well aware of those and would like to make that right. I’m happy to support your work because I love it.
Ari Whitten: Thank you so much. I appreciate that. Have a wonderful rest of your day. Thanks again, and I’ll talk to you soon.
Razi Berry: Congratulations on your growing family.
Ari Whitten: Thank you. I appreciate it. Have a good one. Bye!
TheImportance of Community, Why Hope Matters, The Power of Placebo, and Why Love Is Medicine with Razi Berry – Show Notes
What Love Is Medicine is about (2:23)
How self-awareness pertains to health (13:25)
The importance of hope in healing (36:26)
The science on placebo and nocebo (43:50)
How our community plays a vital role in our health (51:46)
The role of symptoms in treating a disease (54:18)