- How Dr. Junger combines detoxification and intermittent fasting in his new book, Clean 7, to help more people reap the benefits of healthy detoxification
- Dr. Junger’s own health journey and path to functional medicine and detoxification
- Why community is the best approach to successful detoxification
- Why Dr. Junger believes in the power of groups
- His tips and tricks for running successful group visits
- The role of toxicity in chronic disease, and how it is more damaging than most people realize
- How to stop the naysaying and alleviate the tension between the old way of thinking about detoxification and the new way
- And so much more!
Welcome to the Evolution of Medicine podcast! On this episode, we talk with Dr. Alejandro Junger, a cardiologist by trade and a celebrated and well-known practitioner in the functional medicine space. He is the bestselling author of Clean and Clean 7, and the founder of Clean, a 21-day detoxification experience. Dr. Junger is an expert on detoxification, and one of the first practitioners to advocate for its benefits and widespread use—a detox OG, if you will. He shares his health journey and a powerful testimony to functional medicine. It was a really engaging conversation, and I think you’ll enjoy it. Highlights include:
James Maskell: Hello, and welcome to the podcast. This week, we catch up with Dr. Alejandro Junger, who is one of the most celebrated and a well-known doctor in the functional medicine space. He is author of Clean and founder of the Clean program, and he is one of the best-known names in the detoxification world. We are kicking off this for this next Forum on detoxification and our Group Visit Challenge, that starts on December 9th, and we wanted to get the OG of detoxification into the podcast. It’s a really, really interesting half an hour. He’s so full of wisdom. Enjoy.
James Maskell: A warm welcome to the podcast, Dr. Alejandro Junger. Welcome, Doc.
Dr. Junger: Thank you for having me.
James Maskell: It only took six years for me to be able to get you on the Evolution of Medicine platform, so thanks for agreeing to be part of this podcast.
Dr. Junger: I’ve been waiting.
James Maskell: Doc, I know that amongst our listenership is a range of practitioners, doctors, and other health practitioners, some of which have been doing functional medicine for a long time, some of which are new to it. I guess the first thing that I want to say is I always have to share my appreciation for the people at the front of the movement that we’re doing things when it was still super, super weird, and in my estimation, what you did to be able to bring this conversation of detoxification and biotransformation to the public is a service that I think a lot of practitioners that are operating today have built on the back of, so first and foremost, thank you for being on the front lines early on. Maybe just to give some context to listeners who aren’t aware how you arrived into that context, maybe let’s just start with the original story of a Dr. Junger’s transformation towards understanding detoxification as an important part of health creation.
Dr. Junger: Sure. I was born in Uruguay, and life there was very healthy by default. When I was born, there were no supermarkets. We used to buy foods and the local market, and my mom would prepare every meal. I would be really healthy just because life was really healthy. When I graduated medical school Uruguay, I went to New York, and life changed drastically. I was on-call for three days in a row. I was eating from hospital cafeterias and vending machines, and when I had a little time, I would go to the supermarket, which was for me, wow. You can put a box in a microwave oven, and then in two minutes, get something that looked like what my mother used to take all day to prepare. That really took a toll on me and my body.
By the end of my training, three years of internal medicine and three years of cardiology, I was really sick. I took some time off and…I mean, a couple of days off, and went to the top doctors in the city at that time because when you’re a resident and a fellow, they give you time, and I ended up with three diagnoses: irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and severe allergies. I was put on seven prescription medications. In that moment, I had two big realizations. One was that I didn’t want to live with seven prescription medications for the rest of my life in order to function, and the other one was that this is exactly what I was doing for my patients.
I took off. I went to a monastery in India just to learn how to meditate because my biggest problem was my mind at that time. I didn’t realize that everybody was having the same program of continuous, repetitive, negative thoughts. I thought I was going mad, so I wanted to learn how to meditate. But in the ashram, I was exposed to meditation, Ayurvedic medicine, naturopathy, and many other things, and I started improving a little bit. A year and a half later, came back to the United States, started working in hospitals again, and got sick again, but with a vengeance.
At that time, I stumbled upon the concepts and practices of cleansing more than detoxification because this was kind of like considered like a hippie kind of thing in a spa in Palm Springs where they did juice detox with colonics and tons of supplements. It was through doing that program that I got rid of all my symptoms with no medications, but even more, I looked and felt 10 years younger to the point that everybody wanted to do what I did.
I started studying. At that time, I didn’t know what was happening in my body, what had happened in my body physiologically in order to restore my health. I thought it was hokey pokey. But I couldn’t argue with the results. I was wondering, “How come I didn’t learn this in medical school?” It was only a couple of years later that I stumbled upon the Institute for Functional Medicine, which kind of explained everything to me so clearly, not only that, but really showed me all the science that was already there, but organized by the Institute for Functional Medicine because you could find the science and the studies lost and unconnected, but they connected everything from me.
