Stanford’s Heather Garza, MS, RD, on “Surprise! Food Matters When It Comes to Your Back”

Stanford’s Heather Garza, MS, RD, on “Surprise! Food Matters When It Comes to Your Back”

December 3, 2019 0 By William Morgan


HEATHER GARZA: Hi,
good afternoon. It’s really nice to be here. Before I start, I’d like
to give a quick shout out to Sean– Dr. Mackey– and
his team for bringing me here today. It’s not often that you come
to such a clinically focused presentation there’s a
dietitian on the lineup. And I’m grateful
because access to see a dietitian, as many of you
might be aware, is difficult, it’s limited. And so to be able to talk to
all of you today in one room, and the internet, is
such a pleasure for me. And it’s really
what I set out to do in my school is to talk and
spread the message of nutrition to as many people
who will listen. So I have a captive audience
for the next few minutes, and I’d like to start off by
asking you a quick question. And that is, if I could tell
you that I knew a back therapy secret that not only was a mood
lifter, that made you actually feel good and happy, that
reduced feelings of depression, anxiety, and, obviously,
pain– would you be interested? Would you be
interested if I said that it’s been used
for thousands of years as a safe modality of treatment? And that it has crossed every
continent, every culture, in the world for
thousands of years as being the primary
source of therapy for pain? What if I told you that
it is good for the gut, that it can actually
prevent, if not prolong, the onset of all of
our chronic diseases that we have today–
diabetes, heart disease, neurodegenerative
diseases– and I can go on and on. What if I told you that it was
inexpensive, on every corner, and that it actually tastes
good– you didn’t need to follow it with a glass of
juice to get it down the hatch, right. And so the secret is that I’d
like to share with all of you today– and the title,
obviously, has blown my cover, here– but the secret is
good food, it’s good food. Good food– that’s the secret. It’s something we don’t talk
about often, certainly not when we’re thinking about
pain management. But I hope today
that you walk away from this knowing that good
food might very well be the remedy, if not one of
the complementary remedies, that you can start
doing tonight at dinner. So before I get into the
science, nitty gritty part, I’d like to share a
quick story with you. And that is, is that about
a few years ago, my husband decided that he was
going to go all out for a big birthday of mine. He hired a babysitter, he
booked fancy restaurants in San Francisco
months in advance. And with this
beautiful brunch, we’re walking along Crissy Field
down to the Golden Gate Bridge. And we get to this
big warehouse, and he’s like,
surprise, here we are, here is your birthday present! And I’m like, oh, God, is
there, like, all my family and friends in there– not
a big fan of surprises. But, no, actually, it was
a giant trampoline park. It’s called the House
of Air– something that, maybe, I would have
been into 20, 30 years ago, but at that time, I
was like, OK, I’ll give him the benefit
of the doubt, the day’s been great so far. So we go on in, I sign the
three or four page disclosure– which I now know why
they have a sign– we put these goofy looking socks
on, and we start jumping. We’re getting four, five,
six feet off the ground, having a good time. And we’re not the
only adults there, I promise– plenty
of other adults. But, soon enough, a couple
of kids come up to us, and say, hey, will you
guys please, please join our dodgeball game? The staff here won’t let us play
the game, won’t ref the game, unless we’ve got
two more people. And so my husband looks at
them and is like, yeah, sure. For the kids we’ll do it,
even though I know he’s going, yeah, dodgeball. So I go sure, yeah, let’s
go ahead and do this. So we go to this
indoor dodgeball arena, and we’re having a great time. We’re playing “easy” on the kids
because they’re kids, right? They’re 10 years old,
but, certainly, there’s no reciprocity from them. We are slow moving targets
for these 10-year-olds. But they kind of picked
on the wrong guy, because my husband at the time
was a professional triathlete. He was spending upwards
of 30, sometimes 40, hours a week running, cycling,
and swimming at intense speeds. And so I was like, oh, you guys
got your work cut out for you. But out of the corner of my
eye, a few moments later, I see my husband just
crumple to the floor. And so I very gracefully
bound over to him, and there’s a group of 10
kids around him now going, oh my gosh, he’s hurt, we
hurt him, we hurt him. And they’re kind of high fiving,
like, we hurt the big dude. But out of the corner
of my husband’s mouth he’s able to squeak, I
think I broke my back. I’m never going to race again. So myself and these
10-year-olds pull him off the edge of the trampoline,
we get into an Uber, and instead of going out to
the fancy four-star restaurant that we we’re going
to– accompanied by this magical bottle of
wine– we get burritos, and we spend my
birthday eating them over a bottle of ibuprofen. For the next few months–
let me just fast forward– we tried every modality
of therapy under the sun. He pretty much had to
cancel all of his races, his sponsors
weren’t sure if they were going to keep their
contracts up with him. He had a pretty low
mood, as you can imagine, and our relationship
even suffered. So we tried all kinds of
things, like I mentioned. We’ve been to several
doctors and, of course, I’ve done the very scientific
thing of Googling everything. So we tried everything under
the sun that I had found out, and within a few months I was
like, many of these things really did offer him
relief, but most of them were very short term. But the chronic underlying
pain was there as soon as the modality finished. So I put my research brain
on, my science brain on, and I said, we’ve layered all
