Dr. Gregory Kelly and Pamela Wirth on nootropics, anti-aging, regenerative medicine, weight management and sleep.

Dr. Gregory Kelly and Pamela Wirth on nootropics, anti-aging, regenerative medicine, weight management and sleep.

Dr. Gregory Kelly is Director of Product Development at Neurohacker Collective, naturopathic physician (N.D.), and author of the book Shape Shift. He was the editor of the journal Alternative Medicine Review and has been an instructor at the University of Bridgeport in the College of Naturopathic Medicine, where he taught classes in Advanced Clinical Nutrition, Counseling Skills, and Doctor-Patient Relationships. Dr. Kelly has published hundreds of articles on natural medicine and nutrition, contributed three chapters to the Textbook of Natural Medicine, and has more than 30 journal articles indexed on Pubmed. Audience participants enjoy a special discount at 

https://neurohacker.com/encourageingwellness code: encourageingwellness (15% off any Qualia product).

Pamela : Hello, this is Pamela Wertz from the Encouraging Wellness Podcast, and today I have Dr. Gregory Kelly. Dr. Kelly is a director of product development at Neurohacker Collective, a naturopathic physician, and the author of the book "Shapeshift." He was the editor of the Journal of Alternative Medicine Review and has been an instructor at the University of Bridgeport in the College of Naturopathic Medicine, where he taught classes in advanced clinical nutrition, counseling skills, and doctor-patient relationships. Dr. Kelly has published hundreds of articles on natural medicine and nutrition, contributed three chapters to the textbook of natural medicine, and has more than 30 journal articles indexed in PubMed, which is really impressive. His areas of expertise include nootropics, anti-aging, regenerative medicine, weight management, sleep, and the chronobiology of performance and health. Thank you, Doctor, for being with us.


Dr. Gregory Kelly : Oh, my pleasure to be here today.


Pamela : So obviously, you've got a lot of areas. I think a lot of health and wellness comes down to some pretty basic areas, but I would love your perspective and thoughts on how you got into this journey and some of the ways that you really help people in terms of anti-aging, regenerative medicine. In my experience, for instance, just because you have a diagnosis doesn't necessarily mean that it's a forever diagnosis or for everything. I think working with doctors like yourself is really powerful and important, so please share.


Dr. Gregory Kelly : Yeah, I think that's the difference between managing a problem and carrying a problem, right? The goal is always to resolve something whenever that's possible. I know one of my biases is always to argue for that possibility. Anyways, in terms of my journey...


I studied engineering as an undergrad, and the Navy and the U.S. paid for my scholarship. So at the time, this was in 1984 when I graduated, I owed them six years between active duty and reserves. I was one of the officers who realized early on that I didn't know anything about food and eating. Someone would just put things in front of me, and I'd eat them. So I thought, maybe I should up my game a little bit in this area. I found people who seemed to know a lot more about it than me, who worked out at the gym and were in good shape. So my interest, and what eventually led me to naturopathic medicine, started with that idea. I noticed that many officers I saw, who had been in the Navy for a while, were overweight, out of shape, not particularly fit. I wanted to know what I could do to prevent that in an environment that's not necessarily the healthiest, or it wasn't at that point in time.


When I got out of the Navy, I continued to build more interest in things that eventually all were encompassed with naturopathic medicine. Things like herbs, acupuncture, and the importance of nature, and all kinds of things like that. So pretty shortly after my career in the Navy ended, I heard there was a new naturopathic school opening up in the desert, and at the time, it was Scottsdale, Arizona. I thought, "Alright, I'm there." So I was a member of that first class, and I was really fortunate. We had some great teachers and experiences as part of, I think, the birthing of that new naturopathic college. I graduated in 1996, and I've been doing things related to naturopathic medicine and health ever since.


Pamela : No, that's incredible. So, you know, in terms of a lot of the patients that you see, what are some of the overall larger themes of people that you're seeing now?


Dr. Gregory Kelly :  Well, I don't work directly with patients anymore in my current role. I work much more in education. I write blog content, create dietary supplements, and educate people. But I would say, going back in time, I think there are almost like buckets you can put people in, but many of the buckets share the same common contributors. The analogy I would typically use goes back to a game that my brothers and sisters and I played as children. It was called the "Last Straw" game. If you Google the "Camel Game" or "Last Straw," you'll find it. This goes back to the late '60s, so I'm dating myself, but the gist of the game was that there was this plastic camel, and each team competed by adding straws to the bucket on their side. At some point, one of the teams would put the last straw in, and literally, the camel's back would collapse.


