Season 1, Episode 1
What the Flip?
Hear from Professor Grant Schofield and former addict and self taught expert in nutrition George Henderson as they share their stories and the plans for Flippin Health.
About This Episide
Hello, I’m Grant Schofield.
And I’m George Henderson.
Welcome to the…
Flippin Health podcast. What is Flippin Health exactly?
Well, Flippin Health is an arm of PreKure, prevention is cure, where we’re really trying to shake medicine up, turn it upside down and check it all about and see what comes out. I think the real interest is in these lifestyle medicines. I’m not aware of a single disease in human history that’s been eradicated or sorted out by curing it after you’ve already got it than being prevented by not getting them.
Yeah, that’s about right.
So what I think we’re interested here in, George, is challenging the way modern medicine has gone, and the way we spend our money in health and healthcare, and what that means. At the moment, if you look across most developed countries’ health systems… Well, actually every country’s health system, not just the majority of money, but almost exclusively all money is spent on treating sickness. And that’s great if you’re sick, right?
Yeah, you need it if you’re sick, but it be cheaper not to get sick in the first place.
Yeah. And so if you look at… It’s hard to know what to make of all the economic analysis, but if you look at that, then you see that you’re probably… It’s about four times the saving for every dollar spent on prevention versus spent trying to fix it after [inaudible 00:01:55]. The sort of ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, it’s the fence at the top of the cliff argument. My argument would be that we’re better off not having a cliff in the first place.
Yeah. I mean, billions of dollars go into proving that one drug is marginally superior, or even just not inferior to another, that are then used to encourage people to spend billions of dollars on these drugs. Very few of which… some do, but very few of which actually cure the diseases and stop them all together, the diseases they’re meant to treat. And there’s got to be a more economic way of doing things, but I suppose investment in that is much more limited.
That’s right. The reality is we have a very well developed sickness system, a very poorly developed health system. Flippin Health wants to work in that space, challenge that, and I want to, with you, talk to experts from all over the world and get their view on how we change that. And I’m talking about, particularly about what we eat, and how we eat, and when we eat it. I’m talking about how we move, and the benefits of being physically active, I’m interested in sleeping, and how that affects our health, and effect about all the other aspects of psychology and the positive aspects of what helps us be well not just fixes us up from being sick.
And the way that we think about these things, how we can use our brains to kind of sort through the mess of information that’s thrown at us.
Yeah, that’s a real point because in the information age, of course, we’re not short of information, we’re overwhelmed by it. And how to make sense of it in terms of research, and we’re going to do a lot on that. How do you know if something’s even true in the first place?
Yes. I mean, you could say our health information is probably even more polluted than our rivers are, or the air of a big city is. It’s being polluted by vested interest, it’s being polluted by confused people, it’s being polluted by people with sort of non-health ideologies, and so forth. Yes.
In health and medicine, then money, politics, religion, all play a mess of part, and I want to explore those as well.
But that said, what do you see as positives in the modern health system in a country in New Zealand? What is it getting right, because we’re working with it, we’re not trying to destroy it. We’re hoping to improve it.
Yeah. I think there are some medicines that are really useful when applied in the right way.
I would say, for example, antibiotics, hep C drugs, and other more effective antivirals. These probably do produce cures, I mean, these are things that definitely do produce cures.
Some surgeries, particularly emergency surgeries.
Yep. Care of accidents. Care of accident victims is improving all the time.
Dental care when you need it, when you have something gone wrong. Those are good things, iCare and iHealth those sorts of things, same with auditory stuff. Those are all intact. In other words, I think when things go wrong, we’re mostly there for you. There’s been a massive increase in the effectiveness of various regimes for various cancers like chemotherapeutic, and radiotherapy, and those sorts of things.
Yes, the immunological side of cancer therapy is massively promising, yes.
Yeah, is massively improving. Now with some of these latest ones, you’re looking at melanoma, and a completely untreatable diseases there’s about a 50 percent remission rate, so those things are expensive, but working well. What’s not working well, is virtually no investment in helping people be more active and having a society that moves rather than sits around.
