Evan Brand is a Certified Nutritional Therapist and Personal Trainer who specializes in functional lab testing, targeted supplement programs, nutrition and lifestyle counseling to support true health and happiness. He works with clients all across the globe and offers complimentary phone or Skype consultations along with a free chapter of his best-selling book, Stress Solutions at NotJustPaleo.com. Enjoy the show!
What You Will Hear
Dave: Hey, it’s Dave Asprey with Bulletproof Radio. Today’s cool fact of the day is that people in Tanzania who follow pastoralist lives, meaning they basically live outdoors most of the time, they have average blood vitamin D levels of 46 going all the way up to 68 nanograms per milliliter. That’s just from sun exposure. People in the US, at least in 2012 when they did a study, had an average level below 30, which is considered insufficient. I think you want to be between 70 and 90, unless you have cancer, then you probably want to be above like 110, so there’s a big difference there, and maybe being outdoors alone isn’t enough.
Dave: Today’s guest is a certified nutritional therapist, writer, and a guy who actually practices forest bathing, which isn’t nearly as prickly as you might expect from the way it sounds. He runs a top 25 health and fitness podcast, and he is none other than Evan Brand from notjustpaleo.com. Evan, welcome to the show man.
Evan Brand: Hey, Dave. Thanks so much for having me.
Dave: You got it. Your show has done some amazing stuff. You’re at 150 episodes now, right?
Evan Brand: Yup, I suppose the day last week.
Dave: That’s incredible. Congratulations. That’s a big milestone.
Evan Brand: Thank you.
Dave: I think we just passed like 250, and any time you’re above a hundred, the difference between 100 and 200 is like, “No, you’ve got this,” and you’re just doing it. I remember we first talked in one of the first like first couple dozen episodes on your show, and it was a great interview about salt, man.
Evan Brand: Yeah, episode 16, so coming up on 3 years, which in the health space, 3 years is like 10 years.
Dave: That’s right. I was young back then.
Evan Brand: Yeah.
Dave: You too. We both aged so much from …
Evan Brand: Right.
Dave: People don’t actually know how much work is in a podcast I don’t think, but it’s funny just to imagine the amount of time spent staring at screens and not being in the forest that you do to put together your show. Let’s talk about … What is forest bathing since I already mentioned it? Explain the concept, and people listening to Bulletproof Radio might not have heard this, so what is it?
Evan Brand: It’s just bathing yourself on the forest with trees. I was doing this long before I knew that it had a title associated with it. I used to work in a park where I was maintenance in hiking trails, so I was driving a gator with a chainsaw in the back through the woods 40 hours a week, and my stress levels were so low. I never got burnt out. I never had anything that gave me anxiety. I was just a chilled out person, and I had no idea that it had a name for it just like paleo or something like that. Sometimes, you do things you don’t know they have a title with it.
Eventually, I quit that job to pursue the big desk job and go work down in Texas at a supplement company, and my stress response was broken. I started getting into heart rate variability, and I started testing and measuring myself inside of the office versus inside the woods, and I noticed a significant increase in HRV scores when I went out into the woods, so I started just looking up in PubMed, “forest,” “cortisol,” “forest,” “stress,” things like that, and found out that this is a big deal. In Japan, they call it “Shinrin-yoku” or taking in the atmosphere of the forest, which sounds, I think, a lot cooler.
You started finding out in the studies that people were having 12%, 13%, 15% reductions in cortisol after being immersed in a forest setting compared to a walking in the city sidewalk placebo and that the NK killer cells were boosted like 50% even after a month, after just 30 minutes in the woods, so I was like, “Holy crap, this is a big deal. Why is nobody talking about this? Why are we not questioning what the modern city life exposure is doing to our stress levels and our stress response?” That’s when I started really geeking out and digging into forest bathing and trying to get others to do it.
Dave: Now, forest bathing sounds pretty cool if you have a forest. That’s alright, I have a forest in the backyard. In fact, a couple of months ago, it almost burned down in the backyard, which is the downside of the forest, having like bears, and cougars, and things like that. Nothing wrong with cougars, but I’m talking about the kind of like big animal cougar.
Evan Brand: Right.
Dave: What happens though if you say live in the desert or more likely, you live in a giant city? What …?
Evan Brand: I know.
Dave: How can you possibly …? You’re like, “Okay, great. Yeah. It would also be good if I had clean air, and I had really good access to food, but I don’t have any of those, so like seriously, how important is a forest anyway?”