It became so clear that detoxification, or biotransformation, was such a powerful tool, and I had been using it in my practice for the past 10 years with incredible success. In fact, it’s like if you really understand biotransformation, I feel like having a magic wand because there’s so many different problems that you can improve or completely resolve through these practices.
James Maskell: Yeah, absolutely. Obviously then, you’re doing your practice, and the clean program emerges. I know that in the world today of functional medicine, I’ve met a lot of doctors who are like, “Well, I’m going to make the Clean Program, but for this or the Clean Program for that,” obviously, it’s set like a template in the industry for what was possible for people to be on sort of a program, and that’s what I say, a lot of practitioners have built on that foundation to create all different types of programs and structures and so forth.
Obviously, in the last few years, and if I go back to my first book in 2016, one of the things that I brought out was that in that 2015, 2016 timeframe was, for me, the first time that I saw major groups of physicians starting to recognize toxicity, transgenerational toxicity, epigenetics coming into and recognizing that this was a thing. Tell me what it’s like to be you in that 10 years as it’s become more mainstream, not just in functional medicine growing, but other groups of doctors realizing that toxicity is a threat.
Dr. Junger: Well, for me, in a way, it’s kind of vindication. It’s kind of, “Okay, so I’m not crazy,” and this is the criticism that I would get from my mentors and from the teachers that I studied cardiology from. They were looking at me sort of like, “Poor guy. He had such a promise, and now he’s wasting his life with all this cuckoo mania.”
But now, it’s coming to the forefront, and it’s becoming a really useful tool in so many people’s practices. I’m really happy to see that, but we still have a way to go because I believe that this pandemic of chronic diseases and all these talk about prevention could be really improved if detoxification is used periodically in an organized way as part of the natural practice, just like you go to the doctor every now and then and get blood tests and get a checkup, you do a detox program, and I think that that would really improve the health of people worldwide.
James Maskell: Yeah, no, absolutely. I think it’s really interesting that you say that because ultimately it is sort of coming in that direction. I would say we’ve almost turned the corner to the fact where this kind of conversation is now cool and sort of aspirational for people in a way that it was like, like you said, fringe and hippie maybe 10 years ago, right?
Dr. Junger: Yeah, totally. This is my crusade is now to make people aware of the usefulness of this kind of program and make it mainstream, make it okay and actually required, in a way, if you’re a good practitioner, just like you go and take a shower every so often, you need to take an inner shower so often. It’s not that the toxicity of our planet is improving at such a rate that this is going to become obsolete in my lifetime.
James Maskell: Yeah, absolutely. Well, look, obviously, there’s a lot of science, and the science moves along. I saw you a few weeks ago at the Biotransformation Module for IFM. Was there anything that you learned in this updated module and new science that was new for you or that built on what you’d learned already?
Dr. Junger: Well, more than learning what’s new. I like to go there to reorganize my thoughts because they present things so beautifully at the [Institute for Functional Medicine]. I mean, I always just…I enjoyed Deanna Minich’s talk on phytonutrients more than I enjoy a rock concert. I always learn something, and especially with the case study presentations, the cases that doctors that present bring on. They always make you associate, “Oh, maybe I forgot to check on this on that patient.” But mostly I do it as an enjoyment thing. I just go there and like people go to rock concerts.
James Maskell: Yeah. Awesome. I know a lot of people who are listening to this probably can resonate with that. You have a new book, which is Clean 7, and I know that in the Clean Program, there was a real focus on fusing the worlds of Ayurvedic teaching and functional medicine. It seems like there’s this like third prong in this new book, which is the intermittent fasting piece. What was it that made you want to write this new book, and what is it that you hope that Clean 7 can do that the Clean Program either hasn’t or couldn’t do?
Dr. Junger: The first book Clean was mostly based on principles from functional medicine and from my own experiences from the fasting and cleansing world that I adapted into a 21-day program that people can do in their regular life because I learned cleansing and detoxification through a juice program, but that is not really appropriate for people to living the fast life and taking the kids to school and going to work. I realized that people that do that for more than three, four days in the middle of the busy life, they end up getting sicker than before.
Later, I learned that it was because we were not providing the necessary proteins and other nutrients that the liver and other organs in order to support this detoxification work. But the problem is that, even though this 21-day program is life-transforming for so many people, the number of people that are ready to commit to a 21-day program is so minimal that I wasn’t making a dent.