Yeah. A complete confusion in research, in public health messaging, and food industry involvement in nutrition, and all the subtleties of how that plays out, and the research that goes into that. And in my opinion, no discussion, particularly about sleep. It seems that some of the pointy ends of that where that’s going utterly wrong, is mental health, diabetes, and associated diseases.
Right. So these are things like mental health and diabetes are, I suppose not direct killers. But they are definitely going to worsen your life, and shorten your life, and probably shorten your life. But they’re not… Perhaps because they’re not the kind of drop-dead on the spot diseases mostly, they really don’t get the attention they deserve. But they’re kind of maybe the canary in the coal mine because they affect so many people.
Yeah. And so that’s part of the problem in medicine, isn’t it? When you’re bleeding out on the street, or present yourself in an ED, and you’re in an acute condition, obviously, a compassionate society is going to do everything it can to keep you alive, but it doesn’t have the same attitude to chronic problems.
That’s right. I’ve got some old 1960s pharmacology text, and it’s got some essay in it quoted, and one of the lines is the more closely a disease resembles an accident, the better the health system can treat it [crosstalk 00:07:25].
Yeah, exactly. That’s a great one. Just say that again for everyone.
The more closely a disease resembles an accident, the more effective medical treatment for it is.
Yeah, and there’s human reasons for that, and inhumane reasons for that. But unfortunately, modern society are missing the point. So George, I think people will be interested about you, because you’ve got a pretty colorful, interesting background, and you’re probably the most published academic without a PhD. How did that all happen?
How this happened is a very complicated story, and I don’t want to go into it too much. But I am musician, I was a hippie drug user, I got hep C, and I’d always been interested in health, and I’d always been interested in all kinds of quack ideas, because I’ve always been a hypochondriac. But at some point, I just kind of focused that energy on what was actually wrong with me, and went to the med school library and looked at some textbooks. And I started to realize, hey, nutrition has a lot to do with the health of the liver, surprise, surprise, and started taking supplements and sort of thinking they worked. And I started thinking about why they were working.
So this is just off the street to the medical school library. Is it in Dunedin?
Yes, yes. And just looking at-
And you could just wander up there at the time and-
Yeah, you can just wander up there and look at the reference books, without even getting them out, just sit down and read them. Some of these books were also in the public library, and I was looking at… I started off with the desktop reference books that doctors use like the Merck one, and the different drug companies put out these kinds of encyclopedias, or they did before the internet of… And they’d have a little chapter on every part of the body, a little chapter on every common disease and so forth, in case you’d forgotten to remind you what drugs to give people. In the liver chapter, there wasn’t much about drugs, because there are very few drugs that are actually effective for liver disease. There’s no kind of standard of care, equivalent of a statin for a liver disease at all. Now I talk to people in alcohol and drug detox centers, and many of whom have cirrhosis, and no one is being given a drug to try and slow down or reverse the disease.
You’re particularly interested in liver disease because of A, hepatitis C and also drug and alcohol addiction.
Yes. And so the long story short is I realized the importance of nutrition, I knew the supplements were working, I found out they were co-factors and reactions and so forth. So I started, when I have these reactions, what is going on? So I got some biochemistry textbooks and kind of worked my way through those, and I started to come across… I was buying books on vitamins, and a couple of the books I had were Dr. Atkins books in Dr. Michael Eid’s books, and I was ignoring the low carb advice because I was underweight. But I was reading these for the stuff about vitamins that were in them. And one day, I just realized hang on, what Dr. Eid is describing here is the reduction of inflammation on a low carb diet. What Dr. Atkins is describing here is changes in lipoproteins, that would be beneficial for someone was hep C. Yeah, maybe I should try this, and I tried it, and it worked, and it kind of replaced the supplement, so I no longer take much in the way of supplements at all. And I slowly just improved my learning on the internet.
And your health.
