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Suffering from thyroid, gut, pain, inflammation or other such issues? Then Dr. Will Cole’s interview will give you the answers on how to reverse your autoimmune disease, symptoms and get your health back.
Don’t miss this amazingly revealing interview about the autoimmune disease that could change your health.
Dr. Will Cole, leading functional medicine practitioner, specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors and customizing health programs for chronic conditions such as thyroid issues, autoimmune disease, autoimmune deficiency, autoimmune disorder, hormonal dysfunctions, and more. He consults locally in the Pittsburgh area as well as webcam and phone consultations for people across the country and around the world. Dr. Cole is a health writer for international publications such as mindbodygreen and lectures nationally. Dr. Cole is the author of the forthcoming book, Ketotarian, in which he melds the powerful benefits of a ketogenic diet with a plant-based one. (https://www.amazon.com/Ketotarian-Mostly-Plant-Based-Cravings-Inflammation/dp/0525537171)
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[00:01] REENA JADHAV: Hey everyone its Reena Jadhav with the live longer podcast and health bootcamp. Autoimmune is a runaway train.We have 50 million people today suffering from the autoimmune disease a hundred plus autoimmune diseases my God. I wonder who’s keeping track of these and are we starting to see new diseases popping up? Here’s another interesting number 75% of those with autoimmune are women and we’re spending on chronic illness as a nation $2.3 trillion dollars. And here to tell us a little bit about how we get ourselves out of this hole is Dr. Will Cole. Hi, Dr. Will welcome.
[00:40] DR. WILL COLE: Hi thanks for having me.
[00:43] REENA JADHAV: I’m going to give a little intro to you so our listeners know a little bit more about your amazing background. Dr. Will Cole is a leading functional medicine expert specializing in thyroid issues, autoimmune, hormonal dysfunction, digestive disorders and brain issues. He graduated from Southern California University of health sciences. Has extensive post-doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He consults with people all around the world so people if you like what you hear the great news on today’s podcast is that you can actually reach out and connect with Dr. Cole. He does it through his website drwillcole.com will make sure to put that in the show notes so you’ve got the link. He’s based in Pittsburg and he lives there as well. So welcome again let’s get started with talking about how did you get interested in functional medicine?
[01:36] DR. WILL COLE: Well I kind of started… I grew up in the wellness world. My dad was in healthcare and yet people like Dr. Michael would come and speak at his clinic and kind of I was around a lot of great minds in the world well before I think it was so mainstream. This is in the 90s it’s really even before that in the 80s. So the 80s and 90s really what it was like the low fats kind of just weight loss sort of consciousness. It wasn’t really about health and wellness it was a lot about image and I think for a large degree but I think there was a subculture that is really now probated into the mainstream but they. So I started at my youth being interested in wellness as a general sort of world and then I had known that I wanted to get into healthcare so I went to this sort of Necker of integrative and alternative health care at large in Southern California University of health sciences in Los Angeles. And I heard that the guy called Trisconi and Trisconi who I had gone to my school was older than I was and was talking about the history of healthcare called functional medicine and I thought okay what is that? And 11-12 years ago it sort of marrying the best of Western medicine which is being evidence-based and running labs and getting the baseline and the best of alternative medicine which is actually getting somebody healthy and not just prescribing medications to match the IC 10 code diagnosis code. So I loved that it was the best of both worlds and I never looked back since and I started implementing functional medicine into my own life and then in my family’s life. I have autoimmune conditions on both sides of my family and now most of my patients about 90% of them are done this way. If you have a webcam interface, which is the brilliant time that we live in, we can get functional medicine care to regular normal people wherever they are in the world. So I spend most of my weeks consulting and talking, standing at my standing desk. I am sitting down right now I am taking it easy but yeah talking to people in random parts of the world that I’ll never be able to see otherwise and I am so honored and humbled and blessed to be a part of people’s sacred wellness journey and it is where God brought me to today.
