There might not be any existing Instagram pages for what you need, so create your own community. The beautiful thing is when you create with intent, you attract. So, for folks who want to build pillows, start your own blog, Instagram or Facebook. And then all you need is to meet 10 like-minded people and then you already have your sense of community. You can meet up with those people. It’s not only for the mental but it also addresses the physical.
As a part of my interview series about the ‘5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic’ I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Christian Gonzalez.
He is a Naturopathic Doctor who specializes in Integrative Oncology. Dr. Gonzalez completed a two-year residency position at the competitive Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He’s also the podcast host of Heal Thy Self, a popular podcast about holistic healing that has nearly 1 million downloads per episode.
As an authority on non-toxic living, his viral “product reviews” on his Instagram have caught the attention of some of the most prominent health brands such as Oatly, whom he’s advised on creating more consumer-education and less chemically-based products.
Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?
I was going to be a dentist, and during my time in dental school my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. The diagnosis led me down a path of being exposed to the huge deficit in understanding nutrition and overall holistic care — inside out, head to toe, and multisystemic when it came to cancer. And I saw that they were making nutritional recommendations that were really poor, especially because I knew enough about nutrition to understand that calorically-dense doesn’t mean “not healthy”. So for me, that was a big problem and it planted the seed. I saw how irresponsible the recommendations by the oncologist and the nutritionist were.
I started giving my mom calorically-dense foods and then when I went back to school for the other semester, I was reading a book on the plane that my mom gave me about a natural detox diet. The author was an ND. I thought the ND was a mistake, and it should have been MD. Then I realized ND was actually a real thing. When I touched down that night, I researched naturopathic doctors and then I was like, holy moly like this is exactly aligned with me.
So, I dove in and I made calls to different schools immediately. I followed my intuition and that’s sort of how it started. When my mom passed, it was really the catalyst for me going into cancer, and dealing with death and chronic disease. It made me stronger to do that, because otherwise, I would have just not dealt with the heavy stuff.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
One thing that sticks out is when I started exposing Boost and Ensure, just putting it out there how crappy this stuff is, how it’s making people sick in hospitals, and how they’re giving it to cancer patients. Then I got a DM from the lead nurse at a hospital in Canada. She said that the head of oncology got wind of that story, watched it several times, and began the first steps to get rid of Boost and Ensure from the hospital. That was incredible for me because it was really interesting to see the reach and the power that I can have. Just from something little that you’re doing for your audience — it can have a ripple effect.
Now, this hospital in Canada is not is not serving Boost or Ensure, and in essence, putting their patients in a better place to heal after surgery. Who knows what the effect could be if they got more holistic nutritionists and naturopathic doctors, but I think that was really interesting and something that’s always stuck out to me.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
Now this one’s kind of a hard one because it’s difficult to gauge something that’s humorous in medicine because a mistake of medicine can be a problem. I’ve definitely made some goofy mistakes in the beginning of my podcast where I like slipped up a few times.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m a co-founder of an online store that is going to sell the highest quality products and consumer goods. It’s not just supplements but also beds, pillows, blankets and hopefully furniture at some point soon — basically everything that can go into a home or anything that’s related to health.
It’s also going to be huge because it’s basically goop meets Thrive Market, because it’s subscription based. It will help people because it gives them a massive opportunity to have access to the best quality of each category of supplements. For example, the best quality magnesium. There’s going to be a score that we will use to score every product on there. And if it’s not an A or B based on certain criteria, then it won’t be on there at all. Basically, it’s going to be the only store around that has the best of the best. I think it’s gonna be a massive opportunity because it’ll also have online courses, like how to stop smoking, top three things for weight loss, etc. We have a team of few doctors, a microbiologist, and big influencers from Instagram signing up.
Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?
When it comes to the Loneliness Epidemic, I think my angle may be a little bit different in two ways: I’ve seen the loneliness epidemic manifest in cancer patients, some of the worst outcomes come to those who were lonely. Loneliness is major because you don’t have a sense of “tribe” or community. It’s a known risk factor stronger than obesity, stronger than smoking. So, loneliness is massive when it comes to overall health outcomes. I’ve seen it when I was in my residency. I’d have people come in with no caregiver, and I just noticed a pattern that these patients didn’t do well with their symptoms. You always need a confidant, you need support, you need to feel supported — that concept of tribe and community is major. In how I avoided loneliness, the mental & emotional part of it and how things I needed to work on would come to the surface, that’s the whole personal side of it.
According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US , but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?
I mentioned the importance of social relationships. Basically, they can help. And overall, they have an influence on health outcomes, so it’s not just a mental thing but it’s a physical thing as well. There was an article published in Science Magazine that showed that a lack of social connection is basically a greater detriment to health than obesity, lack of physical exercise, blood lipids, smoking, and high blood pressure. We also see it affects longevity. For about 30 years, we’ve known that folks with longer relationships, or more lasting and quality relationships, live longer than those who are isolated. There was a meta analysis in the Journal of Psychological Scientists back in 2010, where they reviewed 140 articles with close to over 309,000 participants. They analyze individuals’ mortality as a function of their social relationships, and they found that basically as I just mentioned, people with stronger social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival and those were the weaker ones. And that was consistent across age, sex, health status and cause of death. So, it’s really important.
