Ep. 145 – Stress, Hormesis, Recovery & Resilience: The Biological Impact They Have On Our Cells with Siim Land
I am delighted to have Siim Land joining me once again as my guest for the show. Siim lives in the countryside of Estonia. He is a bestselling author, public speaker, high-performance coach, and professional biohacker. He is the author of, Stronger By Stress, and he is the co-author of The Immunity Fix. There is so much value in the lessons that Siim teaches and a lot of what he talks about in his books are things that people can do that don’t cost too much money.
Having the right amount of stress can actually make us stronger on many levels. In this episode, Siim talks to us about stress. He discusses how our bodies adapt to stress and how we can deal with it and recover from it, recognizing that stress biologically impacts our cells in very beneficial ways. Be sure to listen in today, to hear what Siim has to say about finding the appropriate balance around stress and eating right for your optimum health.
In Episode 73, Kelly and I interviewed Siim Lands about biohacking and human bio-optimization.
“Different stressors cause a slightly different effect on the body, but there is a general stress response that happens, regardless of the source of the stress.”
IN THIS EPISODE YOU WILL LEARN:
Simm talks about how Covid has been affecting him in Estonia over the last ten months.
Different stressors cause a slightly different effect on the body. However, a general stress response does tend to happen, regardless of the source of it. Siim describes the physical effects of stress.
Siim talks about hormesis and stress adaptation.
Stress can be a positive factor in our lives. Siim explains what will happen if you constantly try to avoid stress.
Siim discusses the benefits of minor stressors on the mitochondria.
There is a tipping point where physical activities like resistance training and cardio workouts are beneficial to us versus when they cause us damage.
Siim shares some recommendations for fine-tuning your fasting regimen.
Learn how to get sufficient protein in your diet, particularly when you are fasting.
Siim talks about what you can do to build a healthy immune system and foods that are harmful to your health.
You can protect yourself against the lipid peroxidation of oxidized fats by consuming vegetables that contain antioxidants. Vitamin E and algae, like spirulina, also have lipid peroxidation protective effects.
Siim explains what traditional and infrared saunas do for the body in terms of immune function and other health benefits.
Siim discusses the benefits of using cryotherapy in conjunction with infrared saunas versus doing them separately.
Getting enough quality sleep is the foundation for good health and longevity. Siim shares some sleep-supporting hacks.
Siim talks about the key nutrients that we need in our diet to support our immune function.
Siim explains what impacts immune function negatively.
Siim defines what wellness means to him.
Connect with Siim Land
On his website
Connect with Cynthia Thurlow
Check out Cynthia’s website
Check Out Dry Farm Wines: www.dryfarmwines.com/cynthiathurlow
About Everyday Wellness Podcast
Welcome to the Everyday Wellness podcast with Cynthia Thurlow! Cynthia is a mom of 2 boys, wife, nurse practitioner, and intermittent fasting and nutrition expert. She has over 20 years experience in emergency medicine and cardiology, but pivoted to focus on food as medicine. She loves to share science-backed practical information to improve your overall well being and is grateful to be interviewing leaders in the health and wellness field. Her goal with Everyday Wellness is to help her listeners make simple changes to their everyday lives that will result in improved overall wellness and long term health.
Presenter: This is Everyday Wellness, a podcast dedicated to helping you achieve your health, and wellness goals, and provide practical strategies that you can use in your real life. And now, here’s your host, Nurse Practitioner Cynthia Thurlow.
Cynthia: Well, today, I’m delighted to have Siim Land. He’s a bestselling author, public speaker, high performance coach, and a professional biohacker. If you tune into Episode 73, Kelly and I interviewed him talking about biohacking and human bio-optimization. He’s also the author of Metabolic Autophagy, Stronger By Stress, and coauthor of The Immunity Fix. Welcome, it’s so nice to have you back.
Siim: Yeah, I’m glad to be back here and glad to talk with you.
Cynthia: Yeah. One of the things that we were talking about before we started recording was, I was curious to know, how COVID is impacting you in Estonia. Obviously, there are listeners from all over the world and some people may be in more restrictive situations than others, but I’m curious to know how you’ve been navigating past 10 months?
Siim: Yeah, well, I already live in a pretty isolated environment. I live in the countryside on an island and there aren’t a lot of people around me. Didn’t really impact my everyday life that much. Besides all the events that I was supposed to speak at or go to were canceled or postponed. That was the biggest difference between previous years. But other than that, I was still doing my everyday things and working online, and yeah, just being in front of a computer most of the time.
Cynthia: Sounds like it’s the same for so many of us not being able to travel. Have you traveled at all since last March or February timeframe?
Siim: I have. I’ve been in Finland only two times in Helsinki. One of them was for the biohacker summit, fortunately, we were still able to do. Thanks to the user guidelines in Finland. We had about 500 people at the event and it was a good turn up.
Cynthia: Wow, I’m glad that you were able to do a little bit of travel. I actually haven’t been on a plane since last March. For me, in many ways, my family and I really enjoy traveling, and I did a lot of traveling, a lot of public speaking, and to not have been traveling at all for almost a year is hard to process amongst all these other changes. I feel your books really come at this incredibly serendipitous timeframe, because there’s so much value in the lessons that you’re teaching, and a lot of what you talk about are things that people can do that don’t actually cost a lot of money. Let’s dive into how our bodies adapt to stress.
