James Maskell: Hello, and welcome back to the Big Bold Health podcast. I’m here with my co-host, Dr. Jeffrey Bland. And, we’re in a series of interviewing some up and coming women who are leading us to a more interesting health future, a more successful health future, and we are super, super excited to have here, today, in the studio, Ruth Westreich. And Jeff, let me just pass it to you, this is quite a coup.
Jeffrey Bland: Yeah, I think it’s not many times that Ruth is willing to sit before a camera and give the essence of her wisdom to the masses. So this is, to me, a real special moment. This is just easily said, one of the leaders who is a connector par excellence, it’s an individual who has that native skill to attract people together, to be a big idea person, to organize thoughts, to get people to kind of smooth the edges of their positioning and their languaging, and to get collaboration to work—and it’s all about collaboration. So, if we’re going to be big and bold, then we better learn how to collaborate. And, Ruth Westreich is one of the experts in helping us to do that. So Ruth, thanks.
Ruth Westreich: Thank you. Lovely to be here.
James Maskell: Well Ruth, you’ve been sort of steering the ship of integrative medicine, in a certain way, over the last few decades and playing an incredible role. What is it that gets you out of bed to want to play this role?
Ruth Westreich: Well, it’s actually interesting, because the entry point where I came in, so, so many, so many years ago, has changed dramatically. And, I think there’s a number of reasons for that. One, there isn’t a simple either-or answer to this thing that we call health and this thing that we call disease, right? It’s a convolution of conditions at a certain time with certain perfect storms coming together for either good or not so good. And, since I’ve been involved in integrative medicine, functional medicine, natural medicine, palliative medicine, nutrition, arts and healing, that’s been where the bulk of my work has been centered. And, every single bit of it has been about building collaborations, because every single one of these disciplines in a silo, is not going anywhere.
Ruth Westreich: In fact, I see it’s just doing the opposite—it’s going down where it should be going up. And, because there is no one answer, and because now we’re in this world of precision medicine—which you so artfully talk about—we understand that every single one of us is an N-of-1. And we have to look at that, and we have the tools now that we can use to analyze and make decisions for us, our families, our pets, all around that. The thing that I think is exciting for me is with the technology that we have, with our way to communicate information to each other now, we have ways to communicate information that make people want to change. We haven’t always had that. And, we have figured out that change is different for everyone. What’s going to motivate me to change, really change, may not have any meaning for you whatsoever. And so, that’s all about this individual personalized time that we’re in now.
Jeffrey Bland: Well I think that was beautifully said, and one of the things that you have taught me in the years that I’ve had the fortune of knowing you is the marriage of art and science, right. I mean you’re an artist, you’re a very accomplished, both teacher and producer. And, you also have this other part of your brain that is really embracing science, and technology, and how it can be employed humanistically. And, the marriage of those two things together is part of kind of the life experience—it’s like the whole organism—how we don’t operate just on one side of our brain. We operate through this connection to our environment, to our world, to our aesthetics, to our function, through our physiology. And, I know that has brought your efficacy very strongly into the environmental movement, because there’s something very sentient and artful about putting your hands in the soil and being out in the world. Could you tell us a little bit of how that has manifest for you?
Ruth Westreich: Well, in looking for and creating health, ameliorating disease, I had to keep going upstream, because there wasn’t an entry point that I felt was the entry point. And so, I became what I call an accidental activist. You know, I certainly didn’t start out that way, but I think if you are a conscious thinking person today, you will end up that way. So, the entry point for me is no matter what we do, no matter what tools we have available to us, if our food source is not safe, if our environment is toxic, it does none of this stuff; it’s just window dressing. It’s like moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic. So, we have to look at regenerative farming, we have to look at safe water, we have to look at removing toxins from our bodies, and we know how to do that. So, we have all the tools that can get us to a position where we actually can create health.
Ruth Westreich: But you can’t just go in and start band-aiding everything, because it doesn’t work that way.
James Maskell: How would you compare and contrast over the time that you’ve been involved—you have on one hand environmental degradation continuing, but at the same time, consciousness about functional integrative medicine and health creation increasing kind of rapidly. Which do you think is the more powerful long-term force?
Ruth Westreich: For me?
James Maskell: Yeah.
Ruth Westreich: The environment. The environment. If we don’t stand up and say we have to do something about our environment, we have to be in a position where our food is safe, where our soil is not destroyed, none of this really is going to make a whole lot of difference over the time. Because we are degrading at a faster pace than we are improving, in my opinion.
