As a traditionally trained internist, Cynthia Li, MD, found her world turned upside down after a mysterious illness and eventual auto-immune disorder diagnosis. Conventional medicine – which she spent her entire adult life learning and practicing – couldn’t offer much relief. So, as a last resort, she turned to functional and integrative medicine. To her surprise, it helped her reverse her debilitating symptoms. Now she has converted her practice to functional and integrative medicine, and shares her story about practicing what she calls brave new medicine.
Integrative Medicine Doctor & Author of Brave New Mediicne
Cynthia Li, MD, is the author of Brave New Medicine. She graduated from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and has practiced in settings as diverse as Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, San Francisco General Hospital, and St. Anthony’s Medical Clinic for the homeless. She also volunteered with Doctors Without Borders in rural China, focusing on HIV/AIDS care. Currently, she has a private practice in integrative and functional medicine, and serves as faculty for the Healer’s Art program at the University of California San Francisco Medical School. She is a member of the American Board of Internal Medicine, the Institute for Functional Medicine, and Integrative Medicine for the Underserved (IM4US). You can find her at www.cynthialimd.com
Maria Marlowe: [00:00:33] Welcome back to the Happier and Healthier podcast. Today’s guest is Cynthia Li, M.D., who is a traditionally trained medical doctor, but who went over to the other side and became an integrative and functional medicine doctor after dealing with a disabling autoimmune illness. Today, she’s here to discuss her new book, Brave New Medicine, a memoir about dealing with her autoimmune illness, limitations of Western medicine and her hard won lessons on healing mind, body and spirit.
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Maria Marlowe: [00:02:56] Dr. Li, thanks so much for being here. Thank you so much for having me. So I know that you now have an integrative and functional medicine practice, but you trained traditionally or initially as a traditional M.D.. So can you talk a little bit about what the turning point was? I know you talk about in the book of what made you make that switch.
Cynthia Li: [00:03:18] Yeah. I would say it’s not enlightenment. It was really a breakdown, complete breakdown of my body. And I was about three years out from my residency training. So sort of at this place in my career where I felt a strong sense of mastery. You know, I knew all the research, the latest protocols, and I was feeling just a great sense of pride, but also the sense of mastery. And it was at that time that my husband and I had our first child. And when she was about four months old, I developed postpartum thyroiditis, which is the postpartum form of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition of the thyroid gland. And then long story short, in a couple of years during my second pregnancy, I developed a sudden onset of chronic fatigue syndrome and decide anemia, which is complete dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system, which controls vital but largely subconscious processes like blood pressure control, heart rate, digestion, breathing, body temperature. And so I felt I was on the verge of passing out. I have profound exhaustion, literally cannot get off the couch. So it took about two years. I mean, as I trained, as an internist, as an expert in chronic conditions and these sets of conditions were not only ones I didn’t know how to treat or that Western medicine had really no good remedies for, but I hadn’t quite believed them to be real.
Cynthia Li: [00:04:50] You know, I thought that there was a huge psychosomatic component to it. We had no way of measuring it. So it took me about two years of going on the merry go round of specialist, a specialist before I realized I’m not going to get anywhere. And I was too tired, actually, to keep going on that merry go round. So I got off and was pretty much on my own. I did not know about. I knew vaguely about integrative medicine, just some lifestyle changes. But I was too exhausted, too debilitated to do that. And I had two young kids. I did not know about functional medicine at the time, and I was very skeptical of anything alternative. So I really went back to my pathology, went to one textbook and went back to fundamentals and began to really dig deeper into how chronic diseases begin and how did they progressed. So it was really going back to fundamentals that opened me to new ways of seeing and new questions to be asked.
Maria Marlowe: [00:05:54] Yes. Often in these times of crisis that wake us up, right. That to have us look at the world in a different way. So sometimes the path seems a little rocky and unfortunate, but the clearing that it opens up is a million times better. And I’m sure now you’re helping so many people with integrative medicine, functional medicine now. It’s just unfortunate you had to go on that path. So in terms of getting a diagnosis, you know, you had this mysterious illness and you talk about in the book that you were labeled like a difficult patient. So tell us a little bit about that. And maybe for anyone who’s listening, who has either a mystery illness or who has been labeled a difficult case, what should they do?