One of the things that I think is really important is the concept of finding balance with stress. The right degree of stress can actually make us stronger on many, many levels, and how we deal with it, recover from it, and then recognizing that this actually, biologically impacts our cells in very beneficial ways. So, let’s talk a little bit about hormesis, and the stress balance, and how stress can be positive. It can obviously be negative as well, but how do we navigate this time in our lives, where none of us have probably had the experience of living in a pandemic.
Siim: Right. Yeah, for sure. There are definitely some different kinds of stressors that we experience, whether physical stressors or psychological stressors, and they do cause slightly different effects on the body. But there’s also this general stress response that happens, regardless of the source of the stress. Usually, that is characterized by elevation in heart rate, increasing cortisol, and this focus and alertness. Those things tend to be happening, regardless of the stress type. But before talking about, for example, like heat stress, then the body also responds to the heat by trying to adapt to the heat and repair the damage that occurs. It does it by just turning all these specific proteins, heat shock proteins that mitigate the damage from the heat.
On the other hand, some other nutritional stressors would be like intermittent fasting or calorie restriction, those also have a slightly different effect on the body, primarily by turning on some of the other mechanisms of body that relate to fat oxidation, or autophagy, or these other similar stressors. Generally, our body are able to tolerate different kinds of stressors and it only becomes a problem if it becomes chronic or in excess. If you find this optimal amount of stress, then you can condition your body to start handling higher amounts of that particular stress, the more frequently you get exposed to it. The example of fitness or exercise, if you’ve never exercised before, then you probably won’t be able to run a marathon, because it’s going to be difficult and almost impossible. Whereas if you gradually increase your endurance and fitness, then eventually, you will be able to do it. So, that’s an example of some stress adaptation and hormesis that small amounts of stress actually make you stronger and more resilient.
That’s I want to apply to all these different kinds of areas of our life. In my book Stronger By Stress that we shouldn’t be afraid of stress. Actually, I would say that trying to avoid stress all the time just leaves you vulnerable to the inevitable nature of life that we are inevitably going to encounter different kinds of stressors, whether it be physical or mental. The best thing to do just to be prepared and gradually, try to increase our exposure to these kind of stressors as to become more resilient.
Cynthia: I think it’s really important. I interviewed Wim Hof a few months ago, and one of the things that he felt was really important for listeners to understand is that, we’ve become far too comfortable as a culture that we like to be comfortable. We don’t like to be too cold, we don’t like to be too hot, we don’t want to go without eating all day long, and certainly, that’s a huge problem here in the United States with rampant obesity. One of the things that he was really emphasizing and I hear you emphasizing as well is that, it’s okay for us to get a little bit uncomfortable, that it’s really, really important for us as individuals to recognize that a little bit of fasting, or a little bit of cold exposure, or some heat exposure is profoundly beneficial, not just to us on a recognized physiological level, but even down to our cellular level.
Cynthia: There’s the concept of mitochondria that are the powerhouses of our cells. Recognizing that it’s really important that these remain very vibrant and healthy. I’m sure probably in your research and as you’re writing your book, recognizing that for a lot of people they don’t even understand like, what the mitochondria do, why they’re important, why we want to keep them healthy and functioning?
Siim: Yeah, for sure. The mitochondria are, like you said, the powerhouse of the cell. Lot of the energy production is happening primarily through the mitochondria and also aging is affected by the condition of your mitochondria. One of the most commonly used theories of aging is the mitochondrial theory of aging that as you get older, then your mitochondria become more damaged, and they start to spread oxidative stress and inflammation, and these reactive oxygen species, and that’s accelerates aging. The way to slow down aging and prevent all these other different diseases, chronic diseases is to keep your mitochondria healthy. The mitochondria do need a small amount of stress to stay healthy and you also need to clean out the dysfunctional mitochondria that accumulates there as just inevitable byproduct of living. Things like these beneficial stressors like exercise, the sauna, and even fasting, those things make you grow more mitochondria, but also eliminate the bad mitochondria that are there.
Yeah, these smaller beneficial stressors are doing a good maintenance work for your cells. And also, if you are, let’s say, not experiencing too much stress, you’re not experiencing any stress at all, then you are underconditioned. You become, like I said, too comfortable and your body would be at ease, very fragile, so to say that hasn’t had the reference experience for any stress. Whenever it does encounter any even a smaller stress in the future, then it’s just going to break, because it doesn’t have the resilience. So, you need to condition resilience by these regular hormesis.
Cynthia: What are your thoughts, I know here in the United States, there are a lot of people I call it chronic cardio people that they’re under the impression that they cannot exercise a poor diet and you’ll see people that are running for hours, and hours, and hours, or they’re on the treadmill, or they’re on the elliptical trainer. I would imagine that you have very specific suggestions in terms of the things that are going to stress your body in beneficial ways is very likely not chronic cardio. I’m assuming it’s high intensity interval training or strength training. Where is the tipping point for where those types of activities are beneficial for us versus it’s good to walk, but that’s not going to stretch your body in the way that you’re talking about?
