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Doctor Li Explains the Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself

Doctor Li Explains the Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself

Dr. William W. Li is an internationally renowned physician, scientist and author. His TED Talk, “Can We Eat to Starve Cancer?” has garnered more than 11 million views. In his new book, EAT TO BEAT DISEASE: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself, Dr. Li describes how we have power over our own health through what we eat. He writes about how to incorporate more than 200 healing foods that can help activate our bodies defense systems. In this excerpt, he describes the five defense systems that are key pillars to our health and what foods can help strengthen these systems and beat disease.

In order to understand the benefits of food for health, we need to first understand the definition of health. To most people, health is the absence of disease. But it is much more than that. In fact, the definition of health needs a major upgrade.

What is clear is that our health is an active state, protected by a series of remarkable defense systems in the body that are firing on all cylinders, from birth to our last day alive, keeping our cells and organs functioning smoothly. These health defense systems are hardwired in our body to protect us. Some are so powerful they can even reverse diseases like cancer. And while they function as separate systems of defense, they also support and interact with one another. These defense systems are the common denominators of health. By recalibrating our approach to disease prevention and focusing on these common denominators, we can take a unified approach to intercepting diseases before they set in. This can be as powerful as finding common denominators to treat disease, as we did two decades ago.

Five defense systems form key pillars to your health. Each of the systems is influenced by diet. When you know what to eat to support each health defense, you know how to use your diet to maintain health and beat disease.

When I teach other doctors and students about diet and health, I use the analogy that the body is like a medieval fortress, protected not only by its stone walls, but by a host of other clever built-in defenses. Indeed, in castles, some of these defenses, such as the talus, the trou de loup, and murder hole, were not even apparent until the enemy tried to invade. Think of your health defense systems as the hidden defenses of the body fortress. These defenses heal the body from within, so it is now possible to systematically examine how to shore up your health.

The five defense systems are angiogenesis, regeneration, microbiome, DNA protection, and immunity.


Sixty thousand miles of blood vessels course throughout our bodies and bring oxygen and nutrients to all of our cells and organs. Angiogenesis is the process by which these blood vessels are formed. Foods like soy, green tea, coffee, tomatoes, red wine, beer, and even hard cheese can influence the angiogenesis defense system.


Powered by more than 750,000 stem cells distributed throughout our bone marrow, lungs, liver, and almost all of our organs, our body regenerates itself every day. These stem cells maintain, repair, and regenerate our bodies throughout our lives. Some foods like dark chocolate, black tea, and beer can mobilize them and help us regenerate. Other foods, like purple potatoes, can kill deadly stem cells that spark cancer growth.


Almost 40 trillion bacteria inhabit our bodies, most of which act to defend our health. Not only do these bacteria produce health-supporting metabolites from the foods that we swallow and deliver to our gut, but they also control our immune system, influence angiogenesis, and even help produce hormones that influence our brain and social function. We can boost our microbiome by eating foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, cheddar cheese, and sourdough bread.

DNA Protection

Our DNA is our genetic blueprint, but it is also designed to be a defense system. It has surprising repair mechanisms that protect us against damage caused by solar radiation, household chemicals, stress, compromised sleep, and poor diet, among other insults. Not only can certain foods prompt DNA to fix itself, but some foods turn on helpful genes and turn off harmful ones, while other foods lengthen our telomeres, which protect DNA and slow aging.


Our immune system defends our health in sophisticated ways that are much more complicated than we previously thought. It is influenced by our gut, and it can be manipulated to successfully attack and wipe out cancer, even in the elderly. Recent discoveries have completely changed our understanding of the immune system. Foods like blackberries, walnuts, and pomegranate can activate the immune system, while other foods can dampen its activities and help reduce the symptoms of autoimmune diseases.

* * *

This book was written to give you the knowledge and tools to make better decisions when you choose what to eat every day. It is intended to help you live longer by eating foods that you actually like. If you are fit and in good health and want to stay that way, this book is for you. If you are starting to feel your age, and you want to prevent decline and stave off chronic diseases, this book is for you. If you’re one of the millions of people living with heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disease, or another chronic condition, this book is for you. And if you are actively battling a feared disease like cancer, or your family history makes it very likely that you someday will, this book is for you.


Everyone is afraid of disease. If your goal is to stay healthy, and especially if you are battling a disease, you want reliable information based on science and fact, and actionable steps that you can take right away to improve your situation. The advice on foods I’ve included in this book is not intended to take the place of good medical care. I am not one of those doctors who reject Western biomedicine and suggests that food is the magic solution. Quite the opposite: my training and experience in internal medicine guide my judicious use of evidence-based medicine, including surgery and cutting-edge medications, when it comes to diagnosis and treatment.

What’s missing in the toolkit of most doctors is the ability to guide an individual, whether they are healthy or sick, on how they can use food as a way to resist disease. How many people do you know who have asked their doctor about what they should eat to help themselves and get back either a blank stare or the flip answer: “Eat whatever you want”? This book provides a very different and empowering set of answers.

Excerpted from EAT TO BEAT DISEASE: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself. Copyright© 2019 by William W. Li, MD. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.”

More information can be found at: www.drwilliamli.com and on social media @drwilliamli

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