Renowned physician and scientist, Dr. William Li joins me this week to share some of the most powerful, yet simple food and lifestyle changes that will help improve psoriasis.
William W. Li, MD, is an internationally renowned physician, scientist, & author of the New York Times bestseller Eat to Beat Disease. His groundbreaking work has led to the development of more than 30 new medical treatments and impacts care for more than 70 diseases including cancer, diabetes, blindness, heart disease, and obesity. His TED Talk, “Can We Eat to Starve Cancer?” has garnered more than 11 million views. He is president and medical director of the Angiogenesis Foundation.
Maria Marlowe: [00:00:05] Welcome back to the Glow Life. I’m your host, Maria Marlowe. In this episode, we’re talking about how to eat, to beat psoriasis. And joining me for this conversation is Dr. William Li. He is a renowned physician, scientist, researcher and author of the New York Times bestseller Eat to Beat Disease. His name and his book may sound familiar because he has been on the podcast previously. So definitely go check out that earlier episode where we talk about eating to beat disease in general. But if you do suffer from psoriasis, which you probably do if you are listening to this episode, this will be incredibly beneficial for you. Dr. Lee has done extensive research on psoriasis, as well as the food and lifestyle factors that can contribute to it. So he’s going to share some great science, some great tips, and some recommendations of simple things that you can try simple food and lifestyle changes that you can try to improve your skin.
Maria Marlowe: [00:01:15] This episode is brought to you by the Clear Skin Plan, my 90 day program and meal plan to clear your skin from within naturally, through dietary and lifestyle changes. Skin issues like acne are not only skin deep, they start deep within with internal inflammation and imbalances. The only way to clear your skin is to address those underlying root causes, and the Clear Skin Plan will help you do just that. With the plan, you’ll discover the potential underlying root causes of your breakouts and how to remedy them through dietary and lifestyle changes. You’ll also get over a hundred delicious skin-clearing recipes, which you can mix and match or follow the weekly sample meal plans with shopping lists. This program is science-backed, dermatologist approved and doctor recommended to get it. Head to mariamarlowe.com/clear-skin-plan.
Maria Marlowe: [00:02:16] Dr. Li, thanks for coming on the show.
Dr. William Li: [00:02:18] Thank you, Maria. It’s a pleasure to be on.
Maria Marlowe: [00:02:20] So it’s great to have you back. In our earlier episode, we were talking a bit more generally about eating to beat disease. But today I want to focus specifically on psoriasis because I know that’s an area that you’re very knowledgeable in and have researched. And I think this is a growing problem and a common problem that I hear from listeners all the time because I talk about a lot about acne and everyone’s like, well, what about psoriasis? What do I do for psoriasis? So first off, as a researcher, what do you know about psoriasis that you think most people don’t know or don’t realize?
Dr. William Li: [00:02:57] Well, first, that psoriasis is actually a quite a common disease, and it’s I would say it’s a condition rather than a disease, and most people see it on their skin as these sort of scaly, itchy red patches. But here’s what I know as a researcher. So first of all, I’m an internal medicine doctor, but I’m a vascular biologist, a researcher as well, and psoriasis falls right into sort of my wheelhouse, my area of focus and looking at because this is actually a systemic disease, which means that our condition, which means that it actually affects the whole body. Now we don’t have it pinned down exactly what causes psoriasis, but we do know that there’s an autoimmune component, which means that your own immune system rears up above and beyond. It goes beyond its duty and actually can attack and cause inflammation in your skin.
Dr. William Li: [00:03:48] So think about other types of immune or autoimmune conditions where the immune system rears up to cause inflammation like lupus, for example or rheumatoid arthritis. And in fact, psoriasis is a condition that is linked to all these people with psoriasis sometimes have arthritis as well. So for those of your viewers and listeners who basically are looking at the skin, what’s important to know is that actually, this is a condition that affects the whole body. We just see it on the skin. So that’s the first thing.
Dr. William Li: [00:04:20] Number two is that although it is autoimmune, which means the immune system is reared up against your own body to some extent, the real problem is inflammation. Now we hear a lot about inflammation. There’s a lot of advertisements about inflammation. I would say if you go on the internet, know you hear about anti-inflammatory foods, that’s all real except that I think that if you’re somebody who suffers from psoriasis, you realize that there’s no simple fix for it. And that’s really why researchers like me are diving into understanding what might be causing it. So one of the things that we realize is that in addition to inflammation, these red plaques that are on the skin actually and they’re itchy are actually driven. They’re growing because they’re being fed by blood vessels.
Dr. William Li: [00:05:11] So psoriasis is what we call a vascular-associated disease, vascular meaning blood vessels. And in fact, there is a specific term called angiogenesis, which is what I study. Angiogenesis is how the body grows blood vessels, and we need that for wound healing. We want to grow blood vessels to heal the wound. We need that actually for reproduction. You need good blood vessels to grow in the lining of the uterus every month, which is then sloughed off during menstruation. But that’s all very controlled.
Dr. William Li: [00:05:37] When it’s out of control and when there’s autoimmunity, the abnormal angiogenesis, abnormal blood vessels can actually grow these skin plaques. So think about it. Your skin is normally flat and it’s not red. But when there’s inflammation, the blood vessels can grow. Inflammation can spark these blood vessels to grow. And then when the abnormal damage issue, parts of the skin get a blood supply they’re suddenly fed. They sort of get an extra helping of food from this new blood vessel, blood supply. And so they start to grow. That’s why they’re raised. The inflammation makes them itchy.
Dr. William Li: [00:06:16] And so psoriasis is inflammation, autoimmunity, angiogenesis, which is what most people won’t know about and the treatments that we think about for psoriasis, which are on the skin, mainly topical, many of those treatments are just to try to quell the inflammation. But if you have psoriasis in a serious way, your dermatologist, your doctor will sometimes give you more serious medications like steroids or like vitamin A special form of vitamin D. And then if you really need to add to ramp up your treatment, they give you these things called targeted immunomodulators. They can be injections that can be pills, but they’re sort of heat-seeking missiles to go after that inflammation.