Siim: Right. Well, I do think your regular cardio can also be very good. It depends on the goal and situation. If you overdo it or if it’s the only form of exercise you do, then yeah, that may not be the most ideal thing. I perfectly or ideally, I would recommend doing both in some degree. I personally do prefer more resistance training, because resistance training is higher intensity and it also stimulates muscle growth that you don’t achieve with regular cardio or HIIT. The muscle aspect is very beneficial for just longevity and better metabolic health, it is easier to stay lean and easier to avoid nutritional-related diseases, because you have more muscle mass and you have a higher ability to get disposed carbohydrates and glucose without experiencing negative side effects.
In terms of how much cardio is good or how much resistance training in general is good, that depends on the person and overall, their workout routine. You can effectively, yeah, reach a minimal effective dose of doing only one cardio session per week and maybe two or three resistance training sessions per week. That will be the minimal effective dose that most people can get away with. But yeah, that also depends on the other things. You can even do cardio every day and not experience any burnout, or not experience any weight loss or any hypothyroidism from that as long as you take care of your nutrition, you’re not combining the chronic cardio with chronic calorie restriction, or over caffeinated, or sleep restriction. It’s a matter of like the individual and what kind of other things they do. So, the same applies to fasting as well. Fasting can be a stressor to some people, but it can be not a stressor to others depending on their overall diet. What else to do? So, yes, it’s a very nuanced situation.
Cynthia: No, absolutely. I think you’re really alluding to bio individuality that it’s so important for determining what really works best for you and your body. One thing that I think is really critically important for anyone, who’s really listening that we need to maintain muscle mass, sarcopenia or this muscle loss with aging will happen if you’re not doing things to circumvent this. Certainly, for myself being in the middle-age range, it’s really critically important and it’s actually a whole lot harder to maintain muscle in your 40s than it was to build it in your 20s and 30s, and that is normally what will occur if you’re not lifting weights. As you mentioned, it’s really important that people recognize the more muscle mass you have, the more likely you are to be metabolically flexible. That’s really what we’re talking about. These are all things to keep us healthy, and keep us at a healthy weight, and ward off as much as possible disease, which I think for everyone right now given the global pandemic, all of us have that in the forefront of our minds or at least we should be thinking about ways that we can keep ourselves healthier.
One of the things that I think is really interesting that you’ve touched on multiple times and certainly, the people that follow this podcast know that intermittent fasting is something that I really embrace wholeheartedly, but you did touch on the fact that some people can overdo it. I see so much of this on social media that individuals are so desired to get the effect, whether it be weight loss, or they want to tap into autophagy, or they have other reasons for wanting to be interested in intermittent fasting and then they go overboard. With fasting, it’s really, critically important that people are getting enough of their macros, getting enough protein and fat, and obviously, carbohydrates are very bio individual that there are people that are more metabolically flexible, so they can get away with more carbs than people who are less metabolically flexible.
Obviously, you’re an intermittent fasting expert. How do you navigate or make recommendations when you’re talking to people, who are really trying to fine tune the fasting regimen, there are a lot of people, who want to do one meal a day, which I think is fine on a short-term basis, but I just don’t know how most women in particular could get enough of their macros in in that very short window. I know that there are some men that that seem to really enjoy that. But what are some of the ways that you make recommendations in terms of a fasting schedule that will be efficacious and not put people in a position where they’re really ramping up their thyroid, or their adrenals, or their endocrine system in general?
Siim: Yeah, for sure. I think that intermittent fasting can be a very good tool and you can adjust it based upon a lot of the things that you’re involved with. It depends on your exercise routine, as well as just your energy requirements. But if I were to give a minimal effective dose, then I would say that at least you would want to do this aspect of time-restricted eating that you fast at least for 12 hours a day and eat within 12 hours. That would be the minimal effective dose for just the circadian rhythm benefits and sleep benefits, so that you wouldn’t be spending the entire day in a fast state like the average Westerner does. So, that will be the starting point that I would recommend everyone do regardless of whether or not they’re doing actual intermittent fasting or whether they want to do it.
From that, I would say that the 16-hour fast is also a really good golden balance so to say though it’s not long enough for you to become severely burnt out and it’s not that short either, so that you wouldn’t miss out on any of the benefits. It’s a very beneficial way of achieving good balance between being able to tap into some autophagy and ketosis on a daily basis, while at the same time, having a long enough of an eating window where you can still consume enough protein and calories, and stimulate muscle growth from that. Whether or not you should do one meal a day, or something more fast, or longer than 16 hours, that depends on the preference. I wouldn’t say that it’s better to do one meal a day instead of 16 hours or it’s one gives you more autophagy or the other. Because there’s other things that also matter. I would say that one meal a day is something that people would do only if they choose to do it or prefer to do it.