[04:15] REENA JADHAV: That’s wonderful. We talk about autoimmune it’s a simple little word, it’s so toxic, and it just changes people’s lives for the worst. I know this because I have lived through the sort of a year and a half of autoimmune hell. Let’s talk a little bit about what is autoimmune for those of our listeners who still don’t understand all that it encompasses?
[04:39] DR. WILL COLE: Yeah so autoimmune that word is kind of abstract for many people. They don’t really understand what it is. Auto if you break that word auto is self-immune so the immune system attacks itself that’s what autoimmune means. So today and you had mentioned this at the top of the conversation there are about 100 different autoimmune diseases that we know today and an additional 100 that have at least autoimmune components. So we are talking about 140 disease processes with a diagnosis code that we understand in science today but as we understand how more and more diseases operate, there is going to be an autoimmune component more and more and that we see today. And numbers are rising as you said at the top of the conversation 15 million Americans have a diagnose of autoimmune disease. The problem is there are millions more somewhere where I call the autoimmune inflammation spectrum. They are not bad enough or severe enough damage has been done for it to fit our criteria, or conventional medicine criteria in the West or what we call an autoimmune disease but there is still suffering, struggling and they are not healthy. They are on this autoimmune inflammation spectrum so 15 million Americans are in what we call stage 3 on this autoimmune spectrum that’s the autoimmune disease spectrum. But stage 1 on the other end of the spectrum is silent autoimmunity meaning if you ran labs you would see positive antibodies, you would see some abnormal abs but they are otherwise feeling fine. They don’t really notice any symptoms that are silent autoimmunity. And in stage 2 is autoimmune reactivity meaning they are having symptoms, they don’t feel well, they are having inflammation but they don’t fit the criteria to be a full-blown stage 3 autoimmune disease. So I find most of my patients are either stage 3 or stage 2 meaning that stage 2 is the people that they feel horrible, they’d see a positive A and A, positive other lupus labs or other autoimmune tests. And the doctors say well it looks autoimmune or they throw the word autoimmune around and patients remember the doctors saying it or they say things like it looks like you are going to get lupus to come back basically when you are bad enough for us to give you a thyroid or an immunosuppressant. This is sort of the reactionary approach to autoimmunity is basically wait till your body is destroyed enough of its cells to then put you on a steroid or immunosuppressant. This is illogical, this is your message and your mission, and its mine as well as what can we do in the here now wherever we at on this inflammation spectrum to take responsibility of our health, reclaim our health to mitigate risk factors and do whatever we can to improve our health. And whether you are stage 3 or stage 2 or even not in this spectrum you just want to optimize your health, this conversation that we are having hopefully is a wakeup call to you cannot just wait for your body destroy enough of itself to then do something.
[07:57] REENA JADHAV: Exactly let’s talk numbers. What do you see in your clinic? Who is suffering from autoimmune? What’s the age range? Is it men or women? Who are these? And what are the top illnesses that you see?
[08:11] DR. WILL COLE: Yeah so sadly what was once a rarity is now a common phrase I mean it is pervasive, it’s ambiguous, to say the least, and predominantly you had mentioned these statistics. It’s predominantly women. Most of these are X chromosome-linked in nature meaning it tends to be more higher rates of women having autoimmunity sadly with a few exceptions there are a few autoimmune diseases that are more men-centric. But for the most part, women are being impacted by this and there are a number of different reasons for this I’ve written about but mainly there is a genetic component to it. A third of this autoimmune puzzle is genetic but about two thirds the majority of that pie the autoimmune puzzle is epigenetics and that’s the lifestyle factors that drive and trigger genetic predispositions. So our genetics or DNA hasn’t changed. Researchers estimate in 10,000 years so our DNA is untapped or unchanged for 10,000 years. What’s changed the variable that we have to talk about is the field of epigenetics. The foods that we are not eating or we are eating, the stress levels in our lives or lack of it, our exposure to toxins, viral infections, bacterial infections, gut problems these are all the epigenetic factors that can wake up that genetic predisposition. So these genetic predispositions have been around for 10,000 years so the reason for the explosion is not our genetics which again that remains unchanged. The variable that has changed is the new world that our DNA is living in. There is a mismatch between our DNA and the world around us this disconnect or this difference is what’s awakening these latent genetic predispositions. So predominantly women their genetic component most of it is lifestyle driven as far as triggering these genetic predispositions and its all ages. It’s really sad for all ages. My youngest patients are under 2 years old. I have a few patients that they are under 2. A lot of pre-teen girls as well have autoimmune conditions and then patients in their 20s, 30s. It’s across the board sadly. Every decade I am thinking of a number of patients that have autoimmune conditions on top of my head. So it’s really not one age it’s really across the board.
