FEMALE SPEAKER: So I'm really excited to host Dr. Lissa Rankin today. It's funny to say "doctor" in front of your name. DR. LISSA RANKIN: I know. FEMALE SPEAKER: I call you "Lissa." But I met Lissa through a mutual friend, and last year when I met Lissa she talked about this book that was coming out. It's all about her research and the medical world that she comes from. So this is the book, "Mind Over Medicine." It's available here as well for anyone looking to purchase. But first a little bit about Dr. Rankin. So Dr. Rankin is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute Training Program for physicians and other health care providers.
And is "The New York Times" best-selling author of "Mind Over Medicine-- Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself." She is on a grassroots mission to put the care back in health care and to heal our broken health care system one doctor and patient at a time. Lissa blogs at lissarankin.com and has created two online communities, healhealthcarenow.com and owningpink.com. She is also the author of two other books. And Lissa will work on the focus in an upcoming public television special that will appear on PBS that she just finished taping, and she delivered two popular TEDx talks, which are available on her website. She's also on the speaking circuit with Hay House I Can Do It! conferences. Lissa's work has also been featured on over 30 television shows, over 50 radio shows, and in publications such as "O" magazine, "The New York Times," WebMD, and CNN. She's also a social networking guru, and you can follow her on Twitter and on her blog, which you can sign up for her newsletter daily.
So without further ado, I will hand it over to Lissa. Thank you so much. DR. LISSA RANKIN: Hi, everyone. It's so nice to see you all here. So I want to tell you the story of how I ended up being here in front of you, talking about the things that I'm going to be talking about today. In many ways, I'm the most unlikely person on the planet to be talking about how you can heal yourself.
I was raised in a very conventional upbringing with a physician father. I came to believe that in order to get well, to be healthy, you do the things that they teach us how to do in medical school, right? So my definition of "health" meant, OK, so you eat well, you exercise daily, you get enough sleep, you take your vitamins, you go to your doctor for preventive maintenance, and you should be healthy, right? Well, and I had once worked in the inner city of Chicago. My patients were often very, very poor, and they had very poor health habits. So it made sense to me that these people were sick. Because when I was investigating their health histories and that sort of thing, they were eating poorly. They weren't getting enough sleep. They had many bad habits. Often they weren't exercising at all. So it kind of made sense to me why these people were sick. Well, then I came to Marin County. And I'm not from Marin, so I had no idea what kind of people were in Marin County. But these people are proverbial health nuts.
I see you guys are smiling. Right? So I took a job at an integrative medicine practice, and my patients were eating their vegan diets. They were drinking their daily green juice. They were working out with personal trainers. They were getting eight hours of sleep every night. They were taking 20 supplements. They were getting the best medical care at places like Stanford and UCSF. So these people would come to see me, and they'd have these laundry lists of chronic health conditions. And it made no sense to me. I mean, these people should be the healthiest people on the planet, and they were some of the sickest people that I'd ever met. So it didn't make any sense. Many of them, by the time they had seen me, they had optimized everything that Western medicine had to offer.
So they had gone to all of their fabulous doctors and had every fabulous test out there. So a few of them were sort of practicing some functional medicine. And so some of them, I would find the occasional lab test that someone else hadn't ordered, and I'd find some abnormality that we'd be able to treat. And all of a sudden, it would be like the lights had come on. They felt great and everything was terrific. But that was maybe 10% of the time. And 90% of the time, I'd look through everything that all the other doctors had done, and I didn't know how to explain why these people were sick.
So I did something sort of radical. I decided, you know what, maybe I'm not asking the right questions. Maybe the answer is not in their medical record but in the rest of their life. So I redid my patient intake form, the forms that you fill out when you go see the doctor. So I was asking all the conventional questions, but I started asking some other questions. I started asking things like, if you could break any rule and there were no consequences, what rule would you break? And I started asking people about their romantic life. Are you in a relationship, and if so, are you happy? If not, do you wish you were? I started asking people about their work. Do you love your job? Do you feel like you're in touch with your life's purpose? Do you have a calling, and if so, what is it? And I came across some real doozies. I started asking people, if your health condition had a message to teach you, what is it here to teach you? And then the one that really started being the mother lode for me, I asked people what does your body need in order to heal? Now, when I started asking that question, I thought that I would get treatment intuitions from people, that maybe they'd tell me I think I'll skip the antidepressant and we'll try the tryptophan instead or something like that.
And occasionally they would say things like that. But more often than not, I'd say, what does your body need in order to heal? And my patients would say things like, I need to leave my abusive marriage. Or I need to quit my soul-sucking job. Or I've got to get my kid in rehab. Or I've got to deal with my aging parent and get my mom out of my house. Or I need to finally write my novel. And I'd say, well, great. You've just written the prescription for yourself. Go do it. And they'd look at me and say, well, I can't do that, that would be crazy. Right? So I started talking to my patients about, well, let's assume for a minute that you just answered the question of what does my body need in order to heal and that it's true. What if you actually did that thing and your health conditions went away? Would you be willing to do it then? And some of them would say, you know what, actually not.
