Vital Signs


Mike Perrine might best be described as a multihyphenate master of detoxification and health. He's fueled by curiosity and has lived a virtual lifetime of radical cellular cleansing. His podcast, Everyday Detox, ranks among our favorites and his center, Vitality NYC, is a shrine to the simple truth, penned by Dr. Arnold Ehret, that vitality is born when we clear the body of obstruction. Vitality NYC not only offers gravity colonics from some of the city's best practitioners (Mike and Jen Gonzalez among them), but also includes companion treatments like cryotherapy and infrared saunas. I recently sat down with Mike to talk about the benefits of these technologies, how and why hot and cold heal the body and create leanness and the history of NYC's raw food scene. And by the way, I should add, he's a vegan chef, master fermenter and one of the sweetest guys we know. Here's our chat.

Note: Mike wrote an incredible guide to fermenting foods at home. It's gotten me to get over my fears around fermenting and now there's always a jar (or three!) of homemade kraut in my fridge. He's been generous enough to share the link with our CAP Beauty family. Read on! You'll find it at the end. 

Cindy (CDM): Tell us a little about your approach to health and nutrition.

Mike (MP): High quality nutritional content is super interesting and plays a role in why plant based diets work, but more importantly it’s what we’re leaving out consistently. That’s why almost any real food diet brings some type of positive result, because we’re not eating Lucky Charms or cheap pizza, we might be eating quinoa now. There’s nothing that special about the quinoa other than it’s not wheat slathered in dairy fat. It can be sweet potatoes, millet, brown rice, whatever. It’s effect lies in that it's a major departure from the sticky, heavy and nutrient empty foods most of our culture is built on. So it’s not just about having that dragon fruit, blue green algae smoothie bowl, but being consistent with not dabbling in the low quality food. That’s the only approach I’ve ever seen bring results.

CDM: My husband's just taken up hunting. But he also lives with me and eats what I feed him. So he’s declared himself a vegan hunter. He’s vegan unless he kills it. 

MP: That kind of works. If someone's diet is high in plant foods with limited animal protein they’ll do just fine. It’s totally not for me though. I’m very much an ethical vegan. If I were a Native American 200 years ago, I would kill an animal and eat it. It makes total sense. It’s really interesting because veganism is an unnatural way to live. There is no natural food system that supplies us with 100% vegan food to meet all of our nutritional needs. Farming gives us that opportunity to curate and maintain abundance in the food supply and meet those needs. But it creates an imbalance in nature. That’s why we can have New York City. We don’t find our own food anymore, we don’t hunt and gather. So we've created an imbalance but it also presented us with a spiritual opportunity. Because now we have the choice to either create suffering or not create suffering. And nutritionally it gives us this major advantage to enjoy the benefit of all of those cancer fighting and disease preventing qualities that are so powerful in plant nutrition.

All of the healthy eaters, no matter what approach, are trying to eat “naturally” in an agrarian culture. We have Paleo people eating animal food like cows and other fatty farm animals that do not appear in nature. And most of the people following these diets are not hunters and foragers, they’re from cities and suburbs constructing their diet from Whole Foods or Keyfood. They don’t have access to wild roots and venison. 

CDM: Did you come to veganism because of the ethics? Or did that set in after you started eating that way?

MP: I initially committed to it because of the ethics, but it all came together in 5 minutes. I grew up in Staten Island where in the 80s and 90s there were a lot of bad influences. And I kind of went right into a lot of it. It led me deep down a destructive path into alcohol culture. 

CDM: It’s a tough place for a kid.

MP: It is. I was talking to a friend's husband recently. His wife is a friend I grew up with in Staten Island. And he says to me, you two have all these friends that are dead, you’ve been stabbed, you’ve seen all this violence in your life. He was like, my life was never like this. It all seems kind of matter of fact until you talk to someone that’s not from NYC.

And just to be clear I didn’t grow up on the mean streets or anything like that, haha. I had an amazing childhood, it’s just that there was a lot of stuff we were exposed to by living here.