Dr. William Li: [00:07:00] Here’s the thing. All those treatments, the steroids and vitamin D, those targeted heat-seeking immunomodulator missiles. They actually address inflammation, but all of them also address angiogenesis. They also quell those extra blood vessels from growing as part of how they work. Now, the interesting thing about our body is that old saying that the hip bone is connected to the leg bone, right? So it is true that what’s on the skin is connected to the inside and what’s on the inside is connected to our gut. And so there are also really important connections between psoriasis and the inflammation and the autoimmunity and the angiogenesis to what’s happening in our gut. And what researchers have found now is that many people who suffer from psoriasis, not all, but many also have sensitivity to gluten.
Dr. William Li: [00:07:50] You don’t actually have to have all-out celiac disease, but just sensitivity to gluten. Now we know gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivity is basically when you eat bready foods, wheat, barley, bagels. Even some regular foods like soy sauce and some salad dressings can actually contain gluten as well. That can trigger inflammation in your gut, and at its far extreme, you can get celiac disease, which is an autoimmune attack against your gut. Well, so not surprisingly, this autoimmunity of your gut, any inflammation is somehow connected to our skin, as well as the rest of our body. And so for people who have psoriasis, one thing that would be definitely worthwhile checking is your diet.
Dr. William Li: [00:08:37] And if you can stay away from gluten, cut down on your gluten or when you were going shopping, I mean, you know, these days, it is pretty easy to find a gluten-free variation. So go to the section of the store that is, for people who have gluten intolerances and find the food that you want there, that can be really helpful. Most people don’t realize that there’s hidden gluten in a lot of different kinds of foods like ketchup, for example, or soy sauce. They don’t look like bready, but they’ve got that stuff in them. So again, a lot of people with psoriasis sort of think about it on the skin, and they think about it as itchiness and inflammation, but it goes much deeper than that.
Maria Marlowe: [00:09:15] I think that’s a great first point to bring up. And to really underscore is that even though we see psoriasis on the outside, it’s actually an internal problem. So it’s the internal inflammation and imbalances that are manifesting externally on the skin. So if we really want to treat psoriasis, it’s best to look within first, I think then instead of just stopping at the topical level. So, so many questions, you dropped so many little bits of wisdom there. My first question for you is because you’re talking about blood vessels and the role that they play in psoriasis. Is there any connection between heart disease or cardiovascular issues and psoriasis?
Dr. William Li: [00:09:58] That’s a great question. And the challenge that doctors and researchers are having is really figuring out how to tease apart what is chicken, what is egg, what is connected with it, or what is just happening at the same time. So because psoriasis is so common in the United States, for example, it’s about two percent of the population that actually is affected. But there are other countries where it’s lower, and there are some countries where it could be up to 10 percent or more. People actually have some form of psoriasis, and there’s probably a lot of under-diagnosed psoriases as well. So the question is, as we get older, we also get cardiovascular disease, and autoimmunity can definitely affect blood vessels, which then can actually be linked to cardiovascular disease. So this is a whole, the whole chicken or the egg thing.
Dr. William Li: [00:10:48] Does psoriasis cause heart disease? I don’t think so. But does the issue underlying psoriasis, your autoimmune response, does that actually have a spillover that can affect blood vessels and therefore, if not trigger, then maybe worsen cardiovascular disease? That’s something that is under research right now. It goes even further than that because some of the treatments that are actually being given for psoriasis, some of them are super powerful. You know, these are these monoclonal antibodies. They are designer treatments. The heat-seeking missiles I was talking about, those actually are so powerful that we don’t know yet fully what the long-term consequences might be, which is why, you know, I think if you are suffering tremendously, start with the easy things.
Dr. William Li: [00:11:41] Start with your diet, start with your lifestyle before you kind of step it up and go straight for the drugs. You can always modify your lifestyle, but the drugs have effects. Hopefully good effects. But many of them also have side effects, and those are the ones that you sort of want to dodge.
Maria Marlowe: [00:12:00] So, yeah, I’m a huge proponent of starting with food as well because I feel like it’s low-hanging fruit. It’s easy, and there’s usually only positive side effects of eating healthier. So why don’t we start there? Then what are some foods that are especially beneficial for people with psoriasis?
Dr. William Li: [00:12:18] Yeah, well, so look, as a researcher in food, as medicine, I always use science to try to direct what I talk about. And that’s something that’s really important to me because so many people now are talking about food and health as a doctor and as a scientist and somebody who works in food as medicine. I use evidence to kind of to shine a light on the things that I think people need to hear about. So research has been done looking at diet and psoriasis, and this is important research to know because it’s been done in people, not in test tubes, not animals, but in real people.
Dr. William Li: [00:12:56] And so there was a study out of Italy, in Naples, Italy, there’s a medical school there that actually does a lot of work on diet psoriasis. It’s called the Federico, the second medical university out of Naples, which is on the east coast of Italy, and they studied 62 people with various forms of psoriasis and looked at their dietary intake. And they found that when you look at the severity of psoriasis. So if there were no symptoms of psoriasis and it was just a little red lesion on your back, you know, you might not even see it or maybe on the crook of your arm, it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but actually psoriasis can be severe.
Dr. William Li: [00:13:35] Itching, can even bleed. It can be disfiguring. I mean, it can be crippling. Even so, there’s a score that’s been developed called PASI, the Psoriasis Severity Index. So the bigger their score, the more severe the psoriasis is. So they were looking for this group in Italy was looking at in people at what they were eating and correlating with the severity of score. And they found that people who ate the Mediterranean, more of that classic traditional Mediterranean diet, not modern Mediterranean diet. Because you go to the Mediterranean today, there’s a lot of people eating just junk food, ultra-processed food, sugar-sweetened beverage, you know, the same stuff, everybody else…
Maria Marlowe: [00:14:18] Pizza, pasta.
