795: The Adaptability of Our Bodies and Minds: We Have More Control Than We Think With Dr. Olivia Lesslar

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The Adaptability of Our Bodies and Minds: We Have More Control than We Think with Dr. Olivia Lesslar
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795: The Adaptability of Our Bodies and Minds: We Have More Control Than We Think With Dr. Olivia Lesslar

Today, I’m back for round two with Dr. Olivia Lesslar, who is an Australian doctor with a background in international relations and postgraduate studies in skin cancer medicine and clinical nutrition management. She’s currently undertaking a diploma in clinical hypnosis and strategic psychotherapy. She is the medical director of functional and longevity medicine at the Brain Center in Sydney, as well as for several other places as well.

Dr. Lesslar is one of the best voices I’ve personally met on uniting mind-body medicine, the nervous system aspect, hormones, and nutrition. In this episode, we talk more about the mind-body connection and why it’s important, how we have more control over our bodies than we think, how to support our nervous system, and easy ways to help your body get into parasympathetic.

She’s a wealth of knowledge, and I hope you enjoy this conversation.

Episode Highlights With Dr. Olivia Lesslar

  • The science of the mind-body connection and why it matters so much
  • Ways foreign things enter the body and why understanding this is important
  • What guardian sites are and how to support them
  • How to get the mind, body, and emotions in alignment 
  • It is only within a parasympathetic state that the body will heal
  • Your nervous system responds to the neurochemicals you pump out in relation to your emotions
  • The biggest needle movers for supporting the nervous system and spending more time in parasympathetic 
  • The real deal about blue light and how it impacts the nervous system
  • Getting light exposure right for nervous system health
  • Easy things you can do at home to manage your light exposure at night and help your body get ready for sleep
  • The importance of melatonin and how it helps address inflammation in the body
  • Why shift work is now considered a carcinogen 
  • How animal products in the diet are a signal of safety to the body and nervous system

Resources We Mention

More From Wellness Mama

Read Transcript

Child: Welcome to my Mommy’s podcast.

Hello, and welcome to the Wellness Mama podcast. I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com. And this is round two with Dr. Olivia Lesslar, who is an Australian doctor with a background in international relations, postgraduate studies in skin cancer medicine and clinical nutrition management, and a current undertaking of a diploma in clinical hypnosis and strategic psychotherapy. And she is one of the best voices I have personally met on uniting mind-body medicine, the nervous system aspect, hormones, nutrition, she explains everything so clearly and speaks so well on all of these different topics. She is the medical director of functional and longevity medicine, the Brain Center in Sydney, as well as for several other places as well. And she works with high profile international clinics, including concierge and longevity clinics, including ones in LA. But I really love how clearly she explains everything. And I think you will as well. So let’s jump in with Dr. Olivia Lesslar. Dr. Olivia, welcome back.

Dr. Olivia: Thank you so much for having me.

Katie: Well, I absolutely love talking to you because I feel like I always learn so much and that you explain things so well in a way that can really help us to remember and integrate them. And in our first episode together, we got to talk about psychoneuroimmunology and a lot of the ways that we can support our nervous system and our bodies to signal safety. And another aspect of this that I’m really excited to dive deep in this conversation on is the mind-body connection side. I’ve talked about this a decent amount on the podcast because that was such a pivotal piece for me to figure out. And since sharing those conversations, I’ve had so many requests for more information on how we can start to figure that out, each of us individually in our own lives and with our own things that we’re working through. And you spoke to this when we did a panel last year as well. And I would love for you to sort of expound and explain the science of the mind-body connection because this is another area that I feel like is just often either overlooked or discounted but seems to be vitally important and especially for women.

Dr. Olivia: Oh, yes. Okay, well, you know, I think that we should start with some basics and, the mind-body connection is absolutely scientifically medically proven, to be, you know, inverted commas, real. We even have biomarkers to show this. And I what to draw everyone’s attention to the fact that we have what are called guardian sites. A guardian site is a part of your body where if your physical integrity was going to be breached by a virus, bacteria, parasite or something that shouldn’t be in our lungs, like pollen, for example. It would usually come through one of these areas. That is your eyes, your nose, you’re a respiratory tract, your mouth, the gastrointestinal tract, your skin, specifically the parts of your which are exposed a lot, so that’s your face, your hands, your feet, for women, our vaginas. And to a lesser extent, our urethras and our bladders.