CDM: I grew up right outside the city, in the 80s. New York was different.

MP: It was a very different world. So I got myself into a very bad place physically. I had a very collapsed consciousness with what I was trying to be in the world. I was very lazy about life. Physically, I was about 60 pounds heavier than I am now. I drank most days of the week for a 3-4 year period. This was from about 16-19. As soon as I was at that experimental age, of “oh we can have drinks now,” I went all in. Because I felt like a rockstar when I was totally hammered. And when I wasn’t I had all of these fears about the world. It was a volatile set of behaviors. I’d go out and destroy myself physically with food, cigarettes, alcohol and occasionally other substances all just to quell anxiety. At that age, it just became really dark behavior.

But there was this one night I was feeling very ill from drinking all week and did not go out with my friends. Walking into my parents basement, I picked up the Autobiography of Malcolm X and looked at it and thought “I’m going to read this book.” I don’t know why it spoke to me so deeply. I consider it divine intervention, my mind just opened up. It made me realize exactly how I was wasting every precious moment if my life. All the stuff I should be grateful for as a privileged kid in New York City, in America. What the f*ck am wasting this life for? I realized I didn’t have the right to waste time. I was also a father already and obviously not being as present as I should have been.

CDP: You didn’t live with your son, right?

MP: No, not at that time. So when I read that book, I had all these realizations. It became such a magical time for me. I immediately stopped drinking and smoking, which was a total struggle, exceptionally difficult. My friends kept trying to pull me back in. I was so divinely inspired though, I was determined as f*ck. I modeled myself after Malcolm X. I stopped eating pork. I didn’t want to be Muslim or anything like that, I didn’t know anything about it, but I was impressionable and regarded Malcom as highly intelligent and evolved. And it was his insistence on self education that led me into nutritional science and alternative health books.

CDM: You quit eating pork and got into the reading. Where did that lead you?

MP: I was reading a lot books because there was no internet, no cell phones. I really wanted my body to change and started to read about nutrition. At that time all I knew was that soy milk had no cholesterol, and that’s a good thing. So, let me go buy soy milk. Haha, that was the extent of my understanding at 19. So I walked into a health food store to get some and found the book section. I saw this book Diet for a New America, which friends had recommended. This changed everything for me. I had never known about how animals were treated, about pesticide residues in food, about the relationship between diet and health. No one talked about this where I was from. The timing was perfect. I was open. I was a sponge. I was vegan in two days.

CDM: Did you go through any withdrawal cravings at that point?

MP: Yeah, well, first I didn’t know how to make anything. I was just dumping beans on semi cooked rice. It was crap. Haha, very underwhelming. I was hungry all of the time.

CDM: It might not be health food the way we experience it nowadays, but it’s not a cheeseburger. 

MP: Right, yeah, it was very simple food and exceptionally cleansing for that reason. And I starting having fevers, pimples, rapid weight loss.. Remember I went from 0 to 100 in a matter of days. I later learned they were detox symptoms, but at the time my mother thought I was malnourished because I dropped so much weight.

Around that time, I remembered from high school a teacher telling us about a nutritionist in Staten Island that advocated vegetarianism. So, I sought him out through a friend’s father. It was Dr. Fred Bisci.

CDM: He practices at Vitality sometimes. 

MP: Yes, he’s going to be 90 this year. I went to see him in 1995 and he got me into food combining and a proper vegan diet. He was heavily into juicing and raw food. He turned out to be the oldest living raw foodist in the western world, but he never told anyone that because he wanted to be respected in the scientific community. Not seen as a radical. I didn’t find that out until like ten years later. 

I was doing about 50/50 raw food/cooked food and eating whole foods. I detoxed so hard. I lost almost 60 pounds in total. I had 102° fevers, I had stuff bubbling out of my skin. I didn’t know what a colonic was, there was no such thing as cryotherapy. I don’t think anyone manufactured an infrared sauna back then.