Dr. William Li: [00:14:18] Yeah. Well, I mean, let’s be specific, these ultra-processed kinds of foods. Well, it turns out that people who are sticking more to traditional Mediterranean cuisine, actually had lower psoriasis severity scores and specifically they were able to nail it down to two foods that seem to make the most difference, and one is extra virgin olive oil. So even though right, that’s the stuff that we know is good for our salad dressing or to dip your bread in. Well, probably not if you have psoriasis. Be careful about that gluten. Gluten-free bread.
Maria Marlowe: [00:14:50] Gluten-free bread.
Dr. William Li: [00:14:52] Now. What’s in extra virgin olive oil? Turns out that there are lots of polyphenols. One of them is called Hydroxytyrosol, and it is found in high abundance in certain types of olive oil. So there’s three olives types of olives, varietals of olives that have the highest levels. What are those three? Well, in Greek olives, it’s called the Koroneiki olive. Spanish olives, which is called the Picual olive and the Italian, has the more Moraiolo olive. It’s from Umbria. These three varieties of olives. They have the highest potency of the Hydroxytyrosol, polyphenol.
Dr. William Li: [00:15:29] So when I buy olive oil… Tip for you guys, you know you go to the grocery store, you go and you pick up your usual olive oil. Sometimes people say, Well, I’m going to look for one that looks green. Good idea. Make sure it’s extra virgin. What I’m going to ask you to do is to challenge you to do is to take that one extra step and pick it up and look on the label for the variety of olives and look for the mono varietal, because now you know that it’s only made with those super-powerful varietals. So the good news Koroneiki olives, Greek olives pretty easy to find that kind of olive oil. Picual is the most common olive use for Spanish olive oil. So you can actually find all those easier. Moraiolo is a little bit harder to find. Anyway, you can search on the internet and you can just have order this stuff. That is actually a great way to use olive oil.
Dr. William Li: [00:16:17] Now what about seafood? Seafood is the other thing, too, that was found to lower the severity of psoriasis scores in the Mediterranean diet. So what’s in seafood? Well, I will tell you that for people who don’t eat seafood, I’ll tell you at the end of the day, it’s still a plant-based food benefit because the algae and plankton that the fish eat that’s found in seafood or shellfish actually comes from a plant. So these are the omega-three fatty acids. So they talk about oily fish, right? You talk about your salmon and your anchovies and your sardines. But actually, many people don’t know that there’s a lot of different seafoods that have healthy omega-three fatty acids.
Dr. William Li: [00:16:56] So, for example, squid, calamari actually has it. Octopus has it. A lot of clams, if you’re a shellfish lover, clams also have it. Manilla clams actually have a lot of healthy omega 3s worth checking out as well. You could probably take an Omega-three supplement if you don’t like fish or you can’t get it. But by the way, here’s another little kind of practical tip for your listeners is that basically frozen seafood, which you can find almost anywhere, you can have shipped to you, flash-frozen seafood is usually caught on a boat thrown into a flash freezer, and that also traps all those omega-threes.
Dr. William Li: [00:17:35] So I wrote a book called Eat to Beat Disease. It’s got tables and charts of seafood that have high levels of omega-three fatty acids. So just in case you wanted to go beyond the tuna and the salmon because you’re sick of tuna and salmon, there’s a whole variety of other seafood. And if you don’t eat fish or if you’re a vegan, you can actually also get omega-3s from tree nuts, chia seeds, those kinds of plant-based sources of healthy omega-3s as well.
Maria Marlowe: [00:18:05] Yeah, and I’m actually a huge fan of frozen seafood, so I’m glad that you brought that up. I feel it’s so convenient and easy to use, and it’s also cheaper usually than the fresh stuff
Dr. William Li: [00:18:17] And often deboned so you don’t have to do deal with the bones.
Maria Marlowe: [00:18:20] Which is nice, which is always nice. Now, speaking of oils, right? We’re talking about olive oil. We’re talking about the healthy fats and salmon, right? The omega-three. On the flip side of that, I would imagine then for people with psoriasis avoiding the seed oils like the vegetable oils, the soybean oils, the corn oils. That would also be important, particularly because psoriasis is an inflammatory condition, and we know that these oils can help promote inflammation. So would you agree? Would you say that sort of avoiding or limiting these vegetable oils is also a good idea and replacing them with a healthier oil?
Dr. William Li: [00:19:00] Well, you know, here’s what I would say. Olive oil is a safe oil to go to because it’s got those anti-inflammatory polyphenols. The other vegetable oils that you know, it’s an area of research because they sometimes also have omega 3s that are good for you, except they also have omega 6s. And instead omega six to omega-three ratio. So this is getting into a little bit of the weeds that might be harder to understand that ratio if you have omega 3s, but you get more omega six, which is a different kind of natural fat. It’s still healthier than saturated fat you get from red meat or butter. But the fact of the matter is that that ratio makes all the difference.
Dr. William Li: [00:19:37] You could take something anti-inflammatory in an oil and you can actually make it more inflammatory. So I would say to be safe, go with the safer, surer bet. And by the way, I think olive oil extra virgin olive oil tastes better anyway. At the end of the day, we can come up with all kinds of prescriptions for food as medicine. But I try to get people to kind of follow their taste buds because if you’re going to embark on something that you’re going to be able to stick to for your whole life, you want to do something that you enjoy. And so I think that, you should love your food and love your health at the same time.