What makes a guardian site a guardian site is that it has a special army of white blood cells, which are like sentries at the gate. Ready to pounce and initiate first order protection mechanisms. Shoot fast, ask questions later. And when your brain nervous system sees that there is more cortisol or adrenaline flying around your body or it feels unsafe for whatever reason or in patients who have had previous adverse childhood experiences, adverse childhood events, previous traumas, big T, little t traumas, your nervous system starts to fortify those troops at those guardian sites. And when it feels it needs to pounce into action against a threat, real or perceived, you will start getting symptoms in those areas, which, for the unfortunate few, can double down, double down, double down, and then before you know it you go from having no food sensitivities, to all the food sensitivities, to not being able to eat anything. Or you had no allergies to any pollens and all of a sudden you can’t step out in spring at all without antihistamines.

So a lot of the symptoms which are initiated is actually your body trying to protect you. Again, seeing that your body is on your side. So when you have excess mucus in your nose, for example, that’s your nervous system trying to produce that so that it can wrap itself around whatever is trying to invade and then you sneeze it out or cough it out. The excess fluid that comes out of your ear, your, your eyes, you know, tears is doing the exact same thing. Your skin becomes itchy so that you hopefully can scratch off whatever may be there that’s trying to get in. You get wheezing because your lungs don’t want whatever bad thing that’s trying to get in to go into the deeper parts of the lungs. And so it actually constricts the small pipes of your lungs. It increases stomach acid because stomach acid is meant to neutralize threats before it even gets into the small intestines. And so on and so forth. So, these are kind of like basic stepping stones to understand how the mental psychological drivers or the state of your mind can actually be, can actually have physical manifestations.

Katie: And I would guess from what you just said that there is also kind of a flip side to this. I love that you brought up, you know, our body is always on our side. And I would guess having the mindset that our body is attacking us, as I used to have, for instance, probably not very reinforcing of positive things running in our body. But I would guess the reverse hopefully is also true, that if we can adopt a mindset and the emotions of our body being on our side and doing its best to communicate clearly what we need, that that mental shift can also lead to physical shifts. And I know when it comes to the mind-body connection, often a lot of these things get discounted as the realm of spirituality or woo or get labeled lots of different things. But from hearing you speak before, there’s actually like really strong evidence to back up just how intricately the mind and the body are connected. I know we see at the extreme examples, I talk about sometimes the people who are told they have cancer and they die on schedule. And then the autopsy reveals that they didn’t have cancer or the people who are told they have cancer and they adopt an acceptance and love of life. And then somehow the cancer spontaneously resolves. So we see it play out at the extremes, but I would guess this exists in our daily life as well. But if that’s true, how do we nurture that?

Dr. Olivia: Okay, so that’s the million-dollar question, right? I think it’s about starting very simple, really you know, thank goodness for the scientists doing research into the blue zones. So the blue zones are those zones around the world where they have a very high number of centenarians, people who live beyond the age of 100. Some of the blue zones include Okinawa in Japan, Sardinia in Italy, Ikaria in Greece. And over the last few decades, doing research into these blue zones and asking these people, what do you do? Why are you living so long? Why are you living with such health span as well? You’ll actually find it has you know, nothing to do with supplements. Or going to the gym as such, right? It’s sort of incidental movement. Incorporating movement into the everyday life. It’s about having a sense of purpose. And having community around you. You know, several generations living under one roof.

And it has got more to do with that integrity of emotions, integrity of philosophy, integrity of spiritualism. So, going back to some really basic things. I think that most of us do mourn the loss of community, and, mourn the loss of those sorts of tighter social bonds. And the fact that, you know, many of us don’t have large number of siblings. But what has been fostered over the last few decades, I think in our modern society that we can leverage is networking. All these different community events that bring us together, like the conferences that we met at, for example, right? And taking more advantage of the fact that we are ever, we are ever connected now. Social media. And that can be a terrible thing for us, like, you know, scrolling endlessly. Or it can be a way to connect with people that we don’t know that well or you know, our old friends. And trying to make sure that we are being involved in people’s lives.