Evan Brand: I know. That’s a great point, and so I actually wanted to answer that question for people and for myself, and it turns out, they put a bunch of guys. I think it was 12 guys in this 1 study. They halted them all together in a hotel room over a diffuser, so these guys were all just standing around huffing cypress oil in a diffuser, and they found similar …
Evan Brand: They found similar results in terms of decreasing cortisol and blood pressure. I don’t think the results were as significant as being inside the forest and getting exposed to those fighting signs, these aromatic compounds that the trees and leaves put off, but it was definitely a good little hack. In my office, right up there on top of the bookshelf, I actually have a diffuser where I’m pumping organic peppermint and eucalyptus oils just to wake up the senses a little bit, make sure I’m on my game. That’s my little aromatic neutral pick, if you will.
Dave: There’s good evidence that our body responds to those little tiny signals from the environment. In fact, I just talked about this new study recently. I think it was on Facebook, but they looked at the bacterial cloud that’s around every human and every animal too, and they can actually identify who is in a room by sequencing the genome of the bacteria that’s left in the room just from the air the person was breathing. We have this idea that, “I am a rock. This is my body. I’m independent.”
No way like … there’s like a cloud around you that interacts with the environment around you, and if you think that environment around you doesn’t interact with you like you’re just wrong, and since the plants are putting this stuff out, you’re taking it in. We just didn’t know it had any effect. There’s a whole school of thought … Are you trained in like aromatherapy, and essential oil therapy, and things like that, or you just started using it as an environmental input like the forest?
Evan Brand: Definitely the second one. Yeah.
Evan Brand: I just started getting into essential oils after I had a bad burn and read about lavender oil and how that was discovered. I think it’s a scientist who was playing with it burned himself. You may know the story better than me.
Dave: No, I don’t. No, no. Just tell me because I’ll think of something funny about lavender oil when we’re done
Evan Brand: Okay. Okay. Apparently, the way that lavender was discovered that it was good for burns is a chemist of a … I want to say it was a perfume or some type of a cosmetic company burned himself, and the nearest thing was a vile of … or a big jar of lavender oil that was going to be used for a fragrance, for a perfume, and so he shoves his hand in there, and it alleviated tons of the symptoms of the burning and pain, so that’s the introduction of lavender, and then I just started using it myself. Every time I’d get a burn from whether it was poison ivy and I just scratched myself to death, I would just rub a little bit of lavender on top of that with some aloe and sooth it away.
Dave: Now, there is a study, and I believe it’s on PubMed, that says that lavender oil can cause … lavender scent actually can cause gynecomastia. In other words, what weightlifters called “bitch tits.” Lavender has that kind of a feminine smell. It apparently causes breast growth in men. However, after 6 weeks of not using it, they go back down, so if you’ve noticed a little perkiness in there that you weren’t expecting, maybe we know why.
Evan Brand: I haven’t had man boobs developed yet, so I think my dose is low enough to where I’ll be okay.
Dave: See, I did have man boobs develop, but that’s because I used to weigh 300 pounds. They’re mostly gone, but unless I’m going to have surgery, there’s always a little bit of man boob that’s left if you’ve been super obese. I usually just rub lavender on them to make them a little bit more … no, I don’t, but I do use lavender as well. I just think that’s a funny bit of trivia, and I think the effect is tiny because I really can’t tell any difference, and I don’t think most guys can, and it’s a common ingredient in some skin care products.
Evan Brand: Yeah.
Dave: The idea though that your body is responding at an unconscious level to the things around you, you’re measuring out heart rate variability, how did you first discover heart rate variability? Like where did you come across that?
Evan Brand: I was at Paleo FX down there at the Health Conference, and a guy said, “Hey, I really want to hook you up with this Bluetooth heart rate variability thing that you strap under your breast here, and then you hook it up to this app. Here’s my new app.” I can’t remember the name right now. I’m sorry. I hooked up myself to this app, and I just started measuring myself a different times of the day. The morning, I’d wake up and see what I was at according to this level here, and then I would try to do some EFT, some Emotional Freedom Technique where I would go through and do the various tapping points, and then I would notice it …
Dave: For people who don’t know, that is EFT, the tapping … was it the tapping solution?
Evan Brand: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dave: It’s probably the best place you could find information. I would put links in the show notes for you, but there’s a whole movie about that, and it sounds ridiculous, but like in a way, you explained what EFT is the way you use it, but I just like make sure people who are listening who haven’t heard of it don’t just feel lost.
Evan Brand: Totally. Yeah, yeah. EFT, it’s Emotional Freedom Technique. It’s super helpful for anybody that has anxiety, or nervousness, or you’re dealing with just bad emotions. You just tap through those and you say affirmations. It was out there for me at first, but I’ve tried qigong, and tai chi, and other things where I’ve been laughed at in public in the park doing it, so I figured EFT was minimal investment and an embarrassment for that, so I started doing EFT, and then noticing that my HRV score went up.