I said, “Well, how can I bring something that’s shorter but still has an effect?” It wasn’t the first seven days of the 21-day program. That wasn’t enough because you’re in the first week, you still adapting, your body’s still bitching as it were. Through what I learned from functional medicine, and then later on, I was exposed to Ayurvedic medicine through the teachings of a real master in India, and then adding intermittent fasting into the program, I accelerated the results that you can get in seven days, and I arrived at a program that can give people a real taste of what the whole thing is about and what kind of benefits it can bring you. This is what Clean 7 is about. It’s my attempt to give people something in a short time that will propel them and then inspire them to keep on going. This is what Clean 7 is really intended for.
James Maskell: Beautiful. Yeah, I love that. I think it’s really just about, I guess, widening the funnel at the very top, getting a bigger group of people interested, and certainly, I think there’s a big focus on these kinds of things. What’s been the early feedback out of the book is out, and people are starting, you’ve got a challenge launching in 2020, what’s the early feedback from the book?
Dr. Junger: Well, I don’t have much feedback from the book itself. I do have a lot of feedback from the program because I’ve been…and in this program, I didn’t develop it for the book. This is something that I’d been working for the last 10 years. I was exposed to…not exposed to, but I was propelled into Ayurvedic medicine when I met the founders of this company called Organic India. This company, what they do is they go to farms in India, and they give them the seeds and the machinery and the know-how, and they then buy all their produce, and they teach them how to do things biodynamically, organically so they plant and produce the most powerful and cleanest Ayurvedic herbs in the world.
They do it according to what this master found out because he realized that Ayurvedic herbs were not working the same that they were when he was studying, so he went to the Sanskrit texts, and then he found out that there were many principles that they weren’t using. Anyways, I went there, I studied with this man, and he taught me how to apply certain Ayurvedic principles so that I can boost the body’s ability to detoxify both nutritionally and energetically. He taught me how to use the dosha system and how to use Ayurvedic herbs in order to really boost detoxification.
James Maskell: Beautiful, so then your program combines all of that, makes it easier to do. I’m really excited to see the potential of the book and so forth to ram these ideas further into the collective consciousness, for sure. I see that you have a challenge in 2020, and part of why this theme of detoxification that we have here on this podcast, and then also in the Functional Forum on Monday is because, on our end, like I’ve been here for six years trying to help to grow the functional medicine footprint from the practitioner side, making it easy if doctors to learn about functional medicine, making it easier for doctors to practice functional medicine, and our big focus in 2020 and probably for the next five years is really going to be like, “How do we get functional medicine in the system?” because most people still default to the system for what to do, even though consumer-driven health is definitely happening.
We’ve seen, and I’ve seen from 15 years being in this space, that a lot of practitioners have been able to anchor detoxification ideas into that community through basically like a detox group, or call it whatever you want, which is people coming together and going through a process together and learning from each other as they go through the process and seeing that. As the guy who’s been doing this for a long time, I’d love to just get your thoughts on that approach as it relates to sort of opening that funnel at the top too.
Dr. Junger: Well, I think you’re right on the money. I mean, I’ve been doing what you talk about for the last 10 years, except that I do it with outside of the practitioners’ world. I do it in yoga studios. I do it in family groups or friend groups. Sometimes we do massive groups. I mean, we used to do groups of 2,000, 3,000 together all over the world, and we used to do phone calls where people asked questions and have a Facebook page. We used to first have a big community page, but that died when Facebook and Instagram was born. I’ve seen personally that what you’re talking about is the future of really spreading these kind of ideas and practices all over the world. I mean, I know it because I’ve been doing it.
James Maskell: Yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you for that vote of confidence. Do you have any like sort of…If you’re a practitioner listening to this, and maybe you’re going to start your first detox group, ideally in, let’s say, January to…I mean January to March 2020, what are some things that you’ve learned along the way that you think would help practitioners to make sure that their group is a great success?
Dr. Junger: The number one, two, and three are support. You have to organize your support in a way that is felt and then it’s real. We used to do phone calls and have a page on Facebook where people would ask questions, and we would answer immediately. Then after a while, the data started growing from previous groups, so new groups could access questions and answers between the people that were participating, so as you go, you keep on growing your database, and your support turns easier. Right now, for example, in India, we’re doing this, and we have a call center where there’s a hundred nutritionists and Ayurvedic doctors that support the people that are doing the Clean Program in India. Support is like in real estate, location, location, location. In this kind of work, support, support, support.
