We had the pleasure of sitting down with Integrative and Functional Nutrition practitioner, Emily Brown, Founder, and CEO of Genetic Garden in Newport Beach, CA. to talk about food as medicine and to dig a little deeper into her fascinating journey to her own good health, and helping others achieve theirs!
How did you find yourself on this journey? How did you get into this work? What inspired you?
Personal anecdote: My skin issues made me dive into the gut-skin relationship. I had peri-oral dermatitis, which is a growing concern among females partly due to the toxicity in beauty products. When all doctors and allergists said it was due to something I was putting on my skin, I cleaned my home, skin, beauty regimen- to no avail. I dug deeper to discover the inflammation within my gut was manifesting on the surface. Your skin and gut have the same cells, so when the gut is irritated and inflamed, it can reflect on your skin! Think of your skin as a reflection of your gut health. After healing my gut, I was able to improve my skin symptoms from the inside out. A great representation of how integrative and functional nutrition works- find the root cause!!
Back story: In college, I wanted to become a physical therapist. After working in a clinic for a couple of years I knew there was a niche that I needed to fill. Often, a client whose injuries were due to health (hip/knee injury due to obesity) would be put on an exercise therapy plan, and also outsourced to a nutritionist. The clients felt defeated if the plans weren’t perfectly aligned, so I thought of becoming that person to address the two simultaneously. Exercise and nutrition are inextricably linked. So, my grad school was just that, a master’s in exercise physiology and nutrition. I wanted more tools to understand a client’s motivations and how other factors (past health, current health, family history, medications, supplements, stress, sleep) fit into health, so I furthered my education with an integrative and functional nutrition practitionership.
How did you first discover food could be used as medicine (any a-ha! moments?)
Those moments should have come with every home-cooked meal I had growing up. My mom always made sure we had a nutritious meal, especially when sick or before a big test. I, however, was an incredibly picky eater who mostly ate only bean and cheese burritos (I’m from a town 90% Hispanic). I was a late bloomer! In college I babysat a child with autism whose diet was very strict. I began learning about the link between specific nutrient deficits, be it genetic-related or dietary-related, that can impact the brain’s functionality. Specifically, how nutrition can impact mood, anxiety, chemical imbalances, emotions, and decision making. Mind blown! In the context of the general population, this means that every meal you have can immediately inform your body and brain positively or negatively. Your food affects your mood!
Functional nutrition and the future of healing: Where do you see this shift headed?
Preventative medicine is imperative! So much cost- monetary and health-related, can be prevented through diet and exercise. Our big economic burdens are largely due to medical costs for diseases that can be prevented- Diabetes, Heart Disease, Metabolic Syndrome, and some cancers. “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”- Hippocrates. He lived BC and is still ahead of our contemporary practices! Health has to start in the home, while the tools need to be taught and reinforced in the school systems.
When should a person reach out to a functional nutritionist?
Prevention is key! Inflammation is ubiquitous, and inflammation leads to disease. So, checking in with a functional nutritionist yearly to understand your baseline is a great starting point. You will get tailored recommendations based on your specific areas of concern. We can’t live in a vacuum, so being exposed to toxins, molds, bacteria, parasites, plastics, etc. is unavoidable. These things all wreak havoc on your system without proper elimination. It can be quite challenging to get all of your essential and nonessential nutrients from food alone, especially with dietary restrictions. Supplementation and dietary recommendations can help address that and prevent any nutrient-related issues. For example, if someone feels fine and has a healthy diet, they may still be low in something like vitamin K. Triage theory states that short-term urgent matters take precedence over long-term non-urgent. So, vitamin K’s job in the short-term is to coagulate the blood and ensure that a cut doesn’t continue bleeding. It’s in charge of clots. However, its long-term job is related to bones and wrinkles. This means you can feel fine now but the long-term effects will manifest later on- poor bone health and early wrinkles.
Similarly, if you have sensitivities to chemicals, foods, toxins, etc., you can unknowingly be creating long-term damage. Recently, I had been feeling a little “off,” so I did a full-body scan to find out I have 2 parasites and 2 different black molds (from our previous residence)! So, I am clearing my body through a detox protocol to prevent any permanent or further damage to my body. 1/6 people are estimated to have a parasite from pets, water, many sources!
Also, people begin to live with their ailments. So much so that the chronic ailment becomes their new normal. I love to reiterate that common does not equal normal, and normal does not equal optimal!
It’s hard to blanket any recommendation because everyone is so different- but if there is one suggestion you could make for people to live healthier and happier, what would it be?
That healthy goes way beyond nutrition or exercise. Evaluate the aspects of your life that create a wholly healthy person: sleep/relaxation, stress, exercise/movement, diet, relationships. The person who takes their multivitamin yet lives life with anger and isolation will have a worse outcome than someone with an abundant social life with emotional intelligence and skips the kale!
What are a few tell-tale signs that something may be wrong inside the body that is nutrition-related?
Anything abnormal! Remember, normal does not equal optimal. The most common would be gas, bloat, pain, distension, constipation/diarrhea. Gastrointestinal issues are commonly due to bacterial imbalances or poor nutrition. Also prevalent: poor sleep or low energy, joint pain or aches, hair thinning/loss, skin irritation/eczema.
Without naming names, of course, can you give us an example of someone who you treated, their journey, and how nutrition healed them?
I have a friend with 3 kids. The oldest (8) and youngest (2) are girls who have suffered from eczema their whole lives. This friend had taken the girls to doctors, allergists, dermatologists, all who said there was not much to be done besides a topical steroid cream. These girls would scratch until they bled and cry themselves to sleep. This mom was feeling helpless, frustrated, and heartbroken, having to watch her girls suffering. I taught her about the gut-skin relationship and provided nutritional education and supplementation for her girls. She has seen significant improvements with both of her girls! It, of course, was a massive relief for her as well. She is now confident that she has the tools and knowledge to help her girls in future flare-ups (hello, Christmas and birthday parties!). Side note- there are damaging addictive components of topical steroids!! It’s so sad when children get addicted to substances, steroids, sugar, etc. without the consensual knowledge of the ramifications.
What are a few staples you can’t live without (cupboard or fridge!)
What does your ideal day look like from when you wake up to when you go to sleep?
I begin each day with my morning routine:
What is your favorite part about your job?
Do you treat people of all ages?
What is one resource (or two!) that you can suggest to our audience?
Anything else you want to add that you think is of value for our audience?
Conventional vs. functional medicine is apparent when discussing lab values. Many people go to their doctors feeling unwell. Yet the doctor reads the labs and says nothing it abnormal, specifically, everything is “within normal limits.” These metrics are based on the general American population- who is UNWELL! Our population is sick, obese, autoimmune, and disease-ridden, it’s not the population you want to be considered within! So, we use a narrower scope, called optimal ranges. Within optimal ranges, your body and physiology will function well. Outside of them (this can still be called “within normal limits”), your physiology may be compromised. Think of 0———————-100. Within normal ranges (WNR) can be 20———80 while optimal ranges might be 40–60.