CDM: I mean a lot of people.. it’s pretty common to go about a big diet change like that and not know to be doing a lot of that other stuff. Even now, it’s not like times were so different back then. 

MP:  And that all sounded like luxury spa stuff to me. And this was nutrition. They were separate in my head. So for the first seven years I just went through it without body work.

I got totally into vegan cuisine, which was extremely limited at the time. I studied and became a chef. I remember I was really stressed out at a job once doing creative work at this place in midtown and I was like I wish the most stressful part of my day was “do these brownies need more chocolate?” Haha.

CDM: I used to say that on photo shoots because I was a stylist for so many years. Sometimes the caterer would show up and I would look at her and think “I wish I had her job.” 

MP: Yeah it was fun. I was making so much good food at home and there were no good recipes, so I went to culinary school, went to the National Gourmet Institute for Food and Health, became a chef, worked at Angelika Kitchen for 8 years.

CDM: With Amy?

MP: Amy came after me. She replaced me. I was there from ‘97 until 2002 - 2003. I was catering the biodynamic farming conference and got really into that culture. We got really into the politics of food, where we got our food, how it was grown, what biodynamic was, what organic was. We worked with a lot of American Indian farmers and used all these heirloom varieties of corn and beans. And even the American Indians that were into growing all that food were in such bad health. They were having a really hard time with western diets that influenced them. But yeah, then around 1999 raw foods exploded. And I was like, wait, that’s a thing? You can eat all raw food? 

CDM: I remember that time in New York. It was a groundswell. You would just sort of hear these murmurings about raw. In pockets and circles. You could easily miss it, but if you were inclined, It was like an underground explosion. 

MP: It all used to go down at Bob Dagger’s first High Vibe location in the East Village. You’d go in the front on the side of the Hell’s Angels headquarters, you’d go down into the backyard, then you’d go back into this sub basement. There would be David Wolfe talking at the front. There would be like 300 people there. It was insane, people were laying down on the floor in front of him and he was standing up against the shelves. It was exciting and I cleansed even harder eating that way. I got more into the science behind cleansing. And then I met Gil and started colonics. In the waiting room is where I watched a lot of people cleanse really deeply and go through massive lifestyle transformations. I saw a lot of advanced diseases heal. And I realized this was really the ground zero for where you get to know what’s going on with someone’s diet, nutrition and digestion. I very quickly went for training and started working with Gil. That was almost 17 years ago.

CDM: When you started getting colonics, did you feel like you completed the transformation and came full circle with the cleansing. Or was it more that it was just intriguing to you and exciting to you to have another avenue? 

MP: It was intriguing and exciting because it had a very rapid effect on the chemistry of the body. My approach to nutrition changed. I used to focus on nutritional facts and statistics. And then Gil introduced to me this idea that detoxification was more important than nutrition. And that’s when I learned about professor Arnold Ehret. And now I’m bored to death with the nutritional arguments blazing across youtube and instagram. I love nerding out on the details of antioxidants and enzymes, but at the end of the day none of that was very important in the way we provide value to our clients. It all comes down to the repetition and consistency of clean living.

CDM: That is a funny thing. We all like to focus on information and believe somehow we're going to cross paths with the piece of information that’s going to save lives. And it generally doesn’t. 

MP: Gil and I just talked about that on a podcast. He was like “how many supplements or superfoods do you still do that you’ve experimented with over the years?” Besides the basics of juicing, clean eating, none of it. I do take some supplements, but none of the fads have stayed in my lifestyle.

CDM: Do you like any supplements or super foods?

MP: In regards to super foods just a few. I like the raw green powders from Health Force and Sunfood. But if I had it all taken away, it wouldn’t really change anything I’m doing. I do think essential fatty acids like ALA and DHA, B12 and D3 are important for anyone eating vegan long term.