Then, I just started wearing this strap a different times during the day and paying attention to … well, there’s a meeting. This is when I was still at the office. There’s a meeting coming up. My HRV went way down. As soon as I came out of the meeting, went outside, and put my bare feet back into the dirt, and went for a walk, took my shirt off, got some sunshine, HRV went back up. There’s so many different variations that we experience during the day that we just … we don’t really pay attention to.
Dave: Yeah. It’s that variations during the day, and I’ll do a quick plug. I’ve got an app called “Stress Detective,” and it’s not something that I push really hard. It’s just something that I think is important like you, and I’ve … I’m an adviser to the Heart Math Institute, which makes an ear-clip trainer called “Inner Balance,” and I carry that in the store. The reason is that it’s not like … it’s not a part of my business that makes a giant difference, but it’s something that’s so important to talk about because … you know those people who are … they don’t understand that there is a difference in how I feel in the forest or difference in, “I’m always stressed when I’m in a meeting with my boss,” or whatever these stresses are. You don’t actually get the stress until you have some kind of feedback system.
If we had grown up in the forest and we were walking around in loincloths, you’d feel it when there’s a tiger about to jump on you like you’re integrated with the environment around you and you honor this from your body. When you grow up in a city, you don’t get that signal, and I found anyway that training the signal, looking at a screen that tells me, “Oh my god, look at my nervous system is doing right now. Oh my … wait. That actually correlates with this feeling,” and to be like, “All right. Now, I’ve got it dialed in.” It’s like somebody put stickers in all the knobs and dials that are in there that weren’t labeled before.
That’s essentially a quick plug there for “Stress Detective,” iPhone and … I don’t have Android on that. You can do so much just by getting that awareness you have to do all the time. You just do it for a little while. I’m stoked to hear that you’re correlating forest to express with that because I haven’t really done that at all. What percentage of a difference do you see in your stress response when you’re in the forest? Have you like quantified it? Is it 10% or 50%? Like what’s the range?
Evan Brand: It’s hard to say percentage, but when I had the HRV app up, the specific one that I was using, it had a different little bar, so up to the far right corner, almost like a speedometer, was very high HRV score, and then you had the yellow, and then the red. I would go from yellow, maybe mid 60’s HRV score up to … I could get up to 95. I never maxed it out completely, but I could get up to 95. That was in the forest, shirt off, barefoot, hugging the tree. I wasn’t hugging the tree literally, but just for podcast sake, I was hugging the tree, got it up to 95. That was the best I could do.
Dave: That’s hilarious. You really go out there and just go for it, but we didn’t … we scorned in the question, right? All right. If you’re not allowed to do forest bathing or let’s say you’re allowed, but you just don’t have a forest, you live in Los Angeles where it’s either desert, or basically a city, or beach maybe, you can put essential oils, cypress, or fir, or pine, like there’s all kinds of really nice spruce.
Just essential oils that do wake you up in a way that chemical perfumes don’t and that tell your body, “All right,” like you’re getting some information with the environment around you from plants, but there isn’t like the energetic feel of the forest. There isn’t like the soil stuff making it also organics. There isn’t a full forest there, and visually, you get nothing. Is there anything else that’s forest bathing like that the vast majority of listeners in cities could do? Like do I need like a picture of the forest for my cubicle?
Evan Brand: Exactly, but no. Seriously, that’s it. There was another similar study that I documented when I was researching all this where people were just looking at a backdrop of forest, and that was enough to still reduce their stress response. I think they just measured that by blood pressure in that scenario. If you pop on YouTube, there’s tons of different HD point of view where people are walking through the trail. You put on some good headphones where you’re getting the full 360 immersive experience. Maybe you could use a grounding mat while you’re watching that. If you try to just hack it as many ways as you can, take little baby steps in different directions. You’re rubbing the essential oil under your nose real quick before you watch the video, trying to maybe do pine for a pine forest, whatever you’re watching.
Dave: Is this forest, or is this nature? Because like I grew up New Mexico, we have some pinyons, these little pine nut trees and some kind of scrub, but for the most part, I feel at home. You put me on a place … big, big skies, and little dots of shrubs, and lots of brown, I’m like, “Ah, this is so nice. This feels like home.” You put me in a forest, I’m like, “This is visually amazing, and it’s just too damn green,” because like epigenetically, I’m a desert guy, right? Of course, I live in a rainforest, so I’ve gotten over that, but I still … every time I go to the desert, I’m like, “I’m home.” Is that part of you like you need to go to your native environment where your people are from or at least where you spent the first X number of years of your life? Do you think it was something to that, or is it just nature? Is a beach going to do it like …? I don’t know.