[10:45] REENA JADHAV: That is truly so heartbreaking. It is so interesting, as a mother of two, I am okay watching people of my age be sick but the moment someone talks about sort of a child having autoimmune it just completely breaks my heart. Because I feel like a parent, it’s our job to prevent them. So Dr. Will, what is it that we are missing? Why are our children starting to get autoimmune? What is creating this explosion as you called it?
[11:11] DR. WILL COLE: Yeah I think it starts with the number of stresses that kids are put under over a very short period of time and I would say at large our world has changed over a very dramatically short period of time, so again this mismatch between genetics and epigenetics.
[11:31] REENA JADHAV: How has the world changed? So when you say the world has changed because I would say when I had colon cancer at 35 and I had my 2nd illness a few years ago, I didn’t think the world has changed. It wasn’t until listening to doctors like yourself that I started to realize that oh my God what I see them as beautiful air is not beautiful air and the water I’m drinking from the tap is not clean water. So for those of our listeners who are still like I was 21/2 years ago talk a little bit about how the world has changed and why?
[12:00] DR. WILL COLE: Yeah so the different facets of epigenetics of environmental factors that can trigger these genetic predispositions it starts with the foods that we eat. So our food supply changed from the soil that food is grown and it has depleted its nutrients to how it is raised and the spraying of different crops, the hybridization of crops, and the genetic modification of crops as well as just the fact that food is processed. And even the food that is grown is then processed after it is grown and this non-ideal situation then it’s processed after it is grown and then we are kind of devoid of nutrients and our body is alive because of brilliant biochemistry. And when it is lacking those biochemical facets that make our body alive and vibrant and thriving then we have deficiencies at different nutrients which are pervasive and then we go to our environment at large beyond the food. So like you mentioned air quality, water quality, what’s happened in the past years like Michigan it’s really a problem beyond flight and water supply and the toxins and the medications and the other contaminants in our water supply. And this is again the United States of America this is not a developing country and this is happening here as far as our water supply let alone the other countries that are being impacted by water quality. And then it’s our chronic stresses of modernity. We have amazing advancements in technology that’s how we are talking now but also is this endless cortex of stimulation of the brain and our bodies are always, our brains are always on fire in this sort of sympathetic fighter flight. I am being chased by a tiger but there is no tiger here and that’s people on this rat race are always scrolling through their phones, always running to the next thing. We are always trying to keep up with the Joneses unless this modern phenomenon of chronic stress that really knows no bounds is also component to this too and then the amounts of medications that people are put on which all have potential side effects in various degrees and those have side effects as well. So I think it is a confluence of a lot of these different factors but those are some of the top examples that I could think on top of my head what is awakening these genetic predispositions.
[14:33] REENA JADHAV: Let’s start talking about protocols that you use to help someone. Let’s actually start with thyroid. So we are again starting to see some pretty significant explosion in the number of thyroid cases. What causes thyroid issues? How can someone with thyroid issues look to functional medicine for reversing those issues?