And my health, yes. My health improved massively and eventually, I got into a trial for the new hep C drugs, and that cleared the virus away in about eight weeks I think the trial was, and at the start of the trial, I had no fat left in my liver, I had ALT and AST were both at 30, which is well within the normal range, pretty good for someone in my age. And now they’re at 15, so they’ve gotten even better. I responded really well to the drug, I also had the lowest viral load of anybody in the trial I was in and I didn’t even feel markedly better after getting rid of the virus because [crosstalk 00:11:28]
So you actually have no trace of the virus, now it’s gone completely?
Yes, so it’s gone completely, so this is a success, this is a cure. And it’s about 98 percent successful, 98 percent success rate, and you can try again. And even if it doesn’t work, you still get a benefit from the treatment. It’s pretty light on side effects, so it is one of the big success stories.
Okay. And then how did you become well known around the world for writing about food, nutrition, public policy, epidemiology? How did that all happen?
That’s a good question. I started a blog, I started working for you after disputing some things that people were saying around… Okay, so if you are like us, and you found that your health has improved on a low carbohydrate diet, this is the thing that’s worked for you and nothing else did, you start to notice that other people are kind of begging it all over the place. They’re saying, oh, this is going to kill you because of this, and this, and this, and then you go, well, hang on, you haven’t even really thought about this. These are quite spurious or spacious kind of arguments that you’re coming up with to try and stop people doing this.
You felt you were democratic right to indulge in that process.
Yeah, I felt I know the data they’re talking about, it doesn’t say that or maybe it does, but it can be interpreted in a completely different way. And so I just started putting that out there, and I came to your attention, and I suppose my blog got better known. And at some point, we started writing academic papers, review articles, and letters to the editor.
Responses to papers and stuff.
Yes, and with the help of the reviewers, I improved my writing even more, and yeah, I got it to a standard where I think it says good as most of the stuff published in that field.
So what’s interesting, because you’re the sort of guy who even still does just think on the way home, I’ll just write a letter to the editor of a newspaper or a popular magazine, and then the journals are just a natural extension of that.
Yes, that’s right. I mean I was used to writing letters to the editor, which I’d probably cringe if I could read them now. But I always used to write about a wide range of subjects, I probably wrote a lot of anti meet letters in my day, I can’t remember them, but I’m sure I did. Yes, I’ve always had that… I mean, it’s one of the things I’ve inherited from my Scottish [inaudible 00:14:02] I think is that disputative pleasure in just arguing the facts of something, and trying to analyze things, and kind of debate them.
Because in many ways we come from meet and the center of exactly the opposite direction, so what do you make of the not having gone to university, and this lack of formal training, all that sort of blah, blah, blah, stuff? But yet still having more skill than most in the area.
Well, I mean, I think where I’m lucky is that I’ve read all my life, read voraciously books written by people who did go to university, and who did… not books that are so cluttered with academic language, but books that had the clarity of thoughts, books by people that could explain themselves properly and kind of recognize a good argument from a bad one, and so forth. So I think, just by taking in by osmosis, the English language used properly is a logical process. And I think that’s a big help.
And of course, the information is just freely available, now you don’t need to go to that mid school library anymore. You can just get it all online, can you?
That’s right. Although, I still like to see things in print, I still like looking at my textbooks [crosstalk 00:15:18], not that I think that they’re 100 percent accurate, but it’s just if someone thought something was worth writing down in printing, that does have a certain cachet for me.
So, what I find is I came from a completely opposite direction, so I did all these early in my life, undergraduate and Masters and PhD degrees. And in fact, it’s hard to imagine anything that I learned there is useful for what I do now, so that’s the great irony of it, isn’t it? That having a few degrees on your wall as the currency of academia in medicine yet, and for me, most of that was of no use at all.
So Grant, how did you get into this area, and kind of what’s the journey, where have you been, what’s the different roles that you’ve had up to now?