I personally also do semi one meal a day, mostly because of my preference and convenience, it is a good time management thing and I like it. I do think it’s very hard to build muscle or strength with just one meal a day, because it’s such a small timeframe where you stimulate muscle protein synthesis. For muscle growth, I would say the 16-hour fast is the perfect thing. Now, because you can stimulate muscle growth in that eight-hour eating window for at least two to three times. Whereas with one meal a day, it is relatively hard. But I personally am able to pull it off, because I’m doing this thing that I call a targeted intermittent fasting, where I do just eat one meal a day, but I also have a protein shake during my workout. So, I still get a second spike in muscle protein synthesis and still maintain a positive nitrogen balance from that, but for other people who aren’t, let’s say that dedicated for them, I would say the 16-hour fast is pretty good, and at a minimum, if you’re want to take a break or something, then 12 hours is also good. That’s I would say that, yeah, one meal a day is something that isn’t inherently better. It’s just something that people would maybe want to do it every once in a while.
Cynthia: Yeah, I think around holidays, I know definitely for myself, if I’ve overindulged on Thanksgiving here in the United States, or Christmas, or New Year’s if we were able to be able to go out, that would definitely be the following day that was just a way to get back on track. Certainly, I think digestive rest of any capacity is definitely better than this. Recent statistic I read that the average person here in the States will consume a sugar sweetened beverage or food 16 to 17 times a day. When you think about the net impact of what that does to your insulin response and fat storage, it’s really horrifying. It makes us understand why it’s so easy to gain weight, if you’re pumping into, spiking insulin throughout the day as opposed to having– be more gradual, and then once or twice a day when you’re consuming food.
I think the challenge that I see with a lot of individuals, both men and women with regard to whether their meal frequency is once a day or twice a day while fasting is ensuring they’re getting sufficient protein. I would imagine most if not all people that are listening are not getting sufficient protein. I know Dr. Gabrielle Lyon’s a big proponent of one gram of protein per pound of ideal body weight, which I would imagine most people are probably doing 30 grams, maybe 40 twice a day if at all. So, I’m curious how you manage to– You probably have a fairly good-sized amount of protein when you’re having your shake and having that very large meal. But I’m sure that you also probably see a lot of people struggle in this area as well.
Siim: Yeah, absolutely. Protein is very important, especially for us preventing sarcopenia. Even when doing intermittent fasting, you do tend to need a bit more protein. This is how you would compensate for the catabolic stress that you experience while you are fasting. Yeah, usually, I would say the best ratio or the best amount would be about 0.8 grams per pound of body weight or lean body weight up until 1.0 grams per pound of body weight, somewhere between there. But average person is eating maybe half of that. The RDA itself is also like half of that, which I would say is not very optimal. Yeah, ideally, most people would need at least 100 grams of protein per day and yet, to get that from one single meal, then you would need to eat a really big steak or something. Yeah, that’s why if you are struggling with protein intake, or if you’re the in the older age group, or you have sarcopenia, or you have, let’s say, excessive muscle catabolism, then for you, it would be better to have more several meals throughout the day as a way to keep the muscle protein synthesis elevated and to ensure that you do get the sufficient amount of protein.
Yeah, if someone is having trouble eating that much protein in one sitting, then for them spreading it out is more easy, because it’s true. The protein is also very satiating. It feels you up and prevents hunger. It doesn’t really make you want to eat again. If you’re not able to eat your foods, because of eating too much protein in one sitting, then yeah, spreading it out is the way to go.
Cynthia: No, and I think it’s really key talking about satiety, that’s a really, really important much maligned concept for a lot of people, because whether or not it’s fat and carbs together, which are delicious, but very hard, if you think about guacamole and chips, or cheese and crackers, those kinds of things, it’s hard for people to keep to a portion size, whereas if you have protein and some fat, you will be satiated. You’re literally going to feel you cannot eat more. Training our bodies to acknowledge how important that satiety piece is really, really very, very important.
Let’s pivot a little bit and talk about immunity. Obviously, in the midst of a pandemic, this is really relevant. Let’s talk about what helps build a healthier immune system. I think that given the length of the amount of time that so many of us, our lives have really shifted and changed substantially. I think this is the kind of information that people will find really valuable, things that they can do in their day-to-day lives that really have a huge net impact.
Siim: Yeah, for sure. A lot of these things that are considered healthy lifestyle practices, those things are also very beneficial for the immune system. Like regular exercise, good quality nutrition, Whole Foods, avoiding processed carbs, added sugars, and these vegetable oils, as well as these hormetic stressors like the sauna. Some intermittent fasting can be good and the colds in moderation, and definitely like sleep. If you are like, let’s say, relatively healthy and metabolically flexible then your immune system should also be strong as a result of that and vice versa. If you’re metabolically inflexible, you have metabolic syndrome, you have these other added chronic diseases, then your immune system is also going to suffer, because a lot of the immune cells and other immune parameters are regulated by or they’re determined by your metabolic health and overall lifestyle.