[14:55] DR. WILL COLE: Great question so you mentioned a question I didn’t fully answer is what type of autoimmune conditions that I see and more importantly what are seen in the world. Well, the most common autoimmune disease in the world is autoimmune thyroiditis. It’s the autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid or Hashimoto’s disease which is incidentally the first of immune condition ever discovered in science. It was named after the guy who discovered it and at the turn of the 20th century, it was apparently a thing where people wanted to name diseases after themselves. I don’t know if I would want that so much but forever and ever it’s called Hashimoto’s and it’s the most common autoimmune disease and the first autoimmune condition ever discovered. So it’s when the immune system attacking tyropocisates antibody and thyrobinding covalence antibody. And these are the proteins and the enzymes that make the thyroid hormone and the immune system attacking it and we can measure that on a blunted antibody test and see if there is an autoimmune component to one’s thyroid condition. So the Medicare American society says upwards of 90% of low thyroid function in the West is autoimmune in nature meaning most people in the Western world and also in the developing world have this autoimmune component if not a full-blown autoimmune disease against the thyroid. Again it doesn’t have to be full-blown Hashimoto’s disease; Graves’s disease is the other autoimmune thyroid problem to have an autoimmune component to it. So we have to take it into account it’s a lot of people really. And the problem here is the analogy that I use for this example is if I hit somebody on the head with a hammer, I cannot really do that but if I did just light enough to hurt it, they are going to get a headache right? And make it Tylenol for a headache they can tell me to stop freaking hitting them in the head with the hammer. The problem is not the thyroid; the thyroid is just the victim of the immune system perversely hitting itself on the head with a hammer. That you can make your THS look great, you can make your thyroid hormones look great by getting yourself a Synthroid or none of the rocks and another thyroid replacement hormone. But under the root, cause it’s not a Synthroid deficiency just like really most chronic diseases it’s not a medication deficiency. We have to look at why the immune system thinks that the thyroid is a virus or a bacterium, why is it attacking it, why is this autoimmune condition flared up? So people with Hashimoto’s can be in hyper state and hypo state so they have a bit of both world when it comes to how the virus can operate because the thyroid storm means this is a system attack in a thyroid. They can have hyperthyroid symptoms, they can have heart computations, they can have anxious and sweaty and all flushes and anxiety and then they can crush and go cold, they can lose their hair, they can have constipation and depressed. From a psychiatric standpoint, this happens and this is in the medical literature as well that they can be misdiagnosed or diagnosed as having bipolar or manic depression or some psychiatric anxiety depression issues. Because that’s how it manifests but really it’s an autoimmune component that is attacking your thyroid and possibly even your neurological tissue and brain tissue that is making you anxious, making you become depressed. And they are not given psychiatric medications for these symptoms again they are not dealing with the root cause which is for these people autoimmunity. So to answer your question for these Hashimoto’s cases or autoimmune virus cases you have to deal with the autoimmunity. Yes, there’s probably going to be some necessity when it comes to getting your thyroid hormones in place and taking the appropriate thyroid replacement hormone dosage but that’s not dealing with the root cause. So yes you have to get your thyroid hormones in check but the upstream core root facet here is the autoimmunity that’s driving this inflammation and sadly people with one autoimmune condition as there is an increased risk for other autoimmune conditions what’s known as poly autoimmunity. And most of my patients have 3 or 4 number of different autoimmune conditions that may have begun with the thyroid but it has kind of grown beyond that.
[19:24] REENA JADHAV: Yeah I had 28 symptoms in the last count. The good news is it never became 30 and started to reverse itself and went back down to zero so I can again relate to the fact that it may start as one but it quickly adds more bars into additional. What do you see along with thyroid? What do you see as some of the related autoimmune conditions that come out?