Well, I didn’t mean to… I mean, the longest story is that when I was a school kid, I was really into sport up until about halfway through high school. For some reason I did the work that I was told to do, and was really into biology and science, and that was about it, after that I read [inaudible 00:16:29] much. And then I sort of even lost hold of that, through the end of that into early University because I was really into sports. And particularly, or every… or most New Zealand boys play rugby, so I did that, I wasn’t that good, but I generally better in that. And then rowing was another sport I was in, and I was quite good at that, and we were used to train a lot and not go to school and that sort of thing. And then there was never a job that anyone was going to employ me to do, I couldn’t even look after young children or anything like that there was just nothing that I was going to be able to coherently do in society to add value, so just sort of carried on to university. My father was an engineer, he said, I should enroll in engineering, that lasted a week and then it was either a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science, so I thought I would do science.
And so I sort of mauled my way through that, and the only thing I could think to do, because every year I just thought, well, no one’s going to be giving me… there’s nothing I could do in society that has any value, so I might as well stay here. Then I just chose subjects that I was interested in, which were mainly physiology and psychology, so I just ended up with a degree in that, and then carried on to the masters in that, and then I ended up doing… Again, at just each point it was like no one could actually give me a job here, and in fact in the end when I got a scholarship to do a PhD because I was getting good grades again, by now mainly because I wasn’t taking any notes, I just would sit there and be interested in… and I’d only do stuff that I was interested in, so I’d just listen, and then I’d go write and read stuff, because it was more interesting or not.
And so when you get a PhD scholarship, which I did, I was able to live about it, and they may need people to tutor, the University model is one sort of job pyramid scheme where they pay their doctoral students very little to teach, but it’s still worthwhile, and the Professors just wander around doing whatever they do. So I did that, completing a PhD, and a lot of mathematical modeling and this sort of stuff, which I knew how to do then, I don’t now. And it’s the same thing, I still can’t get a job, what am I going to do? So I was like constantly worried about that, I ended up with a lecturing position in Australia, where Luis and I moved. It was my first job, she was a schoolteacher at the time before she eventually end up getting a PhD in public health. And I was in a psychology department, I was a registered psychologist, I’m a useless psychologist. But I ran into some like minded colleagues, I was now competing in triathlons, pretty much full time with a job on the side.
And learning everything that goes with that about physiology and human function, fuel, all of which were much more interesting to me than anything else, and have served me well, and that’s what I do now. And that’s sort of in the late 90s, early 2000s, it was really a view in public health that inactivity was a major problem in society that was emerging. So that’s how I sort of moved to the public health, I got into this idea about inactivity, and I worked really hard, and so the first decade of the better part of my career was in that, which I found really interesting. And were really successful, I moved back to New Zealand, and I moved from being a lecturer to full professor on the basis of that work, really in public health, getting people moving. I think the problem for me, it wasn’t that successful, it doesn’t work.
So getting people moving, wasn’t producing the benefits that you wanted to see, or you just weren’t able to get people move?
Well, it was always catching diabetes and obesity, and they respond really poorly to that sort of thing. If we really wanted to see benefits for physical activity, I think we should have concentrate on mental health. So then we started concentrating on environmental design and that sort of thing, and then they got quite micro. And there’s a connection here I think, hopefully people will see it, so there was this whole standing desks in the workplace thing going on in about 2010 or something.
Yeah, I remember that.
And so we did quite a bit of trial work on that, and discovered that you can make a small amount of difference, but actually, the inter-person difference was much bigger. So some people just move around a lot spontaneously, even when they’ve got a normal sitting desk, and others regardless what environment you give them, they slouch around. And you can’t really change their mind very easily, and I reckon that was physiological, and I started to think about that in terms of insulin and insulin resistance, and signaling around the vacuole nerve, and all that sort of stuff, always been interested in it. And at the same time, we were still testing in our labs, endurance athletes who had trouble with their fuel utilization, so they weren’t able to burn fat. And so we started to understand that was implicated there as well. Tim Noakes had started to do his own work around that time as well, and coming out as it were with the low carb stuff, which was interesting to us, sort of similar fields.
But you weren’t convincing, were you?
