Georgie Kovacs, founder of Fempower Health, interviewed Aimee Raupp, MS LAc. Aimee is a best-selling author, acupuncturist and fertility expert.
Georgie: I was at a funeral of the reproductive endocrinologist who helped me get pregnant, Dr. Braverman. It was a sad day but I met one of your former patients who shared with me the Body Belief book and the transformation she experienced. I was sold. About a month after his funeral, I started using the things you discussed in that book and saw a transformation in myself. I realized that if I’m here trying to educate and empower women, I want to highlight all of the wonderful things that are in your book. Today we’re going to focus on epigenetics. Maybe we can start with the science of that.
Aimee: the conversation of epigenetics has been around for about 15 years. When I wrote my very first book called Chill Out and Get Healthy, it's the first time I had that conversation about epigenetics. Basically, it means that what we once thought about our genes being set in stone is not true. Just because we have a predisposition of a disease or a manifestation of something in our health doesn’t mean it has to show up. I was a research scientist before I became an acupuncturist. I was at UCSD planning to go to medical school there. They were mapping the human genome and it was a hot time for that. Everyone thought that process would give us the key to unlock treatment and resolve issues. They realized that wasn’t accurate. Instead, the conversation of epigenetics came up. How you live your life determines whether these genes turn on or off. You might have a predisposition towards, say breast cancer or endometriosis, but the choices you make (lifestyle choices like sleep, stress and nutrition) can impact whether these genes turn on or turn off.
Only 5% of diseases are actually heritable. The rest are basically epigenetic influences. What fascinated me the most about it was very much in line with Chinese medicine. I’m an acupuncturist by trade and have a master of science degree in Chinese medicine. We’ve been talking about this same idea for thousands of years. How you live your life is what determines your health. If you live with the seasons, get enough rest, express all of your emotions in a healthy way you will age appropriately and be free of illness. Western research started to show this to be true. There are environmental influences (toxins, environments, poor sleep, not enough exercise, not enough nutrition, unhealthy relationships, trauma from childhood). That’s what the research now illustrates. Everyone knows this now, because we’re about 15 years down the road. It has a lot more to do with lifestyle than anything else. The predisposition may be there but it doesn’t mean that’s your destiny.
Georgie: when you talk about “turning it on or off” can you explain that? How simple or related are things like, say, sleep to turning something on or off? How perfect can you be?
Aimee: perfection comes with an asterisk (we all should just do the best we can do). But, generally, that’s based on how strong the predisposition is. Some people have a little more leeway than others. The best thing about this epigenetic conversation is that it’s shiftable. You could have been headed in a not-so-healthy direction for the last 10 years and you can turn it around. The best way to look at it is how we talk about: you can heal from heart disease, you can reverse your diabetes, you can manage MS without medication. These dynamics don’t make sense if it was purely genetic. If you were genetically going to get rheumatoid arthritis and it was black and white, it would be inescapable. Instead, we can take cases like this: I have a patient who suffered greatly for many years and was eventually diagnosed with RA. She was in pain, covered in psoriasis and had inflamed joints. Now, at 40, she has reduced all of her meds, exercises, changed her diet, changed her lifestyle, resolved significant emotional trauma and did acupuncture. That points to the reality that many issues are reversible.
In layman’s terms, it’s like oxidation in the body. In my books, I liken oxidation to rusting. Things can age before their time if they’re not properly taken care of. You can change components that give something new life. Cellularly, we turn over our cells every 90 days. We’re different now, on a cellular level, than we were two years ago or even three months ago. The same thing is happening where your body is continuously getting the opportunity to express itself or not.
Georgie: how would someone know about their potential predisposition? In the book you talked about various testing. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that, since this is the age of tracking and testing everything.
Aimee: you can use the 23andMe data. That’s the cheapest and most efficient way to do it. You can run that data through other systems. TruGenomix. Search for “how to read my genetics?” You can pay and get services that give you hundreds and thousands of “SNPS” that you have that will tell you your predisposition. I ran mine through one of those and it’s a little overwhelming. There are a hundred different cancers I could get. I don’t know that we want to know all of that information, but we can.