Evan Brand: Dave, this is why I like you because you think deeper than most. I was just talking about this literally yesterday with my wife because I’m from …
Dave: That’s cool.
Evan Brand: I’m from Kentucky where it’s a temperate forest. You have 4 seasons here. I love it. You get snow. You get the change of the colors of the leaves. It’s happening now. I lived down at Las Vegas for 6 years, and my epigenetic were going crazy. The desert was beautiful and inspiring, and it looked like artwork, but there was something that just felt off. Some type of dissonance that I really can’t quantify or call what that actually is. It was just some weird vibe that was not jiving perfectly, so then I’d get homesick, and I’d come home for vacation, visit some of the family. Everything felt right again. It felt like my digestion was better, my stress response was better.
So then, I moved back, moved to Texas down in Austin. I lived there a couple years. It was still green, different type of green. A lot drier, a lot browner, a lot more fast-paced. Something felt off again, but it was still the forest. I came back to Kentucky again, everything is back into place. I really do think that there’s some type of encoding that we’re not able to really measure yet that where you’re planted or where your seed was grown, so to speak, that you may have some attachment that’s always going to pull you back there, and I think that’s a good thing. A lot of people are living in different places in the country because of a job or because of some other obligation, and they just don’t go home.
I just talked to a client this morning. She’s from Scotland. I said, “You have to go back home.” She’s down in Dallas. The fast-paced life is just killing her. Her digestion is wrecked. She’s having all sorts of IBS and other issues. The diet is great, the supplements are good, but something is still off, and she doesn’t know why. I said, “How much do you enjoy living in Dallas?” “Well, I hate it.” “Well, how much is that going to weigh into your overall health and longevity?” I think that’s a big piece of the puzzle that we seem to not pay much attention to.
Dave: I actually think that it’s a little bit more complex than … on 2 different levels than the average scientific perspective would have. One is that we know, and I wrote “The Better Baby Book” talking about epigenetic. Now, the environment changes gene expression, and there’s even some evidence out there. People who are raised in this environment, their gut biome, the bacteria in their gut is going to be optimized for that environment, but it can change.
There’s a school of Korean acupuncture that looks at the average like relative link of different organs in the body and attempts to make like food recommendations, but there’s something that tells the body how to grow, right? Like there’s an energy field, and this is not woo-woo science. This is how stem cells know to turn into liver versus bone because if you grew a bone where your liver is, you would die.
Yet, somehow, when you’re 1 cell in the womb, and then 8 cells, and you basically keep multiplying from there, the cells know when to become tongue versus toe, and that’s an energetic field, and it’s a magnetic field, and probably an electromagnetic field. We’re still figuring some of that stuff out, but we know we can guide some cellular growth with things like electrical current.
Let’s say that I grew up. I’m a desert guy, right? I was 12 or 16. I was a desert guy. You look at what’s going to happen there, so now, I’m optimized to be a part of my environment. We didn’t evolve. We weren’t optimized to be part of this system of the world to basically pop from here to the arctic, and then suddenly survive there. How do we know that? We just figured out like people who natively evolved in the arctic have a special gene that makes them use omega 3s more effectively and efficiently than your meat, Evan.
All right. Let’s argue. You’re a Kentucky guy, right? If you’re optimized for that and I’m optimized for this, we have a connection there that’s bacterial, that’s probably energetic. If you look at what a shaman will tell you, they’ll tell you that it’s a multigenerational thing and like your family makes a connection with the land. If you look at even the way we talk about land, we talk about old families or natives that there is a connection that probably takes 200 years of someone living in a valley where all of a sudden like, “Okay. They’re connected. They know like they understand the seasons, like they just … they know it, and they grew up there, and their parents, and their grandparents.”
We’ve totally walked away from that, and I don’t think we’re likely to get that back in most families forever. Question for you though is, based on what you’ve learned about forest bathing, all that, can we replicate that well enough in a city to drive our stress, or are we pretty much like …? We just lost the connection with land. It is gone forever.
Evan Brand: It’s hard to say because then as soon as you were talking about the heritage, it makes you think, “Well, I’ve traced my heritage back to 1650 in Ireland. Am I programmed for Ireland, or am I programmed for Kentucky in here?”
Dave: Why do you think you like Bulletproof coffee, Irish butter? See, it’s genetic. There’s so many Irish in you. That’s the secret.
Evan Brand: I do. I do like Irish butter. Yeah.