Dr. William Li: [00:20:10] Now here’s another thing about oils that I think is important to understand is that every body is going to be a little bit different. And so I mean, you might actually try olive oil and you find that your body doesn’t respond very well to that. So I try not to make blanket statements. I try to give the evidence. So in this clinical trial, extra virgin olive oil actually was beneficial, but that doesn’t mean every single person is going to respond exactly the same way. You’ve heard about this whole idea of personalized nutrition. You know, a lot of people like to say spit in the tube and we’ll send it out to the lab and we’ll get this reading and tell you exactly what you need to eat. I don’t think we’re there yet, but what I will tell you is that we all have the ability to listen to our own bodies.
Dr. William Li: [00:20:50] So whatever you’re eating, even if you’re told that it’s healthier, if you don’t react well to it, then switch to something else. And so Mediterranean diet is very broad. And I think even when you go to this big, broad diet, listen to your body. Another food, by the way, that has been shown by researchers to reduce the severity of psoriasis is coffee. Coffee can reduce the severity. Now, why? Why do we think that is? Because coffee also contains these polyphenols. One of them is called chlorogenic acid. Chlorogenic acid is actually… I mean, coffee’s plant-based right? It comes from the coffee bean. From the coffee plant.
Dr. William Li: [00:21:26] And chlorogenic acid is actually a natural insecticide. And that’s why the plant one of the reasons the plant makes this. When you have coffee that you’re drinking some of this chlorogenic acid that’s found in the seed, the bean and it absorbs in your body and you get lower inflammation. And so this has been studied. You can drink anywhere up to about three cups of coffee a day and you can get this anti-inflammatory effect.
Dr. William Li: [00:21:50] What’s interesting is at least one study has actually looked at people who drink tons of coffee, like lots and lots of coffee, like four 10 cups of. And when you got to go beyond three cups of coffee, it becomes less clear whether it’s beneficial for psoriasis. So sort of anywhere up to three cups. Drinking nothing isn’t as good for you as drinking some coffee. Drinking some coffee. Drink up have up to three cups of coffee a day. Totally fine. If you go more than that, we’re not really sure if it’s actually so good for psoriasis.
Dr. William Li: [00:22:20] Now here’s a little practical tip for you as well that I learned just recently. So I’ve always been asking myself this whole issue about organic foods. It’s more expensive, sometimes harder to find, and I don’t really like to listen to the kind of zealots talking about organics all the time. And yet at the same time, it kind of makes sense. And so let me give you some new research about organics that hopefully will change your mind because it changed mine. So it turns out that, remember coffee, I told you that the plant makes chlorogenic acid. What happens, it’s a natural insecticide. So when bugs, insects, pests nibble on the leaves and stems of coffee plants, the coffee plant responds to the nibbling like it was a wound.
Dr. William Li: [00:23:09] And so it pumps out more chlorogenic acid, which also gets into the bee. And that’s just a natural response, right? So the more nibbling, the more chlorogenic acid, the more good stuff. Now, if you use pesticides, you’re going to cut those pests way down. And now the coffee plant doesn’t feel like it’s getting nibbled on as much, so it makes less chlorogenic acid. You don’t make some, but not as much as if you let nature have its way and have this little nibbling. So the traditional argument about organic is why would you want food with pesticides on it? I agree with that. Ok, so less bad stuff seems like a good thing. But what I’m telling you now is that the research is showing that some of the organics, like coffee, has more of the good stuff. And so that’s a good reason to actually lean into that.
Maria Marlowe: [00:23:57] And I know in farming, actually, when the plant is stressed a little bit, it’s typically going to be more nutritious, exactly for the reason that you just said because it has to produce more of those chemicals, like the antioxidants and phytochemicals that protect the plant, but that are also really good for you. I remember reading that, for example, tomatoes or sometimes the fruits, they kind of look like scars on them or they don’t look perfect and that those are often sometimes the healthiest or most nutritious vegetables or fruits because they’ve had a little bit more stress. So they are they’re producing more of those good-for-you phytochemicals.
Dr. William Li: [00:24:39] And you know, they’re just more adapted to their environment because there’s less manipulation to them. If you really think about it this is for humans, if we lived in a bubble, like a boy in a bubble kind of thing, we would never get a cold right? Except that we don’t live in a bubble. It’s healthier for us to live in the outside world because we’re exposed to different things, and it helps our immune system actually generate more power to resist different kinds of infections. So I think it’s that kind of stress, environmental stress. I like to think about it as just a sort of living with your environment in a more natural sort of way.
Dr. William Li: [00:25:18] Now here’s another thing that I think about diet, food and diet that’s actually important for psoriasis. It turns out other researchers have shown that caloric restriction, like intermittent fasting, like the 16:8 method, where you’re eating within an eight-hour window, can actually be beneficial along with omega 3s. It can help you respond to psoriasis drugs. So if you’re getting treated for psoriasis, cutting down on your caloric intake and eating some omega 3s or even omega-three supplements has shown that you can actually get better responses to the treatment because there’s nothing more frustrating than to go to the doctor, get treated and you’re not getting better. What’s up with that? How come I’m not getting better?
Dr. William Li: [00:26:05] Well, there are things that you can do for yourself, which is to cut down the volume of food, restrict your calories and then have some omega 3s, whether you get it from seafood or whether you take it from a dietary supplement. Now what does all this do? Well, caloric restriction and omega 3s reduce inflammation. The other thing that they do is they actually inhibit blood vessels, abnormal blood vessels from growing. They inhibit angiogenesis. And then finally, what did they do? They actually help you lose weight. They help fight body fat.
Dr. William Li: [00:26:35] This is super important because the National Psoriasis Foundation has been compiling research showing that people with extra body fat tend to have more severe flares of psoriasis. So being overweight doesn’t cause psoriasis. But if you have psoriasis, being overweight makes it a lot worse. Why? Because being that extra, that overage of body fat… By the way, I want to clarify something. Body fat isn’t bad. Your fat is actually an organ, so you don’t want to get rid of all of it. You just want to have just the right amount of it.
