Ep. 300 Herbs & Wellness: Dr. Rawls on Cellular Regeneration & Healing

Your trusted source for nutrition, wellness, and mindset for thriving health.

I am honored to connect with Dr. Bill Rawls today! He is a distinguished figure in the healthcare field, having departed from conventional allopathic medicine to illuminate the profound potential of herbs in revitalizing health through the principles of cellular healing and regeneration. 

With a foundation in classical obstetrics and gynecology and backed by scientific research, Dr. Rawls joins me today to furnish us with his actionable recommendations for optimal health and well-being. 

In our conversation, Dr. Rawls dives into his background and explains the inherent limitations of the traditional allopathic model that has guided modern medicine for generations. We explore questions surrounding the alarming state of health in our society and examine the factors contributing to disease. We navigate the landscape of cellular biology, shining a light on the role of mitochondria and the impact of diet, environmental toxins, stress, and microbial pressures on our well-being. Dr. Rawls also unveils the distinctions that set herbs apart from pharmaceutical agents, and we journey through the realm of phytochemicals, the spectrum of herbal safety, and the health concerns around perimenopause, menopause, bone health, and sleep. 

Dr. Rawls is a source of profound wisdom in the world of health and wellness, and his invaluable insights promise to empower us on the path to a healthier and more vibrant existence!

“Inflammation is a process of illness. It is not a cause of illness, and unless you are addressing the underlying causes of the inflammation, you are not going to make somebody well.”

– Dr. Bill Rawls


  • Why Dr. Rawls chose to go into obstetrics and gynecology
  • What prompted Dr. Rawls to redirect the focus of his work?
  • How Dr. Rawls has spent the past decade and a half figuring out what herbs were doing and what chronic illness is
  • The differences between acute medicine and functional medicine
  • How mitochondrial power and illness are intertwined
  • How stress factors impact cellular health
  • How does the safety and efficacy of a particular herb get determined?
  • What is an adaptogen? 
  • The value of taking herbs for essential hypertension
  • The importance of bone health for women
  • The impact of sleep pressure on sleep
  • The importance of restoring natural sleep cycle

Connect with Cynthia Thurlow

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Connect with Dr. Bill Rawls

On his website 

Dr. Rawls at https://rawlsmd.com

Dr. Rawls’s book, The Cellular Wellness Solution


Cynthia Thurlow: Welcome to Everyday Wellness podcast. I’m your host Nurse Practitioner, Cynthia Thurlow. This podcast is designed to educate, empower, and inspire you to achieve your health and wellness goals. My goal and intent, is to provide you with the best content and conversations from leaders in the health and wellness industry each week and impact over a million lives.

Today, I had the honor to connect with Dr. Bill Rawls. He’s a classically trained OB-GYN who departed from the medical norm to shine a light on the unrecognized potential of herbs to energize your health through cellular healing and regeneration backed by scientific research and delivering actionable recommendations. Dr. Rawls and I dove into his background and the limitations with regard to a traditional allopathic model. His thoughts on why we have such a sick population of patients, what contributes to disease. We spoke at length about cellular biology, mitochondria, and the impact of diet, toxins, stress, and microbial stress. He was able to identify why herbs are different than pharmaceutical agents. We talked about phytochemicals, the herbal safety spectrum, perimenopause and menopause, bone health and sleep. I hope you will enjoy this conversation as much as I did recording it. Dr. Rawls is a wealth of information.

Well, Dr. Rawls, it’s a pleasure to have you on the podcast. I really enjoyed reading your book. 

Dr. Bill Rawls: Well, thank you for having me. It’s a real pleasure. 

Cynthia Thurlow: Absolutely. Let’s share with the listeners a bit about your background before we dive into the book. One of the quotes that I really enjoyed reading was you kind of acquiesced into obstetrics and gynecology because it had the least exposure to long term management of chronic illnesses. So, let’s start there. 

Dr. Bill Rawls: Well, I’m actually fourth generation physician in North Carolina, and so it was in my heritage, but got into medical school and recognized that people with chronic illnesses being treated with conventional therapies really just never got well. And it wasn’t where I wanted to be. So, I went through all the different specialties, medical and surgical and obstetrics and gynecology was just cool. Patients were generally healthy. The things, the kind of interventions you did typically made a difference in their lives and helped them get well. And delivering a baby, that was just really neat. All of that was good. But it came at that point in time with just this crazy call, I had 24 hours hospital call every second to third night, every second to third weekend. And it was like from Friday morning until Monday morning when you were on call on a weekend and it was tough. 

I had some partners that could just crash, go to sleep, and it wasn’t a big deal. They wake them up for the baby or the surgery or whatever. But if I had somebody in the hospital, if I had somebody in labor, boy, that was just on my mind and I just couldn’t sleep. And then back in 80s and 90s there was this thing that people were questioning that we really needed to sleep. Can’t we just kind of cram it into 4 hours and get it all done and move on? And I was in my 30s and I was tough and yes, I could do that and I just pushed through and I paid for it by the end of my 40s, crashed, and just lost my health completely. And it changed my life and my career and everything about what I do today. 

Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, it’s interesting. There are a lot of former OB-GYNs and ER doctors that ended up being guests on this podcast. And as someone that was an ER nurse back in inner city Baltimore in the 90s and then gravitated into cardiology, I loved the acuity, I loved the intellectual side of managing acutely sick patients. But I would agree with you that you very likely through many, many years of chronic sleep deprivation that impacts your life significantly and substantially. And so, share with the listeners what happened to you, health wise that caused you to have this pause and to kind of redirect the focus of your work. 