Cynthia: I think it’s important again to iterate what that represents a metabolically flexible means you have a healthy blood sugar, it means that you don’t have high blood pressure, you’re not on medications to deal with cholesterol problems, and you’re sleeping well, you’re at a healthy weight. It’s not about being skinny, it’s just maintaining the ability for your body to be able to consume foods, be able to properly package them up, fuel your body, sleep, etc. Let’s start with the food piece, because I always find it really fascinating when we are looking at the nutritional piece and talking about things like seed oils, and how profoundly inflammatory they are, and how long they actually will impact the membrane and cellular composition of ourselves for such a long period of time. I heard as long as two years, which is horrifying, but here in the States, most if not all restaurants, that’s all they use. You look at the processed foods, just looking for just two things, even if you just look at canola and soybean oil, it’s in everything. You start to acknowledge that that in and of itself can drive these desires for these processed carbohydrate dense diets and drive insulin resistance. So, I would imagine in Estonia, you probably don’t have as much of that, but it’s definitely a huge problem here in the States.
Siim: Well, I think the seed oils are also here very predominant. Yeah, all the restaurants use them and the packaged food has it as well. Estonia is an ex-Soviet country. The people weren’t that interested in healthy fats or something. They just use some regular seed oils as they found. The average person doesn’t even think about that it could be harmful, but yeah, it is so true that these seed oils and vegetable oils, they are one of the most harmful substances that you can consume that would be considered like food. What essentially happens is that these vegetables are polyunsaturated fats, so, they’re very fragile. They get oxidized very easily when they’re getting exposed to heat, and oxygen, and pressure.
As a result of that, when you consume those oxidized fats, then your body is going to experience lipid peroxidation, which is a way of describing the oxidation of fats, whether that be your cell membranes, cholesterol in your bloodstream, triglycerides, all those things, they become oxidized. That is linked to many diseases like insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, those things happen as a result of inflammation after the stress. If you oxidize your own fats because of consuming these other fats, these oxidized fats, then you’ll become very inflamed and promote the onset of many diseases. These vegetable oils are, they get oxidized during the heat process, the manufacturing process, but they are also just because they’re polyunsaturated fats, they are more easily oxidized than compared to something like saturated fats that have a higher smoking point.
Cynthia: Yeah, it’s hugely problematic and I’m curious if you feel that the processed sugars are a bigger issue in terms of driving disease or do you think it’s equivalent, because I think of them really in the same light, because there’s such a huge component of the processed food industry and take for granted that they’re everywhere. Much to your point, we just assume, because they’re accessible and easily attainable that somehow they’re healthy. But as I like to remind my patients that they’re designed, because they’re cheap. It’s a cheap product that can be utilized in these processed foods. No one’s really thinking about our health. They’re just thinking about profits. So, do you feel one is worse than the other or are they a little bit equivalent?
Siim: Well, I think sugars would be less harmful than these fats so to say, because sugar is a natural molecule or glucose is a natural molecule so to say that our body already has some glucose in the bloodstream all the time in some amounts. It’s not inherently harmful if you consume it in moderation and also if your body is able to handle it, then it shouldn’t be a big issue. If you have more muscle mass, you are physically active, you are insulin sensitive, then for you that sugar is going to spike your blood sugar for a little bit. But if you’re healthy, then it shouldn’t last for that long and your blood sugar should normalize within an hour or something depending on how much sugar you eat.
Generally, the sugars and carbs, I’m not that afraid of the sugars and carbs, because you can even go for a walk and you can lower your blood sugar in 10 minutes and faster. It’s not a big issue. If you exercise before eating sugar, then the muscle cells or muscle glycogen stores become very depleted. Eating sugar would make that sugar go into the muscle cells and stored as glycogen, whereas with these fats, then these vegetables and seeds oils, they don’t have any essential role in the body. They don’t have any real benefit. They only cause harm. Like you said, it’s very hard to get rid of them. They can become a part of the cell membrane and they can stick around for years. As they are a part of the cell membrane, then they will also begin to spread that inflammation on a regular basis because your cells and cell membranes are very fragile, and oxidized, and they become even more inflammatory.
Cynthia: For everyone that’s listening, I think this is really critical. You just need to be well informed. Read those packages, ask when you go to restaurants, if you’re able to do. Ask what’s in the food, because more often than not, I’m in a position where I’m of the belief system that I ask all the time and I become that weird person, who doesn’t eat fried food when I go out and I generally don’t eat salad dressings for that purpose. So, thank you and I, 100% agree that something that’s a more naturally derived substance is going to be a whole lot less harmful.
Siim: Also, you don’t need to be that afraid of it either, because our body is also able to deal with that oxidative stress to a certain extent. We have our own antioxidant defense systems like glutathione and superoxide dismutase, and catalase, and others that can counteract the lipid peroxidation. We’re experiencing oxidative stress all the time in some amounts and it only becomes harmful, therefore, if it counterbalances the antioxidant defenses. You can also protect against the lipid peroxidation of these oxidized fats by making sure that you consume enough vegetables that contain these antioxidants and they can stimulate glutathione and other defense systems, as well as, for example, especially when it comes to this lipid peroxidation, then vitamin E as a supplement can protect it against that which is a fat-soluble antioxidant, as well as these spirulina and algae, they also have this lipid peroxidation protective effects.
Cynthia: Yeah, that’s really fascinating and I’ll make sure that we include all that in the notes. As we pivot and we talked about nutrition, I definitely want to touch on sauna, because there are two different kinds of sauna that I know that you employ. I try to do sauna as often as I can. Infrared sauna versus a traditional sauna and can you explain to the listeners how they differ? Obviously, they have some of the same benefits. But for someone that’s not as familiar with red light therapy that you got from infrared sauna, can you explain what these do for the body in terms of immune function and other health benefits?