Dr. William Li: [00:27:07] But too much body fat is kind of like having too much sugar. It’s not good for you. It causes inflammation and that inflammation can actually make things worse, so any type of lifestyle, cutting down your calories, going on intermittent fasting, having omega 3s, exercising, staying physically active, getting good quality of sleep that will cause you to lose weight, that will lower inflammation, that will inhibit abnormal angiogenesis and that will actually help to quell and lower the severity of psoriasis as well.
Maria Marlowe: [00:27:39] And let’s talk a little bit about the digestion piece which you touched on earlier. There is a connection between our gut health and our skin health. So can you elaborate a little bit more on that? And are there certain probiotics, for example, that may be beneficial for someone with psoriasis or anything that you want to point out as it pertains to gut health and psoriasis?
Dr. William Li: [00:28:02] Yeah, so important. Look, our gut is filled with healthy bacteria. I’ll tell you, when I went to medical school, we, the young doctors to be were taught that bacteria is bad. And I would say that, you know, in society, as we’re growing up, our moms and dad told us bacteria is bad and we have antibiotics to kill the bad bacteria. Well, there are bad bacteria, for sure. But I will tell you, most of the bacteria in our body, in fact, is good bacteria. So it’s just the opposite. Like, it’s mostly good guys, a few bad guys as opposed to they’re all bad guys. Now these good guy bacteria, they live in our gut.
Dr. William Li: [00:28:39] In fact, we’ve got, if you compare the number of bacteria to human cells, it’s almost one to one. So if you were to take a biopsy and count the number of cells in the biopsy and then multiply it for your whole body, how many human cells do you think you’d have? About 40 trillion human cells? That’s a lot of cells, OK? If any of you were to actually count the bacteria and how many bacteria we have, we’ve got thirty-nine trillion. So almost one to one. How much is thirty nine trillion? I can tell you. Thirty nine trillion is more stars than you can see in the night sky. Ok. That is huge.
Dr. William Li: [00:29:13] And I can tell you that those bacteria mostly do good things for us. And when we eat food, we’re feeding our human cells, OK, and we our digestive system absorbs a lot of those good phytonutrients and polyphenols and things we’ve been talking about. And then everything that our human bodies don’t digest goes down to our bacteria and we feed our bacteria. It’s like feeding your dog, the leftovers kind of thing. All right now, the bacteria, the healthy bacteria, if you feed them good stuff, they’re really happy. They flourish. And what do they do for us when they flourish? Well, they produce something called short-chain fatty acids. SCFAs. Don’t need to worry about the special names for them, except that all of these things, they produce lower inflammation, help us streamline our metabolism, help our blood sugars be better. Help us lose weight. Impact our skin health. Impact our hair growth.
Dr. William Li: [00:30:09] And our healthy bacteria, by the way. Really cool. They send signals to our brain to release social hormones. So this is the gut-brain axis. In fact, our bacteria pretty much text messages our brain and tells our brain to release these hormones. So our gut bacteria is incredibly important. It’s almost like an organ system all by itself. So gut is connected to lowering inflammation. Inflammation is important in psoriasis. We see it on the skin, and we do know that by the way, I’ve done research on gut bacteria and on healing of your skin. If you make the cut on your skin, if your gut bacteria is healthy, it’ll help you heal up much better. All right. So that’s something I’m telling all the good stuff that you can do before you get back.
Dr. William Li: [00:30:54] Now, what happens if you do something bad for your gut bacteria? If you feed your gut bacteria, things it doesn’t like, you’re going to kill some of it. And by killing it, you’re changing the neighborhood, the ecosystem. Think about the ecosystem like the Great Barrier Reef. You know, if you start killing the beautiful Great Barrier Reef, I had the privilege of actually swimming there once. If you actually start killing off the fish in the sea and enemies in the coral, you bleach it, you change that entire ecosystem it becomes a very unhealthy ecosystem. Not only does it look bad, but it can do what it’s supposed to do for the planet. And that’s the same thing that happens in our gut bacteria when we feed it bad things.
Dr. William Li: [00:31:31] So what are some bad things? Extra sugar. Added sugar. You overload it. Your gut bacteria really doesn’t like that. Artificial sweeteners. Also not good. Those synthetic ones. Stevia is OK. But artificial sweeteners mess up, your gut bacteria. Doesn’t really like ultra-processed foods. A lot of those chemicals that you can’t pronounce on the side of a box of ultra-processed food or can, your gut, you know, again, our bodies don’t absorb them, but they go right down to the gut bacteria and you screw up your gut bacteria. The payback is actually your inflammation goes up, your metabolism goes haywire, you gain weight. You don’t feel good mentally and socially. Because you’ve undone all those good things that bacteria do.
Dr. William Li: [00:32:17] So gut bacteria is really important. How do I simplify how do we treat our gut bacteria really well? E verybody wants to know, so what do I do? Here’s the simplest thing. Eat foods with dietary fiber. There’s a lot of foods with dietary fiber because that fiber we don’t absorb in our own body, we just pass it down. And again, this is one of the things that I was taught in medical school. Tell your patients to eat a lot of fiber because that fiber is going to tickle the colon, and then you’ll be more regular and you’ll poop all the time as opposed to being constipated way more than that. I don’t think that’s even regarded as true anymore. What happens is that dietary fiber feeds our gut bacteria. Our gut bacteria thrive, and they produce all these anti-inflammatory compounds.