Cynthia Li: [00:06:38] I would say that no doctor outright called me a difficult patient, but I knew from my training that I had become one of those and you know, it can really be anything from somebody with a really challenging and abrasive personality to someone who like me and like millions don’t fit into the paradigm. Right. So, God, you know, we keep coming back and we keep coming back with more symptoms and and it begins to challenge the system. And what happens is that in the pressure of a 15, 20 minute appointment, then it’s the patient who becomes difficult. Whereas as you just said, it’s actually a difficult case. And patients like me are coming back again and again because we are deeply suffering. The last place I wanted to be in a doctor’s office.
Cynthia Li: [00:07:28] So I remember that moment when I saw it was in my endocrinologist eyes. You know, we were we were there was a little bit of tension in the visit. And I was actually presenting research that I had found about potentially foods that might be exacerbating my symptoms. And he just looked at me and said, you know, your thyroid numbers look great. You know, it’s fine. And I saw reflected in his eyes like, oh, my God, you know, I’ve gone to that other side, the bedside, and he’s feeling tremendous frustration with me. And so it was this weird duality where I felt both helpless as a patient, but also I fully understood where he was coming from. So it was I myself who diagnosed chronic fatigue syndrome and decided, no, me. I remember I was in the bathroom and I was barely able to stand up after a shower. And I basically took my vital signs and realized that from simply just standing, I had taken a shower, rested because I was exhausted and then got up and was taking my vital signs. I was just standing there for about five minutes. My heart rate went way up to about 140 as if I had just done a good run in. My blood pressure was tanking. And so I realized, oh my God, you know, and that that’s one of the telltale signs of disorder.
Cynthia Li: [00:08:49] Yeah, it’s out of sync with what it is that your body’s actually doing. So I thought, oh, my God, I’ve got mad and have chronic fatigue syndrome because it’s been going on now more than six months. And, you know, post exertion all lays the whole bit. And oftentimes people feel tremendous relief with a diagnosis, with a name. It makes it feel like there’s something tangible to work with. And the way that I’ve been trained, everything did hinge on the diagnosis. Right. If you get a diagnosis of diabetes and you meet a certain lab criteria or a certain set of symptom criteria for other conditions, then we know what the treatment plans are. And all the studies are organized that way in terms of treatment arms. Right. And how people do with this particular treatment versus that with a particular name. And the diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome and decided no me were quite the opposite. It was basically naming the symptoms that I had with no further answers. It was kind of like this aha moment, but it was very, very anti-climactic because then it was like, oh, well, now what? So knowing that there were no answers or very, very few answers, I knew that there were research centers that work with chronic fatigue syndrome patients. But I was so brittle that there was no way I would be able to even follow through or undergo any more diagnostic testing.
Cynthia Li: [00:10:25] So it took me quite a while to get to the place of seeing an acupuncturist. But in my doctor’s mind, the way that I approached it was what can I do that is low risk, something that is not going to set me back even further with a potential gain. I wasn’t even going for high potential gain. I was just going for any kind of gain with low risk. And so it was a friend who really urged me to go into acupuncture because it was seemingly low risk. And there were some studies about fatigue and insomnia, which was a symptom. But I was really struggling with and, you know, generalized achy ness that I thought, OK. You know what? I’m just going to give it a try. And my response to that was really profound. And it got me to the place where chronic vertigo was another one of my symptoms. And that, along with exhaustion, was really what kept me housebound for a couple of years. And it got me to the place where the vertigo was good enough to where I could actually read books and I could go online without having worsening vertigo. So I began also at that time my own research into what was out there and what science was there.
Maria Marlowe: [00:11:41] Well, I think that is a great reminder that we should never give up. All right. If you have some sort of mysterious illness, keep looking for answers, keep trying things and that. Yes, once you have that diagnosis, there’s still more work to do. It’s not always so easy. But if you keep searching, I feel like, you know, you keep asking questions. Eventually you’ll start to figure things out. I think one door leads to another. I do want to circle back to you. You had mentioned that your blood work was normal, right? Your thyroid looked normal, but obviously something was wrong. So can you talk a little bit about why blood tests are and the normal ranges, why they don’t always give us a great accurate reading of our health?
