Physician-author Mark Hyman

Dr. Hyman, author of The Blood Sugar Solution, explains why 1 in 2 Americans either have diabetes or pre-diabetes, details the program that seeks to cure “diabesity” and shares why the future of medicine is personalized care.

A family physician, best-selling author and internationally recognized leader in his field, Dr. Mark Hyman has dedicated his career to identifying the root causes of chronic illness. He’s founder-medical director of The UltraWellness Center (Lenox, MA) and chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine. Early in his career, Hyman was a rural family physician in the mountains of Idaho and in China and served in an inner-city ER in Springfield, MA. In his latest text, The Blood Sugar Solution, he addresses the global epidemic of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
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Tavis: Dr. Mark Hyman is a family physician and founder of the Ultra Wellness Center. He’s also a best-selling author whose latest text is one of the most-talked-about books on the subject of health and weight loss. It’s called “The Blood Sugar Solution: The Ultra-Healthy Program for Losing Weight, Preventing Disease and Feeling Great Now.” The book now sits atop “The New York Times'” best-seller list at number one. So Doc, congratulations again –

Dr. Mark Hyman: Thank you, sir. Thank you.

Tavis: – and good to have you on.

Hyman: Thanks for having me.

Tavis: What do you make of the fact that this country is so obsessed with weight loss – I say weight loss as opposed to dieting?

Hyman: Yeah.

Tavis: But obsessed with weight loss, as evidenced by the fact that these books continue to come out, they continue to sell.

Hyman: Yeah.

Tavis: What do you make of that fascination?

Hyman: Well, we’re in trouble. One in two Americans has either pre-diabetes or diabetes. This is bankrupting our economy. One in three Medicare dollars is spent on diabetes. It’s a tsunami of suffering and of costs we have to deal with.

So I think people are interested in finding a solution, but the government’s not providing it, healthcare’s not providing it. That’s why I tried to create a coherent solution with this program.

Tavis: How do you juxtapose our fascination with the subject matter and yet the levels of obesity and diabetes, or as you call it, diobesity. I’m just trying to figure out how it is that we can be so obsessed with it and yet be such an overweight –

Hyman: And not be successful, right. (Laughter)

Tavis: Exactly. What’s that all about?

Hyman: Well, because we’re not getting the right information. We’re getting told one thing, that we should eat this way and we should eat that way, this is good for you, that’s – everybody gives us and is confused.

So there’s an emerging science in nutrition that tells us how to turn the dials on biology to turn on the right genes that make you lose weight and prevent diabetes, and that worked better than any medication out there. We have to learn how to apply it consistently, and that’s what the program in “The Blood Sugar Solution” is about.

It’s about creating a solution that works, that’s based on emerging science, that is really fixing the problem.

Tavis: There are two things I’m hearing – emerging science, number one, and number two, that this is individualistic, so that for all the books that are written, one size clearly does not fit all.

Hyman: No, no.

Tavis: If you’re talking about activating genes, your genes aren’t my genes.

Hyman: That’s right.

Tavis: So it must be something that’s –

Hyman: Everybody’s different, right.

Tavis: Right, so tell me how –

Hyman: So the future of medicine is personalized medicine, and it allows us to customize prescriptions based on each individual’s genetics and needs, but the reality is that 95 percent of chronic disease is caused by the environment interacting with our genes, creating who we are in this moment. That’s something we have control over.

We ate ourselves into this problem. We’ve got to eat ourselves out. Chronic disease is basically a food-borne illness, and what we’re finding is that food is one of the biggest regulators of our genes. If we put in the right food, we can turn on genes that create health. We put in the wrong food, we’re going to get wrong information.

Junk in, junk out. We can upgrade our biological software by putting in the right information and turn off the diabetes genes, turn off the obesity genes, turn off the heart disease and the cancer genes. We’ve shown that.

Tavis: It’s as simple as what you eat?

Hyman: It’s pretty much that. It’s environmental toxins, it’s stress, it’s exercise, but the biggest driver is our diet. We’re eating a toxic, industrial diet. A hundred and fifty pounds of sugar per person every year – we can’t live on that. We wouldn’t feed our dogs what we feed our kids – French fries and soda and burgers – and yet we expect to create a healthy generation based on that, and we’re not.

Tavis: A hundred fifty pounds per year.

Hyman: Per person, per year.

Tavis: Per person. Where does most of that come from?

Hyman: Well, liquid calories. The average 20-ounce soda has 17 teaspoons of sugar. Ketchup’s the number one vegetable. That has up to 20 to 30 teaspoons of sugar in a bottle of ketchup. So you think you’re dipping it in tomatoes; you’re really dipping it in sugar.

Tavis: Tell me more about the premise behind “The Blood Sugar Solution.”