Dr. William Li: [00:33:02] So what are some foods that are good for dietary fiber? Well, great news. Legumes, white beans, navy beans, black beans, edamame, soybeans. All great leafy greens, lettuce, kale, broccoli. Great sources of fiber, fruits, apples got about four point four grams in an average apple pear, about five grams of dietary fiber in an average-sized pear. Tree nuts, great fiber. You’re snacking, snack on tree nuts, almonds, macadamias, pecans, walnuts. Great sources of healthy fats, plant-based omega-three fatty acids, which is good for your psoriasis and dietary fiber, which is good for your gut microbiome, which then takes down inflammation. So, you know, again, the gut is connected to the rest of our body, including our skin, and the foods that we eat can have a big impact.
Maria Marlowe: [00:33:58] And what about the stress piece of things and your research? Have you come across anything on the connection between stress and psoriasis flares?
Dr. William Li: [00:34:07] Yeah, a lot of people will tell you that when they’re super stressed out, their psoriasis flares. Well, that makes a lot of sense. Stress hormones actually cause inflammation, up your inflammation. If you have an autoimmune condition, your immune system is, I like to call it twitchy, so it doesn’t just kind of go up and go down like a smooth volume switch. That’s how the immune system should function, like a car radio. You turn it a little louder and then a little bit softer. A twitchy one is where you can’t really kind of get it to get to that right volume. When it goes up, it goes way too loud. And that’s basically what we see in autoimmune conditions.
Dr. William Li: [00:34:43] And so the issue of stress, being stressed out makes the immune system even more twitchy, which is why there’s all these flares now. And by the way, it’s not just psoriasis. When we’re stressed out, we damage lots of our system. We damage our health defense systems like our blood vessels, we damage our stem cells, we damage our gut microbiome. Our gut bacteria also changes. A little bit of stress, Totally cool. All right. No problem. Our bodies are designed to be quite resilient, but you know, a lot of us live in chronic stress. I mean, think about what we’ve been going through for the last two-plus years with this pandemic. Everybody is in a state of chronic stressors like hardly any escape.
Dr. William Li: [00:35:23] And that’s why people are just kind of chomping at the bit to break free. They almost don’t care anymore. It’s really this sort of coping mechanism with stress. It’s not good for you. It’s not good for your microbiome, either. And so I think that managing stress is really important. Part of that there’s a continuum. Exercise can help us manage stress. Healthy, good social behavior interactions can help manage stress. Call a friend that you like. Call relatives that you haven’t seen for a long time. And you know when you feel happy, your stress actually goes down.
Dr. William Li: [00:35:58] And then there are some foods that can help with stress as well. It turns out that teas can actually help. Green tea lowers stress. Chamomile tea has something called apigenin. It’s a bioactive natural chemical, lowers actually stress. So there’s truly things that we can actually do using our diet and lifestyle to help us lower stress, which then lowers this inflammation, which if you then if you have psoriasis well, will help to quell your overall body’s level of trigger happiness with the immune system and inflammation as it relates to your skin.
Maria Marlowe: [00:36:35] And let’s talk about the autoimmune piece now, because that is obviously psoriasis is an autoimmune condition, and I think traditionally it was believed that once you have an autoimmune condition, you’re stuck with it for the rest of your life. But in recent years, there’s been a lot of research. For example, there’s the case of Dr. Terry Wahls, who I’m sure you’re familiar with of her reversing MS. And other cases like that, where people have been able to reverse autoimmune conditions to some extent. So can you talk a little bit about that, like if someone has psoriasis now can we give them a little hope and that if they can change the diet and lifestyle, they can see a huge impact and they’re not kind of stuck with it for life?
Dr. William Li: [00:37:21] Yeah, absolutely. If you think about autoimmunity… I mean, first of all, autoimmunity is not one condition. It’s a whole series of conditions. And some people actually have experienced it very mildly, and some people experience it very severely. And so what I’m about to say, and I think what you’re mentioning, what you’re bringing up is really full of hope because somewhere along that continuum and you don’t really know where you are, if something can get worse, something can get better. If something can develop out of scratch, we can actually kind of usually stuff it back into normalcy. And that’s something that I think a lot of doctors are trained to diagnose disease and to keep on chasing those diseases.
Dr. William Li: [00:38:04] I mean we, I’m an MD. I can tell you for a fact, we’re not trained to think about restoring health or we’re trained to stamp out disease. Well, my own philosophy has always been how do we keep people healthy? And if they slip off the health, the roof of health, how do we help them get back onto the roof where they want to be like perched in that top view? So I think, you know, we know that you can reverse many diseases. You can reverse type two diabetes with exercise, diet. You can take somebody that’s heading towards that dark tunnel of diabetes, and you can completely turn it around and keep them on safe ground. Help them land on a soft bed of soft lawn. Ok, definitely doable. We even know with heart disease, the clogs, the blockages in your heart can be reversed now.
Dr. William Li: [00:38:53] You know, if it’s bad enough, you might need to have a bypass, you might need to have stents and all that kind of stuff. When I was training, this is what we were always taught like Oh, it’s inevitable. You’re going to have to do something, some intervention. But now we now realize that it’s possible that individuals can reverse their heart disease with diet and lifestyle, and that’s now been shown in human studies. Same thing for autoimmunity. If you change your diet, if you change your lifestyle, we know for a fact that there are people who have had terrible suffering from autoimmune conditions and they’re able to calm their inflammation. They’re even able to shut down, almost shut off the harmful parts of their immune system.
Dr. William Li: [00:39:34] So this reversal is a new concept in medicine that people are starting to accept. Even doctors are beginning to accept it can be done. There’s nothing worse than destroying hope in somebody, and I think that the hope is now for reversing autoimmune disease is really based on science. We don’t know everything about it yet. We don’t know how to do it reliably. There’s no playbook that’s out there that anybody can download in order to be able to reverse autoimmunity. But we definitely know that a healthier diet, healthier lifestyle, that’s a stone you can’t afford not to turn over because your individual answer, might be underneath there.