Cynthia Li: [00:12:26] Yeah. And you know, the other thing, my thyroid levels were normal. You know, I still had all of my hyper and hypo overactive and under-active thyroid symptoms like sort of all bundled together. And also my screening labs were normal. You know, the kind of standard complete blood count, the liver screen, the chemistry, their analysis. You know what most people get if they go to the doctor, whether for regular checkup, all of those were not with a normal range. But when I look back on it, when I was writing my book, I went really back into my records and examined things and they were pristine numbers. It wasn’t in jest. They were a little bit out of whack. They looked like someone who was incredibly healthy. And so the disconnect was very profound for me. And I thought, God, you know, as a doctor, when I look at these labs, I would certainly not correlate with someone who is debilitated. So it was humbling because, you know, so often I rely on diagnostics. Well, when I was working at the time, had relied on diagnostics to reassure me about how patients were doing. And what’s more important is really what they’re experiencing and the quality of their life. So the challenge with lab tests is that, first of all, they’re taking a snapshot just at the time that you had it drawn, which is limiting. The second piece is that a lot of patients and this goes back to your earlier question about what patients who have these mystery symptoms, what can they do? The reason why and I don’t even like the term alternative, but modalities that are outside of the classical Western medicine paradigm, why they approach and have much better results with these kinds of mystery illnesses is that they approach the body really as a whole ecosystem and not just the body as an ecosystem, but there’s an ecosystem within and on us, right, with the gut flora and the viruses and the parasites and the yeast and the bacteria.
Cynthia Li: [00:14:29] And then also we’re living within ecosystems around us. So, you know, our zip code, there’s that saying that. Right, the zip code matters more than genetic code. So what kind of environmental exposures am I getting to? Chemicals and pollutants? What kind of access to fresh food do I have? Am I getting enough movement in my day to day life? And just to say nothing of stress? What is the day to day minutes, minute mildew of my existence? So these ancient paradigms like traditional Chinese medicine or elevator. Are two more well-known traditions that like naturopathy is another. That’s a little bit more contemporary and now functional medicine, so functional medicine is really applying the same systems approach. So an example would be my thyroid was out of whack in the beginning. It’s not just my thyroid gland.
Cynthia Li: [00:15:21] It’s actually my entire hormonal system that was out of balance. And then it was manifesting largely in my thyroid gland and that’s connected to my immune system. Right. This is an autoimmune condition. And then the immune system and the hormone system are connected to the neurological system, to our digestive systems. So all of these systems are a little bit or sometimes a lot out of balance and they’re pulling on each other. And so with the Western medicine approach, we tend to isolate and want to treat one thing. But you’ve got all these other systems that are needing support and needing tweaking as well. And so when we approach it, the patient much more holistically, the healing happens often kind of as a side effect. We were sort of treating the whole patient. If I, for example, prescribe a particular diet for a patient or a particular mind body practice for a patient. They’re focused on what they’re doing, but it’s addressing and sort of writing multiple systems at once. So the healing becomes much deeper and much more comprehensive. To say nothing of the fact that these modalities really encourage the patient to get much more in touch with themselves. I think that’s the most healing of all is to get back into your body, reconnect with it, you know, in a compassionate way, which is really the root of of healing.
Maria Marlowe: [00:16:50] Yeah, I think it’s so true. I think we do get so disconnected from our body. And, you know, I think sometimes we’re relying on, you know, other people like doctors, you know, to tell us what’s wrong or tell us what’s going on in our body. Meanwhile, our body is giving us all these signals all day long and we’re completely ignoring them, you know? Yeah, I think it’s really, really important that we get back in touch with our body and start listening to it, also start talking to it a little bit more nicely than most of us do. And yeah, I think that’s really where healing starts. But I’m curious, you know, because you’re saying this, that getting in touch with your body and self-reflection, that’s really important. Where does trauma and stress like what role does that play in autoimmune disease?