Dr. Bill Rawls: Right. Well, my whole body was truly falling apart. I was developing neurological symptoms. I was worried that I had MS, I had this tremor, I was worried I could be developing Parkinson’s. But at the same time, I had these crazy heart arrhythmias that my heart was skipping beats every second or third beat and I had continuous chest pain, my joints were falling apart, my GI tract was a wreck. And all of that had been gradually getting worse over a 20-year period. But we ignore symptoms as long as they don’t slow us down too much. We ignore them, we put them in a box, and it’s not until that we start really it gets to the point where we can’t function, we can’t do our job, we can’t interact with life, that we really start doing something about it. So, I did what everybody else does. 

I went to the doctor and they ran all kinds of tests and they sent me to other doctors and they ran all kinds of tests. And the tests were mostly normal, except from my thyroid was a little off, this sort of thing. And I came to realize that the way our testing system is developed, you got to be really sick before you start getting into the category of having some kind of a diagnosis. So, I got this quasi diagnosis of fibromyalgia. Nobody wants fibromyalgia because they don’t know what causes it. I know what causes it now, but they don’t know what causes it. And there’s nothing to do for it except drugs for the symptoms and “Hey, you just live with it.” Nobody wants that diagnosis. And I, like so many people, said, “There’s got to be something.” So, I started searching outside of the medical community and I was aware of Lyme disease and I did several Lyme tests because I grew up in the woods. I got bitten by ticks all the time. And so, it’s like, “Yeah, if I can just get a diagnosis of Lyme disease, I’ll be okay. I can have antibiotics; I can get well.” And that’s what a lot of people think. Pretty much everybody with fibromyalgia thinks that. 

So, I finally did, got that diagnosis. I worked hard, got that test. It was positive. It’s like, “Oh, yeah, now I have Lyme disease, not fibromyalgia, I can take antibiotics.” So, I did. And round after round of antibiotics made me actually sicker instead of better. And that’s when I just kind of left conventional medicine behind. I mean, I had cardiac caths and MRIs and all this kind of stuff, and nobody could help me. It’s like I’m going in a different direction. So, I actually became certified in holistic medicine. I stopped doing OB and did a practice that I called a wellness practice. It’s somewhat like a functional medicine practice today. And that was my life. But I wasn’t really getting better. I changed my diet, my lifestyle, got my sleep better, but I still was sick. I was functional, but that’s about it. And I read a protocol for taking herbs for chronic Lyme disease and thought, “What the heck have I got to lose?” Didn’t have high expectations, but it wasn’t like herbs where you would find, like, in a grocery store, like Whole Foods or something like that. These were things that I ordered. They were specific extracts that at that point were recognized as having antimicrobial properties. And it’s like, “You know I’m going to give it a shot.” And I did and the symptoms started easing within three months. Total recovery didn’t happen for about three to five years for all the neurological, gastrointestinal, and cardiac symptoms to go away, for my knees and joints to heal, but it did. 

And after that, I stopped taking the herbs or was taking them intermittently, and I would start falling back again. And I finally said, feel better on the herbs. I’m just going to keep taking them. And my health just kept getting better and better. And things that weren’t related to fibromyalgia or Lyme disease, like my blood pressure had been elevated, my cholesterol was elevated. I had all these other things. They all got better too. Everything got better. And so, I’ve spent the past decade and a half figuring out, what was it that’s going on, what were the herbs doing, and what is this thing we call chronic Lyme disease and what is chronic illness anyway? And it took me to a very different place in my life, in my career. So, it’s been a journey.

Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah. It’s incredibly encouraging to know that you were so tenacious to get and feel better and to look outside the kind of conventional medical model and for the benefits of listeners. What is it that you believe, there’re many things I know, it’s not just one thing, the current medical model, current allopathic model, that is contributing to the degree of poor health that we’re seeing? I certainly, I’ve been in medicine for oh, my gosh, over 25 years and I’ve watched things evolve and I kept saying, our patients are not getting healthier. What are we doing wrong? What, in your estimation, are some of the contributing factors to why we have such a sick population with so many people suffering from chronic illness? 

Dr. Bill Rawls: Right. There is one thing. There is the one thing. And the one thing is, and I tell people this all the time, it’s not that our health care system is necessarily broken. It’s that we are asking it to do things that it’s not designed to do. Our system is designed for acute intervention. I mean, you look back to the 60s and 70s that was kind of the heyday of medicine because we had new procedures and antibiotics and trauma surgeries and all these wonderful acute interventions for the first time. And it was like, “Wow, this is amazing.” But as we changed our health habits, started eating more processed food, starting getting more people on the planet that were using petroleum and more toxins entered our environment, but also our lifestyle, people started getting chronic illness. So, when you apply those principles of acute intervention, which is how we treat chronic illness, it just doesn’t work. 

And it doesn’t work because it doesn’t get to the underlying stress factors driving the chronic illness. So, drugs block symptoms and inhibit processes of disease, but they do not affect the underlying causes of disease. And I think that’s really important to recognize, an example of that is how many times have you heard that inflammation is the cause of such and such illness. And you’ve probably used that yourself and it technically is wrong. Inflammation is a process of illness. It is not a cause of illness. And unless you are addressing the underlying causes of the inflammation, you’re not going to make somebody well. And that’s typically what we do. Think of all the drugs out there that block inflammation. Well, part of that inflammation is healing. And if you’re blocking inflammation, you can also be blocking healing processes. So, it’s really important to get the terminology right, which is something that we don’t do very well. 

Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah. I could not agree more. And it’s interesting, as I was reading your book, the contributors of disease, and on this podcast, we talk a lot about hormesis, mitochondrial dysfunction, and the mitochondria. Let’s kind of pivot and talk a little bit about what our mitochondria do, how they contribute to disease or health, and how they impact so many other things that go on in the body. I think so many people just think about them as being a generator of energy and ATP and they also are involved in the cell danger response. But from your perspectives when we’re looking at chronic metabolic poor health, let’s look at it through the lens of the mitochondria.

Dr. Bill Rawls: I personally like to look at it through the lens of a cell all right. So, mitochondria do a lot of things within a cell. Every cell depends on mitochondria. It’s like your heart cells, which use a lot of energy, have about 5000 mitochondria per cell, whereas your skin cells, which don’t need much energy, have about 100. But mitochondria are a very important part of the cell and they are involved in a lot of the cell’s responses. Interestingly, they have traced the source of our mitochondria. I’m sure you’re well aware of that long, long ago that our cells, what we call eukaryotic cells that now make up multicellular plants and animals, picked up a relationship with bacteria that was a high energy bacteria. And so, the bacteria took the load and damage of producing the energy, which produces a lot of toxic free radicals and other damaging substances. And that species of bacteria was the species of Rickettsia, which is a distant relative of the bacteria that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever. I always think that’s kind of an interesting tidbit, but I’d like to think about it with cells.

So, if you want to simplify something, break it down to its smallest functional unit. So, our mitochondria are not a functional unit, they are part of a functional cell. So, breaking it down to a cell, all living things are made of cells. Your body is made of cells. Everything that happens inside your body, whether it’s heart beating, brain impulses firing, or injured cartilage and bone being knitted together, it’s all done by cells. So, everything can be looked at in the context of cells, whether that’s symptoms healing, chronic illness, everything else. And so, yes, mitochondria power our cells. They are also involved in a lot of cellular processes, but the cell is basically running those things. So, the mitochondria are independent. But within our cells, we have genes within the nucleus of the cell that actually run the mitochondria. So, everything, that how we’re managing our mitochondria is all the cells’ function. And so, we’re constantly rebuilding new mitochondria, using mitochondria for optimizing that energy. So, all of those processes are really important.

Now, the mitochondria do have their own DNA, but that’s primarily just a blueprint for building new parts. So, we’re constantly in that energy production process. When you add oxygen into the equation, it’s very toxic. So, mitochondria are constantly burning out the parts that they use. So, when we talk about nutrients like coenzyme Q10, NAD, all of these things, these are cofactors, they’re the parts of the machine inside the mitochondria. So, we’re constantly having to rebuild those things. So, managing your mitochondria, keeping the toxicity of that energy generation process down is really important. But here’s the deal, so yes, all those things are happening inside our cells. Our cells depend on mitochondria for energy and other things, we’re constantly managing our mitochondria. When cells are stressed, they work harder. When cells are work harder, they use more energy. When they do that, when they use more energy, they burn down their mitochondria faster. The mitochondria are working harder and so you’re burning out your mitochondria faster. So, reducing cellular stress is the essence of reducing your risk of chronic illness, energizing your body, everything.

Cynthia Thurlow: It’s really fascinating and one of the things that I appreciate in the book was you talking about specific things that can damage these cells and subsequent to that, the mitochondria. So, let’s talk about how our modern-day lifestyles are impacting this very important cellular machinery that we probably don’t think about until we get sick or have a problem or aren’t feeling well. And that goes from being an acute issue to a chronic issue.

Dr. Bill Rawls: Yeah. I think we typically don’t think ourselves as a collection of cells when we look in the mirror. But it’s really important to when you think about wellness at the cellular level, it does change the equation. So, if you have any kind of symptoms, it is a reflection of cells being stressed inside your body. You block off a coronary vessel and the cells that contract your heart muscle don’t get oxygen, don’t get nutrients, and they start dying pretty quickly when they’re starved of those things. So cellular stress of any kind reflects a symptom. When we talk about fatigue, that’s a reflection that all of the cells in your body are being chronically stressed. So that’s the thing that’s missing in conventional medicine, is when we look at chronic illness, we don’t address cellular stress factors and there are no drugs that address cellular stress. So, we’re really missing out on a great opportunity there. So, if you want to help someone overcome a chronic illness and get rid of their symptoms, you help them reduce cellular stress. 

So, it really puts you on a totally different playing field from a doctor’s point of view it’s like we’ve got all these diagnostic protocols and diagnoses that we try to put people in a box and there’s thousands of those. But when you look at illness from the point of view of chronically stressed cells, there are only so many things. And this applies to any cell in the body. So, every cell in the body needs to function optimally. It needs the right nutrients. And that can include a little bit of carbohydrate and fat to produce energy, cofactors, all those parts for the mitochondria and parts for the cell, and those are all organic molecules, certain kinds of minerals. So, it’s all about cellular function. So, we need the right nutrients, they need oxygen, they need water, all of those to make the chemical reactions. They need a contaminant free environment. So, 100 years ago, the world was not very polluted and we’ve been using petroleum and coal for over 100 years now. And that has laden our atmosphere, our water, our air and everything, and all living things. Now have these organic petroleum and coal-derived toxins and heavy metals which are actually from the coal because they get embedded in that. And then we burn the coal and it gets out in the environment.