Generally speaking, we find that there is an anti-toxin, anti-inflammatory diet that fixes most things. So, in my opinion, you shouldn’t go too deep into that process. It’s not very comforting.
For children and even pregnant women, there are more advanced genetic tests you can get to know what your child is predisposed to. However, I think that sets people up for some anxiety.
The book Dirty Genes by Dr. Ben Lynch goes over the SNPs that could be the most influential in our lives. There are also other places that use different technology than 23andMe. There are some functional medicine doctors and cutting edge anti aging doctors that can do these reports for you as well.
It’s useful to adopt a healthy lifestyle. We know for certain that since the 1980s we’ve introduced hundreds of thousands of chemicals and toxins into our environment that are triggering diseases. If you commit to a less toxic lifestyle, you can cut your predisposition to these diseases exponentially. But you can still pass it on. You need to educate your children.
One thing I discovered was that I’m a carrier for advanced prostate cancer. My dad died at 63 from stage 4 prostate cancer. He was a healthy, happy guy. It was very confusing to me. I didn’t understand why he got such an aggressive cancer. Once I ran the genetics and I saw that I had that, it gave me peace. He had a predisposition. For all I know, he had two copies of the gene which makes it that much harder to fight even with lifestyle changes. Sometimes I think it helps you solve for problems, too. Now that I know this, I can address it with my son, too. At some point we’ll do his genetics and see: maybe I passed it onto him and maybe I didn’t. If I did, there will be certain things we put into place.
Whatever you learn, you still have to do lifestyle changes. You still have to support your body.
Georgie: I was thinking about my own path. I come from the pharmaceutical industry. The way I always thought was, you have an illness, you take a pill. Through my own fertility journey, I’ve come to know so much about health. Before I moved, I tossed all of my ladles and bought metal and stainless steel. I think about, traditionally, most people go to an M.D. Their training is very traditional: you have an illness, you take a pill. There’s a book called How Healing Works by Dr. Wayne Jonas. The training for chronic conditions isn’t really strong in medicine.
What do you recommend as a path for finding answers?
Aimee: sometimes it’s about finding a doctor that does support you in finding answers. Sometimes you want a doctor who’s a detective. It depends on what you are looking to “fix,” if you will, which will determine what tests you need done. Functional doctors are often the right route. Those are medical doctors who did additional functional medicine training. They’ll do extensive nutrient panels, thyroid panels, look for inflammatory markers, omega 3-6 ratios. Obviously if you’re dealing with fertility challenges, you’ll want a doctor who has a unique understanding of that. There aren’t a ton of them but there are some who will do autoimmune panels, if you will. They’re looking at a lot of factors, including how you and your partner work together. Thyroid panel, MTHFR, vitamin D and more. There are docs out there. You have good resources for people. What I see clinically is people who have done additional training and what nutrition is impacting your health. If your doctor doesn’t know about nutrition, it may not be the right doctor. Sometimes you need an endocrinologist. You just have to form your team. I say this to girls all of the time, sometimes your fertility doctor just needs to be the person who's going to collect eggs and make the transfer. Maybe you also need someone like me and compartmentalize, just because of the way our system is set up.
Regardless of your genetics and the predisposition, this will support your health.
Georgie: even though I’ve tried a million different diets, it wasn’t until I read Body Belief and went through that diet protocol that I was able to internalize: this is no joke about food and your health. Within a week, my anxiety disappeared to the point where I said to myself, “wait, I live at this baseline for so many years, maybe my whole life.” By following the diet, I was so calm I realized for the first time that my “normal” wasn’t normal. The skin on my arms cleared up for the first time. But, I will say, it’s a hard diet. Maybe you can outline the philosophies of nutrition and the long-term pieces of it.
Aimee: the first belief that has to come through is that food is medicine and should be the primary medicine. From the Chinese medicine perspective, after my western medical training, the first line of defense is food. If you’re eating things that your body can’t break down, digest, absorb or is intolerant to, your body isn’t getting everything it needs and is functioning subpar. I talk about that in Body Belief. The majority of people walk around at like 60-70% of their wellness. They’ve learned to accept it. 90% of my anxiety cases are blood sugar issues or food intolerance. Something you’re ingesting every single day is triggering a response in your body. There are chemical reactions in your body. That’s what’s happening.