CDP: There’s a guy named Ray Cronise. He’s been on the Rich Roll podcast a couple of times and he’s smart. He’s a former NASA scientist and he got really into nutrition through a weight loss perspective. So he himself embarked on this diet and he’s helped a lot of others lose weight as well. One of his ideas is that we are way to focused on macronutrients and micronutrients. And for the lay person to talk about how much protein, how many carbohydrates, and how much fat they need is ridiculous. You should talk about it in terms of food, like an avocado, like a banana. Focus on the foods you need and less on these specific ratios. And if you take that even further and talk about specific elements in those macronutrients, it’s kind of crazy. 

MP: Yeah, I agree with that and that was the exciting part. So when somebody would come in as a colonic client, I could talk to them about elimination and help them 90% more than they’d be helped walking through a health food store and trying to figure out if hemp is better than chia.

CDM: We talk a lot about the concept of “adding in” instead of “taking away” as sort of a gateway into health and wellness. Because I think for a lot of people when they first enter the arena it’s really hard to focus on all the things they have to give up. It’s a lot more fun to think about what to add. Add a salad every day, start every dinner with salad. And then see how things shift and change. I think that can be a really powerful tool. It’s not about deprivation.

In the natural beauty of the world, it’s really important to us because frankly I’m really not interested in talking about parabens. I’m more interested in talking about red raspberry seed oil and how that can protect your skin from sun damage. You can still get vitamin D and sunlight without damage from it. That’s exciting to me. Parabens are not so interesting. So from a certain perspective there can be a lot of power in that but then as you go deeper into it, it’s sort of about what you’re not doing.

MP: Yeah, I can see people that are well seasoned and into natural living being like “I don’t want to know why parabens are disgusting, just tell me what’s awesome.”

CDM: I was walking down the street recently and there was a bible van parked with people trying to bring us into their religion, and this guy tried to hand me a pamphlet and it just had big flaming letters on the front of it that said ‘HELL.’ And I was like, why wouldn’t you hand out a pamphlet that said ‘HEAVEN?’ I actually might take heaven. But no, I don’t want hell. It’s kind of the same thing. We don’t need to focus so much on why smoking is bad for us. We already know that, let’s move on.

So you got into the raw food movement, you started working with Gil and now you have Vitality and practice colonics there. But now you also have infrared saunas and cryotherapy.

MP: Yes, we do. So we named Vitality after Arnold Ehret’s equation V=P-O or vitality = pressure (or power) minus obstruction, which is the foundation of cleansing. It’s the basis of how we get 95% of the results from any client that comes in. 

CDM: It’s such an interesting book, because it seems so arcane and obtuse when you’re reading it. But then once you’ve read it, it reverberates. 

MP: Yeah, he hit a truth with the limited knowledge at the time. Some of it’s wrong, but that one thing is spot on.

CDM: For me, that magic of that book is also about identifying our proclivity to want to feed everything. So when we’re not feeling well, we think we better eat more or take something. Our focus is what can I put in to make myself feel better. And so often the truth is actually that we should stop the influx. Give our bodies a chance to rest and heal without the burden of digestion and processing.

Ok, so cryo, infrared saunas and colonics. Is there a secret formula there? Is there a reason those three things are at Vitality.

MP: Yeah. It’s the V=P-O in practice. So colon hydrotherapy is the foundation of everything. That’s why I’ve given so much of my professional life to it. Colon hydrotherapy is valuable because when we release the weight of the waste and the pressure of the gas off the core of the body it has a very rapid and dramatic anti-inflammatory, pressure relieving effect on the entire system. To maximize the effects of a colonic we have clients do 1-3 days of the Vitality Broom Cleanse, which is selected ingredients for recipes that help loosen and carry stored waste through the intestines. We’re actually relaunching it in August with all new recipes. It’s free, people can get it through our mailing list.

CDM: Talk to me about the gases for a second. I think a lot of people think about colonics as releasing old matter and you hear stories about like, “that’s the GI Joe I ate when I was 6.” As I understand it, the gases that release aren’t just digestive gases, they’re also coming from the cells?