Cynthia Li: [00:17:34] Yeah. You know, trauma is a really big factor. And it’s it’s a delicate topic to broach because of this notion of psychosomatic. People often say, oh, you just said that. You know, it’s not in your head. But now you’re saying that there’s a lot of trauma that happens, you know. And so when we say, oh, God, it’s not real. It’s in their head. And what we’re really suggesting that there’s some imaginary component to it. Right. Like we’re sort of almost willing it to happen for secondary gain of some sort. And trauma is a very different thing. And there’s a lot of data now. I mean, it’s been around for decades, but it’s really kind of coming to the forefront now about childhood trauma and how within these formative years, it doesn’t even have to be overt violence per say, but perceived trauma. And so there are children, for example, who are just very sensitive, are more sensitive to negative influences or to an authoritarian parent than their sibling. And what it does is it sets up patterns in the stress system, in the hormone system and the neurological system. And then in the immune system, it sort of gets primed, you know, and then they learn how to cope. They’re young and they’re in survival mode. So what happens is you go into a fight or flight mode and you don’t even know it because it’s all you’ve known. It’s a little bit pre-conscious in a way, but it becomes sort of the default way in which your body, the inner workings are relating to the external world.
Cynthia Li: [00:19:18] So then later in life, let’s say there’s multiple tours and oftentimes there’s multiple, multiple triggers. And, you know, and I remember when I was writing my book and living back into the timeline of my illness and healing journey, the third idea seemed to come out of nowhere. I mean, I was like really healthy, quote, unquote. And then the chronic fatigue syndrome and the disorder, me, I hit very abruptly on a trip to Beijing. And what I know now is that while the manifestations of those diseases were abrupt for me, that these and there were imbalances going on for a long, long time. And I could use hindsight then to realize, oh, you know what, diseases often begin and subtle imbalances. Years, sometimes decades before the disease can be diagnosed. So I was going back in time into my residency training and just how completely stressful that was. You know, it’s a trauma, as you say, it’s a trauma of sorts. You’re going through medical boot camp. I also had a relationship then a man that I was engaged to. And a big tragedy happened and it was incredibly stressful. And so that can be aggravations on top of an immune system and a hormone system that’s already been sort of primed by stress, you know, and then you add that to genetic susceptibility to autoimmunity and then you kind of get the perfect storm.
Maria Marlowe: [00:20:51] And I think so many of us go through traumas and through stress. And it’s probably a miracle that more people don’t have these issues. But that kind of brings up the point that there are multiple factors typically involved in the development of any chronic illness, especially autoimmune. So one thing that I know that’s very popular now and just talked about a lot is this autoimmune paleo protocol in terms of diet. So I’m curious what your thoughts are on that and what dietary changes that you made and that you think are really beneficial for those that are suffering from autoimmune issues.
Cynthia Li: [00:21:27] Yeah. So the first place always to start is food. And food is actually it’s it’s hard it’s hard to change your diet. It’s hard to do any lifestyle changes, but it’s easier than, for example, going right in and dealing with your trauma or trauma, for sure.
Cynthia Li: [00:21:42] So, yes, it’s just like a baby. Exactly. And so, you know, one of the ways is really how do we fortify the physical body to get to a place where then we can begin to what I call detox the soul. And again, I will just say, because we’re talking about trauma. My way was not through psychoanalysis. It was not through. So much even confronting the traumas as it was just to understand, oh, I can go to like a grief ritual. Oh, I can do mind body practices that literally release and change the way that my DNA is folded so that it’s physically kind of at the cellular level releasing trauma. So you sort of bypass, you know, years of talking about diet. Let’s talk about this.
Maria Marlowe: [00:22:30] So what are some of these practices then to release the trauma that you found effective?
