Dr. Vincent M. Pedre is the Medical Director of Pedre Integrative Health and Founder of Dr. Pedre Wellness, Medical Advisor to two health-tech start-ups, MBODY360 and Natural Partners-Fullscript, Chief Medical Officer of United Naturals, and a Functional Medicine-Certified Practitioner in private practice in New York City since 2004. He is also certified in yoga and Medical Acupuncture and part of the mindbodygreen collective of influencers with regular, popular blog posts. In 2017, he joined Orthomolecular as the chief Clinical Expert in the Pillars of GI Health Program, and he also joined the faculty for the Institute for Functional Medicine in 2018, teaching the first ever introductory functional medicine courses to practitioners in Lima, Peru, Brisbane, Australia, and Mexico City. He believes the gut is the gateway to excellent health and a better brain. As the bestselling author of “Happy Gut—The Cleansing Program to Help You Lose Weight, Gain Energy and Eliminate Pain”, he has helped thousands of people resolve their digestive and gut-related health issues.
Dr. Pedre is also an in-demand public speaker and writer on the topics of sustainable health, prevention, and integrative and functional medicine. He has appeared on The Martha Stewart Show, Sirius XM Radio’s Doctor Radio show, The Dr. Oz Show, and Good Morning America.
Together, Sasha Frate, founder of Face the Current, and Parashakti enjoyed an informative and illuminating discussion with Dr. Pedre, touching on his method of blended health and wellness, the importance of gut health (including his best-selling book, Happy Gut), common food additives to avoid for optimal health, the future of sustainable living, and his hope for the proliferation of ancient healing arts in modern medicine.
Sasha Frate: In what ways do you bridge and blend both Western and Eastern medical traditions?
Vincent Pedre: I became fascinated with Eastern medical traditions when I first read Deepak Chopra’s book, Quantum Healing. Around that time, my sister had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of twenty-seven. It was 1994 and I was finishing my last year at Cornell University, whilst already admitted into the University of Miami School of Medicine with an academic merit scholarship.
I decided I had learned everything college was going to teach me, so I graduated early from Cornell and spent the following eight months prior to medical school exploring and expanding my awareness of what was called “alternative medicine” back then. The drive to look into alternatives had been spawned by my sister’s surprise illness and uncertain prognosis and by my own internal unease with my Type A personality.
I wanted to figure out how to conquer my hyper-wired mind and my fear of needles. (Yes, I know—crazy! I was going to be a doctor and yet I was deathly afraid of needles, including blood draws and vaccinations.) Looking back, that fear became one of my greatest gifts because it led me to discover yoga, guided meditation, and breathwork. It was Dr. Herbert Benson’s The Relaxation Response that first awakened me to the power of the autonomic nervous system and the ways in which it controls our “fight-or-flight” response. (This was the exact automatic process that was hijacking my ability to stay calm when I had to get my blood drawn or receive any kind of injection.)
Discovering that power within using breathing and meditative techniques to control what had previously felt out of my control opened the gates to a whole new understanding of how to be well within my body. I knew when I became a doctor that I would incorporate these Eastern meditative practices. This continued to evolve over time as I deepened my yoga practice, eventually training to become a yoga teacher after completing a residency in Internal Medicine. Again, this opened my eyes to a conceptually different way of looking at the body as a whole.
Yoga also led me to study Medical Acupuncture, which then opened my mind to the idea of the body as this interactive system. When you look at the body as a system, you realize everything interacts with everything. Conversely, my training in Internal Medicine had broken down the body into organ systems. This means that one hospitalized patient could have multiple specialists speaking to how they would manage the patient’s care from the point of view of their specialized organ system. In my experience, it was rare to find the doctor that integrated every system together. Because of this, I felt something was missing and after reading many books, including influential ones by Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Frank Lipman, I landed upon functional medicine.
I can now say that functional medicine has become my home within the practice of medicine. It is based on a system of medicine that looks to uncover the underlying reasons for dysfunction in the body and then finds ways to support the body to return to its natural state of health. Functional medicine is a scientifically-validated application of systems biology, which originated in the East over 2000 years ago with acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine.
I don’t deny the advances of Western medicine and I do practice a blend of both Eastern and Western medicine mixed with mind-body-spirit. For me, it is one big continuum, which should naturally coexist, and having this knowledge gives me a markedly expanded toolbox from which to help patients heal.