these different things on top but, geez, we haven’t really
addressed any of the baselines. So let’s look at nutrition. And so I told my
husband, hey, we’ve been trying all these things
and we’ve had some great relief, but let’s talk about
nutrition– like, that’s what I do,
let’s use it at home. And my husband, of course,
goes, Heather, I’m sorry, but your food magic is
not going to work on me. So being the
scientist that I am, and the very good
wife that I am, I said, I’m going
to prove you wrong. So I made sure that he ate every
few hours, because he often skipped meals. I made sure that
he drank more fluid than he ever had before so that
he was peeing every few hours. I made sure that we were eating
fatty fish, lean meats, nuts, and seeds every single
day– not fish every day, but the other things every day. I doubled up on the portions
of vegetables and fruits that I would give him. And, lo and behold,
within just a few weeks, he was actually able to
sleep through a whole night. He felt better. He would never
tell me that, so I got to walk around for a few
weeks with this smug, little “I told you so”
thing on my face. But, darn it, it worked. And I’m not sharing that story
to tell you that I have some magic food wand,
because I don’t. But I tell you that,
that sometimes we think about adding all these
different modalities of pain management on top
without really examining what we do every single day,
several times every day. And so I’m here to tell you
that food matters, what you eat matters– every single meal. What you had at lunch is
now actually in your brains, and it is bathing
your spinal cord, the discs, the vertebrae–
as we speak, so food matters. Now, let me tell you what good
food means since I told you good food earlier. Half of you are
probably like, oh, God, she sounds like my mom. The other half of you might
be skeptical saying, yeah, what does good food
mean, and how’s it going to affect my back? Well, I’d like to tell you three
ways that good food does that. The first one– good food
provides the backbone– sorry, no pun intended– but the
structure for your brain, for your spinal
cord, for your discs. It is the gelatinous material
inbetween every single one of your vertebraes
in your knees, in your elbows–
every joint that you have is built out of nutrition. Your body can’t synthesize
those things on its own, it only comes from what you eat. And besides providing
structure, good food also provides
nutrients that protect those organs of the body from
the daily stressors of life but, also, from things
that we can’t foresee, like trauma or injuries. And then the third
thing good food does is it provides pleasure. And pleasure can
oftentimes mask pain, but there’s even some
research suggests that it can actually fix pain. So, now, here’s the
science, nitty gritty piece. If your brain had
a recipe on it– and you’re going through the
cookbook in your kitchen, you’re like, ah,
brain, sounds great. How do I make a brain? The recipe, the ingredients,
would say lentils, beans. It would say a good helping
of fatty fish several times a week. It would say avocados, nuts
and seeds, and the oils from those things. And it would also say
a whole bunch of water. This same recipe would apply to
the fluid in your spinal cord, the coatings around
all of the nerves that run miles through
your body, right. Now, moving on to the harder
structures of your brain and your spine, the
bones, and the cartilage, there would be a
different recipe for that. And the foods on
that ingredient list would be more like the
lean meats and seafood. It would be lean
dairy or low fat dairy products and, primarily, foods
that have a lot of calcium, and zinc, phosphorus,
magnesium– the real structures that provide the bone matrix. And, like I said, your
body can’t synthesize these out of thin air, they
come only from the foods that you eat. And a good example in how
fast these things can affect your spine is that in
utero, when we were just the sparkle in our mom’s
eye, we had already built a spine out of
what our mother had been eating that day but
also months beforehand. And we build those spines,
that nervous system, in just a few days as a fetus. And so you can
imagine the impact of everyday what
our mom ate when we were in the stomach
but, also, the years that we’ve accumulated
outside of the womb from eating three times a day. You can imagine the
impact that the food has on your actual
brain structure, right? Well, moving on
from structure, I’d like to also tell you
a little bit about what good food is for protection. Good food offers protection
to all those organs I just talked about. Every day we have a lot
of oxidative stress, meaning stress that we put
on ourselves– emotional but also physical stress. And that creates a lot
of havoc in the body. It creates free radicals,
it creates tissue damage, and a lot of other
things that science doesn’t quite even
know the right words to use to put on it. But there’s these magical foods
out there that offer protection now, but also in the future
to protect these organs. And they’re plants,
plants are powerful. And I’m saying plants
instead of antioxidants for a very specific reason. And that is because out
of the last 30 years where we’ve really been focused
on looking at antioxidants as the cure-all, the
panacea, for every ailment under the sun, the research
has been really depressing. It’s kind of sad. And I’ve been the biggest
proponent of it saying, gosh, I really hope that
vitamin A, or vitamin C, or selenium might
be the answer to all of these different chronic
diseases, but none of them are. Not even in high doses, not
if you take them every day. And the reason is because
you’re taking a single one, all right, you’re taking
a single nutrient. And if you could open the
back and look into the pain pathways of the body, you
would see this Matrix looking beautiful, beautiful system
that’s thousands of thousands of chemicals interacting