I tend to think of that analogy as really useful in anything related to health because when someone shows up and gets their diagnosis, something happened because the bucket looked to weigh more than our back could support, right? The "health buckets," so to speak. Or that health back has collapsed. The way I would typically describe that is more like in a stress paradigm. So the straws in this case, think of as all the many different potential stressors in our world and someone's life. There's one we all share that there's not much we can do about. There are others that, depending on what we do or don't do, we'll either carry that straw or that bucket will be lighter.


I guess my experience is that most of us are carrying lots of straws all the time, and because of that, a variety of things end up getting us to that last straw, our tipping point. But the biggest and heaviest straw for most of us is going to be a mental-emotional one, something that we're thinking about all the time, something that we're ruminating about, something that maybe we're doing that's against one of our core values. Those straws tend to be the ones that, if you let them hang around in the basket too long, they just weigh it down a lot. Because of that, we end up being really close to something else tipping us over the brink.


Fundamentally, my approach would be, let's figure out, for you Pamela or whoever we're working with, what straws are in your basket, which ones are removable, and which ones are likely to be the heaviest. Those are the ones we want to address first. In the meantime, is there something we can be doing to build resilience to make you able to carry a bigger burden of straws? It's kind of a simple story, but that approach to health invariably makes sure that you're covering all the basics, and the foundational stuff is being emphasized. Chasing the fringe things isn't nearly as good to get your journey all the way back to health. It's much more suited to managing. So, there's a lot to distill there, but that would be it in a simple story.


Pamela  : So when someone has something chronic going on, where do you like to start?


Dr. Gregory Kelly :  So, what I would typically do is I'm very mind-body biased. I would typically listen to the stories they're telling, like what meaning their illness has for them. How are they interpreting it? If nothing else, a lot of suffering is in our story. There's the thing we have, which is going to be whatever it is, but then our story about it often amplifies the degree of suffering. I think a big part of what I try to teach naturopathic students, when I was a professor or visiting professor at the University of Bridgeport, was to imagine your patients coming in and saying, "Doctor, this is going on in my body. I don't really understand it, and I'm frightened." If you do nothing else, get them to tell a better story around it, and that will alleviate a lot of the suffering. I think our stories about things end up being a straw in and of themselves. So, one of my goals when I was in practice was always to help people become better storytellers.


Pamela : And then what sort of tests or data do you like to gather, and what sort of herbs, plants, treatments, and things do you like to consider?


Dr. Gregory Kelly : Sure, so I think I've never been a crazy "let's test everything" person. I think it's much better to be nuanced, depending on the context of what the person is presenting with. One of the things I found, and there's a great study on this, is from something called Biosphere 2 that was in the desert in Tucson in the early '90s. A group of scientists went in and lived there for a full year, and they measured all kinds of biomarkers like hormones, thyroid hormones, and more at the beginning. They measured them periodically, immediately after, and then six months later. Due to nuances with Biosphere 2, they were chronically slightly hungry through the whole thing, with an estimated 1800 calories a day. So not an extreme diet, but due to circumstances. Long story short, all these biomarkers, like blood sugar and thyroid, changed dramatically during their time there, often looking like they were getting better despite being hungry and lethargic. However, they all returned to normal when they left and could eat enough food again.


I'm always concerned about treating numbers without context. The goal is always to get people to do the foundational things for a while and then see which numbers are still out of normal. For example, someone who has been dieting to lose weight may have certain biomarkers that look a little off, like low thyroid, which often normalize if they ate more food. But they might not be willing to do that, even if their appetite is driving them to eat more. So, I probably under-test compared to most naturopathic doctors, and the things I care the most about are body composition and heart rate variability.


I try to ask questions that give me insights into what those numbers mean because there's the thing and there's our relationship to the thing. For example, two people may look equally healthy, but their relationships with food are completely different. One person is super neurotic about controlling everything they eat, and they're hungry all the time, but they don't allow themselves to eat certain things. The other person eats whatever their appetite dictates, and their relationship with food is more relaxed. I care much more about someone's relationship with something because the first person's relationship is likely not sustainable and contributing to their health issues, while the second person's relationship is likely healthier and sustainable. So, I'm always trying to understand what's going on in someone's mind, whether they're ruminating about something or having to exert a lot of willpower for something that someone else may do on autopilot. These aspects have always been much more interesting and important to me than running a bunch of lab tests.