SF: There has been a major shift to focus on gut health over the past decade, and yet, to some extent, the gut remains somewhat of a mystery. Many medical doctors attribute any and every gut issue to the generic IBS diagnosis and recommend elimination diets for “treatment”. What do you believe are some of the most important latest discoveries in gut health?
VP: The gut is a complex system and we are only at the tip of the iceberg in our understanding of the ways in which the gut microbiome interacts with itself and us. Along with soil—which harbors twenty-five percent of Earth’s biodiversity—the gut is one of the most complex ecosystems on the planet.
There is an incredible amount of biodiversity that exists in each person’s gut with an estimated 100 trillion organisms including beneficial and pathogenic bacterial species, viruses known as bacteriophages, parasites and yeast. We are only beginning to understand this system by looking at gut genome analysis. There are several companies doing this in different ways, but I think the broadest way to tackle this type of analysis is through both whole genome analysis (which looks at all the DNA present, not just fractions of it), and the analysis of the metabolome (all the metabolic by-products of the organisms that live in our gut).
For example, DayTwo, a company based out of Israel, is looking at how the make-up of the gut microbiome determines the way you digest and metabolize sugars from various foods. The hypothesis they have investigated is that not everyone metabolizes sugars from every food the same way. Depending on your gut microbiome, you may be more predisposed to elevated blood sugar when you eat certain foods. More research is needed in this area, but it is certainly fascinating to consider that what we thought was under complete body control (namely blood sugar) could actually be influenced by the gut microbiome.
Parashakti: You’ve authored the book Happy Gut, a cleansing guide that reveals how one can balance their gut, lose weight, and gain energy. With so many diet and health-focused books, it can be difficult for people to navigate and know what will really work for them. Can you share what sets this book apart and why it is so effective?
VP: In my book, Happy Gut, I set off to accomplish a very difficult task. I created a program that could be accessible to anyone with gut health issues or gut-related health issues. It’s important to distinguish the difference because not everyone who has a gut-related health issue will necessarily suffer from gut symptoms. Let me tell you a story:
I had a thirty-seven-year-old woman present with joint pains and hives. She had read my book and started the program, eliminating both dairy and wheat/gluten from her diet. Her hives had already started to calm down, but she exhibited very high inflammatory and autoimmune markers. However, she did not have any gut issues or complaints. Nevertheless, we looked at her gut because of its strong association to both inflammation in the body and autoimmune disease. Surprisingly, we found she was harboring a parasite and a yeast overgrowth. By treating these underlying issues, her joint pains resolved.
My program is designed to be a total gut restoration with resulting effects that benefit the entire body. The meal plan I detail cuts out the most inflammatory foods from one’s diet, while making it as easy as possible to follow. With so many diet books out there (paleo, keto, anti-lectin, etc.), it sure is difficult to understand how to eat for your total wellness. The missing ingredient in a lot of these plans is a focus on the gut, restoring the gut microbiome, and healing the gut lining from an onslaught of antibiotics, medications, and stress that the majority of people have been exposed to at some point in their lives. A gut-centered approach is what I provide in my book within a total mind-body program that is designed to revamp your health in twenty-eight days.
SF: As part of the C.A.R.E Program (Cleanse, Activate, Restore, and Enhance) explained in your book Happy Gut, what are some of the first Cleansing steps that people can take towards a happier gut?
VP: Cleanse is such an important first step in my Gut C.A.R.E. Program. It is the biggest step because cleansing involves really dialing down on everything that enters your body. As I like to say, through what you put in your mouth (the foods you eat) the gut is your biggest exposure to the outside world. The first step in cleansing involves cutting out inflammatory foods like wheat/gluten, dairy, soy, corn, most legumes, refined sugar, alcohol, and coffee.
But cleansing doesn’t end there because you also want to ensure you’re drinking clean, filtered water free of chemicals and heavy metals. Many people also make the mistake of doing a physical cleanse without working on a mental cleanse. So, during the twenty-eight-day cleanse, I put a lot of emphasis on cleansing the mind of negative, self-defeating thoughts and replacing them with affirmations of gratitude for what is good in one’s life. In my opinion, it is just as important to cleanse ourselves of inflammatory foods as it is to cleanse our minds of insidious and sneaky negative talk.
SF: What are some common toxins and additives that people unknowingly consume and should become aware of so as to avoid them in the future?