[19:47] DR. WILL COLE: Just to name a few other autoimmune conditions and I want to talk about just the general feeling. I think beyond Hashimoto disease, lupus is very common, Sjogren very common, all sort of colitis, crone, celiac disease, MS, Parkinson’s those are other autoimmune conditions that I see a lot. But the umbrella of just like a day to day person like symptom A would that I see everybody are quite common is the sort of inflammatory brain component here and the gut-brain connection here. So anxiety, depression, fatigue and brain fog those are like 4 things I see them so often in patients and a lot of them are on this autoimmune spectrum. Almost all of them are at least on this inflammation spectrum I found foregone autoimmune triggered at least having this wild inflammatory response in their body and so many people settle for. It’s a silent problem because it’s brain-based mental health so they think they are just being weak or they are just stressed or they have all these excuses and what they have to realize is that there is a physiological component if not an entirely physiological component which is driving towards mental health. And you have to see mental health as physical health its one and the same thing and the impact that the inflammation and those autoimmune components on the brain we have to start realizing this. Start to get answers as to what people are going through because the rate of anxiety, depression, fatigue, brain fog are pervasive and we have to start giving people solutions for this. And what I find many times is when we measure this we can measure antibodies against neurological tissue and this whole field of research is called the Sida kind model of cognitive function. Basically how inflammation impacts how our brain works and all these brain problems that I mentioned are linked to the medical literature to this growing inflammatory Sida kind activity this inflammatory activity in the brain. And many people with anxiety, depression, brain fog, fatigue have done everything the doctors told them to do, they are taking all their medications and they are still feeling lousy. Then many times can be an autoimmune component to it and especially if there is a family health history of autoimmunity and obviously the connection with the digestive system which the gut is our second brain. 95% of the serotonin in our bodies is made in the gut and stored in the gut so dealing also with the digestive-digestion issues centrally but also the impact of the gut has on the brain.
[22:35] REENA JADHAV: I’m so glad to hear you say it is sort of black and white that anxiety, depression, brain fog these are not brain issues, these are body issues. These are literally linked physically to the state of your health not the state of your emotions. When you go to a doctor and you say you are depressed, they give you an anti-depressant and I’ve heard this line over and over again it was becoming a cliché but I am going to say it any way your body is not short of depressants so you don’t need more anti-depressants that’s not where the issue is. The issue is that there is something going on in your body that’s creating a toxic environment in your brain, that’s creating this emotional cascade, is how I see it. And I’m so glad to hear you sort of reconfirm that and so for everyone out there that’s listening that’s facing anxiety, that’s facing depression or brain fog, it’s not your brain. The brain is just giving you the symptoms; it’s the state of your health as a whole. So Dr. Will what’s the protocol that you put people through in functional medicine because it sounds like the name of the disease doesn’t matter you really have to heal your body as a whole.
[23:47] DR. WILL COLE: Yeah I think that it starts. Our functional medicine approach to these problems starts with diagnosis. It starts with labs because you could have a 100 different people with the same ICD 10 code of autoimmune conditions or really any problem and what works for one person can fire the next person up. So I try not to alibi this is a path that everybody with lupus is going to heal their life because I will be proven wrong with the patients. So you cannot say dogmatically this is the path. There is some commonalities don’t eat McDonald’s food, don’t eat junk food but beyond that, there are so much biological variability and bio-individuality that is our play here because we are not any one of us. Someone is not just their health condition they are a lot more complex than that. So it starts with labs to find out what’s the root cause and we run the labs that are most relevant to the individuals. We don’t want to be obsessive with labs I want to be comprehensive with labs and so looking at things like microbiome in our gut problem which is 75% of the immune system. So when you are dealing with autoimmune issues, you want to look at where the predominant of the immune system resides in the gastrointestinal system and the microbiome. And then also looking at toxicity and then looking at hormone imbalances which can impact the immune system. I mean looking at inflammation and looking at hormones and looking at nutrients and looking at all these different components and finding out what’s underneath the hood so to speak. The check engine light to me I like the symptoms that they are going through. I just don’t want to talk about the check engine and say alright see you later, see you in 6 months for another checkup. I want to check what’s actually underneath the hood here and that’s all these things that I mentioned giving rise to the symptoms, giving rise to the diagnosis codes. So that’s really kind of clinical mechanics, body mechanics a functional medicine doctor to say what’s driving the check engine light here, what’s causing that. And then from there you can use food as medicine, use botanical herbal medicines as medicine, use lifestyle, stress management and my fullness techniques and physical activity and sleep improvements and medications when needed to really be customized to the individual. And that’s really the heart of functional medicine.