Jeffrey Bland: So, let me take that, because your advocacy comes through action. I mean, there are many of us that talk about these issues, and there are probably fewer that do things about it. And, the way that you, one of the ways, not the way, but one of the ways that you have done something about this—which I think is absolutely brilliant—is by what you call salons. And the salons, I want you to tell us what that is, but I think that that concept that you’re going to describe, it can be used in many different forms to create community activism and community awareness. So, tell us about your salons.
Ruth Westreich: Absolutely. I came up with this concept many, many, many years ago. And, I go back to, you know I used to enjoy reading about the 17th and 18th century French salons and how that changed policy, politically—that’s where the change happened. And I thought, “Wow, I can do that. I’m in a position to do that. I know the people; I have the resources.” And so, I started bringing people together, many years ago, into my home—I’m able to do this. I have a large home. I have people to help me do all of this—but, to have conversations of consequence that matter around the things. Like I just had one, and Jeff has been, he’s been to a number of what I call “dog and pony shows.” But he shows up for me. And, I just had one about two weeks ago about soil regeneration and what that looks like.
Ruth Westreich: I had 120 people. I had two of the groups I think that have been the biggest in this area. I had Kiss the Ground and I had Farmer’s Footprint, Zach Bush’s Farmer’s Footprint. I had farmers that came from Saskatchewan. I had a farmer that came from Saskatchewan that has regenerated 40,000 acres, 40,000 acres, came all the way from Canada. And, you know why he did it? To create community with other like-minded people. I had people from all over California, I had them from New Jersey, and we had a conversation. You come. We have a networking so that the appropriate people meet the appropriate people.
Ruth Westreich: We have follow up. We have of course, great dinner.
Jeffrey Bland: That is true.
Ruth Westreich: And, somewhat of a conversation about this, I never ever fundraise. I don’t allow it. You cannot ask for money at my house, that’s so inappropriate. But I believe that if I can present the kind of impact that I believe that I can present, you may want to get involved. And then we have a follow up to have that happen. So, we have an email, this is how we stay connected; they start blogs. I mean, this changes things and I’ve been doing it for 20 years.
Jeffrey Bland: And, I will absolutely validate this is an agent of a very positive change, having been a participant and observed how you orchestrate this, which is brilliant. Again, it’s a sign of your management expertise. And, I reflect back on a simple model of this, to my mother’s era when I was growing up with Tupperware parties. And, what are these all about? If you were to have these, because the way you do it, it’s very elegant, but it can be simplified where neighborhoods can get together and they can talk about local areas of their own environmental concern. Which then connects them into all sorts of things, into their water, to the air, or to the safety of their neighborhoods, to their food supply, to the health of their children. So, we start developing a ground-breaking kind of movement.
Ruth Westreich: Well, I’ve had the privilege of having a private family foundation and it has been in existence for 25 years now. And, I have so many success stories of the way that I have chosen to connect, to mentor, to collaborate.
Ruth Westreich: The one that comes to mind, that I absolutely love, is Moms Across America. They have been one of my grantees for many, many years now; she’s about six years old. She reaches, through a grassroots effort, 4 million moms a month—4 million. She started out with zero, started out with glyphosate herbicide; she has now branched out into things that are toxic, soil, all of this kind thing. Those are the conversations you’re talking about; those are the people that she reaches. She reaches average moms in very small towns, all across the United States, who go out and talk in parades, hand out flyers. I mean, that’s the way we’re going to have to do it, and it works!
Jeffrey Bland: When I try to capture, in essence, in reality, what Big Bold Health means, that’s an example, right?
Ruth Westreich: Yes.
Jeffrey Bland: It’s a big, bold idea, executed by a kind of courageous people who are, by the spirit of their energy, recruiting others to a similar theme that has a deep rooted, as you say, upstream effect on all people’s health. Whether they’re recruited into it or not, it’s going to influence positive with their health. And, now we start forming a movement, that’s Big Bold Health.
Ruth Westreich: For me, I think so. It can’t just be the them and the us, because that’s a recipe for disaster. And, we’ve talked about this many times—it’s unfortunate that Western medicine, allopathic medicine, is the best in the world. We could all need it, it’s there if we need it; that’s the place we start, we always start at the top. And, that’s not where we need to start. We do not need to start there with the most interventional, the most costly, the most invasive. We need to go back and let the body try and do what it wants to do naturally. Because, if it wasn’t good at doing this, we would not have survived as a species. But we have to get out of our own way and we have to remove those things first that are going to keep us from being able to have any kind of health.