James Maskell: Absolutely. Have you found any tricks, because, I mean, obviously one of the powers of the group dynamic, obviously you’ve got like a one-to-many structure, but what I’m really passionate about seeing grow is not just the professional-to-participant value, but the participant-to-participant value. I’d love to get your thoughts on are there ways that you’ve helped maybe to people to facilitate that so that other people can maybe be inspired to participate or be inspired to take it to the next level by their peers.
Dr. Junger: As time goes by, you start finding jewels and gems and different groups, and there’s always a number of people that whose life is so transformed by this kind of program that they want to do that in their future. We’ve captured these people, and we put these people in order to guide new coming groups, and it gets easier for the practitioner himself. You have to just initiate, maybe I would go on a video conference call at the beginning and at the end of a group’s program, but we had these graduates from programs that would be so inspired that that’s what they kept on doing. Some of them became practitioners themselves. Look out for the ones that that get lit, and grab them for your own practices.
James Maskell: Yeah, absolutely. I can certainly see that. What we’ve heard time and time again, whether it’s a detox group or even like Dr. Terry Wahls who’s reversing MS, she found that those people who are getting success in the groups were even more credible than her, even though she also reversed her own MS, and so there’s real power in this peer-to-peer delivery, not just for inspiration, but also for helping people continue and continue to activate the protocol.
Dr. Junger: Absolutely.
James Maskell: Yeah. I mean, thank you for sharing that. I guess, one of the things that I’d love to just search on, I mean, it couldn’t be more clear to me and probably to you that the role that toxicity’s playing in our chronic diseases, I mean, type 2 diabetes is a great example where most people think it’s a food thing, but actually, it’s very much a toxicity thing as well.
Dr. Junger: Well, and sorry for interrupting, but obesity, obesity, the problem of obesity is growing, and nobody’s talking about the fact that 90% of the xenobiotics are external toxins that we’re exposed to through the air we breathe, the water we drink and shower with, the medications we use, the cosmetics we use, but mostly the foods that we eat are lipophilic. When they go in the body, they can only dissolve in fat, so they will look for fatty tissue. Where is it? In the brain, in the breasts, in the prostate, in the thyroid, in the liver where all the cancers are, and at some point, the body will start retaining and even generating fat in order to dissolve these toxins and buffer their irritation.
It is my strong belief that obesity is at the root, is a big problem. A big factor for it is toxicity itself. We’re still toxic-blind in our world. Yeah, we talk about this and that and processed foods with it, but nobody…I mean, nobody, a lot of people are, but in the general population’s not really tuned into the fact that all these chemicals are wrecking our life.
James Maskell: Yeah, no, absolutely, and look, it’s starting to happen, and you see big organizations coming along, but in general, it’s funny, like you have this, on one hand, you have toxins equals quackery mindset, and then on the other hand you have, “Hey, they’re not mystery toxins. You can see them. They’re right here. They’re in the blood tests,” so—
Dr. Junger: They’re in the labels.
James Maskell: Yeah, exactly. Let’s just talk a little bit…I know, even the word detox is causing some issues because, on one hand, it’s obviously an important part of what we’re talking about, but you’ve been sort of front and center to the part of mainstream thoughts and the media that has been poo-pooing the detox concept and poo-pooing anyone that’s been speaking about it even though huge brands are building off the back of being clean and so forth. I guess are there, as practitioners who listen to this come face-to-face in their local community with people who are naysayers, do you have any like strategies for, or things that you’ve learned to do to help to very quickly find common ground and very quickly alleviate some of this tension between the old way of thinking and the new way of thinking?
Dr. Junger: For me, the way that that started happening and started growing, basically, the respect that I was hoping for only came through personal experiences. I’ll tell you a story. When I was in my cardiology fellowship, there was a doctor called Rony Shimony, one of the best doctors I’ve ever met in my life, not only because of his knowledge of cardiology, but because of his bedside manners. He’s one of the top cardiologists now at Mount Sinai in New York. People come to see him from all over the world. He took a liking to me when I was studying under him. He came and asked me if I would join his practice after I graduated. When I left to India, he was devastated. He said, “You are wasting your life. You’re crazy.” He looked at me, and he kind of rolled his eyes with compassion and love, but he thought I was just throwing everything away.
Many, many, many years later, I returned to New York in 2006, and I was working with Dr. Frank Lipman in his office in New York. I call him up, and he said, “Hey, listen, this may be my dream come true. Come and help me in my office. I’m overwhelmed with patients.” I said, “Okay, but I’m not the kind of doctor that’s going to see a hundred people in an hour, so I don’t know how much I’m going to be able to relieve,” because his office was busting. He said anyways, “Come anyways.” I started going there once a week and started seeing patients. He just gave me some patients, but the word starting going around the office that the patients that I was seeing and I was treating functionally were blown away, and they were getting results that they had never seen in that office.