Siim: Yeah, well, generally, the sauna is going to elevate your body temperature. As a result of that, the body is going to respond by turning on these heat shock proteins. Heat Shock proteins, they start to repair misfolded proteins, they start to reduce inflammation, they start to clean up house with autophagy, and they also prevent the viral replication to a certain extent. The sauna is just the easiest way to trigger these heat shock proteins. You can also do it with exercise or just working out, but generally, the sauna is going to do it the fastest. What matters most is just the elevation of the body temperature, the traditional sauna is going to heat up the air around you in the room and that is eventually going to raise your body temperature, whereas with infrared sauna, the infrared wavelengths are going to penetrate into your tissue and into your body, and they’re going to heat up your body directly from that. The difference between them is primarily that the infrared is going to generate heat from the inside out, whereas the traditional sauna makes you hot from the outside in if that makes sense.
The infrared sauna also is going to penetrate deeper into the tissues and it can trigger collagen synthesis in the tendons, and joints, and also trigger small beneficial stress to the mitochondria, and improve their functioning through that, whereas with a traditional sauna, you get the temperature hotter in the traditional sauna, and you may also get more sweating from the traditional sauna, and eliminate these metals. The infrared sauna is less hot, but it may have more direct effect in terms of the heat shock proteins because of going deeper into the tissue, and also just having this additional benefit of maybe better skin or better joint health.
Cynthia: Do you feel there’s a minimum amount of time that people need to use these therapies for them to be beneficial?
Siim: Yeah, well, some of the Finnish research finds that doing it more than four times a week is the most– You see the greatest reduction in cardiovascular disease and mortality. But doing it once or twice a week is also very beneficial. I personally would say as often as you can. Because most people don’t have their own saunas. They may get to it only maybe once a week or maybe once every other week. But even then, it’s worth it. When it comes to the individual sessions, then the heat shock protein response tends to start at around 15 to 20 minutes, somewhere around that. You can maybe potentially speed it up if you have higher temperatures, but you’re generally doing it for at least 15 to 20 minutes would be the minimum effective dose. I personally, usually, if I do go to the sauna, then I do at least two rounds. So, I’ll do 15 to 20 minutes per one session, I’ll go out, maybe wash off the water a little bit, and do another 15 to 20-minute sessions.
Cynthia: What do you think about doing cryotherapy in conjunction with doing infrared sauna? Because I found for myself personally, I’ll do two and a half minutes in a cryo tank, which is popular here right now, and then do infrared sauna, I’ll warm back up. But I’m curious to know, can you do these sequentially, are there benefits from doing them completely separately, or do you potentiate the benefits by doing them one after another?
Siim: Yeah, well, there also hasn’t been very specific research about that. But generally, the colds and colder temperatures have also their own benefits. Cold also lowers inflammation, and reduces neuronal stress, and is beneficial for the immune system. They’re both going to be beneficial. Doing them together sequentially, that’s something we don’t really know whether or not it is optimal. I personally do enjoy first going to the sauna and then taking the cold plunge or something, cold soak, because it feels really good and it helps you to maybe go into the heat for longer. Dr. James [unintelligible [00:34:55] does think that you may not want to do with a cold immediately after the sauna, because when you are in the sauna, then you’re triggering the heat shock protein response, your body is experiencing the stress. If you go to the cold, then you may just turn off that signal. So, usually, you’re making it very easy for your body to deal with the heat, whereas the point of the entire sauna is to endure and broil yourself in there a little bit to endure it for longer.
If you just take the cold immediately after the sauna, then you’re shutting down that response. He would do it in a way that he would take the sauna and maybe they take a cold soak maybe 30 minutes or an hour later, something like that. Personally, I’m not that worried about that, because I do think that you already get some sufficient amount of heat shock proteins when you are already in a sauna and doing a short cold is not going to be probably too problematic. Yeah, if you want to be maybe very safe then you can do the cold before and then go to the sauna to heat back up. So, in that case, you will probably get the best of both worlds.
Cynthia: Well, it’s interesting on the days that I do cryo and infrared sauna, I sleep even better. Even though, it’s hours later, it’s amazing how I feel it’s incredibly restorative. We would be remiss if we didn’t touch on the sleep piece, how important it is not just for overall hormetic benefits, but also the immune response. Let’s talk about sleep. Because I think that sleep is thought of as, well, I think of it the average person really thinks of it, they undervalue how important it is and yet it is one of the most important things. I remind people all the time, if you can’t sleep through the night, do not even attempt to fast, that firmly rooted in foundation like where we should be.