Hyman: Well, the foundation is the science of functional medicines. People say, “What’s that?” I say, “Well, it’s the opposite of dysfunctional medicine,” (laughter) which is what a lot of us get. It’s dealing with the root causes of illness, not just treating the symptoms. We give medications like statins and we give diabetes medications. You can’t just take a statin and have your cheeseburger, French fries and soda and expect it to work. You can’t not change your diet and expect diabetes medications to work.

In fact, they don’t really work that well, and some scary things are being shown that statins increase risk of diabetes by 48 percent in women. That Avandia, the number one diabetes drug, was responsible for almost 200,000 deaths from heart disease – the very disease which we’re trying to stop.

So there’s a new science that’s emerging that treats the system, not just the symptoms. It treats the cause, not just putting pills on different ills and hoping for the best.

Tavis: Saying that there’s a solution to being overweight is one thing; suggesting that this prevents disease is another. Not hyperbole, though?

Hyman: No, not at all. The diabetes prevention trial, using a very, I think, a poor quality nutritional approach, found that you could reduce the progression of diabetes by 58 percent by this intervention – actually, not even as good an intervention as this – and it worked better than any medication.

We know that in studies in Europe they found that in one week, using very aggressive diet changes, they could actually reverse blood sugar numbers in diabetes, advanced diabetics. In 12 weeks, they could actually get their pancreases to wake up, their liver to heal and all their numbers to go to normal.

We’ve seen this in the right – we know this. In people who have gastric bypass, they’re morbidly obese, they get a gastric bypass. Two weeks later, they don’t have diabetes. What happened? They’re still fat, right?

What happens is that they put different information in their body. Food is information. It’s not just calories. You put the wrong information in, you’re going to turn on the wrong genes. You put the right information in, you’re going to turn on the right genes, and in as little as two weeks you can see dramatic changes in the numbers.

That’s possible, but you can get a gastric bypass without the pain of surgery, vomiting and malnutrition. We see it all the time.

Tavis: So a person picks up the new book, “The Blood Sugar Solution.” Where do they go in the text to find specifically what the program is? Every time you buy one of these books, and this is a nice-sized book.

Hyman: Yeah. (Laughter)

Tavis: But we all want to find the sweet spot, no pun intended.

Hyman: The program.

Tavis: Exactly.

Hyman: It’s (unintelligible) program.

Tavis: Right. So tell me about the program.

Hyman: It’s actually – so the very clear action plan, it’s two weeks of preparation and six weeks of the plan, and essentially you start out by preparing yourself. Then you get your numbers. You’ve got to know your weight, your waist size, your blood pressure. You’ve got to know your cholesterol, your blood sugar numbers, the special tests that I talk about in the book that our doctors aren’t doing, because 90 percent of people with diobesity, which is this whole spectrum of diabetes and pre-diabetes, 90 percent of people don’t know they have it, and it affects one out of every two Americans.

That means so many people are walking around and have no clue. So you have to get tested and you have to get ready. Then there’s a six-week action plan that includes what to eat, it includes exercise tips, supplement tips, what nutrients you need to support your metabolism, how to deal with stress, how to deal with environmental toxins.

Then a whole personalization section with specific quizzes that allow you to figure out what your imbalances are and how to fix those. Together, basically, it’s goof-proof health. It’s a very easy-to-follow, straightforward plan.

We implemented this in large groups, like 15,000 people in Saddleback Church in Southern California. They lost a quarter of a million pounds, and it wasn’t by a one-on-one doctor-patient relationship, it was by implementing these ideas in a large community, with them working together.

Tavis: Rick Warren, the pastor of that church –

Hyman: That’s right.

Tavis: I know Rick, and not a bad place to go.

Hyman: No.

Tavis: But Bill Clinton blurbs this book, he’s on the cover of the book.

Hyman: That’s right.

Tavis: He says, and I quote, “I hope Dr. Hyman’s new book will inspire you as he has inspired me,” so President Clinton now, pretty bold, supporting the work, in part because you helped him.

Hyman: Yeah.

Tavis: How important is it when there’s somebody of his stature, who we all see, literally, you see him on television; one day he’s a little bit overweight and the next day at Chelsea’s wedding the guy is like the picture of health.

Hyman: That’s right, that’s right.

Tavis: And we know he’s had heart problems as well.

Hyman: That’s right.

Tavis: How important an ambassador was he for a program like this?

Hyman: He’s critical. To show the world that you could, at any age, change your biology and reverse disease is extraordinary. To show that food was more powerful than any other intervention he had. Angioplasties and stents we’ve found don’t work for 95 percent of the people who have them, and yet food is more powerful than any lever such as surgery or medication, and we don’t use it.

President Clinton showed how you can use that and how effective it is, and he looks fabulous now.