Cynthia Li: [00:22:36] Yeah. So for me and it’s going to be different for everyone, but for me was really going into a mind body practice called Qigong. And again, I didn’t enter it thinking I was going to do trauma work. I was doing it because, oh, OK, I need to rehabilitate my inner workings. And the only way to do that right is by doing my body practices. And I was trying to also increase my mitochondrial. You know, those are the powerhouses of our cell. They’re trying to increase the mitochondrial efficiency. So it was very scientific. My approach was very clinical. But the longer I was doing the cheekbone practice Qigong as a moving meditation, that is the foundation of tai-chi and martial arts and traditional Chinese medicine. But there’s three components. There’s the movement part. There’s the meditation and consciousness work. And then there’s sound vibrations. So sort of like, you know, the way chanting is, you know, people do it in different traditions and the vibrations actually, together with the movements, they begin to just they rewire the way that my brain was wired.
Cynthia Li: [00:23:44] So changing the neuronal connections to a healthier pattern, or I would say out of the chronic illness pattern, chronic inflammatory pattern. And, you know, there’s no data on this right now. But the longer I practice it, I realized, oh, my God, that’s actually what it’s doing. What it felt like it was doing was changing the way the DNA folded and unfolded, which we know through the science of epigenetics and we know through some population studies in humans, but also largely from animal studies, that patterns of trauma can get passed down genetically in the way that the DNA is folded through generations. And so I felt like through the chanting and the movements that I was releasing trauma that actually wasn’t even mine. I had kind of inherited it. Right. My parents survived wars. My grandparents, you know, were they were parents during the wars. And there was tremendous trauma and sort of this fight or flight mode of living. And then the other thing that helps me was great for it was actually was not processing mentally the grief, but I went to a grief ritual. And again, it’s it’s a somatic it’s a visceral response, you know, of. I mean, it was the first place I’ve ever been where they encouraged us or not only gave us permission. That encouraged us to cry and and grief is is it’s not discriminating. It doesn’t matter what I thought I was going there for, which was actually my health will break down of my body and the years that I lost. But, you know, all this stuff from even my childhood came up when I was there. So I just felt like it was like a detox. I felt like, oh, you know, I just did a massive detox. And in the spaciousness that opened up empathy, you know, confidence, compassion, peacefulness. These qualities that we associate with resilience. They filled up that spaciousness. You know, as a side effect. So I did not know. It wasn’t like, oh, I suddenly decided I was going to get self agency and then become resilient.
Cynthia Li: [00:25:53] I was really there was no room in me. So it was about how do I let go. How do I clear my body and my soul to make room for healing to happen naturally?
Maria Marlowe: [00:26:05] It’s so interesting. I think a lot of us walk around with these weights on straight and these stressors, these things that have happened again from childhood could be decades later now. And we just don’t realize it. We just are on well in some way or just something is off or our mood we’re at. We’re moody. You were crying or you know, there’s stuff going on. You’re just like, why is this happening all the time? Right. And it’s because we haven’t processed and dealt with that stuff from the past. And it’s interesting you even brought up the epigenetic part. Well, maybe it’s not even your trauma. Maybe it’s your parents trauma, which is sort of mind boggling to think about. But Ben, when you think further, it all makes sense. So, I mean, both of these things sound very interesting. I haven’t tried either. But after this, I think maybe I will.
Cynthia Li: [00:26:55] Yeah, it’s really powerful. And it’s I mean, from a clinical standby, it’s just so much faster. I mean, which is wonderful. Yeah. But I don’t think because it’s it’s deeper, you know, it’s just a deeper release. It’s stuff that’s it’s stored in our bodies. And so like the only way to release that is actually not through the mind. It’s through something that’s going to engage the body.
Maria Marlowe: [00:27:16] Well, even think this will be. Yeah. They even talk about dancing. How dancing is very soothing.
Cynthia Li: [00:27:23] Yeah. And dancing is another. Yeah. And I have a lot of patients who do that or even like laughter yoga. You know, I mean, it’s not it seems almost opposite of going to a grief ritual after yoga, but it’s a visceral response. And going to grief ritual is not going to be for everybody. So, you know, you can opt for laughter yoga, but it has to be something that’s where you’re inhabiting your body. Yeah. So there’s lots of avenues. And, you know, in another way, going back to your other question, is healing the gut. Like when we heal the physical body, we actually heal emotions as well. They really go hand-in-hand.