MP: Gases are created in a number of places. We have carbon dioxide and oxygen flowing through the bloodstream. If somebody has a condition where the sugar is not getting used properly and they have yeast in their blood, it will ferment and create acidic gas and alcohol from that. If sugars or food residue sits in the digestive tract too long, yeasts and bacteria will ferment it into gas. This also happens if food isn’t chewed and absorbed properly and rapidly. Anything that sits in the body for too long decays and lets off waste gases like hydrogen sulfide. Some of them are even flammable. It’s a pressurized chamber, and a lot of those gases can be very poisonous. And through diffusion gas can go anywhere in the body. It can cause a back pressure and start to pollute a cell. Dr, Bisci is the one that really first popularized the idea behind blood gases and cleansing. That’s how I know all of this. He realized that everything moves from a high to a low pressure, so if pressure that is outside the cells is higher than what is inside, then that cell is going to have a very hard time respirating wastes out and oxygen and nutrients in. And you start to starve your cells of O2 and nutrients, you start to change the pH and you can end up with DNA damage and that’s where some hypothesize cancer comes from, in that low-O2 environment with a back up of cellular waste. 

CDM: So colonics clearly help with the “obstruction” part of the equation. How does infrared come into play?

MP: Infrareds clear obstruction through expansion and sweat. Infrareds are really powerful at releasing metals out of the tissue. They increase blood flow. They turn on a number of longevity genes, and create a controlled stress. 

CDM: Will you explain a little more about that? Controlled stress? 

MP: When we use infrared saunas and cryotherapy, we are creating a hormetic response. “Hormesis” is a controlled short dose of stress that invokes a therapeutic response. When we are exposed to extreme heat or cold we can trigger a series of physiological adjustments positively affecting detoxification pathways, inflammation reduction and improved brain chemistry. It can even create long term adaptations to our metabolism and our ability to regulate temperature and release stored weight.

CDM: That's interesting. Bitters operate on the same principle. Cryotherapy and cold therapies in general seem to boast so many benefits. It's a little mind blowing. For someone who's never tried it, can you describe the process?

MP: With cryotherapy, your body is in a chamber that drops down to -250°. And the body doesn’t know what the mind knows. Your mind knows theres a time limit, that everything is fine, that we’re all talking and laughing during the process. Your body feels the environment change and it starts to make adaptions to keep you ok in that environment. And those adaptations can be very therapeutic. It boosts immunity immediately and spikes a hormone and neurotransmitter called norepinephrine which regulates the immune system’s response to inflammation. Norepinephrine will spike 200 to 300%. This rapidly drops inflammation in the body and elevates our mood and attention. Cold therapy is actually used to treat depression. People with depression, low energy and mood issues have a very low amount of norepinephrine. So by exposing yourself to the cold, you’re activating the body’s internal pharmacy and norepinephrine is spiking way up. So people leave very happy, super sharp and vigilant. Of course the fitness people use it for recovery. It’s basically drugless pain relief.  

The one thing that I’ve never heard anybody say but I realized as I started using it regularly is that when you go from hot to cold, you get this expansion and then intense contraction. And that contraction decreases surface area. We were talking about intercellular pressure earlier from a back pressure of gasses. So you have cells that are backed up with waste and all of a sudden you have norepinephrine, which acts as a hormone in the blood and it signals vasoconstriction. This is how the body conserves heat. It decreases surface area. So when that happens and you decrease the surface area on your entire cell structure by being in -245 degrees, you’re squeezing waste out of every cell in your body from elimination. It’s a full body detox response.

That’s why a lot of people come in hungover and they feel so good afterwards. 

CDM: Going back to the infrared for a second. Is it more than just the sweat that’s benefitting us?