He started taking an interest, and he started coming. Then one day he said, “Listen, I don’t really understand what you do. I don’t have time to look into it, but my sister has been sick for a while. Can you help me with that?” She had gone to every doctor in the city and many around the world. Anyways, we did a detox program, and I, of course, tailored it to her needs, and she got really better. That was the way that I gained his respect back in terms of what I do. Keep on doing what you’re doing, and it’s going to work out. Other than that, I don’t know much about how to fight the naysayers and the shamers.
James Maskell: Yeah. Well, look, I agree with you completely, and I think that there is no more powerful agent. We live in a much more connected world than we think, and community is much more powerful and the layers of interconnection are a lot less tangible to a small brain like ours than we know. I’ve always said, and I think it’s really clear, that the ripple effect from empowering someone to health always goes way further than you think.
James Maskell: As people on the front ends of medicine who aren’t making books who aren’t making podcasts but actually doing it on the front lines, the ripple effect of that work is really transformational. I guess I do want to just maybe finish by talking about that because I know that you’re a big thinker, and the time that we’ve spent together, I’ve really appreciated our conversations.
Fifteen years ago, I had a moment of clarity where I was like, “Look, there’s a lot of issues in our world that seem insurmountable at this moment.” Let’s take climate change. Forget climate change even, but just the pollution and degradation of the environment. It seems like a problem that’s very hard to deal with because, ultimately, there’s money and there’s numbers and there’s interests and so forth.
My thesis was, and sort of what I thought was is that health, everyone comes face-to-face with a health issue at some point, and when you get sick you now have an opportunity to take action from a new story about your health, which is an empowered story or an interconnected story and that ultimately if we really wanted to change consciousness or otherwise that health was the place to do it. That’s why I quit my job and moved to America 15 years ago to do it.
I would just love to get you on record as your thoughts on that concept because I’m sure it’s a frustration to you that ultimately the cause of all the things that we’re talking about, environmental degradation, toxins, or whatever, is not getting better, and so I know a lot of practitioners throw their hands up because like, “How can we win in a moment where things are getting worse on the outside and seemingly out of our control.” What are your thoughts as regards to the knock-on effects of health transformation maybe in the longer run solving some of these super insurmountable problems?
Dr. Junger: You talk about me being a thinker. What about you, man? That question alone is intimidating. This is the deal: I’m a father, and I know that you can relate to this because you’re a father as well. For me now, more than big thinking, I’m thinking about their future and what kind of world we live in. We’re living for them. I’m not sure exactly how the problem of toxicity is going to be solved, so I’m really focusing now on what can we do about it from a health point of view and how can I bring this to the most number of people. I kind of became a realist when I became a father, and so I’m focusing on the things that I know that I can affect, and what I know that I can affect is through writing books and through seeing people and helping people bring these things to awareness and give people some kind of solution.
James Maskell: Beautiful. Well, look, I really appreciate the work, and I think there’s something on this cross-section of functional medicine and community, the groups, the doing it in a groups, empowering people through groups that I feel is like holding the key. That’s why I’m just so fired up about 2020 and doing these things in groups and facilitating groups into medicine because I think it’s that exponential framework that I hope can solve the problem. But again—
Dr. Junger: One idea that I would give to you is maybe we can put a group of practitioners together, and then you and I can guide them through so they can learn firsthand and in their own flesh what this kind of group can do because there’s nothing better than an inspired practitioner, because many practitioners, they go through their day, then they go back home, they eat crap, and they have these concepts in their head, but once practitioners have the experience that we’re talking about, the game changes.
James Maskell: Absolutely. Yeah, I hope that…let’s talk about how to do that. Ultimately, we’ve, through the Functional Forum building the meetup groups of practitioners around the country, were certainly like a goal to start to inspire that, but I think we could do a lot more with it. Doc, thank you so much for all of your work and being here on the podcast.
If you’re inspired by what you’ve heard today, check out the Clean 7 book, Clean 7 program. Obviously, the goal with everyone who’s listening here is to engage your community, whatever that looks like, in some of these ideas. If you are just finding out about the Group Visit Challenge, that starts on December the 9th, and we’re going to be helping practitioners to build these groups for 2020, and there’s no more obvious and proven strategy then than a detox group.
Doc, thanks so much for being here and finally get you on as part of the Evolution of Medicine platform, and I look forward to doing things again in the future, but in the meantime, this has been the Evolution of Medicine podcast. I’ve been here with Dr. Alejandro Junger. His new book is Clean 7, check it out. I’m your host, James Maskell. Thanks so much for being here, and we’ll see you next time.
Dr. Junger: Thank you, James.
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