Tavis: What would you say the balance is, if that’s the right word, between food and exercise? We live in a world –

Hyman: I think it’s 80-20.

Tavis: Which way?

Hyman: Food.

Tavis: That’s why I was asking. I’m glad you said that. Yeah, go ahead.

Hyman: Because you could have a cheeseburger, fries and a soda, and it’s going to take you running four miles a day for a week to burn that off. You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet.

Tavis: I ask that because we live in a society where I think the market approach to – the approach that the market takes to people is the other way around.

Hyman: Exercise – well, sure.

Tavis: We promote exercise, exercise, exercise. This is not –

Hyman: No, because nobody’s against exercise. People sell more shoes, sell more exercise clothes, nobody loses. Gyms win.

If you say, people, stop drinking soda – we know that liquid calories, if you have a soda a day as a kid your risk of being obese is increased 60 percent. Your risk of getting diabetes is increased by 60, 70 percent if you’re a woman who has a can of soda a day.

So that’s got to stop, and people aren’t willing to say that because there’s a large food industry that is a one – when you add the healthcare industry and the food industry, it’s one-third of our economy profits from people being sick and fat.

So we’ve got to start, I think, doing something like occupy healthcare, or create a wellness spring, where people take back our health in our communities, in our homes, in our workplaces and faith-based communities.

Tavis: You’re a physician. I’ll put you on the spot. It’s not just the food people who make all the money.

Hyman: No.

Tavis: The healthcare industry –

Hyman: Absolutely.

Tavis: – makes a lot of money.

Hyman: Absolutely.

Tavis: So you’ve just critiqued the food industry.

Hyman: Absolutely. (Laughter)

Tavis: Let’s critique the healthcare. So what are they not doing?

Hyman: I was sitting on the plane with a guy the other day who markets hospitals, and we were talking about it. I said, “Look, if we could create a program where you reduce hospital admissions in half, you reduce prescriptions in half, you reduce angioplasties and bypasses and procedures and amputations for diabetics in half, would that be a good thing?” He was like, “Hell, no.” (Laughter)

Tavis: Yeah, exactly.

Hyman: We’re going to go bankrupt. We have small margins; we need to put heads in beds. It’s like a hotel company, and we’re advertising for patients and marketing for patients. There are all these surreptitious techniques.

That’s perverse incentives. We have to change the reimbursement system in our healthcare plans so that you incentivize people to do the right thing instead of the wrong thing.

Tavis: So I got the book days ago, started going through it – you see my little tabs here – and I –

Hyman: You actually read it. That’s good.

Tavis: I certainly went straight to the program. That’s what I wanted to find. What’s the program here?

Hyman: Uh-huh, yeah.

Tavis: With all due respect, when I went through this program, and you lay out this diet plan for six weeks, pardon my English, ain’t nobody in the hood who could do this.

The most obese people in our country, as you well know, are Black and Brown and others –

Hyman: Yeah, absolutely.

Tavis: – who are stuck in these food deserts where they don’t have access to anything healthy.

Hyman: Absolutely.

Tavis: Then you want them to eat, with all due respect, polenta and –

Hyman: Corn meal.

Tavis: – cauliflower mash and tofu and – I can’t even pronounce what the – what is this?

Hyman: Goji berries.

Tavis: I never even heard of goji berries. (Laughter) They don’t sell them in my neighborhood.

Hyman: That’s right.

Tavis: So with all due respect, how do we get the people who are impacted the worst, even with a program like this, to find the resources to get on it?

Hyman: Absolutely. There are ways to make it culturally relevant and to do it. You’re right – African Americans have twice the diabetes rate as everybody else. Tomorrow I’m going to Atlanta and going to meet with Andrew Young, talking about how we bring this into African American churches in the South, where they’re most affected, and put programs that are culturally relevant and sensitive.

This is really a program that can be modified for anybody. We had poor Latino women doing this and modifying the recipes. It’s hard to get real good food in food deserts, you’re right, but I’m working with groups that are actually bringing in trucks into neighborhoods and grocery stores in trucks that can be brought in anywhere.

So we’re working at all different levels, on community levels, on political levels, on church levels, to try to implement changes. It’s got to be a complete, integrated solution. It’s not just about a book. It’s really about all of us as a society taking back our health.

Tavis: I’m glad to hear that. The book is called “The Blood Sugar Solution: The Ultra-Healthy Program for Losing Weight, Preventing Disease and Feeling Great Now,” written by Dr. Mark Hyman. He did it for Clinton, he can do it for the rest of us. (Laughter) Doc, good to have you on.

Hyman: Thanks, Tavis.

Tavis: Good to see you.

Hyman: Right.

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Last modified: June 30, 2013 at 9:36 pm