Maria Marlowe: [00:28:03] So, yeah. So we talk a little bit more about that because we do know that leaky gut is pretty much believed to be associated with all forms of auto immune conditions. And it’s sort of the predecessor. So talk a little bit about that. Yeah. Let’s get back to the diet. Like what causes leaky gut? And then what steps do we take to heal that?
Cynthia Li: [00:28:21] Yeah. I mean, there are a lot of factors that can cause leaky gut. Leaky gut is basically, you know, the epithelium, the barrier and the gut where we’re absorbing nutrients and, you know, the were colonized right. Where we’ve got this rich micro ecosystem of microorganisms that are helping us digest and metabolize and absorb. But they’re also the keepers of the gut lining. So when this micro ecosystem is out of balance, we can almost look at it almost like a monoculture. Let’s just say, you know, the garden of a haircut has become sort of like a monoculture. And you know, what we want is just like a garden that we can see in 10. We really want a rich diversity. And that’s really what confers resilience to a system. Is this diversity? So multiple factors can cause the gut flora to go out of balance. Emotional stress is one big one. Chemicals, you know, pesticides, medications, processed foods, again, monoculture foods. So for sort of eating a lot of things that are processed wheat and corn derivatives, it can all contribute to it. You know, I don’t know anybody who is not exposed to things and their own hormones. Hormones can contribute to. So there’s a lot of factors. Infections. But we usually have a reserve and we can it’s just like having another acute stress. We can get over it. It’s when the stress becomes chronic or perpetual.
Cynthia Li: [00:30:02] So you’re constantly bombarding the. But with chemicals and with medications and with stress and with whatever it is that we’re gonna put in there physically and emotionally. So then the keepers of the gut lining are out of balance. And what happens is then lots of particles that are food or non-food are then crossing that barrier. And flooding right outside that barrier is the vast majority of our immune system are sitting there in lymph nodes sort of waiting and they’re learning actually what their duties are going to school. They’re learning what is self, what is myself and what is a foreign or not even just a foreign protein, but what is a harmful foreign protein. Right. I mean, the immune system is so sophisticated where they actually know which microorganisms are beneficial and which ones are harmful. So what happens is that the immune system gets overwhelmed.
Cynthia Li: [00:31:04] Right, by the amount of flooding of this molecules. And so it actually begins to rev up and go into overdrive. And that’s really what auto immunity is, is an immune system that’s gotten hyped up and then is now starting to get confused. Right. Certain sequences in the protein and gluten, for example, are very, very closely linked to certain sequences in the thyroid gland. So oftentimes they write. It’s called molecular mimicry. The immune system gets confused. And now they’re they’re actually meaning to attack the gluten. Now they’re attacking the thyroid gland. So the leaky gut or intestinal hyper permeability is a really big target. The first target for healing of autoimmunity and actually any other chronic disease. And this is not a it’s a new concept sort of scientifically.
Cynthia Li: [00:32:00] But, you know, hypocrity is back. A couple of millennia ago, it was saying that all diseases begin in the gut. And this is also a paradigm that some that very Ayurveda Chinese medicine naturopathy have been doing for a long time.
Maria Marlowe: [00:32:14] And that’s just it. When you go to like a Chinese medicine doctor or an Ayurvedic doctor, I think a lot of times people don’t realize that Ayurveda is actually a form of medicine. In the US it’s sort of like a spa treatment, whereas in India, you know, they go to full on medical school and that is the traditional medicine there. And when you go to one of these practitioners and the first thing that they’ll tell you is to make dietary changes. Based on whatever your condition is. So it, you know, it makes sense. It’s always going back to food and to the gut health.