I'd rather be sick than have to follow through on what I just said. But some of my patients started getting really brave. And so I was watching these patients as they were going out into the world and sort of making these courageous choices, often from this laundry list of things that they've written out about the answer to what does my body need in order to heal.
And I started witnessing my patients having these incredible, spontaneous remissions from a whole host of health conditions. So I was not giving these people any medical treatment. They had already gotten the best medical treatment out there. And they were getting better, and I couldn't explain that. That didn't make any sense to my very logical, very scientific, very academically-educated doctor brain. It's like, does not compute. I really couldn't explain what was going on.
So I started researching spontaneous remissions. This is a term the doctors use to explain patients that get better either with no medical treatment or with medical treatment deemed to be inadequate for cure. So I started looking into this, and I came across a database called the Spontaneous Remission Project. And this is a database of over 3,500 case studies in the medical literature put together by the Institute of Noetic Sciences. And they're case studies that doctors have written up as kind of medical mysteries, of people that had everything from stage IV cancers that disappeared. There was an HIV positive person who became HIV negative. There's a gunshot wound to the head left untreated. And it wasn't just life-threatening illnesses like heart failure and kidney failure.
It was ordinary things, like thyroid disease or autoimmune disorders or diabetes or high blood pressure. So I was reading through these case studies and this didn't make any sense to me. Again, doctor brain does not compute. Because I was not only a very skeptical physician, but I was a very skeptical patient. So by the time I was 33 years old, I had been diagnosed with a whole host of chronic health conditions. And I was taking seven medications that my doctors had told me I'd have to take for the rest of my life. So being a doctor, and being raised by a doctor, I believed my doctors. And I believed that these were chronic conditions that I would have for the rest of my life. So when I started reading these cases of spontaneous remission, it was like this light bulb going off in my mind. Like, wait a minute. Every single health condition that I was dealing with myself, I was able to find a case study of somebody who had that condition and got better without medical treatment. And it was like a switch flipped in my brain, where all of a sudden I started thinking, what if my illnesses aren't chronic? What if they're not incurable? What if it's possible that I might not have to take seven medications for the rest of my life? And it was really-- have you guys heard the story of the four-minute mile? Yeah, I see you guys nodding.
So exercise physiologists once believed that it was impossible, humanly, physiologically impossible, for a human being to run a mile in less than four minutes. And nobody had ever done it. It was kind of this world-wide belief in the athletic community that this was impossible. And then Roger Bannister ran the mile in 3 minutes and 59 seconds. And now almost every world-class runner has run a sub-four-minute mile. So it was like that belief that it was impossible suddenly shifted everything for the world of athletics. And reading the Spontaneous Remission Project and then going through even more case studies in the medical literature was like that for me. It was like all of a sudden everything shifted, and I suddenly started thinking, what if it's possible that I could have a spontaneous remission? What if it's possible that you could have a spontaneous remission? And I was watching my patients do this by asking the question, what does my body need in order to heal, and then getting really brave.
So one of the case studies that I came across was recently in "The New York Times," this guy Stamatis Moraitis. So Stamatis Moraitis was a Greek war veteran who came to the United States in the 1940s with a combat-mangled arm. So they fixed his arm. He wound up getting a job in manual labor, and he married a Greek-American woman, settled down, had kids. And one day Stamatis was at work and he was getting really short of breath. So he goes to see the doctor, and the doctor tells him, you have terminal lung cancer.
And basically tells him he's got nine months to live. So they offered him aggressive treatment, but they said it's really not going to extend your life very much, and the side effects are going to be rough. So Stamatis decided, well, if I only have nine months left, I'd rather skip the treatment. And I might as well save some money. I don't have a whole lot of money. I might as well save the money for my wife. So he and his wife decided to move back to his native Ikaria, a small island in Greece.
He figured he might as well be buried in the graveyard with his ancestors, overlooking the Aegean Sea. So they moved back to Ikaria, and they move in with Stamatis' parents. And word gets out. Friends hear that he's back. And they start coming and bringing bottles of wine and board games to play. He figures, hey, I'm dying in nine months, I might as well die happy. So this goes on. He decides he's going to plant a garden. He doesn't really expect that he's going to be around to harvest it, but he thought it would be lovely for his wife to be able to pick some vegetables and think about him. And he starts going back to the old church that he grew up in-- reconnected with his faith and with the people that he grew up with.
So one thing leads to another and actually the vegetables come to harvest. And he's feeling well enough to harvest the vegetables, so he decides he's going to start tending the untended vineyards on his parents' property. And he winds up making some wine. Well, long story short, that was 45 years ago, and Stamatis Moraitis turned 98 years old on New Year's Day of this year. So 25 years after his initial diagnosis, he decides he's going to go back to the United States and track down his doctors to find out what happened. And apparently, they were all dead. So stories like this made me really start to question, what's going on here? And the question that kept coming into my mind was, can the mind really heal the body? You hear about it, sort of this new age folklore.