Siim: Yeah, absolutely. Sleep, it’s something I think would be the foundation to health and longevity that sleep is when your body’s repairing itself and rejuvenating, sleep is also the time where your adaptive immune system gets developed. Say, immunological memory, you experience these different infections and antibodies during the daytime, and unless you install or stored, your immunological memory, you’re not going to have this immunity toward those things in the future. Let’s say, you have a compromised adaptive immunity. All the immune cells that get rejuvenated during sleep. If you’re chronically sleep deprived, then you have just a weaker immune response to everything. All autophagy and melatonin, they have these antioxidant effects on the body that eliminate junk cell parts and other particles that are not supposed to be there. Sleep is very important and especially if you were to be in during the winter or something, when your immune system tends to already be slightly compromised, then I would recommend to sleep a bit longer or at least make sure that you do get the quality sleep.
Cynthia: No, I think it is so critical. What I found really interesting, when I was preparing for this, I was really thinking about the things that can help us sleep more efficiently. First and foremost, reminding people that sleep’s foundational to our health and it’s really important for, as you mentioned they help our cell production and optimizing our immune response. But what are some of the little hacks that you have found about supporting sleep? I know in the back of my closet, I have an acupuncture mat that I should be doing before bed, but I don’t necessarily do it every night. But I even saw in the book, like, mouth taping and watching your caffeine, but what are some of the things that you find most people are surprised by that can help support sleep that are fairly easy?
Siim: Yeah, I think the general just being wired up, being too energized in the evening is probably the biggest hurdle. If you are watching news, you’re on social media, you’re watching some sort of a movie that is keeping you up, then your brain doesn’t have a reason to think that it’s supposed to sleep. Winding down is a good idea. Avoiding all these stimulating activities, especially caffeine and maybe sugars or something that’s going to spike your blood sugar. Then the blue light, the artificial light is also very underrated and most people aren’t even aware of that, that the blue light from your screens, that is directly inhibiting the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. If you are watching TV or watching your computer right before bed, then you’re signaling your body that is daytime, and therefore it’s not supposed to be time to sleep.
Using some filters is very important. These blue blocking glasses is a really quick fix. If you start to use like these glasses an hour or so before bed, then you will naturally see that you’re actually getting tired and drowsy, whereas before it was just masked or hijacked by the blue light that was keeping you artificially stimulated. Naturally, we would go to bed after sunset. It’s just that in the modern world, we have all this technology that is keeping us up. Some other things very important would be also like, when it comes to actually sleeping better, not falling asleep, then it will be sleeping in a slightly cooler environment. Colder temperature is also a signal for melatonin production and helps to go into deeper sleep. If you’re in a really hot bedroom or you have central heating on and you’re using very fluffy blankets, then yeah, you’re elevating your body temperature, which is not helping you to sleep better. My research does find that usually sleeping in a slightly cooler bedroom is better for overall sleep.
Cynthia: My entire family has gotten used to the house being 65 degrees at night, which everyone sleeps so much better. Something so simple can make a really big impact on how well we sleep. Now, one thing that I think I’ve gotten a lot of questions about, because obviously, before we connected today, I was asking people on social media, what would you like to ask? What I found interesting was, there’s a lot of information, some of it largely unfounded that’s out on social media and on the web, but what in your research with you and Dr. James, when you were writing The Immunity Fix, what are some of the key nutrients that we need to be getting into our diets, into our nutritional regimen that would be beneficial for supporting immune function? Because I feel some of the information I’ve seen, I have to question, but when I was going through your book and going through questions that people were asking me to ask you, this one came up multiple times. So, it’s obviously an area that people are intensely curious about.
Siim: Yeah, absolutely. Nutrients, all those minerals are very crucial for just the body’s defense systems. One thing I think virtually almost everyone does need is magnesium, because first of all, magnesium is very depleted from our food sources, because of soil depletion and erosion. On estimate, there’s about maybe 20% or 25% less magnesium in our food compared to the 1940s. That in and itself does increase the risk of becoming deficient in magnesium. About 80% of the people are not getting the recommended daily allowance of magnesium, which is about 400 to 500 milligrams. Magnesium itself regulates, it has a role in almost every process in the body like starting with energy production and the immune response. In terms of the actual immune response, then magnesium deficiency can offset the balance between certain immune cells like the T cells. If you have magnesium deficiency, then you can cause these autoimmune conditions, because of the body’s immune cells between like killer T cells and helper T cells, it’s offset out of balance, and the body just starts to attack itself, and cause additional inflammation. One, we discovered was that there’re people who have genetically low magnesium, then they experience this chronic Epstein-Barr virus. We just call the XMEN syndrome. That is something that we saw that the magnesium is very involved with the immune response.
Then I would say that the very beneficial nutrients would be vitamin D, because of like a similar role it’s very involved with almost every process in the body. In the immune response also, vitamin D helps to recognize these infectious particles and eliminate them. Then, there’s selenium, which is good for glutathione, zinc, which is also involved with breaking down these infectious particles as well as involve in autophagy. Generally, I would say the most important ones would be magnesium, vitamin D, selenium, zinc, maybe vitamin C as well. Although, with vitamin C is that I wouldn’t recommend taking it all the time in large amounts. Vitamin C will be something that you maybe resort to if you actually have some particular infection that you just want to get rid of faster, then you introduce the vitamin C to help to deal with it faster.