For some people, understanding that food is medicine is easy but for others it’s a leap.
The second thing is, if you want to understand what we’ve done to our food sources over the last 40 years, you need to see the connection between chemicals in your body. I could give you the diet and tell you how much to sleep and what supplements to take but i don’t think that serves you. I want you first to understand why you’re not nourishing the body with the things that make you feel good. Why are you not in touch enough to see the cause and effect? Do you believe you’re worthy of proper nourishment? I do all that in the book first to warm people up and get them to understand that, even if the changes are just that you’re going to go organic and grass-fed and detox, that alone could make a huge difference. Cut out soy, corn, GMO foods, you’d probably see a dramatic shift. But then you can take it one step further. We can’t promise cures but we can heal. That’s where you get very specific with food.
Things we know for sure: wheat has been adulterated and manufactured. It seems to be causing chemical reactions in our body. People may be reacting to the pesticide, not the actual wheat. I’m one of those people. I think I have a pesticide reaction, not a wheat reaction.
Soy, corn - those are the other two highly engineered products that seem to be causing harm and challenges.
Then we look at things like, “is it normal to eat four handfuls of almonds a day?” Are raw better than sprouted? We start looking into beans, nuts and grains. What we see clinically and in the research is that a lot of these foods are highly inflammatory and causing reactions. Leaky gut is a common term used in this world. Particles of the food actually get into the bloodstream. An autoimmune paleo diet can help. We’ve been using bone broth to heal for thousands of years.
The truth is there isn’t a single food allergy test out there that's absolutely precise. You’re being tested while you’re still exposed to the food. It’s not as accurate as an elimination diet can be. If you’re dealing with symptoms or curious to fix something, elimination diets are what you need to do. Then, you slowly reintroduce foods and monitor symptoms.
Lectins are in the nuts and beans and some grains and can be very hard to digest. They can tolerate a lot of weather but can be hard on your body. When we ingest them they’re hard to break down. They build up in our system, which can cause an inflammatory reaction, or we can’t digest it and get no nutrition from it.
Georgie: intolerance doesn’t necessarily show up right away. One fascinating thing for me is that if I drink wine, three days later I’ll act really off and then realize it was the wine. It’s not always something right away but can happen a few days later.
Aimee: frequency and consistency are key. Almonds were a big trigger for me. I was full-on paleo and did a lot of nuts. They were flaring up my eczema. I was eating way too many. We eat too much of many things: too many nuts, too much flesh. I can have sprouted almond butter once or twice a week and that’s fine but over that, my eczema comes back. Same with bread - I can have homemade sourdough, 1 or 2 servings, but more than that and I have bad symptoms. You follow this diet for a certain period of time. For some people it takes a long time.
Georgie: we get a lot of conflicting information around what we should do with our bodies. One is a plant-based diet. I want to be good for the environment and you hear a lot about meat. Every Saturday I go to the farmer’s market and get my bones and make chicken bone broth… but is that good for the environment? I’ve done the diet, it works, the bone broth is amazing, I take the beef liver pills but a lot of people are being told to go plant-based.
Then, there’s the seed-cycling which is often recommended for people with PCOS. If you’re in a position where things are helping you, how do you figure this out?
Aimee: I do want to point out that I believe my diet is 70% plant based and I still think that’s really important. I want 6-8 servings of vegetables a day in your diet. I want you eating mainly plants, cooked in fats. We could find arguments on any side of the coin these days. I tend to be very rooted in what I would call ancestral nutrition. I’ve never seen a super healthy vegetarian. It’s very hard to get all of your B-vitamins and your foline especially, so they’re typically deficient in some way. Maybe fish, fish broth, eggs or collagen peptides. Even if I can get them to do that, I’ll be happy. You don’t have to be eating meat or fish 2-3 times a day. I have vegetarian days, for certain. In general, I think we still need meat. In Chinese medicine, we look at it as: if a woman gives up blood every month, she needs to eat blood. I see better health outcomes in people. I don’t think the carnivore diet is effective, either. But vegetables, fat and some good quality protein are important to being healthy.