MP: What happens is that it uses an infrared light as its heating element. So the light penetrates the body. When you get into a regular dry heat sauna, which is also super great and therapeutic, your body responds to the external temperature and opens up the channels of elimination. You start purging out sweat and it loosens things up in your body. It creates this expansive effect. Infrareds do the same, but those rays penetrate the body about an inch and a half. It tricks your body into thinking it’s in a fever state. When your body thinks it’s in a fever state, it has that hormetic response where it starts to trigger the immune system. It heightens everything. And also, it triggers the release of heavy metals in the tissues. 

The coolest thing about infrared. If you do a sauna 4 to 7 times a week, you decrease all cause mortality by about 40% and that’s absolutely incredible. Thats death from everything minus accidents.

CDM: So when someone comes in, say someone comes in with a limited budget and they want to start moving towards this life. Where do they start? 

MP: It depends on what their issue is. We have really good specials and packages. And if someone wants to get maximum value from a colonic I recommend to always prepare for it. Start with the Vitality Broom Cleanse for even just a day.

CDM: Is it a waste of money to go for a colonic without doing some type of diet element first?

MP: If you’re trying to get back to square one because you partied all weekend, we’ll get it done for you. We have plenty of very successful treatments where people don’t set up at all. But hydrating and incorporating elements from the Vitality Broom Cleanse can maximize the effectiveness. Even just juicing and going plant based the day before is sufficient.

CDM: Is the Broom Cleanse vegan?

MP: Yes, all plant food.

CDM: But to do this cleansing life, people can incorporate animal protein. Food combining as a concept allows anything.

MP: Yeah if you can get into food combining and you can eat a 90% vegan diet. Bone broth and egg yolks or small amounts of animal protein can be balanced out with a majority of plant foods.

CDM: For someone new to colonics, I know one of the big concerns is that so many people are focused on the microbiome. A lot of people are concerned about the effect of colonics on their good bacteria.

MP: That’s a phenomenal question. I just listened to a podcast with a fasting expert. He’s been around for a long time and has a lot of knowledge, but when asked about colonics he literally stated every internet myth. He started with “washing away” good bacteria being one of them. I was like, “how could someone with this much experience drop the ball on this so hard??”  So now I have to question everything the guy says.

People think that when you get a colonic, it’s like scrubbing off a car. It doesn’t work that way, we are not power washing the intestinal wall. Every time we move our bowels tons of bacteria drop out. And they’re constantly proliferating and regenerating all the time. They live within the mucosal membrane of the intestine and also within the stool. It’s an entire ecosystem. A little bit of fresh water can’t eliminate colonies of bacteria. The same way drinking a glass of water never eliminates bacteria from the mouth. So “replenishing” isn’t necessary because of the treatment, however taking probiotics or even better eating raw fermented vegetables is highly beneficial in general.

CDM: We talk a lot about the microbiome in the skin. And a lot of people now are getting chemical peels and really aggressive exfoliation treatments that are killing the microbiome on the skin, but when you wash your face it’s fine. 

MP: Exactly, a chemical peel will really tear up the microbiome on the skin, but jumping in the ocean, taking a shower, getting a little bit of natural soap on you, it’s not going to do anything. 

CDM: And you’re a big proponent of fermented foods?

MP: Huge. Dr. Mercola actually had a 16 oz jar of sauerkraut tested for its probiotic levels and it was equal to 8 bottles of probiotic supplements. Probiotic supplements are like 45-65 bucks each. And here’s the cool part about it, fermented vegetables are a wild source, not lab grown. It’s what’s in the soil, so for most people in New York it’s going to be food from California or the Hudson Valley. So, it’s from our natural environment. And It’s so alive and active. I’ve given it to people as Christmas gifts. I gave it to my uncle who doesn’t really eat healthy and he was like, “I was shitting so damn good the next day.” Immediately you know that it’s working. And it’s cheaper. 

It can be bought if someone prefers to buy it, but it’s the easiest thing to do. And it gets our hands back in food, which I’m a huge proponent of. I wrote a book on how to make it at home that we often give out to out clients. And here it is for our CAP Beauty friends. 

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