And I had read some books about mind-body medicine, and none of them seemed very well-substantiated from a scientific perspective. So I was curious. I was intrigued. I mean, it's a nice idea. But, again, my skeptical brain sort of thinking, that sounds like, at best, wishful thinking, and at worst, just good old fashioned snake oil selling quackery. But then I started investigating further. Is there any evidence that the mind can heal the body? And that's when I realized that the medical establishment has been proving that the mind can heal the body for over 50 years. We call it the placebo effect. Right? You guys have all heard of the placebo effect.
It's this thing we kind of brush under the carpet in Western medicine. We know it's there. We know that in clinical trials, when you give people a sugar pill or a saline injection or, most effectively, a fake surgery, 18% to 80% of them get better. So they know they might be getting either the real treatment or this fake treatment, but they don't know which they're getting and neither does their doctor. So on average it's about 30% to 35% of people get better. And certainly, as a doctor, I know about the placebo effect.
It's out there. We're sort of taught about it. But nobody really explains it. What's happening when 30% to 35% of people get better from getting a sugar pill? So I started investigating the placebo effect. I thought, is it just in their minds? Are they just feeling better? But no, it's physiologically measurable. These people in these clinical trials, their bronchi are dilating. Their warts are disappearing. Their colons are becoming less inflamed. There's measurable physiological things that are happening. Bald guys getting sugar pills in the Rogaine studies actually grew hair. So it's not just in their minds. It's something physiological happening in the body. So it sort of led me down this rabbit hole of my own research, of one question after another. I found that the mind can not only heal the body, the mind can harm the body. There's something called the nocebo effect, which is the evil twin of the placebo effect. Those same clinical trials where 18% to 80% of people get better from taking a sugar pill, we also have to warn those people when they're in those studies of the side effects that they might get if they're getting a real drug.
Right? So we tell them, here's the side effects. Well, an equally high percentage of people actually get those side effects when they're not getting the drug. They're getting the sugar pill. So thinking that we might actually be at risk of these side effects actually makes people get these side effects. And there's much more dramatic instances of things like that. There's case studies all over the medical literature of people that were told that they were going to die in three months, for example, of a cancer diagnosis, and then they die almost exactly three months to the date, and on autopsy, it turns out they don't have cancer. So there's all kinds of studies out there showing that when we have negative beliefs about our health-- and many of us do. Many of us are programmed with negative beliefs about our health from an early age. We have those, oh, breast cancer runs in my family, therefore, I'm at risk of breast cancer, thoughts.
Or we have, I'm always going to be battling my weight because my parents always battled their weight. Or even just something simple, like I can't heal myself. I'm dependent on doctors to heal me. So I actually, when I was doing this research, I have a seven year old, and at the time, my daughter was four. And I was reading all the data showing that basically, our subconscious minds get programmed by the time we're about six, and that 90% to 95% of the time, we're operating from these beliefs of our subconscious mind that are often programmed into us by the time we're six. So I was noticing my husband, when my daughter would get injured or when she'd get a cold or something, he'd start pretending he's an ambulance.
And he's going around going we've got to take an Sienna to the kid factory. We've got to get her a new knee. Or, we've got to get her a new throat, or whatever. And I told my husband, we've got to stop doing that. Because we're programming our child to think that the solution is at the kid factory.
That she needs to go, and that it's outside of her, this ability to get well. So we started reprogramming, and we started telling her, you know what, we're going to put this Band-Aid on your knee so that you'll feel better while your body heals itself. And I'm going to give you this cough syrup so that you're going to feel a little better while your body heals itself from this cold. And now she's great. I mean, she's so programmed. So people talk about being sick, and she's like, it's OK, your body knows how to heal itself. So I was reading about all of this and I'm researching all of this, and I'm slowly getting kind of accustomed to the idea of like, oh, maybe the mind can heal the body.
There's so much research, and it's all included in my book "Mind Over Medicine-- Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself." So I was chronicling all of this as I was going, but my skeptic brain really needed an explanation. What's happening here? How do we explain this? I needed a physiologic explanation. It's not magic. It can't be magic, right? So I started researching what explanations are out there of how the placebo effect works. And what I found is that researchers believe that some combination of the positive belief that they're going to get well-- people are in this clinical trial, they're going to get the new wonder drug or the new fancy surgery or whatever. So they believe that they're getting the real treatment, and so they believe the real treatment's going to work. So it's that combination of positive belief and then there's also this element of the nurturing care of somebody in a white coat saying, I believe this is going to help you.
And we put a lot of meaning in that. We're conditioned to believe that if somebody in a white coat says, this is going to help you, that it will. So researchers believe that that combination of positive belief and the nurturing care of a health care provider leads to changes in the brain that are translated into the physiology of the body through a whole cascade of hormonal changes. So let me explain this for you. I'm going to give you a little neuroanatomy lesson first. So there's this part of our brain called the amygdala. And the amygdala is in the limbic brain. So this is not your thinking, rational, logical forebrain. It's the ancient lizard part of your primordial brain.