As I mentioned, the lack of social relationships increases your risk of death, and it’s comparable to well-established risk factors such as smoking and alcohol consumption, and actually exceeds the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity, and obesity. That’s incredible. There’s a few theories as to why. But really, we know that it can have a huge effect. We see that also with pain recovery, because the subjective experience of pain is more when they are lonely, versus when they are not. When they have a confidant, they feel connected and supported on a broader society level.
On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?
You don’t have to look further than the Blue Zones, which have the highest number of the world’s healthiest people over 100. That’s in Greece, Okinawa, Japan, Loma Linda, California, Sardinia, Italy and Nicoya, Costa Rica. They have varying diets and varying amounts of exercise. But one thing that is consistent across every single Blue Zone, is that community, social support, social well-being, and connection. If you think about us psychologically and evolutionarily, we are social beings. We are predisposed to be part of a tribe. And the worst thing you can do to someone is ex-communicate them, which is what we do in jail. We isolate them and put them in solitary confinement. So it’s incredible to think that the healthiest people also have the strongest sense of community.
The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today?
Here’s a few examples that I can pick up on:
Social media has been mentioned and that’s interesting because, in one sense, we have a sense of community because we can follow all these random pages. For example, I follow this page that’s all about basket weaving, and your sense of community is there, but it’s false because it has a ceiling. And you’re not going to truly interact, because DMing, or texting, never takes the place of the energy we exchange face-to-face. So the importance of that can’t be understated — what we have right now is a false sense of community, a virtual community. You feel that sense of community when there’s like-minded people all under one roof. That’s why people love going to concerts, because it’s like-minded people who share the same interest.
The second one I can think of is the lack of community when it comes to living in places that don’t have “centers”. Think about when you go to Europe, and everything is right there. When I was in Portugal, everything was outdoors, there was always music in the town square, etc. The town square was where everyone met, and we have that a little bit in New York where there’s performers on the subway, sometimes Union Square or Central Park. But we generally aren’t structured like that in America. So I think that even the way we approach community as Americans, is really falling short. When you walk the streets of Italy or Portugal, you see that the energy is very different and charming, and that’s because everyone is interacting, everyone is outside. The American sense is very go-go-go, thinking for yourself, doing for yourself. You may see it in smaller towns in America, but in big cities like LA, it’s hard to find your true community.
And then the third one is medicine. If you look back to New Year’s, “community” was on my top five things that we need to address this year. It holds true, and I think that not enough medical professionals are speaking about it. If we have the opportunity to do that, especially with the knowledge that I just mentioned of how important social connection is to your physical health, I think there needs to be a massive intervention. This should be something that all medical professionals are talking about. Every one of my patients I asked, alright, what do you do, aside from your family? Do you have a community? Do you feel like you’re socially connected to these folks?
What are 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic?
Here’s five things we can do to solve the Loneliness Epidemic:
- In general, find your passion. Figure out what it is that brings light and fire to your life. But really start looking for that small community — start with virtual to make friends, attend meetups, etc.
- Set up dinners. So instead of going out to eat twice a week with different people, have a big dinner. Those are important because for me, I’ll have these dinners and sometimes we don’t even talk about wellness, we just connect. We just want to connect and feel like we’re vibing. Even if someone’s talking about something random, we could still vibe because it’s a passion that’s overriding.
- Go to your neighbor’s house. Go talk to them and see how open they are about building a community in your own neighborhood. When I lived in New Jersey, I didn’t even know my neighbor. Get out of your comfort zone, go next door to say hey, and offer them something. And I think that’s something really powerful we can do to help foster community, just every day in our own neighborhood, and they don’t even have to be like-minded people.
- If you can’t meet up with your neighbor, then go to a centralized part of your town. For example, if you have a dog, go to a dog park. That’s the best way to go. When I went to PA school for a little bit, I would take my dog to the dog park, and then I’d meet so many new people because by default, you already have a common interest — dogs. So having that common interest opens up a safe space for folks to talk about other things, like what part of town they live in, or what’s their favorite restaurant. It’s hard for people who are super introverted, or don’t like being out of their comfort zone. But these are times that we can really make a massive shift.
- Lastly, it might be hard to find your community. There might not be any existing Instagram pages for what you need, so create your own community. The beautiful thing is when you create with intent, you attract. So, for folks who want to build pillows, start your own blog, Instagram or Facebook. And then all you need is to meet 10 like-minded people and then you already have your sense of community. You can meet up with those people. It’s not only for the mental but it also addresses the physical.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
You can definitely inspire a movement, and you never know what an idea can trigger. What we’re doing is a “swell” score, which is a “science of wellness” score, and that can do a lot of good for people because now they have access to really good quality information. They don’t have to do the research, or be at risk of buying something on Amazon that doesn’t serve them. So really it’s all about empowering people, and it’s aligned exactly with the message on the podcast, which is informed consent and empowerment.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Oh my god, Jim Carrey. I would love to sit down and just listen to everything. I’m such a talker so he would be the one person that could shut me up. I could absolutely listen to his perspective on life, spirituality and reality, his own struggles in ascension, and what he thinks about ego and spirit — that would be really amazing to have a conversation with him.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
@doctor.g_ on Instagram and my podcast is Heal Thy Self available for listening on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Google Play here.