Dressed in a dapper suit and wearing a warm smile, Dr. Frank Lipman, is a picture of health. The 68-year-old celebrity doctor, acupuncturist, alternative medicine advocate and author who resides in New York was recently in Dubai for the inauguration of the health hub, Wellth, along with the renowned author, Deepak Chopra.
Excited to be part of a new venture that combines medical technology and the wisdom of age-old practices, this pioneer in functional and integrated medicine is a first timer in Dubai, having arrived just the day before. In spite of the jetlag and a tight schedule, he appears cheerful as he sits down for an interview with Friday.
A South-African native, Dr. Lipman was working in South Bronx when he realised that he was spending more time with what his patient’s EKGs and X-rays showed than finding out what was really wrong with them. His curiosity to find out if there were better ways to heal people led him to an acupuncture clinic a few blocks down his hospital where he acquired his first lessons in the wisdom of Eastern-based alternative medicine, even while he continued to practice hospital-based Western medicine.
That was more than 40 years ago.
Today, Dr. Lipman is the leading voice in Functional Medicine, a founder and director at Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City and the New York Times bestselling author of books that include How to Be Well, Ten Reasons You Feel Old And Get Fat’ Better Sleep, Better You and his latest – The New Rules of Aging, among others.
An advocate of what he calls, Good Medicine, I am keen to find out what it means to practice Functional Medicine and how his treatment approach is different from conventional medicine.
He defines Functional Medicine as using the philosophy from the East and balancing, improving and combining them with the biochemistry and physiology of the West. A new kind of medicine that provides an upgraded model.
‘If you are driving your car and the oil light goes on, you don’t put a Band-Aid on the oil light but see why the oil light went on. Band-Aids are necessary at times – sometimes you need antibiotics, other times you need statins – I am never against Band-Aids, but it is always good to find the source of the problem.
‘If you have reflux, instead of giving you a medicine to suppress your reflux, in Functional Medicine we look to see why you have reflux – whether it is due to an imbalance in your gut flora or an irritation in your gut lining or if it is food poisoning. We are always looking for the underlying cause. Functional Medicine not only prevents disease but treats them too by finding out what triggers them and then working on reversing the root cause of the problem.’
For many, health is often termed as the absence of disease. Does he think so too?
Dr Lipman gives me a knowing smile as he explains that health is so much more than the absence of disease. It is a feeling of wellness and vitality on all levels – physical, mental and spiritual. We must not wait until we are diagnosed with the common ‘life style’ diseases of our times – high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s, diabetes or obesity – to take action, for these disease processes take ‘years and years’ to develop.
His tips to healthy living would be to limit the sugars in our diet, pay attention to sleep, learning coping ways to deal with stress, quieten your mind, move your body throughout the day and most importantly be kind to yourself, others and the environment.
The New Rules of Ageing Well
Having authored his latest book – The New Rules of Aging Well – I can see that he is one to practice what he preaches for he looks way younger than the 68 years that he claims to be. I am eager to get some tips to look and feel younger. But first I want to know what interested him in the ‘ageing process’ and how that became a book.
‘I’ve always been interested in the anti-ageing practices, about how to maintain optimal functioning of the body and slow down or reverse the ageing process,’ he says. Having garnered a lot of wisdom on a topic that is deeply sought after by a lot of people, he put them together into a book – The New Rules of Aging Well. He believes that the book can help each one of us, as growing old is something that happens to everyone. ‘However ageing gracefully is an art that few people master.’
Longevity, he clarifies, may seem beyond our control, but a few healthy practices can lead you to a ripe old age.
‘Science has recently discovered many longevity genes – genes that are responsible for more efficient DNA repair. They have also discovered longevity gene regulators which are chemicals that can turn the longevity genes on and off. Certain behaviours can activate the longevity genes – for instance low sugar diets, exercise and good sleep.’
He then puts forward a fascinating concept.
‘Hormesis is a very interesting concept that has been discovered recently,’ says the doctor. ‘It is the understanding that small amounts of stress are good for the body, as opposed to chronic stress, which is not good for longevity. Small bursts of stress can be beneficial for you. These include temperature extremes like sauna and cryotherapy or going from one to another, short bursts of exercise or fasting for 14-16 hours, all of these have been found to activate your longevity genes.’
View on fasting
He believes that fasting is one of the best practices we can do to age well. The changes that fasting triggers in our body are particularly healthy for gut, health, brain, metabolism, immune system and aging well in general. He encourages consuming all our calories in an 8-10-hour period and then fasting for the rest of the day as this has multiple beneficial effects on ageing and health in general. Breaking our fast, also known as breakfast, can be anytime between 8 and 2pm. The important thing would be the 14-16 hours of fasting. However, those planning to follow this diet must consult a doctor before adopting this diet plan.