And the amygdala's primary job is to keep on the alert for danger. So have you guys seen those meerkats at the zoo, the little prairie dogs? I love them. They're always sitting there, and there's always the meerkat sentry up on the mound, kind of looking around to make sure that there's not a tiger on the loose. And it's their job to signal to the whole community if something's coming. So the amygdala, I like to think of it as it's sort of like that meerkat, the sentry up on the mound. It's always trying to protect you, so it's always on the lookout for danger. And this is a good thing, right? Because if there's a tiger on the loose, then this is something that we need. Because what happens is if the amygdala sees that there's a tiger on the loose, all of a sudden the amygdala can communicate with the hypothalamus, which communicates with the pituitary gland that talks to the adrenal gland.
And all of a sudden the adrenal gland is spitting out cortisol and epinephrine. So you're now in the middle of a fight or flight response. Right? So Walter Cannon at Harvard called this the stress response. And it's there to protect you. It's so that when you're in stress response and your life is in danger, your heart rate goes up. Your blood pressure goes up. You get blood flow to the large muscle groups so you can outrun the tiger. So this is here to protect you, right? But the problem is the amygdala is not smart. So it can't tell the difference between there's a tiger on the loose and you're about to get eaten or nobody loves me. Or my family has a history of breast cancer and so I might get breast cancer. Or I hate my job. Or even something simple, like somebody just spilled red wine on my white carpet.
As far as your amygdala is concerned, all of those are equal threats. So whenever you have a thought like that, the amygdala starts this hormonal cascade and the body is full of cortisol and epinephrine. Now fortunately, there's an equal and opposite reaction called the relaxation response, which is when the body is in the parasympathetic nervous system. So the fight or flight is the sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is the homeostatic state of the nervous system.
So in the relaxation response, all of those stress hormones go away and the body releases healing hormones like oxytocin, dopamine, nitric oxide, endorphins. These are all hormones that help the body heal. So here's the one thing-- if you get only one thing from my talk today, this is what I want you to hear. The body is beautifully equipped with natural self-repair mechanisms. We know this. They teach us this in medical school. It's in our physiology textbooks.
So we know that we all make cancer cells every day. We fight the cancer cells. Our body knows how to do that. We're all exposed to infectious agents all the time, right? But we fight the infectious agents. They don't make us sick most of the time. We have broken proteins. The body knows how to fix things like that.
But here's what I didn't know until I started doing this research. The body's natural self-repair mechanisms only operate when the body is in relaxation response. So any time your body's in stress response, those mechanisms are disabled. So that was a huge realization for me because we're only supposed to be in stress response in emergencies. I was just driving to Munster, Indiana, last week to go speak to a bunch of people at a cancer center, and all of a sudden two tires on the left side of the car blew out. And the car literally almost tipped over. Just something in the road got into the tires. And all of a sudden, I noticed myself in that stress response, right? Because all of a sudden, I've got to figure out how to-- I'm going 65 on the highway.
I've got to get this car off, safely, to the shoulder, right? So this is good. My body is supposed to be in a stress response during that time. So I'm wrangling the car. I've got cortisol and epinephrine coursing through my veins. I managed to get the car safely off to the side of the road. Now, if I were an animal, as soon as I'm safe, my amygdala would say, you're safe now. And that stress hormone would go down. The stress response would stop. Because those stress responses are only supposed to last about 90 seconds after the threat is gone. But what starts happening? Right? My brain suddenly starts going, like, oh no, I'm still far from where I'm speaking. And I suddenly now have two flat tires. I'm going to miss my speech. I'm going to disappoint the event planner. I can't even-- where is my AAA card? My wallet was stolen. I don't have my AAA card. This isn't even my car. I'm driving my best friend's car. These thoughts, right? We have these spiraling stress responses.
And I was really aware in the moment of like, oh, this is how it happens, right? And this is how it happens for most of us. So on average, we have about 50 stress responses per day. And people who hate their jobs or they're in difficult relationships, they probably have more like 100. And every time we have a stress response, our body's natural self-healing capacities are disabled. They don't work. So this is how the placebo effect works.
When we have that positive belief that we're getting the wonder drug, and when it's delivered to us by a nurturing health care provider, the amygdala is calmed down. So before the person comes in to the clinical trial, they're usually nervous and scared, right? Their amygdala is firing. You've got an illness. Things aren't right. Things are at risk. The little meerkat's out there. But that combination of positive belief and the nurturing care of the right kind of health care provider can calm the amygdala down. And all of a sudden, the body's filled with the healing hormones. And voila, the body starts to heal itself, even though all you're getting is a sugar pill.
So the next question that sort of was coming into my brain was, well, we're not all in clinical trials, right? Should we all be going around popping sugar pills? Or is there some other way that we can do that? That we can have that same sort of placebo effect in a way that we can maybe control. So one of the things I was researching, when I was looking at spontaneous remissions and patients who had had these kind of medical mysteries was, were these all just flukes? Was Stamatis Moraitis just lucky? Or is there something that these people were doing? Was there something proactive that they were doing? And I came across the research of Dr. Kelly Turner, who did her PhD thesis-- she studied at Harvard and UC Berkeley-- and she did her thesis on people who had had spontaneous remissions from stage IV cancers.