Radiation, abnormal radiation, so we’re exposed to a lot of things that are not natural for our cells. And basically, it’s like putting handcuffs on your cells. It’s just these toxic substances get inside your cells and your cells don’t work as well, so it slows you down. They have to work harder to get the same amount of work done. They burn their mitochondria out faster. Cells need cycles of stress and rest. And that’s just how we evolved in this night and day cycle that we all live in. Cells need to be stressed. If you just sit on the couch, that’s not good for you. So, we need a little bit of mental stress. We need physical stress. That gets us going. We also need physical activity to move blood. When we’re physically active, our blood vessels dilate. We flush those cellular spaces with fluid and wash out toxic substances and deliver higher concentrations of nutrients and everything. So, we need activity, but we also need downtime. Our cells need time to recover, time to rebuild mitochondria, time to prune out, worn out proteins and all of that sort of thing. And that happens mostly intensely at night when we’re asleep. It’s different for different cells. It’s like our heart never starts beating. So, our heart cells have to rest in between the beats. But all the rest of our cells, they need downtime, that’s really important.

And the last factor is we need protection from microbes. Microbes, viruses, bacteria, protozoa are our cells arch enemy. And what we know about is just scratching the surface of what we are actually exposed to. So those are the stress factors. And we have different illnesses because those stress factors come together differently and they affect different cells in the body. But it’s a different way of thinking about illness that kind of pulls you away from having to put somebody in that block of having a diagnosis. That diagnosis doesn’t really matter as much when you start looking at that question of why is this person ill in the first place? So, when you start looking at that and tracing those factors out and that’s what I’ve been doing in the latter part of my career, is helping people understand how they became ill and how do we reverse that? How do we put them in a situation that we create an environment that promotes cellular health. And when you do that, it’s amazing because what healing is, is the ability of cells to regenerate and recover from stress. And our cells have really a remarkable ability to do that.

That’s what’s missing in our conventional medical system when it comes to chronic illnesses. There are no drugs that actually promote healing. I mean, a long time ago, when I first began my career, I knew that no matter how good my drug choices or how precise my surgical skills, if that patient’s body has lost the ability to heal, it wasn’t going to turn out well. And so, yeah, that’s what’s missing, is with acute interventions, we can put the body in a place that it can heal, but there isn’t anything that we do to actually make the healing happen. That has to come in from inside, that has to be from our cells. So, what you do as an individual to create that environment inside your body that promotes that cellular healing, that regeneration and recovery, that’s what it’s all about.

Cynthia Thurlow: It’s really exciting to kind of find that reframe in terms of looking at our health and how the role of healing intrinsically comes from a whole lot more than just pharmaceuticals. And this is a perfect segue into talking about herbs and how they actually differ from traditional pharmaceutical drugs that we see on commercials, we see advertised heavily in magazines, the things that are being actively marketed to our patients.

Dr. Bill Rawls: Yeah, that’s my passion. This is the part I really love talking about, conventional physician, yes. But when I started looking at herbs, when that really captured my interest, I first turned to studying the herbal traditions, traditional Chinese medicine, ayurvedic medicine, the different forms of medicine used in North America and Europe. All of these things were fascinating, but they all predated science. They’re valuable, they’re immensely valuable. But they were observation, you know we were looking at herbs and how they might affect someone, but it really didn’t help us understand what was happening at the cellular or biochemical level. And that’s my fascination and my timing was good in that since the Internet has been around for the past 20 years, there’s just been an explosion of research around the world looking at the chemistry of the plants and how when we take an herb, it actually is affecting us at that really deep level and what it’s doing. And that helps explain the traditional uses. And that’s where I am now and it helps explain what was going on in my body.

So, when we look at an herb, herbs are generally plants, though we throw our medicinal mushrooms in with a category of herbs also. But what you’re getting is the defense and regulatory systems of another organism. So, we have systems in our body that protect our cells. And if we become symptomatic and chronically ill, it means those defense mechanisms have been overwhelmed. So, when we take an herb, we’re basically borrowing the defenses from that plant. So, all plants have to protect their cells from free radicals and radiation and all of these things that drive illness in us. They also have to protect our cells from the plant cells, from microbes, viruses, protozoa, bacteria, fungi, everything. And that’s happening in every plant. So, at first, I was looking for herbs that had antimicrobial properties against the Lyme microbes and I now understand that every herb known has been found to have antimicrobial properties, every single one. So even turmeric and some things we don’t really think about when they actually studied those things, they found they did.

Interestingly, some plants have different or stronger antimicrobial properties than the other than others and this really depends on the environment that the plant is raised in. So, plants can’t move. They’re pretty much stuck where they are. And so, when a plant grows, it is having to build this system of defenses against the stress factors that are in that environment, the microbes, the radiation, whatever. So, when we take a plant, we’re basically getting that chemical defense system that the plant is using. It’s very sophisticated. It’s not like taking an antibiotic when you’re getting one substance. You’re getting hundreds, sometimes thousands of chemicals that work in synergy as a system. So very interestingly, I found out in my recovery where antibiotics just really destroyed my gut flora and caused a lot of issues. The plants didn’t do that and even taking herbs for years. I’ve been taking herbs for over a decade and a half and my gut is the best it’s been in my whole life. So, when you take an herb, it suppresses pathogens in your body but doesn’t affect your normal flora. And it really makes sense because the plant is going to have to protect the friendly bacteria and viruses, and things in the environment. It doesn’t want to destroy those.