So, for us, I think, from an individual level, not only is reframing the issue is going to be very helpful, but it’s also about knowing that we can’t get on top of everything because we do live in a modern society. And in other words, having that wisdom to change what we can. And knowing that we can’t change and letting go the things that we can’t change. Because just the stress of wanting to be better, do better, eat better, go to the gym more, that stress in and of itself can be very detrimental, right?

So I do talk to my patients and I talk to myself about this and it’s about self-compassion. Because self-compassion has an immense wisdom to it. In other words, if we’re driving down the street and we get frustrated with the people in the car in front of us because they’re driving too slow or whatever it is, we can go one of two ways. We can get frustrated or we can think, oh, well, you know, maybe there’s a reason why, they got a cake in the backseat or something like that. And not only do we decrease our sympathetic response, our fight-flight response, but we also then put ourselves in a parasympathetic state, which means that our cells, our nervous system relax a little bit. And we also know that it is only within a parasympathetic state that you, cells will heal. So it’s actually that layer cake effect where we’re doing tiny things all the time that eventually make the biggest impacts. And that’s something that you and I have been talking about quite a bit with these podcasts. So I know that people kind of want the big flashy, you know, to-do lists. But, taking every day as it comes and sort of checking yourself, with every, with every speed hump that comes your way. That’s actually going to be, I feel, more beneficial than to plan for some big event of like what detox or whatever, you know?

Katie: Yeah, that’s such a good point. And I think back to my own healing journey, you mentioned in our first episode that something like Hashimoto’s, for example, could be signaling your body to try to go into a metaphorical or physical cave to heal. And I discovered in that year when I started actually listening that my body needed a lot of space and calm for healing. And I didn’t during that year do high intensity workouts. I wasn’t doing anything that could be any additional stress until I sort of like relearned how to enter parasympathetic, which is still a journey for me, for sure.

But I think to your point, there’s something really profound to what people like Dr. Courtney Hunt say over and over, just see yourself well, like having that mindset. And for me, it was shifting from I’m sick to I’m healing or I’m resilient or I’m adaptable and letting those changes over time start to actually show up in my body as well. I took some heat one time. I got interviewed by someone who was doing a series of TikTok videos, and they were like, what is the worst things you can put in your body? And I think they wanted me to say like glyphosate or sugar or something sensational. And I said, fear, guilt, and shame. Because if you have those feelings about something, even if it objectively could have been good for you, now your nervous system has interpreted this thing as a threat. And so if you believe that every green vegetable has oxalates and it’s going to destroy your kidneys, or you believe that gluten is going to mutilate your gut overnight, whatever it is, your feelings about that might be just as powerful or more so than what’s actually happening physiologically. But I feel like that connection took me years to even begin to start to understand how much that connection exists.

Dr. Olivia: Yeah. Well, you know, as I was saying before about the fact that you have to be in a parasympathetic state to heal. You also have to be present, now, here to heal too. And when we have fear, guilt, shame, regret, a lot of those keep you in the past. You know, worry keeps you in the future. And so, if you’re not present, your nervous system doesn’t take a step, doesn’t stop and then step up to try and actually help you regenerate and rejuvenate now. Because it’s constantly needing to be in this fight flight because it, you know, it feels like there’s a threat coming, a threat coming, a threat coming.

I love that you talk about that because I have seen in my own practice and which is what got me down this different road, I consult to a allergy immunology clinic in Queensland in Australia. And I saw patients do well, despite not changing their rubbish diets. But they changed how they ate. They ate with gratitude. They slowed down. They chewed. They had dinner with friends. Like they change how they ate. And they got better, and I have seen, we’ve all seen patients who are essentially orthorexic, which means that they’re so concerned about like you said, the oxalates and the glyphosate and the gluten and the this and the that, and they’re counting calories and counting this, and they’re really anxious around their food. They don’t do as well, no matter how organic and wonderful the food is. And that’s because your nervous system is going to respond to those neurochemicals that you’re pumping out due to your emotions, i.e. if you’re stressed around your food, your nervous system and immune system is going to treat that food as a threat. It doesn’t matter how amazing that food is.

Katie: I love that you just brought the science in to explain why that is such a profound shift. And in our first conversation as well, it seems like so much goes back to the nervous system and to being able to get into a state of parasympathetic. And you talked so well about the different threats and how to sort of address each of those individually. But acknowledging that we live in a world that isn’t naturally set up optimally for nervous system health, what would you categorize as maybe some of the biggest needle movers people can do to create more space for parasympathetic in their lives?