VP: Let’s start with carrageenan—a food additive that is FDA-approved for use in the food industry as a thickener. It’s found in whipped cream but it was also commonly added to mass-produced nut milks (seemingly a healthy dairy alternative) to give them more of a “milky” texture. Research has shown that carrageenan is inflammatory for the gut lining and can induce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. There was an upheaval amongst the natural wellness world and most of the companies removed the carrageenan and replaced it with sunflower lecithin.
This brings up a very important point: read product labels! If a packaged food has more than five ingredients or ingredients with names you can’t even pronounce, you should probably not be eating it.
Other additives include artificial sweeteners like ascesulfame, which is commonly found in gum. You also have to watch out for sodium benzoate, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), which are often added to preserve cured meats. And of course, mercury exposure from eating seafood is a big concern. However, when most people think of mercury, they think of avoiding tuna but don’t realize that other fish like swordfish, Chilean sea bass, and farmed salmon are high in mercury.
Parashaskti: Why do you believe that improving gut health has the ability to actually “unlock keys to a happy life”?
VP: The best analogy I can use is this: the gut is to the body as the roots are to a tree. If a tree is ill you don’t look to the leaves to heal it, you look at the roots and the soil. If your body and mind are ill, you need to look at their root system—the gut. The gut is the foundation of our nutrient absorption, which, when healthy, provides all the nutrients needed to live in a healthy, balanced state. This includes the production of neurotransmitters that keep us happy. In fact, more serotonin—the “happiness” chemical— is produced in the gut than in the brain.
The gut is the center of our wellbeing. Everyone has heard of the gut-brain axis, but what people may not realize is the gut actually has more neural connections than the brain. We sense the world through our intuitive center—the gut—and depending on what you eat, you will harbor bacteria that produce “happy” neurotransmitters as well as calming ones like GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). If your gut (digestive system) is in disarray, it is inevitable that you will experience unhappiness. You need a healthy gut lining to have a healthy blood-brain barrier that protects the brain from toxins and inflammatory insults. That’s why I believe a happy gut is the key to a happy life.
SF: With food having the potential to be health-promoting and healing (“food as medicine”), or disease promoting, what do you see as the greatest barrier that people face in adopting a diet that is really focused on “food as medicine”?
VP: I think one of the greatest barriers to “food as medicine” is the belief that access to these types of foods is limited by socio-economic status. However, when you factor in the cost of eating cheap, fast-food over a lifetime with the disease burden it creates, it is in fact more costly in the long-term to eat a processed food diet.
The other barrier is our fast-paced lifestyle based on convenience. It takes time and education to source foods that heal the body. It also takes patience to cook a healthy meal at home versus simply eating out or ordering take-out or delivery. However, I think it simply requires a bit of mental reframing. Adding more vegetables to your day in the form of a salad that accompanies your dinner takes only about five extra minutes to prepare. It really doesn’t take that much time to prepare a healthy meal.
SF: In a previous interview (Microsoft’s news platform in 2018), you named five foods that you would “never eat again” and they were: cereal, milk, coffee, sandwiches, and pasta. Why did these foods make your list, and is it specific to you or something you advise others to avoid as well?
VP: These are among the most inflammatory foods out there, laden with both added and hidden sugars. I’m sure your readers already know that sugar is one of the most inflammatory and addictive substances out there. Sandwiches and pasta contain wheat/gluten, which is not only a source of sugar (as a refined carbohydrate), but it also increases the permeability or leakiness of the gut in pretty much every person. Pasteurized, homogenized milk is very hard to digest and is higher in sugar than people realize. A great majority of people in the world are lactose-intolerant, so they should avoid milk all together. I will admit that cheese is my guilty pleasure, but it is also inflammatory. For this reason, I only eat cheese in the summer months when I don’t have to worry about its mucous-producing and immune-suppressing effects on my body. I mostly avoid it the rest of the year, or I have a limited amount of goat cheese.
Coffee by itself is okay, but really only when it’s organic and free of mold. However, most people are drinking blended coffee drinks like lattes that are drowning in added sugar. For me, coffee is also over-activating because I metabolize caffeine slowly and this makes me feel jittery when I drink it. How do you know if you’re a slow or fast metabolizer? You can determine this by paying attention to the ways in which coffee affects you, especially late in the day. I cannot drink a caffeinated beverage in the afternoon without it disrupting my sleep cycle. So, for people like me who have difficulty metabolizing caffeine, I recommend avoiding coffee and drinking tea instead, completely abstaining from all caffeinated beverages after twelve or one in the afternoon. (Tea is also rich in polyphenolic antioxidant compounds!) However, as part of my cleanse, I have everyone give up coffee for the twenty-eight days because we want to reduce the amount of work the liver has to do to detox the body of ingested chemicals. This helps you cleanse at a deep level.
