Watch Video Interview
Dr. Cynthia Li’s raw and emotionally charged interview takes us through her journey of an autoimmune crisis back to health. In our chat for the HealthierPodcast, she reveals the genesis of her book, best seller book “Brave New Medicine” as well as the depth of her personal health crisis and her deep insights that lead to her creating the protocols to heal herself.
After being bedridden for six months and housebound for two years, Dr. Li experienced that sense of desperation that is often the spark for breakthrough action. It lead her to re-evaluate the foundation of health, as she was taught, and re-think how to bring back health. She shares what it took for her to reverse her severe symptoms of Hashimotos, Fibromyalgia and more.
Now she wants to help those with an autoimmune condition get back to greater health.
Dr. Li is a trained medical internist who realized after her own health crisis how little she knew about health and disease. We learn about her story of developing Hashimoto’s disease, living with the conventional model, and finding how it allowed her to get to a place of desperation.
Dr. Li discovered that conventional medicine defines “disease” in a particular way and she didn’t fit that definition. This definition seemed to dismiss her symptoms and diminish her experience because conventional training said she was fine.
A pivotal trip to Beijing unintentionally led to an emergency room visit changed everything. Pregnant in a foreign country, suffering debilitating symptoms which ended up lasting for years.
The difficult patient
Anxious patients who have repeated visits yet normal labs are called “difficult patients”. Dr. Li talks about berating herself when she realized she was being a difficult patient. The realization we need to question the paradigm and broaden the definition of when patients don’t fit in the established paradigm.
Dr. Li stresses that we must correlate individual test results with the context of the patient. In the 15-minute patient model, this is difficult to do. Pain, fatigue, and dizziness are some of the top symptoms so many come in with but no diagnosis. It is also important to note that doctors only have 4 hours of nutrition training that focussed on extreme states, and no tools to deal with such patient issues.
I am going to lose my family?
Dr. Li has the realization that she had to start questioning the paradigm and think differently or she would lose everything. She went back to pathology results to assist in this. A huge revelation occurred to her: to live is a risk – constantly exposed to the elements that cumulative load will whittle us into a disease.
In regard to her specific case, using Inflammation as a root driver, the realization that all these symptoms were signs of inflammation. So despite no conventional diagnosis, Dr. Li realized that her cells were not repairing.
Journey into Functional medicine
The root cause of all diseases break down into these five:
- poor diet
Allostatic load is the key- cumulative load of toxins based on the stage you are at. At a certain threshold, we will experience symptoms and at a higher threshold, we will get diagnosed.
We discussed how we actually progress from healthy to symptoms to the disease and how to identify the factors and how to lower the threshold. WATCH THE INTERVIEW ON “THE RAIN BARREL EFFECT BY DR. CABRAL” to learn more about the toxic overload threshold and how to reverse it.
The critical importance of reducing hidden infections, allergens, root canals or other dental issues for reducing overload. Interesting, the biggest toxic overloads tend to be emotional, and those are very personal in nature.
Part 1: Memoir
Dr. Li discussed exactly what’s it like having a mystery condition while living out your life with your partner and your kids. How to manage your life with so much inner turmoil, as well as the crumbling of the medical paradigm that she was trained with.
Part 2: Healing Journey
Going into pathology, having the “a-ha moment” about inflammation, decision to fix the sleep cycle. Importance of addressing circadian rhythm for every organ changed everything.
According to Dr. Li, part of the healing journey was “the realization that I must learn how to connect with myself. I started regulating my schedule to reduce stress overload. For example, skipping meals or eating all day and the stress that creates.”
It is imperative to live a life in sync with the body’s cycle with the cycles of light and dark to reduce internal load. Learn how the body works as systems – both Chinese medicine and functional medicine have a role in this. It’s one body, not individual organs, living within a connected environment. We are so permeable to everything from parasites, to infections, to toxins if our barriers are not intact.