No, not at all. I mean, it was completely counter. But what happened was I’d been… a couple of things were going on, I’d done all this work, and I had a doctoral student Katja Siefken who’s a German who had spent a lot of time in the South Pacific, and got all this context with the World Health Organization. And the interesting thing there was that she had got us all these ridiculous contracts, you’d get paid on top of your normal job. This is how ridiculous it is to go to these remote Pacific Islands for a few weeks and do this testing and just sort of figure out what’s going on, and the World Health Organization knew that the more rural and outer Island they went, the healthier people were, but they were scared that they would start to contract these non communicable diseases, so you’d go out there with a healthy nutrition guide from the WHO [crosstalk 00:22:29]. And it’s just pretty obvious that there’s nothing wrong there, and someone like me coming along and tell them to eat less fat and more carbohydrates is only going to make things worse.
You don’t have to very smart to figure that this is a nutrient-
Yeah. I mean, I would make the observation here that I think a lot of our problems are actually caused by a risk averse public health model.
Yeah. So that was going on, so then I thought, well, I’m just going to… because I’ve always liked to just try things myself, and if there was an exercise program, or anything that was current on that field, or anything else, I’d try it. So I got this low carb diet stuff in particular performance context and first all that problem of inflamed lymph nodes for a decade for my chronic over-training and poor quality diet was resolved in a couple of weeks was just astonishing. I move from being quite overweight to back to my normal racing weight, if you like, so that’s what you would call it.
And I moved from being underweight to being my normal weight that I’ve stayed ever since.
Yeah, so actually there’s a homeostasis here and being a human that if you treat the body, right, it gravitates towards, which I still believe. And so then I started talking to my colleague, Caryn Zinn, I’ve just supervised her PhD thesis on nutrition, and we’ve done the traditional calories in calories out stuff and blah, blah, blah. Everyone lauded her thesis, wonderful stuff, no changes, which had to be the heavens. But it’s the funniest thing because we looked back at her thesis now regarding the work is terrible. And so we just got talking about that, we had a couple of other doctoral students Catherine Crofts who now is on our faculty at PreKures, PhD qualified pharmacist, and we started getting into this insulin and insulin resistance model. And then essentially started popping up about it, I was really surprised because in public health physical activity and exercise, some disagreement and there’s the industry, the gym industry and fitness industry is sort of its own little microcosm. It’s not like…
Yeah, it was just a bit of disagreement, and then people come to terms with it. But nutrition, goodness me that’s another whole world out there, so essentially we put our head above the parapet and talk about more fat not less. Then we had a situation where-
Triggers a lot of different responses in different people.
Well, the one that sets on my mind the most is that early on in this process, we’ve been making a bit of noise about this, and there was a letter that was under signed by the Hart Foundation, medical director that diabetes, New Zealand, most prominent nutrition academics around the country, sort of basically decrying us, very, very upset about it. Yeah, we responded back on blogs and those sorts of things. But you look back on it’s just hilarious, the claims about fat and carbohydrate and stuff even by the conventional standards these days are just ridiculous.
Yeah. They’re not really looked at and thought about before they’re made, it’s a received opinion that’s being repeated by people who do have the training and intelligence to check it before they repeat it.
Yeah. And so then the hypothesis driven research that you were taught in fit form science wasn’t happening?
No. I mean, I read a paper from the 1990s, yesterday, and it had a hypothesis was such, and such, and this didn’t validate that hypothesis, instead we found this and I thought, my God that really dates this paper that they say that in the abstract.
I mean that’s still the scientific method as far as I’m concerned.
So then what happened is that people started going well, if you’re telling people to eat more fat, they’re just going to go down to the takeaways, and it’s going to be pizza, and fish and chips and these sorts of things. And so we were inspired to write our What The Fat? book, and then the subsequent ones have sort of come from that. Bizarrely, we’re accused of profiteering from that, even though the whole point was to-
Give people the kind of that-
They’re told to make sure that we could implement [crosstalk 00:26:44]
Make it safe for them.