Dr. Olivia: Definitely is light. Lighting is huge. So, as much as possible, if you can wake up earlier then you get more out of the day so that after dark you’re going to start winding down and then you sleep it up in inverted commas, appropriate time, whether that’s sort of, you know, nine o’clock or so because, the longer you’re up after the sun sets, that means the longer you’re exposed to artificial lights. The more you’re going to have a terrible impact on your melatonin production, on your nervous system. The amount of research there is into blue light now, and when I say blue, I don’t mean the color blue. I just mean the spectrum of light that falls within that blue spectrum, which is the fluorescent lighting and the bright white lights. Blue light actually triggers a receptor at the back of the eye called a melanopsin, which has knock-on effects to the pineal gland in the brain, which then turns on and off melatonin production.

So after dark, if you have all these bright white lights and fluorescent lighting, it tells your brain, oh, it’s daylight. In other words, keep going as if it’s daytime. So all your organs are maximally working. What then happens is that you don’t produce melatonin like you’re meant to at about 8:30, 9 o’clock, which is a signaling molecule, by the way, not necessarily a sleep molecule. It’s a signaling molecule to all your organs to tell them, okay, tool’s down soon, we’re about to kind of wind up because we’re going to go to bed soon. And you don’t do that. And, then you have poor sleep, and poor sleep has knock-on effects. So it’s going to make your reflux worse, for example, because melatonin increases the tone of the lower esophageal sphincter, which means that if you have one night of poor sleep, the next day you’re going to have worse reflux because the gastric acid is going to escape. Melatonin is anti-inflammatory. It’s anti-cancer. We know that shift workers, even the World Health Organization has categorized shift working as a carcinogen because these people are awake when they shouldn’t be and exposing themselves to blue light.

So I think lighting is really important when we’re trying to leverage or take control of our modern day environments. So being able to change your lights, making sure that there’s sort of more of that orangey, maybe reddish kind of hues, especially after dark. That the lights are placed low as opposed to eye level. That you have dimmers on them so they’re a little bit lower lumens. And, again, changing your lifestyle so that you’re not needing lights after dark. And of course, the biggest culprits of us exposing ourselves to bright white light after dark is our phones and our laptops and all of us, including myself, you know, we’re guilty of this. But knowledge is power. And knowing that that is something that we need to change will necessarily mean that, okay. You know, like I have a red light filter on my phone, for example, that gets turned on after dark. Blue like blockers, some people wear those too. There are things that we can do. But knowing just how dangerous these lights can be after dark is really important. Especially for our children.

Katie: Yeah. And also for moms, I feel like that’s such an important tip because it helps our kids sleep so much better. And as moms, we don’t sleep unless our kids are sleeping. And so, but I feel like their nervous system seems to be more responsive because they don’t have as many years of all of these things building up. So I’ve, I noticed in my house, when I switched a lot of the lighting, my kids adapted so fast, much faster than I did. And they got tired earlier and they slept better even before I did.

And one tip, I love that you mentioned the angle of the light as well, having light after sunset come from eye level or below, because that’s where we would have seen it in a sunset or at a campfire versus that overhead light signaling differently. So one tip, I feel like morning sun exposure, super important and free, and we can all do it even on a cloudy day. But another really inexpensive one is I just bought some inexpensive lamps and put red light or amber bulbs in them and put them throughout my house. So when the sun goes down, we switch from overhead lighting to this more amber lamp light. And it really does help to all of us to get more tired more quickly. Also, I’ll link a tutorial in the show notes for doing the red light filter on your phone, because I do the same thing and I can just click it on when the sun goes down and I find I’m much less interested in my phone when it’s not brightly lit and super colorful and giving me a constant dopamine hit in the form of social media as well.

Dr. Olivia: Yeah, I mean exactly. All these things. I’m glad that you already have these tips for your listeners.

Katie: What about, we haven’t really touched on the nutrition side at all. I loved you explaining that supplements don’t necessarily have the same biological effect. Even if they’re sometimes necessary, we still want to get things from food. But we haven’t really delved deep on the nutrition topic. And of course, this is a controversial one at times, and there’s personalization for each person. But are there any generalities that you give people as a starting point that either to avoid or to add from a dietary perspective?