Ruth Westreich: And, then we move up the ladder. But you know, the interesting thing is there’s the therapeutic order of healing, which our friends in natural medicine have put together, which I love, have it on my website. But there’s two things that run up and down that whole therapeutic order of healing: one is nutrition, the science of nutrition, and the other is palliative care. That runs up and down both things and can be applied at literally every stage. In fact, I’m very proud of a nutritional curriculum that is just being rolled out at the Institute for Palliative Care now at Cal State San Marcos, which is one of the only curriculum programs in the country for nutrition in palliative care and hospice care.
Jeffrey Bland: Wow, that’s fantastic.
Ruth Westreich: And, when I said this is what I wanted to do, they said, “Well, there isn’t anything like that.” I went, “I know. That’s the point.” That’s the point, because I believe that nutrition can have an influence on you and your body until you take your last breath. I know it can. And, I’ve seen it work in hospice—I’ve done so much work in hospice and I have seen people just about ready to cross over; the right nutrition can still be applied. Whether it’s a congee soup or whatever, whatever it is. We don’t have to give people end-of-life buckets of Ensure, it doesn’t have to be that way. So, I think we need to pay much more attention to all the things that work, all along, are the things that we need to concentrate on.
Jeffrey Bland: So James, can’t you revalidate why we felt Ruth would be the greatest voice of Big Bold Health? You can see how this is manifesting in this session.
James Maskell: The first time that I took a look at The Westreich Foundation website, I was like, this is my person, like everything that was involved there. I want to just ask you something that Jeff and I have been learning this weekend, as we’ve been interviewing people, all three of us, to all different degrees, have been involved in trying to get health creation delivered in the medical system.
James Maskell: And, one of the things I think we’re learning as we go through this, is although that has been absolutely necessary to set up, by restricting health creation to the delivery of healthcare professionals that are licensed and have been trained in a totally other form of medicine, and we’re trying to retrain them, we may have limited the capacity of health creation as a force. And, these Tupperware style dinners, with the exponential potential of sort of a peer-to-peer side, really seems to have, in my mind, a more exponential potential to move things along more quickly.
Ruth Westreich: Well, in all of the work, I understand how each one of these disciplines became a silo and why. Because they had to grow up in a silo in order to just exist. But then you reach a point where that doesn’t work anymore, then you have to start broadening it, you have to start thinking about collaborating. And, the idea, I’ve always … I’m going to offend some of my friends in integrative medicine. I’m so sorry, I don’t mean to do this, because I love you all. But when I started in the integrative medicine world, it was about whole person health; it was about whole person health. And, it’s ended up in many, many, many instances, being totally modality driven, because that was the entry point in the existing medical field. And so, I think we have kind of diluted it from what it was supposed be. And, I think that’s why you saw functional medicine, that you were so great at bringing about, and saying, “Hey, wait a minute. It’s a about function here. It’s not about modalities.” So, that’s how all of this happened.
Ruth Westreich: But what I see is classically trained, allopathic physicians are very good at what they know. Their knowledge has been limited to what they’ve learned in medical school and they are very reluctant to learn things outside of that because it’s foreign to them. It’s not reductionistic, okay, it’s about expansionism. And, then you start looking at it and you say, “Okay, now, now what’s going to happen in these next couple of decades?” And, if you utter the term decentralization, people want to shoot you, because again, they don’t understand that that’s not going to be a bad thing. It isn’t taking anything away from them, but it’s giving other people more choices and more access to the things. People have to be responsible for their own health; you can’t abdicate that to somebody else any more than you would abdicate the health of your children to somebody else.
Jeffrey Bland: Yes. I think that you’ve said so many things that are important and I just want to give one little vignette to your point about doctors’ training, and their comfort to move out of their training zone, and the medical legal risks that they might feel of doing that.
Jeffrey Bland: So, nutrition is a very interesting—as you said—universal concept, that I’ve yet to meet someone that hasn’t eaten some time. So, it’s a common theme, that and breathing, and drinking fluids—there are certain things, breathing, that are all kind of like characteristics that we all share. So, then I will say to a physician, in talking about this, “So are you engaged in doing a nutrition in your practice?” And oftentimes, if they’re classically trained, they’ll say, “No, no, that’s not in my bailiwick.” And, then I’ll say, “So, you do practice scientific medicine, right?” “Oh, of course I practice scientific medicine.” And, then I say, “Do you think that diet and nutrition has any bearing on the outcome of a person’s health?”