So, there’s a system, but you’re getting chemicals that are part of the plant’s regulatory system. So, when we look at hormones, signaling agents, nerves, all of that sort of thing, what we’re talking about is cellular communication. Cells talking to one another, to function as a unit all of our cells have to function together. We hear that word homeostasis. What homeostasis is when all the functions of all the cells in the body are synchronized. So, it’s all about cells. Plants are having to do that same thing. Changes in the environment, night and day, seasons, weather, all of these things are changing. So, the plant is having to change its cellular function and it does that with chemical messengers very much like ours. Different plants use different systems. So, some plant systems, regulatory systems, have a favorable or balancing effect on ours. Some are stimulating. It’s like caffeine that’s a chemical that plants use for signaling. Morphine, that’s a derivation of a plant signal. And some plants have things that really have a strong effect to our system. The plants that I used all during my recovery and the ones that I take every day, it’s a balancing effect. They help us balance our stress hormones, protect ourselves. So, here’s where herbs are different than drugs. I already said that drugs really don’t have any capacity to promote healing. What plants are doing is reducing cellular stress which directly promotes the ability of the plant to regenerate and repair itself. And that’s what healing is all about.

Cynthia Thurlow: It’s really exciting because it was only when I pivoted away from my kind of traditional training and started learning about the use of antimicrobials that it really opened up my mind to the possibility that some of the ancient ways or things that were kind of passed down from generation to generation, there was actually a lot of really good potential ways to support the body, whether if it’s with adaptogenic herbs or antimicrobial properties. And so, I think one of the most common questions/concerns that has come in since I mentioned that were connecting today, was how do we navigate finding what is safe to use in terms of a spectrum? Because in your book, you talk about things that are in this green, yellow, red zone. Consumers and clinicians, how do they determine the safety and efficacy of a particular herb? Meaning for anyone that’s listening to this, what can you safely take that is not going to harm you? And I think that’s a huge distinction.

Dr. Bill Rawls: Well, that’s one of the reasons that I felt like the book needed to be written. I mean, there are a lot of books on herbal medicine out there, but most of them are really based on that traditional look at herbology. And I’m trying to open it up to more of the general population that I am, of the mindset that we would all benefit from taking a certain amount of certain types of herbs every day. It is tough because it’s kind of crazy out there. And our drug-oriented world, we all want that quick fix. So, when you look at the spectrum of herbs on one end you’ve got culinary herbs that we put in our food, which have some really wonderful cell protective properties. And at the other end, you’ve got herbs with strong drug like properties a lot of times and many of our drugs actually came from those plants and then everything in between.

And we tend to look for herbal products to fix a particular problem. I have stress, I want something that relieves stress acutely. I’m not sleeping, I want something. We turn to an herb to help us with sleep. It’s like, “Yes, I want something that’s going to give me a perfect 8 hours of sleep every night. And I don’t want it to be habituating and I don’t want any side effects, and I don’t want to be drowsy the next morning.” And it’s like, “Yeah, that doesn’t exist.” So sometimes our expectations for that quick fix with herbals kind of leads us toward looking at these herbs that do have more drug-like properties. So, the herbs that I’m trying to push people toward that are really, really important are herbs that really don’t have drug like properties and have these balancing and self-protective effects.

Unfortunately, that’s a lot of herbs. But also, all of our medicinal mushrooms, reishi, cordyceps, lion’s mane, chaga, turkey tail, all of these are more adaptogenic. They help protect our cells. They help balance our hormones because these are things that we can take. There are a lot of herbs that you can take. So, in that class that we call adaptogens, you’ve mentioned that word also. So, we’re looking at herbs called adaptogens. So, what an adaptogen is, is an herb that has this health promoting, promotes healing properties, but doesn’t have drug like effects. To be an adaptogen, an herb must balance stress hormones. So, there are a lot of adaptogens out there. Rhodiola is one of my favorites. But we look at some other herbs that kind of fit in that category, like turmeric, everybody knows turmeric. Turmeric is from India. It’s the yellow color. It is a wonderful anti-inflammatory. But that particular herb, because of the chemical messengers it contains, doesn’t really have an effect on balancing stress hormones. So, it’s not considered an adaptogen but it’s still a great herb to take every day.

The same thing with another herb that’s a favorite called hawthorn. Hawthorn is wonderful for protecting and restoring your vascular system. No drug like effects. It’s not going to be something that if your blood pressure is 160 over 110, you’re not going to take it and bring it down in an hour or two like you would a drug because it’s not working that way. It’s restoring your vascular system, but it’s not really an adaptogen. It’s not considered an adaptogen by most people. So, there are herbs. So, what, we’re looking at herbs that are free of drug-like properties. Herbs that you wouldn’t particularly use to solve a symptomatic problem acutely. And I find there’s a lot more value in doing that than anything, but over time, it will reduce the symptoms. Very interestingly, I was diagnosed with essential hypertension when I was in my 30s. If I went in for a visit, my blood pressure would typically be 150/100 anytime, always. And I tried taking the drugs and they all just made me feel horrible. And finally, I just said, “You know I’m just going to have to live with this.” And I just ignored it for years. Along came my health crisis. I ended up taking the herbs, changing my lifestyle, all these things. And I’ve been doing that for 15 years now. Age 65, my blood pressure is typically 117 over 75 all the time. Don’t take any drugs for it. [laughs] And it’s because I’ve been taking all these herbs that have restored my vascular system. So that’s what the herbs do. So whatever symptoms you have, they’re going to go away. My knees got better. My heart got better. My brain, I mean, [chuckles] my brain works as well now at age 65 as I think I have in my whole life. I’ve noticed the past several years, I can remember things, remember numbers, like I’ve never been able to in my whole life. I mean, it’s just kind of crazy. So, yeah, the herbs do a lot of wonderful things for you.