Cynthia Li: [00:32:46] Absolutely. And so, yeah, you mentioned paleo diet. And, you know, I have to admit, and this is this goes contrary to a lot of my colleagues that I’m not a huge fan of it. I have recommended it for some patients as an initial starting point. But first off, I myself, I’m just full confession. You know, I was a patient as well as the doctor. That is not something that I could have done long term. I also don’t believe that it is something that is meant to be done long term because it again, it tends to diminish significantly the diversity of foods that people are eating. So if someone is doing autoimmune paleo diet, which by definition is basically no grains autoimmune. On top of that is like no eggs. Some people like change night shades grey and it’s pretty hard core. So if someone is able to do that and a not be chronically stressed out about it or socially or feeling socially isolated and they’re able to maintain a wide variety of just diverse foods, I think it could work. I think it could work. But when someone comes to me and they’ve been on it already for two or three years, five years, sometimes it would it tells me that there’s a root issue that’s still not being addressed. Like, I don’t think you need to be on it for ever or even for eight years. If we’re addressing the root causes. So then that’s when I’ll go into really looking at. Are there stealth infections going on? You know, is there a parasite that’s just in the gut that’s hanging out? That’s not enough to really cause any digestive symptoms, but is enough to just keep causing imbalance and inflammation, you know, and biofilm.
Cynthia Li: [00:34:42] This is another thing that’s been coming up a lot is, you know, it’s the stuff like plaque on teeth or mucus in sinuses. Right. There’s this film that it’s in the guide that pathogens, that harmful microorganisms hide out in as well as beneficial ones. And do we need to do a little bit of biofilm disruption? And, you know, and a lot of the nutrients that that are beneficial, again, in other ways, like Quercetin is one, L-Theanine is one. There’s also N-acetyl-cysteine which is a potent antioxidant. They actually can work on the biofilm as well. So oftentimes we’re already doing that. Patients just aren’t aware of it. So that said, the auto immune paleo diet and ones like it can be really beneficial as a detox and as a gut healing protocol. So usually what I do with my patients is, and again, it totally depends on what they’re able to do. You know, their resources, their support, their personal knowledge coming in to see me. But I usually have them start with a general paleo diet So, all right. Can you do 30 days of a paleo diet? Just no grains. Right. No sugars, no alcohol, no caffeine. Really increasing the healthy natural fats and really increasing the variety of Whole Foods, vegetables, fruits.
Cynthia Li: [00:36:12] And oftentimes that’s enough. And for me, I guess that was the closest diet that I had tried when I was really healing. And then after the initial, I did that for about three months. And then after that, I continued to stay gluten, dairy, soy and egg free. So, you know, it’s kind of close to an autoimmune paleo diet. But I began introducing grains that were non-gluten. And I continued on that particular diet. So it’s going to vary. And yeah, I do a lot of variability with my patients.
Maria Marlowe: [00:36:48] I think it’s great that you bring that up because I think when dealing with something like autoimmune, there’s not a one size fits all treatment plan. And it is important to find a practitioner such as yourself who can really dig deeper and understands that there’s multiple different factors involved and try to work on on each of these things and not to get discouraged or feel like there’s only one way to heal. Oftentimes there’s a little bit of leeway and multiple different ways that you can find the solution and heal and get better. Absolutely. Absolutely. So you also talk about intuition and the book. So why is that important? And tell us more about that. What is your definition of intuition?
Cynthia Li: [00:37:31] Yeah, intuition. That was one that completely came out of left field for me. Intuition has been used and misused, I would say this many times. But the definition I like the best came from the Heart Math Institute of Silicon Valley. And they do really cool experiments on things like the electromagnetic field of heart. And how does that affect someone in your own? But also someone else’s brain waves is really sort of a scientific method in to understanding things that we can’t quite see. So I’ve just loved them, you know, for their research. But they had a definition of intuition that was something about a certainty of knowing. That is beyond the standard cognitive processes. And that is more based on sensations in the body that then guide this knowing. So again, it kind of goes back to this visceral experience in tuning back into the body. And the reason why I even went into intuition was because a friend of ours had come to stay with us. She was psychic. She was clairvoyant. We knew this about her, but had never gone there. Just, you know, I was skeptical. And, you know, who needs to hear those kinds of stories? And I was also a little bit freaked out. I was just freaked out because it was so outside of my world view. And she actually helped, quote, diagnose something that was going on with my younger daughter at the time.