simultaneously at any given moment. Yes, there is vitamin
A, and vitamin C, and zinc, and selenium
in there interacting, but they don’t act alone,
and they’re certainly not the biggest players
in that pain cascade. They are just one
of the thousands. So to think, as humans,
that we can somehow drive this reaction by taking
one or two nutrients is false. It’s not going to work. Now, the supplement
companies don’t want you to know that
but, unfortunately, that’s what the best
science says so far. Now, there’s a caveat to that. And that is that if you
are deficient in one of those antioxidants, and we
can do that through some blood tests and some other testing. If you’re deficient,
bringing the levels back up to a healthy,
normal level certainly can offer you great
pain relief and also protection, day in and day out. But, above and beyond
adequate levels, we don’t find that super doses
of any single antioxidant works, but plants do. Plants are good food. And the reason I
have this slide up is to show you that about half
of your meals– and, in fact, let me rephrase that. At least half of your meals
that you eat every single day should be from plants. They harness this amazing
power, this antioxidant blend, that no pill, no medication,
will ever be able to offer you. It’s in the right amounts, it’s
in the right concentrations. And if you’re choosing
richly colored, I mean, deep colored hues– if you’re
getting a nice variety– in fact, eating
seasonally will offer you that variety– then
you are getting the right dose of antioxidants. Good food also means good fluid. Good fluids and good foods
are really one and the same. Hydration is probably one
of the least utilized tools in the pain management tool kit. I cannot tell you how many times
I’ve seen patients in the pain clinic that when I ask them
about the color of their urine, A, they say, how dare you–
B, they say, I don’t know, I’ve never really
paid attention. But I challenge you
today, check the bowl. Check the color of your
urine every time you go. It is such a powerful tool. It’s free, you create
it, it’s unadulterated. You can go in the four-star
Four Seasons Hilton or your home bathroom, and it will give you
the same amount of information. Unlike labs, this doesn’t lie,
except if you take high doses of B vitamins, perhaps it will. But this doesn’t lie, this is
actually what the army uses. I stole this from the
government, from the Army. This is what they
use, they post it up on their new
recruits’ toilet bowls because it’s that powerful. Because we know that if you’re
not hydrated well enough, your medications,
certainly pain medications, aren’t going to
work well for you. Your gut’s not going
to work well for you. We all know what a dry gut does,
right– constipation, reflux, pain, gas, bloating, perhaps
even gout diverticulitis– the list goes on and on. But we also know that
muscles don’t work well when they’re dehydrated. Nerves use water, use fluid
to communicate their messages. And we have all had cramping
at some point or other and, most of the time, cramping
comes from dehydration. So a very simple, but
amazingly effective, strategy in pain management is
making sure you stay hydrated. So I’ve talked about
how good food means that you’re providing your
body with adequate structural nutrients. I’ve talked about how
good food provides the nutrients that protect
those organs in the body. And they also offer resiliency
towards future injury or stress. But, now, I’d like to
move on to my last point and that is that good
food is pleasurable. Good food should feel
good to your eyes, it should feel
good to your nose. It should feel good going in,
it should feel good coming out. It should feel good
when you’re sitting across the table
from somebody, right, to share good food
with other people. Good food should be good
for the environment, it should be good
for the community. And lastly, I have a
picture of Thanksgiving here because,
oftentimes, people think of gratitude,
Thanksgiving, food– we’re happy to have the
food in front of us, it’s something we gather around
the table as family or friends or as a community every year. And I like to
highlight Thanksgiving as what a beautiful
way to honor good food. Oftentimes, as we all know,
when we’re in episodes of pain– and there’s great research
that supports this– when we’re in pain, we eat less. And not only do we eat
less, we eat less healthy. We’re also, when we’re
in pain, on the other end of the spectrum, we
will usually– sorry, excuse me– when
we’re not in pain, we tend to compensate for those
times when we are in pain, and we eat more. But we also eat more unhealthy. So pain often makes
food a casualty instead of a treatment. And so today, at
dinnertime, I’d really like you to take a
quick pause, look at the food in front of you. Make sure that half of it are
filled with plants, that you’ve got some good hydration
in front of you, that you’ve got some of
those structural components like the proteins and some
carbohydrates in front of you. Look at the people you’re
sharing your meal with. If not, look
internally, look inside. Let’s feel gracious for the food
that we have in front of us, the amazing opportunity that
we have with every single meal to actually help
ourselves, right. Every time you eat, you make
a choice– an amazing choice. Am I going to hurt
myself today by eating processed, adulterated foods? Or am I going to help myself,
and eat beautiful food that, literally and physically, bathe
your brain in exactly what it needs at exactly the right time? OK, so I would like to thank
you, again, for having me here today. I hope I’ve given you a
moment of pause in the future, because we eat at least
three times a day. And, in the case of my husband,
about eight times a day. But it’s such a
beautiful opportunity we have to make a positive
impact in our health, and it can start
tonight at dinner. Thank you so much.