Cynthia Thurlow: I think it’s really exciting because I feel like in a lot of different ways, most people that I’m interacting with online or listeners that will share questions for the podcast or women that are in groups, they’re really looking to help optimize their health without a great deal of pharmaceuticals. And let me be clear, there’s a time and a place without question. Now, a lot of my listeners are in the perimenopause, menopause years, and you do a really nice job looking at different aspects of health in the book. And what herbs and supplements can beneficial from your perspective, understanding how many women are impacted by perimenopause and menopause, if you live long enough, you’re going to end up in that stage of life. What have been the supplements and herbs that have been the greatest benefit to this particular population from your clinical perspective?

Dr. Bill Rawls: There’s some really nice herbs out there. And my medical practice, phase 2, which it was more like a functional medicine practice, I was still doing a lot of gynecology and I always used bioidentical hormones. I was never one to really use the pharmaceuticals, but even so, it was like, “Can we help people get a better handle on their symptoms without having to use higher doses of hormones?” It’s getting that balance. I mean, even with bioidentical, you want to use the lowest functional dose that you can to gain benefits. So, you not only don’t have hot flashes and other symptoms, but your tissues and your bones stay healthy. And it really doesn’t take that much to do that. So early in my practice, that big question of where do people get good products? And so, I was selective and started carrying products in my office that I did the research to find out. And it was really hard just finding things. And I was having people take all kinds of different stuff at one time and I found out that I could formulate things myself.

So, I started formulating my own products to my particular specifications. And the first product I created was for that purpose. I started with a high grade of an herb called Ashwagandha, which is wonderful for balancing the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. But in some people, it’s a little bit stimulating. So, I added some calming herbs to it. And an herb that, or actually an amino acid that comes from green tea called L-theanine that competes with exciting neurotransmitters in the brain. So, it’s not messing up our chemistry like a drug, it’s more just kind of slowing down the excitatory side of our brain. That combination just worked like a jewel and it didn’t have any hormonal effects per se. So unlike soy and some other things, I wasn’t adding to the hormone effect if someone was on a low dose of a bioidentical hormone and we got really great results with it. it’s just been a wonderful product, but it’s using those high-grade extracts. So, I had used ashwagandha myself, it helped a little bit. I found a trademark grade of ashwagandha that was about 10 times as potent as what you would buy just off the shelf and that made all the difference in the world.

So, it’s getting the quality and the products that’s really important using higher grade extracts. And that’s a frustration that I have and I think everybody has– out the area is getting enough because companies are putting a lot more into marketing than they are putting into research or quality in the products. One of our products is just that everyday product. It has turmeric and rhodiola and a lot of good herbs in it. And the other day I had our supply chain manager, I asked him the question, “If you took one of our capsules and compared it, took the same ingredients and did it with average grade whole herbs that most products are using, what would be the equivalent?” And I knew where I was going to be a little bit more potent, I thought two or three times. One of our capsules equals 10 capsules if you get it another way. So, it’s getting that phytochemical concentration. And a lot of products are really, they just have fiber and that’s it. So, you do have to get the potency, that rich spectrum of phytochemicals from the plant to get the full effect.

Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah. It’s interesting. I just started formulating my own supplements and its single ingredient, very specific, very much focused on metabolic health, and brain health and cognition and sleep, because middle-aged women struggle with sleep on a lot of different levels. So, I love that you’ve been that kind of attuned to the fact that quality makes a big difference and you’re able to kind of track that with your own patients. When we’re talking about bone health, these are the areas that a lot of women, there are probably some women listening that have not yet thought about HRT or bioidenticals. There are others who have opted not to take bioidenticals. But I know bone health is of tremendous focus for this population, which includes me. One of the statistics in your book was there’s a 20% loss of bone mass in the first five to seven years of menopause. And certainly,that accelerates if you’re not on HRT, not lifting weights, not hitting your protein macros. And you mentioned some very new herbs that were not familiar to me. What have been helpful herbs that you’ve seen that have been able to work concurrently or without bioidenticals, that can be helpful for women or men that are listening, that maybe are dealing with some bone loss issues. 

Dr. Bill Rawls: Yeah. Any of your adaptogens are going to help? Some rhodiola is one that will help with that and it’s because they’re affecting that hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal access. Any adaptogen is doing that, but each herb does have a little bit of different properties. So, for years I listened to physicians and nutritionists and everybody else. You need boatloads of calcium, just calcium, calcium, calcium. And then they found out, whoa, if we do that, we actually increase calcification in our arteries. No, no, no don’t do calcium anymore, take these drugs, that’s better. And it really just boils down to what you’re doing to your bones. It’s interesting that you know definitely hormones have an effect, but both men and women lose bone naturally. And it is because you are losing bone cells. You have different cells in your bone that are constantly remodeling your bone. And as you’re having attrition of those cells, you’re losing the capacity to reorganize. So, you start losing total bone. But there are other factors that drive it too. We eat a very acidifying diet in our country. We eat a lot of meat and we eat a lot of grain. We eat foods that when metabolized form acid in our system. 