The one rule that Dr Lipman consciously practices is to eat dinner early and have breakfast late. Again, he emphasizes, that this cannot be adopted by everyone, especially those people who struggle with certain health conditions, have eating disorders and are younger than 45 years of age.
Movement is something that the doctor is also keen about. He highlights the importance of moving our body throughout the day. ‘It is actually more effective than sitting at a desk all day and then going to the gym for an hour. I am not against the gym, but we have gone to extremes where we push ourselves to the extremes or do nothing at all. We got to find a middle path. We need to exercise in an intelligent way. For me, it is more about moving my body than exercising,’ he says.
Diet, weight loss and Gut Health
The doctor whose clients are said to include Donna Karan and Gwyneth Paltrow, highlights that there is no one right diet for everyone as everyone’s needs are different. In terms of weight loss, it is more important to find a diet that is sustainable and healthy for you than a quick-fix diet to lose weight.
As a general rule, he does not encourage diets, but would rather motivate people to find a sustainable way of eating that will benefit their health, including weight loss. ‘But when people want to lose weight, the place to start is a low-carb diet.’ Although not right for everyone, the majority of the people will benefit. When that does not work, he recommends a high protein and low carb diet.
He is an advocate for good sources of meat and has always been for animal protein. ‘As we get older, we need animal protein. I find that once we get into our 60s, we begin losing muscle mass, and it is a good idea to up your protein intake. It is easier to eat meat, but I have vegetarian patients who prefer a high-protein vegetarian diet too. The beauty now is that we can monitor this. We have wearables that can monitor the effects of food on a minute-to-minute basis. This is the future!’ he exclaims.
The importance of maintaining gut health figures high in his list of must-dos. ‘In most traditions gut is the centre – if the gut is off, everything is off,’ he points out. He goes on to explain that we have trillions of bacteria in our body that affect our health in many ways. The gut is our inside skin. Any damage to the gut lining can cause some of the breakdown products – the metabolites of the bacteria, to seep through the gut wall. It is those metabolites – the breakdown products of these bacteria – that can cause anxiety, depression and inflammation, he says.
Sugar, an addictive drug
Sugar is poison, he cannot emphasize enough. Sugar is the biggest toxin that we are exposed to daily, simply because we eat just too much of it, he believes. He calls sugar a drug that is addictive in addition to having major consequences to our health. It can cause not just diabetes and obesity but also Alzheimer’s, heart disease and other chronic diseases, he says. This is largely because it causes inflammation in the body, that is usually the underlying process for most chronic diseases.
Take sleep seriously
The co-author of the book, Better Sleep, Better You, explains that most people do not realize that sleep is not a passive process. ‘People’, he says, ‘do not take sleep seriously enough. Social jetlag, where you think you can sleep late during week days and make up during weekends, is not good for the body. Sleep is our primary rhythm and it is important to sleep at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.’
He explains that there are many processes taking place in the body while we are sleeping – the body is recovering, restoring and even removing the toxins from the brain. The glymphatic system, which is like a detox system, clears chemicals from our brain but it only gets activated during sleep. Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep at night.
Dr. Lipman’s favourite sleep-well tip is to go for a walk and get some early morning sunlight. One of the keys to ageing well is to sleep well.
To be healthy holistically
Being healthy is more than eating the right food, exercising and sleeping enough. He thoughtfully explains that the intangibles are as important to us – being kind to yourself and others, having gratitude, having purpose in life, spending time with loved ones and feeling connected to the community, among other things. All these intangibles are as important or even more important for your health and aging well. It is the ordinary things that we do on a daily basis that have extraordinary effect on our health.
When I ask him for one life tip that will bring about a life change, he is lost in thought for a moment explaining that there are too many to choose from. ‘But if I were to choose one, it would be to find your purpose and meaning in life and engage in activities that you are passionate about.’
I then urge the good doctor to suggest top three practices to flip the switch on stress. He has the answer even before I complete the question – Meditate, meditate and meditate.
‘In the fast-paced life that we live in,’ he explains, ‘most people find it hard to meditate. I like to recommend that we can then engage in activities that follow the modalities and things that actually trigger the same mechanisms in our body. We can just go for a nature walk, listen to music, knit, engage in some breathing exercises – it is all about getting out of the head.’
New Year Resolutions
Dr. Lipman believes that resolutions can be made all year round, not just at New Year’s and should be centred around making good behaviours a habit. Habits take time to develop and that is why most resolutions fail. People should aim at developing good habits, which means doing something over and over again. He believes that those are sustainable resolutions.
Move your body throughout the day
Sugar is poison. Reduce your sugar intake
Try sticking to a high-protein, low-carb and diet
Be kind to yourself, others and your environment
Find a purpose and meaning in life.