Maria Marlowe: [00:40:15] Yes, well, I’m so glad that you said that and thank you for saying that, because I think that sometimes, yeah, people can just feel like, Oh, I have this, I’m diagnosed with this thing and that starts to define them. But it doesn’t have to right? Because when you start, you know, you turn over that stone of diet and lifestyle, you can actually reverse it. So that condition, whatever it is, whether it’s psoriasis or something else, doesn’t have to define you.
Dr. William Li: [00:40:40] Yeah. Well, I’ll tell you the most extreme example of that that I can think of is even cancer. You know, with cancer, get your mammogram, get your pap smear. Get your colonoscopy for screening. Well, and that’s for prevention. But we know that many people actually have cancer. Sometimes the cancer has already spread by the time it’s diagnosed. Today, we have these remarkable treatments called immunotherapies that actually can use your body’s own immune system in a different way, which is to rear up your immune system, not against your healthy cells, but to train it against cancer. All right. So for people with psoriasis, don’t curse your immune system. You want it to be good because a good, healthy immune system can be trained, even attack cancer.
Dr. William Li: [00:41:27] And I’ll tell you something. In the last five or six years, I have seen more people who have metastatic cancer, a cancer that spread everywhere in their body, even to their brain, these are people that a decade ago would have been game over. There’s nothing more we can do for you, that immunotherapy using the immune system and getting it to do what it wants to do to restore that balance for health can completely wipe out cancer, durably meaning like you’re not in remission, like it’s just gone. So plenty of hope out there for reversing disease. I think people should understand that diet and lifestyle is the one thing that you can do for yourself and no doctor can do for you.
Maria Marlowe: [00:42:10] Yes, and that’s why you need Dr. Li’s book Eat to Beat Disease. It’s really, really good, and will definitely leave you with a lot of hope and knowing that you can reverse just about anything. So speaking of the immune system, though, let’s talk a little bit about psoriasis and COVID. Is there a link between the two?
Dr. William Li: [00:42:32] Yeah, you know, so I’m one of these people that, like everyone else in the world, when the lockdown happened in 2020, in the spring of 2020, I was staring out the window and I was trying to decide what’s happening in the world? What am I going to do? Should I just not do anything and wait for it to pass? Or should I lean forward and do something? And so my first instinct was to put on a white coat and go downtown and to the hospitals and see if I could help bail out people in the emergency room. I’m an internal medicine doctor, so that’d be quite easy for me to do. But then I just stopped and I thought, you know, I’m a researcher.
Dr. William Li: [00:43:07] And what I do is I tackle these impossible problems like cancer, psoriasis, all these other things to see if we can actually pull the, you know, take the layers off the onion to understand it better because we don’t understand something that’s when we’re against the brick wall. We don’t really know what to do. So I decided to put on my research hat and dive into COVID to try to do some research on it. So lots of research has been done on COVID. I, first of all, discovered help to discover that COVID is a vascular disease that affects the blood vessels that angiogenesis that actually triggers a harmful form of angiogenesis because blood vessels are damaged. So OK, now we’ve and there’s a lot of inflammation, right? And there’s a lot of autoimmunity that COVID triggers as well. That’s why people get long haulers, which is another area I’m working on now.
Dr. William Li: [00:43:54] Autoimmunity, inflammation, angiogenesis. Hey, we started talking about this and we started talking about psoriasis. So not surprisingly, there have been links to psoriasis and COVID. So it’s been found that people who do have psoriasis, which is this systemic disease inside the body disease with autoimmunity that’s now considered a risk factor for getting COVID. All right. Forget about how contagious Omicron is, but just getting COVID in general. In fact, the risk of infection if you are getting COVID if you have psoriasis is increased by thirty-six percent. Ok, this is from a study in the British Journal of Dermatology just from last year. And if you get COVID, your risk of dying from COVID is increased by 30 percent. All right. So this is serious stuff.
Dr. William Li: [00:44:46] And that’s why psoriasis, even if it’s mild, I would tell anybody who comes to me and says, I have psoriasis. Am I at high risk for COVID? I would say absolutely. This is exactly the reason why you need to protect yourself as much as possible because you’re at a higher risk category. It’s considered the same way as having heart disease or diabetes when it comes to COVID psoriasis. Because of that twitchy immune system, you want to protect yourself. Ok, now that’s one link, so having psoriasis makes you puts you at greater risk. However, if you get COVID, Covid’s also been linked to more severe psoriasis flares.
Dr. William Li: [00:45:25] If you get COVID, you get infected. The coronavirus gets in your body and it triggers inflammation. It triggers angiogenesis it. It can actually kick start a trigger happy immune system. So guess what happens if you’ve got psoriasis that’s in remission? Bam, you’ve put gasoline onto the embers of a fire. And so having COVID, many people also have more psoriasis flares. Another reason not to actually get COVID and to protect yourself as well. So look, this is still a hot area of research. Psoriasis is not the only chronic condition that’s linked to COVID, but I do think it’s important for people who are interested in psoriasis since we live in a world that’s changed to understand that this is another reason, you know, get vaccinated, get boosted, take care to avoid, just protect yourself the same way that you would for anything else.
Dr. William Li: [00:46:20] These are the things that we know how to do and very importantly, eat to improve your immune system. Because the stronger your immunity, the more likely you’re going to resist everything a cold, a flu, cancer, you know, those are all good things to actually have good shields on, and eating the right way can decrease in lower inflammation in your body as well, which is the thing that you don’t want to begin with. So I think there’s a lot of insight that research is giving us about how to how important diet and lifestyle actually are.
Maria Marlowe: [00:46:54] All right, so a fun, quick question, if you could only eat five foods for the rest of your life. What would they be? What are your top five anti-inflammatory, immune-supporting, health-supporting foods?