Yeah. And so now then, we’ve really switched our attention to nutrition as well as exercise fitness and physical activity, and it’s been quite the journey with that. And so the latest thing really, as I felt in tertiary education that’s changing massively as well, for the reasons that you have been able to benefit from those changes, I think, is that you don’t need the mid school library card anymore to get engaged in the democracy of research and learning actually, and there’re all sorts of random stuff, for example, the current world champion, javelin thrower from Kenya has never had a coach. He learned everything he knows about Javelin throwing on YouTube.
Yeah, and I was reminded that stuff, I was watching my nine year old play soccer, and he’s on goal, he’s really into goalie stuff. And he’s directing, I need you on this post, I need this guy out here, and I need this guys here. And I know for a fact, he’s had no coaching in being a goalie whatsoever, I said how did you know that? He goes, oh YouTube. So there’s a totally different world in learning things.
Yeah, I mean, if you look in this specific area, where we’re interested in the health effects of high fat diets, I think the most important experiments of the last… my living memory have been done by Dave Feldman, who’s an engineer without formal nutrition training.
Yeah, an engineer in Las Vegas just doing his own thing.
Yeah. And these are groundbreaking experiments, they really showed new phenomena, here’s a new phenomenon that no one knew existed, and also here is an analysis of epidemiological biomarker data looking for something that no one bothered to look for before.
Yes. He’s done all the stuff that normal scientists would have, and maybe should have done.
Should have done to test their ideas, yes.
And so this is a great interesting new thing, and as always, people go well, Grant, you’re the only person on nutrition in this country who thinks that saturated fat is not a major nutrient of concern. I was like, well, are you just saying all those other ones are wrong? And I was like, yeah, I think so. Because science isn’t a democracy in that, we won’t have a vote, but we have a democratic process that’s different of presenting opinions and moving along.
Yes, you don’t put it to a vote, but you do put it to an experiment.
Yeah. And you can understand those things, so the way things have moved at the moment, then I think, back to the tertiary education thing, it costs $100,000 for the government and the person to get a three year undergraduate degree. If the student had to turn up and pay cash, every time they had an interaction with the staff member or the university, they would just go, oh, my lord, this is… $3,000 for that lecture, $500 for that bit of marketing, they would just go, no, that’s not worth it. So there’s got to be a different model for learning, and so PreKure is part of that.
Yes. And because there has to be… I mean, I’m largely self taught, but I’ve had this massive benefit of working alongside people like yourself, Catherine, Karen, and so forth.
Simon, who are academically trained, and I do want to say that educating yourself, when most people do it, it does seem to result in their heads being filled with rubbish. So we need to be careful and say, you can’t learn everything on YouTube, and you need some kind of analytical process that will keep it clear of the weeds. Hence, still have the need for a solid framework.
Yes. And that’s what we’ve been trying to do with PreKure, is construct some of those frameworks and help people do some of that thinking with themselves, but provide some of the ways to interpret evidence and understand where things are going. Right, so the Flippin Health, we’re going to get on in the next few years, I guess, and really challenge this. What do you think we’re going to get to?
Well, I think we’ll start off by interviewing people who are kind of on the same page, so we know what they’re saying. And then we should probably move into seeing what people who don’t agree with us have to say that’s-
Yeah, that’s going to be more interesting and I think we need to-
Yeah, it’s going to be more interesting that’s going to taste the quality of our arguments.
Yeah, so standby, that’s where we’re going but we need to get those people to agree, so we need to go a few rounds on the board, so to speak.
Yeah. We want to kind of fill our audience in with where we are, and what we’ve learned from, I guess, the people within our echo chamber and then we’ll open it up. Yeah, is I think the idea.
All right, Flippin Health.
Flippin Health. To Flippin Health. Yeah, that’s it. Thanks for listening to the Flippin Health podcast.
Our next episode, we’re talking to Libby Jenkinson, pharmacist extraordinaire, and a woman who with her site ditchthecarbs.com is changing the way the world eats.
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