Get help from our network of more than 300 experts on changes big and small, personal and professional.
Dr. Shari Lieberman on Living Healthier
Shari Lieberman, C.N.S., F.A.C.N., earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from The Union Institute in Cincinnati and has more than 20 years experience as a private-practice clinical nutritionist. In 2003, she was named the recipient of the National Nutritional Foods Association Clinician of the Year Award. Lieberman penned the bestselling The Real Vitamin & Mineral Book and Dare To Lose: Four Simple Steps to a Better Body. Here, she discusses how people can live a healthier lifestyle.
What’s your approach to the patients you see, either those who have just been diagnosed with an illness or who want to live a healthier life?
First, for both, I emphasize the importance of being positive. I’m irritated when someone with cancer comes in my office who has been told, “You’re in stage three of the disease.” So? Always remember it isn’t over until it’s over, plus remission can occur with any illness. It doesn’t matter what it is or where you are; it doesn’t matter what stage you are or the diagnosis.
Next, helping the person develop a key understanding of what they’re taking and why is key. For example, if I give someone fish oil, they have to know why they’re taking fish oil. I can’t assume they know what I know.
Are the physicians you work with agreeable to your recommendations, or does this present a conflict for the patient?
Most doctors I work with are extraordinarily cooperative. But here’s how the story goes for many patients: I may recommend antioxidants to people diagnosed with cancer. And they say, “Oh, my doctor told me not to take any supplements.” I answer, “But that doesn’t make any sense.” They say, “Oh, but I can’t talk to my doctor.” And my response is, “Is this person seeing you for free? Seeing you for free means really seeing you for free and not even billing your insurance because the only way someone can justify not talking to you and explaining things is if they’re doing you a favor and they’re not charging you for their time.” Most patients say, “no,” their doctor isn’t seeing them for free. So I tell them to change their doctor.
I make sure that the people who are guiding and assisting patients are people they can have a conversation with because if they can’t, then what’s the point? What’s the point of seeing the top honcho at Mt. Sinai for cancer or heart disease if you cannot ask them a question?
Which diet plan do you recommend?
We don’t all have to do the same thing, but I would say that one diet rules, and that’s the low-glycemic index diet (such as the Mediterranean and Paleolithic diets). It means not eating foods that throw your blood sugar through the roof, day in and day out.
What do we need to know about supplements?
A quality multivitamin-multimineral supplement each day is key for everyone. In The Real Vitamin & Mineral Book, I give ranges rather than specific numbers for nutrients and my philosophy is not the RDIs (recommended daily intakes) but the ODIs (optimum daily intakes), which are based on research with respect to prevention and treatment of disease.
What is your view of diet pills?
There’s a difference between prescription diet pills and specific dietary supplements that can enhance or accelerate weight loss when you’re on a program. All prescription weight-loss pills carry great risk; some affect your brain chemistry, some induce diarrhea by absorbing too much fat. There are a number of dietary supplements that can help you manage your carb cravings and help you use your carbs better. These supplements are not a replacement for doing the work; they make the work you do more efficient.
What do we need to know about essential fatty acids?
The reason we’re so messed up is because of the imbalance of the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s in our bodies. Our ancestors’ balance was probably 1:1, maybe 2:1. The ratio today is about 30:1. Omega-6 fatty acids cause inflammation, which isn’t all bad; you want some inflammation as a response to injury and a natural part of the healing process. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatories. You want that 1:1 or 2:1 ratio, to decrease inflammation so it doesn’t continue unchecked. Walnuts, flaxseed and fatty fish are the best sources, but these foods have disappeared from our food supply. We’re walking around in a state of inflammation; that’s why we’re seeing heart disease, cancer and autoimmune diseases.
What’s your advice for people who choose a vegetarian diet?
When I started to practice some 20 years ago, I thought everyone should strive to be vegetarian, but I’ve changed my mind. No civilization that has ever existed on the planet was vegan. Better prevention data is connected to the Paleolithic and Mediterranean diets, in which you eat, digest and get the benefits of animal protein. For someone who’s eating poorly and then switches to a vegetarian diet, great benefits show up in the first two years. After that, people feel tired, their immune systems are affected and they may have hair loss and other problems.
What’s your advice about dairy products?
The jury is still out on this issue. I just saw a recent study that connected eating high-fat dairy to an increased risk of ovarian cancer, but were the dairy products organic? Were they free of bovine-growth hormone and antibiotic residues? I doubt it. Are we looking at milk or are we looking at what we did to the milk and the cow? I would tell someone to go off dairy or at least give it a try to combat certain disorders. Dairy is very allergenic for some people; like wheat, it can cause immune dysfunction. If you’re going to use dairy, make it exclusively organic. And if ovarian cancer runs in your family, I wouldn’t recommend eating a lot of dairy at this point.
What’s the best way to lower cholesterol levels?
Elevated cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein), LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and triglyceride levels are very easy to lower with diet, exercise and specific supplements. Studies show that lifestyle interventions or changes can yield similar results to a statin drug, but you have to be willing to make those changes. If you’re willing to clean up your diet, exercise and take some supplements, then do that. If you’re not a committed person, then you might need to take a statin.
For more information on Dr. Shari Lieberman, visit www.drshari.net.