And she was interviewing these patients, as well as the often alternative health care providers that had facilitated their healing journeys. And she was trying to figure out, was there something in common? Could she learn something from these people about how to heal ourselves? And what she found is that there were six behaviors that these people had in common. And only two of them were the sort of things that a forward-thinking doctor might have prescribed. One of them was changing your diet to more vegetable-based, often gluten free sort of diet. And the other was taking some sort of supplement that the patient believed was really going to help strengthen their immune system, help fight off the cancer. The other four things, and they're all listed in "Mind Over Medicine," the other four things were all things that were happening here.
They weren't medical treatments per se. So that's when I started getting really curious. Like what could we do to flip on our body's natural self-repair mechanisms the way people in clinical trials have them flipped on when they're getting a placebo? So the whole second part of my book is about the research that I found showing that in order to be healthy, we need more than just a healthy diet, a healthy exercise regimen, getting enough sleep, taking your vitamins, getting your pap smears, or whatever. Right? We need healthy relationships. We need healthy professional lives. We need a healthy spiritual life. A healthy creative life. A healthy sex life. We need a healthy relationship with our money.
We need to live and work in healthy environments. We need to have healthy minds. And this is why my patients in Marin were sick. Right? I mean, I love kale. I drink my green juice, five green juices a day. I'm a big fan of a healthy diet. But the reality is that no amount of kale can counter balance the poisonous effects of chronic repetitive stress responses in the body and all that cortisol and epinephrine, which not only turns off the body's self-repair mechanisms, it also poisons the heart. It has all kinds of other negative effects on the body. So I wanted to try to figure out, how can I help people activate those natural self-repair mechanisms? How can we have the benefit of the placebo effect without having to take a sugar pill? So I came up with a new wellness model that I teach in "Mind Over Medicine." It's based on something called a cairn.
Have you guys seen these? I love cairns. And they're all over San Francisco. When you're at the marina, they're stacked along the water there. And it's amazing because they're so simultaneously strong and fragile, right? I mean, they can withstand waves crashing upon them, and yet you get one of those stones out of balance and the whole thing falls apart. So I created a wellness model based on this. I call it the whole health cairn. And it's based on all of the data that shows that every single one of these facets of your health is scientifically proven to affect the health of your body. So for example, people with strong sense of community, they have half the rate of heart disease as people who are lonely. And there's tons of research looking at relationships and health, and there's a whole chapter in "Mind Over Medicine" about that, about the effects of loneliness on health.
So researchers concluded, after looking at all of this data, that alleviating your loneliness is more important for the health of your body than starting an exercise program or quitting smoking. But when was the last time your doctor put a prescription that said alleviate your loneliness? Work stress is another huge thing that can trigger our stress responses and disable our natural self-repair mechanisms. In Japan, they even have a word for death by overwork. It's called "karoshi." And I include in "Mind Over Medicine" all of the data showing how much work stress affects our physical bodies. Financial stress, same thing. So many people in this country worried about money and the amygdala cannot tell the difference between, oh my goodness, how am I going to pay my bills, and there's a tiger on the loose.
So what I realized is that every stone in this whole health cairn can either trigger stress responses or it can trigger relaxation responses. Right? So if you're in a loving, nurturing relationship, then that's going to fill your body with oxytocin, dopamine, nitric oxide, endorphins, these healing hormones, because the amygdala is calmed down. Whereas if you're in a stressful relationship, things aren't going well, you're going to be triggering stress responses all the time. So each one of these stones in the whole health cairn is essential to the health of our bodies. So it led me to go back to my patients and help them look at their lives. And I started teaching my patients what I call the six steps to healing yourself. And these are all step by step listed out in "Mind Over Medicine." But based on what I learned, essentially-- this is the six steps. Number one is you have to believe that it's possible. It was huge for me when I realized that my illnesses were are all illnesses that at least somebody had had a spontaneous remission from.
And I'm now down to half the dose of one of my seven medications, having done this six step process for myself. But it all had to start with me shifting my belief. I had to believe that these weren't chronic, incurable illnesses, but that I could get better. And you all have to do the same if there's any health conditions you're dealing with, and I'm not even talking about necessarily a diagnosis. For so many people there's this epidemic of just not really being sick but not being vital. We've sort of settled for being well. And I know. So many of my patients in Marin were like this. They'd come in and they just feel tired. They're having body aches or headaches or backaches.
They've lost their libido. They're just not feeling-- their mood is kind of in the toilet. They're not feeling vital. So I started thinking of health on sort of a spectrum. There's, like, sick people, right? Where they have a diagnosis. They have abnormal laboratory tests. They have abnormal vital signs. And then there's well people, who-- in the medical establishment, these are the people who have normal blood tests. They have normal vital signs. But they still don't necessarily feel great. So these people are often very frustrated because they come to doctors thinking that we're going to have the solution, and we fail them very often.
Because what they want to be is they want to be vital. They want to feel just electric with energy, like overflowing with life force. And what I realized is this is how we become overflowing with life force. We go through this process. So step one is believe that it's possible that you could get well, that you could be vital. Step two is finding the right support. So what I found in the scientific data is that it's sort of a misnomer to say that you can heal yourself, because the reality is the body can heal itself, but the body more effectively heals itself with the support of someone else who believes that you can heal yourself, with the right healer.