Pamela : Yeah, so you touched on nutrition. Do you have a preference when it comes to nutrition and optimizing someone's health?


Dr. Gregory Kelly : So, I do, but I also am a firm believer that there's different strokes for different folks. So, I guess two principles that I keep in mind all the time. One was one of my what I thought of as wisest nutrition teachers when I was a student said something to the effect of there can be a big difference between a diet that takes someone that's not healthy and moves them to healthy and a diet that keeps them healthy.


So, I always try to keep that in mind. No matter where we start, the goal is to get to healthy and stay healthy. And quite often what happens, people will start something, and the truth is if you've been eating a poor diet, almost any different diet is going to move you towards healthy for a while. But if you're not careful, that same diet might cruise you right through that to some new area of relative inadequacy. So, I try to keep that in mind. And then the other thing would be that some people do great on keto, other people not so much. Some people do great on a more vegan, vegetarian diet, other people have seen that diet over time not work for them. So, I think it's really important not to buy into the idea that this thing works for everyone. It's always going to be somewhat individualized. 


Personally, I try to eat more seasonally, so eat things that are available in your local farmer's market. I think it always serves most of us if we can eat more food, less processed. So, I think more than anything, that's coming up with a few different heuristics or simple algorithms. And, you know, my original one when I was an office in the Navy and read my first diet book was a pretty simple one and not really great, but it was something to the effect of look on the label, choose whatever thing has less fat. And I think most of us don't have super complicated algorithms when it comes to choosing food, right? When it's like, "Oh, this one is sugar, so it's a no." This one has stevia, and that's fine. So, I'll have that. Or, this one's keto-friendly. And my algorithm is much more about, you know, what can we do to make sure what we're eating is the best quality within the confines of whatever that is. Because even with any of these different diets, there's things that might be approved in it that are less healthy versions and others that are much healthier. Right? So, next simple thing, I'd much rather have an almond than almond butter. And I'd much rather have almond butter than almond oil. And I'd much rather have almond oil than something made to taste like.


Pamela : Yeah, and I think that's a good point. You know, sugar is interesting. From all the data that we can get our hands around, it causes a fair amount of inflammation. What are your thoughts around some of the substitute sugars out there? Is there anything that you know is frankly okay to eat that sweetens things, or is it, if it's sweet, don't eat?


Dr. Gregory Kelly : So I'm very much a "dose makes the poison" person in most things, so that would be the same with sugar. There are relatively few things that, to me, are "soup-like" – black and white, absolutely no under all circumstances. The sweet taste is one of the few tastes we have. We can taste bitter, sour, sweet, and salt, and these tastes are evolutionarily important.


There's a book written by a researcher that came out a couple of years ago. He did a lot of work with a hunter-gatherer tribe in Africa called the Hadza. One of the things he found in his book is that they put a lot of time and effort into finding honey, and when they find it, they consume a lot of honey. They seem to be incredibly healthy, without the diseases of Western civilization and diet. You'd find this love for honey in many other hunter-gatherer tribes as well. They put a lot of their resources into acquiring and eating it. So, honey is the only sweetener I use. Other sweet things that are similar include maple syrup, which is popular in Canada and New England, where I grew up.


The truth is, I will almost never eat any sweetener that doesn't have some calories. I'm not a big fan of sweeteners like stevia. Monk fruit would be the best among them, in my opinion. I think artificial sweeteners all have some concerns. Remember, I said that the brain is super important to me. Sucralose is used in a lot of energy drinks, for example. There was a study that compared an energy drink with sugar to one without sugar and compared both to a beverage without any energy drink components. The energy drink with sugar way outperformed the one without it. In some aspects, the one without sugar was even worse than the placebo drink. So, I believe that context is crucial. Things aren't necessarily good or bad on their own. If you're going to have an energy drink, you're probably better off having the one with some sugar than the one with sucralose in it. This is my bias based on the research.


To summarize, it's important to consider what you're trying to achieve, and most things follow a Goldilocks principle – too little is a problem, too much is a problem, and there's a just-right amount. With sugar, I think for many people, the just-right amount is probably lower than what the average American consumes by quite a bit. We evolved to deal well with natural sugars like honey.