[26:11] REENA JADHAV: Let’s talk about testing because one of the hardest things is when you go to conventional medicine tests are different from functional medicine testing so where can someone get themselves tested? And what are these specific tests that you are recommending, for example, do the GU nova test for the gut?
[26:29] DR. WILL COLE: GU nova is fantastic I don’t do that one specifically. We typically do doctor’s data test which is a 2 day or 3-day stool test in our lab in Chicago but we really use any lab that’s out there that’s the best for that patient. So I’m not hanging around on one specific lab I really look at all labs that are out there in functional medicine and in mainstream medicine and say it’s based on. And that’s why it starts with health history because I want to spend a long time in health history it can tell you so much just diagnostically even before the labs and just say what’s even needed for this person and what can we gain this from taking a proper health history, a comprehensive health history. And then from there yeah we pinpoint the most relevant labs and be as targeted and specific to the individual as we can and go from there but I mean to answer your question functional medicine doctor can run labs. We see patients around the world like you had mentioned so I spend most of my week consulting people and that’s what I do. I love it being a part of people’s health journey. I take that very seriously and I kind of thoroughly investigate these cases of people and in general if the functional medicine doctors would be able to do that as well.
[27:48] REENA JADHAV: What would be the biggest recommendation that you can make for someone who is trying to heal from an autoimmune condition? What do they need to start doing immediately?
[28:01] DR. WILL COLE: Yeah so I would say probably we want to look at the genesis of I think a lot of difference this is maybe going to be seen kind of fluffy but I don’t mean to be fluffy at all. I mean it to be we have to have a good relationship with our body and our health because all the stuff that I am saying I don’t want to put fear into somebody for the sake of it. I want to give them a sound mind and context because you have to know what you are up against to do something and that’s what this health information that we are talking about is meant to be. That’s what the purpose of saying as it is and it’s also thought the purpose of labs and giving people the underlining root facets of why they are going through their health problems it is to give them answers to do something about it. It is not to put fear into them or scare them, or even use scare tactics in their health. That’s not good for their health stress is not good for your health. So what I mean is the first step I think for anybody dealing with any health problem but specifically we are talking about autoimmune because it’s definitely relevant here is that you cannot heal a body you hate and I think a lot of people have a lot of shame around their body and around their health and around food. I think that should not even have a place in wellness at large and I think out of realizing someone’s own self-worth all full healthy actions and I know that seems not actually out of step but I think that’s important because in our world of wellness, in our world of functional medicine an unintentional consequence of being so alertly aware of our health can calm eating disorder, can calm anorexia, people become so obsessive and stressed and anxious about their food because they don’t know what’s working for them. They are suffering, they are dealing with real health problems, there is no reason, and they are just afraid of eating and they are afraid. Their wellness is actually their source of stress for them so I just want to maybe start I think that is just like a core first step for anybody going through health problem is really doing all this stuff that we are talking about. At a place of self-love and really self-care as a whole as a form of self-respect and having that be the ethos of which you make healthy decisions in your life.
[30:18] REENA JADHAV: So well said. I think health truly first begins with a commitment to health and a decision to recognize where you may have strayed from being true to yourself, from loving yourself, from caring for yourself. Just so beautifully put Dr. Will thank you so much. For the rest of you start looking in the mirror every morning and saying I love you. That was something that Luis Hai said that so many problems will disappear if you just look every morning in the mirror when you brush your teeth and say I love you, I care for you, you are going to be healthy. It changes what you do during the day, it changes just how you eat, it changes what you watch, how you talk to yourself. So simple tips Dr. Will thank you so much for sharing such great insights and for the rest of you if you are enjoying this share the podcast. Stay smiling.
Dr. Will Cole D.C, Functional Medicine Practitioner
Cole Natural Health Centers
1000 Infinity Drive #230, Monroeville, Pennsylvania 15146
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