I'm now training doctors and other health care providers at the Whole Health Medicine Institute how to be that kind of healer. Because doctors can be both the placebo effect, you know. They can be that nurturing care that calms the amygdala. That doctor that says, you're not going to go through this alone. I believe in you. I know that you can get through this, and we're going to do it together. That is very calming to the amygdala. The body's natural self-repair mechanisms are more likely to be optimized in that situation. But the opposite is also true. The doctor can be the nocebo. So my mom recently, she had a sore neck and she went to see the doctor. And the doctor did an x-ray and found an abnormality on the x-ray and ordered an MRI. And my mom asked why? Why the MRI? And he said, well, because it's probably metastatic cancer. And he turned around and walked out of the room without a single comforting word. And you can imagine my mother, who is a big fan of my work and has read "Mind Over Medicine" and practices this in her own life.
My phone rings, and my mom says, my amygdala is freaking out. Because her doctor just said the C-bomb without any other explanation. That is exactly what the body doesn't need. If she had metastatic cancer, he did the worst thing a doctor could do, because he triggered her amygdala rather than being a calming influence. So my mother, being smart about this, she said, I need to look at my whole health cairn right now, and I need your help walking me through how am I going through the week. Because if I do have metastatic cancer, I want to make sure my body's natural self-repair mechanisms are totally optimized, right? So my mom and I walked through all of these stones in her whole health cairn. How can we activate relaxation responses in your body? And how can we make sure to reduce any stress responses in your body this week? And my mother wrote what I call writing the prescription.
And she included all of these things that she was going to plan to do that week, and she was religious about it. Well, fortunately, my mom went in to get her MRI and it turned out to be a Schmorl's node. It's this benign lesion that doesn't need any further treatment or follow up. But I told my mom, this was a huge a-ha to me, because I realized we shouldn't have to wait for a metastatic cancer diagnosis. Everything that she put on that list, I said, mom, you need to be doing this every day. Right? This is how you live to be 98 years old, like Stamatis Moraitis, who is still healthy and vital to this day. We can live to be 98 by figuring out how do we reduce stress responses in our bodies? How do we increase relaxation responses in our bodies? So step three is all about listening to your intuition, to that part of you I call your inner pilot light, which is the foundation stone of the whole health cairn.
This is your inner doctor. This is the part of you that knows better than anybody how your body is going to heal itself. So as doctors, we like to think that I know your body better than you do. Ostensibly, I went to school for 12 years and spent 10 years of medical practice becoming a body expert. But the reality is you know your body better than anybody, because nobody but you knows how you're going to be able to balance your whole health cairn in this way.
So my agent, my literary agent Michele Martin, she was the first person to read my book. And she called me after reading it and she said, Lissa, you changed my life. Because she said, honestly, before I read your book, I thought my body was none of my business. She said, I thought it was like my car. You know, my car breaks down, I take it to the auto mechanic. I expect the auto mechanic to fix it and hand it back to me perfectly fixed. She said, I was doing the same thing with my body. She said, but after reading your book, I realize my body is my business, because I am the gatekeeper of my mind and it is my responsibility to calm my amygdala and optimize my body's natural self-healing mechanisms. And that step three part of listening to your intuition is all about that. It's about listening to that voice that knows the answer to the question, what does my body need in order to heal? So step four is all about diagnosing the underlying root causes of illness. It's figuring out what is triggering your stress responses and which ways might you activate relaxation responses that you're not optimizing.
So in the book, there's a whole series of questions that were some of the questions that I asked on my patient intake form that are really intended to help people identify what might be out of balance in my whole health cairn. Which stone is toppling here? Which stone isn't at peak performance right now? And how can I reduce those stress responses and increase those relaxation responses in my body so that my body's natural self-repair mechanisms are fully functional? And step five is basically, once you've done that, it's writing the prescription for yourself. So it's answering the question, what does my body need in order to heal, and putting into place all of those steps that you've written for yourself.
So this takes a lot of courage, because it's one thing to identify the issues. When I was asking my patients, what does your body need in order to heal, and they were saying, I need to divorce my husband. I need to quit my job. I need to sell my business. That's one thing. One woman said I need to move to Santa Fe. And I said, Santa Fe? Why Santa Fe? And she said, I don't know. But I have a vacation home in Santa Fe and every time I go there, all of my symptoms completely go away. So she was brave enough to actually leave her husband, sell her business, move to Santa Fe, put her mom in a nursing home near her because her mom had been living with her and was triggering stress responses all the time. She had always wanted to go to art school, so she signed up for art school. She had this whole new community of artist friends. She started dating this new guy. And she calls me three months later. All her symptoms were gone. So step five is about writing the prescription for yourself and then finding the courage to actually take action and to put into play what your intuition knows about what your body needs in order to be optimal, in order to be completely vital, in order to be exploding with life force.
So step six is one of the hardest steps, and it's the most spiritual. Step six is surrender. So it's essentially, there are people out there that have done all of this. They have so much positive belief that they're going to get better. They have the best healers. They are listening to their intuition and doing everything they can to diagnose the root cause of what's triggering stress responses in their bodies. They're writing the prescription for themselves. They're being brave. They're doing it all. And they're still sick. One of these is my good friend, Kris Carr, who I asked to write the forward to this book because she's the best example I know of somebody who is a model patient.