As far as environmental, I never recommend eating anything commercially raised. If you’re getting grass-fed from good quality farmers, the animals are helping the environment. That is part of the ecosystem. I think we’re doing right but you have to have good quality meat. If you can’t get good quality meat then I would typically say, if you can’t then take liver pills and eggs. There are no longitudinal studies showing what grass-fed meat does versus commercially farmed. The China study is based on epidemiological studies and surveys and not related to grass-fed and good quality meat. If you feel horrible eating meat, we can find ways together around it.
In regards to the seeds, I really only pull those if I see obvious autoimmune issues. I still recommend that they be sprouted or organic seeds and in moderation. We’re talking like a teaspoon a day, not four handfuls. It’s not just the food, it’s how much of the food that we’re consuming that is having the negative effects. Then, it’s the processing. Did we historically eat raw nuts? Traditionally, no. Soy, like in soy milk or soy burgers, is killing us. That’s not the same as miso.
Georgie: sure and Body Belief talks a lot about that. Thanks for introducing me to cultured ghee, I always have a stash in my home. And bone broth. It is an important and helpful food. I want to talk about cooking it. When it comes to bone broth, how long should it be cooked for? Can we just grab it from Trader Joe’s?
Aimee: the shelf-stable ones, unless it’s frozen in the freezer section, you shouldn’t consume it. It’s got some kind of preservative. If you’re buying it, you want to know how long it’s cooking, are they using chicken feet, are they using vinegar? You want gelatin-rich bone broth. They say, typically, a broth needs 12-14 hours. A stock is 6 hours. For some people, a broth may be too fatty in the beginning. The GAPS diet, for instance, will start people with stock because it’s more watery and easier to digest. But the 12-14 hour cook seems to be the window you want to get everything to break down. I use the Instapot. That’s a pressure cooker that can get you to the same results in 120 minutes. You can tell by what the fat/gelatin looks like on the top. I call it “baby glue” for my girls trying to get pregnant.
If I do buy it, I’d only buy it from one website: bonebroth.com. They cool it in the vats before they put it in the containers. What you get if it’s going in hot is BPA. Your best bet is to make it at home, use glass containers, separate it out and leave a little room at the top. Let it cool and freeze. The other thing people get concerned about is the histamine content. If you’re a histamine reactor (headaches, sinuses), your best bet is to not have any meat or animal product in the fridge as leftovers after 2 days. You should do smaller batches, freeze and then thaw each day.
The recipe I like and the book that I think is the bomb when it comes to this is Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. It’s a bible, not a cookbook. Mary Enig also has a book called Know Your Fats. Another book I love is Deep Nutrition by Catherine Shanahan.
Broths help keep the gut lining healthy. You can get decent vegetarian broths but it’s not the same level. I can successfully work with vegetarians if they’re willing to do a couple of things.
Georgie: thank you for sharing all of this helpful information. I do think that understanding that food is medicine is such a foundation. Through my journey, I’ve gotten there too. Once it clicks that it’s not a diet, it’s truly magical. Then you make choices.
Aimee: I think we always have to ask ourselves that question: how are our choices nourishing and supporting us?
Georgie: it’s made me take care of myself better. It was hard to make the change. Maybe the friends are different but I feel so much more centered. It’s true self care.
Aimee: it’s motivating and it feels good. You feel proud of yourself. That’s not to say you can’t feel proud of yourself if you make different food choices than we are recommending. But if you start to see positive benefits, it affirms your choices.
I have cheats and know what I’m setting myself up for and then I recover.
Women should feel empowered.
Georgie: what keeps you going?
Aimee: you guys. You guys keep me going. The desire to know more and learn more. I have a beautiful job. I help women become moms but it’s more than that: I help them become the best versions of themselves. The stories keep me going. Like how you got to me: a woman at a funeral talking about the impact I had.
Georgie: thank you for doing what you do. Keep inspiring us all and keep at it and we look forward to the next chapter and continuing to work with you.
Aimee: keep up the good work, too!
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