As emphatically absolute as the words “never eat again” may be, the way I practice these principles with myself now allows for softer edges. Perhaps now I would say “rarely” instead of “never”. For example, after I had given up coffee for good, I was traveling in Cuba and our host in Havana offered us the most delicious smelling espresso you could ever imagine. I didn’t stick to food dogma in that moment and I gladly took a few sips of the most memorable espresso I have ever had. I believe you cannot make the edges of your dogma (whatever it may be) too sharp, or you will “cut yourself”. Softening the edges takes away the sense of deprivation and makes it all about choice, not restriction.
Parashakti: How has becoming certified in yoga and acupuncture enhanced your medical practice?
VP: Becoming certified in yoga in 2003 changed my perspective on the body. I went from thinking of separate internal organ systems to looking at the person as a whole unit. It brought me back to where I had started on my own healing journey through yoga and meditation. In fact, I worked with two of my yoga teachers, Paula Tursi and Janet Dailey Butler, to create poses and breathing exercises for my book, Happy Gut.
Medical Acupuncture truly shaped the way I looked at the body because it was the first time that I learned to look at the body as a system, the summation of which creates an integrated whole. I practiced acupuncture with my patients for many years, but I have recently decided to phase it out as I focus more on functional medicine and teaching, which involves a lot of travel.
SF: What is something from the ancient healing arts that you would love to see incorporated more often in modern medicine practices?
VP: There is so much to look at that we are not yet fully seeing. What ancient healers really understood is that the disease is not the person. Healing is really an art of looking at the individual and their unique circumstances and helping them navigate their way back to health.
I would love to see a greater connection with the mind-body-spirit in the modern practice of medicine with a true honoring of the human condition. We are becoming so technological that we are losing touch with our humanity. What is true about the ancient healing arts is they were connected to our essence—our humanity—and our interaction with the natural world around us. We need to return to that and fuse it with modern medicine. Healing is much more than what is found in a research study.
SF: What do you see as the next steps in sustainable living, beyond a focus on organic choices?
VP: Let’s talk about three really important steps that need to come into the public consciousness:
1) Homegrown: Did you know that children who experience how vegetables are grown tend to eat more vegetables? Do you know how delicious food can taste when it’s grown in your own organic soil? I see a movement not just to buy organic, but to return to growing vegetables and fruit at the home-base. What better way to experience organic than to grow it in your own front or back yard? (Or, for those living in urban areas, by installing a hydroponic garden inside your apartment?) We have grown so disconnected from where food comes from that there’s no better way to get back in touch with true organic living than to have your own garden. Have you ever tasted freshly clipped lettuce from your own garden and expressed the mineral-rich, milky white liquid from the base of its leaves? You cannot get that result with organic produce that has traveled the country to be on your local supermarket’s shelves. Homegrown is simply the freshest product you can eat.
2) Locally-Sourced: I think there’s been a strong movement in this direction, but there’s still more room for growth. Local CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) or farmer’s markets where you purchase your vegetables are a great way to support the local economy and reduce your carbon footprint. This makes your eating more in line with what is both good for your health and sustainable for the planet. Thinking about this, we should also focus on seasonal eating practices, much like our ancestors. With access to apples from Argentina and kiwis from New Zealand in the middle of winter, we have falsified our seasons and expanded our carbon footprint across the globe in an unsustainable way.
3) Soilcentric: It’s not just about the fruits and vegetables we grow; the real important issue is the soil in which it grows. Healthy soil makes healthy plants. Did you know we’re losing the amount of farmable soil on earth at an alarming rate? I recently saw the documentary, The Need to Grow, and it is really scary how little attention we have paid to maintaining and ensuring rich, viable soil for generations to come. As a whole, soil is a living organism, teaming with bacteria and earthworms. It contains twenty-five percent of the biodiversity on the planet and it may actually be the real solution to global warming (or climate change), because healthy soil traps carbon dioxide and keeps the excess from entering the atmosphere. In going beyond organic, let’s focus on building vibrant, pesticide-free soil as the foundation for sustainability.