Dr. Li needed to get her vertigo under control in order to continue the research. She tried acupuncture despite serious skepticism which lead to a realization of how much a waste of energy is skepticism can be. It is important to stay open-minded with low-risk/high return strategies.
What healed her vertigo
A combination of engaging a cranial osteopath, Qi Gong (or moving meditation practice), eliminating gluten, acupuncture and healing the gut all helped in the process of healing Dr. Li’s vertigo.
She started noticing that various symptoms like frequent urination, fatigue, insomnia disappeared after beginning Qi Gong. It was rewiring her neurons and her gene expression from inflammatory to noninflammatory. She started doing Qi Gong about 45 minutes a day. Then later, Dr. Li had another health crisis which forced her to go deeper into almost 2 hours of Qi Gong a day. That’s when she had a radical remission.
Identifying with the diagnosis or symptoms
In this section, Dr. Li explains the importance of breaking the identification with symptoms or disease. Something like testing re-inforces the message that we are sick; it’s an invisible factor in the allostatic load. On a personal note, writing helped her work through this.
She says: See yourself as vibrant, healthy. Take away labels, story, your name and just be yourself.“I am bigger than my disease.” This mindset helps create a critical shift in awareness.
A checklist for healing
Dr. Li presented us with a list of recommendations including:
- How to get off the couch and heal by asking new questions, relate to yourself in a different way. Shift the questions to shift how your cells relate to you. What is my body trying to tell me? Be compassionate to yourself.
- Reset your inner clock by following a schedule and a rhythm for food, sleep, life. Your inner clock should be mimicking nature wherever possible.
- Finding pleasure and playfulness
- Giving yourself permission to receive. Your first duty should be to yourself. Take support. Leave the ego behind and learn to receive.
- A daily dose of nature
- Detoxify the house: always turn on a ventilation fan if you have a gas stove. Flame retardants are very toxic, so vacuum well.
- Intuition tap into information that your rational mind won’t deliver. Healing happens with self-awareness
How to deal with overwhelm with health information
Dr. Li shared with us what a friend taught her about intuition. We explored Heart Math Institute’s definition of intuition and the importance of developing an experiential sense of knowing. Learning to listen to your body is key.
Read her book on how to develop intuition. Ask yes and no questions to develop a contemplative mind. We have two minds to see clearly, just like we have two eyes to see.
Listen to the interview for all the other recommendations on her checklist. Buy the book “Brave New Medicine” to get deeper insights into how she healed her autoimmune after years of suffering, and how you can do it too.
You can’t heal something that to which you are not attached with. Inhabit your body and your mind. Know your body.
How do you release grief, maybe from childhood? Rituals and more that release the grief to create more space where joy can inhabit. You can’t get from despair to joy without the release.
Her parting advice to anyone dealing with health issues
Don’t miss hearing her parting advice to the listeners as it is the most important step in reversing disease.
0.29: Why she wrote the book
2.38: Hopeless and helpless
6.45: The difficult patient
15.10: I am going to lose my family
18.02: Journey into Functional medicine
23.20: Part 1 Memoir
24.55: Part 2 Healing Journey
32.07: What healed her Vertigo
37.15: Identifying with the diagnosis or symptoms
40.29: Checklist for healing
50.15: How to deal with overwhelm with health information
58.45: Her parting advice to anyone dealing with health issues
Dr. Cynthia Li, BIO
Cynthia Li, MD, graduated from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and has practiced in settings as diverse as Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, San Francisco General Hospital, and St. Anthony’s Medical Clinic for the homeless. She also volunteered with Doctors Without Borders in rural China, focusing on HIV/AIDS care. Currently, she has a private practice in integrative and functional medicine and serves as faculty for the Healer’s Art program at the University of California San Francisco Medical School. She is a member of the American Board of Internal Medicine, the Institute for Functional Medicine, and Integrative Medicine for the Underserved (IM4US). She is a contributor to Huffington Post’s Thrive Global and Psychology Today.
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Dr. Cynthia Li,
North Berkeley, CA
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