Jeffrey Bland: And, they’ll generally say, “Well, yes,” if they’re being honest, “it does have some effect.” And, then I’ll say, “Well, if in fact it does have an effect on people’s health and you believe in scientific medicine, wouldn’t you want to control that variable? So that in fact, whatever you’re going to do, whatever your surgery or chemotherapy or whatever it would be, is going to have a more kind of controllable outcome, a scientific outcome, because you’ve controlled a variable that we know causes influence on how a drug might respond in their body, how they’re going to heal from surgery.” And, when you, when you put it in that mode, I’ve often seen the eyes of these disbelievers go, “Oh, you know, I never really thought about it that way.”
James Maskell: How many people have you converted with that one, Jeff?
Jeffrey Bland: Well, you never really know about conversion, but you can see it in the questions they ask you, that at least it got their attention.
James Maskell: They caught the virus.
Jeffrey Bland: Yeah, I think that’s the virus that you put in there. They can’t escape from it once it’s there.
Ruth Westreich: Well, I will say one thing, that I was married, in my former life, to a gastrointestinal surgeon for 20 years, in Los Angeles. And, he was brilliant. He didn’t learn anything about nutrition in medical school, not one thing. So, it’s not his fault. The curriculum didn’t teach it; they didn’t. And, then we started learning, okay, well then there’s this whole dietetics association, which is the food pyramid, how it looks on the plate, how you take it in and put it in the hospital tray, and all this kind of stuff. That is not the science of nutrition and how, what you put in affects your body; it doesn’t have anything to do with it. And so, when you don’t know anything about anything, it’s very, very hard to put it together with, “Oh, I need this.” You know, I did have, I’m always trying to convince people in conventional medicine that there’s maybe a few things that they probably didn’t learn in medical school, especially if they’ve been practicing 20, 30, 40 years.
Ruth Westreich: So, I had one of my salons, I had like 60 docs—you were there, you were there. We had like 50, 60 docs there from all of the honcho places in San Diego. Two wanted to know more, two wanted to know more. And I mean, we’re talking some of the best known people in San Diego. And, it was because they just couldn’t imagine how they could learn it, how it could be applicable in their practice. They didn’t imagine that they could have the time to learn it, so they needed some kind of intermediary or practitioner as a helpmate, as a guide. And so, that’s what’s missing for them.
James Maskell: Absolutely.
Jeffrey Bland: And, I think what we’re saying in Big Bold Health, and you’ve actually said it already very beautifully, very, very gently, is that this revolution, or evolution, really, as James has called it, will occur from the soil up. And, it’ll occur through health care consumers, it occurs through moms, it occurs through the way children are being raised. And, that kind of a more organic—so to speak—movement will be the force of change.
Jeffrey Bland: In fact, that’s actually how healthcare has changed historically. Even going back to Semmelweis with the washing your hands during delivery of children, and the concept that he was purged from the medical society because this was so antithetical to the way they thought about it. It was by women and observations of nurses that ultimately got that pushed through; it wasn’t by the top down of the practitioners. So, I think we’re seeing a top down receptivity starting, but a bottom up push to really create this evolution of Big Bold Health.
Ruth Westreich: I think there’s another aspect to it, is that we’re getting to the point where there are conversations that we cannot have, right, and I think that’s a very big worry. I look at… you know we know that there is big industry, big ag. There’s another couple, I think there is now something called big philanthropy, and I think there’s something called big technology. And, the big technology could almost be the most troubling of all. And so, I think we have to be able to have those conscious conversations; we have to be able to do the research that’s going to inform how we take care of ourselves, and our children, and our planet. So, those are the things that I’m concerned about.
Jeffrey Bland: I think we can see why Ruth is the quintessential example of our Big Bold Health principles. So, James.
James Maskell: Yeah, thank you, Ruth, it has been wonderful to have you here. And, I think that this will spark a lot of conversation. And, one of the things that you said right at the beginning, I think is so true, is that health is different for everyone; it comes for different reasons. And so, you can go to Big Bold Health right now, tell us what health means to you. You can find out more about Ruth’s amazing work at her foundation website, which we’ll put in the show notes.
James Maskell: But thank you so much for being with us here today, it’s been an absolute honor, and I think everyone will have enjoyed it at home. And, use all of those big tech platforms to share this out. Thanks so much for watching. We’ll see you next time.