Kris was in her early '30s when she was diagnosed with stage IV cancer, a type of cancer for which there is no treatment. So basically, her doctor said, well, do what you can to take care of your immune system, and hopefully you'll get another 10 years. But they didn't think she'd live beyond that. So Kris changed her diet. She started following this, she calls it her crazy sexy diet. She's "The New York Times" best-selling author of "Crazy Sexy Diet" and "Crazy Sexy Kitchen," as well as two other books. And she made a documentary called "Crazy Sexy Cancer" that was about her healing journey. And Kris has done all of this. She has the most balanced whole health cairn of anybody I've met.
I just had Kris come to film a DVD with me and we did an hour long interview. It's going to be part of the pledge special for the public television special that I'm doing. There's going to be a whole package of stuff that's part of the public television special. She's really amazing. And yet she still has stage IV cancer. So whenever we talk about these sorts of things, it's easy for people to kind of make the leap to, well, I've done everything right. I'm still sick. I must be doing something wrong. Or I must have caused my illness in some way.
And I'm in no way suggesting that anybody who is sick has brought this upon themselves. I'm in no way blaming or shaming or trying to guilt somebody about an illness. It's not about that. All that does is trigger more stress responses. So step six is really important because we have to, at some point, accept that maybe we're battling an illness because it's our wake up call. Maybe the illness is something our souls chose to experience in this life so that we can learn what we're here on this Earth to learn.
Or maybe it's just bad luck. But there's a difference between thinking that you're a helpless victim of an illness and recognizing that your body is your business. So it's a fine line. I was talking to one of my mentors, Dr. Christiane Northrup, about this, and I said, how do I explain this to people without it sounding like I'm blaming people for their illness? She said, Lissa, we are responsible to our illness, not for our illness. Kris Carr says she participates with her illness. In other words, your body is your business. And you have at least some power over whether or not your body is going to be optimally vital based on being the gatekeeper of your own mind. So figuring these things out changed how I think about the whole establishment of medicine. And I'm on this mission now to heal health care. To put the care back in health care. And I realized that one of the biggest reasons that our health care system is broken is because we've forgotten. We've forgotten about the body's innate ability to heal itself. And we've gotten so invested in technology that we've actually lost touch with one of the most healing things that the body knows how to do.
And I firmly believe that if every empowered patient and every conscious health care provider started adopting this way of thinking about health, what I call whole health, that it would change our entire system. So I've been going around the country on this book tour speaking to groups of patients and health care providers and really trying to make a shift in this way of how we think about these things. Because it all starts with you. It all starts with one empowered patient, one conscious health care provider, trying to heal the rift that has come up.
I hear so many stories of that rift. There are so many doctors and patients that have the sort of experience my mother just had with her doctor, when in fact, as healers, it's our job to be the calming influence on the amygdala. To remember the healing power of love. To show up in support, nurturing, caring. Somehow, I mean, it used to be that's pretty much all we had as doctors, right? We didn't have the technology that we have now. We didn't have penicillin and vaccines and all these amazing pieces of technology that I'm not in any way suggesting that we ditch. In fact, I mean, my husband cut two fingers off his left hand a while back with a table saw, and thank god for Dr. Jonathan Jones, who painstakingly spent eight hours in surgery with a microscope, reattaching every artery, nerve, and bone in my husband's fingers so that he has 10 fingers today. I'm sorry, no amount of mind-body medicine would have done that.
So I'm not in any way suggesting we shouldn't optimize what Western medicine has to offer. I'm just saying it's not enough. We need to not stop there. It's not enough just to take the medicine or even to eat a pristine diet and exercise regularly and take your vitamins. That we have to take the next step to figure out how to reduce our stress responses and increase our relaxation responses so that the body can do what it does best, heal itself.
So I want to leave you with a quote. This is from Dr. Albert Schweitzer. and he says, the doctor-- he said-- hang on, I've got to get this right. I'm bad at quotes. He says, I want to tell you a little secret. We doctors, we do nothing. We only help and empower the doctor within. So I encourage you to be that doctor. Everyone of you has the power to be the doctor within. Thank you very much. AUDIENCE: I have a question. The cortisol that happens when you're in stress. DR. LISSA RANKIN: Yes.
AUDIENCE: I've heard this a lot, that whether it's the tiger or a deadline, your body experiences it the same way. DR. LISSA RANKIN: Right. AUDIENCE: And I've also heard that it takes a long time for that cortisol to get back to a healthy state. That it takes a second to spike, but it can take 10 hours, 12 hours, a day to come down. But I am not a doctor. I don't-- is this-- can you speak more to it? DR. LISSA RANKIN: Yeah. AUDIENCE: How do we know it's the same, whether it's minor or a car crash, that our body's interpreting it the same way? DR. LISSA RANKIN: Right. Well, cortisol is an interesting beast because it fluctuates. It's supposed to fluctuate throughout the day. And so cortisol, when we're actively in stress response, the cortisol levels are going to go up. But over time, if we're chronically, repetitively in stress response, the adrenal glands can get depleted. And so our cortisol levels can actually be low.