Cynthia Li: [00:39:02] She’s having night terrors. And here this friend, quote, saw what was going on and she helped clear the energy. And my daughter’s night terrors, which go on for months, stopped in an instant. So I had asked her I didn’t know, first of all, that intuition was something you could develop. I didn’t know it was something like art or music, where some people are born gifted. But the vast majority of us are kind of under this bell curve and we can learn no matter where we begin on that bell curve. I was more asking her, hey, you know, if you could kind of clear that energy, can you help sort of clear the energy that’s in my body? I had no clue, but I thought I would just take a stab at it because again, it was low risk. Right. So she said, well, it doesn’t quite work that way in the body. But what I can do is I can teach you how to develop your intuition. So that’s really had that journey began. And the first thing which is the hardest, I think, was silence, learning to quiet my analytical mind, which is also the judgmental mind and the mind that really likes to define and identify and diagnose. I was horrible at sitting meditation and my mind was just way too active. And that’s actually how I got into Geelong. Oh, there’s actually meditation that’s moving where I can focus my mind on movements.
Cynthia Li: [00:40:22] And it gave my mind something to get something to do. But my impetus for developing my intuition was that I had suddenly gone from conventional medicine, which had no answers for my conditions to integrative and functional medicine, which was incredible. But I had an infinite number of possibilities of things to try, which supplements to do, which vitamins, God forbid, which diet. Right. So the intuition, I felt like was helping me to hone in a little bit more efficiently on which path to take. And you know what I’ve learned now and working with patients, I’ve been doing function medicine now for about seven years. It’s there’s some timing matters so much as well. So like maybe vitamin C for you is not great because your gut can’t handle it. But oh, lo and behold, six months later, you know what? You really need vitamin C and you can do it at higher doses. So the longer I develop, learn to practice and develop my intuition. And I pair it always with my analytical mind. Right. So I think of it just as we have two eyes to see deeper and broader. And that intuition is just that other is my right brain. Then pairs with my left brain and can I see more deeply and more accurately into what’s going on, not just for myself, but with my patients as well.
Maria Marlowe: [00:41:51] Amazing. Yeah. So the title of the book is Brave New Medicine. I’m curious what’s behind the title?
Cynthia Li: [00:41:57] Yeah. So the title originally was pitched to me when I was writing. I had no title. I wasn’t even sure I was gonna publish. And I thought, oh, God, no. I said, well, you know, the thing that comes for me is brave. New World is this dystopia of what is modern healthcare. So it was it was a negative connotation as much as I love Aldis. So but then the other piece that I was cautious about was that it sounded so certain. And I said, you know, there’s so much uncertainty, even with functional reticence. There’s a lot of uncertainty. So when I began to bring in the intuition piece and going into this whole new world, that was yeah, it was new and scary for me. And it sort of embraced the uncertainty. It actually uses the uncertainty as a form of strangely certainty that I began to embrace this title. I thought, oh, you know, it’s brave, not because it has all the answers, but because we’re walking into uncharted territories. And a lot of times that uncharted territory is ourselves. Body And how do we go in there? How do we learn to listen? And how do we find out things about ourselves that are kind of scary, that are parts of ourselves that we don’t want to see. So that’s where that name came from.
Maria Marlowe: [00:43:29] I love that. No, it’s. It’s a powerful name. Thank you. So one last question that I’d like to ask everyone on the show is if you can leave our listeners with just one tip or one piece of advice for them to live a happier and healthier life. What would that be?
Cynthia Li: [00:43:46] You’d have to go back to inhabiting your body, reconnecting. And, you know, along with that is, you know, one of the threads I really explored in my book and which is why I decided to write a memoir as opposed to how to book, because there were these philosophical and sort of existential threads that could really only be told through a story and through, you know, sort of the longitudinal evolution of my thoughts. It’s about belief and how beliefs can either trap us or we can really liberate us. And, you know, the hardest part of healing, I think there’s also the simplest, which is believing that it’s possible. And again, if we go into the body, our left brains can remain skeptical. I’m still skeptical. But going into the body sort of bypasses that skepticism and allows the healing to happen.
Maria Marlowe: [00:44:42] I love that. Thank you so much for being here.
Maria Marlowe: [00:44:46] The title of the book is Brave New Medicine, and it’s available in bookstores everywhere. You can also learn more at cynthialimd.com. Thank you so much.