Now your pH in your blood has to be maintained at a very specific pH of 7.4. It’s actually 7.3 blah, blah, something is close to 7.4. You have to do that or you die. So, if you’re eating all these acidifying foods, to neutralize that acid, you pull calcium carbonate from your bones as a buffer to do that. And if you do that your whole life, you just burn your bones out. Lots of protein especially drives osteoporosis. So, the first thing you need to do is eat more vegetables. That’s one of my golden rules for a healthy diet is eat more vegetables than anything else. Because vegetables are alkalinizing and mineral water that hasn’t had the calcium and all the minerals taken out of it. So, an alkalizing diet is really important for keeping your bones healthy. So, you’re not bleaching your bones. Keeping your bone cells healthy and all of your herbs are doing that are really important.

As far as the hormonal part, taking estrogen can help that. It doesn’t take much. Just a very low dose of bioidentical hormones can be enough to prevent that accelerated bone loss. But outside of that, the herbs, the adaptogenic herbs have an effect. So, whether you’re talking about rhodiola or ashwagandha, they have a very, very slight androgenic effect that does promote bone building. Beyond that, there are some other herbs that do it really strongly. And typically, you’ll find these herbs and products for libido, typically men, but they work for women too, a couple of them. One of the original adaptogens, an herb called Rhaponticum, which is often hard to get. Unfortunately, it is native to Russia and it’s hard to come by. But Rhaponticum, is a really nice androgenizing adaptogen that does promote bone loss. Epimedium is another, one called Tongkat Ali. And there are a few others that I think I put in the book that these are androgenizing so anything that is for men’s libido, that’s herbal is going to have these same adaptogens in it. And all of those things actually help with bone function and libido in women too. So, they say this idea that some herbs are for women, some herbs are for men. No, they may have a slightly different effect depending on our hormone makeup. The herbs are normalizing and they’re going to normalize whoever takes them. 

Cynthia Thurlow: It’s really interesting because as I stated, some of the herbs that you mentioned in the book for bone health, I’d never heard of, so I went down that rabbit hole. But there’re certainly individuals that will reach out and want good information. So, your book will be an incredible resource. We can’t talk about herbs and not talk about sleep. Huge pain point for more often than not, irrespective of life stage, the past three years have certainly impacted sleep quality in profoundly significant ways. So, when we’re talking about sleep and we’re talking about ways to support sleep, you talk about balancing your circadian biology and chronobiology is something that I love talking about, but also this concept of sleep pressure. Can we talk about what sleep pressure is and how that finds its way into the net impact on sleep for men or for women? 

Dr. Bill Rawls: Yeah. We talk about cortisol balancing sleep and being an effect on sleep. So, you really have two main sleep drivers. One is cortisol and one is adenosine. So, cortisol, when you look at the drugs, they’re all affecting the GABA system. And a lot of the herbs we’re choosing affect the GABA system and that’s our main calming neurotransmitter in our brain. But I like to think of that wake-sleep cycle as the tide coming in and out and that tide is led by cortisol. So, cortisol keeps your brain alert and active and your cells tune for daily activities. So, during the day, your cortisol goes up until late afternoon, and then it starts to subside and that tide starts to change. You start bringing– the excitatory neurotransmitters start flowing out and the calming neurotransmitters start flowing in, and then you have the sun goes down, it gets dark. Melatonin initiates this cascade of hormones that put us to sleep, and in the morning that changes too. But there’s another sleep driver called adenosine. So, adenosine is a substance that we build up in our brain. And the more active we are, the more that we build up adenosine.

And also, the more physically active you are, and the longer you stay awake, the more adenosine you build up in your brain. So eventually there’s so much sleep pressure, you just can’t stay awake. And it’s kind of like sleep is so important that we have to have two independent things that are getting us there. So, one is occurring outside the other. So even with a badly disrupted cortisol, sooner or later you’re going to build up enough adenosine to put you to sleep. By the way, the main thing that caffeine does is block adenosine. That’s the main thing that it does. So, if you’re waking up and you’re groggy all through the morning and you have to have caffeine to get you going, it’s because you haven’t cleared all your adenosine that night. So being asleep clears the adenosine. You’ve got residual adenosine that you haven’t cleared. You haven’t slept enough, basically, if you have to start your day with caffeine every day. So those are two independent sleep mechanisms of what’s going on and how we sleep.

Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah. It’s really interesting, I think, for anyone that’s listening and thinking about how they get out of bed and they struggle to get out of bed, get showered, get their day started, and they really lean into the caffeine. And I had a new client the other day that was admitting to drinking about 24 ounces of coffee in the morning to get going. And I said, “How does that make you feel?” And she said, “I don’t like the fact that unless I have my caffeine, I feel like I’m dragging all day long.” And so that then led to a discussion about sleep metrics and sleep quality and all of that.

Dr. Bill Rawls: Yeah.

Cynthia Thurlow: Do you have particular herbs that you enjoy utilizing to help support sleep? Other than the sleep hygiene, which goes without saying, everyone needs to be embracing some degree of sleep hygiene in order to have good quality sleep at night. But do you have some favorites? And for full disclosure, some of your favorites are some of my favorites. I was delighted to see that objectively there’s another individual that’s talking about how important some of these are. 