So if you test in the moment, cortisol levels, for example, might be high in the middle of a stress response. But then if you're checking baseline cortisol levels in the morning on a regular day, those cortisol levels might be low because you've essentially depleted your adrenal glands. So it can be very hard to tell with something like a lab test how stressed the body is with regard to cortisol. But what happens is that those stress responses kick off, like you said. The cortisol levels can go up. But then, over time as we're getting these, like I was talking about when my car went on the side of the road, we get these stress responses that kind of go one after the other. So like I said, it's supposed to only take 90 seconds. So it's possible for those cortisol levels to go right back down.
But for most of us, we have the ongoing monkey mind mental dialogue that follows a stressful event that leads us to continue that process. So it very much depends on that. But animals, for example. They're much more pure about this. The stress happens. They get themselves to safety. And then their cortisol levels go right back down. So it's possible. We can do that. So what I wound up doing, for example, when I was on the side of the road, I was feeling like, oh my goodness, here's my body in stress response.
Right? I was watching it like a movie. It was very surreal, because here I am on the road on a book tour, talking about this whole process. And now I'm living it twice. This thing had just happened with my mom, and I was noticing the stress response that was coming up of my mom potentially having metastatic cancer. My dad died of metastatic cancer seven years ago, so for both of us that was like a huge trauma, kind of reopening that old wound. And the way in which my mind was working around that, like we don't have a diagnosis, right? There's no need to actually be scared yet. And yet I was terrified about my mom's MRI because literally, I had talked to the doctor and I said, is there anything it could be other than metastatic cancer? And he said no. And so I was terrified. And the same thing when I was on the side of road, right? I'm noticing this tendency that we have to make up all these stories about things. So I sat there, and what I did when my car, when I pulled my car off to the side of the road, and I realized, OK, I'm safe now.
I no longer need to be in stress response. I don't need to protect myself. Thank you, amygdala, well done. Good job. So I literally sat down and I did-- there's an exercise in the book based on Herbert Benson, this Harvard doctor, has done a lot of research on the relaxation response. He wrote a wonderful book in the '70s called "The Relaxation Response." So I practiced his technique, which is based on a type of transcendental meditation.
And it basically is this technique where-- we can do it right now. I'll give you the quick and dirty 30 second relaxation response. If you close your eyes for just a minute and just focus on your breath. And I want you to pick a one word mantra. Something that resonates with you, like "one" or "peace" or "love." I chose the word "safe" when I was on the side of the road. And as you breathe, I want you to just repeat that one word mantra on the exhale. Now, you may notice other thoughts coming into your mind. And that's all right. Just passively disregard the other thoughts as they come into your mind. Just notice it. Hello, remembering. Or hello, planning. And just keep coming back to your breath, to that one word mantra. All right, go ahead and open your eyes again. So if you were in one of Herbert Benson's many, many, many research studies, he would have had you do that process for 10 to 20 minutes once or twice per day.
It's been proven to aid in almost every single illness out there. He's got the data. It's clear. It's that simple. So I sat there on the side of the road, and before I called my husband to find out what my AAA number was, and before I called AAA, and before I called my best friend to tell her I'd just blown out two of her tires, I did a little 10 minute relaxation response. Because I knew, even though it was going to take 10 minutes away from me getting to my event, that the only way I was going to show up really in service at that event is if I was calm. So putting ourselves into the relaxation response can be that simple.
And any type of meditation works, but it's not even that. And Herbert Benson found you don't even need to close your eyes and be seated in order to do this. You can repeat this one word mantra on the exhale while focusing on your breath and passively disregarding other thoughts that come into your mind. You can do it while you're shopping. You can do it while you're driving. You can do it while you're making dinner. And it's been scientifically proven. He puts everybody-- monitors them, monitors their blood levels. Scientifically proven to put you into relaxation response every time if you can quiet the mind and you can calm the amygdala in that way. But there are some really easy, fun ways to put yourself into relaxation response.
Laughter is a great one. Norman Cousins wrote the "Anatomy of an Illness" all about how he healed his ankylosing spondylitis by watching Marx Brothers movies. Sex. Another fun one. So playing with animals. The healing act of generosity, that's one a lot of people don't think about. I just saw a great news article about this guy Andy Mackie. He's 71 years old. He's had nine heart surgeries. And he was taking 15 medications for his heart that were giving him all kinds of terrible side effects.
So he finally went to his doctors and he said, I've got to get off these drugs. It's making me miserable. And they said, well, if you stop your medications, you'll die within a year. So he said, well, if I'm going to die within a year, I might as well die going out and doing something I've always wanted to do. So he took the money that he was spending on those 15 medications and he bought 300 harmonicas and gave them away to kids in public schools, complete with harmonica lessons from himself.
So a month later, he was still alive. So he took the same money and he bought 300 more harmonicas. And it's now been 11 years and 16,000 harmonicas later, and Andy Mackie is still alive, giving out harmonicas to kids. So we can calm our amygdalas in a whole variety of ways, and that's part of what you're going to want to write in the prescription for yourself.