Pamela : Yeah, yeah. I tend to follow if it comes naturally, it's in moderation, it's probably okay, but there are obviously other circumstances. If you're drinking a sports drink and you're doing some really strenuous activity, then you're probably burning all those sugars that your body needs to replenish.


When people are thinking about what it means for regenerative health and anti-aging, what does that really mean to you and what should people be looking for, asking about, and thinking about?


Dr. Gregory Kelly :  Well, I think in the anti-aging community, there are two really big camps. So, one is the idea that something called programmed aging, but the short of it is that the same genes that do great things to get us when we're young to be able to have babies and procreate and have kids, we're selected for that, and so some of those same genes as we get older actually can contribute to our aging. So that's programmed aging. There's not much that can be done about programmed aging.


The other camp has to do with aging being more about the slow, gradual accumulation of damage. In that camp, it's about repairing damage and getting rid of damage, and that's just much more actionable with what's available today. So I think that would be the focus. Things that can be done in that camp would be things like Walker Longo's fasting mimicking diet as an example, or like these short, periodic fasts where you'll go a couple of days without eating. What that does is it promotes things like autophagy, a cellular repair process.


Another thing would be taking senolytic compounds, things like dasatinib, quercetin, or fisetin, or hyperlongum extracts that help our body get cells that are kind of stuck in a semi-damaged state and get rid of them. So, get rid of something called senescent cells. Those, to me, are the most exciting areas currently, things that can amplify the innate processes in our cells like autophagy and apoptosis that our body would normally use to get rid of damaged things, and let's support processes like DNA repair with NAD boosters like nicotinamide riboside and things like that.


Pamela : Good, is there anything else that we haven't touched on? Anything else that we're missing? Weight loss, the first place to start. I mean, a lot of people like to go on fad diets, but there's probably a way to, again, you know what's real food and, you know, it's.


Dr. Gregory Kelly : Yeah, so I think, again, this would be my bias. A non-insignificant amount of people aren't getting as much good quality sleep as they need. Quite a few of us have, like, go back to my time in the Navy. I was sleep deprived for the better part of those five and a half years because of circumstances. What's pretty clear now is when people are sleep deprived, they eat more food, and they also gravitate towards less healthy versions of food. They want the starch; they want the donut instead of the salad, fundamentally.


For me, it would be much more important to work on the low-hanging fruit before you get to, "Oh, I'm gonna reduce calories." So, put all this willpower into something where my belief is that a part of our brain keeps track of how much sleep debt we're in. So, basically, if you haven't got enough sleep for a couple of years, that part of our brain is like, "Alright, at some point, you're gonna do something and pay back a whole bunch of that." And doing something would be hibernation, getting a lot more sleep than normal. So, I would tend to think, for most people, it's much more important to focus on one: starting now, getting enough sleep. But then, if you've had periods where you've gone with insufficient sleep, then schedule more sleep than you need. Like, sleep more. Fundamentally, if you can sleep, you need sleep. So, sleep can't really run in the black, so to speak, only in the red. I would always start with that.


The next thing would be the body clock. Our body clock has a profound effect on metabolism. So, things like getting light exposure first thing in the morning, getting out toward the end of the day, maybe wearing blue blockers at night. So, if you start to put those things in place, like I mentioned at the beginning, sometimes if you get the foundational things in place, a lot of other things just become easier.


And then, you know, if we're sleep-deprived and our rhythms are a mess, our body clock's disrupted, the same diet that might actually be really great for us will be harder for us to stick to, maybe. So, anyways, that would be my preference: those two first. Then, work on stress. In the interim, try to get people to learn more about what food quality is but let them eat as much as they want. Hope that helps.


Pamela : I think so, thank you, Dr. Kelly. It's been great having you today. We'll be sure to put all the information in the show notes where people can find you. If you want to go ahead and add here where people can find you as well.


Dr. Gregory Kelly :  Yeah, I'm at Neurohacker.com. Like you mentioned at the beginning, I'm the Director of Product Development, and I write blogs there. You can also follow Neurohacker on Instagram. We do a lot there to engage our community and provide information.


Pamela : Well, thank you, Dr Kelly


Dr. Gregory Kelly : Thank you

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