Dr. Bill Rawls: Yes, but here’s the thing. If we picked you up and put you on an island in Greece where you didn’t have any outside distractions and all the things that were going on and your duty was just working in the garden and walking, and you were eating good food all day, and you just stayed physically active through the day, and you didn’t have a lot of electronics to keep up with. You’d fall asleep every night just fine without any problem. And the problem is the way that we’re living. We’re living out of sync with our natural origins. If you go back to our hunter-gatherer days, we got up when the sun got up. We foraged for food all day. That physical labor, not really stressful things. I mean, we weren’t wrestling mastodons. We were just digging roots, basically. We did that all day. And we didn’t have schedules. We didn’t have clocks, stresses, like a saber-tooth tiger or something like that. They weren’t planned. We couldn’t look ahead and plan this thing and think about it. It just happened. And when the sun went down, everybody got tired, the fire went out, everybody goes to bed. And that’s how we’re programmed, and we’re living very, very contrary to that right now.

So, I think the first thing is pay attention to that. Just recognize that we are living outside of our foundational roots, and we all have to get back there. I mean, I did. Again, I didn’t believe I needed sleep for so many years, and boy, did it catch up with me. So, it’s restoring those natural cycles as much as possible, that sleep and wake cycle, being careful about electronics in the evening and what kinds of things we’re doing that are stimulating, cutting down that artificial lighting and staying physically active during the day. I mean, I can tell you when I was writing my book and I was putting 8 or 10 hours in the computer every day, and I wasn’t getting the kinds of physical activity that I needed, my sleep started to go again, and it does affect us. So, bringing in that balance of physical activity to build up that adenosine and respect those natural cortisol cycles is very, very important, because if you’re not doing that, there’s no drug, there’s no herb, there’s nothing on Earth that can substitute for that that’s going to make it work. You can get away with it with a sleeping pill, but when we look at our sleeping pills like Ambien and other kinds of things, I can remember thinking at one point, “Wow, they’re going to crack this nut. They’re going to figure out a sleeping pill that’s going to really save people’s lives.”

And I had faith in the pharmaceutical companies. I now know that’s a pipe dream, it’s never going to happen because sleep is way too complex to ever make a pill that’s going to substitute for it or fix it. The herbs are doing a little bit of the same things that our drug like Ambien would do. They’re just doing it on a different level, and they have more of a balancing effect. I look at something like Ambien, that’s a sledgehammer. The herbs, they’re a fly swatter. And so that expectation of, “Well, I want to take something that’s safe, doesn’t have any side effects, and gives me a perfect night of sleep every night and isn’t habituating, you’re not going to find it.” And very interestingly, during my recovery, the herbs that helped me the very most were all those antimicrobial herbs that I was taking. They weren’t putting me to sleep. They were putting out the fire in my brain. And it’s hard to sleep when your brains on fire. Think about it, you know, chronic illness, every cell in my body was sending a signal to my brain that it was in distress all the time. And I had brain overload from that plus my brain and my brain cells were inflamed too. I had all this stuff going on. So, the antimicrobial herbs not only had antimicrobial effects, they also had anti-inflammatory and cell-protective effects. So, taking those things gradually restored my sleep.

Now, for that fly swatter that you need every now and then for when you just didn’t get it all together and you’re more stressed and you just need something to help you sleep a little bit. There are some really great herbs out there and some of my favorites are passion flower and lemon balm. There are other ones too, but we’ve tried a lot of different ones and those are the ones that have the most effect with the least potential to have side effects. And I typically put a little L-theanine in there too, to help calm that excitatory side of the brain and put a little GABA in there to get a little bit of a direct effect and then just a touch of melatonin. You don’t need much melatonin. Melatonin is okay to take in really small amounts, but a lot of people are taking, like, long-acting melatonin or 10 mg of melatonin. You just need a touch, and you don’t want it to stay around long. Think about it this way, melatonin is a sleep initiator. It initiates the tide. So, after about 30 minutes, the hormone, the melatonin is gone. I like to think about it this way. Melatonin is going, “Knock, knock time to go to sleep now. Knock, knock, time to go to sleep now.” And it’s initiating that tide. So, if you’re doing a long, active, time-released melatonin what’s happening is, all night long, you’re getting, “Knock, knock time to go to sleep. Knock, knock, time to go to sleep. Knock, knock all night long.” And it’s really not good. It prevents you from going into a good deep sleep.

Cynthia Thurlow: Well, Dr. Rawls, you’ve left us with so much to think about. I loved your book, and I’ve got the cover right here, The Cellular Wellness Solution, let my listeners know how to connect with you, how to purchase your book, how to connect with you online. 

Dr. Bill Rawls: Sure. I’m more of a novice than I would like to be at social media, Instagram, and other things. I’m getting better. I’m going to have more of a presence in those places. I’m figuring them out. Our main website is vitalplan.com. There is a cellularwellness.com also, that’s another way to reach us. I have another website called rawlsmd.com, that’s mainly informational for people struggling with various kinds of chronic illnesses, but those are the different places.

Cynthia Thurlow: Well, thank you so much. I really enjoyed your book and thanks for your time.

Dr. Bill Rawls: Oh, pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity.

Cynthia Thurlow: If you love this podcast episode, please leave a rating and review, subscribe, and tell a friend.