Cynthia: Now, do you recommend that people get food-based sources as well as active supplementation? Because I know here on the East Coast of the United States, we may get a lot of sun exposure probably April through maybe October. And then when the weather gets cooler, it’s a whole lot harder to get more than just your face, maybe your hands exposed to get that vitamin D synthesis. For a lot of my patients, I’ll say, “Okay, maybe summertime, you don’t have to per se take a supplement.” But definitely, as we head into the cooler months, where there’s less light exposure, it can be definitely beneficial. The other piece that I– this is oftentimes how I get my patients to do it. I remind them that there is some role of insulin sensitivity with vitamin D as well. So, if your vitamin D levels are low, not only is that potentially impacting immune function but can also impact your metabolic flexibility as well.
Siim: Yeah, for sure. Ideally, you would want to get them from food, but that’s not always possible, especially, when it comes to magnesium or vitamin D. You could potentially get all the zinc and selenium if you eat some oysters, and organ meats, and maybe Brazil nuts on a regular basis, then you can cover those nutrients. With magnesium, magnesium is usually in leafy green vegetables, some seafood and, and some nuts, and pumpkin seeds. Those will be some magnesium foods. But magnesium supplement is something that I think a lot of people would need and I personally also take it on a regular basis. With vitamin D, I don’t take vitamin D during the summer if I’m already going outside. But during the winter, I do take it because of there’s virtually no sunlight for weeks in here.
If I do take the vitamin D, then I don’t like macro doses because my vitamin D levels tend to be already in the normal zone. If you are very deficient in vitamin D, then in the short-term going for higher dose supplement can be good, but you would also maybe potentially want to be eating this vitamin D rich foods like egg yolks, salmon, and fatty fish, even like some mushrooms have it, but in the D3 form. But if you do take like a vitamin D supplement, then you would need to take or at least get enough of vitamin K2 to make sure that the vitamin D gets used in the right way. Magnesium is also important for actually activating that vitamin D.
Cynthia: Yeah, and for full disclosure, I take magnesium every day. I’m a huge proponent of magnesium and think it’s really critical as well as selenium. Obviously, during winter I’m absolutely supplementing with vitamin D, but as you said food-based sources as well. Now, before we pivot off and I let you go, I think it’s important to touch on at least briefly, what impacts immune function in a negative way. I think for many people listening they may already know some of these, but I think it’s worth reiterating given the fact that we’re still in a pandemic and I’m sure people are anxious to avoid things that could non-beneficially impact their health.
Siim: Yeah, for sure. The immune system is connected to your metabolism and just general health as well. If you are with metabolic syndrome or these chronic conditions, then you would just try to do the best you can as to improve your metabolic health as fast as you can. It doesn’t take that long time. You can see this optimal blood sugar reductions within a few weeks, so, just have to start eating the good diet, start doing regular exercise, and not eating– If you’ve very poor metabolic health, then you would need to take your carbohydrate restriction more seriously compared to someone, who is lean or athletic, then they can get away with more without experiencing the bad side effects from that. So, it depends on where you’re at, but generally, just making sure that you are insulin sensitive and you have good metabolic health in terms of you don’t have high blood sugar, fasting blood sugar, you don’t have high triglycerides, you have good enough of HDL cholesterol, you also have low blood pressure, those things are characteristic of metabolic syndrome. Then I would say that, the second most important thing would be do get enough sleep or sleep deprivation and sleep restriction, or just need to solve optimal sleep itself would be jeopardizing your immune system. Maybe, lastly, I would say that the inflammation in general, this chronic inflammation, whether because of being sedentary, or eating a bad diet, or just consuming these vegetable oils that are oxidized.
Cynthia: Thank you. That’s super helpful. Now, before I go, we’re starting something new this week on. Couple questions, I’m going to ask each guest at the end of our interview. So, I’m curious how you define wellness. What does that mean to you as an individual?
Siim: Well, wellness, I would say is being at peace or being at ease both physically and mentally so to say you don’t have any chronic pains, you don’t have any aches or something, you’re in good fitness and you’re also mentally at a good place, so, you’re not experiencing any negative thoughts, or you’re not experiencing this rumination, or this depression or anxiety.
Cynthia: Great answer. What’s the latest book you’ve read or currently reading?
Siim: Well, at the moment, I’m listening to an audiobook by, I think it’s Jared Diamond. I think it’s Upheaval or something, which talks about “why civilizations fall or something.” I don’t remember the exact title. [crosstalk] [chuckles] Yeah. He wrote the book like the Guns, Germs, and Steel. So, it’s another one of his books.
Cynthia: What’s the number one thing you want the listeners to really understand about our discussion today?
Siim: Maybe, yeah, you should live this hormetic lifestyle that you engage yourself in these beneficial stressors on regular basis, because the same applies to muscle. If you don’t use it, you lose it. If you don’t stimulate your body to be fit, then you’re going to lose your fitness. If you don’t stimulate the heat adaptation, then you’re going to lose it. All the stressors, if you live in a bubble wrap, then you’re losing your ability to tolerate stress, whereas if you are engaged in them in the right amounts and you recover from them appropriately, then you will just get used to it and get stronger.
Cynthia: Awesome. Well, it’s been a pleasure to have you again. Thank you so much for carving time out of your busy schedule.
Siim: Oh, well, thanks for having me. It was a pleasure.
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