Dr. William Li: [00:47:09] I’m going to give you five. Because people always ask me, Dr. Li, what do you like to eat? And what I tell people, it’s less about what I eat, but how I eat and the patterns of food because I actually really enjoy food. I don’t like picking out. But I love the idea that food has culture and history, and I love the taste of food. So I love food. I wouldn’t say I love eating, but and because I’m a researcher, I happen to know there’s in my book I wrote about more than two hundred foods that can boost your body’s health defenses, including make your blood vessels healthier, your stem cells, your gut microbiome, healthier antioxidants, anti-inflammation and boost your immunity as well. And these are things that I talk about in my free masterclass that I give every other month.
Dr. William Li: [00:47:59] But I will tell you that if I would be stuck on a desert island and I only have five foods that I packed with, they probably be thinking about what I like and thinking about what I would eat and what’s good for me, I would say green tea would be one of those things because I really enjoy green tea. By the way, footnote, matcha, which is the whole leaf of green tea powdered up has been found by researchers to kill breast cancer stem cells. Quite amazing. Those are the baby cells that help cancer keep going back, but there’s so much other as well. So anti-inflammatory. Good for psoriasis and lower stress as well. So that’s number one.
Dr. William Li: [00:48:41] Number two. Dark chocolate. So most people don’t realize this, but dark chocolate made with cacao, a lot of high cacao, 80 percent or more. The cacao part is a plant-based food. So although there’s plenty of stuff you can put into a candy bar to make it less than healthy, the higher the cacao content, the healthier tissue. Dark chocolate anti-inflammatory helps to calm the blood vessels also just generally emotionally calming as well. It actually improves depression. So that’s the second one that I would actually… I happen to love… If I could, be on a desert island and I want to have food, you know, I would love to have a juicy peach, a ripe summer peach, one of my favorites. And yeah, OK. It’s pretty sweet, but I don’t worry about the sugar because a fruit has fructose, it does have natural sugars in it. But more importantly, it’s got all these other things the fiber, the skin of the fruit it’s got are so like acid, all these other delicious things. So I consider a peach, a beautiful, ripe peach to be one of those treats that I love to eat.
Dr. William Li: [00:49:52] Fourth, blueberries. I love blueberries. Blueberries do a lot of things. The dark blue of blueberries actually is a natural diet called anthocyanins, anthocyanins, lower inflammation, good for psoriasis and raise your immunity, which is too good to protect you against all kinds of infections and cancer as well. And so I love blueberries. And by the way, the frozen blueberries have the same amount of the good stuff those polyphenols as fresh blueberries.
Dr. William Li: [00:50:19] So if you want to make a get frozen blueberries and put them into your smoothie, that’s just as good as picking them off the bush fresh. So like, don’t worry about what the source of, those are the weeds. If you want to get into that and then, you know, probably the final thing that I really enjoy, I like snacking on nuts. I like tree nuts. I would say I like cashews. I like to snack on macadamias. I like to snack on, but I really like all kinds of different types of nuts. It’s a great way to take the edge off of your hunger between a meal is just to get a couple of handfuls or a handful of nuts and just to snack on those. Let me tell you how powerful nuts are. It was a study of almost eight hundred people with colon cancer stage three colon cancer. That’s colon cancer spread in your body. It’s really serious, and they were getting treated by their oncologists.
Dr. William Li: [00:51:11] And the research study found that those people with stage three colon cancer who ate two fistfuls and nuts a week, seven days, had a fifty-seven percent reduction in mortality. So it’s not a swap for cancer treatment, but just eating those nuts, feeding your microbiome, getting those healthy plant-based omega 3s, lowered inflammation, jacked-up your immune system, controls blood vessels that are feeding tumors. I mean, you can’t argue against the power of something like that. Plus, I love the taste of all those foods, so those would be my five.
Maria Marlowe: [00:51:49] Wonderful, those are all delicious, some of my favorites as well. Well, thank you so much. This is so great, and I’m sure anyone who’s listening to this podcast with psoriasis has a lot of actionable things that they can do. If you want more from Dr. Li, you can check out his book. It’s a New York Times bestseller available wherever books are sold. It’s called Eat to Beat Disease, and you also do some free webinars, right every month or so?
Dr. William Li: [00:52:16] Yeah, so I want people to know that one of the things that I do. Part of my mission is to get information out based on new research that people should hear about, and I do so. I’ve done these free master classes where every other month or so I’ll do a whole series of master classes based on the latest research that’s come out talking about the health defense systems in our body and then pointing out foods that can lower inflammation, boost your healthy immunity, help protect your blood vessels, help your gut health. And so all these little tips, I mean, I’ve had people some of these masterclasses, I had 8000 people from all around the world all kind of signing up to hear about this. So it’s a community of people that I get out to. Please sign up for my free masterclass. You can come to my website at Dr. William Li, L-I, drwilliamli.com and you can sign up for my masterclass. You’ll find out when they’re actually scheduled.
Maria Marlowe: [00:53:10] Wonderful. Thank you so much.
Dr. William Li: [00:53:12] Thank you.
Maria Marlowe: [00:53:14] Thanks for listening to the Glow Life. If you have questions, comments or topic ideas, head over to Instagram @mariamarlowe and drop me a line. If you enjoy the show and think others might too, please share this episode and take just one minute to leave a review on iTunes, Amazon Music, Spotify or whatever platform you listen on. Your review truly helps the podcast grow, reach more people and bring on incredible guests. As a thank you, send a screenshot of their review to [email protected], and you’ll get a free copy of Glow from within, a three-day reset plan to nourish your body, calm your mind and ignite your soul. It comes with a delicious three-day meal plan to help you bring out your inner glow. P.s. You can listen to the podcast on iTunes, Amazon Music, Audible, Spotify, and even watch the video interviews on YouTube.