Dr. Olivia: Yeah. So, this is actually taken from another doctor in Australia, Dr. Greg. And he talks about LOTUS foods. LOTUS foods are local, organic traditionally prepared unprocessed and sustainable. And I really like that acronym. So, of course, you know, this is all, if we had the money and the time, this is ideal. But, you know, knowledge is power, as we said before. In other words, if you know to look for seasonal foods, then you’re going to be a little bit more on the game about this. But specifically, I have certain requirements for myself and my patients, knowing in Australia, for example, we’ve got very low selenium in our soil. This has been something that’s been described by the government over the last 20, 30 years. So I prescribe my patients Brazil nuts. Very high in selenium, of course. So and it’s being taken in a whole food way. As opposed to selenium supplements. Oysters are fantastic for zinc, copper, and B12. So I actually prescribe myself oysters. I will have oysters whole. Fish roe is another thing that I will prescribe myself for my omega-3 fatty acids. And organ meats. So I will try to have organic beef liver, so about 80 grams or so, maybe about three times a week. I didn’t start off eating organ meats. I had to retrain my palate and it took me about a year and a half to do but I was committed and I really wanted to and now it doesn’t matter what organ meat you put in front of me, I will eat it. And I will eat it like with gratitude. So it’s about slowly changing that paradigm. And knowing which foods are nutrient dense.

A lot of my patients, especially my private patients, will do DNA/SNP analyses. So that’s single nucleotide polymorphism analyses. And it’s about knowing what your personal conversions are of of plot pre-vitamins to a form that a human can use. So for example, I have a BCO1 SNP. Whereby I don’t efficiently convert beta carotene or any of the carotenoids actually. I don’t efficiently convert beta carotene into a form that a human can use, retinal, retinol, retinoic acid. So I would make the worst vegan. And in fact, I, this would be about 15 years ago. So I did go vegan for about nine months or so. And I faired very poorly, especially after I ran through my fat stores of the fat soluble vitamins, including vitamin A. And I just wasn’t, I just couldn’t convert that well. And I didn’t know why I was doing so poorly. And of course, there are plenty of people who do well, right, on vegan diets. But you need to know what your capabilities are. Because this is something that you can’t fudge. So knowing that is very important.

Personally, I do feel that there are plenty of nutrients which are derived from animal products. And so for my very sick patients, it is also a signaling, safety signaling. In other words, we would only have animal products when we were in time of plenty, when the hunt was successful, or when we were in spring and summer. And this is speaking to ourselves in an evolutionary way. So for my patients who their nervous systems and immune systems are clearly very twitchy, very upset, and they’re not doing well with, especially vegetables and the anti-nutrients, which in and of itself, they are hormetic stresses. They really build up that antioxidant capacity of the body. But it needs to be done appropriately. When you are not able to handle just raw vegetables or vegetables in general, then you need to listen to your body and you need to speak to it, I feel, in that evolutionary way about the fact that we are safe and that we are in time of plenty and that you are an apex. And so, you know, animal derived nutrients for me has been a game changer for many of my patients.

Katie: And I loved this about hearing your approach when I first met you is that you speak so well about all the generalities that we as human creatures need to know when it’s the light and the sleep and the nervous system side. And then your work in the world is you’re really helping people to get specific for their own body. Then what does that mean? And how do they resolve those things and live in their most optimal state based on their own body? And I’m sure many people listening with specific questions have many follow-up questions and that you do work with patients, but you also have a tremendous amount of information available online. So where can people find you to keep learning from you?

Dr. Olivia: Yeah, my social media handle is @drolivialesslar. That’s D-R-O-L-I-V-I-A-L-E-S-S-L-A-R. And my website is www.drolivialesslar.com.

Katie: And I will make sure those are linked in the show notes as well. I’m so glad we got to have this conversation. I knew since I met you at Dragonfly that I wanted to have you on the podcast. And you are just so well-spoken on so many topics. I hope we get to have future conversations. But for today, thank you so much for your time.

Dr. Olivia: Thank you so much.

Katie: And thank you, as always, for listening and sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy, and your attention with us today. We’re both so grateful that you did. And I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of the Wellness Mama podcast.

If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.

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About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


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